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Rust and Bone is a meet cute story about a double amputee who has a romance with a mixed martial arts fighter and they change each other (I know, I know, it sounds like a logline for a high concept film that any devotee of Save the Cat would be salivating over—but believe me, it’s far too original and fresh to be mentioned in the same sentence as that book, which I guess I’ve already done—shoot). 
I suppose one might describe it as the distaff version of The Intouchables, the movie about the privileged white quadriplegic who hires a minority to help him and they change each other.  But perhaps it would be better to compare it to The Sessions, the comedy about the guy in the iron lung who wants to lose his virginity so he hires a sex surrogate and they change each other (are you sensing a leit motif here?).  That might be a slightly better fit because, whereas The Intouchables is safe, cuddly and as formulaic as a teddy bear (and proved that the French are just as able to create middle brow entertainment as the Americans–The Help, anyone?), The Sessions uses its edgy and dark humor to hide a bitterness and anger at the way God has set up the world which, believe me, is much closer to the style and attitude of Rust and Bone.
Rust and Bone is written by Jacques Audiard (who also directed) and Thomas Bidegain (Craig Davidson wrote the story).  Both are rising stars in France.  Audiard is also known for The Beat that My Heart Skipped (the far superior remake of James Toback’s Fingers) and The Prophet (about the rise of a young Arab man from fresh prison meat to the head of organized crime—a remarkable film also co-written by Bidegain).   Bidegain most recently co-wrote the movie Our Children which has the same actors as in A Prophet.
The leads in Rust and Bone are Stephanie, played by Marion (La Vie en Rose) Cotillard, as a trainer at an aquarium who loses her legs after a platform collapses and sends her into a tank of killer whales, and  Alain, Matthais (Bullhead) Schoenarts, as the fighter who tends to work on instinct without fully understanding how his actions affect other people (so animal instinct is he, that when Cotillard mentions that she is not sure she is able to be sexually responsive, Schoenarts casually asks if she wants to “fuck” to see; he’s not being flirtatious, he’s not being coy; he’s flat out asking in as practical and everyday manner as one could; I suppose one should be repulsed, but instead, one is more often won over by his attitude than not).   Cotillard brings those Bette Davis/Jeanne Moreau eyes of hers to the proceedings and one can’t help but melt when you see them.  Schoenarts brings the same bullheadness he brought to Bullhead.  They have a quite palpable chemistry between them.    Whatever else you may think of the film, you can’t deny the intensity of their scenes together. 
The, it  has to be admitted, somewhat manipulative plot is one of those that tends to constantly change directions and take off on odd forks in the road, yet is never unbelievable or dramatically unsatisfying.  It makes sense in all its chutes and ladders configurations.  The story is basically a converging of two popular fairy tales.  On one hand, we have Beauty and the Beast with Stephanie as the beauty who tames Alain’s beast and helps him realize that he can care for others and doesn’t have to act on his bestial nature.  The other is The Little Mermaid in which a woman gains her legs because of her love for a prince.  I’m not sure that either one of them have quite been told the way they have here, but in the end, the story reaches an emotional depth that’s not easy to shake off.
What Audiard and Bidegain do here is bring a beauty to all the ugliness that is taking place.  No matter how unpleasant the world of Stephanie and Alain gets, the filmmakers reveal that underneath it all there’s something more going on.  This is a story about two people who have had awful things happen to them or even do awful things, but both have souls that defy the situation.  This is a world that is a challenge to exist in, that is not often sympathetic to those who live in it, yet people can come together and create something more from it.  It’s not always an easy film to watch, but it is a moving and rewarding one.

THE OSCAR RACE: Best Actress, Part Duex

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My analysis of the Best Actress Oscar Race, part duex.
My previous entry was a general analysis of the race when it came to Best Actress.  For this entry, let’s go directly to my list:
Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook right now has the lead to win even though the movie hasn’t opened yet.  At the same time, I hesitate to be definite here since the movie is still an unknown quantity.  But her nomination seems assured.  Probably what helps is that she has proven herself as an actress by getting a nomination for a small, independent film (Winter’s Bone), but also an actress that can make a ton of money (The Hunger Games), a double whammy.
Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild.  This has been settled law for some time.  Not only did this eight year old munchkin give a marvelous performance, the movie is likely to get a Best Picture nom, a possible Best Director, a possible Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay nom.  And it’s still in the theaters.  I also can’t imagine any voter, no matter how Scrooge McDuck they are, who would want to give this fairy tale an unhappy ending.
Emmanuelle Riva for Amour.  This is also supposed to be almost a sure thing.  Though the Academy is more loathe to give career awards and noms to women than to men, Riva has been around since another amour film, Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959), one of the great films of all time.   Amour was also suppose to get a nomination for co-lead Jean-Louis Trintignant, but as the movies with strong male leads started pouring in, that was that.  Amour is suppose to be Michael Haneke’s most accessible film and is in the lead to win in the best Foreign Language category and may even get a Best Picture, Director and Screenplay nom.
Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone.  A Hollywood favorite since winning the Oscar for La Vie en Rose, she is supposed to give a knock out performance.   The filmmaker Jacques Audiard is also responsible for such films as A Prophet and The Beat that My Heart Skipped and is fast becoming one of France’s leading directors.   However, this is still an unknown quantity.
Helen Mirren for Hitchcock.  It doesn’t really matter where she decides to run, this is the category that will most likely get her.  A superb performance helped by a strong possibility that her co-lead, Anthony Hopkins will also receive one.
Other possibilities:  Naomi Watts for The Impossible is getting some buzz, but it may be too little too late.  Keira Knightley in Anna Karanina just opened, but it didn’t get very good reviews and is not exciting anyone.  And Helen Hunt in The Sessions will probably get a supporting actress nom.
Which means, sorry Jessica Chastain.  You should probably start pushing for that supporting acting nom instead.


The oddest people pop up here and there in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, from Aidan Gillen (of Queer as Folk, The Wire) to Ben Mendelsohn (of Animal Kingdom) to Burn Gorman (of Torchwood, The Hour).  In fact, playing “who is that actor, I know I’ve seen him someplace before” actually became one of the greatest pleasures in watching the movie.  For the record, The Dark Knight Rises is better than The Amazing Spider-Man, but not as good as The Avengers, and kind of, sort of feels like a franchise running out of steam.  The first half is filled with a lot of talk.  A  lot of talk.  I mean, a whole lot of it. And all of the philosophical sort.  While this sort of tete a tetes between characters gave The Dark Knight a certain excitement (I can still remember the conflicts over whether the existence of a Batman was a good or bad idea and what the existence of the Joker meant in all it), here the arguments tended to fall flat, leaden down by a certain banality.  I quickly discovered that during most of it, if I looked around at the audience and studied the lighting fixtures on the ceiling, the time passed more quickly and I didn’t miss a thing when it came to plot.  As you can tell, The Dark Knight Rises didn’t really work for me.  It wasn’t a totally loss.  There were some excellent performances, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake, an ambitious police officer who was an orphan like Bruce Wayne.  Anne Hathaway was tres, tres amusement as Catwoman and enlivened every scene she was in (delivering her lines with a claw like emphasis—though I do wish she would gain a few pounds).  Marion Cotillard also acquitted herself well in a role that didn’t allow her to do much for most of the movie.  But the big problem came down to the performances of Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Tom Hardy as the bad guy du jour Bane—neither of which were the actors’ fault.  The authors here (director Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer) have never been able to make Bruce Wayne nor his alter ego remotely interesting.  What the character had in money, he always seemed to severely lack in personality.  Hardy had a different problem.  He wasn’t just hampered by a mask that hid his mouth (his most endearing feature), as well as prevented him from visually sharing his emotions (and also made it difficult to understand what he was saying—well, that wasn’t the mask, that was the sound engineers, I suppose).  He also played a character whose motivation for his actions were never very convincing and never made a lot of sense for most of the movie, and, to speak the truth and shame the devil, his bad guy just didn’t come near the complexity, power and evilness of the Joker.  There are a couple of big surprises at the end, both of which are fairly obvious about half way through the film, if not sooner.  And for me, the scenes that would have interested me the most, that would have given the movie that something more, were never fully dramatized—what Manhattan would look like under a fascist dictatorship run by a group of criminals.  In fact, this whole section never really made a great deal of sense to me.  Bane has said he is going to set off a nuclear weapon on an exact day, but no one seems to act like it.  It feels like one of these brilliant ideas that was never used to its utmost advantage.  In fact, the whole movie seemed rather tame in comparison to The Dark Knight.  The violence seemed less cruel and capricious; whether it did or not, it felt as if so much of it happened off screen.  It’s supposed to feel like anarchy has taken over, but it never felt particularly anarchic.  This time round Nolan, as director, only seems to come into his own when directing the action scenes where once again, New York becomes the new Tokyo (has any plot turn become a cliché so fast).  But when it came to the rest of the movie, it all sort of fell flat. 


I spent more than two hours with John Dillinger in Public Enemies and after all was said and done, I still felt like I didn’t know a damn thing about him. According to what everybody says (including the screenwriters Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann—who also directed—and Ann Biderman), he was popular with the people, though it was never clear why (his bank robberies, carried out in beautiful cathedral like buildings, were horrendously brutal and he would take terrified hostages with him, scaring the living bejesus out of them; maybe things were different in the 1930’s, but in today’s society, it’s doubtful this Dillinger would have been voted most popular in high school). Dillinger tells his girlfriend Billie (played well enough by French flavor of the month Marion Cotillard) that he believes in living for now, which is great, except that you never really see him living at all. Johnny Depp is perfectly fine as Dillinger, though he doesn’t have much of a character to play. Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis has absolutely no character to play and proceeds not to play it (the titles at the end inform the audience that he killed himself as if that meant something, though it’s unclear what). There are some fine performances in supporting roles like Stephen Graham who is pure loony tunes as Baby Face Nelson and Patrick Zielinski in a blink or you’ll miss him scene as a doctor. But perhaps the best performance is Billy Cruddup who is absolute brilliance as a tense and wound up J. Edgar Hoover, full of repressed fury. Unfortunately, one of my favorite character actors, Lily Taylor, is on hand in a misogynistic joke about women sheriffs (what do these screenwriters have against women). The set and art direction is quite impressive. But after it was all over, I still wasn’t quite sure why anybody wanted to make this movie.