Monthly Archives: May 2016

Race: A Review

Stephen Hopkins’ Race, a French-German-Canadian Co-Production, is a somewhat standard biopic that tells the story of Jesse Owens (played by Stephan James), and his quest to become the world’s greatest track and field athlete. After being trained by Coach Larry Snyder (played by Jason Sudeikis), he finds himself on the world stage of the 1936 Olympics. In this context, Jesse is up against Adolph Hitler and his racist ideologies, which threaten to tear him apart. Due to this conflict, he has to decide whether or not he should actually go to the Olympics. While this is happening, we intersect with scenes of Avery Brundage, (played by Jeremy Irons) a well off American envoy, who is trying to negotiate a compromise with Hitler’s political party, the Third Reich, so as to avoid a boycott over Jesse Owen’s participation in the Olympics. Race may be a very simply told story, but its good performances and compelling story, make it even more enjoyable than expected.

Race’s title actually has two meanings. The first, obviously, refers to the Olympics and the running race Owens is involved in, and the second meaning, of course, has to do with Jesse Owens and the prejudice he receives on the field because of his race,and being an African American athlete. Stephan James’ plays Owens as a fiercely stubborn and persistent runner who wants to be the best. James’ performance is somewhat cautious, and while he seems to lack a huge amount of dramatic depth in the role, he is, nonetheless, very good. Comedian Jason Sudeikis, as Coach Larry Snyder, is a bit of the odd duck in the film. While he is basically very good in the role, it does feel like he’s trying too hard with a little too much brooding and seriousness, as if to remind the audience that he’s not playing his usual funny role with comic relief. When he delivers lines, like “no room on the team for us”, all I can think of to myself is here is a serious Sudeikis who wants to seen as a serious actor, playing a serious role, very seriously. The rest of the cast is pretty good as well, with Jeremy Irons as Avery Brundage, who spends most of his scenes talking a lot to Germans, and William Hurt, as a racist coach, being the standouts.

The direction by Stephen Hopkins is fine. There are some slow-motion scenes, such as when Coach Snyder is telling Jessie if he hears voices from outside the stadium, and Coach Snyder’s voice slows down, then the scenes switch almost automatically back and forth. Another example of this, whenever Jessie is running, the scenes will literally go silent just before the races are about to begin. The running scenes, in general, are quite exhilarating, and are the highlights of the film, even if they don’t take up much of the film’s screen time, and don’t appear until about half-way through the film.

I especially liked the musical score by Rachel Portman. While a lot of the music is very inspirational-sounding, I quite liked the dark and sinister music for the Nazis, however the music that plays when Jessie Owens walks onto the Olympic running field is oddly somewhat dark sounding as well, and then it builds to an epic rushing piece, eventually.

What’s unusually odd about Race, which I didn’t particularly care for, is just how weirdly edited it is, at least in the first half. Scenes sometimes cut from one to the other, and some of them feel oddly out of place. An example of this is when Jessie Owens and Coach Snyder are talking, and the film cuts to a shot of Avery Brundage standing before some Germans. While this sort of thing wouldn’t normally bother me, the editing is done so abruptly that I can’t help but notice it.

Surprisingly, the film doesn’t explore the race angle as much as you would expect. Instead, it goes for more of a quasi-inspirational film, with some thriller elements thrown in. There are some race issues addressed in the film, but if this issue had been developed more, it might have made the movie a bit more interesting in the story department. That said, overall, Race is a solid biopic. It does tackles some major themes, and the direction, acting, musical score, and settings all make it worthwhile for at least one viewing experience.

On a separate note, I’ve been writing film reviews for the Catamount Arts Blog now for the past two and a half years as part of my Internship experience in the Lyndon State College English Department’s Film Studies major. It has been a really fun experience for me, and I’ll definitely miss it, but sometimes you’ve gotta move on. Farewell to all and here’s the beginning of my new blogging adventure. I hope you stop by and let me know how you like it:

Long Live The Cinema!!!

My Golden Days: A Review: A Look-Back In Teenage Agony

My Golden Days is the story of Paul Dedalus, an anthropologist, played by Mathieu Amalric as an adult and Quentin Dolmaire as an adolescent, who returns to France after spending a lot of time travelling overseas. As he tries to board a train, and return home, he is detained for questioning by Intelligence Services, because someone with the same name and birthdate had been discovered dead in Australia. As Paul is being questioned, he begins to relate his childhood, and we flashback to him as a youthful young man, living with his crazy mother, his trip to the Soviet Union, and especially, his love affair with Esther.

My Golden Days is set up into several segments with titles, such as, “Opening”, “Esther”, and “Epilogue”. Within the first twenty minutes, since Paul is mistaken for a Communist, one might assume the film would turn into a spy-thriller, but it doesn’t. Instead, it is a coming of age film, set in France, and Paul’s character is a common one found in French cinema: a young man who spends too much time thinking.

There are some nice directing touches by director and co-writer, Arnaud Desplechin, in this film. One sequence, in particular, stood out when the film segways between Paul walking and Esther talking about missing him. Another nicely done film sequence was when Paul sees visions of his own mother while visiting Paris. Both of these sequences add to the overall feel of the film quite well.

Aside from Mathieu Amalric, I’m not familiar with most of the cast. This is largely due to Amalric having starred in many English Language productions, such as the Grand Budapest Hotel and Quantum of Solace, in addition to his numerous French productions. Of note, Amalric played this character, Paul Dedalus, twenty years earlier (1996) in Desplechin’s My Sex Life…Or How I Got Into An Argument. Amalric and Desplechin have worked together off and on since The Sentinel (1992)

The film’s musical score has a really atmospheric and mysterious feel to it, and in parts, it actually reminded me of the classic Bernard Hermann’s Vertigo soundtrack, with a dark piano piece playing in the background of a few scenes. The soundtrack also uses a lot of popular English language hip-hop and rap-songs in order to emphasize what was popular with teenagers in the 80’s, and 90’s.

The things that didn’t like about My College Days, is that it has a bit of air of apparent pretentious, particularly when Paul is talking to Esther, with dialogue like “A Chinese game, I can teach you”, and “I don’t crack off, I really don’t”, coming off as especially annoying and the sorta love triangle introduced near the end of the film, between Peter, Esther, and Jeanne Dedalus, a man she starts dating, while Paul is away. Also the film has a character named Robert, who rebels and runs away from his parents when they come to visit him, and he ends up staying with his cousins. This is not only poorly handled, but it serves no purpose within the context of the story, and is utterly meaningless. It could have been cut out entirely from the film, and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

My Golden Days is a well intentioned, well made film about a man relating his younger years. Some of the film could have been trimmed down, and loose ends tied up, but as it is, it’s a film that has a lot of interesting things to it and is at least worth checking out.

The Lady In The Van: A Review

The Lady in The Van, based off a true-story, is a surprisingly very well-made and funny black comedy/drama movie. It tells the story of a man who forms a relationship with an old, crazy woman who is living in her van that is parked in his driveway. This film works mainly because of the relationship between these two characters is believable, and Maggie Smith delivers an amazingly, wickedly amusing performance in the title role.

Adapted from his best-selling novel about his own life experience, Alan Bennett (played by Alex Jennings), is a writer and an actor who, in the 1970s, befriended Miss Mary Shepherd (played by Maggie Smith), a very eccentric elderly woman. He allowed Miss Shepherd to park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden home. As the story develops, over the course of fifteen years, Bennett discovers that Miss Shepherd is actually, in fact, Margaret Fairchild, a former, gifted pupil of the pianist, Alfred Cortot. In her past, Ms. Fairchild/Shepherd had played in a promenade concert, tried to become a nun, and after being committed to an institution, was diagnosed with a psychiatric condition.

The film has some nice directing touches by Nicholas Hytner, but it seems to rely a lot on the characters’ acting, and Maggie Smith carries the film quite well. Her sense of “craziness” is well portrayed, and believable whenever she’s overacting or yelling. “I didn’t choose. I was chosen”, she yelled at one point. Alex Jennings is very good in his part, as well, particularly in the sequences where he’s talking to himself, as if daydreaming, about what’s going on in his life. His performance is quite nuanced in that regard.

Two of my favorites directing touches were a montage of Alan Bennett, cleaning up and sweeping his house, and another depicting Shepherd in a flashback, showing her playing a piano, but a Catholic female priest stopped her before she could finish. These two scenes helped add to the overall feel of the film.

The film has a great amount of black humor in it. The script is quite good, and lines such as “Sex. I read about that, too”, and, “I know what I’m talking about”, made me laugh quite a bit.

The score by George Fenton, who actually appears near the beginning of the film as a conductor, is also quite marvelous. It feels like a circus going crazy, almost paralleling the lady as a character. It also has a very adventurous and comic feel to it. It even has a dark and sinister theme at various times running throughout, which is played in scenes where it looks like something bad is about to happen.

If The Lady in The Van has any faults, it’s that it’s storyline didn’t always keep me invested in it 100% of the time, but that’s only a somewhat minor flaw to an overall very enjoyable, well-made, and well-acted film.