Movie Review ~ Annette

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of Henry, a stand-up comedian with a fierce sense of humor and Ann, a singer of international renown. In the spotlight, they are the perfect couple, healthy, happy, and glamourous. The birth of their first child, Annette, a mysterious girl with an exceptional destiny, will change their lives.

Stars: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg, Rila Fukushima, Devyn McDowell, Angèle, Rebecca Dyson-Smith, Ron Mael, Russell Mael, Natalie Mendoza

Director: Leos Carax

Rated: R

Running Length: 139 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  Well now here’s a film for all of you out there that have been wondering where all the art-house oddities went over the past year.  I’m as big a fan as the rest of you indie darlings of the avant-garde go-for-broke attitudes of daring directors and usually am up for the challenge of an askew film that tests narrative boundaries so there’s very little reason why a movie like Annette wouldn’t have been appealing to me.  To top it all off, it’s a musical for heaven’s sake. And not the kind of musical you think of when you hear ‘musical’ but more of a modern take on a rock opera that’s clearly been well conceived and is undeniably executed to the max and then some.

So why the low score for Annette, the English language debut of notoriously wild and crazy French director Leos Carax, a filmmaker that I have heard so much about but had managed to never encounter until now?  Why the overall thumbs down to the movie with a score by Sparks (the cult band comprised of brothers Ron and Russell Mael, who also wrote the script and are fresh off of a Edgar Wright-directed documentary of their own) who contribute a dizzying array of eclectic tones and tunes for over 90% of the nearly two and a half hour run time?  Well, sometimes you just have to know when to say when with a concept/idea and Annette never knows when to stop, nor does it seem to understand its created a central character so remote they almost manage to escape from the film entirely by the end.

Bad boy comedian Henry (Adam Driver, Marriage Story) and rising star opera singer Ann (Marion Cotillard, Assassin’s Creed) are the fresh-faced power couple that sell magazines and net viewers when featured on television gossip shows but at the start of the film the din of the outside world barely makes a rumble in their hemisphere of passion.  Her serenity calms his darker nature while he stokes her romantic desire, making her a better performer.  As her star rises, his eventually declines but not before Ann gives birth to their daughter, Annette.  Born, as we’ll come to learn, with a special gift that manifests itself later in her life, the child will be their greatest success as a couple as well as their ultimate downfall.

There is of course more to the plot…but not much and I’m only leaving out pieces that will spoil the events occurring in the second half (second act?) of the mostly sung through film.  A point of clarity, when I say sung-through I mean that the actors and background players use music to enhance their dialogue.  So, it’s not all songs, per se, but that talk-sing with music underneath that gives the movie a definite gas pedal it can lean on or ease off at will.  This has the effect of some rather chilling moments that Sparks creates with their music and which Carax uses to sometimes thrilling effect when it seemingly jumps in out of nowhere.  From the very beginning of the movie which has the actors as themselves gathering together before going their separate ways, apparently to “start” the music from Sparks sets the mood and it’s the strongest element to be found within Annette.

Yet the music alone can’t save a tired retread of a plot concerning the ego-maniacal male overshadowed (through no fault of her own) by a woman that winds up paying for this perceived sleight against his pride.  Casting Driver in this part (and Driver taking it) seems like too easy of a slam-dunk and the film suffers from Driver’s heavyweight approach to an already lumbering character.  It’s no secret that I struggle with seeing the overarching appeal of Driver but even I can see a fine actor from ten paces and Driver has what it takes to create interesting characters – but not this time. The character has so many coarse turns that he’s a hot potato you can’t get anywhere near, nor by the end do you want to. Cotillard fares slightly better, only in a role that isn’t as challenging and frustratingly simplistic in its creation by the writers.  The only other actor to play a major role is Simon Helberg (Florence Foster Jenkins) as Ann’s accompanist and former lover and Helberg at least feels like he understood the assignment. 

Then we get to Annette herself.  There’s no easy way to say this and it’s not that huge of a spoiler so we’ll just get it out there.  Carax has cast Annette as…a doll.  A red-haired doll that looks like a felt marionette with the strings digitally removed.  I’m not saying Annette looks like Chucky from the Child’s Play movies but…she definitely looks like a distant relative.  The doll is just flat out creepy and it’s not something you can easily get over and look past, especially when Driver and Cotillard are cooing over it as if it were the real thing.  The idea of the doll begins to make sense the more the film plays and especially as it reaches its ending scene which is actually, finally, incredibly satisfying. The struggle to get there…it’s rough.

This is one of those films that the studio will want to get people into theaters to see because there you’ve made the effort to get out of your home, paid money for a ticket, likely gotten some concessions, and have made a commitment to seeing the endeavor through.  Basically, you’re less likely to give up on it once Annette starts to feed on its weird fruits of the forest.  Once this becomes available on Amazon Prime near the end of August, though, I’d love to see how long viewers watch the film before changing the channel because the impulse will definitely be there.  I can’t outright recommend this one, despite some rather lovely visuals and that occasional trill up the spine when a song hits just right.  Like Driver and Cotillard who often sing slightly off-key (Cotillard’s opera solos were dubbed, though), the film never stays on the right note for too long.

Movie Review ~ The Wolverine

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, Wolverine becomes embroiled in a conflict that forces him to confront his own demons.

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hal Yamanouchi, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Brian Tee, Famke Janssen

Director: James Mangold

Rated: PG-13

Running Length:

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  It’s hard to imagine it now but audiences very nearly had a different actor playing Logan/Wolverine when the original X-Men movie was released back in 2000.  Though several A-List stars were sought for the role, their fees provided intimidating and newcomer Dougray Scott was cast as the mutant hero with the Adamantium claws.  When Scott’s work on Mission: Impossible 2 ran long he was swapped out for total unknown Hugh Jackman and the rest, as they say, is cinematic history.

Thirteen years later Jackman (Les Misérables) has suited up again, marking his sixth appearance as the man with the questionable sideburns and some serious anger issues.  Though he stumbled with 2009’s misguided X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Jackman isn’t one to throw in the towel easily so it was back to the drawing board.  After several stops and starts his mea culpa is here, simply called The Wolverine and it’s a much more enjoyable outing, taking the character into some needed dark territory which gives Jackman a chance to infuse a fair amount of gravitas to a character born from a comic book.

Still…a little bit of brooding goes a long way and ever since Christopher Nolan re-invigorated the Batman franchise by giving The Dark Knight a dark arc it seems like every superhero action film since feels the need to follow suit.  That resulted in a troubling Man of Steel but The Wolverine just makes it out from the heavy pathos unscathed…though often times the Man with the Iron Claws gets dangerously close to being dragged down alongside the Man of Steel.

What helps the movie immensely is the nice amount of distance from everything else in the world of X-Men.  Though I love a good mash-up of characters as much as the next geeky fanboy, Jackman’s haunted character needed some room to stretch his claws.  Taking place largely in Japan, the script from Mark Bomback and Scott Frank feels more like a moody crime drama than it does a large-scale action film – don’t be scared by that statement because trust me, the film works more often than not.

That’s mostly thanks to Jackman who also seems more invested in the film this time around. Jackman is an engaging presence both on and off screen but in this film he doesn’t shy away from letting his dark side show, especially as Logan continues to be haunted by memories of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).  When he’s located by a mysterious woman (plucky newcomer Rila Fukushima) and brought to Japan, he gets neck deep into trouble over unsettled scores and family secrets that turn out to involve him more than he thinks.

Aside from Jackman, the women in the movie are the most memorable.  I was pretty fascinated with Fukushima as well as model-turned actress Tao Okamoto as the daughter of a man from Logan’s past.  Though both actresses are very early in their careers, they acquit themselves nicely…even if Okamoto is somewhat clumsily thrown into a “I saw that one coming” romance with Jackman.  As a viper-like villainess, Svetlana Khodchenkova (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) looks the part right down to her perfectly placed evil mole but her voice is unfortunately awkwardly dubbed.  This makes most of her work fairly distracting and one wonders why director James Mangold couldn’t have figured out a better solution.

Perhaps a tad overlong and lacking the larger than life action sequences that the franchise would seem to dictate, The Wolverine begins to run out of steam around the 90 minute mark.  With about 40 minutes left, that isn’t great news but thankfully several batteries are recharged near the end and through a not-to-be-missed-if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you credits sequence.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t really mind the last stand-alone Wolverine film.  Yes, it wasn’t the right movie for anyone involved but it wasn’t a disaster like many that have come before and after it.  I know that Jackman wanted to get it right this time and for the most part the film accomplishes what it wanted to.  It corrects some past mistakes and sets up future installments for not only more Wolverine films but other X-Men adventures in the years to come (X-Men: Days of Future Past is set for release in May of 2014).  Is it the best film that could have been made…no, it’s not.  Still, it’s an entertaining entry that rates high on the popcorn scale.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Wolverine – Trailer #2

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Synopsis: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.

Release Date:  July 26, 2013

Thoughts: While some wrote off 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine completely as a missed opportunity, I did enjoy parts of the film but not enough to have made a return visit to the movie since I saw it in theaters.  Going back to a story that’s been floating around star Hugh Jackman’s wheelhouse for a while, this new film featuring the adamantium clawed anti-hero is supposedly a darker affair than we’ve seen before.  Consciously moving the action forward to a time when Wolverine is all alone the filmmakers have given Jackman (Les Miserables) and company the chance to right some past mistakes and make the first step in really moving this character and franchise forward.  Let’s see if a refreshed story and directing from James Mangold will do the trick.

                                                                                        View Trailer #1 here

The Silver Bullet ~ The Wolverine

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Synopsis: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.

Release Date:  July 26, 2013

Thoughts: After 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine failed to ignite the kind of box office that Marvel Studios and Twentieth Century Fox had hoped, plans were scrapped for future installments of similar X-Men Origin films.  But you can’t keep an appealing superhero down and of all the X-Men that have graced the screen, Hugh Jackman’s haunted hero Logan/Wolverine has always been the most appealing to me.  After the huge success of 2011’s X-Men prequel, Fox decided another go ‘round was worth it.  With gritty director James Mangold (Cop Land, Knight and Day) on board and coming off of Jackman’s Oscar nominated turn in Les Miserables, expectations are once again high for the franchise.  I didn’t mind the previous stand-alone Wolverine film but did find it a tad uninspired…so I’m curious to see where this film will take us.  It certainly looks to hit all the right notes for a successful run but if it doesn’t another X-Men prequel is on its way in 2014.