Review – My Mistress

My Mistress will be released on DVD on May 5th and is the first title I’ve been able to sample from Film Movement’s newest imprint Omnibus Entertainment. Having just recently rolled out Ram Releasing one might wonder what the focus of Omnibus is:

Omnibus Entertainment brings compelling motion picture features, acclaimed television programming and insightful documentaries from around the world to North American audiences. Dedicated to providing quality content “for all,” Omnibus Entertainment includes a growing catalog of carefully curated titles with appeal that extends beyond the dedicated art house and film festival enthusiast.

So the line of delineation seems to be Film Movement is arthouse, RAM is genre titles fro adults (note their horror offerings like App, Moebius and A Life in Dirty Movies); while the first offering from Omnibus is an erotic drama looking at their site certainly indicated they will bring in varied film styles befitting their name. It’s another exciting development from Film Movement who will also introduce a restoration and repertory imprint called Film Movement Classics; adding to to the legion dedicated to preservation and rereleases.

As for My Mistress, the synopsis is as follows:

It’s a long hot summer for sixteen-year-old Charlie Boyd. He just found out his mother is having an affair with his father’s best friend, but is distracted from his problems by the mysterious woman down the street who has visitors day and night. After a sudden family tragedy Charlie is overwrought with pain. At first feeling hopeless, Charlie soon finds solace in Maggie, the beautiful French stranger, a dominatrix who teaches him the seductively beautiful side of pain, and how it can heal his emotional wounds. What starts as a perverse game quickly turns into a taboo love affair. And as Charlie learns to control his pain he turns that control back onto his mistress.

What occurs in My Mistress is that the tale is mostly segregated telling of the personal dramas of interconnected characters who too rarely consult one another about their issues. While they do spend a good amount of time with one another they are usually struggling with their own baggage and rarely let the other person in. Usually these struggles become a bit redundant until either party lets the other in, which usually takes a bit too long to happen.

Aside from that we are frequently left holding the bag inasmuch as Maggie’s (Emmanuelle Béart) story is more muddled than Charlie’s (Harrison Gilbertson). Charlie deals with an almost instant shock that sends him into a spiral looking for answers, closure and to vent. We know Maggie has a child, she no longer has custody and her struggle is being exploited, but the motivations of the blackmailer are vague.

These subtleties are usually a boon to a film, when more complex emotions or situations are being conveyed. That’s not really the case here. Most of the narrative is pretty transparent and close to the surface such that any obfuscation seems like unnecessary coyness on the part of the film. It doesn’t develop intrigue but encourages detachment. This doesn’t make the film a total failure just one that falls well short of its potential.

Those who would be tuning in for the more lascivious aspects of the narrative also shouldn’t get their hopes up. For a film that ostensibly deals with BDSM it most of the time acts more like a metaphor than a gratuitous selling-point. The scenes where it is featured are tame; the tapping into the emotional pains that draw these characters to such activities is where most of the intrigue lies actually. The subjugation of sexuality to character and conflict are not an issue overall, it only becomes so when the portrait is hazy, and you’re left wanting more out of these two that’s when it becomes problematic.

For their efforts Emmanuelle Béart and Harrison Gilbertson should be commended. They play characters at opposite ends of the spectrum convincingly and seem to share a genuine connection within this film. Their pencil-sketch characterizations are about as fleshed out as the script allows them. Their engaging presence is much of what makes this film as watchable as it ends up being.

My Mistress unfortunately skims the surface and doesn’t have an abundance of complications. One wonders if a tightened edit would’ve benefited this film a bit. Instead of being a middle-of-the-road tale, a bit more risk, detail and definitive resolution may have alienated more, but yielded greater aesthetic results. Instead it serves the function of letting us know Béart is still here and Gilbertson has a promising future and not much else.

5/10

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Review – The Nun

The Nun is based upon a classic French novel by Diderot, which has also inspired a classic film by Jacques Rivette. Having not been familiar with either rendition of the tale prior I cannot comment on its faithfulness of it or its lack thereof, but I was fairly riveted throughout much of this film. Its a tale where fate and circumstance take our protagonist and put her through the wringer and it seems there will be no end to her downward spiral. This is fairly standard of the fiction of the time. It is the rumination on convents, social mores, religion and the performances that give this film the variety it needs to work.

As stated by Film Movement the synopsis is:

Born to a bourgeois family in 1760s France, Suzanne is a beautiful young girl with a natural talent for music. Inexplicably, her parents abruptly decide to send young Suzanne off to a convent, where she resists structure at every turn until she discovers that she is an illegitimate child. Left with no other option, she pronounces her vows and suffers the consequences of her mother’s sin. Still uncertain of her path and wishing to revoke her vows, Suzanne’s only ally, the Mother Superior, dies and is succeeded by Sister Christine, a sadistic and cruel woman who inflicts the worst forms of humiliation imaginable upon the young nun. Suzanne is finally transferred to another convent, only to discover another kind of Mother Superior, a woman who develops an inappropriately affectionate bond with her new charge. Ultimately, The Nun, based on the classic French novel by Diderot, is the story of a woman trying to resist imposed religious values and the dehumanizing effect of cloistered life.

What can plague a film of this kind, where there is virtually no escape throughout a vast majority of it, is the structure. Thankfully, there are changes in routine, locale and escalations in treatment, which invariably lead to different editing patterns that help spice up the flow. The film’s cut-points flowing one scene into another, cinematography and the sparing use of the mellifluous score also aid in varying what may seem like redundancy if one was merely looking at a beat-sheet.

Another interesting amalgamation of this tale is that there is an element of bildungsroman to this teardown of a religious convention and social mores. Suzanne’s virtual incarceration is incited by a trumped-up interpretation of her affection for a young man. Madame Simonin (Martina Gedeck) fearing that her daughter will make similar mistakes to those she made she is shipped to a nunnery. The over-punishment of children for the sins of parents are one thing, but the deeper commentary in this film is how a seemingly more religious society lead to the ruination of lives and the self-imposed strictures of religion lead to the corrosion of institutions like convents.

It seems as if its increasingly difficult to find films with a strong female presence these days. Never mind being progressive or passing the Bechdel Test, just having films fronted by female personages seems a rarer occurrence lately. Therefore, even though this is a eighteenth century tale about one woman needing to rebel simply to not be a victim of fate and circumstance it does remain significant and relevant. Having three very strong female performances at the forefront Suzanne (Pauline Etienne) and the Mother Superiors (Louise Bourgoin and Isabelle Huppert) is noteworthy indeed.

Most impressive about Etienne is that not only are there many notes to her performance, even many notes to her agonizing; never does her would-be martyrdom become trite or un-engaging. She remains magnetic and effective throughout and runs the gamut from ingenue to glassy-eyed mort vivant and everywhere in between. Isabelle Huppert’s desires fester and manifest themselves with equal parts awkwardness and oppression which create a perfect atmosphere of discomfort. The trap for Bourgoin’s character is being seemingly too one-dimensional. However, he cruelty is so perfectly-rendered it terrifies persistently without becoming cartoonish or boring.

The Nun lands a bit softer in the end than I anticipated perhaps because of the fact that it stuck too closely too the book, though I cannot say for certain. Regardless, the journey is well worth it. On the religious end it would be likely to draw skeptics and free-thinking believers alike. From the cinematic spectrum fans of dramas and French cinema should be on the look-out for this film.

7/10

Poverty Row April: Hearts of Humanity (1932)

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old Poverty Row April post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically depending on the theme. Enjoy!

Hearts of Humanity (1932)

They don’t make melodramas like they used to. To be a little less trite, because they make nothing like they used to, what made melodramas in the Pre-Code and Golden Age era work was the unrelenting wave of unabashed emotion, the incredible circumstance, be it hardship or triumph, the near-cloying tugging at heart strings in a tale with a more straight-forward narrative style made for a less cynical world. Yes, these date them, but any film from any period can be perceived as dated. What these films don’t fear is trying too hard for the emotional response.

In this film there’s an example of much of what I was talking about as a boy is orphaned one day through two unrelated acts. Both his parents die on the same day. His father has just learned of his mother’s demise when he meets his unfortunate fate. The plot that follows his less high-stakes to an extent, but it is moving. Jean Hersholt is endearing in the lead and Jackie Searl showed his ability to play endearing characters as well as conniving ones, though his Irish accent isn’t that great. It’s a simple film, but a truly enjoyable one in the style that only this era could produce.

8/10

Poverty Row April: The Night Rider (1932)

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old Poverty Row April post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically depending on the theme. Enjoy!

The Night Rider (1932)

Here again we have another western tale with a mysterious desperado whose identity is withheld throughout. The issue that films of this kind have faced thus far is that they are so preoccupied with the opacity of the villain’s identity that little else, if anything, gets developed. There are many attempts at humor, which mostly fail; the identity is well-guarded, but the reveal is poorly staged, and lastly, the story just flatlines once it takes its sweet time establishing all its players. It does that clearly enough, but little of what follows is compelling.

3/10

Review – God’s Slave

With God’s Slave you have another tale of a series of planned terrorist attacks and a man planning to stop them. What starts to separate this film is that the site of the attacks is Argentina in 1994, and also that the film takes a very personal, character-driven approach to both sides of the story. Just the fact that it tells both sides of the story is telling enough. Clearly, the key to drama is conflict, and the most effective dramas are ones wherein both sides are equally understood and watchable. This is not to say one doesn’t bring their own baggage to the film, but rather that it doesn’t force your hand. It tells the story of the each character from their perspective.

Here’s how the film goes about doing that specifically, as per Film Movement:

Based on the actual events of a 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires still making headlines today, GOD’S SLAVE follows Ahmed, trained since childhood as an Islamic terrorist now assigned to execute a suicide bombing at a synagogue, and David, the cold-blooded Israeli special agent who will stop at nothing to prevent the attack. But neither man is defined solely by their extremist views. Ahmed, posing as a doctor, lives happily with his wife and young son; though David’s marriage is on the rocks, he remains devoted to his wife and daughter. With time running out before the attack, David zeros in on Ahmed as a suspect, his investigation culminating in violent, if unexpected, consequences.

The film takes interesting approach in the use of flashbacks and its overall structure as it does not delve in to both stories simultaneously, but through visuals and effectual montages bridges narrative ellipses and creates elisions between the two central figures as they set off on a collision course for one another.

To affect this collision course and make it something worth seeing the performances need to be up to snuff and they clearly are here. There is always something to be said for faces unfamiliar to moviegoers as suspension of disbelief becomes easier, and analysis of the actor and his transformation is not in the forefront of one’s mind. That being said Mohammed Alkhaldi and Vando Villamil definitely seem entirely immersed in their characters and torn with their own personal struggles – as both continuously fight against their better natures to do what they feel needs doing. The full and nuanced portrayal of both is what makes the story so captivating.

The film’s closing shot is one of those where I anticipated it by a split-second but still enjoyed seeing my prediction come to fruition. It’s one that satisfactorily closes the story for the characters yet is realistic. For better or worse, the two sides come to terms with the events precipitated the final showdown, though the world hasn’t quite.

When dealing with terrorism and counterterrorism efforts on film the trap is set to lump in either side too monolithically with their respective ethnic or religious identities. The strength of this film is that it built its characters as individuals and was able to see the world through both sets of eyes and still paint a compelling portrait. In fact, the film begins by illustrating the deep rift and spirals from there with one man’s egalitarianism sparking incredulity. The only thing the film is careful of is condemning actions rather than making generalizations.

God’s Slave does not sacrifice suspense or its cinematic qualities to tell a more balanced tale – nor does it ever feel disingenuous on either side. It’s still chilling and viscerally rendered without oversimplifying a complex problem that has faced the world for decades, and shows no signs of slowing. To compromise, to play both ends towards the middle throughout would’ve weakened the film and it doesn’t go that route. Yes, there are likely some movie-logic touches but even those are earned after the journey.

8/10

Poverty Row April: The Racing Strain (1932)

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old Poverty Row April post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically depending on the theme. Enjoy!

The Racing Strain (1932)

This is a film that seems to be entirely about the periphery and not about the center. In other words, it’s hollow. If you look at the description it purports to be a race car driver who is struggling to overcome alcoholism to return to the top, and that’s in there but not the focus. In fact, the racer in question is not even the protagonist. The protagonist is really his young mechanic, Bill, more commonly referred to as Big Shot (Wallace Reid, Jr.). He’s the character with a trauma to overcome, who has to grow, who comes to the rescue of his driver, who gets into fights. However, there’s approximately three times as much set up as pay-off.

And this is discounting the fact there’s a thinly-written, plot device of a character whose a punching bag for racist jokes and slurs. The movie just doesn’t move enough. Again it’s a shame because the idea is good, but it’s one that could’ve focused more on the addiction to make it a closer facsimile to The Champ. The idea for the project makes sense especially considering the involvement of Wallace Reid‘s son. He and Dickie Moore, on loan from Hal Roach to film one scene, are among the only redeeming qualities this film has, but most of it is wasteful.

2/10

Short Film: Chasing Ice

There are many natural wonders that are great fodder for nature docs and a Earth Day-themed post. However, it’s not right to be overly-rosy about the state of the climate at all times. Recognizing this fact and making people more cognizant of the environment lead to the creation of the day.

This is a historic recording in Greenland of a large ice calving. It is breathtaking on many levels and more reason to be mindful of what we do on this and every day. If interested in further pursuit follow the link above or the one cited at the end of the video.

Poverty Row April: In Love with Life (1934)

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old Poverty Row April post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically depending on the theme. Enjoy!

In Love with Life (1934)

A few things come to mind when discussing this film, most are specific to Poverty Row others aren’t as much. I’ve discussed the running time and the utilization thereof on a few occasions in these posts. This is not something that stems from worries about my attention span or time management issues but is inherent to structuring. Some of these films are trying to cram a lot of film into not much time, others are at points stretching. This one, at a brisk 51 minutes seems to handle things just right.

Now one note I will include, I believe this is the TV edit. I base this conclusion on both the book by Mr. Pitts and the IMDb, which list the running time at 66 minutes, as does a supposedly remastered version available on the IMDb. Sadly, with many of these Poverty Row titles those are the only cuts that remain. If this is truly a TV edit kudos to the editors of this version, while it is brisk it never feels overly truncated. There just seem to be a few instances of dropped frames.

Things that separate this film are: that there is scoring throughout rather than just on the opening and closing title, there are moving shots which required sophisticated sound editing, elevated production values for the budget namely set design and good montage/titling work.

Not exclusive to, but more common in works of this type, are stories that pre-date and lead up to the stock market crash. It being a melodrama the moral is clear: we lost our money but have what matters. However, it doesn’t go as far over the top as it could, particularly with a mother-child separation at the beginning. It plays its tropes fairly well and quickly.

9/10

Music Video Monday: Tyler Carter – Find Me

Introduction

I’ve debated starting this theme for a few weeks, and I ultimately decided I would as it would encourage me to looks for options that actually fit what I’m aiming for. If one pays too much attention to Top 40 type music you tend to see a dearth of creativity in the music video form. The music video is spawned from short films and can be as creative if not more so than their predecessor. Far too often it does just become singing heads. I want to try and buck that trend and find ones both new and old that do something somewhat outside the box, at the very least have some sort of visual narrative. Here we go.

Tyler Carter – Find Me

Yes, in this video you have a journey like in the first one I featured, there are also randomly-place, creatively-use televisions like in this video; what sets this video apart is the photography, the elliptical storytelling and the performance. Like those other videos this song is also quite good. Enjoy!