Let the Sunshine In

June 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Philippe Katerine
Directed by: Claire Denis (“White Material”)
Written by: Claire Denis (“Basterds”) and Christine Angot (debut)

Unless you’re a female character in a Nicholas Sparks novel or an attractive actress under 40, chances are that Hollywood studios aren’t very interested in what goes on in your love life. While there are always exceptions — 2009’s “It’s Complicated” and 2011’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” are two examples — the rarity of these stories is no secret in the industry.

Consider this: In a 2015 sketch on Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer,” comedian Amy Schumer teamed up with actresses Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette to mock what she referred to as an actress’ “Last Fuckable Day” — a time in an actress’ life when the media decides she is not “fuckable” anymore.

It’s notable, then, that in the opening scene of Juliette Binoche’s new romantic dramedy “Let the Sunshine In,” the 54-year-old Oscar-winning actress’ character is having sex. This doesn’t prove, however, that Hollywood is comfortable portraying a middle-aged woman in an uninhibited scene like this. “Let the Sunshine In,” in fact, is a French foreign language film and, as most cinephiles know, sexuality in French cinema is not a taboo subject, which is probably why someone like Gérard Depardieu is still flashing his ass well into his 60s.

Co-written and directed by Claire Denis (“White Material”), “Let the Sunshine In” is an impassioned and oftentimes frustrating examination into the empty relationships pursued by Isabelle (Binoche), an artist looking for love and striking out at every turn. There’s nothing romantic about Isabelle’s desperate attempts to keep a man or to watch a handful of suitors string her along.

“I’ll never leave my wife,” one of the married men she is sleeping with tells her. “You’re charming, but my wife is extraordinary.”

Although Isabelle finally pulls the plug on that specific “backstreet lover,” it’s difficult to understand Denis’ intentions with a narrative that becomes more maddening with every idealistic move Isabelle makes to find true happiness. Denis and Binoche capture the dissatisfaction Isabelle feels and the inconsistent nature of her character, but at what price? At one point, Denis wants audiences to believe Isabelle is a free-thinking, independent woman, but then allows her to digress into this needy, self-pitying doormat at the drop of a hat.

We’ll give Denis the benefit of the doubt and call Isabelle an intricately written character, but there’s an undiagnosed Cinderella complex happening in “Let the Sunshine In” that Denis doesn’t want to confront. The screenplay is aimless, but Binoche works with what she’s given and provides a subtly neurotic performance of a conflicted woman who desires undesirable men. Like Isabelle’s relationships, “Let the Sunshine In” is mostly unsatisfying, but Binoche — even when she flickers — is a ray of light.

Ghost in the Shell

March 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Juliette Binoche
Directed by: Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”)
Written by: Jamie Moss (“Street Kings”) and William Wheeler (“The Hoax”) and Ehren Krueger (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”)

In the ’90s, adolescent me had all kinds of under-the-radar alternate entertainment thrown at me by virtue of being a socially-awkward fat nerd. Some things stuck hard, like comic books, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.” Others even I deflected, like Magic: The Gathering and anime—then only accessible on VHS from higher-end comic book shops, not counting the mass-market, sanitized Japanese exports like “Sailor Moon” and the fledgling days of “Pokemon.”

I feel like I gave anime a fair shake, though, and hyper-violent cartoons with occassional nudity was an easy sell anyway. But still, nothing. As I moved into my 20s, the ubiquitousness of DVDs led to me sampling one of the masterworks of the genre I had long heard about, 1995’s “Ghost in the Shell.” And again, it didn’t take. I shook hands with anime and we went our separate ways.

But, because genre filmmaking is a beast that can’t be satiated, it was only a matter of time before “Ghost in the Shell,” with its cyberpunk-robot storyline easily retrofitted for American audiences, was given the big-budget Hollywood treatment—and the endlessly debated, probably problematic whitewashed casting that goes with it.

Set in a future where humans augment themselves with cybernetic implants and live in cities filled with Golem-like holographic advertising avatars, “Ghost in the Shell” opens with the creation of the Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first synthetic humanoid with a real human brain inside of it under the care of Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche). Major’s real body was damaged in a terrorist bombing, so she is told, and Ouelet saved her life. Since the Major is a product of the probably-evil Hanka robotics corporation, she is of course weaponized and made to hunt down terrorists with a multinational team, including the hulking, dog-friendly muscle with cybernetic eyes Batou (Pilou Asbæk), the closest Major comes to having a partner. They’re on the trail of a super-hacker named Kuze (Michael Pitt) who’s working to assassinate Hanka scientists—but his reasons remain mysterious until the Major is able to get close to him and recover her memories, changing everything.

As a dull amalgam of “Blade Runner,” “The Matrix,” and HBO’s “Westworld,” “Ghost in the Shell” is a beautiful-looking film that proclaims to be about identity, but fails to find one of its own. Its the type of movie that, 15 years ago, cinephiles would have salivated over as showcases for their home audio/video setups—a special-edition DVD in a shiny foil packaging, all gloss with nothing underneath. It’s a shame, too, because Johannson once again proves herself to be a badass female action hero in an industry severely lacking them. After this and the travesty that was “Lucy,” can we stop dicking around and just give her a “Black Widow” movie already?

Words and Pictures

June 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche, Keegan Connor Tracey
Directed by: Fred Schepisi (“The Eye of the Storm”)
Written by: Gerald Di Pego (“Little Murder”)

As the much talked about battle between words and pictures takes place between the flamed out, alcoholic cool English teacher Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) and the once revered but hampered by arthritis crotchety art teacher Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) at a school assembly, we are almost two hours into an exhausting tale. It’s a moment that is supposed to hit hard and resonate, but given the preceding events, it misses on nearly every level, a common theme in “Words and Pictures.”

When teacher Jack Marcus finds his job on the line, he engages new art teacher Dina Delsanto in a contest of what is more impactful and important: words or pictures. As an effort to inspire and engage the students, Jack also hopes that the results reflect better on him in order to save his job. In the process, he finds himself strangely attracted to the stern Delsanto and sets the two on an unexpected journey both romantically and head to head in a battle of the arts.

While there are some decent scenes of the two together, the relationship between Owen and Binoche is oddly mismatched. Owen, who is just not believable as a romantic comedy lead, serves much better in the dark scenes in which he is playing drunk and the occasional classroom scene and Binoche is surprisingly unaffecting. There’s an almost cartoonish quality to the character of Delsanto who is so stereotypically icy, yet completely immature in her degradations such as when she blows raspberries in Owen’s direction.

If the film had been about just Binoche and Owen’s characters it would have been lackluster enough. Instead, screenwriter Gerald Di Pego insists on jamming in subplots that don’t fit. The worst of the bunch is story about an aggressive student who tries to bully a female student into liking him. It’s a plot line that is a complete misfire and goes nowhere while feeling false and off-putting.

There are plenty of other examples of plotlines that are ill-fitting, including a relationship with Delsanto and a favorite student and Jack’s relationship with his son, but the real problem is that the film suffers even when it is just Jack and Delsanto together. There are some good individual scenes that romanticize literary works and Owen and Binoche do occasionally work well together, but as an entire piece, “Words and Pictures” juggles too many stories that don’t work and drags on and on without any real payoff.

Paris

October 12, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris, Mélanie Laurent
Directed by: Cédric Klapisch (“Russian Dolls”)
Written by: Cédric Klapisch (“Russian Dolls”)

Not much adds up in French director Cédric Klapisch’s film “Paris” although the incoherent trip through the city is quite appealing to the eye. Academy Award winning actress Juliette Binoche (“The English Patient”) is lovely in her portrayal of a sister who moves in with her sick brother to take care of him. But beyond a couple of stories intertwined between each other, Klapisch get messy when he doesn’t let up with secondary characters and plot points that feel like they’re just blowing in the Paris wind.