Cotillard, Phoenix and Renner in The Immigrant – Now Streaming!

Cannes 2013, poster, movie, The Immigrant, Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner

Poster for The Immigrant – Cannes 2013

 

Turning on Netflix the other day, eager to hunker down and binge on the last six episodes, ever, of “The Killing”, I was surprised to learn that The Immigrant, James Gray’s tale of life in New York during the early part of the 20th century, a gorgeous film that I’m almost sure you missed at the theater, is available for streaming. That’s right, like a number of other hot titles have done lately, it skipped right over premium cable channels such as HBO or Starz and went right to Netflix, where we can watch it free (well, not quite free, assuming we’re not pirates and we’ve paid our monthly $7.99).

I’m not here to judge, so either way, let me tell you why you should be interested. (Frankly, the name Marion Cotillard will pique the curiosity of most cinephiles, however, for those of you that require more…)

The beautiful opening shot is of the Statue of Liberty shrouded in mist. (It’s a scene worthy of Chaplin – if he’d had access to the same technology while making his own The Immigrant in 1917.) It’s 1921. Ewa Cybulska (Cotillard) a Polish Catholic, has just arrived in New York after fleeing the deprivation caused by the First World War. She and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafian) are seeking a fresh start and their own piece of the American dream. What transpires next is what happens after the promise heralded by that first glimpse of America meets the grim realities of immigrant life. Magda is ill, and she and Ewa are immediately separated. For her part, Ewa, for reasons we don’t yet understand, is classified as a person of ‘questionable morals’ and in danger of being deported. Everything that follows results from Ewa’s efforts to both get her sister off of the island and keep them both from being sent back to Poland.
Enter Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix). Is he a Good Samaritan in the right place at the right time, a well-dressed representative of the “Traveller’s Aid Society”? Or is he a pimp? He does in fact produce burlesque shows. And while it does not take long for Ewa, who is desperate rather than naïve, to figure out that her savior is indeed also a predator, Phoenix’s Bruno is no Snidely Whiplash and by no means a simple villain. He’s certainly charming, but is also by turns wicked as well as vulnerable.

Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, photo, The Immigrant, movie

Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix in The Immigrant

At what would seem to be her lowest point, Ewa crosses paths with the suave, and equally as charming magician, Orlando (Jeremy Renner), whom we come to learn, happens to be Bruno’s cousin. He’s instantly smitten. She tries to resist, but he sweeps Ewa off her feet and would appear to be a chance for her to escape the cruel world in which she finds herself. But is he everything he would seem to be? Or is he what the jealous Bruno says he is?

How about both?

 Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner, photo, The Immigrant, movie

Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner in The Immigrant

There is history between them and that history will practically dictate their futures, but neither Bruno nor Orlando are all of one thing and none of the other. This makes sense, both because life exists in the gray areas, but also because the immigrant experience of the late-19th and early 20th centuries consisted of both struggle and triumph. Part of writer/director James Gray’s point would seem to be that although we now see the transition from the Old World to the New through the prism of time, tinged with nostalgia and family memories, to those making that long journey it was often terrible, and certainly strange.

Ewa is forced into prostitution and rejected by relatives she thought would care for her,  but she also must be devious and at times a thief.  She is treated with suspicion by some of her new companions, particularly Belva (Dagmara Dominczyk – Mrs. Patrick Wilson – who is wonderful and should be seen more), another of Bruno’s girls. Through it all, Cotillard makes her shine like a diamond in a coal heap. The part of Ewa was written for her and I cannot imagine it without her. Ewa is intensely luminous, vulnerable, fragile and yet dignified. The camera lingers on her face in much the way it might have done with the silent stars of the era in which she’s placed. (She particularly brings Greta Garbo, in her early silent roles, to mind.) Cotillard projects precisely the qualities that would cause not just one, but two men to be prepared to risk everything after just a mere glimpse of her.

Purposely melodramatic, The Immigrant, of course, is not a silent film and in fact has some beautiful dialogue, but cinematographer Darius Khondji has used a soft-focus, luxuriously grainy palette so that it feels almost like a long lost gem from the era it depicts. (If the silent film comparison doesn’t work for you, think Theodore Dreiser and “An American Tragedy”. Bruno has a lot in common with that novel’s protagonist Clyde, whose destruction was brought about by his innate moral and physical weaknesses including a lack of scruples, self-discipline and unfocused ambition. If you need a more recent cinematic comparison, try Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America.)

Of course, in a film more interested in mood and feeling than in the mechanics of plot, some elements don’t work, and unfortunately Ewa’s relationship with Orlando seems little more than a structural convenience. While he serves to move the story forward, his character should have been more fully realized and his subplot given more time to develop. I have to wonder if there weren’t more to it that didn’t survive the cutting room.
Ultimately, what we’re left with is a glimpse of early 20th century urban life, complete with a performance by Enrico Caruso (and set to the gorgeous score by Chris Spelman). The “doves” in Bruno’s employ, as well as their customers emulate the Astors and the Vanderbilts of Fifth Avenue in dress and mannerisms. It’s difficult to distinguish art from sleaze, since popular entertainment brought strippers, comedians and musicians together under one roof. Which is America in a nutshell. The tawdry exists side by side with the exquisite, brutality with tenderness. So it is with Bruno, and why we can’t quite separate the lost boy from the scoundrel.

The Immigrant gives us the flip-side, or the mirror image of the American dream. It’s the warts-and-all version of the tale your great grandparents told about their adventures in “coming to America”, the antithesis of the Hollywood-glamorized version one would expect, but probably much closer to the truth.

The Immigrant directed by James Gray, written by Gray with Ric Menello, with Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Dagmara Dominczyk, Robert Clohessy, Adam Rothenberg, and Angela Sarafian. It debuted at Cannes in May 2013, has played film festivals all over the world, and now, thanks to Harvey and The Weinstein Company, can be found on Netflix.

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Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin Deliver a Steamy Labor Day

Josh Brolin, movie, photo, Kate Winslet,  Jason Reitman, Labor Day

Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet in Jason Reitman’s Labor Day

Another film you more than likely missed in the theaters is Labor Day, directed by Jason Reitman with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. (I’d been following it since filming began, since the story takes place and was filmed in the suburbs west of Boston. But I digress.) The movie is a sweet, old-fashioned love story. The type that could easily have been made by Howard Hawks in the 1940s or Nicholas Ray or Douglas Sirk in the 1950s, the type about which it could appropriately be said, “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore”. Until this one came along, that is.

Critics, for the most part, savaged the film. Perhaps they’d have found it more plausible if it starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (or Gloria Grahame) or even Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. It was the first of Reitman’s films to earn a “rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes, let alone fail to earn a single Academy Award nomination (although Winslet did earn an obligatory Golden Globe nod. The HFPA loves her).

Never one to let someone else tell me what I should like, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fact that Reitman took a chance on a genre completely out of his comfort zone. I enjoyed seeing Josh Brolin’s tender side. And of course, I enjoyed Kate Winslet as Adele, a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown who not only finds love, but manages to find herself again, over the course of this one strange and sticky long weekend.

It’s not really a spoiler if I mention the pie-making scene in which Brolin’s escaped convict, Frank, teaches Winslet’s blowzy single mother how to bake a peach pie. It rivals Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore and the clay in Ghost.

But that’s getting ahead of myself. There is no “meet cute” for Frank and Adele, it’s more a “meet terrifying”. It’s 1987. The agoraphobic Adele and her 13 year old son Henry (an amazing Gattlin Griffith) have made the painful journey out of the house and into town because school is about to start and Henry has outgrown his old clothes. She’s terrified, he’s patient. While Adele trepidatiously pushes her cart through the store, Henry wanders off to look at comic books. Out from behind the rack pops a bleeding man. Having recently escaped from prison, Frank forces Adele and Henry to drive him to their house where he proceeds to hold them hostage.

There is, of course, a lot more to Frank than his arrest record. The house is, of course, as unkempt and rundown as Adele herself and soon, as only happens in the movies, the hostage situation dissolves into something else entirely and we see Frank teaching Henry how to throw a baseball; he waxes floors and even irons. And again, as only happens in the movies, pretty soon it’s not only Adele’s car that gets a tune-up.

For her part, Adele used to be a bright, vibrant woman until tragedy struck. As the adult Henry explains in voice-over (Tobey Maguire), “I don’t think losing my father broke my mother’s heart, but rather losing love itself”. It’s plain to see from the beginning that these two people need each other.

Reitman admits that the hardest hurdle raised by the story was why this woman would take in this strange man in the first place, one who’s bleeding and probably dangerous to boot. And what about Henry, who is obviously a mature and savvy 13, why wouldn’t he stop her? But if you’re along for the ride, you understand. It’s because Adele sees the way he treated her son, and she responds to his courtesy toward her as well, and whenever she thinks he’ll behave one way, he surprises her.

Adele also can’t bring herself to turn her back on Frank’s wound. Despite the fact that she can’t take care of herself, she has the skill to care for Frank. Again, we know that there is much more to the stories of these people, some of it we’re shown, some of it we intuit. If you’ve seen and enjoyed any of Reitman’s previous films, you know he is a master storyteller, and one of the biggest reasons is that he understands human nature. He helps us to understand that these two wounded people just fit.

Okay, okay, before the eyerolling begins, let me add that I can understand how you might have some difficulty buying into all of that, at least on the face of it. But it is Winslet and Brolin, (such an unexpected pairing in real life and on film), and their earthy, sexually-charged chemistry that sells the entire package. Sure it’s a preposterous premise. But it was no less preposterous when Joyce Maynard published the novel in 2009. It became a bestseller and achieved widespread critical acclaim. Why any of this would be any less easy to accept in film form, from a cast and crew as talented as this movie had, doesn’t make much sense to me.

Jason Reitman read the book and immediately knew he wanted to adapt it for a film. He told a TIFF 2013 audience, “I wanted to know why these broken people needed each other, and slowly, the answer unveiled itself to me. I was overwhelmed. Parts of the book leveled me, and I cried.”

For my money, Labor Day is a warm and lovely little film about longing, hope, and the redemptive power of love, beautifully photographed by Reitman regular Eric Steelberg, with an evocative score by another regular, Rolfe Kent (who also composed the score for Dom Hemingway).

It was a novel, not a memoir. It’s a movie, not a documentary. If it’s a good story, emotionally gripping, well told and well acted, isn’t that enough?

Labor Day also stars Clark Gregg, James Van Der Beek, J.K. Simmons, and Brooke Smith. It’s out on dvd and blu-ray today, August 5.

Trailer:

Worth Another Look: Olympus Has Fallen on DVD

Olympus Has Fallen, movie, dvd, blu-ray, Gerard Butler

As you’re by now aware, movie audiences were treated to not one, but two, White House under siege movies this year. The wildest (and yet more serious-minded), the one people actually went to see, Olympus Has Fallen, has just come out on dvd. Now we’ll all be able to watch Gerard Butler and Dylan McDermott go mano y mano over and over again til our {heart’s} content and in the privacy of our own homes. Woot!

Since my initial review, first posted in March, this movie has gone on to exceed expectations and OVER-perform in nearly all of the markets in which it was released, world-wide. There’s no question it benefitted from being first out of the gate, but as of this writing, it’s the number one dvd rental in North America (per imdb) and has been the number one movie rental in American hotel rooms two months (the only 2 in which it was available) in a row. (I’m presuming they aren’t counting porn, but maybe they are!)  It’s not rocket surgery, but it is a LOT of fun.  Just the thing to watch while sitting on the couch in your jammies with a big bowl of popcorn and a couple of adult bevvies. In any case, I thought this would be a good time to revisit my thoughts on the subject. What follows is a slightly abbreviated version of my review, ending with a listing of the special features on the home editions:

Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen is probably the wildest ride you’ll take since the last time you rode Space Mountain, the Cyclone or even Kingda Ka*.  Watching this action adventure is the equivalent of a turn on one of the world’s scariest roller coasters with a release of adrenaline and dopamine that makes us feel frightened, shocked,  giddy and intensely alive.  Whenever I get off a rollercoaster, I want to get right back on. I felt the same way after I saw this movie.

Gerard Butler stars, in what has been described as “Die Hard in the White House”. It follows a down-on-his-luck ex-Secret Service (Butler) agent who becomes America’s only hope when 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is taken over by terrorists.

When the White House (Secret Service Code: “Olympus”) is captured by a terrorist mastermind and the President is kidnapped, disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning finds himself trapped within the building. As our national security team scrambles to respond, they are forced to rely on Banning’s inside knowledge to help retake the White House, save the President and avert an even bigger crisis.

…We’ve all heard the term “edge-of-your-seat” thriller. If you’ve never actually been on the edge of your seat while watching a movie and thought that was just so much hyperbole, that is exactly the place from which you will watch most of this movie.

If you’ve seen a trailer or clip, you know that the relative calm with which the movie opens, a picture of a happy family that just happens to include the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart, looking extremely Presidential, I might add), won’t last. It’s like the clickety-clacking of that rollercoaster slowly making its way up to the first peak and then WOO HOO!

We get a brief respite while we and the characters on screen recover. When the action starts again, it really starts and seldom lets up for the next hour and a half.

Director Fuqua’s pacing and the talented cast keep us from looking too closely for the zippers up the backs of the monsters. The plot moves so fast and the actors sell it so well, that we don’t have time to look for holes. (… when you’re biting your nails and dodging bullets you don’t have a moment to think about whether or not  “that would really happen”.)

If you think the sight of the Washington monument moments after a plane hits it looks familiar, it’s supposed to. It evokes one of the defining moments of our country’s recent history for a reason. It’s designed to deliberately stir our patriotism precisely so that when the shooting stops, you understand the journey that the people who inhabit the United States on screen under President Asher, have just taken.  It neatly sidesteps jingoism by giving the bad guy (Rick Yune as Kang) a cause, but does not delve too deeply into his back story except to let us know that however just that cause may or may not be and how cool, calculated and brilliant he may appear, he took the train to Crazy Town long ago.

It avoids predictability by resolving one subplot in particular quickly, without dragging it out into cliché and also by not treating the hostages as “damsels-in-distress” waiting to be saved, but as tough patriots determined to go down swinging if that is their fate. Again, I have to stress the brilliant casting.

Without an actress of Oscar winner Melissa Leo’s caliber, we might not buy a female Secretary of Defense or what she undergoes in that bunker. The same could be said of Angela Bassett’s Director of the Secret Service. Her part was originally written for a man, since there has never been a female director. She is completely plausible and despite the fact that we never learn a single thing about her background, with Bassett’s performance we can understand how tough Lynn Jacobs would have to be to even be considered for the job.

Can we talk about Gerard Butler now? I think readers of this blog know that I’m kinda partial and I’m not one who sees anything wrong with the fact that he mixes genres and continues to try new things, but if he was going to return to action/adventure, this was the movie to do it with.  Butler is more than credible as Agent Mike Banning, the head of the President’s protection detail, mentor and guardian of the President’s son, as well as Agent-in-Exile Mike Banning, with visible, barely contained anxiety stemming from his role in the death of the First Lady and the desire to get back “in”. G does “damaged hero” very well and this movie lets him play to those strengths. We absolutely buy him as an ex-special forces commando able to thin the enemy’s numbers single-handedly. We especially buy his banter. The many one-liners he gets off are hilarious and speak volumes about the man and how he handles himself under pressure. Credit the writers, Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, as well as Butler.

Do I even have to tell you that Morgan Freeman was completely believable as the Speaker of the House who becomes the Acting President? We’ve seen him in charge before and we always believe him. In fact, there are factions in this country who think he’s so good at acting like the president that they think he should run for the real job. (Mr. Freeman, I’ve read, takes that as a compliment to his abilities, but has no plans to run.) Freeman’s very casting is almost a spoiler.  How could everything not turn out okay on his watch?

Speaking of spoilers, I’m trying not to divulge anything that is best left for viewing, for instance there are more than a few of those one liners of Banning’s that I’d love to quote, but I will refrain. I can tell you that the fight scenes you may have seen, as well as the battles and carnage, are but the tip of the iceberg. I am serious when I tell you this movie doesn’t let up until the last two minutes of screen time. I can also tell you that the audiences with whom I saw the movie laughed, whooped and gasped at appropriate times and then erupted into cheers and applause when the bad guy finally bought it.

There will be people for whom this movie will be too much. Too much noise, too much blood, too much suspended disbelief, just too much. (For me there was a little too much kettle drum in the score.) This is a hard-R action movie. Lots of shit gets “blowed up” and the F-word is carpet bombed.  It won’t please everyone, nor should it. Those that like this sort of thing will love it.

Olympus Has Fallen, dvd, movie, blu-ray, Gerard Butler, Radha Mitchell

courtesy OHF Facebook page

The only nit I’ll pick was that I think there was probably originally more to Mike Banning’s relationship with his wife that didn’t make the final cut. Radha Mitchell is very good in her limited screen time and both she and Butler do convey a sense of the state of their relationship with very little, but I do believe we were denied a love scene. Just puttin’ that out there.

Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett, Morgan Freeman, Rick Yune, Dylan McDermott, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser and Radha Mitchell, is out on dvd and blu-ray in the US now, Australia tomorrow, August 21, and on 2nd September in the UK.

DVD Bonus Features (basically there are none. Boooo)

-Ultraviolet digital copy

BLU-Ray on the other hand, has a lot of Bonus Features:

-Bloopers

(Check out a partial reel at the link, courtesy AccessHollywood )

-The Epic Ensemble: A look at Antoine Fuqua’s direction and an overview of the main cast’s work.

-Under Surveillance: The Making of Olympus Has Fallen: Cast and crew examine the core story, the process of fleshing out the idea, Antoine Fuqua’s vision of the film as a “cautionary tale,” the plausibility of the plot, technical consultation, creating a conceivably real assault on the White House, shooting in Louisiana standing in for Washington, set construction, and the role of both digital and practical effects.

-Deconstructing the Black Hawk Sequence: A detailed, inside look at digitally creating one of the film’s biggest action pieces.

-Ground Combat: Fighting the Terrorists: An examination of Fuqua’s insistence on reality and choreographing the action scenes.

-Creating the Action: VFX and Design: A broader examination of the film’s visual effects.

Previews: Additional Sony titles.

DVD Copy.

UV Digital Copy.

*The tallest coaster in the World, fastest in North America. 0 to 128 mph in 3.5 seconds and catapulting you 45 stories into the sky.  Not for love nor money.