At Eternity’s Gate

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaac, Rupert Friend
Directed by: Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”)
Written by: Julian Schnabel (“Before Night Falls”), Jean-Claude Carrière (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) and Louise Kugelberg (debut)

During a scene in the 1975 Academy Award-winning drama “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” a doctor at a mental institution tells R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) that after evaluating him for four weeks, he sees no evidence of mental illness. “You know, what do you want me to do?” McMurphy asks before mimicking masturbating, as if to say, “Is this what ‘crazy’ is supposed to look like?”

In “At Eternity’s Gate,” a biopic on Vincent van Gogh, Oscar-nominated director Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) seems to wonder the same thing as Nicholson’s character. Everyone knows van Gogh suffered from some form of psychological disorder, so why play it up like other van Gogh films of the past? Why show him writhing in front of a mirror like a madman in 1956’s “Lust for Life?” Why depict him as some fiendish loon who licks the blood off a knife after he uses it to cut off his ear like in 1990’s “Vincent & Theo?”

While both actors Kirk Douglas and Tim Roth give commendable overall performances as van Gogh in their respected films (Douglas earned an Oscar nomination for his), the idea that mental illness can be defined as one specific thing (or behavior) is an antiquated concept. It’s one of the reasons Schnabel’s film — co-written by him, his girlfriend Louise Kugelberg and French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) — is such an enlightening and unique experience. With “At Eternity’s Gate,” Schnabel, who is a famous painter himself, confronts van Gogh’s mental instability with inventive style and philosophical reflection. In doing so, he has given audiences one of the most creative and visually-striking cinematic compositions about an artist in recent memory.

Although almost 30 years older than van Gogh was at the time of his death, three-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”) delivers a glorious portrayal as the Dutch post-impressionist painter during the final years of his life — living and painting in Arles in the south of France. During this time, we watch van Gogh connect with nature, exchange ideas with friend and artist Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) and find the beauty in the mundane. Through handheld camerawork, distorted scenes and other stimulating experimental film elements, Schnabel designs “At Eternity’s Gate” as if it were one of van Gogh’s pieces seen through the eyes of a filmmaker like Terrence Malik (“Tree of Life”).

It’s not until the second half of the film when Schnabel really scours inside the mind of van Gogh as his mental illness starts to get the best of him — hallucinations, anxiety, depression and self-mutilation. Even then, however, Schnabel focuses more on the man, his work and his words. In “At Eternity’s Gate,” he allows viewers to see the world from van Gogh’s transcendent perspective.

Hitman: Agent 47

August 21, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto
Directed by: Aleksander Bach (debut)
Written by: Skip Woods (“Hitman”) and Michael Finch (“The November Man”)

Look, I don’t really know much about video games these days, but I do know that the relationship between games and films—consisting of films based on games or vice-versa—is one of missed opportunities, half-assed hack jobs, and marred by some of the worst examples of either genre. Foregoing the film-to-games side of the equation, of which the only positive example is “GoldenEye 64,” let’s turn to the list of lame to terrible movies made from video games, like “Super Mario Bros.,” “Street Fighter,” “Doom,” and, well, every single other adaptation you can think of. The latest game-to-movie adaptation to leap out of consoles and into theaters is “Hitman: Agent 47,” a second try at crafting a cinematic adventure from a pixelated bucket of generic crap like genetically-modified assassins, shadowy organizations staffed with blindly-loyal cannon fodder, and robotically-efficient hitmen differentiated with tattooed bar codes.

Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) is an emotionless killing machine, engineered from childhood to be an assassin for one of the aforementioned shadowy organization known as The Agency and to fight a different shadowy organization known as The Syndicate—and no, not the same one from “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.” 47 is sent to kill Katia (Hannah Ware), a young woman searching for a mysterious man she knows nothing about. Katia is intercepted by John Smith (Zachary Quinto), another mysterious stranger who tells her the man he is looking for is her father, and he is the man behind the Agent program that created 47 and numerous other Agents. Punch punch shoot, chase chase, helicopter explodes, maybe one cool action sequence, yawn.

In 2007, Timothy Olyphant, an actual charismatic actor, played 47 and no one cared. Desperate to try again on the franchise (for some reason) Fox originally tapped the late Paul Walker as the new 47. With the star’s tragic death in 2013, the studio decided to forge ahead anyway with whoever looked good with their head shaved and settled on “Homeland’s” Rupert Friend, who leaves no impression whatsoever, just like the rest of the movie. Quinto tries to have some fun, but the nonsensical screenplay strands him in a plot turn that gives him nothing to do but chase after Friend and Ware. Ciaran Hinds, lately of “Game of Thrones,” also shows up for a little while, but nothing means anything and as soon as the credits roll, the whole movie slips from your memory, like hitting the reset button on your video game console.

The Young Victoria

January 26, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée (“C.R.A.Z.Y.”)
Written by: Julian Fellowes (“Vanity Fair”)

As a period piece, “The Young Victoria” is fairly generic when it comes to offering a history lesson, but credit must be given to Emily Blunt and her portrayal of Queen Victoria during the first years as ruler of England. As the young queen, Blunt plays the real-life character both mature and inexperienced.  Add to that some top-notch costume design by two-time Oscar nominated (7-time nominee) Sandy Powell (“The Aviator,” “Shakespeare in Love”) and solid production design and “Victoria” is right at the edge of a recommendation.

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.