By: Greg Maier
With Steven Spielberg serving as jury president, this year’s Cannes Film Festival awarded its illustrious Palme d’Or award to the three hour French film Blue is the Warmest Color. Cannes being one of the most elite international film festivals there is makes the Palme d’Or award one of the most coveted achievements in cinema. This year, the United States had five films that were in competition for the award and I had high hopes that the new Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis would take home the golden palm (It took second and was awarded the Grand Prix). I still haven’t seen the new Coen picture, but I did get the chance to catch the Palme d’Or winner during its brief time showing in theaters where I live. I had heard about all the scandals of the film which I’ll let you look into on your own, but was still slightly surprised by how forceful the emotion was from the two brilliant performances from Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux (Midnight in Paris, 2011).
In Blue is the Warmest Color we meet Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) a high school student living in France who studies Literature and has interest in Philosophy and Fine Arts. She has no trouble getting the attention of a teenage boy at her school and has a brief relationship with him until the moment they finally have sex and she feels uninterested. Having caught the eye of a mysterious girl with blue hair while crossing a street one afternoon, Adèle fantasizes about making love with her while asleep in her bed. Later, a chance encounter brings Adèle and the girl with blue hair whose name is Emma (Léa Seydoux) together and they form a friendship that quickly develops into something more. Adèle, having never been with a girl, finds what she was missing all along when she and Emma make love for the first time in a long sequence that has generated controversy and created a lot of buzz for the film since Cannes. From there the film follows their relationship for a period of several years, they meet each other’s families, they live together and Adèle even becomes Emma’s muse; willingly posing for her in a series of nude portrait paintings.
Personally, I loved and was blown away by this film which is an absolute honest and merciless cross section of a modern relationship. It’s interesting how love stories about gay couples are becoming more widely excepted today and I think it’s because no matter what a strong love story does have an impact on its audience. Certainly Blue is the Warmest Color is making a statement about homosexuality and how it can be confusing and difficult for a teenager, but those statements seemed to take a back seat to the sensitivity of the relationship between the two characters. At times it seems like they are perfect for each other and other times they push each other to the breaking point. These are feelings that should come as very familiar to anyone who’s ever dated anyone which is why Blue is the Warmest Color is such a good film.
For the first time ever, the Cannes Jury awarded Palme d’Or not just to the director of the winning film, but also to it’s two stars. I feel that this was very fitting choice by the jury and you probably will too when you see it. Blue is the Warmest Color was reportedly a nightmare of a film production and supposedly over 800 hours of footage was filmed. The two actress said they hated the experience and never wished to work with director Abdellatif Kechiche (Black Venus, 2010) again. Perhaps the three hour running time is a little too long, but for what it’s worth, I believe those two actress put all of their hearts, bodies and souls into their performances and they absolutely deserve to be commended for it.
By: Greg Maier
With Gravity, director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, 2006) has almost certainly secured a Best Cinematography Oscar for his masterful director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life, 2011) as it is one of the most visually stunning pictures to be released in many years. The ninety-one minute space thriller has been generating a huge buzz among movie fans since its first heart stopping teaser trailer was released. The film makes use of the 3D medium better than any film precedent and the performances from veteran Oscar winning actors George Clooney (Syriana, 2005) and Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side, 2009) are marvelous. Right from the film’s mesmerizing opening thirteen minute long take, the audience is immersed in a chillingly dangerous outer space environment that viewers are sure to never forget.
In Gravity, astronauts Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (Clooney) are sent into a desperate fight for their lives when an orbiting Russian satellite is inexplicably destroyed sending the debris on a dangerous and exponentially growing collision path with the two American Astronauts in a similar fashion to the theoretical Kessler Syndrome proposed by Donald J. Kessler for NASA in 1978. The story documents their attempts to get home after they are left drifting in space without any radio contact and the knowledge that more waves of debris will be reaching them every 90 minutes.
For me, the film is more of a visual spectacle than anything as the story is a simple one of survival and the instinctual will of the human spirit to live. I don’t believe the film is meant to have strong political or religious undertones, though that’s up for individual interpretation; I just couldn’t see any. That doesn’t discredit the film to me in any way because for what it is, an extremely realistic space thriller, Gravity couldn’t be much better. I will say that there are a couple of moments that I didn’t love, an exaggerated explosion sequence inside the International Space Station and the films overly dramatic ending, but I have to say that I left the theater very much a fan of this landmark film.
From a technical aspect, Gravity like Stanley Kubrick‘s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is a film balancing on the cutting edge of new technology which furthers the limits of live action filmmaking. The camera work in this film is unparalleled thanks to the latest in programable mechanical arms that deliver some of the smoothest moving images any movie goer has ever seen. The very physical performance from Bullock has drawn comparisons to the intricate choreography of Cirque du Soleil which will likely go under appreciated come awards season. This three year labor of love which was co-written by Cuarón and his son is one of the best films about space ever made and brings universal fears and emotions to life like never before in the cinema. Normally I think of it as just a gimmick for selling more expensive movie tickets, but for this film I fully recommend seeing Gravity in 3D as the filmmaker has intended. like most kids growing up, I used to think going to outer space would be an amazing experience that I hoped to one day see. After watching Gravity I think I’ll stick to good old planet Earth. Touché Mr. Cuarón, touché.
By: Greg Maier
As the immediate Oscar front runner after its Telluride Film Festival premier, I had anticipated 12 Years a Slave more than most films this year. Early awards season predictions aside, I had very much admired director Steve McQueen‘s first two features Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011), both of witch feature classic leading performances from Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, 2012). Reflecting on 12 Years a Slave, Fassbender and McQueen deliver the goods yet again in terms of their technical performances, but the film’s impression just doesn’t quite match the deeply personal and emotional truths of McQueen’s freshman and sophomore efforts.
In their third collaboration, Fassbender is phenomenal in McQueens new movie as the villainous slave owner Edwin Epps, but for the first time is not the film’s leading actor. Instead, the lead is helmed by the formally unknown Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men, 2006). The talented up and comer plays Solomon Northup, a free black man living in New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south for a twelve year period. His performance is more than noteworthy and is comprised of heavy and genuine emotional pain contrasted with deep physical abuse and suffering as his character is put through both ringers. Solomon not only loses his freedom, he is also forced to leave behind his wife and children, who are not able to track him down after his real name is disregarded as nonsense and is then referred to only by the name Platt. The majority of the film focuses on Solomon’s time living on a number of southern slave plantations where McQueen forces the audience to bear witness to horrible acts of insensitive violence filmed against a beautifully poetic and photogenic 1840s period setting.
I feel that 12 Years a Slave is certainly an above average film for 2013, but somewhere along the line falls short of its potential. Perhaps it is a little overly Hollywood despite being led by a relative unknown actor. The cast includes some Hollywood heavy hitters including Paul Giamatti (Sideways, 2004), Paul Dano (There Will be Blood, 2007), Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into the Darkness, 2013), and Brad Pitt (Inglorious Bastards, 2009). Perhaps it’s because the brutality of the film based on its subject matter ended up being slightly less than what I was expecting. There are two exceptionally haunting scenes that are both done in one long cut, but otherwise I felt that the film was relatively tame compared to Hunger and Shame. I think most of all it was poor decisions in the editing room that ultimately keeps this very good film from being a great one. There are a number of unnecessary establishing shots that slow down the pace and the elliptical editing does a poor job of portraying the illusion of twelve years actually passing.
I enjoyed 12 Years a Slave, but can’t help but feel a little let down in the end. Though I think the film deserves many nominations and I admire the layers of detail put into this film, I still wouldn’t award a Best Picture, Best Actor or Best Director Oscar to the talented artists who made this picture because I know that they can do better. Undoubtedly the critical success of this film will perpetuate UK artist Steve McQueen’s filmmaking career to new heights and I look forward to going to a theater in the near future to see what he’s coming with next. With the growing number of half-hearted Hollywood franchises and terrible B movies being made every year, it’s comforting to know that there are still serious artists working in the film medium who are willing to take a risk with a story just to generate a reaction.