Christine Vachon

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Carol Review

Essential

As in his gorgeous film Far From Heaven and TV series Mildred Pierce, filmmaker Todd Haynes tells a simple story with visual impact and thematic resonance. All three of these projects centre on characters who feel like outsiders in their societies, offering staggeringly complex roles for Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet and now Cate Blanchett. This one is also based on a Patricia Highsmith novel (published originally as The Price of Salt), so it has an added layer of underlying intensity.

The story is set in the run-up to Christmas 1952, as New York department store clerk Therese (Rooney Mara) becomes intrigued by Carol (Blanchett), a glamorous customer who seems unusually attentive. Therese finds a reason to contact her, and the two become friends despite the difference in age and class. Meanwhile, Carol is trying to extricate herself from her marriage to Harge (Kyle Chandler), who is still feeling wounded by Carol's relationship with another woman (Sarah Paulson) and threatens to use her friendship with Therese to deny custody of their young daughter. And Therese also has a nice-guy suitor in Richard (Jake Lacy), who is becoming increasingly suspicious. With all of this pressure on them, Carol and Therese make an impulsive decision to take a road trip together.

The events unfold with delicate precision, as Phyllis Nagy's script smartly allows these woman to circle around each other trying to work out how they feel. There's a gun-in-the-suitcase element that adds a bit of spark, but the real story here plays out between the lines in exquisite performances from Blanchett and Mara, who convey most of their feelings through offhanded glances and subtle gestures. This adds beautifully to the depiction of the period's repressive attitudes without ever being obvious about it, and it also reveals the deep emotions that come with feeling like you don't fit in with what society expects of you.

Continue reading: Carol Review

Kill Your Darlings Review


Very Good

Even though it's slightly too mannered, this true drama takes a clever approach to the beat poets long before they were famous. It's also packed with shocking twists and unnerving details that help us get emotionally involved in the story. And while the complexity of the approach kind of leaves us on the outside, sensitive performances help us see beneath the surface.

Set in 1943, the film centres on Allen Ginsburg (Radcliffe), who has been encouraged by his poet father (Cross) and needy mother (Leigh) to attend Columbia in New York. There he befriends the transgressive writer Lucien Carr (DeHaan), whose secret mentor-boyfriend David (Hall) is actually writing his coursework. Through Lucien, Allen is introduced to the druggy lifestyle of intense artist William Burroughs (Foster) and rugged womaniser Jack Kerouac (Huston). And together they decide to change the world. Then a shocking murder alters the dynamic between these young men.

The film's title is age-old advice to artists: you have to get rid of the people closest to you if you want to truly express yourself. And of course the fatal plot twist is an ironic exploration of this idea, as the film delves into shadowy corners of artistic anarchy, drug use and sexuality. (Radcliffe's notorious gay sex scene is strikingly well-played and pivotal in Allen's journey.) Filmmaker Kokidas infuses each scene with dark artistry: the actors look achingly cool even when they're wallowing in a trashy, immaculately production-designed drug den.

Continue reading: Kill Your Darlings Review

I'm Not There Review


Essential
We first meet the real Bob Dylan, lit by a spotlight and blowing into a harmonica with his eyes turned ever-downward, at the very end of Todd Haynes' I'm Not There. (The footage comes from a concert filmed in the 1960's.) Though there are six evocations of our hero's persona and dozens of references to his words and images, his actual visage is kept under lock and key until the solemn credits. To Haynes, the mystery of who the man is behind closed doors should stay that way: Behind closed doors tends to be pretty tedious if not downright boring. It's more fun to extrapolate: In the open valleys of cultural myth, a celebrity can become any number of things.

At first, he's a young, train-hopping wanderer who has taken the name Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin), from his hero Woody Guthrie. He also plays a guitar with "This Machine Kills Fascism" painted on it. Later, the man appears as an aged Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) who can't understand why the locals are being bullied out of their land by a decrepit Pat Garrett (Bruce Greenwood). Fitfully, the sequences are shot in the dusty browns of Peckinpah and the hippie westerns of the late 1960s and 1970s. Both stories, along with the others, are consistently interrupted by a press conference with poet Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), who speaks in a particularly American sarcasm while scrutinizing everyone who questions him, half-mumbling with cigarette in hand.

Continue reading: I'm Not There Review

The Notorious Bettie Page Review


OK

Whether she knew it or not, Bettie Page was breaking a lot of taboos when she started posing in bondage films and photos (maybe she knew but just decided to not care?). Current trends in modeling, including Dita Von Teese and Suicide Girls, often cite Page as an inspiration for their work. In Von Teese there is a certain comparison, but Suicide Girls, whether they like it or not, are not celebrating taboo. If anything, they are destroying taboo and making everything normal, even the strange and macabre. The trick with Page was that she didn't really see it as a bad thing; she never had it in her mind to exploit the idea of "the bad girl." Whether this was on director Mary Harron's mind when she opted to take on the life story of Bettie Page is up for debate.

Raised in Tennessee to a strict, religious family and a father with a fondness for bathing suit areas, Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) is set to become a teacher at college when she marries an army man and promptly leaves him when he hits her. After being sexually assaulted by a group of men, she makes her way to New York City to become an actress. The moment of fate comes when an off-duty police officer and amateur photog decides to take her picture. Soon enough, she's being sought out by famous photographers like Bunny Yeager (Sarah Paulson) and specialty photography siblings Irving and Paula Klaw (Chris Bauer and Lili Taylor, respectively). Her friends, mostly male, are astonished by her nonchalant attitude towards nudity and bondage. She just sees it as "silly pictures," but the Senate, led by Senator Estes Kefauver (David Strathairn, absolutely wasted), thinks it's warping the youth of America. Mostly, Bettie just wants to make a nice, God-fearing life for herself with a man who doesn't judge her.

Continue reading: The Notorious Bettie Page Review

Storytelling Review


Excellent
Writer-director Todd Solondz has a knack for making us feel downright uncomfortable. He did it in his twisted debut, Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), with a young Brendan Sexton III announcing his intentions to rape an even younger Heather Matarazzo. He did it in Happiness (1998), in nearly every scene. And he's providing more squirm-inducing moments in Storytelling, a film with less intensity than Happiness, but with a continuing streak of intellectually challenging dialogue and unforgiving subject matter.

Aside from Solondz's decidedly risky topics, his format in Storytelling takes chances. It presents two separate shorts, entitled "Fiction" and "Non-fiction," with no obvious connection between the two. The only true thread is that both comment on the telling of tales, the shifting of points of view, and the way most people in Solondz's suburban landscapes constantly paddle their painful lives upstream.

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A Home At The End Of The World Review


Weak
An initially touching story that wilts under its own insignificance, A Home at the End of the World is the second film to be adapted from a Michael Cunningham novel, following the footsteps of The Hours, a work that, for all its flaws, A Home can't even come close to. In an opening that veers wildly, and not unpleasantly, between adolescent melodrama and wildly unintended farce, we are given the suburban Cleveland childhood of two buddies, Bobby Morrow and Jonathan Glover. Bobby's eyes were opened to the world at age nine in the late 1960s, when his older brother Carlton introduced him to the joys of acid and hanging out in graveyards.

A few years later, after the deaths of both Carlton and his mother, Bobby is a puppy-eyed teenager who inherited Carlton's magnetic personality and utter lack of guile, which is what attracts another teen, the gawkier Jonathan, to him. After his dad dies, Bobby moves permanently into the Glover household as a sort of unofficial adopted brother to Jonathan - except that they're brothers who occasionally make out and smoke joints with Mrs. Glover (Sissy Spacek). The rather uptight Jonathan (he wears glasses and has braces, you see) can't handle Bobby's openness and is more than a little jealous of how eagerly her mother has embraced him into their family, and their romantic relationship stalls.

Continue reading: A Home At The End Of The World Review

Far From Heaven Review


Excellent
Todd Haynes must have a thing for torturing poor Julianne Moore, and what'd she ever do to him?

First she was reduced to an allergic-to-everything blob of flesh in Safe. Now she's emotionally torn asunder as her husband goes gay and the only man she can turn to happens to be black.

Continue reading: Far From Heaven Review

Chelsea Walls Review


Good
New York living is all about location. And where you live is often a sign of your lifestyle. If you live in Brooklyn, it is assumed you are more artistically inclined then, say, someone living in Queens (though this borough is making a comeback with its cheap rent). But the most notorious creative residence in all of New York has been the Chelsea Hotel, as far back as anyone can remember. Boasting such notable alumni as Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Bob Dylan, there is still a laidback, comfortably scrappy atmosphere about the place when you walk by.

Ethan Hawke (Training Day) courageously attempts to capture the essence of what makes this landmark so addictive in his directorial debut, Chelsea Walls. A collage of character plotlines that only barely intersect, Chelsea is a unique and respectable experiment in its focus on an inanimate object as its central character. Backed by a score that appropriately feels as if it were written while observing the production, Hawke creates an environment easily accessible to both New Yorkers and the non-initiated.

Continue reading: Chelsea Walls Review

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Christine Vachon Movies

Carol Movie Review

Carol Movie Review

As in his gorgeous film Far From Heaven and TV series Mildred Pierce, filmmaker Todd...

Kill Your Darlings Movie Review

Kill Your Darlings Movie Review

Even though it's slightly too mannered, this true drama takes a clever approach to the...

I'm Not There Movie Review

I'm Not There Movie Review

We first meet the real Bob Dylan, lit by a spotlight and blowing into a...

The Notorious Bettie Page Movie Review

The Notorious Bettie Page Movie Review

Whether she knew it or not, Bettie Page was breaking a lot of taboos when...

Advertisement
Storytelling Movie Review

Storytelling Movie Review

Writer-director Todd Solondz has a knack for making us feel downright uncomfortable. He did...

A Home At The End Of The World Movie Review

A Home At The End Of The World Movie Review

An initially touching story that wilts under its own insignificance, A Home at the End...

Chelsea Walls Movie Review

Chelsea Walls Movie Review

New York living is all about location. And where you live is often a...

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