Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tedious Liaisons

I haven't been a Stephen Frears fan for a while, but this is getting ridiculous. His reputation as an "actor's director" notwithstanding, he has three principal thesps to work with this time around, and he freezes one of them into a totally unilluminating, hedonistic pout (Friend), allows one of them to trundle around playing almost every moment to an unseemly hilt (Bates), and proves just as unable this time as last time to lead his star (Pfeiffer) into a persuasive connection to the woman she's playing or the period she inhabits. I didn't expect great things from Chéri, but I didn't expect such deeply annoying superficiality, and such total avoidance of the emotional matters at hand. Full review here.

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Blogger tim r said...

"Suburban art-house bluehairs who like the house best when there's no real art in it."

Ouch. I didn't hate the movie nearly as much as you, but I didn't like much it either, and this is one expert evisceration. Take that, bluehairs!

12:11 PM, July 16, 2009  
Blogger CCW said...


I know this is completely off-topic, but I'm interested in your opinion of Pfeiffer's work in Love Field.

8:15 PM, July 16, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim: Poor bluehairs. First, me shushing them when they almost inevitably talk through the movie. Now this. Karma will come back to get me...

@CCW: You're in luck! I wrote up that film and perf as a guest-blogger on Nathaniel's site a few years ago. Here you go.

8:20 PM, July 16, 2009  
Blogger adelutza said...

Why didn't you expect great things from Cheri, if I may ask?

10:42 PM, July 16, 2009  
Blogger adelutza said...

Sorry, I didn't look at your other films' rating before I wrote that comment. I mean, The Limits of Control B+????
That's the best example of "Suburban art-house bluehairs who like the house best when there's no real art in it." I mean, I went to see it for Tilda but the film itself it's a piece of garbage, with no point and nothing to say imho, of course. If I saw that rating before reading your review for Cheri I wouldn't have bothered, we have totally opposite tastes.

10:52 PM, July 16, 2009  
Blogger Sam Brooks said...

I love your observation of the three clubs. It's so true, and which each progressive film they make, I've lumped Mendes and Frears into makers of arthouse films lacking art. There's something that comes off some stiff and controlled about all of their (recent) films that just gets my back up.

11:28 PM, July 16, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Adelutza: My hopes were already dampened by being unfazed or actively irritated by almost everything Frears has put out since Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters, and every time I watch those, I like them less, too. When the Berlin buzz and the UK reviews for Chéri were so lukewarm and the ad campaign here was so tepid, it seemed foolish to hope for too much, as much as I'd like to see Pfeiffer doing top-flight work again. (As for Limits, I doubt we have "opposite" tastes based on one movie, and certainly not this one. My expectations were pretty low for this one, too, but I thought its careful work with framing and design, its witty Hitchcock allusions, its ability to maintain some basic tension despite all the absurd repetitions, were all quite compelling. I'd write about it now, but it's such a delicate construction, I'd have to be looking at it again to really get at why I responded so strongly to it.)

@Brooke: Thanks! I realize that line is quite nasty - I'm not proud when I slip from reviewing films to reviewing their fans - but it's sad when, speaking in broad generalizations, you can't trust the middlebrow-arthouse crowd to be any more demanding or imaginative about what they'll patronize than the mall crowd is. I don't mean what each person individually likes (chacun à son goût, etc.), but what ticket-buyers collectively take a chance on and what we don't. Chéri feels like the kind of movie that comes along almost every year (last year's version was Brideshead Revisited, right?), and whether or not they're good or in any way original, they reliably stick around for a month or so. Meanwhile, the Red Roads and Limits of Controls and Zoos and Julias that really make you work or really exploit all the facets of cinema in putting themselves over have trouble hanging on for more than a week.

I at least take heart in how comparatively well Sin Nombre did during its healthy run this spring, and in how firmly Nia Vardalos is being told to figure out some new tricks or park that cart somewhere else.

11:58 PM, July 16, 2009  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

i did absolutely love this line:

"Frears actually tilts slowly up her body at close range, so that we can appreciate her dress and her antique hat and clutch and consider giving someone an Oscar nomination"

you delight me even when you're hurting me.

Signed, the period clotheshorse forgiving Pfeiffer fan.

5:36 PM, July 17, 2009  
Blogger CCW said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your Love Field review. It's sad how unheralded it is; both the film itself and Pfeiffer's work in it. When she appeared on Inside the Actor's Studio, it wasn't discussed at all.

It's interesting to see to the parallels between it and Blue Sky. Another film with a Best Actress nomination and a bankrupt studio was Anna. I'd love your hear your thoughts on the one and only Sally Kirkland!

10:18 PM, July 17, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

At some point in the future, I'll have occasion to write about Anna, which I haven't seen in forever... but I thought that it was quite good, and that Kirkland was fantastic in it.

For me, the great actressing casualty of that 90s wave of studio bankruptcies has always been Mary McDonnell's rumored-to-be-great work in Mariette in Ecstasy, which got legally stranded after Savoy went belly-up. I thought the novel, by the same fellow who wrote Assassination of Jesse James..., was a great read, and it also seemed like the right project to keep the heat building around the extraordinarily talented McDonnell. I'm thrilled that the Donnie Darko cult and Galactica have recently brought her back, but I think we all lost by not seeing her in more high-profile work in the years between her Oscar nods and the annihilation of Caprica.

11:15 PM, July 17, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

I'd never even heard of this, and McDonnell is in my top rung of favourite actresses of the last decade or two. Someone, somewhere, must have the negatives...

1:20 PM, July 18, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

You have no idea how often I've been tempted to contact John Bailey, McDonnell, former Savoyites, whoever, to see if someone's got a copy. Meanwhile, one hopes that the recent revival of interest in McDonnell might provoke someone to let this thing out of the vault.

1:39 PM, July 18, 2009  
Blogger CCW said...

I hope you can find time to revisit Anna in the near future. Like Sally, I always feel the need to mention it when great actressing is being discussed because it is so fabulous. I wish every year could be like 1987.

I also adore McDonnell and would love to see another collaboration with Sayles.

10:30 PM, July 18, 2009  

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