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Sofia Coppola (#110 of 26)

Jerusalem Film Festival 2017 Siege, Redoubtable, The Beguiled, On the Beach at Night Alone, & More

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Jerusalem Film Festival 2017: Siege, Redoubtable, The Beguiled, On the Beach at Night Alone, & More

Jerusalem Film Festival

Jerusalem Film Festival 2017: Siege, Redoubtable, The Beguiled, On the Beach at Night Alone, & More

Jerusalem is a city of beige and tan, a vast barren sprawl that is, despite the brutal heat and muted colors, quite beautiful. Its odd mix of orthodoxy and modernity pair like sand and cement to create something singular and undeterrable. There’s a kind of delirious, heat stroke-induced grandeur to its aesthetic uniformity, the caramel-colored homes enclosing you and the occasional swaths of trees providing much sought-after shelter from the sun, the tan and green recalling the colors of Israeli military uniforms. All of the buildings are finished with Jerusalem Stone (which is mostly made up of limestone) to marry the new to the old, to transcend date and age. A parched and pale sky settles over sun-baked façades stacked upon sandy expanses. Feet wrapped in leather sandals slap against the sidewalk and air conditioners spittle from above. “Drink water,” everyone advises. At its apogee, the sun abuses unrepentantly, with cruel omnipotence, yet people persist and keep going where they’re going, water bottles in hand. They are stubborn.

The Films of Sofia Coppola Ranked

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The Films of Sofia Coppola Ranked

Focus Features

The Films of Sofia Coppola Ranked

There’s a routine of complaints traditionally leveled at Sofia Coppola. Beyond the faux pas of being born rich, she’s been drawn as more of a choreographer of tableaux than a storyteller. Critics have bemoaned her visions of character interiority signaled by dreamy music cues and symmetrical framing over wordy dialogues or dredged-up performances from her stars, who are inevitably blonde and beautiful. Particularly since Lost in Translation’s reverse-xenophobia meet-cute, Coppola has alternated between accusations of flaunting her privilege and hosannas for being honest about it.

But if The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette, and (perhaps more debatably) Somewhere girded themselves against these considerations by putting their own haute-bourgeois blinkeredness front and center, the terrain is far murkier in Coppola’s The Beguiled. This is a filmmaker obsessed with feminine beauty and ephemeral tragedy of time’s passage—so just how boilerplate is her Civil War-era chamber piece supposed to be?

Cannes Film Festival 2017 Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled

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Cannes Film Review: The Beguiled

Focus Features

Cannes Film Review: The Beguiled

Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, the writer-director’s adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 Civil War-set novel A Painted Devil, begins as a straightforward Southern Gothic psychodrama. The filmmaker, though, distinguishes her version of the source novel from the 1971 Don Siegel-helmed adaptation starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page by treating Union soldier Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) as a more enigmatic catalyst for the changes that take place inside Miss Martha Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies upon his arrival. Rather than primarily focus on McBurney and the horrifying consequences of his unchecked horniness, Coppola intensely homes in on her heroines’ conflicted feelings about sex.

Siegel’s film pulpily fixates on McBurney and his outsider status, and how his unchecked lust drives him to monstrously stalk the seminary—like a fox in a hen house. But Coppola’s take is more interested in the boarding school’s all-female residents’ personal struggles to accept that they’re allowed to be sexually attracted to an enemy soldier. Women like headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) and her school’s head teacher, Edwina Dabney (Kirsten Dunst), are obviously drawn to McBurney, though they go to great lengths to avoid admitting that attraction. The film is set, after all, in Virginia in 1864, and McBurney is, as Edwina cautions, the kind of man they’ve been warned about: one with a predilection for raping Southern women.

Review: Marie Antoinette at Soho Rep

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Review: <em>Marie Antoinette</em> at Soho Rep
Review: <em>Marie Antoinette</em> at Soho Rep

In David Adjmi’s satirical Marie Antoinette, the titular royal doesn’t start using her head until she’s in danger of losing it. At first, without any desire to get a grip on reality, she’s presented broadly as a Real House Queen of Versailles. With valley-girl inflections and a grating mean-girl mien, the so-called Madame Deficit is only vaguely aware of the peasants’ rising anger and utterly clueless as to what to do: “The people aren’t happy. Or…I don’t know what they are. Maybe they are starving.” But she doesn’t follow through on this, or any, line of thought. Instead, she lets herself eat cake.

In a sly wink at the quote that’s poisoned her reputation for centuries, Marie (a formidable Marin Ireland) and her ladies-in-waiting (Jennifer Ikeda and Marsha Stephanie Blake) grab mouth-watering, brightly colored macaroons from towering mounds that stand beside them. When Ikeda’s Yolande, with her mouth full, admits she denies “junk food” like this to her children out of concern for their health, Ireland addle-pated monarch answers, “Aww, let them eat cake.” It’s an easy laugh, like many in the play’s early going, but Adjmi soon rewards audience members who’ve done their research by including a riff on the writer who actually coined the famous line, France’s literary lion Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Marie’s never heard of him: “Intellectuals, bleh. You know what I love? Mops!” She means the mop-topped poodles she keeps by the hundreds. Before we lose patience with the queen-as-ditz approach, Adjmi, Ireland, and director Rebecca Taichman direct our focus where the queen refuses to tread: on the life of her mind.

Understanding Screenwriting #113: The Bling Ring, The Heat, White House Down, Monsters University, & Unfaithfully Yours

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Understanding Screenwriting #113: <em>The Bling Ring</em>, <em>The Heat</em>, <em>White House Down</em>, <em>Monsters University</em>, & <em>Unfaithfully Yours</em>
Understanding Screenwriting #113: <em>The Bling Ring</em>, <em>The Heat</em>, <em>White House Down</em>, <em>Monsters University</em>, & <em>Unfaithfully Yours</em>

Coming Up In This Column: The Bling Ring, The Heat, White House Down, Monsters University, Unfaithfully Yours, but first…

Moving on: This is going to be my last Understanding Screenwriting column for The House Next Door. Don’t worry, it’s not going away for good, just moving to a new location. Earlier this year, I got an announcement from Erik Bauer, founder, publisher, and editor of Creative Screenwriting magazine. In addition to writing for the magazine, I was on the editorial board from 1994 to 2008, when the board was dissolved. Erik had sold the magazine and the Creative Screenwriting empire (website, screenwriting expo, etc.) to another man in 2007. Unfortunately, the recession came along the next year, and the magazine closed down in 2011. This spring Erik had what he called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to buy back the Creative Screenwriting empire, and his announcement said that he’s intending to revive the magazine, beginning in 2014. In the meantime, he’s reviving the Creative Screenwriting website in August, and my Understanding Screenwriting column will be moving to it then. The new address will be www.creativescreenwriting.com, and he hopes to have the new website up the first week in August. I trust you will all come and visit and leave the kind of intelligent comments you’ve spoiled me with for the last five years. And I must finish my work here at the House with a great big “thank you” to both Keith and Ed for their support over the years.

Fan Mail: “shazwagon” raised the question in regard to the close-up of Jesse at the end of the opening scene in Before Midnight: “How do you know that it was the writer’s decision to show the close-up later?” That’s an easy case; since both the actor involved and the director were also the writers, we can pretty much be sure it came from them. In other cases, it can be a tricky question. Generally writers will make an effort to write in reactions for the characters (but not camera directions, since directors pay no attention at all to writers’ suggestions in that area). If, as in the close-up in Before Midnight, the reaction is related to everything else going on in the scene (here the counterpoint to the dramatic action with Jesse and Henry), then it almost certainly comes from the writers. If actors and directors in general are at the top of their form, you feel that the moment is happening now right in front of your eyes. Look at Jeff’s (James Stewart) reaction to the itch in an early scene in Rear Window. It seems the camera just happened to catch him when the itch did. Not so; it’s all laid out in John Michael Hayes’s great script.

David Ehrenstein is back to disagreeing with me and all’s right with the world. He thought Behind the Candelabra was better than I did. He especially liked the performances by Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. I liked the performances, but felt the script didn’t give them as much to work with as it could have.

The Bling Ring (2013; written by Sofia Coppola; based on the Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales; 90 minutes.)

Sofia Coppola, meet W.E. Burnett and John Huston. You may remember that, in US#68, I found Coppola’s Somewhere very disappointing, but I also said we shouldn’t give up on Coppola. The Bling Ring shows why, and it’s one of her best films yet. Never give up on talent. Here Coppola’s minimalist style, which was a little too minimalist in Somewhere, is perfect for the subject.