THE FILM YAP » Aidan Quinn We Never Shut Up About Movies Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:48:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Yap vs. Yap: Sarah’s Key Thu, 11 Aug 2011 04:14:45 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Two Yappers. One movie. The Holocaust. French people. Boobies.


Austin: With this round of Yap vs. Yap, I am already losing. “Sarah’s Key” has already won Heartland’s Truly Moving Picture Award, critics are liking it across the board, and — oh yeah — it’s a Holocaust film.

Every film that tells a story from this time automatically has a strong emotional connection because even decades later, it is an act too horrifying to comprehend. However, when used in a creative format, all topics are still subject to criticism. Disliking a Holocaust film does not make me pro-Nazi. I don’t like being the cynic when everyone else is inspired, but this film used too many shortcuts and blatant manipulations for my liking. Before I fight my winless battle, Chris, do you want to tell a little bit why you liked “Sarah’s Key” so much and why I, medically, have no heart?

Chris: Well, Austin, you’re a Millenial, which according to the MSM means you’re a self-obsessed brat with no sense of history. Of course, we live in a country where our sixtysomething vice president once claimed that President Roosevelt went on television in 1929 to talk about the stock market crash, so history is not America’s strong suit. It never has been, even back in 1492 when Chris Columbus started making “Home Alone” sequels.

You’re right that there have been some bad, preachy World War II movies, and just because filmmakers are focusing on a reverent subject like the Holocaust means we should cut them some slack. For every “Schindler’s List,” there’s a “Life Is Beautiful” or “Jakob the Liar.”

Personally, I like my films about collective guilt in the mode of “The Reader,” with lots of nudity. Nothing cuts through ponderous material like Kate Winslet getting her kit off.

But I think you’re wrong about “Sarah’s Key.” I was caught up in the parallel quests by the two female characters — Sarah to find her brother and Julia to follow Sarah’s story to the bitter end.

It’s an emotional movie without jerking the audience around. I think it was Alfred Hitchcock who said all filmmaking is inherently manipulative. And he should know: Hitchcock favored Nordic blondes for his leading ladies and tried to convince them to sleep with them, despite his resemblance to Gimli from “The Lord of the Rings,” except homelier.

Austin: Ooo. A Millenial? I love being insulted with new terminology. Nerd, snob, and “Hey, did we ask you to sit here” just gets old after awhile.

My biggest problem was I felt I was jerked around too often during the film. Everyone going into this film already feels the weight of the Holocaust. So the additional emotion comes from these specific characters. Right away, I thought they set up a troubling situation with the titular dilemma. Then once the horrors start in the past, it’s overdone. There is a scene when Sarah’s family is being further separated. It’s an emotional scene because it should be characters we care about, but all of the attention went toward the filmmaking. The music tries to deafen the audience and the chaos in the camera is way too out of place. The quieter moments were more powerful, but those were too few.

Hitchcock’s a pretty smart guy. Every film is manipulative. Every time you move the camera or make an edit, you’re making a decision on how the audience will treat the story. The best manipulation is when it never feels like it’s manipulation. In many ways, the opening of “Up” is obvious manipulation with Michael Giacchino’s beautiful score, but they earnestly build up characters in a short amount of time to make it appear real.

“Sarah’s Key” has a very odd timing issue. This is not the movie’s fault, but I’ve now seen three films this year with a similar structure. “Incendies” and “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” both had modern women in a foreign country investigating a story set in the past. “Incendies” is a film I like a lot, and when pressed against “Sarah’s Key,” there’s a bit of a problem. The past story in “Incendies” has plenty of twists and shocking moments. The final reveal is horrifying, and it more than pays off why so many people kept it a secret.

The reveal with “Sarah’s Key” is not worth all of the investigation. I don’t think there is anyone in the audience who didn’t know what had to happen with Sarah’s decision. It’s a sad and noble predicament, but the journey towards the information was lackluster and full of structural holes.

Obviously, the journey was something that worked for you. Was it because of the subject material or because of the characters themselves?

Chris: Yeesh, here I was talking about Kate Winslet’s boobies and you had to go and get all deep and reflective on me. How can I compete with that? (Hint: More boobies!)

I guess I was caught up in the narrative. Even though we know exactly where each of their investigations are going to lead (SPOILERS AHEAD) — with Sarah finding out that her brother died and Julia learning that her husband’s family was complicit in, or at least benefited from, the treatment of Sarah’s family — I found their twin journeys moving. As Gene Siskel used to say, movies aren’t about what they’re about, but how they are about it. “Sarah’s Key” is an exercise in collective guilt and how acts of pure evil stain us all, even generations down the line.

The two performances by the female leads help, of course. I thought Melusine Mayance hit the perfect balance of childlike wonder and very adult horror during Sarah’s experiences. Scott Thomas was her usual pitch-perfect self. And I really was endeared by the character of the farmer who refuses to help Sarah, but is won over by his own conscience. He seems almost sad about doing the right thing.

Austin: I always do that! The conversation is right there on boobies and I bring in cinematic philosophy. People are surprised that I’m single at the moment.

There’s something we can definitely agree about. Melusine Mayance was absolutely brilliant. If there is an Oscar that can be given just for performance through the eyes, she’s the lock. They were always so wide as she was drowning in powerful emotions of guilt, fear, and determination to fix an impossible mess. She is what really sold the past segments. Kristen Scott Thomas is one of those actors who instantly brings authority to a role. Journalists are always romanticized in films — and they should be! — but she always makes her story feel like important work even if I didn’t necessarily believe it.

This is probably from my years of being part of a mystery book club, but there were questionable points during her journalistic journey. Too many coincidences bugged me. Early on in the movie, a relative basically guesses that Thomas is pregnant and then she turns out to be right. It was the most random way to start a storyline. Also, the way she finally figures out what happened to Sarah’s brother involved a lot of stalling so it could be in sync with the other storyline. I want them to line up, but I don’t want it to happen because phone calls weren’t returned or people were keeping a secret for a lame reason.

There are films I don’t like and films I hate. I do not hate this whatsoever. There are strong moments and weak moments. The reason I’m not shouting at you (via Caps Lock) in disagreement is because this is a film that will completely work for people, and that’s respectable. I only hate films when they are condescending to the audience and “Sarah’s Key” never does that; it just slips a bunch of times.

Once again, I can not stress this enough: I am not pro-Nazi.


]]> 1
Sarah’s Key Wed, 10 Aug 2011 04:46:05 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

I never tire of films about World War II, especially when they’re as good and emotionally affecting as “Sarah’s Key,” a French drama starring English actress Kristen Scott Thomas.

Perhaps younger generations see movies like this — which still turn up quite often every year in local cinemas, even seven decades after the war’s end — and think, “Not again.” Perhaps even those old enough to have lived through those dark times grow tired of seeing them portrayed from yet another light. But I think, and hope, not.

The Second World War was the most pivotal event in the history of mankind, bar none. Conquerors like Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan rode momentary tides of power that left the landscape and people much as they had been.

World War II created and destroyed countries, shifted the balance of world power across the Atlantic Ocean and ushered in a technological age wherein humans harnessed the power to totally and permanently annihilate each other.

And, if one man had had his way — abetted by millions who agreed or went along out of fear — an entire race of people would have been exterminated.

The saga of the Jewish journey gets a new twist in “Sarah’s Key,” which uses the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup as a prism for a historical story set in the past and present. The roundup is a stain on the proud legacy of Occupied France, in which nearly 14,000 French Jews were arrested and taken to a bicycle stadium where conditions made the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina look like a weekend resort.

The execrable event was ordered by the Nazis but carried out by French authorities. Many of those arrested were eventually sent to concentration camps for extermination.

Scott Thomas plays Julia Jarmond, an American journalist who’s been living in France for a quarter-century. She’s researching the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup for a magazine story and stumbles across a very personal connection to the tragedy. At first afraid to confront the truth, she soon becomes obsessed with nailing it down.

Her search becomes a quest to learn the fate of Sarah Starzynski, a young girl whose family was among those arrested. Thinking she was saving her little brother’s life, Sarah tucked him inside a hidden closet in their apartment when the police came knocking — locking him in with her key and promising to return.

Of course, they were not allowed to return for days, which soon turned into weeks, leaving little doubt about the young Starzynski lad’s fate. But this becomes Sarah’s own quest, guarding the ornamental key through many adversities, to learn the truth for herself.

This mirrors Julia’s own journey of discovery, which she senses must end in disappointment — both personally and professionally — and yet she cannot let go of the chimera’s tail she has grasped.

Scott Thomas is her usual solid self, with her beautiful, wan face a canvas of colliding emotions and thoughts. Her French is — to my untrained ear — superlative, though her (supposedly) Brooklyn accent is, shall we say, more aspirational than operational.

Mélusine Mayance is a revelation as young Sarah, who finds the resolve to carry on even when separated from her parents or even any real hope for her family’s survival. I also very much enjoyed the performance by Niels Arestrup as a farmer who finds a bedraggled Sarah at his doorstep and makes a choice that changes both their lives in ways neither could have imagined.

“Sarah’s Key” was directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who co-wrote the screenplay with Serge Joncour based on the novel by Tatiana De Rosnay. They keep the mood and tone of the film in a perfect balance between the joy of discovery in letting the narrative unspool and the tragic nature of what is to be found.

The reason WWII remains such a fertile source of movies, both based on fact and fiction, is that there are millions of stories like Sarah’s waiting, needing to be told.

4.5 Yaps


]]> 1
Unknown Sat, 19 Feb 2011 18:24:31 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“Taken’s” unexpected awesomeness derived from its unadorned simplicity: “Commando” with character development and the shockingly rah-rah sight of fiftysomething Liam Neeson inserting boots and bullets in bad guys’ asses.

Playing socially unassuming guys with everyman names and jaw-shattering abilities has become a cottage industry for 58-year-old Neeson — assuming Harrison Ford’s abdicated silver-fox action hero slot (even if Neeson still doesn’t look a day over 45).

Sadly, “Unknown” is a sign that the shingles need attention.

It’s “Taken’s” polar opposite, cluttering a rehashed amnesiac-adventure plot with a clunky collection of Middle East politics, assassination attempts and, rather amusingly, agricultural biogenetics. What starts off as a captivating Berlin spin on “Der Fugitive” turns, boringly, into “Die Bourne Ultimatum” — down to destructive car chases with taxis and a Touareg.

Following up 2009’s underrated, diabolical “Orphan,” director Jaume Collet-Serra capably films the action, stylizes snowy Berlin as Central Europe’s answer to Chicago, slyly references “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “Enter the Void,” and is smart enough to give breathing room to the great Bruno Ganz as a former secret-police bloodhound on one last hunt.

But “Unknown’s” script works against him, sweatily and stupidly piling on plot in a way that’s exhausting, not exciting — neither delving into the psychology of guilt as did the “Bourne” films or even “The Long Kiss Goodnight” nor latching onto velvet suavity or slight sleaze that could’ve set intriguing narrative tones.

Neeson is Dr. Martin Harris, an esteemed scientist en route to a biotech conference in Berlin with his wife, Liz (January Jones).

Martin realizes he’s left his briefcase at the airport and doubles back to get it, but a traffic accident sends his taxi tumbling off a bridge and into a river. Martin survives, but he’s cracked his skull and awakens four days later alone in a Berlin hospital — fresh out of a coma with no identification and no Liz.

Only here does Neeson bring any nuance to Martin — telling a nurse about gifts Liz has given him less to make small talk, more to remind himself that she should be there and deepening his dismay over why she’s not.

Aside from that, Neeson can only pull off so many variations on the insistence of sanity. It’s a far cry from the dynamism that took him from try-hard, teddy-bear dad to gnashing-teeth, grizzly-bear warrior in “Taken.” Plus, as revelations pile up, the entire lost-briefcase linchpin makes no sense as a mistake Martin would make.

Just why does Martin have to constantly assert that he’s in his right mind? Defying doctors’ orders, Martin returns to the hotel to find Liz who, upon their reunion, claims to not recognize him. Complicating matters is her introduction of another man (Aidan Quinn) as the Dr. Martin Harris to whom she’s married.

Not only does this Martin have Liz, but he possesses firsthand knowledge of private conversations and personal memories that only Neeson’s Martin should recall. (Quinn and Neeson unexpectedly play one scene together for uneasy, but welcome laughs.)

Pursued by authorities and assassins, Martin goes on the run with Gina (Diane Kruger), the illegal-immigrant cabbie who saved him from drowning, and seeks help from Ernst Jürgen (Ganz), a Stasi star who’s turned to private investigations.

In Ganz’s hands, a paycheck part is cashed into something that gives currency to the story — a dangerous man applying bulldog tendencies in sly ways to simultaneously help and harm Martin.

Ernst’s brutal logic makes perfect sense, and he eloquently dictates a need for nations to reinvent themselves as history dictates in just a couple of sentences. (Trailers have shrewdly obscured another venerable character actor’s presence, though the sight of his name in the credits is a sure sign he’ll be up to no good.)

“Unknown” needs not pause for moments with Ernst, but it does and unintentionally makes him the most intriguing, compelling character. It sure as hell isn’t Liz.

Jones has taken lumps for her vacant-stare turn as Betty Draper on “Mad Men.” It works for that character, often easily molded and manipulated by others. Here, when she utters “I love you” to Martin, it’s the limpest those words could sound outside of a soft-core porno trying too hard to emote. Jones clearly was cast only for her pin-up cross between Eva Marie Saint and Grace Kelly as the Hitchcock blonde.

It’s indicative of how “Unknown” overthinks the establishment of all its archetypes. Did Neeson really need a credited costume consultant and a personal costumer? A tailored, waist-length leather jacket would seem to equal instant badass to me.

“Unknown” ultimately leaves you like one of its scared little-girl characters — confused about why an intriguing party had to be swapped for such charred rubble.

]]> 9
Flipped Tue, 23 Nov 2010 05:45:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Sentimentality is not a bad thing. The canon of Frank Capra is full of rich characters and stories that are so earnest they can even warm the heart of mean Mr. Potter. People love those films because of how warm and respectful they are without ever treating you like an idiot. This must be stated because Flipped does not get a pass just because it wants to be sweet.

Flipped continues the line of bad Rob Reiner films but this one is especially odd because it feels like he’s ripping off his own films. This movie’s portrayal of younger kids is nowhere as natural as Stand By Me. Its look at the battle of the genders and their different perspectives pale in comparison to When Harry Met Sally….

Flipped is based off the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen. Oddly that book is not set in the 1960s but apparently Reiner felt he could pull that off. It’s not like there’s any insanely popular AMC show that is noted for being meticulously accurate and would serve as a damning comparison. I digress. Madeline Carroll (LOST, Café) plays young Juli Baker who instantly falls in love with Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe)when he moves in across the street. But—uh oh!—he doesn’t like her! Wakka wakka.

The rest of the film is this insanely contrived and pestering “will they or won’t they”? The two have no chemistry and Bryce is in the running for the dullest protagonist this side of Doug Funnie. He truly is empty upstairs; I know this because he narrates half the film with the most asinine comments imaginable. Yes, Bryce, what IS up with Juli Baker?

It’s usually pretty easy to figure out what is up with Juli Baker. There is no subtext in this film. Everything is right on the surface and often just bluntly said aloud. Too bad the movie thinks we’re stupid and repeats every single scene from Juli’s point of view and narration. It’s more like Vantage Point over Rashomon because there is no new information when they flip sides. (GET IT?)

Every embarrassing sequence must be endured twice like some sick hellish punishment. The worst offense is this messed up auction. Apparently their middle school randomly selects 6th grade boys without their permission to be auctioned off for dates. Then the girls buy them—up to $50. Why do these 10 year olds have $50 in 1963? Weren’t then also the same kids who were teasing them for being romantically interested in each other? What the hell is going on here? No, don’t show it twice!

Every character is written horribly especially Bryce’s abusive father (Anthony Edwards) who seems to be really well versed in salmonella for the 60s. Also the movie has a scene with Juli’s mentally challenged uncle (poor Kevin Weisman) that continues the consistency of being insanely incompetent and a horrible attempt of characterization. Thank God Bryce wasn’t there.

The extras are as equally terrible. The Blu-Ray only has four tiny featurettes, all dumb. Of course I would love to watch 5 minutes about chickens? How did they make that lame looking volcano? (The weirdest thing is that Callan McAuliffe has way more charisma during this small bit than the entire film. Where was this performance?) The only shining light is Madeline Carroll questioning why she had to sniff Bryce’s head during a scene. Excellent question.

Film: 1 Yap

Extras: 1 Yap

]]> 2