Hey Harry, Mori, etc. Bungion Boy here in New York. Today I was lucky enough to catch “Margot at the Wedding” at the New York Film Festival, and then not as lucky to see “The Other Boleyn Girl.” First the good news. Margot At The Wedding My favorite film of 2005 was Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale,” so naturally I was eagerly looking forward to his follow up. While I may not love his new film as much as “Squid,” it is still one of the absolute best films I’ve seen this year. In his Q & A that followed the film, Baumbach said that whenever he starts writing a script he always feels that he’s writing a comedy and it isn’t until he shows it to other people that they tell him how dark and depressing it is as well. Certainly, as funny as his films are, almost all the comedy comes from characters’ pain and their cruelty to one another. If you thought Jeff Daniels was cold and mean in “Squid,” then you haven’t seen anything yet. Nicole Kidman plays Margot who, with her son Claude, is traveling to Long Island for Margot’s sister’s wedding. Pauline, the sister played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Margot have not spoken for a few years and each claim that it is the other who is not speaking to them, and not the other way around. Before even meeting him, Margot does not approve of Malcolm, the man Pauline is marrying, in a fantastic comic and tragic performance by Jack Black. Once she does meet him, everything he does just gives her more and more reasons to cite in her never ending quest of stopping the marriage. The fact of the matter is that even though Margot is considered the more successful of the sisters, she knows that all that is starting to crumble, especially during this week in which she’s planning on leaving her husband (John Turturro), possibly for one of her ex boyfriends, played by the great Ciaran Hinds. To make Margot feel better about herself she criticizes Pauline on just about everything in her life, with Pauline becoming just as ugly as she tries to defend herself and Malcolm. Almost all the insults and picking apart are done with a smile on their face, which is what makes the fighting and cruelty so funny. Early in the film the two girls taunt each other over the sexual abuse they experienced as children, concluding that their sister Becky, who we constantly hear about but never see, had it the worst because she was raped by her riding instructor. After an awkward pause the two erupt in laughter, the kind of laughter that two adolescent sisters might share, however after several ominous comments throughout the film, one is never sure if there was any truth to the jokes they were making. Baumbach is a master of tone and mood. The film reminded me a lot of Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage” and even “Persona.” Harris Savides’ cinematography is stark and beautiful. The setting compliments the emotions perfectly, filmed in Long Island in Winter with grey skies and bare trees. The film is full of events and happenings without any of them ever overstuffing the plot. So many wonderful things come to mind. Climbing and cutting down the tree, the croquet match, the moustache that’s supposed to be humorous, the missing dog, finger nails and pieces of skin, any reference to the mysterious Becky, and just what are those creepy neighbors doing next door? It’s all so sad and unsettling but it’s also very very funny. The strange subplot about the neighbors was one thing that I wasn’t sure was working while watching the film, but in retrospect at the end I felt that it was necessary and a great touch. Just as it did in “Squid,” much of the humor comes from the two kids, Zane Pais and Flora Cross. Jack Black is also very funny in his role and gives his richest performance to date. As he cries for forgiveness after a transgression, you alternately find yourself laughing at him for how pathetic he is, but also feel awful for him for the same reason. Kidman gives one of her best performances of her career, the kind that she reserves for films like “Birth” and “Dogville.” But it’s Jennifer Jason Leigh, who steals the whole film. I haven’t liked her this much, or maybe at all, since “The Anniversary Party.” She’s Baumbach’s wife and he wrote a great character for her that she plays to perfection. I certainly plan on being pissed this year when she’s overlooked for an Oscar nomination. This is a pitch black, funny, sad, beautiful film. I can’t wait to see it again, and though I know there will be a lot of people who will be turned off by this film, I still can’t recommend it enough to everyone. The Other Boleyn Girl “The Other Boleyn Girl” has a lot of talented people involved but they all have seemed to arrive a few years too late to a genre that has run its course. I can’t remember the last time I saw a period, costume epic (especially about a monarch) that I felt was completely successful. I’ve heard tell that the new “Elizabeth” sequel is all style and no substance. Well try “Boleyn,” which is no substance or style. I couldn’t make it past one episode of the soapy, sex-filled “The Tudors” on Showtime, but this doesn’t seem to be much better. Based on the supposedly popular book by Phillippa Gregory, the film tells the story of Mary and Anne Boleyn, played by Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman respectfully. Through a series of fortunes, the first becomes Henry VIII’s mistress and bares his first son. The second becomes his wife and (spoiler alert for dummies) is beheaded after failing to provide a male heir. Though this is all handled tamely enough to get a PG 13, the film seems to be trying to make this a biting, catty story of mean rivals, ala “Dangerous Liaisons,” but its soap opera stylings lack even the depth of “Cruel Intentions.” How sad I was to discover that this was written by Peter Morgan, who wrote one of last year’s best screenplays (“The Queen”) and one of this year’s best plays (“Frost/Nixon”) which is phenomenal and being filmed now by Ron Howard, starring the original cast. Sadly, there are few lines of memorable dialogue in this film, save the ones that are memorable for all the wrong reasons. I found Kristen Scott Thomas’ all knowing mother to be especially sufferable, as she always said the things that modern audiences will recognize to have a double meaning or special significance by today’s standards. The film was directed by Justin Chadwick who is a Masterpiece Theatre veteran, most recently directing the brilliant mini series “Bleak House.” Though the costumes are pretty and some of the locations breathtaking, the film feels more suited for the small screen, since far too many of the scenes take place in small, barely furnished rooms. I don’t know where all the money went for this film. Far too often a character will describe a scene, leaving us to wonder why we didn’t get to see it for ourselves. This happens notably early on when there is an accident during a hunt and the king is terribly injured after Anne tries to show off. All of this is off camera. I know horses are expensive but they couldn’t have kept them one more day? Chadwick also constantly places the camera behind various objects, sometimes making it impossible to see what’s going on. There’s always something in the foreground, sometimes whole figures walking by in the middle of key scenes. I swear there was a party scene that was covered by people walking in front of the camera over half the time. The other annoying trait he has is giving us what appears to be a view as if we’re peaking from behind a closed door. This results in several (and I do mean several) scenes where the screen is 2/3 black, with only something going on in the side. The first few times I was annoyed, by the end it just felt lazy. Johansson, who I usually like, is cursed with playing a character that seems indifferent to everything. She may not be happy when she is told that she has to leave her husband to become mistress to the king, but she’s a trooper and goes along with it. She goes along with everything in this film, making her one of the most accommodating and bland characters I’ve seen in a while. Portman has the more interesting of the roles as the conniving, power hungry, dominant sister. Portman probably gives the strongest performance in the film, though she rarely makes you understand why Anne does the things she does, other than the fact that because this is history and this is how it happened… maybe. Neither girl is great with the British accent, though Portman holds on to hers more often than Johansson. Eric Bana makes a commanding, great looking Henry VIII, but he seems to hardly be in the film, coming in only when he needs to father a child or yell at his wife. He might have made a more interesting central character in a serious bio-pic, but in this dopey love story without love I just kept thinking that he was no Robert Shaw. This film made me crave a viewing of “A Man For All Seasons” or “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” just so I could feel like I was at least learning something. This brushes over any details of history, as years fly by in minutes and the decision to break from the Roman Catholic Church is reduced to a conversation in one scene. The last 20 minutes or so, which should pack an emotional punch, simply evoked groans, ews, and even an “Ay Yay Yay!” from the audience. Poor Portman does her best but the movie lets her down. We were told at the start of the evening that we were the first audience to see the film and the color and sound were not right yet. This was certainly true. The temp score (from “Meet Joe Black,” my female companion told me) was nauseating and the film had no color correction so everything looked kind of yellow. It’s possible this will be a much better looking film once all of this is fixed in post, but that won’t change most of the problems with what’s already on the screen. I know I’m not the target demographic for this film, but I can enjoy a good chick-flick, costume drama. This just isn’t any good. -Bungion Boy
Oct. 10, 2007, 5:36 a.m. CST
Oct. 10, 2007, 6:05 a.m. CST
by Klaus Herzog
And this sounds good as well. It's nice to see Nicole Kidman acting again, instead of sleepwalking through big-budget disasters. She can be a very good actress. And John Torturro and Ciaran Hinds are also in this movie? Now I'm checking this out for sure. As for the Boleyn-movie: Doesn't sound good, but Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johanson in one film? Dude, now that's an argument that's hard to beat.
Oct. 10, 2007, 7:13 a.m. CST
by Thomas Cromwell
There are some good British actresses that are well known in America. Why cast two Yanks? Pure bloody stupidity.
Oct. 10, 2007, 11:22 p.m. CST
Female companion? Tee hee JK JK!