THIS WEEK’S TOP RELEASES:
“Ginger & Rosa”: Sally Potter, director of the outlandish “Orlando” (1992) and “The Tango Lesson” (1997), continues her skein of interesting and quirky productions with “Ginger & Rosa,” a coming-of-age story set in London in 1962. The story: Two teenage girls — Ginger & Rosa — are inseparable. They skip school together, talk about love, religion and politics and dream of lives bigger than their mothers’ domesticity. As the Cold War meets the sexual revolution and the threat of nuclear holocaust escalates, the girls face the clash of desire and the determination to grow up. Ginger (Elle Fanning) is drawn to poetry and protest, while Rosa (Alice Englert) shows Ginger how to smoke cigarettes, kiss boys and pray. Both rebel against their mothers: Rosa’s single mum, Anoushka and Ginger’s frustrated painter mother, Natalie. Meanwhile, Ginger’s pacifist father, Roland, seems a romantic, bohemian figure to the girls. He encourages Ginger’s Ban-the-Bomb activism, while Rosa starts to take a very different interest in him. As Ginger’s parents fight and fall apart, Ginger finds emotional sanctuary with a gay couple, both named Mark, and their American friend, the poet Bella. Finally, as the Cuban Missile Crisis escalates — and it seems the world itself may come to an end — the lifelong friendship of the two girls is shattered. “Ginger & Rosa” takes the familiar teen-coming-of-age genre and subverts it into a sensitive look at the real joys and sorrows of growing up, presenting her characters with more predicaments than most kids have to face and merging the personal with the political. Potter ups the ante of coming-of-age tales set in the 60s — or any decade, for that matter — by adding in the anti-war sentiments and a love affair between one of the girls and the other’s dad. And, the icing on the cake: Elle Fanning is spectacular as Ginger. Also stars Alice Englert, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt, Annette Bening. Extras include deleted scenes, cast interviews, an audio commentary with writer-director Potter and two featurettes going behind-the-scenes into the making of the film. From Lionsgate.
“Trance” is an all-out assault on the psychological thriller by master-of-every-genre Danny Boyle. Much like his assault on science fiction, “Sunshine,” audiences shied away from “Trance,” most likely because the meat of the film can’t be encapsulated in a few words or a 60-second trailer. “Trance” is nothing short of a visual mind game that blurs the lines between fiction and reality, heroes and villains, recalling the more monumental early works of David Cronenberg. It’s a convoluted crime caper-mystery-thriller roller-coaster ride in which the viewer — as well as the protagonists — never know what’s real and what’s fiction. The story: Simon (James McAvoy), a fine art auctioneer, teams up with a criminal gang to steal a $27 million Goya painting, but after suffering a blow to the head during the heist, he awakens to discover he has no memory of where he hid the painting. When physical threats and torture fail to produce answers, the gang’s leader, Frank (Vincent Cassel), hires hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to delve into the darkest recesses of Simon’s psyche. As Elizabeth begins to unravel Simon’s broken subconscious, the lines between truth, suggestion, and deceit begin to blur. Though it may take some extra viewing to unravel the truth (if that’s even possible), the film is well worth putting on your list — if nothing else than for the stunning performance by Dawson. Extras include deleted scenes, commentary and behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Fox.
After a two-decade fallow period with dramas, Francis Ford Coppola returned to his horror roots (that began during his apprenticeship with Roger Corman) with “Twixt,” a vanity production (it had to follow three self-imposed mandates that Coppola requires in all of his new work: That it be his own original story and screenplay, have some personal element, and be self-financed) that failed to stir any appreciation by critics and lacked any theatrical release of note. Unfortunately, this lackluster film won’t rise to the top of the director’s list of memorial work, thought it does have its moments. Basically, there’s too much overacting, too much underacting, and too much silliness for the dreamlike plot to grab at the viewer. The story: A writer (a portly, underachieving Val Kilmer) with a declining career arrives in a small town as part of his book tour and gets caught up in a murder mystery involving a young girl, a story that could be source material for his next novel. That night in a dream he is approached by a mysterious young ghost named V (Elle Fanning). He’s unsure of her connection to the murder in the town, but is grateful for the story being handed to him. But as he investigates the killing, he uncovers more horrifying revelations, and is ultimately led to the truth of the story, finding that the ending has more to do with his own life than he could ever have anticipated. This particular story came to Coppola during a vivid dream he had while on a trip to Istanbul and is inspired by the writings of Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Also stars Bruce Dern (who chews the scenery), Ben Chaplin, Joanne Whalley and David Paymer. Extras include “Twixt — A Documentary by Gia Coppola,” an on-set featurette by the director’s granddaughter that offers an insightful look into the production, as well as allowing Coppola to wax poetic on the process of filmmaking — insights that turn out to be more interesting than the film he made. From Fox
Also due this week is the South Korean film “Pieta,” which was unavailable for review.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, sometimes the best films show up with little or no advance warning. Music Box Film’s “The Silence” is the latest in a long line of such pleasant surprises; it’s a German police-procedural-of-sorts psychological-mystery-thriller by Swiss-born writer/director Baran bo Odar who, in his feature debut, has turned Jan Costin Wagner’s 2007 novel “The Silence” into a ominous, atmospheric, and beautifully acted film. The story line: Twenty-three years ago, on a hot summer day, a young girl named Pia is brutally murdered in a field of wheat by Peer (Ulrich Thomsen), as his helpless friend Timo (Wotan Wilke Moehring) watches. In the present day, on the exact same date, 13-year-old Sinikka goes missing, her bicycle abandoned in the same spot, leading police to suspect the same killer may be at work again. Recently widowed detective David (Sebastian Blombeg) and his pregnant colleague Janna (Jule Boewe) struggle to solve the mystery of these parallel crimes with the help of Krischan (Burghart Klaussner), the retired investigator of the unresolved case. While Sinikka’s distraught parents are trapped in an agonizing period of waiting and uncertainty and their marriage begins to fall apart, their daughter’s fate rips open unhealed wounds in the heart of Pia’s mother (Katrin Sass) and sends Timo in search of Peer and their own old desires. This is a character-driven film: There’s less emphasis on the procedural than the psychological underpinnings of the characters; there’s a haunting and mesmerizing mood of menace, loss and anxiety. Odar’s camera doesn’t focus on the brutality of the murders, but rather he uses incredibly lush wide screen and overhead tracking shots to set the stage for the film’s action. Highly recommended.
The folks at The Criterion Collection have another pair of outstanding releases this week:
“Babette’s Feast” (1987) (DVD and Blu-ray), at once a rousing paean to artistic creation, a delicate evocation of divine grace, and the ultimate film about food. Directed by Gabriel Axel and adapted from a story by Isak Dinesen, this is the layered tale of a French housekeeper with a mysterious past who brings quiet revolution in the form of one exquisite meal to a circle of starkly pious villagers in late 19-century Denmark. “Babette’s Feast” combines earthiness and reverence in an indescribably moving depiction of pleasure that goes to your head like fine champagne. In Danish, French, and Swedish with English subtitles with a new 2K digital film restoration, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition … “The Ice Storm” (1997) (Blu-ray debut) takes place in suburban Connecticut, 1973 and follows the Hood and Carver families as they try to navigate a Thanksgiving break simmering with unspoken resentment, sexual tension, and cultural confusion. With clarity, subtlety, and a dose of wicked humor, Academy Award–winning director Ang Lee renders Rick Moody’s novel of upper-middle-class American malaise as a trenchant, tragic cinematic portrait of lost souls. Featuring a tremendous cast of established actors (Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver) and rising stars (Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes) “The Ice Storm” is among the finest films of the 1990s. With a restored high-definition digital film transfer, supervised and approved by Lee and director of photography Frederick Elmes, with a 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.