This week we review: Public Enemies + My Sister’s Keeper + Drag Me To Hell + Chéri + Stephen Berkoff’s Decadence.
Released July 30, 2009.
Part of Bryan Burrough’s aim in his book was to tell the real story behind the great crime wave in the early 1930s without the Hollywood myth that now surrounds it. Director Michael Mann could be said to have done the same thing by shooting this story of famed bank-robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) in digital HD.
It’s off-putting at first, as Dillinger breaks some of his cronies out of prison in a breathtakingly constructed opening sequence. Everything is so crisp and so real that sometimes it feels like you are amongst the action, shooting it yourself. Famed for his tightly organised raids and elegant grace vaulting over bank-floor counters, Dillinger is bluntly portrayed by Depp as a man who lived for the moment but was realistic enough to know that his time as a free man was limited.
On his crime spree he crosses paths with other criminal luminaries such as Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson, finds love with Billie (the beautiful Marion Cotillard of La Vie En Rose), all the while pursued by the Bureau of Investigation head, J. Edgar Hoover, whose organisation is rapidly mobilising into something more federal, and steely-jawed Christian Bale as agent-in-charge Melvin Purvis.
While both Mann and Burrough succeed in making the individuals more real than their mythic Hollywood predecessors (e.g. 1967’s Bonnie & Clyde), it almost seems counter intuitive since Dillinger and his exploits were larger than life and his notoriety and fame existed during his lifetime. This tension never fully resolves and after a while you just wish that Mann would let go of the docu-drama style and hold his camera still so that one can appreciate the beauty of the production design. But then, that would be missing the point, wouldn’t it.
My Sister’s Keeper
Released July 30, 2009
You’d have to be fairly cold-hearted not to shed a tear or two during Nick Cassavetes’ My Sister’s Keeper. What with the dying teen (Sofia Vassilieva), the overwrought mother (Cameron Diaz) and the tortured, swelling soundtrack, it would be foolish to head to the cinema without some tissues on hand.
But this is a cancer story with a twist. The Fitzgerald family of four becomes five when the decision is made to have ‘designer baby’ Anna (Abigail Breslin), who has the genetic compatibility to donate vital stem cells and bone marrow to her sick sister Kate. Subjected to painful procedures from birth, eleven-year-old Anna secures the help of celebrity lawyer Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin) to sue her parents for medical emancipation before she is forced to donate her kidney.
Adapted from quite a personal Jodi Picoult novel, the film makes the curious choice to keep the book’s multiple narrators. While the aim was no doubt to convey the individual impact this illness has had on the family, as well as Campbell’s understanding of Anna, the result is rather episodic and annoying.
Further sullying proceedings is the high melodrama mounted upon an already stricken storyline. Each supporting character is given a tragic subplot, the inclusion and direction of which both grates and hampers the nuance of every performance. Mercifully, however, Cassavetes and co-writer Jeremy Leven opted to alter the ending, which rescues the film with a dose of realism.
Despite these shortcomings, My Sister’s Keeper is a film filled with solid performances and good intentions. Much like his acclaimed film The Notebook (2004), Cassavetes manages to dole out the tears and the tragedy alongside some of life’s bittersweet humour, and a whole lot of love.
Drag Me to Hell
Released July 23, 2009
Ever wanted to get ahead no matter what the cost? You might think twice about that sentiment after seeing this film. Co-written by Sam and Ivan Raimi, and directed by Sam, Drag Me to Hell is a farcical take on the horror movie genre in the spirit of Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness.
Starring Alison Lohman as the cursed Christine Brown and Justin Long as her rather dull boyfriend Clay, the real one to watch out for in this film is Lorna Raver who plays the curse-casting gypsy woman Sylvia Ganush.
When Christine denies Ganush a third extension on her home loan and shames her in front of a bank full of people, Ganush invokes the evil spirit; Lamia to avenge her. What ensues is a dark and quirky thrill ride in which Christine does whatever it takes to avoid being dragged to hell. I mean, whatever-it-takes (i.e. this is not a film for animal lovers).
Drag Me to Hell is a tongue-in-cheek horror-comedy that is bold, brash and unforgiving. But it will also churn your stomach like three-month-old butter. Delightfully, Raimi even pokes fun at himself in this film, and the parking lot showdown between Lohman and Raver is an absolute ripper that will have you simultaneously laughing, shrieking and cringing.
There is, however, surprisingly little blood in this movie. In fact, an explosive nosebleed is probably the bloodiest moment in the entire film. But the excessive vomiting and crass humour makes this one more for the boys than the girls. You have been forewarned!
Opens July 23
Never one to shy away from a portrayal of strong, independent women, director Stephen Frears has followed up The Queen with the French fable Chéri. Reteaming with Dangerous Liaisons scribe Christopher Hampton and star Michelle Pfeiffer, Frears has ventured from Buckingham Palace to Belle-Epoch Paris with celebrated courtesan Léa de Lonval (Pfeiffer) and her petulant young lover Chéri (Rupert Friend).
A burden to his calculating, ex-courtesan mother, Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates), Chéri is all but thrust into Léa’s arms, ostensibly to complete his ‘education’, but really to alleviate the pressure on her purse. The pair indulge in a six year romance, which is brought rather abruptly to a halt when Mme Peloux negotiates an advantageous marriage for her son to Edmée (Felicity Jones), the daughter of another courtesan.
Chéri is quite the curious romance, simply because the protagonists aren’t equipped to realise they’re in love. Thirty years and a lifetime of convention separate the pair, even though they both exist within the sensual bubble of courtesan extravagance. And so Frears as director and (uncredited) jocular narrator brings us this unwitting love story with warmth, pathos and a lot of wry humour.
Pfeiffer and Friend shine in what are powerfully subtle and vulnerable performances. Both are angular beauties, captured in intense detail by Frears, alongside their manifest chemistry. And Bates – with her deep, hearty chortle – rounds out the leads with an exuberant melodrama.
Rich cinematography and exquisite production and costume design make Chéri a cinematic treat. Frears also weaves in the style from famed French writer Colette’s original source material, resulting in a visually and thematically impressionistic film, which is at once a delightful and rather peculiar experience.
Symbolic of the fate of pre-war Paris, Chéri reveals both the transience and the transcendence of love, beauty and the luscious excess of the Belle-Epoch.