Friday, June 22, 2018

BOOK VS MOVIE: On Chesil Beach

What are the extents of one's love? What limits does someone have towards their significant other? Every love is different mich in the same way that every person is different. and don't expect societal views to help in any way.

On Chesil Beach follows that particular element to a T as it follows Edward and Florence on their honeymoon. Certainly, they have the typical newlywed jitters but with many things left unsaid, is this a union fated to end before it even begins?

"They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible." So opens Ian McEwan's novel before exploring how Edward and Florence ended up in that hotel room. Neither halves led ideal upbringings but how much of that affected their later lives?

Dominic Cooke's adaptation stays generally true to McEwan's original story (certainly helped with McEwan himself writing the screenplay). Starring Saoirse Ronan (no stranger to McEwan's work) and Billy Howle, it doesn't quite capture the nuances of the novel but Cooke's theater background adds a particular flair to his feature film debut.

So which is better: McEwan's book or Cooke's movie? While both follow the same story, their approaches to the conclusion differ. (The film ends on a somewhat happier note than the novel.) But while how they conclude aren't generally the same, they capture to devastating effect how the era Edward and Florence are a part of isn't as liberating as they once thought.

What's worth checking out?: The book.

The Great Lie

Peter Van Allen (George Brent) is in a tight spot at the start of Edmund Goulding's The Great Lie. His marriage to pianist Sandra Kovak (Mary Astor) isn't valid -- her divorce from her previous husband wasn't finalized -- so instead of going through that again, he marries old flame Maggie Patterson (Bette Davis). And for a while, everything seems right.

But then Peter's plane goes missing when he goes away on business and he's presumed dead. Before he had left the country, Sandra confided in Maggie that she's pregnant with Peter's child. And after Peter disappears, Maggie offers to help Sandra during her pregnancy on the condition that she gets to have the child. But will this situation work for both women?

Davis took on the role of Maggie after some fans wrote hoping she would play a nice character. (She also picked Astor to play Sandra.) Both women conspired together to downplay the melodramatic aspects of The Great Lie in order to flesh their characters. Does it work? Absolutely.

Indeed Davis in the rare pleasant role (which she likened to her real-life personality) is something of note in The Great Lie but boy, does Astor make up for Davis' lack of bitchiness with her own. With this being released the same year as her famous role in The Maltese Falcon, it's understandable as to why it's not as known (even though she won an Oscar for it).

The Great Lie has its melodramatic moments, yes (probably to be expected from the director of Dark Victory and The Constant Nymph), but Davis and Astor ensure that the film doesn't firmly stay in that genre. (Thank goodness for that.) And like several of Goulding's other works, it has a particular preference for the characters and their personalities.

My Rating: ****

Friday, June 15, 2018

BOOK VS MOVIE: Disobedience

There's always something so tantalizing about the forbidden romance, the story of the star-crossed lovers. We root for them to see if in fact that love can conquer all. Very seldom do they receive the happiness they ache for in the end (same-sex couples are the more glaring examples) but the few that do get exactly what (and who) they want.

Disobedience is a more recent example of this oft-told tale. After receiving news that her father -- a well-respected rabbi in London -- has died, Ronit returns to the home she left behind years before. But as she reacquaints herself to the Orthodox Jewish community she was raised in, she discovers that her former lover Esti has married Ronit's cousin Dovid. Is the past truly in the past for both women or will sparks be re-ignited?

Naomi Alderman's novel focuses greatly on the workings of Judaism, each chapter opening with an examination of particular beliefs within the religion (that also happen to summarize their respective sections). Switching between perspectives (and fonts) from the third person and Ronit, we see how complex the society is to its devotees.

Sebastián Lelio's adaptation eschews most of the novel's focus on grief and faith in favor of Ronit and Esti's relationship. (There is way more sexual tension here than what Alderman originally wrote.) Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams have strong chemistry (it'd be unfortunate if they didn't) but the shift in the story's central themes feels outputting at times.

So which is better: Alderman's book or Leilo's movie? Both have different characterizations for both plotline and leads. (How Dovid is portrayed, for instance, differs between the works.) Still, they both make one thing certain: one's feelings may not change after many years have passed.

What's worth checking out?: The book.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

First Reformed

The journal kept by Rev. Toller (Ethan Hawke) in Paul Schrader's First Reformed doesn't seem to be serving as a recollection of his day's events. Instead, its purpose appears to be the release of a troubled man's musings. And as the film progresses, we see just how unhinged Toller is.

As many of Schrader's previous films have shown, First Reformed has a particularly jaded perspective from Rev. Toller. He had tried to vainly to maintain an idealistic view on the world but with his health failing and his faith being tested, he finds it nearly impossible to be the man of the cloth he appears to be. What is his limit?

Parallels to Taxi Driver are hard to ignore as one watches First Reformed. (One shot in the later film is practically an allusion to the earlier one.) But it bears more resemblance to Bringing Out the Dead in their shared weariness in the protagonists. They've seen the horrors of the world they're a part of and are now numb to everything around them.

Hawke has been delivering a number of solid performances these last few years but First Reformed is easily the best of his career. His Rev. Toller is a complicated figure (a staple in Schrader's works), haunted by his past mistakes and uncertain of what his future holds for him. It's when a concerned parishioner steps forward that his fate is ultimately sealed. And Hawke tackles the role brilliantly.

First Reformed firmly solidifies Schrader's status as a writer in Hollywood. (Just in case his previous work didn't already prove that.) He provides an unflinching commentary on humanity itself, how it's cruel to those who aren't willing to conform to it. And the end result will stay in your mind long after it finishes.

My Rating: *****

The Rider

It's established early in Chloé Zhao's The Rider that Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) is recovering from a debilitating rodeo accident. Because of his injuries, everyone around him figures that his days in the rodeo circuit are over. (One of his friends became permanently disabled from a similar accident.) But Brady is the stubborn type.

In many ways, The Rider is more of an ode to the westerns of decades passed. It focuses on the hardscrabble life of those in rustic locales, how the horse trade is how they eke out a living. Granted, things have changed since the days of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood but the point still stands.

Wonder why The Rider feels so authentic? That's because it's based on Jandreau's own life. (Hell, his own sister and father are alongside him.) Zhao had met him when she was making Songs My Brother Taught Me and what later happened to Jandreau compelled her to dramatize his story. And boy, does it work

Also of note in The Rider is the cinematography from Joshua James Richards. Gorgeously capturing the South Dakota Badlands, he has the outdoors play as much of a role as Jandreau himself. Very rarely does the scenery tell the story in a similar vein to the screenplay but Richards does just that.

The Rider is a very human story, one about those trying to achieve the American dream with varying success. Sometimes they get to the point where they want to be, other times life throws them a curveball (or several). Still, more often than not, they manage to find a way to make everything work for themselves. And that's where we find Brady as the film wears on.

My Rating: ****1/2

Let the Sunshine In

Claire Denis' Let the Sunshine In opens with Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) having sex with her married lover Vincent (Xavier Beauvois). He comes off as rather brutish during the act, even asking if she's this way with other men. (This earns him a slap in the face.) It's this scene that sets the precedent for what Isabelle goes through in the film.

And what's established in Let the Sunshine In is that Isabelle is looking for love in all the wrong places. (She's divorced with a daughter.) The men she encounters tend to meet her emotional needs initially but not so much in the long run. (Vincent, in particular, won't leave his wife for Isabelle.) Hey, no one ever said life would work out for everyone.

A common theme in various women-directed films is a better grasp of the female psyche. (Takes one to know one.) They're more likely to explore how women behave beyond the usual Freudian explanations. Sometimes it's something that happened when they were young (again, not pertaining to their family), other times it could be an event from their recent past. Either way, these depictions differ greatly from those by male directors.

Binoche has always been a radiant presence in cinema, and Let the Sunshine In is no exception. Her Isabelle may have a stormy personal life but when it comes to her career, she's thriving. She's emotionally clingy but otherwise very put together. Again, this is something more commonly found in works made by women.

Let the Sunshine In serves as more of a commentary towards the general dating scene and how convoluted it can towards some people. But with Denis' touch, it has a beating heart to it. And it's in the form of Binoche.

My Rating: ****