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A Bigger Splash

Pleasure or Doom?

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

A Bigger Splash

The easiest course for a reviewer caught in a dilemma is to resort to description. In that vein, I can report with ease that A Bigger Splash is filmed in glorious color on the beautiful Sicilian island of Pantelleria where Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and Paul (Matthias Schoenarts) are vacationing. She is a rock star rendered speechless by a throat problem; he is a filmmaker who is her lover. They are experiencing the luxury of making love whenever they choose in a beautiful place and that’s what they do – in bed, under water, in the sand, whenever and wherever they are moved by love and freedom.

Their idyll is interrupted by the arrival of Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a record producer and Marianne’s ex-lover who has on his arm Penelope (Dakota Johnson), the young blond he has recently learned is his daughter. The pool that is their playground is inspired by David Hockney’s 1967 pool painting ‘The Big Splash’. For more than two hours we watch four people canoodling on a gorgeous volcanic outcrop in various combinations that hold the seeds of the inevitability of some awful form of doom.

But that is not all that director Luca Guadagnino and writers David Kajganich and Alain Page had in mind. The graphic sensuality is accompanied by fragments of conversation that promise to answer the questions bubbling up in the audience, but we soon realize we are not watching a story unfold. There is no story. The dialogue is mere accompaniment to four people indulging their impulses in a place removed from any demands their lives may make of them at other times. The dialogue offers conversation that goes nowhere. Just try to follow any threads.

It is not unlike the theory of Zen Koan which holds that the process between riddles and their Zen answers leads to enlightenment, a process where the answers to the riddles usually make no sense to literal minded thinkers. Director Guadagnino has given us a series of riddles that have no answers. The best way through this annoying confusion is to ignore the meaningless dialogue and concentrate on the actors.

Ralph Fiennes leaves his Shakespeare at home and hits the island with hurricane force, rarely pausing as he talks, dances, and sings his way to rekindling his romance with Marianne. Matthias Schoenarts is appealing and accessible as Paul – at first one half of a contented pair who suffers desolation as Fiennes’ storm blows all beauty and peace apart.

It is Tilda Swinton who is the riveting focus. Take speech from an actor and she must convey everything through gesture and grace. Swinton is masterful as she walks, runs, and slides in her superb Dior clothes or in silent nakedness.

After leaving the theater, we agreed that none of us liked the movie. Then we went on to talk about it for hours, looking for that Zen enlightenment. Why did a movie we all disliked hold us for so long?

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : A Bigger Splash
Word count : Fox Searchlight Pictures
Running time : 2:05
Rating : R

 

 

10 Cloverfield Lane

At Your Own Risk

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

10 Cloverfiled Lane

Finding a good movie to review in the March doldrums is a tough task. With this week’s possibilities mired in dismal mediocrity, 10 Cloverfield Lane looked like the best bet. Here’s the hype:

“After a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself locked in an underground shelter with Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and doomsday prepper Howard (John Goodman), who tells them there’s something apocalyptic happening outside.”

Rumors floated about the skill of director Dan Trachtenberg and blockbuster producer J.J. Abrams. Reports of a “good cast” were the final lure.

Sitting through a string of imbecilic horror previews leading up to the feature, it was impossible not to be ashamed and angry that Hollywood’s summer menu for the PG-13 population is so thoroughly rooted in guns, explosions, treachery, betrayal, and violence of every imaginable kind. These are the blockbusters that spread throughout the rest of the world as well as serving as the summer menu for Americans. Why only this? Where are the clever mysteries, detective stories, spy yarns and stories of triumph over adversity?

Hollywood has learned that they can lure audiences by lumping previews of a similar stripe to the feature about to be shown – the irresistibly tasty bait of “if you like this one, you’ll like these.” As the last horrific trailer unspooled, I began to suspect the worst about 10 Cloverfield Lane.

John Goodman is very clever as Howard, the nutcase who has spent years preparing his impenetrable survival house for the apocalypse. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is impressive as Michelle, one of Howard’s two prisoners and John Gallagher Jr. creates a credible Emmett as the second captive.

The movie unfolds as an ugly chess game with Howard claiming he is saving his prisoners’ lives by keeping them in the locked dungeon he calls his safe place. During the bulk of the film, the three of them play games to pass the time while Michelle plots her escape. What will she find when she gets out? Will it be the attack Howard described? Or something else entirely?

The admirable cast gives us a grand puzzle until the whole thing leaps into blockbuster chaos. It becomes what is known as a “sliver” movie – an ordinary movie with a taste of big time chaos – horror on the cheap. The story turns from a thriller/suspense puzzle into an ear-splitting soundtrack for what morphs into a movie full of terror, violence, and shock.

When the ordeal is over it is impossible not to reminisce about stories of yore when scripts jumped alive with verbal surprises and stories allowed you to sit in thoughtful silence wondering, “who did it?” For the real deal, you might consider returning to Bridge of Spies.

Disclaimer – it’s exactly what I don’t like – hitting the audience with high tech terror. If that’s what you like, then toss this review and go see it. If fear is your pleasure, then 10 Cloverfield Lane is a banquet.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Movie Title : 10 Cloverfield Lane
Word Count : 496
Distributor : Paramount
Running time : 1:43
Rating : PG-13