Cafe de Flore
Jean-Marc Vallee’s “Café de Flore” juggles two seemingly unconnected story lines for a good portion of 90 minutes before allowing their unlikely symmetries to collide in unexpected and moving ways. Beginning in Montreal in the current moment, we meet Antoine (Kevin Parent), a successful DJ and happily living with a beautiful woman and his two young daughters. We’re then introduced to Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) in what we think is 60’s Paris due to the clothes and cars. Immensely loving of her down-syndrome afflicted son Laurent (Marin Gerrier), this thread focuses solely on Jacqueline as she faces more difficult times as Laurent grows up and makes friends with another child in school. Writer-director Vallee spins both of these tales in an increasingly frenetic and symbolic method of cutting, anchoring the action in not only the various manifestations of the title song, but in the terrific music of The Cure, Sigur Ros and Pink Floyd. As “Café de Flore” makes connections between past and present, it threatens to spin out of control, but Vallee and his impressive cast hold things together, splicing images together in unique and portentous ways that add depth and complexity. Without spoiling too much, “Café de Flore” would make for a splendidly low-fi Parisian antidote to “Cloud Atlas”.
Sam Mendes “Skyfall” is certainly a schizophrenic example of the Bond franchise, and I have mixed emotions about it. First, the good. This is the first Bond film in memory that embraces its classicism and then continually tries to subvert that classicism. The set piece in Shanghai, for example, is probably one of the most thrillingly conceived and flawlessly executed in the franchise’s history… notable not only for Roger Deakins ultra-clean cinematography (just look at the division of colors and layers as his camera floats above the city’s highway and canal system) but in the way he films its ultimate silhouetted fight between Bond (Daniel Craig) and an assassin embraced against neon lit signs and glass doorways in one single, patient zoom. It’s as if Wong Kar Wai was given access for a few minutes. Javier Bardem, as one of the most over-the-top Bond villains ever (?) is given a grand entrance in long take and with a biting monologue in tow. “Skyfall” is also dark… a characteristic that’s been welcome since Craig’s own entrance to the franchise in “Casino Royale”. But while all of this takes on a compellingly modern feel for the 45 year old series, “Skyfall” ultimately is a Bond film, which encompasses the sporadic bedding of every beautiful woman and car chases that end up on the rooftops of train carriages. Ultimately, it’s a film I enjoyed watching but became relatively meaningless the minutes the lights came up, which makes for one of the most frustrating things to write about a film. It’s good, but not great.
Ben Lewin's "The Sessions" takes an extremely uncomfortable subject- man confined to an iron lung- and infuses it with warm humor and strong characterizations. As disabled poet Mark O'Brian, John Hawkes turns in another great performance. Based on a true story, "The Sessions" observes O'Brian as he searches to lose his virginity. Enter a sex therapist (Helen Hunt) who meets with him for 6 sessions, exploring his sexuality and enabling him as a real human being. Touchy as the subject may be, "The Sessions" walks a fine tightrope between intelligent reactions and believable connectability. And while Hawkes and Hunt are the central characters, I was fully blown away by actress Moon Bloodgood as the young assistant to O'Brian. Her performance is tremendous as she tries to stay stoic against a very confusing relationship. The film revels in a few missteps towards the end (it actually feels abrupt when the credits roll) but it's a nice compliment to Hawkes resume and one that will surely garner him an Oscar nomination.