Adore

September 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel
Directed by: Anne Fontaine (“Coco Before Chanel”)
Written by: Christopher Hampton (“A Dangerous Method”)

In what plays out like an awkward and erotic coming-of-age film where none of the central characters are written as more than vessels brimming with hormones, actresses Naomi Watts and Robin Wright star as two mothers who begin illicit affairs with each other’s sons in director Anne Fontaine’s self-absorbed drama “Adore.” It’s an emotionally complex albeit not very believable melodrama that teeters between hokey romance and incestuous nonsense, much like the miserable 2007 Julianne Moore vehicle “Savage Grace.”

Based on Doris Lessing’s novel of the same name, “Adore” introduces us to the foursome of the film: Lil (Watts) and her lifelong best friend Roz (Wright) and Lil’s son Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Roz’s son Harold (Ben Mendelsohn). For the first 45 minutes or so, Fontaine keeps us in the dark with the relationships of the characters. Not knowing who is who quickly spins the familial dynamic in a bizarre way, especially with the flirtatious tone that hovers over every scene.

When we finally become aware of which son belongs to which mother (or the fact that there are even two sons and two mothers), it’s already time to get the couples into bed without building on any kind of stable connection between parties. It might just be sex at first when Roz and Ian start fooling around, but Ian predictably ends up falling in love with her. For Harold, it almost seems like he only wants to see how far he can get with Lil when he finds out his mother and his best friend have been playing between the sheets.

All the bed hopping makes for a whole bunch of drivel as the couples spend their time running around on the Australian beach in hopes of finding something tangible in their relationship. They also manage to devote time staring deep into the ocean and contemplating the lack of morality of their sexual escapades.

Fontaine and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (“A Dangerous Method”) leave a lot of unanswered questions for audiences to decipher, but not many of them are interesting enough to want to discover with much assurance. For example, are the two people who desire each other in this scenario really Lil and Roz? Are they living vicariously through their sons to get to one another physically? Or maybe it’s the sons who want more out of their friendship. They sure do spend a lot of time  with each other shirtless in the water.

In all seriousness, “Adore” presents some contentious ideas that will probably make mainstream moviegoers wriggle in their seats uncomfortably, but art-house film devotees might not find much to keep them focused either. Without a grasp on any of the characters’ real intentions or thoughts, “Adore” is about as shallow as they come.

A Dangerous Method

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen
Directed by: David Cronenberg (“Eastern Promises”)
Written by: Christopher Hampton (“Atonement”)

For all of Freud’s innumerable contributions to the field of psychology, his work has also carried the unfortunate side effect of propagating a number of misguided, outdated, and resilient stereotypes about the profession. The seemingly far-out idea of the Oedipus complex, for example, is so deeply associated as a psychological concept that some people outside of the field might not even realize that a good chunk of Freud’s work is no longer (and in some cases was never) largely supported. Still, his contributions to the field were vital and every psychology student learns a lot about the man’s professional career. However, his personal life is something that is barely looked at, even by students. His relationship with fellow psychologist Carl Jung is the center of “A Dangerous Method.” Directed by David Cronenberg, the film is a look into the admiration and eventual tension between these two titans of the psychological field.

While confronting and experimenting with the treatment of the disturbed Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), psychiatrist Carl Jung gets to interact and work along with his mentor and idol Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). As Spielreins and Knightley’s relationship extends beyond doctor/patient and Freud and Jung’s ideas begin to separate, tension rises between the three.

The element of “A Dangerous Method” that is likely to be discussed the most is the bizarre performance by Knightley. In the first half of the film, she overacts tremendously, twitching and protruding her bottom jaw causing an underbite and speaking through a poor Russian accent (when she could speak without stammering). Though the transition she makes back to sanity is a little too sudden, it is welcome, and her performance is much easier to handle when she has calmed down a bit. Capping off an outstanding year, Fassbender once again puts in a fantastic performance as Jung. It isn’t a flashy role, but he anchors the film and embodies the character very well. It truly is a travesty that Fassbender was not recognized with an Oscar nomination for any of the work he did this past year. Mortensen, albeit in a smaller role, also delivers as Freud, smoking the signature cigar in nearly every scene and playing off of Fassbender with great chemistry.

“A Dangerous Method” is at its best when it delves into the intricacies of its psychological concepts. The discussion of psychological theories and beliefs between both Jung and Freud and Jung and Sabina are interesting to listen to and the scenes where Jung performs psychotherapy with Sabina and begin to get to the roots of her problems are fascinating. The film also accurately portrays the still relevant controversial stances from Freud such as his insistence on sexual drive being vital to human psychology. Unfortunately, when the movie takes this concept and turns the film into a sexual drama, it begins to lose its luster.

Since most of the information about Freud and Jung is largely academic and found mostly in psychology textbooks, “A Dangerous Method” succeeding in providing audiences with a rarely heard of human side to both of these men. Though the second half of the film is a little less successful than the first (not to mention the fits of exaggerated acting from Knightley), “A Dangerous Method” is worth seeing for Mortenson, and especially Fassbender’s performances alone.

Chéri

June 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Friend, Kathy Bates
Directed by: Stephen Frears (‘The Queen”)
Written by: Christopher Hampton (“Atonement”)

If you thought the term “cougar” could only be used as a reference in pop culture to describe women like Demi Moore and Mariah Carey who pursue younger men, then the film “Chéri,” based on the novel by early 20th century French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, proves you’re a few decades late.

Set in 1920s Paris during the belle époque era, “Chéri” follows Lea de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer), a well-to-do courtesan (a classy name for a swanky prostitute) who falls in love with an enchanting young man named Chéri (Rupert Friend, who looks like a gothic version of Orlando Bloom).

Chéri’s mother Madame Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates), a retired courtesan and former rival of Lea, allows the rendezvous to happen since she knows her son will be in good hands and obtain the sexual experience he needs before settling down. The affair would also help Lea keep her status as one of the most desired escorts in Paris.

But what is supposed to be a casual relationship for both Lea and Chéri turns out to be a lot more. Six years later, the couple is still together in what is described as a “soothing routine of habit.” Their love dissolves, however, when Charlotte forces him into an arranged marriage with a woman his own age since the Madame desperately wants grandchildren. While Lea knew the day would come when Chéri would leave the nest, she is devastated but hides her emotions well. “It’s her turn now,” she says to her young lover before letting him go.

Chéri, too, finds it hard to let go of his past the longer he stays in his dreary marriage. All he can think about is his time with Lea and eventually returns to her like a lost little boy. It’s during these scenes of self-pity and overall misery that make “Cheri” hard to bear after a while. It’s not enough that Pfeiffer gives a fine performance as this woman of a “certain age,” and that Bates steals most of the show with a vivacious personality, the era piece doesn’t capture the same romanticism as the last time director Stephan Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton collaborated for 1988’s “Dangerous Liaisons,” which earned Pfeiffer her first of three Academy Award nominations.

Pfeiffer shouldn’t be returning to the big dance this year, although stranger things have happened. “Chéri” is cinematically beautiful with all the pomp and circumstance it delivers in costume and setting. The story, however, feels like a cheap one-night stand rather than a daring love story and is not as overly tragic as it makes itself out to be.