Film Review: THE WHITE CROW (UK 2018) ****

The White Crow Poster
Trailer

The story of Rudolf Nureyev‘s defection to the West.

Director:

Ralph Fiennes

Writers:

David Hare (screenplay), Julie Kavanagh (Inspired by her book: “Rudolf Nureyev: The Life”)

The term white crow refers to a person who is both extraordinary and an outsider, a term that clearly applies to the famous Russian ballet dancer defector Rudolph Nureyev.  Ralph Fiennes directs from a screenplay by theatre playwright and director (who has also directed a few films) David Hare from the biography Rudolph Nureyev: The life by Julie Kavanagh.  It is the first part of his life, apparently the less volatile portion of it.  This begs for a sequel to this first look at Nureyev’s younger days.

The film begins with the dancer with his Russian troupe arriving in Paris for a performance for the first time.  The year is 1961.  As the route steps on to the bus that takes them around the streets of Paris, it is clear that the amount of logistics that have gone into this period piece.  The troupe are decked in the 60’s wardrobe with 60’s make-up and hair.  The steps on the bus are made of aluminium as they were often made in those days.  And the street is filled with 60’s vintage cars.  The Parisienne period atmosphere created is stunning as it is and well worth the price of the admission ticket regardless of how Fiennes’ film turns out.  His attention to detail, including his speaking of Russian, playing  Nureyev’s ballet teacher is to be commended.

The film flashbacks to the year 1938 on a train in the Soviet Union.  A woman is in delivery, which the audience assume (correctly) that it is Nureyev being born.  The audience sees that the ballet protege was born in poverty but rises to the top not only by talent and hard work but by sheer will of determination, often getting his way by awkward means.

As a biopic, Nureyev’s life story contains sufficient events to make it extremely absorbing if not entertaining.  Nureyev is told at the very beginning by a Russian official.   Ballet is all about rules and obedience.  Nureyev is a rebel.  Nureyev is brilliantly portrayed by Ukrainian dancer Oleg Ivenko who displays great dance performances as well as a model body to die for.  He has sex with both sexes, but the audience is spared the sex scenes.

The film’s shooting locations include the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) and the Louvre in Paris.  The important painting ‘the raft’ is shown, displaying how beauty can emerge from ugliness.

For a two hour plus film, director Fiennes paces his film well, with hardly a dull moment.  He ends the film with an extremely suspenseful segment that turns out very satisfying for two reason.  Firstly, it is a truly well executed nail biter, with shades of TORN CURTAIN, that even Hitchcock would be proud of.   Fiennes also takes the risk (that pays of), of intercutting the segment with Nureyev’s mother offering him the crucial words “You do this alone,” while he makes the crucial important decision of whether to defect or go back to Russia.  The conclusion is also the termination of Nureyev’s dream for freedom to do the things he wishes, without restriction.  

I was in London a month ago when two opening films were hogging the news.  THE WHITE CROW (the other film was US) was one of them.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUYPHIG8os8

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Movie Review: A BIGGER SPLASH. Starring: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes

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abiggersplash.jpgA BIGGER SPLASH (Italy/France 2015) ***
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson

Review by Gilbert Seah

Luca Guadagnino’s new film after his acclaimed hit I AM LOVE is based on the 1969 Jacques Deray sex/murder flick LA PISCINE (THE SWIMMING POOL). The title A BIGGER SPLASH could mean that this film is a more modern take of the then subtle thriller, this one louder and with more sex, nudity and verbal intercourse. To be fair, both films are quite good. A BIGGER SPLASH should be examined on its own, despite the initial bad reviews it received after the Venice Film Festival premiere last year.

The story is updated and the famous Alain Delon role is now undertaken by newly popular hunk, the Belgian Mattias Schoenaerts who plays a character called Paul de Smedt. (Delon played a character called Jean-Paul.) Oddly the other three characters, Paul’s lover, Marianne (Tilda Swinton), his best friend, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson) all retain their same names.

When the film opens, there is a shot of nude figure by the swimming pool. Rock legend Marianne Lane is recuperating from a throat operation on the volcanic island of Pantelleria with her partner Paul when iconoclast record producer and old flame Harry unexpectedly arrives with his daughter Penelope in tow. One can tell immediately that sex is going to be exchanged between different partners. And it happens as predicted.

The four characters (in the menage a quatre), are not particularly likeable personalities. Marianne can be considered a queen bitch, full of herself and served sexually by meek Paul which the audience will likely have no patience with, especially when he is subtly seduced by Penelope. Penelope is a spoilt rich kid. Harry is the most dislikable of the 4, being loud, offensive and abusive when he wants. On the other hand, these four are performed by 4 of filmdom’s top stars. Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton – I would see her in anything and she is always good in any film. She makes gargling sexy in the bedroom scene. Schoenaerts is now hot property after RUST AND BONE and DISORDER, proving himself apt in roles of brooding, sexy men. Fiennes and Johnson are also excellent to watch – especially them inhabiting horrid personalities.

Intriguing as the story is, the film could be shortened from its lengthy 2 hours. Two characters Mireille (Aurore Clement) and Sylvie (Lily McMenamy), Harry’s friends who show up invited by Harry could have been eliminated from the film without much effect. There is also a sudden shock in the plot at the film’s end when the chief Carabiniere announces the death of 7 Tunisian immigrants. One can only guess the purpose of this revelation as it is never made clear. It is likely that Guadagnino wishes to state that the problems of the rich, white elite are not the only problems faced by the police. The dead 7 make A BIGGER SPLASH. The snakes writhing by the pool probably is a metaphor for something else in the story.

Music and sound are appropriately used. The clanging sound invoking menace is one example. In another scene, Harry teases his listeners (and the audience) to identify “What is it? the drumming sound from a record he plays that turns out to be the banging of trash cans. The end credits Rolling Stones song “Emotional Rescue” is also suitably chosen.

The action slowly but surely unfolds in two hours of subtle sexual pleasure. Nudity, both male and female are abundant. Writer/director Guadagnino never makes it clear at the end what really happened between Penelope and Paul. It really does not matter in the long run, which makes all the guessing so neat.

A BIGGER SPLASH marks the return of the sexy moody thriller genre that was so popular in the 70’s and 80’s. Hope the film will make a return (I will refrain from using the obvious pun) to of more films in this genre.

 

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Movie Review: HAIL CAESAR! (2016)

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hail_caesar_poster.jpgHAIL, CAESAR! (USA 2016) ****
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenrich, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill

Review by Gilbert Seah

The Coen Brothers remain in top form.  They etch out a film almost annually, with almost each one a critical hit.  Their films are an annual event many moviegoers now look forward to.  Their best films include TRUE GRIT, FARGO, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and BURN AFTER READING, and all their films share the Brother’s keen sense of humour.  HAIL, CAESAR! like BURN AFTER READING is pure comedy and this one is a worthy tribute to the Hollywood dream-making machine.  It has the feel of a farce yet, it total respects the Hollywood studio system, for all its faults and errors.

The lead character is a Hollywood studio fixer by the name of Mannix, subtly portrayed by Josh Brolin, in the kind of role he has mastered.  He is a dead serious character you do not want to mess around with.  Or you will get slapped around like his main star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) did, before being told to then go out and act like a star.  The film begins with Mannix in a confessional box, pouring his heart out to the priest.  Mannix is shown to be a decent man, one that respects other human beings, despite their faults and one who loves his wife and kids.  He is the backbone of America and the one that make sense in the Coen film.  Which is required – or all else will go to nought and the film degenerates into nonsense.  Of all the sins confessed, the one that affects him the most is his cigarette smoking.  He has promised his wife (Alison Pill) to cut down and is unable to do so.  The plot generally follows Mannix around while things in the Studio fall apart, while being offered a smoke most of the time.  Mannix fixes things, hilariously yet credibly, and that is the basic premise of HAIL, CAESAR!  While all these are going on, he is wooed for a better paying, better hours job at Lockheed Incorporated.

The things that can go wrong provide most of the satire and entertainment.  A famous actress, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) is pregnant and her image is about to be ruined.  A famous cowboy actor, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is unable to utter his lines to the satisfaction of his director Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes).  Tabloid columnist sisters (both played by Tilda Swinton wearing different hats) want a scoop trying to dig in dirt about star Whitlock.  The most jarring problem is Whitlock being kidnapped by a groups of disgruntled scriptwriters who want their far share of the dough.  Mannix has to sort them all out.

All these problems provide ample opportunity for hilarity – Coen Brothers style.  And they keep the laughs coming with twists in the story as they know best.  The brains behind kidnapping turns out to be communist Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum).

The Brothers play plenty of homage to old classics.  There is a spectacular swimming Busby Berkley swimming number, Esther Williams style as in MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID, a one-take musical gay-type musical number with no dames to the tune of “No Dames”with nods to ANCHORS AWEIGH and Rogers and Hammerstein’s song “There is Nothing like a Dame” from SOUTH PACIFIC and scenes that could be taken right out of William Wyler’s BEN-HUR, just to name a few.

The Brothers have also assembled quite the impressive all-star cast, though some on the list only appear for a few minutes in a scene or two.  The Jonah Hill character seems present just to utter the line  “It’s all part of the job, Miss.”  Fiennes and Johansson are only present for two scenes while Frances McDormand has only one as a chain-smoking editor who gets chokes by the film reel in the editing room.  For whatever they do, they leave the audience wanting for more.  Relative newcomer Ehrenreich steals the show as the cute cowboy who eventually helps Mannix instead of the other way around.

Great directors have made films about the passion in the making of movies.  Fellini had 81/2, Truffaut LA NUIT AMERICAINE, Almodovar BAD EDUCATION and the Coen Brothers HAIL, CASEAR!.  Everything comes clear as to what the Coens are up to by the end reel.  There are elements that don’t work that well or are overdone, but or the most part HAIL, CAESAR! is quite the movie, especially for the moviebuff.  HAIL, CAESAR is a minor classic but a major delight!  I would see it again.

 

Also, Free logline submissions. The Writing Festival network averages over 95,000 unique visitors a day.
Great way to get your story out: http://www.wildsound.ca/logline.html

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Watch recent Writing Festival Videos. At least 15 winning videos a month:http://www.wildsoundfestival.com