Back in 2005, writer Nathan Rabin coined the phrase "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" to describe Kirsten Dunst's character in Elizabethtown, a type of recurring female character that "exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." Today, the archetype still remains, but has since sprouted new companions as the sensibilities of filmmakers adapt to the times.
If Sundance 2013 is any indication, specifically Breathe In, the new film from Like Crazy director Drake Doremus, that new variation is less all-knowing, more sharp and unknowingly seductive. Inspiring in the life-shattering way rather than the life-enhancing variety. In the film, happily married music teacher Keith (Guy Pearce) has his nostalgic feelings for the past cranked to 11 when foreign exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones) arrives to live at his home. Feeling that his life took a wrong turn (he used to be in a rock band but now he teaches piano), Keith discovers new possibilities in Sophie's innocence and intellect. He's happy with his wife Megan (Amy Ryan) and daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) but with Sophie, Keith sees a return to his happiest moments.
"The Disaffected Sexually-Charged Ingenue"? "The Spaced Out Siren Prodigy"? We may need to work on the phrase, but the fact of the matter is that it's an emerging presence in indie film.
Breathe In resembles the Sundance 2012 premiere Nobody Walks, which starred Olivia Thirlby as a promising New York City experimental filmmaker who shacks up with family friends in L.A. in hopes of completing a new short. John Krasinski played the sound designer husband, who only needed on day with Thirlby's beautiful, creative self to throw in the towel on his marriage to Rosemarie DeWitt and hook up with the 20-something. You can find similar traits in 2012's The Oranges, Leighton Meister helping to push Hugh Laurie out of his multi-decade marriage to Catherine Keener. To all men in their 40s entertaining young, female house guests: beware. It never works out.
Breathe In is a spiffier film than Nobody Walks, sporting luscious photography and a broader scope than its lower-budget counterpart, but both suffer from the dramatic emaciation of their female leads. Jones is a stunning actress — see Doremus' Like Crazy for evidence — but she merely floats through Breathe In. We see as Sophie mesmerizes Keith with her expert piano skills, we see Keith equally entranced by the glow of her bikini-clad body sunbathing by the lake, but what we don't see is any real life connection the two would make that would challenge everything Keith has ever known, so much so that he sacrifices his family for a new beginning. We're just told that's the case — the script forcing us down a path, swelling music making up for Sophie and Keith's foundationless romance. Sophie isn't a fleshed out character, she's a cinematic pawn to explore the male fantasy.
This isn't to say that the scenario of Breathe In is impossible. Relationship dramas date back to the beginning of written work — what it takes is a closer analysis. Luckily Doremus has a fantastic ensemble on his hands — Pearce is always reliable and Ryan finds a way to wake the movie up with spats of humor — but this new shade of MPDG acts as an easy out for the movie. And if it continues to be a trend, more movies to come down the line.
[Photo Credit: Indian Paintbrush]
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Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
Only mildly titillating and not especially thrilling the wannabe erotic thriller In the Cut isn't able to rise to the occasion so to speak. This yawner stars Meg Ryan as Frannie a depressed creative writing teacher in New York who keeps mostly to herself unless it's to get together with her slutty half-sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Wary about love Frannie's seen how messed up relationships can get. The last guy Frannie dated an mentally unstable med student (Kevin Bacon) is stalking her while crazy sis Pauline is currently stalking a married man who has a restraining order against her. These people have serious issues and dour Frannie figures its easier just to fantasize about men and masturbate (hey don't we all?). Then she meets Det. James Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) an aggressive yet charismatic cop who questions her about the brutal murder of a woman in the neighborhood. Things get all screwy (in more ways than one) when the attraction between Frannie and Malloy grows and the slick detective ends up taking Frannie to some new sexual heights while at the same time strange occurrences are making her suspect Malloy is the murderer. Aw she's just so negative. It all comes to a head so to speak as the real murderer comes to light blah blah blah--but all we want to know is will Frannie finally find a good anti-depressant?
Along with so many actresses Meg Ryan apparently believes dying her hair brown wearing no makeup and sporting a sour and we suspect surgically enhanced face (she looks more nauseated than anything) gives her dramatic heft. And what about that gutsy move of showing a little frontal? Stop the presses--America's sweetheart bares her soul and her breasts! Unfortunately it all backfires. The usually perky Ryan can't dig deep enough to inhabit Frannie's miserable persona even though she's had practice (remember When a Man Loves a Woman and Courage Under Fire) and with In the Cut she comes off looking worse than ever literally and figuratively with a wrist-slitting performance that only proves comedies will forever be her forte (where's Sally when you need her?) As the skanky cop Ruffalo (You Can Count on Me) fares a bit better but still telling a woman all the things you want do to her in bed in a flat emotionless voice doesn't help his case as a sexually provocative leading man. If Ryan's Frannie was not so lifeless maybe she and Malloy could have sizzled but they never connect. The always-good Leigh would have made a much better Frannie. As disturbed Pauline she turns in the most interesting performance of the film.
Director Jane Campion (The Piano) admits she was going for a specific look and feel with In the Cut that of the emotionally charged '70s dramas and thrillers such as the classic 1971 erotic thriller Klute about an emotionally distant prostitute who helps a detective solve a string of murders. In the Cut tries to be Klute--sans Jane Fonda's Oscar-winning performance as the prostitute and Donald Sutherland's superb turn as the smitten detective. Campion's film lacks both stellar performances and the street grit that made those older films so powerful though she does give the film the same drab grimy look of a '70s indie film to match the mood of her main characters (and what fun that is). Plus the way she annoyingly films scenes out of focus makes you think you've got myopia--the periphery is constantly out of focus. Rather than being artsy all this does is trigger a headache.
As critics and other dole out this year's film honors, Oscar front-runners are headed in varying directions.
The Los Angeles Film Critics chose Alexander Payne's dark comedy About Schmidt Saturday as 2002's best film. The film centers on a retired man who learns a few life lessons while on a soul-searching journey across the country. Runners up were Todd Haynes' melodrama Far From Heaven and Stephen Daldry's Virginia Woolf opus The Hours.
The L.A. Film Critics also chose Julianne Moore as best actress for her performances as a depressed 1950s housewife in The Hours and a picture-perfect 1950s housewife in Far From Heaven, with French actress Isabelle Huppert taking the runner-up spot for her emotional portrayal in the Holocaust drama The Piano Teacher.
Best actor honors were shared by Daniel Day-Lewis for his performance as the malevolent gang leader in Gangs of New York and Jack Nicholson's tour-de-force as the 66-year-old Schmidt in About Schmidt.
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar was chosen as the year's top director for his moving relationship drama Talk to Her. The runner-up wasHaynes for Far From Heaven.
Chris Cooper was named best supporting actor for Adaptation with Christopher Walken as the runner-up for Catch Me If You Can. Edie Falco was the favorite supporting actress for Sunshine State followed by Kathy Bates for About Schmidt.
Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor won best screenplay accolades for About Schmidt with Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman runner-ups for Adaptation. Best foreign language film went to Mexican hit Y Tu Mama Tambien, followed by Talk to Her.
Last week the National Board of Review picked The Hours as best film of the year, widening the rift for what may take Academy Award nominations for Best Picture. Only Moore stands as a clear Oscar favorite, as she also won the best actress honors from the National Board of Review.
The Los Angeles Critics Association is comprised of 50 local movie reviewers and are among the first major critic organizations to announce their choices for 2002's best in film. Still to come this week are the New York Film Critics Circle picks and the Golden Globe nominations, which will be announced Dec. 19.
Mika Muller marries renowned pianist Andre Polonski in beautiful Lausanne Switzerland after his wife dies. Soon after 18-year-old pianist Jeanne Pollet learns that she and Polonski's son Guillaume were momentarily switched at birth at the hospital where they were born. When Jeanne's curiosity is further piqued by the coincidence that she not Guillaume shares Andre's gift for the piano she pays an unexpected visit to the Polonskis' lovely Lausanne home. There she meets the polite but detached Mika the somewhat aimless Guillaume and the pianist himself. Andre is taken with Jeanne's skill at the piano and offers to instruct her while Mika feigns tolerance. But Mika has other distractions: As head of her family's chocolate business she struggles to keep it on firm economic ground. Also on a more sinister note she tampers with the hot chocolate she often serves to the extent that it dangerously sedates those who drink it. After Mika clumsily spills the drink Jeanne's suspicions are aroused and her boyfriend Axel--a budding scientist--confirms that the hot chocolate is tainted. A tragic auto accident in which Andre's second wife was killed provides further clues. On a subsequent fateful night when Jeanne and Guillaume are driving together Mika is finally revealed to be the stone-cold monster that she is.
Once again Isabelle Huppert here starring as Mika takes on and owns the role of a totally repugnant person. Other examples include the recent The Piano Teacher and The Ceremony this latter also a collaboration of Nightcap's director Claude Chabrol and screenwriter Caroline Eliacheff. Huppert an amazing actress who is a vet of dozens of films has a challenge on her hands with Nightcap mainly because her villainous character is so Swiss bourgeois cold and abstruse. Still absenting the fact that Huppert doesn't spill chocolate very convincingly her performance mesmerizes. As Andre Jacques Dutronc familiar to French film fans convinces as the largely clueless pianist focused solely on his art. Others including Anna Mouglalis as Jeanne and Brigitte Catillon as her mother Louise are fine in their roles. Foreign film buffs will also welcome the participation of vet Swiss actor Michel Robin portraying one of Mika's pesky executives.
Vet French director Chabrol delivers beautiful Lausanne settings elegant music and mostly flawless bourgeois characters in a soapy melodrama that is easier to watch than believe. With scores of films to his credit Chabrol is a master of the kind of cool elegant ironic suspense that informs Nightcap but his problem here is that he doesn't have a terribly credible story. Still he elicits interesting performances from his actors and delivers a cool elegant style that befits the refined upper-class Swiss settings. As for irony Chabrol lays on a multitude of elegant music pieces (both from the classical repertoire and composed by his son Matthieu) that are an ironic counterpoint to the evil bubbling at the film's nasty core.
Erika is a gifted pianist in her 40s who teaches at a prestigious music school in Vienna. But her private life is far from gilded. She lives in a cramped apartment with her overbearing mother and secretly visits the local porn parlor to watch hard-core movies. She is also masochistically driven to inflict harm on her own body and to be a Peeping Tom at the local drive-in where she watches a couple making love in their car. After she reluctantly supports the acceptance of handsome young pianist Walter as a student at the conservatory they enter a twisted and abusive sadomasochistic relationship in spite of Walter's apparent genuine love for the older Erika. The piano teacher's pathology is so extreme that she surreptitiously puts cut glass into the coat pocket of another student who then ruins her playing hand when she thrusts it into the pocket. This disturbed and sadistic heroine's despicable and graphic behavior resonates way beyond the film's wonderful music and great performances bringing down what would otherwise be a quality movie.
Isabelle Huppert one of France's greatest and most prolific film actresses is extraordinary in what can only be described as an extraordinarily challenging role. She gives a terrific and convincing performance as does Benoit Magimel as the handsome young piano student who falls under her diabolic spell and into her sick and manipulative web of erotic shenanigans. An intense turn from French legend Annie Girardot as Huppert's controlling mother is also top-notch.
German director Michael Haneke does a fine and convincing job directing the peculiar goings-on but must also take the rap as having anointed himself the adapter of this strange novel by Elfriede Jelinek. Haneke directs his actors convincingly and intriguingly and his adaptation also convinces more thanks to the actors than to direction or the underlying material. Haneke's evocation of the world of classical music and training including a soundtrack rich in the music of such masters as Schubert Bach and Beethoven and shots of musicians performing these beloved works is effective especially as counterpoint to the far-from-lofty teacher who is an ironic cog in this sublime process.