Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 02, 2017 11:14 am 
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Escaping from the exceptional heat for the Bay Area I saw two movies yesterday at the air conditioned AMC Bay Street in Emeryville: first Tulip Fever, then Leap!.

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TULIP FEVER was directed by Justin Chadwick. Who is he? Well,Chadwick directed The Other Boleyn Girl, which tanked, and Nelson Mandela, the Long Walk to Freedom, which got some attention, naturally, but was described as dull and a lesson on how not to make a historical biopic. This screenplay for his new project, a costume drama set in Amsterdam, is co-written by Deborah Moggach. She wrote the novel of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, so she can do crowd pleasers. But this one was co-scripted by Tom Stoppard - who is brilliant, but has never met a plot he hasn't been able to make incomprehensible. This one about a 17th century Dutch merchant and his marital woes isn't so much incomprehensible as unrelatable, and, of course, with Stoppard involved, overcomplicated. The action is jittery, jumping back and forth from one plot strand to another without allowing you to relate to any of them. Alicia Vikander, whose poor diction or speech defect I've commented on before, is routinely pretty but remote. Her best role was as a cyborg. She has not lived up to the hype. So she doesn't seem to like hubby Christoph Waltz, who is best as a villain (as in Tarantino) and wasted as this frustrated guilty burgher who can't manage to get his wife pregnant.

Along comes Dane DeHaan, a talented and sexy young artist hired to do the couple's portrait, who falls in love with Alicia, and she with him - but given Alicia's chilly demeanor, it doesn't click, at least not for us, anyway. The fishmonger and the maid generate more heat but that's a subplot. Eventually the maid and Alicia work out a scam so the maid can hide her pregnancy - oh well, never mind. That scam is preposterous.

On the plus side, the costumes and settings of 17th century Amsterdam are beautiful and convincing and evoke Vermeer. Even Vicander and DeHaan making love looks like a gorgeous painting. There is a lot about the tulip craze and how that led to speculation and a kind of stock market craze, and this is woven into the plot with both the fishmonger and the artist involved. But the plot is not believable. This is a waste of a lot of interesting actors, who include Tom Hollander, Jack O'Connell, Zach Galifianakis, even Judi Dench as an abbess who raises prized tulips.

LEAP!/BALLERINA [original title], directed by Éric Summer, is a delight, though it does not rock conventions as does, for example Ratatouille, or the even more radical recent French animation Ma vie de courgette/My Life As a Courgette/Zucchini (Claude Barras 2016), which I reviewed in Paris last fall.

This is about boy and girl "best friend" orphans who run away from a big orphanage in Brittany to 19th century Pris when the Eiffel Tower has just begun being constructed. This is primarily about the dream of becoming a ballet dancer. The idea of a boy being a dancer is under-emphasized, though arguably a topic more in need of promotion, especially in the US, where it's looked on as sissy or gay for a male to become a ballet dancer. The boy who runs away, Victor, wants to be an inventor. He comes and goes in the story, which is a good idea, perhaps essential, because the focus is on Félicie (voiced for US auds by Elle Fanning) and her dancing dreams. There is a boy dancer, Rudolph, a blond (it's hinted I think a bottle blond) Russian peacock, who turns out to be nicer than he first appears: he's on Félicie's side against the wicked stage mom who wants to kill her so her daughter can win the audition.

Victor is adorable, if awfully jumpy - but that's the idea: he's packed with energy and ambition, as is Félicie. I am astonished to find out that Victor is voiced for the American version by none other than - Dane DeHaan! I am a fan of this very talented young actor (Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines and Kill Your Darlings are three of his better films). That's why I wanted to see Tulip Fever and why I went to see Valerian This may be his only current success with an American audience since Valerian and Tulip Fever have both tanked with critics. This is unfair in the case of Valerian, which has done better in France, where it comes from: it was directed by Luc Besson and is a rot of masterful CGI. On the other hand, Tulip Fever, also capable of entertaining, clearly is just unengaging from first to last. But Leap!, within the limits it sets, is a big, big success.

The small theater was pretty packed with parents and their accompanying kids, tweens or younger, and the latter were an unusually well-behaved group, junior balletomanes no doubt.

I look forward eventually to seeing this film with its original French soundtrack. I saw the bande-annonce (trailer) in French numerous times when I was in Paris last fall, so I have an idea what it's like. The American version works, but really, the translations, and the American intonations used to convey them, change things a lot to make them appeal to an American, instead of French, audience. The way the nuances of the relations between Félicie and Victor are conveyed in French is something I'd like to see in the original version. Note that while in France Leap!'s AlloCiné critic rating is an excellent 3.5, and with the public online one is a rave 4.0., rather inexplicably this film,which is obviously connecting with young American audiences and has plenty of charm for sympathetic adults, has a horrible MetaCritic rating of 48%. This disparity is unjustified.

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