MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (2007)

Written & Directed By: Noah Baumbach
Cinematography By: Harris Savides
Editor: Carol Littleton

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Halley Feiffer, John Turturro, Cirian Hinds, Zane Pais, Seth Barrish, Flora Closs, Michael Cullen 


 A slice of family life: sisters, husbands, children, history, secrets, jealousies. Margot and her teen son, Claude, travel from Manhattan to her family’s Long Island home, occupied by sister Pauline, Pauline’s daughter, and Malcolm, the slacker Pauline will marry outdoors that week under a tree neighbors want removed. Backbiting marks family discussion, particularly between the sisters and in Margot’s cutting remarks to Claude. Pauline tells Margot a secret that Margot promptly tells Claude. Margot dislikes Malcolm and undermines him. She also has marital problems and a lover nearby. People are cruel, inside and outside their families. Is there a refuge for Margot or for Pauline? 


I don’t know if this is supposed to be misery/tragedy emotional pornography with some humor or not. As it is beautifully filmed with natural lighting, but when you are complimenting the filmmaking or certain technical aspects over the whole of the film or you just happen to notice and focus on that more than anything else. You know the movie might be in trouble.

I was looking forward to this film having loved his previous film THE SQUID & THE WHALE. Not to mention other films he has made before and since. This was his bug follow up project. Though I have to say this was a big disappointment really his first for me. It might be because he was following up a big success and his film would have to live up to it and it falls short.

I should have known when Nicole Kidman was cast in it. Not that she is a bad actress. Quite the contrary. Around this time and. Wrote She only seems to do independent films when she wants to be noticed m. As her career might be in trouble and she wants to prove herself to critics again (TO DIE FOR, FUR, RABBIT HOLE) she also comes off as icy onscreen so if she was looking to play different. She could have tried Jennifer Jason Leigh’s role in this film.

Unfortunately for her. This was not like the redirection Charlize Theron had with MONSTER. Here she plays such a bitchy unlikeable character, It’s hard to like anything about her unfortunately for this film other than the kids the same goes for almost every character in this film. Jennifer Jason Leigh is fragile, sympathetic and pathetic. Oddly enough though this maybe the best and funniest work ever by jack black at the time. It takes awhile to get ignited but You can see all the promise people have been saying about him. Though The uncomfortable nature of his relationship with the teenage girl in the film feels reprehensible and especially after the film tries to get us on his side. After that it seems pretty easily to detest his character.

The constant war their characters have with their neighbors could have gone on longer. Those scenes might have sped the move up. The way it stands the neighbors come off like a mix of the duckie boys from THE WANDERERS and The Bumpasses of A CHRISTMAS STORY. They seem to be dirty and mean instead of just mean like the other characters in this film. Who just have better wittier one liners and vocabularies.

Nicole Kidman is the main attraction here. As the film takes place more or less around her character. Even though she is only there for a wedding, but her arrival brings old family drama and her sister’s drama and problems with her fiancé to the forefront.

Of course Nicole Kidman stands out in this film as she all but consumes the film and takes it with her. As she is thebttile character everything seems to stem from her. Even when we try to get into the side stories of other characters they are usually all connected or come back to her 

This is also the moodiest if all of writer director Noh Baumbach’s films which usually are dramatic and go to dark places though usually manage to have a smile. While the film does have humor it seems to have a chilly mean spirited vibe throughout. Which again seems to stem from Nicole Kidman’s character

The film offers the actors plenty to play with and they all get room to shine a bit, but the film and screenplay are more focused on the character of Margot. Her name is in the title.

Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, & Jennifer Jason Leigh moved in together during filming because they wanted to perfect their roles as a dysfunctional family.

The film exists as an emotional melodrama where the overall mood is depression and just melancholy with some bits of humor. While most of the characters are intellectuals.

Jack Black gives an ok performance and much was made of his appearance in the film. Here he gets to play a character who is unlikeable and normal. Which is something that is rare for him. As now he seems more the master of cameo roles or kids entertainment comedy. Though with a kind of wicked streak enough that adults still find him funny. He seems to manage to have it all.

This seems more like a film devoted to the 1970’s and with a twist of the French new wave in presenting a kind of familiar story more emotionally but also with more cutting edge pizzaz.

The film is Not a complete failure. It tries to play more like a European film or at least seems to be inspired by them. Though this film among other does make me wonder why when a film Is depressing they call it realistic and natural. There are a few happy moments that feel like simple pleasure within but in these films it just seems to be more attention paid to the doom and gloom.

Cinematographer Harris Savides used old lenses and shot mostly in natural light to get the dim, ominous look of the film. The natural light and old lenses making the hues darker doesn’t cover up sub par material. This film just heavily is disappointing. It has It’s moments but not enough for the audience. You never know you might like it.

The film feels like an overblown second novel that has too much to prove. Like the first one wasn’t a failure so it feels bloated with self importance. Like the writer is trying too hard to prove themselves. As he wants to explain things yet also be vague enough to have the evidence read into more

GRADE: C

DE PALMA (2016)

Directed By: Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow
Cinematography By: Jake Paltrow
Edited By: Matt Mayer & Lauren Minnerath

 A documentary About Writer/Director Brian De Palma 


One of the exciting things of watching this film is knowing how reclusive director Brian De Palma usually is. It’s amazing to hear him speak about his craft and life as well as behind the scenes stories of his career.

He is also speaking and telling his stories, while looking right at you. So it’s not the usual talking heads type documentary. So while you watch it, it feels like he is speaking directly to you.

The film offers a masterclass in filmmaking and also let’s him speak for himself for once. Rather than seeing or reason an evaluation of his films. Here he will admit his mistakes, but also make us re-evaluate some of his work which has been accused of being more controversial or just bad filmmaking.

As the film gets to the end it does wind down as his later career films seem to be the most disappointing for audiences, critics and fans. So that some won’t care as much to here which is why they are more brief when it comes to those films. As throughout the film he addresses each film on his resume as well as we get to see scripts from each of these films.

This is one of those films you hope they have a longer director’s cut as it could go on longer and you would still be entertained. He is direct and methodical but allows for a sense of humor also. So the documentary doesn’t feel didactic.

He does address the critics and themes of his work. The accusations of his film promoting violence against women or being misogynistic. While his film more or less seems to worship women and let them appear all the more human. while also worshiping the beauty of them not only physically but emotionally. As in most of his film they seem to inspire the protagonist and lead them to his doom or help to bring the best out of him. Usually helping to define the protagonist. When the female character is not the protagonist herself.

He also briefly talks about the influence of Alfred Hitchcock as obviously he has a similar filmmaking style and he even argues as filmmakers always tend to either copy or borrow from their influences and favorite films. Why wouldn’t he use the style of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. As even i will admit that through watching Brian De Palma films. I got turned on to as well as awakened to the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. now while I can see the similarities. He uses that same technical style and inventiveness to tell the stories he brings his vision to. He is more interested in the technical and visual aspects first and foremost and seems to build the plot and characters around that aspect. Luckily he has skill and talent around him that makes his films enriching even past the technical.

I might be partial to his cinema as they are more voyeurs films and also the fact that they are more modern and closer to age. When i was watching the cinema. Whereas Hitchcock will always be a master but the time period that separates us. makes it that I will always look at all of his work as classics due to style and age. So they are more like historic documents that are hard to argue about or criticize. Whereas with De Palma it feels more contemporary and can debate about his films easily.

Paltrow and Baumbach filmed Brian De Palma for one week in 2010, collecting about 30 hours worth of interview footage. De Palma, sitting in Paltrow’s living room and talking about his career, wore the same shirt every day for continuity’s sake.

Brian De Palma said, that initially there was no plan for a documentary feature, only an interview: “Noah and Jake were interested in this new digital camera, so Jake bought one. They wanted to make a record of all these stories that I’d told them over the years when we’d had dinner together, so they sat me down in Jake’s living room. Jake operated the camera, Noah did the sound, and they would just ask me questions.”

Do yourself a favor if a fan of his or movies in general. Seek out this film as it is quite a treat.

Grade: A- 

MARRIAGE STORY (2019)

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Written & Directed By: Noah Baumbach
Cinematography: Robbie Ryan
Editor: Jennifer Lame 

Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johannson, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Laura Dern, Julie Hagerty, Wallace Shawn, Merrit Wever, Mickey Sumner, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Irene Choi, Robert Smigel, Carlos Jacott, Lucas Neff 

An incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together.

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