~Downstairs at the Savoy~
Venus in Fur
Starts Friday, July 25
Not Rated; 96 minutes
In French w/subtitles
Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer (excerpted)
Wickedly smart and playful, Roman Polanski's adaptation of the Tony-nominated play works on so many levels, it's almost dizzying. A two-character piece about power, perversion, subjugation, seduction, the battle of the sexes, and the relationship between an actress and her director, a director and his star. Polanski's version - translated into French, and starring his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Mathieu Amalric - opens with a melodramatic sweep of music, as a camera rolls up to the swinging front doors of a theater and takes us inside.
There's an audition notice taped to the poster of the play about to depart, and inside, a wildly frustrated Thomas Novacheck (Amalric, bearing a striking resemblance to Polanski) is on the phone, griping about the hopelessness of the casting process. None of the women he's tested for the role of Vanda von Dunajev, a 19th-century consort of icy intelligence and elegance, has come anywhere close. Then, in walks a rain-soaked, mascara-streaked actress, desperately late for her audition - and, at first glance, absolutely wrong for the part. Dressed in streetwalker gear, with a dog collar and a tattoo, she's as far from the character she aspires to play Novacheck can imagine.
Seigner's transformation from seemingly clueless ditz to a woman of uncanny perception is astonishing. Set, as it is, in a theater, Venus in Fur is also very much about the process of bringing a performance to life. It's about stagecraft, and about the craftiness of (good) actors, about power changing hands - from the playwright to the person assigned to inhabit the role. The film should be required viewing in acting classes. It should be required viewing in classes about human sexuality, sexual dynamics, psychology, too. Hell, it should just be required viewing.
~Upstairs at the Savoy~
A Most Wanted Man
Starts Friday, August 1
Rated R; 121 minutes
Guy Lodge, HitFix (excerpted)
Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man is the first big-screen adaptation of a John Le Carré novel since Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011. The difference is that we're long past the Cold War's big thaw in this particular story: post-9/11 paranoia is the order of the day, though Le Carré's typically dry, rueful tone and director Corbijn's pewter-colored aesthetic combine to suggest the shift is immaterial: the more things change, the more they stay the same, and political distrust springs eternal.
The setting may be Hamburg -- a hub of terrorist research and surveillance since being revealed as the place where Mohammed Atta conceived and planned the 9/11 attacks -- but so dense is the film's fog of smoke, cynicism and heavy skies from the outset that you half-expect Gary Oldman's George Smiley to show up. In a sense, he does, though his accent has turned brittly German and he's taken the rather less trim form of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Hoffman's performance is a thing of wily, weathered beauty -- his peculiar accent less a feat of mimicry than of character-based interpretation. A slouching figure in unpressed suits, his sparse yellow hair an afterthought, Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann, the jaded chief of a terrorist investigation unit kept hidden by the German government, their mission is to cultivate and protect informants in the city's Islamic community. Few contemporary actors have quite such a lock on bleary-eyed intelligence, and he plays Bachmann's lone-wolf stature with just the right degree of ashy irony -- his mordantly flirtatious exchanges with Robin Wright's CIA agent Sullivan are a particular joy to observe.
~Upstairs at the Savoy~
Rated R; 164 minutes
Dan Mecca, The Film Stage (excerpted)
Writer-director Richard Linklater (Waking Life, the Before trilogy) returns with Boyhood, a film 12 years in the making and worth every minute of the wait. Shot one week at a time over the course of a decade, Linklater explores the formative years of a young man named Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane. Born into separated parents, played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke (doing some of the best work in their careers), Mason represents some part of a childhood all of us have known. This is a film of many small moments, all added together to make something quite wonderful.
Arquette is a single mom struggling to pay the rent while Hawke’s dad character is somewhere in Alaska, popping in when it suits him. When Mom makes the decision to move to Houston to save some money and be closer to her own mother, Mason’s older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) throws a temper-tantrum. Mason looks a bit more confused, barely catching a glimpse of his best friend as their car drives away forever. These are the scenes that make up a lifetime.
As Mason grows from young child to budding teenager to young adult, his development seamlessly reflects our own. We watch him study lingerie catalogs with his friends when he’s 12, brag about sexual experiences he hasn’t had at 14 and get his heart broken in the years that follow. Within a two-and-a-half-hour runtime (which soars by), Mason is everything from a cute, precocious child to a long-haired, attitude-riddled teenager. We sympathize with him because we’ve lived with him, as Linklater has, over these last 12 years.
~Downstairs at the Savoy~
Rated R; 112 minutes
Jessica Baxter, Film Threat (excerpted)
Kelly Reichardt (Wendy & Lucy, Meek's Cutoff) tells a tale of crime and punishment for 3 Oregon-based eco-terrorists, played with comparable intensity by Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Fanning and Jesse Eisenberg. We’re given little back story regarding who these people are and what brought them together, but Reichardt trusts both her actors and her audience to fill in the blanks through loaded dialogue and long close-ups. It’s not just smart filmmaking; it’s visual poetry.
Josh (Eisenberg) is a quiet, morally-assured environmental radical. You can see his wheels turning with every, barely modified facial expression. Dena (Fanning) is a young idealist rebelling against her yuppie upbringing. She’s smart and quick with a retort for everyone who doubts her. Dena and Josh meet up with Harmon (Sarsgaard), an ex-Marine who questions everything but his own ideology. With their individual skill-sets, the trio forms an Environmental A-Team. They carry out each detail of their plan with extreme caution, knowing they only have one shot. We don’t necessarily want them to succeed, but we care about what happens to them. We share their anxiety.
Night Moves is not a political film. Characters make passing remarks that resemble a political debate, but for the most part, Reichardt doesn’t take sides. Instead, she presents a character study in what happens when people have their dearly held convictions blown wide open because they failed to see the big picture or consider other perspectives. They start to question their own beliefs and their trust in each other. It’s a white-knuckled slow ride through mental unraveling and an absolute must-see film.