Tag Archives: Adrien Brody

CAPSULE: BLONDE (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Andrew Dominik

FEATURING: , , Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, , Evan Williams

PLOT: Aspiring actress and model Norma Jeane Mortenson grows from an abused child to become the internationally famous star Marilyn Monroe, but her past demons, the heartless churn of the Hollywood system, a world of institutionalized and violent sexism, and the pressures of toxic notoriety collectively push her psyche to the brink.

Still from Blonde (2022)

COMMENTS: Shakespeare was a liar. His historical plays took extensive liberties for the sake of drama: Richard III likely didn’t kill Edward IV, the real Macbeth didn’t consult with a triumvirate of witches, and Julius Caesar never said, “Et tu, Brute?” But we’re okay with that, because they’re not intended to be rigorous historical accounts. Shakespeare used real people as a means to understand the depths of human nature, as a launching pad towards a larger truth. (To say nothing of putting a persuasive slant on history to indulge the egos of the playwright’s royal patrons.) So can we begrudge a biography of Marilyn Monroe that invents stories? That creates relationships that didn’t exist and manufactures situations based on speculation and correlation? I mean… larger truth.

The fact that Blonde plays fast and loose with history isn’t where it goes wrong. The problem is that the film has a very narrow and unilluminating notion of Marilyn’s “larger truth”: Marilyn missed never having a father. Marilyn missed never becoming a mother. Marilyn was horribly abused by everyone around her. Marilyn was sad pretty much all the time. It’s a grim account, and at nearly three hours, a pretty relentless one.

Mind you, it’s fair to question to received wisdom of Hollywood history. The film industry is legendary for the brutality it serves up to its biggest stars, and it’s a mark of Marilyn Monroe’s unique personality that her legend endures six decades after her death, despite the travails she endured. But Blonde is having none of it. As far as the film is concerned, nearly every moment of her all-too-brief life was a dreadful slog, and the film hates you for having enjoyed any of it. Are you a fan of Some Like It Hot, one of the most beloved comedies of all time? You’re a jerk, it was a miserable grind. Think the fabled subway-grate scene from The Seven-Year Itch is an iconic moment in the history of the medium? It robbed her of her very soul, you heartless bastard.

Writer/director Andrew Dominik is certain that you can’t appreciate just how much pressure Marilyn felt, how oppressive the forces against her were, and that’s how this film ends up in our bailiwick. He dramatizes crucial moments in daring and shocking ways, gleefully tossing aside Hollywood conventions or even boring standards of good taste to illustrate Marilyn’s predicament. This leads to moments that are unquestionably outrageous, but simultaneously puerile and simplistic. A sex scene takes place atop a surging waterfall that happens to be in a movie trailer that those same participants are watching (and getting off to). A fateful abortion sets up not only a dialogue between Norma Jeane and her gestating fetus but culminates in a POV shot from inside Marilyn’s vagina. Most notoriously, when Norma Jeane is forced to fellate the President of the United States, she disassociates from the event by imagining herself on a movie screen, which we get to see in the company of hundreds of fellow moviegoers, who happily stare up at the flickering image of an icon trying desperately not to gag on JFK’s ejaculate while clips from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers depict the destruction of enormous phallic structures. It’s not a staid Hollywood biopic, that’s for sure.

When he’s not trying to be audacious, Dominik’s screenplay falls back on some of the worst cliches of the form. Joe DiMaggio is never named outright, but Bobby Cannavale introduces himself as if he was quoting from the ballplayer’s Wikipedia page. The Playwright (Adrien Brody channeling Arthur Miller in one of the film’s few understated performances) is rocked to his core by a casual observation by Norma Jeane about one of his characters. And the film ends with a twist that completely recontextualizes Norma Jeane’s relationship with her absent father in an uncommonly cruel manner.

All this frustration makes what Ana de Armas is doing considerably more impressive. She’s thoroughly invested in the take on Monroe as a wide-eyed innocent who pays dearly for her guilelessness, and she manages to imbue a slavish impersonation of the actress (every line is delivered in that trademark melodically breathy tone) with genuine pathos. But at times it feels like de Armas is as much a victim of Dominik’ storytelling as Monroe was of all her tormentors. A scene where she starts to complain about her co-star being paid more threatens to unleash the strength and willpower of both actress and subject, but the fire is quickly snuffed out. Most of the time, she is asked to be a spectacular victim. To her credit, she is that.

Back to the original point: if we’re not here to delve into who Marilyn was, then what are we going for here? Primarily, it’s to make you feel bad, as bad as this version of Marilyn Monroe must have felt on an hourly basis. It’s the equivalent of those infomercials for charities that guilt you into philanthropy by showing children wallowing in the most miserable conditions imaginable. It’s undoubtedly effective, but so cynical in its execution as to undercut your sympathy. Blonde wants you to know that Marilyn Monroe was horribly exploited in her lifetime. Blonde is equally exploitative in ours.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Reductive, ghoulish and surpassingly boring, Blonde might have invented a new cinematic genre: necro-fiction… even at its most gruesome and bizarre, Blonde might be most unforgivable in what it leaves out — not regarding Monroe’s short, unhappy life but her sublime gifts.” – Ann Hornaday, Washington Post (contemporaneous)

WOODY ALLEN’S MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)

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For the last fifteen years, with the release of any new album,  at least a dozen or so music critics begin their review with: “It’s his best work since ‘Scary Monsters.'” They will repeat themselves with his upcoming “BlackStar,” in contrast to Bowie’s long-held aesthetic of avoiding repetition.

Pedestrian critics are as commonplace as pedestrian artists (in whatever medium) so it was unsurprising when a plethora of reviews for Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris (2011) opened with: “It’s his best film in years.”

Like Bowie, Allen has made an effort to avoid needless repetition, which is not the same as working through periods of purposeful repetition. Allen knows the difference because he is a great artist. Paradoxically, this 80-year-old filmmaker has been both experimental and given to nostalgia, a paradox evident throughout Midnight In Pairs, a time travel opus replete with famous character cameos: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Allison Pill), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), (), (Adren de Van), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), Paul Gauguin (Oliver Rabourdin), Josephine Baker (Sonia Rolland), Cole Porter (Yves Heck), Henri Toulouse -Lautrec (Vincent Menjou Cortes), etc.

The late avant-garde composer Pierre Boulez (who died at age 90 on Wednesday) once said: “Nostalgia is poison.” While Allen would hardly be that pronounced, in Paris he takes the rueful approach that has been increasingly distinctive in the second half of his oeuvre. This does not mean Midnight in Paris is without charm. To the contrary, as its title indicates, the film is awash in tenets of romanticism—albeit clear-eyed romanticism—which is an authentic approach.

Still from Midnight in Paris (2011)Gil () is an unsatisfied Hollywood hack writer. His engagement to Inez (Rachel McAdams, scion of an elite, right-wing family) is equally ill at ease. While vacationing in Paris, Gil is teleported every night to the city’s past, cira 1920. Smartly, Allen doesn’t waste narrative time with a silly, pointless explanation of just how the time travel works (or how Gil returns to the present). Starstruck, Gil hobnobs with the Lost Generation of the Golden Age (Zelda Fitzgerald, as to be expected, commands most of the attention until Hemmingway starts pontificating) and even gets Stein to read his manuscript. In one of his midnight excursions, Gil meets and falls for Adriana (). She is a welcome contrast to the materialistic Inez, who is carrying on an affair with depressingly pretentious college heartthrob Paul (Michael Sheen). However, for Adriana, the golden age is not Paris in the 20s, but rather, the turn of the century’s Beautiful Era (Belle Époque), which they visit together, encountering the likes of Gauguin, Degas, and Toulouse -Lautrec. Idealization gives way to the minor insight that art is born of a time and place. It cannot be duplicated. Gil has his own art, which is equally unique. Of course, there is nothing revolutionary to be found in a valentine, but the film’s lucid melancholy gifts an odd, feel-good enchantment, lensed to poetic perfection by Darius Khondji.

Wilson, Cotillard, McAdams, and Carla Bruni (in an amusing cameo as a tourist guide for the Rodin Museum) are all ideally cast. (of 2013 Blue Is The Warmest Colo) is a sliver of warm joy as Gil’s potential new love.

Next week: Zelig (1983)

CAPSULE: SPLICE (2010)

DIRECTED BY: Vincenzo Natali

FEATURING: Adrien Brody, , Delphine Chanéac

PLOT: When two geneticists (Brody and Polley) mix some human DNA into a cloning

Still from Splice (2010)

experiment, they end up with a rapidly aging chimera child whom neither of them can control.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite some bizarre mutation imagery, most of the film remains solidly within the realm of the horror-infused family melodrama, and tends to be more icky than weird.

COMMENTS: Canadian writer-director Natali, best known for his low-budget thriller Cube, has created a love letter to mad scientist stories, from Frankenstein to Cronenberg’s The Fly.  All the expected clichés are present and accounted for, from the sterile, blue-tinted milieu of industrial science right down to the Jurassic Park-worthy mantra of “What’s the worst that could happen?”  In Splice, however, these trappings are refashioned to create a demented parable about the dangers of bad parenting, and much of the film’s commentary in this vein is delightfully on-target.  The scientific method gets entangled with the geneticists’ emotional hang-ups as they try to raise the part-human Dren (Chanéac).  This results in hilarious exchanges like one where Brody cries, “Specimens need to be contained!” and Polley responds, “Don’t call her that!”

However, as the story moves from the laboratory to a rural farmhouse, the film realizes its unpleasantly taboo-violating trajectory.  From there on in, the film trades its humorous insights in for gross-outs and gore, with a climax so unnecessarily vile it makes you want to take a shower while bemoaning its reductive view of gender. Still, Splice has a lot to offer the weird movie fan, as certain images, such as a press conference that becomes a bloodbath or Dren’s development into a bald, feral adolescent, won’t soon be forgotten.  Like his characters, Natali is a kind of mad scientist, deftly integrating the pains of child rearing into an age-old sci-fi premise; maybe next time, there’ll be a little more method to his madness.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s fascinating, sweet and especially grotesque – a distorted aspect of an overall analysis of post-millennial parental fears – all at the same time, and makes for some utterly bizarre imagery. In fact, I think I can say, without a shred of hyperbole, that this movie has some of the strangest moments you’ll see on film this year. If not in the next several years. Or maybe you’ve already seen a man dancing the waltz with a beautiful woman who is reverse jointed, has a mirror effect face, a monkey’s tail and a scorpion’s stinger?”–Nick DaCosta, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE BROTHERS BLOOM (2008)

DIRECTED BY: Rian Johnson

FEATURING: Adrien Brody, , ,

PLOT:  Bloom is the passive brother floating in the wake of his older sibling Stephen, a Dostoevsky among con-men, who devises one last elaborate grift to rip-off a pretty, rich and very eccentric widow.

Still from The Brothers Bloom (2008)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTQuirky, not weird.  For the weird fiend, watching a film like this is the equivalent of taking cinematic methadone while waiting to score some big-screen bizarre.

COMMENTS:  Though supposedly set in Montenegro, Prague, Mexico, St. Petersburg, and on a luxury steamer crossing the Atlantic, the real action in The Brothers Bloom is set firmly in Hollywoodland, a mythical, ultra-sophisticated realm where con men dress in pinstripe suits and bowlers to keep a low profile.  Our guides through this wish-fulfillment landscape of daring capers and champagne breakfasts are as quaint a collection of quirks as one might expect to bump into outside of a wine and cheese party held inside Wes Anderson’s noggin: Stephen, a master grifter who writes real-life dramas for his marks designed not only to make him money, but to keep them happy by fulfilling their need for romance and adventure; Bloom, a mopey soul who has lost his own identity through playing out Stephen’s scripts since childhood; Penelope, the socially backward heiress with a prodigal talent for absorbing other people’s skills, whether juggling chainsaws or making cameras out of watermelons; and Bang Bang, the nearly mute Japanese munitions expert, the screenplay’s most original invention and the one character who leaves us wanting more.  The cast does well, especially Brody as Bloom and a bubbly Weisz as Penelope (though however eccentric and awkward she might be, one has to seriously suspend disbelief to imagine that this pretty and very wealthy young thing isn’t swamped with suitors and hangers-on).

The con game is one of the toughest scripts to write, depending on its ability to surprise viewers who’ve seen many a twist ending in their day, and Johnson makes the task even tougher on himself by raising expectations and promoting his guys as the best in the business.In the end the final execution of the game doesn’t surprise, but the alert viewer has lots of fun along the way playing the multiple angles in his head, imagining possible double crosses as new players come into the field.The film runs out of gas before the end and sputters through a disappointing and overly sentimental epilogue/fourth act, but it doesn’t erase the enchantment built up until that point.A whiskey drinking camel and some interesting live action puns round out the fun.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“‘The Brothers Bloom’ is set on a planet somewhat like our own, but far wackier… The movie is wonderfully weird.”–Kurt Loder, MTV