+ "Marie Antoinette": It seems silly to label this film divisive â€” we liked it quite a bit, but we imagined responses to it would fall somewhere on a sliding scale of "Indifferent <——-> Enchanted." Then again, Sofia Coppola seems to inspire all the derision a girl auteur could ask for. On the yea side, we have:
A recovering Roger Ebert, who writes "Every criticism I have read of this film would alter is fragile magic and reduce its romantic and tragic poignancy to the level of an instructional film."
A.O. Scott at the New York Times, who calls the film "a thoroughly modern confection, blending insouciance and sophistication, heartfelt longing and self-conscious posing with the guileless self-assurance of a great pop song. What to do for pleasure? Go see this movie, for starters."
Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly notes that "it’s tempting to read autobiographical identification into the filmmaker’s madly chic, tauntingly shallow biopic," but that the film "is the work of a mature filmmaker who has identified and developed a new cinematic vocabulary to describe a new breed of post-postpostfeminist woman."
At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek thinks that the film "is Coppola’s silk-embroidered fantasy sampler of the inner life of a queen we can never really know: It’s a humanist comedy-drama decked out not in sackcloth but in ribbons — instead of flattering our ideas of our own virtuousness, it asks our sympathy for this doomed queen even as we can’t help envying her privilege." Of the film’s decadence, she goes on to suggest
Maybe it stems less from a girly love of glamour than a Catholic taste for pageantry and excess — a taste that her father and his fellow Italian-American filmmaking contemporaries, Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma, have all shown in their movies. The lush draperies and ornaments of Versailles are baldly ecclesiastical, perfectly fitting for rulers who were supposed to be guided by God. Why wouldn’t Coppola be attracted to that setting?
David Edelstein at New York (who offhandedly notes that Coppola’s "signature shot" is of "the strange new world viewed from behind her heroineâ€™s tush") does draw the autobiographical parallels: "Having partied with the rich and hip, [Coppola] understands the pleasure in escapism, as well as the sense of alienation it can reinforce. In the film, as Marie Antoinette takes up gambling and gambolingâ€”lawn parties with booze and drugs and sexâ€”you can feel the desperation under her drive for pleasure." He chalks the film’s flaws up to its script; J. Hoberman at the Village Voice would blame them on the gravitas of the ending: "the filmmaker’s attempt to redeem her heroine’s shallowness reveals her own."
And the naysayers: Armond White (sigh) at the New York Press calls it "entertainment weakly, blatantly flaunting idiocy as artâ€”to justify bourgeois indulgence at any cost." Then he accuses it of ripping of "A Knight’s Tale." Oof. Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly finds the autobiographical connections a negative thing: "this project seems to me inspired less by artistic urges than by the solipsistic desire to fold one of historyâ€™s most fascinating figures into Coppolaâ€™s own history as a poor little rich child of movie aristocracy." Dana Stevens at Slate‘s complaint is that it is "impossible to tell is what, if anything, this film has to say about its objects of desire, its subject herself, the waning years of the French aristocracy, or the present day." She takes issue with what Vanity Fair calls Coppola’s "unwitting" political stance:
It seems disingenuous to suggest that a movie about the fall of the
French monarchy could be anything but political. I don’t ask Coppola to
be unsympathetic to the young queen, or even to devote any screen time
to her arrest and decapitation. But just because the
film’s heroine has nothing to say about politics, revolutionary or
otherwise, doesn’t justify Coppola being similarly dumbstruck.
Finally, Anthony Lane at the New Yorker, who would never do something as gauche as getting his long knives out, jabs with a hat pin instead:
Coppola films Versailles with a flat acceptance, quickening at times into eager montage, and declares, in her notes on the film, that she sought to capture her heroineâ€™s â€œinner experience.â€ Her what? This is like a manicurist claiming to capture the inner experience of your pinkie.
We have yet to read a review (our own included) that really expresses what we thought of this film, which we found inexpressibly hard to pin down. We’re no Coppola apologist, but we were surprised and a little put-off by the glee with which some of our colleagues have greeted negative reviews of the film rather off-putting. And yes, that is rich, coming from us. Perhaps we’re going through a holier-than-thou period.
+ "Running With Scissors": Mixed-to-bad for "Nip/Tuck" creator Ryan Murphy‘s adaptation of Augusten Burroughs‘ memoir. A. O. Scott at the New York Times anoints Annette Bening‘s performance as "a minor classic in the monstrous-movie-mom pantheon," and salutes the performances of others before adding that "the problem is that the efforts of the actors donâ€™t add up to much more than a series of uncomfortable, funny-horrible vignettes in a scattered, shapeless movie." David Edelstein at New York
believes that the "director does gravitate toward the cute, but thatâ€™s
in keeping with the detachment of his source: The feelings of loss and
alienation are woven into the portrait of the time-into the
otherworldly fluorescent seventies fashions and sitcoms in which its
hero seeks escape." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon
likes the actors and the sympathy, but complains that "the movie’s
madcap mission to flash a beam of sunshine on every whacked-out flower
in Burroughs’ garden ends up feeling a bit too reductive… Too often
the movie veers dangerously close to that dread ‘They’re not crazy,
they’re special’ territory."
Murphy, creator of the far superior television series Nip/Tuck,
has an episodic sensibility far more suited to the small screen (this
is his first feature), and he appears to have gone through Burroughsâ€™
memoir with a highlighter, culling bits of weirdness to hammer into
something resembling a narrative.
And Armond White at the New York Press proclaims that it "displays the worst elements of popular gay cinema," that "[n]othing in Running with Scissors is credible," and that it is "guaranteed Oscar bait: Every Bening scene is a mad scene."
+ "Requiem": Hans-Christian Schmid‘s "Requiem" is based on the same true story that inspired "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," only, you know, sans that whole Scopes Trial/faith wins/horror thing. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon calls it "absolutely astonishing," "closer in spirit to Ingmar Bergman‘s ‘Through a Glass Darkly’ than to TV demonology." Jim Ridley at the Village Voice writes that star Sandra HÃ¼ller "invests Michaela’s terrified, possibly schizophrenic outbursts with unholy conviction" and Jeannette Catsoulis at the New York Times also cites "HÃ¼llerâ€™s astonishingly physical performance."
Also tackling the film is this week’s Reverse Shot trio, actually a duo: Kristi Mitsuda marvels at the film’s "eloquent humanism," and concludes that the film "casts a vastly more complex and durable spell of disquiet," while Michael Koresky also drops an h-bomb (hyuck!), claiming that "’Requiem’ might not have been intended as an antidote to the culture of shock-horror exorcist flicks, but that’s exactly how it functions."
+ "51 Birch Street": Doug Block‘s documentary about his parent’s marriage (an unfair understatement of a description) opened in New York on Wednesday to plenty of praise. Samplings: A.O. Scott declares it "one of the most moving and fascinating documentaries Iâ€™ve seen this year":
Everyone in it seems so familiar that by the end you canâ€™t quite believe that you have known them for less than 90 minutes. Mr. Block has put his parentsâ€™ life, and his own, into this film with such warmth and candor that it may take more than one viewing to recognize it as a work of art.
Ella Taylor writes that it is a "marvelous home movie…Open-minded, probing but never prurient, 51 Birch Street is much more than a portrait of suburban ennui. Itâ€™s a loving, painful map of the gulf between thought and word, between word and deed, that props up good marriages, and sends bad ones to hell." And, catching it at SXSW earlier this year, Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir called it "a sad, delightful and half-accidental movie."