Tag Archives: Marion Cotillard

Vitruvian Man

The Inventor

by Hope Madden

The Inventor, a beautifully animated lesson on the life and times of Leonardo da Vinci (voiced by Stephen Fry), offers a lot to digest, and I’m not sure who they think is eating.

Writer/co-director Jim Capobianco (directing here with Pierre-Luc Granjon) draws inspiration from his 2009 hand-drawn short, Leonardo. A delightful sketch about trying to fly, the film ran just 9 minutes and celebrated Da Vinci’s genius in the most charming way possible.

The feature looks into da Vinci’s curiosity about the existence of the human soul. This gets him into trouble with Pope Leo X (Matt Berry), so da Vinci moves from Rome to France, where he thinks he can follow his curiosity in peace.

He cannot.

Capobianco and Granjon land on a lovely mixture media. The tale is told primarily using a stop motion Claymation style that recalls the old Rankin/Bass Christmas specials of the Sixties and Seventies. (This is especially true of the pope, who’s the spitting image of Burgermeister Meisterburger.)

Scenes are often punctuated with the same hand-drawn sketch style used in Leonardo, and together the result is lovely. But that doesn’t help the storytelling as much as it should.

Even with a great cast – Daisy Ridley and Marion Cotillard co-star alongside Fry and Berry – Capobianco can’t maintain interest. He delivers so much information so superficially that it’s equally hard to keep up and care what happens.

The story takes too big a bite. Is our focus the soul? The perfect city? Weapons? Flying machines? Because each of those has its own background, implications, experiments and host of characters. Skimming over all of it gives us too much and too little at the same time.

It’s hard to determine the intended audience for The Inventor. The humor and political intrigue are a little sophisticated for children, and the history lesson is far too long and involves far too many characters to keep a child’s attention.

And though the animation is reason enough for an adult to give The Inventor a go, the simplistic storytelling and characterization will likely leave them cold.    



by George Wolf

Annette wraps the beautifully enigmatic visions of director Leos Carax around the idiosyncratic pop musings of Ron and Russell Mael (aka Sparks) for a what-did-I-just-watch spectacle with undeniable will.

Anyone who’s seen Holy Motors knows Carax is a puzzler. And while Edgar Wright’s recent doc The Sparks Brothers may have nudged the Mael boys toward the mainstream, the songs and the story they bring to this film are a mighty slippery mix.

Think A Star Is Born with Sondheim sensibilities, Shakespearean tragedies, and the kitsch of a Springfield Community Theatre production from The Simpsons.

Magic, right? Well, sometimes.

Adam Driver stars as Henry, a standup comic provocateur whose new show “The Ape of God” has him boasting that he only does comedy so he “can tell the truth without getting killed.”

Marion Cotillard is Ann, a famous opera star who “saves” her audience by dying onstage every night.

As detailed by headlines from the Showbizz Network, the two fall passionately in love, get married and have a daughter named Annette, who comes into the world with an unexpected gift.

In fact, you’ll find most everything about Annette to be a surprise. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

The actors sing live and frequently break that fourth wall, which brings new intimacy to some very intimate moments and quickly immerses us in the grandness of Carax’s vision. Armed with sumptuous cinematography from Caroline Champetier, Carax rolls out a succession of gorgeously hypnotic set pieces.

Be ready, though, for the dreamlike tone to often run headlong into campy silliness that leaves many metaphorical elements searching for a resonate metaphor.

Just when Annette is clear about its musings on the relationship between artist and audience, or about fame, or self-loathing, or fragile masculinity or creative boundaries, it goes all Cop Rock on us.

But man, it’s transfixing to look at, and the Driver/Cotillard pairing is just as powerful as you’d expect. Just don’t expect anything else from Annette, and what you find won’t soon be forgotten.

Cinema Killed the Video Star

Assassin’s Creed

by Hope Madden

What does it take to make a worthwhile movie based on a video game? Because it isn’t just talent – Assassin’s Creed proves that.

Like Warcraft, Creed pits a genuinely gifted director against all that terrible cinematic history – from 1992’s Super Mario Brothers through the Resident Evil series to this year’s Angry Birds Movie – and comes up lacking.

Australian director Justin Kurzel quietly proved his mettle with an astonishing true crime horror film in 2011 called Snowtown. Last year, he teamed up with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard – authentic talents if ever there were – for an imaginative and bloody take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

And now the three re-team, along with time-tested craftsmen Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling, to adapt the popular time traveling video game.

Fassbender is Cal, a death row convict secretly saved by the Abstergo science lab. There, Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Cotillard) will use him to channel his ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) – member of a shadowy team battling the Knights Templar for the freedom of humanity.

So, we bounce back and forth in time between a modern day SciFi story and a dusty Inquisition-era adventure. Cal struggles against his newfound captivity and the after-effects of the experiments; Aguilar parkours his way through ancient Spain, trying to keep the Templar from the apple that started all our troubles back in Eden.

If the problem here is not talent, what, then?

As usual, it begins with the writing. Kurzel works with his Macbeth collaborator Michael Lesslie, as well as ne’er do wells Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (Allegiant, Exodus: Gods and Kings). They put together a story that’s as convoluted and bloated as it is superficial.

The cast gets little opportunity to do anything other than deliver dour lines with stone faces, each one developing less of a sense of character than what you would have actually found in the video game itself.

Kurzel’s no help, his mirthless presentation undermining thrills at every turn. When he isn’t bombarding the action with murky visual effects, he’s pulling the audience from the midst of a climactic battle and back into the lab to watch Cotillar and/or Irons look on with clinical interest.


Maybe it’s impossible to capture the visceral thrill of gaming within the comparatively passive experience of cinema. Maybe the rich backstories of modern video games are only rich if you’re used to video game narratives. Hopefully the movies will get it right at some point, or at least they’ll stop wasting such incredible talent on such forgettable nonsense.


Spy Versus Spy


by Hope Madden

In turns grand and intimate, Allied blends pulp and melodrama with old Hollywood glamour.

We open on a dashing Max Vatan (Brad Pitt), landing in a North African desert where he’ll be met by a mysterious driver delivering his new identity. Vatan will join French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in Casablanca on a mission to assassinate a Nazi official.

Director Robert Zemeckis’s vintage spy thriller begins with a bang. Stylish and gorgeous, the first act embraces an old-fashioned dazzle that suits both Pitt and Cotillard.

Problems arise – for Vatan and Beausejour, as well as the film – once the couple relocates to London. Vatan takes a desk job with the Royal Air Force while his new wife and child wait lovingly at home. But when command turns up evidence that Marianne could be a German spy, this ideal life begins to crack.

Both Cotillard and Pitt perform respectably with a script involving tensions that reach toward the ludicrous. Pitt carries himself with a weird stiffness, but his face wears joy, weariness and emotional tumult in a way that the actor has rarely managed.

Cotillard is characteristically excellent, her own demeanor turning the edge of every expression with a hint of something sour. She is effortlessly mysterious, a characteristic required for the part.

Steven Knight’s screenplay loses momentum once the couple settles into their homey London life, and for all Zemeckis’s visual wizardry, the balance of the film never recaptures the thrill of their early adventures.

Instead, we settle for several gloriously shot sequences – a love scene inside a car beset by a sandstorm, a party interrupted by an air raid. But even the tensest late-film moments feel staged, even borrowed.

Knight’s writing tends to play better with grittier, more street-savvy direction (think Eastern Promises or Dirty Pretty Things), but Zemeckis likes a big stage. The result, though often entertaining because of solid performances, is too much of a mishmash to really work.


Mac the Knife


by Hope Madden

From its opening image of a deceased toddler, his grieving parents – Macbeth and his Lady – witnessing the funeral pyre, Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth announces itself as a departure. The somber tone, the ominous atmosphere, and the adjustments to Shakespeare’s text already on display prepare you for the filmmaker’s ambitious and mostly successful new vision of the Man Who Would be King.

Drawing two of cinema’s most compelling talents to the challenging lead roles was Kurtzel’s other great achievement. The always excellent Michael Fassbender is at once valiant and fragile, ruthless and pitiful. As Lady Macbeth, Marion Cotillard – thanks in part to the opening sequence, only hinted at in the original text – mines personal grief as a source of her own wrong thinking, giving her character a soulful depth to match her ferocious nature.

Many of Kurtzel’s ideas translate into inspired images, thanks in large part to Adam Arkapaw’s lens. The cinematographer, who worked with Kurtzel on his blistering film debut The Snowtown Murders, here articulates a vision of medieval madness and horror appropriate for the Bard’s tale of bloodlust, ambition, and mania.

Skies awash in red, battlefields smothered in smoke and teeming with carnage, the flame of a candle or a blaze, all feed into the haunting, dreamlike quality Kurtzel emphasizes with a mournful score. The screen becomes a misty nightmare, punctuated by impressive action pieces that the stage would not allow.

Sometimes distracting changes to the text can take you out of that dream, though, as the play’s most iconic lines and scenes are occasionally altered or omitted. The cinematic update also offers a hushed quality, particularly to lines that are now delivered mostly as soliloquies or in voiceover. This muted approach sometimes serves to emphasize the bursts of violence and lunacy, but just as often gives the performances and the madness itself too distant a quality.

Powerhouse lead performances and arresting visuals aside, the streamlined narrative can make it difficult to invest in lesser characters. It also feels as if the film capitalizes on the popularity of medieval action when it could have mined the political intrigue for some modern relevance.

Regardless, Kurtzel’s execution suits the supernatural horror of the material, showcasing two of cinema’s greatest talents as it does.


Working for the Weekend

Two Days, One Night

by Hope Madden

A woman wakes from a nap due to a phone call. She’s baking for the kids. It seems like a lovely way to spend your afternoon, really, drowsy and surrounded by the smell of baked goods. So why does Sandra (Oscar-nominated Marion Cotillard) sound defensive about the nap and too enthusiastic about the treats with whoever is on the phone?

Because there are layers and layers to the most ordinary of circumstances, a point Two Days, One Night explores so effectively.

Sandra’s co-workers were faced with a vote: each stands to gain a large bonus in return for eliminating one salary – Sandra’s. She has the weekend to convince them to give up their bonus and save her job.

If it sounds contrived, rest assured that writing/directing brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne embrace their characteristically naturalistic style to great effect. The films lacks any hint of melodrama, thanks in part to the brothers’ honest style and in greater part to a lead performance utterly absent of artificiality.

Cotillard is a master, and this film is no exception, it’s a highlight. Her gestures, her gaze, her posture, every syllable of dialogue simply convince you this is a woman fighting for her dignity as well as her job. She’s aided by a large, capable cast and buoyed by the Dardennes’ fly-on-the-wall camera work.

The film has larger goals, looking at ideas as concrete as corporate indifference, as amorphous as depression, and as grand as human nature. Grounding all this examination in the intimate and mundane details of one woman’s struggle keeps the film anchored in the reality so precious to the filmmakers.

Two Days, One Night is not as touching as the Dardennes’ Kid with a Bike or as gripping as L’Enfant – two of their finest efforts. It feels more contrived than those films, its craftsmanship more obvious. But Sandra’s challenge and her personal journey are so beautifully articulated that you won’t care. The film is a small, potent wonder.


For Your Queue: Ignore the Hyperbole, Embrace the Subtitles

While we often like to suggest one newly available DVD and one older title worthy of looking up, this week we thought – screw that, there are two new ones we want to recommend!  So that’s what we’re gonna do. We’re edgy like that.

Two first rate films release this week, beginning with Zero Dark Thirty, the gripping tale of the hunt for Osama bin Laden from director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal.

Look past the hyperbolic debate the film inspired, and you’ll find a work of meticulous craftsmanship that is bursting with intelligence, suspense, and a profound respect for the story it is telling.


Meanwhile, Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os) , a gritty and punishing a tale of sexual redemption, tells of two broken people unconventionally well suited to each other. Crafting a spell of raw, emotional and sexual intimacy borne of struggle, writer/director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) introduces two strangers (Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts). How do they find anything in common, let alone generate the fierce bond they share?

The chemistry between the leads keeps the film taut, and Audiard’s wandering storyline and loyalty to his characters forever surprises.


The Bond of Two Broken Souls


By Hope Madden


Why do strangers Stephanie and Ali form such a fierce bond in Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os) ? Stephanie (Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard) trains orcas and struggles with tragedy, while Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) lives in the present moment, accepting any offer, opportunity or bit of fun that presents itself without a thought of the consequences to himself or his young son.

Writer/director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) doesn’t provide all the answers in his challenging exploration of their relationship.  His drama, in French with subtitles, is a gritty, punishing  tale of sexual redemption between two broken people unconventionally well suited to each other. The chemistry between the leads keeps the film taut, and Audiard’s wandering storyline and loyalty to his characters forever surprises.

4 stars (out of 5)