Nov 24, 2012
The Fighter for laughs. Somehow, David O. Russell takes the tritest romantic comedy tropes and with a game cast, makes a rousing movie that is as enjoyable as it is farfecthed. He likes to mill around regular folks, and make them larger than life, in this case, average middle class people from Philadelphia. The Solitanos are a dysfunctional family, trying to cope with their son and major fuck up, Pat, a manic bipolar man, (Bradley Cooper), recently sprung by his mother from a mental institution. Pat wants to rekindle the love with his wife, who has a restraining order against him. While in the hospital, he has drank the kool-aid of unbridled positivity (never a good thing) and now can´t bear anything short of happy and miraculous happening, even in books. He is committed to getting his wife back, though everybody knows no such thing is going to happen. This is an edgy comedy about people with real problems and for the most part Russell sustains a bristly, realistic tone, investing equally in Pat´s manic suffering as in the painful comedy that results from it. Some of it is a little strained, but there is real heartbreak, and fantastic performances from Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver as the exhausted and overwhelmed parents of this chaotic grown man. They both seem to have been living with this curse for decades.
If there is someone who carries the movie, however, it is Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany, a fellow mentally unstable comrade in arms. She is extraordinary as a fierce, uncontrollable woman who is mourning the death of her husband and hitches on to Pat for emotional sparring and support. Even as the plot cliches start piling up, Russell sustains a taut, prickly tightrope between the borderline tragic and the funny. By the time the third act arrives, however, he seems to say "fuck reality" and goes for obvious cliche with all his might. To his credit, it feels less ridiculous than liberating, as if he were overjoyed to embrace everything that is unreal about Hollywood´s happy endings. The more you think about this movie, the more strained the plot reveals itself to be, and in less shrewd hands it could have been a painful groaner. But Russell brings out fierce, beautiful performances from everybody, even Cooper, who gives it his all. Russell keeps us rooting for the bunch of losers he has so much sympathy for. And this is why the movie works somehow.
Nov 18, 2012
Shocker: they omit one of the greatest opening sentences in the history of world literature. It's such a great line that it could have been included as a quote, before the story starts. I missed it.
At first it seems that we are in some sort of misbegotten musical, which is not what one expects to happen in any retelling of this tragic story, unless it's an opera. Joe Wright's version of Anna Karenina takes place in the physical realm of a stage. At first this conceit feels labored, distracting and inappropriate, and I was groaning with exasperation for the first 20 minutes, but once you get past all the whimsical dancing, and once this movie focuses in the great story it has to tell, it becomes quite ravishing, if not completely convincing. Screenwriter Tom Stoppard has adapted Tolstoy with verve and several great one-liners. The photography by Seamus McGarvey, the production design by Sarah Greenwood and the costumes by Jacqueline Durran are absolutely stunning, and a good reason to sit through this movie. I hated the vulgar music by Dario Marianelli, but somehow the story of this woman (Keira Knightley) is so good, and the movie is so gorgeous, that one settles into its idiosyncracies and gets carried away, that is, when one is not grimacing at some of its more salient flaws.
For starters, La Knightley is somehow fascinating to watch, although she is not much of an actress. Sometimes she is beautiful; sometimes, as when she laughs, she is not, but she holds the screen, if not with talent, with her looks and her esprit de corps. She carries herself well in costume dramas. As an actress, she is passable in that she does what the character needs to do (cry, swoon, elate), but there is no internal compass. She is just a collection of scenes. Jude Law fares much better as an understated Karenin, whom he plays as a cold, solemn bureaucrat who nevertheless is deeply hurt by his wife, whom he loves in his own prim and distant way. But the biggest problem is the casting of Count Vronksy (I was pining for Fassbender, even if he is long in the tooth). In order for Karenina's amour fou to take root, one has to believe that there is something really fetching in Vronsky, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is not that interesting. I understand that part of the tragedy is that Vronsky is not that remarkable a man to make such terrible sacrifices for, but he should have a modicum of charisma. Taylor-Johnson is a cipher.
The main problem with this version is that it is too busy hitting the audience over the head about the theatrical rigidity of Russian social mores with the stage metaphor, (which gets old five minutes into the movie), and this takes time and space from character development. We can fill in the blanks about the characters lives', but the characters would have benefited from more attention from Joe Wright. The stage conceit serves as a shorthand to condense the different social milieus of the film without having to turn it into a miniseries. If one fears being stuck with Anna Karenina on a stage (a la Dogville), Joe Wright's swooping camera and flawless transitions between scenes allow him to keep the eye entertained, and sometimes even astonished. Technically, the movie is spectacular. It is also too long, like the book. Many times, the slow pace has to do with Wright getting carried away with the visual spectacle. At the beginning, the forced choreography seems to border on kitsch, but soon they kind of forget about it and get on with the story. The whole movie looks like a Fabergé egg, yet the most enjoyable parts are when the characters are allowed to be, and speak Tolstoy by way of Stoppard's lines. The character actors are uniformly great, (in particular Emily Watson, Matthew Macfayden and Alicia Vikander) and so it's a pity that the two tragic lovers at the center of the story are not at that level. Still, this Anna Karenina is worth seeing for sheer visual pleasure, and to revisit a great story which is more modern than this ornate version wishes it to be.
Nov 12, 2012
Watching Steven Spielberg's film about Abraham Lincoln's political maneuverings to pass the amendment to abolish slavery, I was struck mostly by the sly and open resonance with our current times that screenwriter Tony Kushner achieves as he portrays this specific episode in Lincoln's life.
The movie opens to scenes of Civil War carnage. Steven Spielberg stages a writhing field of brutal violence where Americans fight against each other not only with firearms and blades but with their bare hands. 600,000 Americans died in this bloody conflict, which was, ultimately, about the moral essence of the country. One cannot help but ponder, whether in our day and age, now that the ideological differences of the two main political parties stand in greater contrast than they ever have (even if their allegiance to corporate interests is basically the same), if we will not reach a stage in which we may go literally to war over the kind of country we are meant to be. I personally am rooting for New York City to secede, and to hell with the red states. There is no small irony in the fact that Abraham Lincoln belongs to the Republican party and that the Democrats are the villains in this story. We should thank providence for TV and the internet, which keep enough of us numbed and misinformed, and mostly disinclined to violently eliminate the other side, even as they help raise the cacophony of mutual incomprehension.
Lincoln is a rich, intelligent history lesson on how change is achieved through politics, how compromises and negotiation are necessary in order to make giant strides. Kushner gives President Lincoln a free pass in trying to buy congressmen off in order to pass his amendment. By any means necessary is nice and even humorous when the end is lofty, but I'm afraid that's not how it works the other way around. This resonance applies to Barack Obama and the way in which he has tried, with various degrees of middling success, to make some changes himself. Obama is no Lincoln. No one is. My sense is that Kushner is instructing him to take a lead from Lincoln's playbook and slyly, whether by moving oratory or skillful maneuvering, enact the reforms that need to get enacted.
Spielberg directs the very wordy, literate material with his customary emotional force and splashes of comic relief; some of it a tad broad, if welcome. He frames Kushner's barrage of language with elegance and restraint, and keeps it moving along, slowly but surely. In this he is aided by an enormous performance by Daniel Day Lewis, who at this point is alone in his niche of playing greater than life characters by making them greater than life. To become Abraham Lincoln (he looks uncannily like him), he brings out his entire arsenal of acting wherewithal. The lumbering gait, the schlumpy clothes, a high pitched voice with a hypnotic musical cadence and what I imagine is a perfect Midwestern accent of the times. But as he fusses over the technical aspects, Day Lewis also provides a lively, sexy intelligence and emotional power in the soul of the character. His Lincoln likes to tell stories, has a folksy sense of humor, which he deploys to disarm, quotes easily from Shakespeare, thinks like a lawyer, is a good listener, asks people questions, and is warm and open, yet distant and inscrutable at the same time. Day Lewis is utterly convincing, compelling, and heroic. Thanks to this performance millions of people will develop a huge crush on Abraham Lincoln. He brings to pulsing life what nobody is ever going to bother reading in a wikipedia entry, much less in a history book. If I have one qualm, is that I would have liked to see something less avuncular, more flinty about him, but it is a towering achievement.
The cast is superb. Tommy Lee Jones kills as Thaddeus Stevens, the formidable anti-slavery advocate. He has some great lines to utter and he does it with precision and relish (I predict supporting actor Oscar nom). Sally Field is great as Mary Lincoln. I know people like her. She's a depressive, intelligent, intense woman with not a small chip on her shoulder at having to sit on the sidelines of history. Who is not happy to see James Spader, John Hawkes, Lee Pace, Tim Blake Nelson, Jackie Earle Haley, Jared Harris, Michael Stuhlbarg, and a bunch of other whiskered, wonderful character actors nail their roles? Women too: Gloria Reuben, Julie White, Elizabeth Marvel, S. Epatha Merkerson). It's a character actor dream cast.
Spielberg only veers into the maudlin fitfully. Soldiers reciting the Gettysburg Address to President Lincoln seems a bit ham handed at the beginning, but then the movie thankfully settles into political strategizing. The epic music by John Williams stirs the feelings of righteousness in the audience, but it's a bit too obvious in moments of levity. There is strained, unconvincing business about father and sons. Lincoln's young son is mostly there as a symbolic presence. His older son, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, insists on going to war, even as he is confronted, in a wonderfully staged scene, with a cartload of severed limbs. In this instance, the political seems far more interesting than the personal.
The movie builds very slowly with rich and copious detail, painting a panorama of the historical moment, but by the time the vote comes to be passed, Spielberg stages it with great verve and tension. It's a cliffhanger.
I think it curious that Kushner and Spielberg refrain from showing Lincoln's assassination (I guess they don't want to give anybody ideas). But there is a scene where they tease the audience with it, which I don't think works. I am not an advocate of violence in movies, and there is no shortage of the violent face of war in this film, but violence is a particularly American predilection, and this demureness, although dignified, takes away from the political historical resonance that Kushner so skillfully embroiders. The murder of president Lincoln doesn't come as a shock, as it should; it comes as an afterthought. However, the characterization of Lincoln is so magnificent that it makes his assassination horribly tragic to contemplate, as close to the bone as when it has happened in more recent times to political figures like Martin Luther King or the Kennedys.
In the end, as we watch Lincoln, we cannot help but think that we just inaugurated a Black president's second term. Abraham Lincoln would be pleased. But this movie smartly avoids self-congratulation. In one scene, after the amendment is passed, Lincoln asks a Black woman if her people are ready for what is to come. He knows racial harmony is nowhere in sight. I did not understand her verbose response, but it is the question which we should ask ourselves again and again. Are we ready for what our rights and freedoms really mean, for keeping them, and defending them from those who hate them?
One cannot help but think after watching the thrilling crescendo of the results of the actual passage of the 13th Amendment, that it wasn't until the 1960s that Americans had to rise again to fight the deeply enduring racism of the South, and that even today we have racist taunts at our president and a society that still oppresses and profits unconscionably from Black, and now brown people, by sending them to jail in appalling numbers. Abraham Lincoln's work is not finished.
Nov 8, 2012
The great Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips, The Beat My Heart Skipped, A Prophet) has written (with Thomas Bidegain) and directed an intense story of two worlds that collide in the guise of the formidable Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead). It is the love story of Stephanie and Ali, a reluctant couple that meets haphazardly at a club where he works as a bouncer and comes to her aid in a melee. They belong to a different class. She works as a whale trainer in Marineland, a tacky marine park in the south of France, and he's a troglodyte, a bit of a drifter with a 5-year old in tow, who is crashing at his sister's house. These two firmly believe in their own obstacles. She is the victim of a horrid accident, which makes her first depressed and then brittle and scared of love, and he is a royal fuck up, a beast, unsentimental, primal and irresponsible. But somewhere beneath all that muscle, he has a decent heart (and the hots for her) and he becomes her friend. He gets her out of her rut almost without wanting to, by refusing to feed her self pity. And she slowly warms up to him, which is almost as painful as having another accident. They are both physically battered, and love doesn't make it any easier. Rust and Bone is the story of how they end up loving each other despite their best efforts. If this sounds trite, in the masterful hands of Audiard, it certainly isn't. He has the good sense to cast Cotillard, who is a monster actress. Cotillard takes us through the hell of Stephanie's life after her accident without sentimentality, with courage and absolute veracity. It is a totally restrained performance, porous, transparent and transcendent. At some point she reads Ali the riot act, and it's like she is training another whale. But as strong and commanding as she tries to be, he devastates her, because she is vulnerable to him, to his mystifying power. Matthias Schoenaerts is also fantastic as Ali, a giant child with vast reserves of anger he uses best to beat other boxers to a pulp. Schoenaerts is a phenomenon: he has the body of a monster truck, but a sweet, childish face, and he is a gifted actor. Together, the two are combustible, particularly since they are wary of each other. She is a bit haughty and keeps him at bay and he responds by being an alpha male, oblivious to manners, and utterly unwilling to show her pity. They keep crossing the boundaries they both set, afraid of falling in love, until they are too much in each other's lives.Rust and Bone is an intense emotional experience, but not a histrionic one. Audiard's sensibility is more visceral and less intellectual than that of many of his French colleagues, and he is best at observing and portraying people's difficulty with their own emotions. Rust and Bone is adapted from a short story by Canadian writer Craig Davidson and features a great soundtrack with lots of pop songs in English, plus the elegant music of Alexandre Desplat, who does particularly good work in Audiard's films, here as reined in and as powerful as is everybody else in this stunning movie.
I could hear Christopher Walken recite the phone book and die a happy woman. It is wonderful to see him playing a character who is not a gangster or a parody of himself. Here, he plays a cellist in a string quartet who learns he has Parkinson's and decides to retire. The loss of his quiet authority wreaks havoc on the lives of the other members of the group, a splendid cast comprised of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir. Walken has always been a great actor, and he proves it with his performance here: a dignified, bewildered, mournful music professor, a recent widower, and a mensch. In lesser hands the story could be an obvious melodrama, but it is quite well written by Seth Grossman and Yaron Zilberman, and skillfully directed by Zilberman.
Beneath their rarefied veneer, these people have ego trips, insecurities and emotional needs like everybody else. The actors all anchor the drama in compelling human behavior. Seymour Hoffman never ceases to amaze with his capacity for creating realistic, multilayered characters. He plays, literally, the second fiddle, and he is tired of it. He wants to become first violin even though everyone agrees he's not right for the role. His pride is deeply hurt and he just keeps making things worse for everybody, but the writers give him a saving grace. He wants the group to take creative risks, to get out of their well oiled perfection demanded by the obsessive first violin (Mark Ivanir). Hoffman is married to Keener, whom he loves deeply and unrequitedly. She is great, as is Imogen Poots, who plays their gifted daughter, also a musician, spoiled by her parents and deeply resentful of having to compete with their professional lives. Some of the plot is predictable, but somehow the well structured story has room for some surprises. This classical music world is beautifully photographed by Frederick Elmes with a rich, warm palette. Tasteful yet emotionally credible, A Late Quartet is a very satisfying film.
An interesting train wreck of a movie by Paolo Sorrentino, the film stars Sean Penn as Cheyenne, a washed out emo rocker who lives in a sad, grand mansion in Ireland (to avoid taxes) and is bored out of his meager wits, which seem to have been extinguished by a life of drug use. The main problem with the movie is Penn's performance, which as committed as it is, and not without flashes of humor and slyness, is too exaggerated to be believable. Penn makes Cheyenne a soft spoken mess, a too delicate spirit still wearing makeup and hideous eighties hair long past his expiration date, but he turns out to be wily once he finds a purpose in life. Cheyenne is depressed because his morose songs made a young fan commit suicide. His wife, the fantastic Frances McDormand, (despite her spirited performance, it's impossible to understand what she sees in him), tells him he needs to find something to do with his life. He decides to go to America to see his father, whom he hasn't talked to in thirty years. The father turns out to be an orthodox Jew and Holocaust survivor. Cheyenne learns that the Nazi who tortured him is still around, and goes on a quest to find him. His wispy façade conceals a man with a healthy force of will: the pathetic ex-rocker becomes a pretty effective Nazi headhunter. The movie is a moral fable about guilt and consequences, about children and parents, about people holding dark secrets that spread misery around like an invisible force field. What makes it fascinating is the contrast between its haunting sadness and Sorrentino's trademark crisp, hyperrealistic visual style (Luca Bigazzi is the cinematographer). The movie doesn't quite work, but you can't avert your eyes. Cheyenne goes from New York, where he confides in his friend David Byrne, playing himself, to the Southwest, to the Midwest, and I was bracing for the usual European filmmaker oversimplifying of America and its Marlboro country vistas, but Sorrentino is smarter than that. He doesn't caricature America or its people, he trains his stylish eye on its endless landscapes. The movie looks gorgeous.
Cheyenne's search leads him to the Nazi's granddaughter (a great Kerry Condon) and her chubby misfit of a son, and the three develop a tender friendship. This is the best part of the movie, the most quietly moving. The rest is tonally jarring, deeply unbalanced by a central performance that doesn't quite jell and a strained ending. But the music by David Byrne and Will Oldham is lovely and if you decide to go on the quirky ride, This Must Be The Place has, at moments, a certain amount of grace.
Nov 4, 2012
Or nature's payback time. It is unfortunate that this environmental horror flick by Barry Levinson opened on the same week that Sandy ravaged the East Coast. There were exactly six people at the screening I saw (too soon?) but this movie deserves a much wider audience. It is in the vein of all those supposedly found footage screamers like the Paranormal Activity series, (same producers), but the difference is that there is a good director at the helm. You can see Barry Levinson's nimble hand in the great direction of actors and in the realistic delivery of dialogue, which is one of his trademarks. Usually these movies have wooden B-listers who can't act their way out of a paper bag. Nobody in The Bay is well known, but they are all solid character actors, and it makes a difference.
Now, I am past the point of exhaustion with the DIY camera horror flick genre, a la Blair Witch Project. Remember when one could be scared shitless without a cheapie iPhone or video camera shaking all over the place? Still, Barry Levinson uses every small camera known to man with panache, he has a sly sense of humor, and the movie, if not particularly suspenseful, is really icky. The gross out parts are fabulously gross. The Bay is an environmental horror movie, where people get horrible boils and something eats them from inside. It's enough to make everyone become an advocate for the Green Party.
How scary is it when the water you drink, bathe in and cook in is polluted with mutated organisms (courtesy of industrial agriculture, and literally, chicken shit) that eat you from the outside in? The Bay is a combination disaster and flesh eating bacteria movie. The plot (screenplay by Michael Wallach) is rather flimsy, and more could have been made about evil corporate interests in cahoots with politicians that suppress information about pollution. Although it has a couple of jumps, it delivers more atmosphere and heebie jeebies than suspense. It's the way the story is framed that blunts the panic. It is narrated by a survivor, to whom nothing really happens, which dulls the sense of urgency; the worst already happened. Even though the use of consumer cameras adds realism, it takes away scariness, because the camera never lingers long enough on anything or anyone to create a sense of menace. Too much jumping around. The equipment that records the mayhem adds an extra screen, and thus, distance, which in my view, makes it less scary. One misses the ominous gliding camera work of Kubrick or Polanski. The kind of point of view of being immersed in the action that makes your hair stand on end is sadly not present in this movie, although Levinson stages certain events off camera that are all the more disturbing for being out of sight.
The Bay is smart, as these movies go, but it could be smarter. Even though it takes place in a very small town in Maryland, it doesn't use the mass hysteria that could quickly be unleashed by twitter and the internet. The CDC and FEMA are portrayed as cumbersome, slow bureaucrats, while it would be more exciting if everybody actually freaked out and contributed to exacerbate the problem. The small community is cut off from the mainland, but we don't see how or by who. I imagine that a lot of this is due to a small budget (the reason why these films are so profitable and why they use mini cameras). Still, Levinson gets a lot of mileage out of his "found" footage. Particularly gleeful and effective are shot after shot of people splashing around, jumping in the water, swimming in the pool, (very reminiscent of the opening of Jaws), completely unaware of the poison that lurks beneath the surface. It's very American, to celebrate the 4th of July (as in Jaws) without a care in the world, oblivious to the fact that the damage we do to the Earth, even in this little All American town, is going to come back, according to this movie, to bite our tongues off.
Nov 3, 2012
We should have known not to have much faith in a Robert Zemeckis production. After all, this is the man who brought us Forrest Gump, a celebration of human stupidity and possibly the most insulting mainstream movie ever made. What made us think that his penchant for moralistic corn would be abated?
Flight promises to be, on the one hand, a cathartic ride on a plane nosediving out of the sky, and on the other, a movie whose main character, Captain Whip Whittaker (straight from the Dept. of Heavy Handed Character Names) is a flawed hero with a moral dilemma. We did not expect it to be a manipulative, formulaic, queasily moralistic fable, which is not the same as a moral fable. Flight is moralistic in that cheap, hypocritical Hollywood way that turns an ethical dilemma into banal plot twists which not even the most innocent pollyanna can believe. The plane action is well done, but we expected more plane disaster excitement. Once that is over, the thrill is gone.
If there are saving graces, they are provided by the actors, particularly by Denzel Washington, who delivers a suave, totally credible performance as a highly arrogant and extremely gifted pilot. His arrogance feels multidimensional, and one roots for him despite it. He is fun as long as he drinks, and Washington makes Whip appealingly flinty, suspicious of God freaks. Somehow he doesn't alienate the audience, despite the movie jerking the viewer around over two hours with his inability to stop boozing, for no good reason.
John Goodman is there to deliver comic relief, in a similar role as the one that immortalized him in The Big Lebowski. He does it beautifully. Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood and Melissa Leo deliver the goods, and raise the level of what otherwise would be a Lifetime special. Character actors Tamara Tunie, Brian Geraghty and Peter Gerety (always wonderful) bring up the rear in style. There is one great scene in which Whittaker goes on a bender and he needs to clean up fast. One's hopes for the movie rise, thinking that it may flee out of the worn and predictable and deliver a more ironic, jaundiced outcome. But no such luck: we are taken to a place that seems real and exciting only to be plunged again into a tired narrative of humiliating self-redemption. Whittaker cannot be a hero unless he confesses to all his sins and finally accepts he's a drunk. He has to be punished for his excesses. This is not fun. This is a movie that only the Temperance Society can cheer for. It feels like a teetotaling pamphlet from the 1950s. And it bandies God and faith around so much, but not even in an honest, straightforward way, that I thought it was underwritten by televangelists. It's a movie that should have been made under a Romney regime. It feels that fake and old fashioned.
The shoddy script by John Gatins includes an utterly unnecessary love story between Whittaker and a heroin junkie (overacted by Kelly Reilly), and many bad lines of dialogue, such as "My name is Trevor. You saved my mother's life", uttered by a 10 year-old kid. I was riveted by Denzel at all times, but my eyes were rolling so much and so fast at the pat pieties and the leaden cliches, they must have looked just like that plane, upside down.
Nov 2, 2012
Another example of French cheesy pretentiousness (or pretentious cheesiness), which garnered inexplicably good reviews, this film by Leos Carax is a high concept bonbon. Alex, an unsmiling Denis Lavant, goes in a white limo to several appointments through Paris. In each appointment he disguises himself as a character (the makeup design is spectacular): a poor old female beggar, a businessman, a crazy imp who scares people at the Pere Lachaise cemetery. The idea is that people do not want to see their stories on screens anymore. They want them to be as real as possible, in front of their eyes. The screens keep getting smaller, so actors like Alex go from one assignment to the other creating stories. It's a nifty concept, allright, and one of the rare instances I wish Hollywood (Spielberg, Zemeckis, or even better, Spike Jonze, say) would borrow it and make a much more entertaining movie out of it.
At least the cheese would not have intellectual airs; it would have more pizzazz.
The problem is the humorless, unimaginative execution. The grandiose tackiness keeps mounting, as in a vulgar sequence where the imp kidnaps "supermodel" Eva Mendez (such a good sport, and so wasted), and brings her to a cave, showing his prosthetic erection - very distracting as you might imagine - and fashions a burqa to cover her, a mortal sin, as far as I'm concerned. But there is no rhyme nor reason for this or any other story. It's all in Carax's head: clunky, obvious, juvenile and self-important.
Some moments are meant to evoke magic. The liveliest is an "intermission" in which Lavant plays an accordion followed by a merry band of players inside a church. Nice steadicam work. The rest is not as adeptly staged. An extended sequence inside the abandoned La Samaritaine department store, featuring Kylie Minogue (!), for instance, aims for melancholy, but it's rather drab. The whole movie looks opaque and tired, not very inspired, like poor Alex.
Still, Lavant is riveting as he applies and takes off his amazing makeup jobs. He is obviously versatile. He has the body of a dancer or a circus performer, and he becomes all these characters, none of which has a sense of humor. There is an inkling of the magical, sacred work that actors do, how their work may affect their feelings, as well as ours, but the stories are mostly preposterous and not emotionally engaging. In fact, it's the random ridiculousness of the stories, and the heavy handed attempt at some sort of surrealism, that makes Holy Motors exasperating. Only for those with a high tolerance for French cheese.