La Vie en Rose

Film Title

La Vie en Rose

Director

Olivier Dahan

Starring

  • Marion Cotillard as Édith Piaf
  • Sylvie Testud as Mômone
  • Jean-Pierre Martins as Marcel Cerdan
  • Emmanuelle Seigner as Titine
  • Gérard Depardieu as Louis Leplée

An unconventional biopic of the hugely talented but deeply troubled French singer Édith Piaf, La Vie en Rose is a largely effective rendering of the tragedy she endured. The pace can be a bit off as can the choice to shoot out-of-order at various intervals, yet the fiercely intense and ward-winning work from Marion Cotillard and the handsome design of the piece, more than compensate for these quibbles and foibles to fashion a theatrical experience.

It is 1918 when Édith is first glimpsed as a girl living in poverty with her mother, who sings in the street for whatever money she can get. Her mother, wanting to be an artist, abandons her daughter with a relative. la-vie-en-rose-posterThe little girl’s father returns from the War and takes Édith with him for a very short time. Her father then drops her off at his mother’s place in Normandy, which is a brothel, so he can go back to the circus. Young Édith is a very sickly child who nearly goes blind due to disease, she regains her sight after a long time of being without the use of her eyes. One of the prostitutes there named Titine, becomes something of a maternal figure and nurses her through these hard times. In later years, her absent father returns and forcibly takes her with him to the circus. Yet this doesn’t last and they are left busking on the streets, which is where the young Édith discovers her talent for singing. As she grows into a young woman, she continues to sing on the street, until one day she is discovered by Louis Leplée, who asks her to perform in his nightclub. She is given the last name Piaf( which in French slang means Little Sparrow) owing to her diminutive stature. Her first stab at stardom is cut short when Leplée is murdered, and it is assumed to be the work of men who Édith unintentionally knows, who are in fact nasty criminals on the side. la-vie-en-rose-movieTemporarily stuck in what to do and besmirched by many, she manages to catch the eye of songwriter , whose rigorous and often brutal training helps her with her perfect what would become her dynamic stage persona. Later with a new manager, Édith eventually hits stardom, though it soon turns out to be something that will lead to her downfall as drug addiction, thwarted love affairs( particularly the one with married boxer Marcel Cerdan) and many moments of tragedy that ruin her already temperamental and brittle mind are inflicted on her. Soon the lively woman is replaced by one that is aged well beyond relatively young years, yet still wanting to project passion. The film is depicted as a reverie of her memories from various parts of her short but eventful life, the structure of the film will be discussed later in this review.

Olivier Dahan directs this biopic on the life of the ‘Little Sparrow’ with some interesting ideas and style. While the script takes a bit of getting used to, Dahan and his flair for drama ensure that there is never a dull moment in what is often a moving and painful film. marion-cotillard-la-vie-en-roseNow the main point of discussion in La Vie en Rose has to be the aforementioned structure of it. The events in life are depicted as a series of vignettes that at first don’t seem to link, but if you look closely actually match up quite a bit. I must say that the nonlinear execution can get quite confusing on occasion and I could have done with a bit more exposition and order, but I understood that the film was eschewing certain tropes of the biopic to conjure up the feeling of her life flashing before her eyes. The feeling of her reflecting on life when she is near the end is backed up by the expressionistic lighting, that mirrors a candle billowing and creating a deep golden colour that could go out any minute. Overall, the representation of her life is complex and sometimes lacks coherence, but still it gets across that she gave so much in her short life, that by the end she had nothing left in her. The use of Piaf’s music deserves credit as a lot of it bleeds into the next scene in a most theatrical and melancholy manner. The famous songs of hers, including the title song and ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ are all here and performed with emotional clarity.

The centre of La Vie en Rose and quote possibly the best thing in the movie is a truly staggering performance from Marion Cotillard, who garnered the Best Actress Oscar for her devastating work playing the iconic Édith Piaf. Edith Piaf La Vie en RoseI can’t think of one thing Cotillard doesn’t put across or express here; there’s the fierce lust for life, tortured frailty, selfish tantrums and deep sadness to be seen throughout. The best way to describe the excellence of Cotillard’s performance is that she doesn’t just play Piaf, she literally lives and breathes this woman with unnerving emotion and realistic conviction. There are moments when you have to pinch yourself that it is Marion Cotillard acting as her work is so convincing and uncanny. Simply put, Marion Cotillard puts in a deep and shattering performance that ensures you won’t ever forget its intensity. Sylvie Testud is pretty good starring as Piaf’s best friend from her youth, who grows distant and resentful of her because of the way she abuses and treats others once she has become a star. I thought Jean-Pierre Martins was well cast as Marcel Cerdan, whose affair with Piaf had a huge impact on her. The scenes he shares with Cotillard are well-played across the board and add to the film. There was a beautiful melancholy and love expressed by Emmanuelle Seigner when portraying the prostitute who became an unlikely figure of motherly love for a very young Édith. Gérard Depardieu appears in the small but important role of the man who discovered Piaf and he does some good work in the limited time he is allotted.

The non chronological narrative may act as more of a hindrance than a help, but as an evocation of the tragic ups and down of life and sensationally played by the wonderful Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose shines with moving moments. Despite a few gripes, La Vie en Rose made its mark on me that I don’t believe I’ll forget it in a hurry.

Lucy

Film Title

Lucy

Director

Luc Besson

Starring

  • Scarlett Johansson as Lucy
  • Morgan Freeman as Professor Norman
  • Choi Min-Sik as Mr. Jang
  • Amr Waked as Pierre Del Rio

Lucy comes courtesy of director Luc Besson and emerges as a wholly ludicrous but enjoyable action/science fiction film. It’s big ideas and imaginings get a bit over the top and out of control, but some curious theories, bright visual palette and Scarlett Johansson as the eponymous character, more than engage with you, even when the overall film itself gets wildly uneven.

Lucy is an American woman, studying in Taipei. The film starts as her latest boyfriend and slime ball coerces her into delivering a mysterious case to a shady man named Mr. Jang. lucy-posterLucy doesn’t want to do it, but her beau handcuffs her to the case leaving her with little choice. After this, Lucy is kidnapped by Jang’s associates, who it transpires are all in the Mob. Along with a few other men and through force, a bag of drugs is sewn into her system, and she must act as a drugs mule, otherwise those closest to her will be killed. During a torturous isolation, Lucy is severely beaten by the guards. One of these moments has big consequences, as the drugs that were implanted in her for trafficking burst and leak into her bloodstream. Quickly, Lucy grows incredibly powerful and escapes. From this moment on, her abilities advance alarmingly with her being able to not feel pain, manipulate objects and people and become almost impervious to harm. As she unlocks more of her brain power, the dangers arise as no one is sure just what will occur when she hits the highest level of brain activity. Professor Norman, a respected scientist who has studied topics relating to the powers of the cerebrum, becomes fascinated and curious of this young woman and just what she is capable of. On top of this, the mobsters are on her tail, which combines with her attempting to discover more about her accelerating powers. The main question is, just what will transpire and how dangerous will it be when Lucy reaches 100%?

Luc Besson has always been a stylish director, which he shows off again generously  here. Yet while his direction is far from his best as it leaves things a little too ambiguous, his penchant for strong female warriors remains in a great quantity. LucyThe presence of the what if possibilities of the human brain(taking cues from the myth referred to in the film that humans use just 10% of their brain functions) act as both a string to the film’s bow and something that drags it down. It’s hard to explain as it ends up a bit of a mixed exercise in storytelling and ideas it brings into play. Lucy excels the most when delivering action and thrills, of which many can be gleaned. Also when it poses some philosophical questions regarding existence and time, the film shines. A great example is a scene near the end that is visually arresting and compelling to watch, but I won’t spoil it in case anyone hasn’t seen it. The film as a whole is more than a bit messy, but that scene is ace. Yet for all the probing of matter that goes on, the science and events grow absurd and a little repetitive, mainly in the mid-section. Still, somehow I couldn’t divert my eyes from Lucy, which suggests that it at least made some impact on my viewing experience. lucy review scarlettThe most arresting and attention grabbing element of Lucy was the general unpredictability arising from what Lucy’s powers and capacities would reach too, and how many were exhibited with science fiction flair. These moments were resplendent with verve and sparks of imagination, that rose above the jumbled science and lack of real logic. The visual side of Lucy is superbly designed and detailed, particularly the shots of Lucy’s body on the inside as power and acceleration take their place in her blood through rapidly speeding shocks of light that keep going and increasing. A pounding soundtrack hits just the right feelings of something mysterious and dangerous about to hit.

Scarlett Johansson is one of the best things in Lucy. As the title character, she has enough charisma and presence to make the part memorable. scarlett-johansson-lucyThe luscious Johansson is most adept at displaying Lucy’s shift from waif like innocent to omnipotent being with a detached confidence; as Lucy’s emotions thaw and all that makes her human is replaced by knowledge and steel. Some will say that she is a blank slate, but her intense eyes and focused demeanor boost the character to something else that other actresses would not have been able to do. Morgan Freeman is given scant material in a pretty thankless role, but in a style typical of him, he makes what he has good and filled with the intelligence we have come to associate with the great man. Choi Min-Sik is effectively used as the nasty mob boss who tangles with Lucy, while Amr Waked suffers from a badly written part of a police captain caught up in everything, yet at least attempts to ring something true out of it.

It’s completely barmy and preposterous, which both helps and weakens the film, but there is enough action and points of interest to be found in Lucy. Plus, the allure of Scarlett Johansson in the title role bolsters it significantly. It’s messy and scattershot, but I found myself largely entertained throughout this outrageous venture.

Ever Wondered What I Look Like?

I was only wondering the other day about the question posed in the title. On other blogs, I’ve seen pictures of people and formed my own opinions through their writing and style. Though, despite a photo in my about me page, my blog is rather scant on showing any likeness of myself. I think for a long time I was nervous about how my blog was going to be received so didn’t really feature anything personal. In the last few years, my confidence has really grown thanks to all of my splendid supporters. I know I feel comfortable revealing myself, here is a video review I did a while back on the series The Honourable Woman. It was my first and so far only video, but I wanted to share it. Feel free to comment, but be gentle as it was my debut video last year. What do you think of me? Am I at all like you expected?

A Time to Kill

Film Title

A Time to Kill

Director

Joel Schumacher

Starring

  • Matthew McConaughey as Jake Brigance
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Carl Lee Hailey
  • Sandra Bullock as Ellen Roark
  • Kevin Spacey as Rufus Buckley
  • Oliver Platt as Harry Rex Vonner
  • Kiefer Sutherland as Freddie Lee Cobb
  • Donald Sutherland as Lucien Wilbanks
  • Ashley Judd as Carla Brigance
  • Brenda Fricker as Ethel Twitty
  • Charles S. Dutton as Sheriff Ozzie Walls
  • Chris Cooper as Dwayne Looney
  • Patrick McGoohan as Judge Omar Noose

An incendiary and well mounted adaptation of the John Grisham legal/courtroom drama, A Time to Kill ensures that the moral and ethical debates come through strong, thanks to the story, script and cast.

In the town of Canton, Mississippi, a 10-year-old black girl by the name of Tonya Hailey is walking home after getting groceries from the local store. Suddenly, she is targeted by two sneering and utterly vile rednecks who violently rape and attempt to kill her by hanging. a-time-to-kill-movie-posterTonya survives, but the damage to her has been done, which sends shock waves through the community. Tonya’s father Carl Lee is devastated when he discovers what has happened to his little girl and knowing that due to the racism that pervades the town and that the two men may get a light sentence, decides to take matters into his own hands. He responds by gunning down both men on their way to trial, in front of over a dozen witnesses. Arrested, Carl Lee contacts young and idealistic lawyer Jake Brigance to represent him. Jake had previously helped Carl Lee’s brother in the past and feels he must represent him; mainly because he was aware that Carl Lee might have gone through with his retribution after talking with him earlier. Jake is warned that this case will be dangerous and because he doesn’t have that much experience, he is bright and wants to help. Hurdles and stumbling blocks come up as the manipulative district attorney and prosecutor Rufus Buckley, who has his eye on office, decides to seek the death penalty and manages to stir the situation up. jake-and-carl-lee-a-time-to-killThe climate of racism and clashing opposition makes the whole thing a powder keg as Jake finds his life in danger, as well as those closest to him being threatened by a resurgent faction of the Ku Klux Klan, brought out by one of the brothers of the men slain by Carl Lee. Yet with all the hostility and violence being thrown his way, Jake refuses to back down and his resolve is strengthened as he is soon in the courtroom representing his client in a case that could spark even more eruptions of unrest and horror for everyone. He is aided by the young law student Ellen Roark, who is a know it all but very passionate and good friend plus occasional divorce lawyer cynical Harry Rex Vonner. Yet getting a fair trial is going to be anything but easy as tensions threaten to explode.

Joel Schumacher impeccably displays a flair for the material; making it both extremely gripping and equally as powerful in what it brings to the table. A Time to Kill raises many moral questions in a series of ways that delve into the quagmire of what is deemed right and wrong, and how there is a difficult grey area in between. There are those that will say that the movie is more in favour of one view than the other, but even if that is true, A Time to Kill deserves credit for presenting issues like justice, fairness and racism with many degrees of thought-provoking effectiveness. I believe that the film tries to show both sides of things. While Carl Lee did kill the men who raped his daughter, you can understand many of the reasons why he did it. matthew-mcconaughey-and-sandra-bullockA Time to Kill asks us to consider what we would do in that situation, which allows the film to get under the skin deeply. The difficulty in the topic of morality and justice is best summed up by a speech given by Donald Sutherland’s character. He says, “If you win this case, justice will prevail, and if you lose, justice will also prevail”, which perfectly and simply reflects the complex issue at hand. The legal nature of A Time to Kill is pretty compelling to watch as the ethics of lawyers and the inevitable courtroom examinations of whether someone is guilty are put under the spotlight. The build up to the courtroom is equally as excellent, showing just how dangerous a case of this magnitude can be in a climate of uncertainty and intolerance. Yet when the courtroom drama hits, the fireworks really start to occur. The testimonies and confrontations have rippling consequences that influence the society around them, that is already at boiling point on account of racism and violence. The dignified and quick-moving script makes the legal terminology easy to digest, yet doesn’t forget the battle going on between many things within the fabric of the story. And speaking of quick-moving, A Time to Kill runs for two and a half hours, yet interest is kept in check and held throughout most of it. Sure some moments could have been expanded on, but the atmosphere and climate of the piece brings immediate attention and confronting intent to the viewer, that will get them to look at the ethics of the trial intensely. The music provided by Elliot Goldenthal is dynamic and matches the escalating emotions and tensions within the story.

A Time to Kill was the movie that really launched Matthew McConaughey to stardom and it isn’t difficult to see why. matthew-mcconaughey-a-time-to-killWith his charming yet astute persona, he naturally plays Jake as a man put through the difficulties of the case, yet spurned on by what he sees as just cause. The gravity of the situation dawns on him after realising how complex events will turn out, but he won’t give up on this case and soldiers through it with unwavering determination. McConaughey is the right fit for the part and his closing speech in the film is powerful stuff that shows just what an excellent actor he is. Samuel L. Jackson is particularly memorable as the man on trial, evoking the self-possessed man whose temper was pushed to the edge by the brutality his daughter endured. Jackson’s work is very subtle and while he has two scenes of outburst( the first when he kills the men and the second in court) he is largely a modulated presence, though behind his eyes the fury and hurt is there as clear as day. samuel-l-jackson-a-time-to-killThis performance impressed me as I usually think of Jackson as manic and loud, yet he delivered a finely tuned performance as the avenging Carl Lee that reveals another side to him. We have Sandra Bullock portraying the over-eager and brainy Ellen with a good mix of sass and smarts, while Kevin Spacey can be discovered slithering his way across the screen, inhabiting the egotistical and ambitious prosecutor. Oliver Platt provides some levity from the intense drama in the sidekick role of being a cynical wise ass with questionable morals, yet also with surprising depth to match. Kiefer Sutherland is appropriately nasty and shocking, starring as the angered brother of one of the slain who riles up the Klan once more and delights in causing horror to all in order to get what he perceives as his own justice. His father Donald also makes a hell of a mark, exuding the wily silver fox persona ideal for his part of Jake’s former mentor, who despite being disbarred from court, manages to aid his young charge. It is interesting to note that Donald and Kiefer never share a scene in the film. Ashley Judd and Brenda Fricker have less to do in the film, but each is good in their respective roles of concerned wife and long-serving secretary. In smaller roles, Charles S. Dutton, Chris Cooper and Patrick McGoohan add their expertise to various people involved in the case and make the most of the time they get to be shown.

A Time to Kill emerges as an engaging crime drama that explores culpability, legality and racism in a powerful way, benefiting from confident direction and a star-studded cast.

Dark Angel

A two-part mini series recounting the life of Victorian serial killer and black widow Mary Ann Cotton, Dark Angel is pretty chilling stuff to watch. Though I feel it could have been more effective of it had more episodes, Dark Angel still hits the creepy notes of disturbance and turmoil that evoked the hardships of life at the time and how one woman took murderous charge over her own. Be warned, spoilers will follow in my review of the series based on true events.

We begin with Mary Ann Cotton(Joanne Froggatt) in prison in Durham, England, awaiting her execution by hanging in 1873. From here, we flashback to many years before when she came back to her home along with her first husband William(Tom Varey) and a young daughter.mary-ann-cotton-dark-angel She had lost five children through gastric fever and coming back was something of an attempted fresh start. She moves in with her mother(Penny Layden) and step father(Alun Armstrong) for a while, yet when William gets a job on a steamship they have to move. Several children later and several more deaths follow Mary Ann, who finds the bed sit she lives in a dirty and horrible place designed to crush her spirit. Importantly, she has to purchase arsenic to get rid of bed bugs in the dank home. When William returns from work with a busted leg which means the family won’t be able to survive with no one earning money, a light comes on in Mary Ann’s head. Knowing that William has taken out life insurance( which was just coming into prominence with many families at the time), she slowly begins poisoning him by lacing his meals and tea with arsenic. William eventually dies painfully and his death is put down to disease, as it was so rife at the time. Mary Ann collects on the life insurance as a result of this and survives from possibly starving. Seeing how easy this is, Mary Ann moves around the North East and continues to gain more husbands, who all perish( but one) when they become no use to her anymore or can’t provide for her. And it isn’t just husbands that drop like flies, step-children, her own mother and best friend all end up six feet under, ensuring more money for her and that she won’t be found out. It is only years later that a suspicious grocer finds the woman a little menacing and slowly deduces how evil this Mary Ann Cotton truly is; leading to her arrest and eventual hanging.

Kudos to Dark Angel for how it telegraphs the squalor of Victorian life and how dank it all was. With a grey and brown colour palette, the world is unrelentingly grim for Mary Ann, who obviously chafed at her lack of prospects and eventually turned to murder to assert some form of power. Seriously, Dark Angel is enough to put anyone off tea for a long time, watching as this was one of Mary Ann’s wicked ways of slipping poison to her unwitting victims. I never thought the words ‘Everything will look better after a nice cup of tea’ could carry so much malevolence. Now the issue of pace is something of a double-edged sword as far as Dark Angel is concerned. On one hand, it moves pretty rapidly that it can be hard to keep up with what time frame we are in and what exactly is happening. Yet in another breath, it also conveys the grim efficiency of Mary Ann and how she managed to elude detection for so long by moving about and insidiously worming her way into people’s lives. Overall, the uneasiness is pretty darn effective, though I couldn’t escape that lingering feeling that a few more episodes may have done the story more justice. dark-angel-moneyFor what it’s worth, Dark Angel is still alarmingly watchable, as there is something grimly fascinating about watching how an average woman of the time took devious command of her life after feeling so slighted by the hand it had dealt her. And though we know the end result, it’s the lead up the captures the most interest for a lot of it. Be warned that Dark Angel is more than a little squirm inducing as historians have estimated that she may have killed up to 21 people, though we don’t see this, what we do witness certainly makes it appear possible that she was capable of anything. We may never really know why Mary Ann Cotton did what she did, but this drama provides a compelling visualization of her emergence as a woman of greed and horror. The music used is pretty minimal and through this, out attention is drawn more to the darkness and stark nature of this horrifying true story.

Joanne Froggatt is the series ace in the hole, embodying the part of Mary Ann Cotton exquisitely. At first, there is some genuine sympathy that Joanne Froggatt projects as Mary Ann; you can clearly see that life is one long drudge of housework, child rearing and soul-crushing poverty in the beginning. dark-angel-mary-annIt’s the following events as she becomes very selfish and callous, killing anyone who stands in her way to financial gain or security that make the part truly horrifying. Froggatt doesn’t miss a beat, charting the rise in her killer instinct and avaricious ways that are captured through nuances of seductive charm, boiled anger and unrepentant mind. I admire her commitment to the role and how she played it with a certain subtlety rather than going for an overtly dramatic approach. Alun Armstrong is particularly good as the stepfather; a hardworking man who can’t help but have that nagging concern that something is just not right. The same goes for Penny Layden who compliments him well as Mary Ann’s mother, who while caring for her daughter, just doesn’t have the strength to shake off her suspicions of foul play. Sam Hoare is seen the most out of the four husband’s as he plays the rich and grieving widower in need of a nanny for his children. Hoare gets the sadness of the character across, but wisely he is the only husband to live as he realises that Mary Ann is not the sweet girl who came into his house when he discovers her thieving of money from his account. Jonas Armstrong plays Joe, a bit of rough who engages in a long affair with the devious Mary Ann. joe-dark-angelThe part doesn’t particular call for a lot, but Armstrong gets the uncouth manner of the miner right enough. Laura Morgan fares very well in the supporting part of Mary Ann’s unsuspecting best friend, while as two of the unfortunate men who are offed by the wicked woman, Tom Varey and Thomas Howes evoke sympathy in their brief tenures.

So while it could have benefited from some more expansion to it, Dark Angel successfully gets by due to the shock of it all and the excellent work from Joanne Froggatt as the murderous Mary Ann Cotton.

And if anyone wants to get an idea of the series, below is the trailer.

I’m Taking it Slow

Of late, I have noticed that I have sometimes been flitting from one thing to the other without much of a thought. I sometimes get like this, but I’ve decided to be more relaxed. That isn’t to say I won’t blog, good heavens I couldn’t live without it. But I am going to take things easier on myself and stop putting pressure on myself, taking time to sit back and enjoy things. I love all of you so much and blogging is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I just hope everyone will understand if I’m not on as much as usual, we all need some breaks at times. If I’m not on a lot, just picture me like this;

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