Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"Marie Antoinette" and "Running With Scissors"

Marie Antoinette- There is a moment of absolute cinematic perfection about halfway through Sofia Coppola's third film. Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) is celebrating her birthday, romping through the countryside with her compatriates to watch the sunrise as we hear New Order's "Ceremony" (one of my top ten favorite songs). The camera hangs back observing, taking it all in. It reminds us of those rare moments in our lives where we realize that we are exactly where we want to be in that instant, where nothing else matters. It is a joyful moment, yet a haunting one because we know what awaits the young Queen.
Sofia Coppola's first two films, "The Virgin Suicides" and "Lost in Translation," were masterpieces. "Marie" is her most ambitious film yet, and while it is flawed, it is very very good. Historical purists and the Cannes crowd have little use for it, to which I say, good. As I noted, New Order is on the soundtrack, along with the Strokes, the Cure, Air, and other modern day bands. Yes, it's anachronistic. Yes, all the French people are American or British. Yes, at a glance this might look like "A Knight's Tale" had it been directed by Terrence Malick. Yes, it works.
Like Coppola's previous films, "Marie Antoinette" is sparse on dialogue and much of it is caught in pieces, heard in passing. This only makes sense because in her vision of Versailles in 1768 the people have little to do but gossip. Information spreads in whispers, the facts getting lost along the way. Did Marie Antoinette actually utter the words, "Let them eat cake"? This movie doesn't think so.
We meet Marie as a 14 year old girl leaving all things Austrian behind, even her beloved dog, and heading to France to marry the shy and withdrawn Louis XVI (Max Fischer himself, Jason Schwartzman). The night of their marriage they are seen off to bed by the entire royal court, including Louis' father (the always great Rip Torn, who's having a good time here). This is an awkward moment. It is to be the first of many for Marie. For the next few years the lack of an heir is the main subject of gossip amongst the French and Austrian peoples as Marie even gets letters from her mother about the as yet unconsummated marriage. Even after their children are born, there are problems for the young rulers of France after Louis XV's death.
This is not a plot heavy film, nor is it one in which we learn much about historical facts. Coppola's always been interested in creating mood and atmosphere, and through the stunning cinematography of Lance Acord and the use of energetic music, she brings this world to life.
The performances are all top notch. Dunst hasn't been this good since "The Virgin Suicides." Her eyes say more than a monologue ever could. Schwartzman is terrific as well. When the newlyweds are sitting to their first breakfast Marie asks, "Is it true that you make keys as a hobby?"
"Yes," he uncomfortably responds, not even pausing between bites.
"So you enjoy making keys?"
"Obviously," he says continuing to chew.
Also of note are Torn, Steve Coogan ("Tristram Shandy"), Shirley Henderson ("24 Hour Party People"), and Danny Huston ("The Constant Gardener"). It's not for everybody, but if you enjoyed Sofia Coppola's previous work or just enjoy atmospheric filmmaking, "Marie Antoinette" is not to be missed. 8.5/10

Running With Scissors- "Where would we be without our painful childhoods?" Dr. Finch (Brian Cox, "Rushmore") asks young Augusten Burroughs. When you look at what the real Burroughs has done with his life, it's a valid question. "Running With Scissors" would hardly be believable had it not actually been true. We meet Augusten in 1972, at age 7. His mother Deirdre (Annette Bening) has called the school saying that he can't come in because he's overconditioned his hair. Augusten hates school and is all too happy to play along. His father Norman (played by Alec Baldwin in perhaps his best performance to date) can only look on in defeat as he watches Augusten polish his allowance and be informed, "I'm more like my mother." Thankfully as Augusten gets older (now in 1978 and played by Joseph Cross, "Flags of Our Fathers"), we discover that this is not the case. Deirdre defines self-absorption, taking it so far that she actually gives her son away to her psychiatrist Dr. Finch, so she can concentrate on her poetry. The Finch household is in complete disarray, literally and figuratively, and the patriarch couldn't be more pleased about it. His wife Agnes (the terrific Jill Clayburgh) is barely hanging on while oldest daughter Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a product of her father's pill-popping pre-New Age environment. Youngest daughter Natalie, (Evan Rachel Wood, "Thirteen," "Down in the Valley," outstanding as always) is the only one in the house that Augusten can relate to. Matters are not helped when Neil Bookman (the barely recognizable Joseph Fiennes) comes into their lives.
"Running With Scissors" is a bizarre film, but Burroughs had a bizarre childhood. Joseph Cross does a great job in the lead role, helping to ground us back into reality when we think we've stepped outside of it. Bening is being heaped with praise right now for her performance, and deservedly so. Her transformation and descent into pill-induced madness is mesmerizing. Everyone is great here (I love Brian Cox) and writer-director Ryan Murphy (who of course based the film on the book by Burroughs) does a very fine job as well. Dramedy may be the hardest thing for a director to pull off and he does it pretty well. Ignore the low rating on Rotten Tomatoes. "Running With Scissors" is an entertaining look at a life we're glad we did not have. 8/10

Also, I saw Kevin Macdonald's "The Last King of Scotland" a few weeks ago. I kept telling myself I'd write a review and yeah, it just didn't happen. Anyway, it's very good. It's in limited release but worth checking out if you can find it. Yes, Forest Whitaker is outstanding in it, but it's James McAvoy's performance as the young corruptible doctor that really makes the movie. 8/10


At Thu Nov 02, 04:59:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At Thu Nov 02, 06:47:00 PM PST, Blogger Mike the Marine said...

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