The Marquis de Sade has been many things to many people, but the fact remains that he wrote for one person only: himself. It’s this very monomania that gives his works their coldly granitic fascination, page after page of mechanized sexual debasement hewn out like so many identical slabs of stone, and it’s also why he can disturb the most open-minded reader. Quills, the new movie loosely (very loosely) based upon the latter years of de Sade’s life, seeks to rehabilitate his image into that of Brave Soldier in the Noble Battle against Hypocrisy. This not only flattens and dulls the film’s subject, it also makes for one hell of a hypocritical movie in its own right.
Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.
As fodder for film, Victor Hugo’s mammoth 19th-century novel Les Misérables has rarely been out of style. Filmed as early as 1909, this saga of injustice, revolution, and redemption has been reincarnated in celluloid several times every decade since (except, oddly, the Sixties, when injustice and revolution—though not redemption—were much on people’s minds). Only a miniseries or “long form” version could hope to encompass all of Hugo’s saga, but the core narrative—the decades-long pursuit of reformed ex-convict Jean Valjean by the legality-obsessed police officer Javert—is wellnigh foolproof as religious allegory, psychological study, and bedrock suspense story.
Almost everything worth anything in the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie is geared toward spectacle. You want to see ghost sharks? We have great whites and hammerheads, rotted away but still capable of taking a bite out of Captain Jack Sparrow’s dinghy. Want to see Sparrow escape from a guillotine? A rescue sends our drunken hero somersaulting while still strapped into the contraption, the blade sliding up and down toward his neck as it tumbles head over heels. Want to see an entire building dragged through the streets of a Saint Martin town while Sparrow rides it? It’s here. This movie doesn’t have much in the way of plot or character, but maybe this franchise has simply returned to its origins as a Disneyland ride: disconnected sensations, strung together at regular intervals.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a very expensive gamble on the continued life of this series, which seemed exhausted with the ho-hum On Stranger Tides in 2011.
There have been better Oscar winners in the foreign-language-film category, but few as beloved as Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988). In the quarter-century since he made that heartwarmer, Tornatore has followed with a hodgepodge of projects, many of them touched with a sentimental or precious spirit—a middling record, which is why it’s intriguing to see him turn to a genre picture. Yes, The Best Offer is a character study, but it also has a built-in suspense mechanism that leads the writer/director away from his more pretentious tendencies.
Plus, any movie that puts Geoffrey Rush in the central role deserves attention. Rush plays the feared auction-house owner and connoisseur Virgil Oldman, who glides through the high-art universe, gavel in hand.
Bringing The Eye of the Storm to the screen involved the reunion of a filmmaking “family,” a brilliant bevy of old Oz hands from that heady era of filmmaking hailed as the Australian New Wave. Cast as the lead, legendary Charlotte Rampling is neck-deep in Australian acting royalty: Judy Davis (from My Brilliant Career, 1979, to Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love, 2012); Geoffrey Rush (from ChildrenoftheRevolution, 1996, with Davis, to The King’s Speech, 2010); as well as lesser lights such as Helen Morse (Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975), honorary Aussie Colin Friels, Billie Brown, Dustin Clare (Gannicus in TV’s Spartacus), et al.
In 1978, Fred Schepisi’s The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith launched his successful directorial career abroad; Eye of the Storm is the first film he’s shot on home ground since the uncompromising A Cry in the Dark (1988). Nobel-winner Patrick White’s hefty novel was adapted for the screen by Judy Morris, so striking as the star of Peter Weir’s ThePlumber (1979), and subsequently scripter of hits like HappyFeet and Babe: Pig in the City.
Morris’ two-hour adaptation has at its center—or eye—the long dying of wealthy matriarch Elizabeth Hunter (Rampling). A formidable personality, the old woman makes her bedroom a kind of theater, which estranged son Basil (Rush) and daughter Dorothy (Judy Davis) must attend, in hopes of cashing in on a much-needed inheritance. This trio of greater and lesser monsters—emasculating mother, narcissistic son, daughter bereft of joie de vivre—have at each other unlovingly, though it’s clear the aging kids desire nothing so much as the queen’s unqualified admiration. Well, except for her money.