The Morning After: Jun. 23, 2014

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Dangerous Liaisons

Stephen Frears gets a lot of flack for his directorial capabilities. For every Dirty Pretty Things or The Grifters, there’s a Mary Reilly or Mrs. Henderson Presents. When he’s great, though, he’s fantastic. Take for example his costume drama Dangerous Liaisons, a scintillating exploration of love, revenge and manipulation pitting two brilliant schemers against those who’ve wronged them, including each other. The film is based on a book and play.

Glenn Close is masterful as the Marquise de Merteuil, a cunning society woman who has had to outsmart and outplay to become one of the most prominent figures in the French aristocracy. At her heel, but every bit her equal, is the Vicomte de Valmont, a superb John Malkovich, whose lecherous schemes have won him many a paramours, but a devious reputation. Playing against each other and together, the Marquise and the Vicomte leave a trail of abused, enthused and bewildered aristocrats behind while their machinations threaten to destroy their uneasy peace.

There isn’t a flaw in this cast with Michelle Pfeiffer, Swoosie Kurtz the clear standouts and surprisingly capable performances from the likes of Keanu Reeves and Uma Thurman. This sumptuous tale if exquisitely crafted, brilliantly written and much more fun than you could ever imagine or expect.

sex, lies and videotape

He may be an uneven filmmaker, but even his worst films are interesting. Yet, going back to Steven Soderbergh’s debut, it’s hard not to imagine how things might have turned out for a debut director with his pulse on the indie scene like few others before or sense.

Featuring a quartet of brilliant performances, Soderbergh explores relationships, sex and the flawed pursuit of happiness when confronted with new ideas. James Spader plays an old school bud of Peter Gallagher whose wife Andie McDowall has no idea her husband is sleeping with her and sister Laura San Giacomo. As Spader incites feelings in McDowall that she hasn’t felt before, she begins to emerge from the self-induced sexual cocoon she’s kept herself in and the quiet haze of marital malaise that’s beset her.

Like many of Soderbergh’s films, this plot is straight forward, almost simplistic narrative peppered with the complex emotional realities of life. It’s an honest, intellectual relationship drama that doesn’t go for cheap theatrics or series of explosive rants that would put most films on the edge of ludicrousness. Soderbergh loves his details and creating them in his characters is always exciting and most obviously here.

Primal Fear

Gregory Hoblit’s experience as director and producer for a number of prominent ’80’s procedurals including Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law gave him a satisfying perspective on this film’s narrative even if he relied on that era’s musical cues long after they had faded from popular use.

The story revolves around the brutal murder of a Catholic priest whose corrupt dealings with prominent political leaders put him in the middle of a turf war, exacerbated only by his personal demons, which form the backbone of the story with a young man accused of murder (Edward Norton) and the high powered attorney representing him (Richard Gere). As Gere struggles to uncover the culprit behind the crime while trying to get the defendant off the charges, he uncovers deeply disturbing issues and a secret buried within the psyche of a troubled teen.

It’s a wonder that Gere wasn’t nominated for his performance here. Reminiscent of Paul Newman’s performance in Verdict. Few actors could have had a more auspicious debut than Edward Norton who launched this, his first Oscar nomination, into a career of varied roles, many disturbed, some gentle, all pursuing the demons that brought such intrigue to this role. The powerhouse cast is strong, though the film doesn’t seem to understand how to drop seemingly pointless plot threads that could have been trimmed entirely for a more sleek and breezy running time. While the courtroom drama has always entertained based on its attempt to get a likable or guiltless defendant free, there are new themes at work here that question whether innocence is a product of perception or truth.

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