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2018 Tribeca Film Festival Review: Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’ Starring Annette Bening, Corey Stoll, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss, Mare Winningham

Annette Bening, Jon Tenney, The Seagull, 2018 Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere

Annette Bening, Jon Tenney in ‘The Seagull,’ 2018 Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere, (photo from the film)

Annette Bening, The Seagul, Anton Chekhov, Michael Meyer, 2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere

Annette Bening, 2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere, Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull,’ directed by Michael Mayer (Carole Di Tosti)

Michael Mayer’s valiant attempt to bring a freshness to The Seagull with a script based on Anton Chekhov’s titular work by Stephen Karam (Tony winner of The Humans-2016) shines for a myriad of reasons. Yes, many critics dunned it or found that it fell short of its monumental task to bring Anton Chekhov’s four act, three hour play to the screen. Indeed, Chekhov is not easy and the script has been paired to emphasize the humor and highlight the salient speeches and actions, leaving the more unwieldy dialogue behind.

Annette Bening, The Seagull, Anton Chekhov, Michael Mayer, Stephen Karam 2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere

Annette Bening in Anton Checkhov’s ‘The Seagull,’ directed by Michael Mayer, adapted by Stephen Karam, 2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere, (photo courtesy of the film.

At its first time out in 1895, The Seagull flopped. The play requires superb acting and directing so that the ponderous tones are submerged and the comedy comes to the fore. I have seen a number of productions that left me with a yawn and a nod. Not so for this film. Forgive me fellow sojourners with a critical eye. My pen is blunted from razor sharp barbs directed to slice into this fine feature which made its World Premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

Saoirse Ronan, Corey Stoll, The Seagull, 2018 Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere

Saoirse Ronan, Corey Stoll, ‘The Seagull, 2018 Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere (photo courtesy of the film)

Mayer brings the action into the breathtaking settings of the lake and environs of the estate. He carries this striking beauty into his grand and lush interiors signifying the wealth and class status of the Pjotr Nikolayevich Sorin estate. Sorin (Brian Dennehy) is Irina’s (Annette Bening) brother. Interior and exterior settings are visually stunning. Against this gorgeousness Mayer unleashes the characters foibles and tragedies. The irony that luxury and the exquisite beauty of things has little power over emotions thematically resonates throughout. The principals’ (Irina-Bening, Trigorin-Corey Stoll, Nina-Saoirse Ronan, Masha-Elisabeth Moss, Konstantin-Billy Howle) interactions form the meat of the drama which ends in  tragedy. None of the characters appear to be self-aware (Trigorin excepted with caveats) to the point where they can make decisions which are life-affirming. Chekhov and Mayer’s iteration of his version of The Seagull places the human condition in its humor and sadness front and center. To his credit Mayer’s understanding and perception continually serve his fine cinematic intuitions, skills and efforts.

Saoirse Ronan, 2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere and Q & A

Saoirse Ronan, 2018 Tribeca Film Festival World Premiere Screening and Q & A (Carole Di Tosti)

The vitality of the settings that move back and forth from outdoors to interiors ground us in the landed wealth and social order of the Sorin family who also boasts a celebrity, the actress Irina who visits her brother Sorin and her son Konstantin each summer. The settings, always a subtle reminder of the time and place in Russia before the revolution (twenty years or so later) seem a particular irony. The upper class social elites and celebrities (Irina, Trigorin, etc.) whose physical needs are answered by the serving class, remain surreptitiously unhappy and in a constant state of displacement by the major facts of life: love-loss, aging and death. Their sturm und drang, whimsies, self-absorption and discontents are the luxuries of their class which harbor the seeds of tragedy because their cavernous, selfish desires blind them to the encroaching realities. Unless they self-correct, they will face tragedy and loss after tragedy and destruction, muting their soul’s enrichment until little of worth is left.. Inevitably, this class in the coming decades will lose all they take for granted.

Annette Bening, Billy Howle,2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere Q & A,Annette Bening, Billy Howle,The Seagull, Anton Chekhov, Michael Mayer,

Annette Bening, Billy Howle in Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’, 2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere and Q & A, (Carole Di Tosti)

Irina (Bening is authentic and stunning as the aging diva racing one step ahead of oblivion, and the end of celebrity and youth) brings the successful novelist Trigorin (Stoll in a superbly realistic performance) into the summer festivities of the family on their estate. Trigorin’s presence is the catalyst that puts the human dominoes in motion and sends them careening off a cliff with humor and irrevocably pathos. Konstantin, a passionate, unconventional writer is devastated after his mother Irina and the others find his play, performed by his unrequited love Nina, to be laughable and esoteric. Too self-absorbed with their own greatness Irina and Trigorin dismiss his yearning for success and recognition. His need for his mother’s love and acceptance has fallen at the shores of his depressive state for years. Almost in a revenge against his plight and in a self-curse of not achieving success, he shoots a delightful, beautiful seagull in a wanton act to release his anger. He gives the seagull to Nina who rejects it. It is a symbolic act, as if as refuses to acknowledge that her unrequited love wounds him. This act reverberates and symbolizes additional themes. One is that human being’s selfish desires and passions loosed upon the natural world and others, if not moderated, harm and destroy.

Elisabeth Moss, The Seagull, Anton Chekhov, Michael Mayer, Stephen Karam, 2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere,

Elisabeth Moss in Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull,’ written by Stephen Karam, 2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere, directed by Michael Mayer (photo from the film)

For her part Nina (who lives on a neighboring estate) is entranced by Trigorin and dismissive of Konstantin’s love. She seeks fame as an actress and wants Trigorin’s love which he finds flattering for his ego is wounded in his relationship with Irina and the encroaching years of waning masculinity. Nina may be his last, greatest passion, and if not that, a distracting plaything to notch on his belt and then discard. When he notes the dead seagull, he shares that he may use it as a symbol in a work he will write. These poetic notions seduce Nina with the enticement that she may be his seagull. Nina is blind to the danger of what he says, innocently trusting him with her love and being.

Stoll as Trigorin is convincing especially in his self-justification of why he must take Nina’s love, if even for a season, when she offers it quoting from a passage in a work of his. This speech in particular is superbly delivered by Stoll. And even if it is not graceful, we empathize with his fear of aging and the limitations of his mortality with which we all can identify. Neither money, nor success nor celebrity can answer death. However, being pursued by two women a beautiful younger one and a celebrated actress who is a drama queen will suffice in the meantime, though it requires the humility and wisdom to negotiate their war against each other to “get” him. Trigorin’s pride and fear do not allow him to balance the two women so that they don’t care about his concern for the other in competing jealousies. They do care and they compete for him.

The Seagull, Michael Mayer, Stephen Karam, Saoirse Ronan, Brian Dennehy, 2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere

Saoirse Ronan, Brian Dennehy, Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull,’ adapted by Stephen Karam, 2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere (photo from the film)

Irinia discovers Nina’s hopeless infatuation and must then approach Trigorin with clever wiles to get him to return with her to Moscow. If they stay at the estate, in front of her he will fulfill his lustful passion for Nina, for Nina is relentless. Irina refuses this humiliation.Though Trigorin and Irina leave together, in the short term she knows she must let him go.

Bening’s and Stoll’s interplay is smashing. In their portrayals, they reveal that neither character loves the other, but the passion for keeping their successful images by using each other’s status is familiar territory. Ultimately that will bind them together, despite any interfering love by encroaching inferiors like Nina or even Irina’s son Konstantin.

The Seagull, Corey Stoll, Red Carpet, 2018 World Premiere, Tribeca FF, Michael Meyer, Anton Chekhov, Stephen Karam

Corey Stoll, Red Carpet, 2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere, Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull,’ directed by Michael Mayer, adapted by Stephen Karam (Carole Di Tosti)

These intricate matters of the heart are further complicated by the unrequited love of Konstantin for Nina whom he adores, and Masha’s (the daughter of Sorin’s baliff) unrequited love of Konstantin. The only stable one appears to be Doctor Dorn (Jon Tenney) who sees the value in Konstantin’s symbolistic, maverick play. However, he is having an affair with Polina behind her husband’s back, not embarrassed to cuckhold an inferior. Thus, with this selfish and wanton weakness, he fits the ethos of the other disturbed, dismantling characters.

What of the irascible and reflexive Sorin (Dennehy) who allows the visitors to descend on the estate each summer with aplomb and takes care of his nephew Konstantin while his sister indulges her passions for the dramatic life? He appears to be the most balanced, but he has two sick feet on a banana peel, and if he moves too suddenly, he appears ready to slip out of life. Only the servants/peasants whose needs we cannot see remain solid even heroic as they attend to their sometimes “infantile” charges and judge their actions accordingly.

The beauty of the film is its muscularity. The director focuses on the performances in the highly charged scenes between Bening’s Irina and Stoll’s Trigorin and between Trigorin and Saoirse Ronan’s Nina and between Nina and Howle’s Konstantin.

Anton Chekhov, The Seagull, Saoirse Ronan, Michael Meyer, 2018 Tribeca FF World Premiere

Saoirse Ronan in Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull,’ directed by Michael Meyer, adapted by Stephen Karam, 2018 Tribeca FF (photo from  film)

The succinct script entices us toward believability. We know these individuals and are fascinated by their rationale for behaving as they do. Though not very admirable or honorable, they are like us as they “hang themselves and each other out to dry.” When Nina returns in her dishevelment and dislocation of self and presents what she “is” to Konstantin, he sees her identity ravished and torn by Trigorin and the vicissitudes of her mediocre acting career. From his love for her and out of his own depths of despair, he willfully kills himself ending his misery and torment.

The ending is particularly poignant. Saoirse Ronan, appears like a ghost to revisit and haunt the scene as if transferring her great wounds to Konstantin who again kills a seagull in his empathy with it. This time it is himself. Representatively, symbolically his act shows that though Nina’s physical life continues, for all intents and purposes, her beauty and innocence are dead. Both have allowed themselves to be consumed by others whose great, dark abyss of self-torment seems limitless in its rapacity to devour all who attempt to love them.

See the film for the performances: all are wonderful, and kudos to Elisabeth Moss who manages always to be funny in her despair and angst. Mare Winningham, Jon Tenney and Brian Dennehy relay solid performances.

Mayer has found an approach to putting difficult classics onscreen. Perhaps he will continue this trend; fine directors should work with the classics to acquaint the current generation with great playwrights and authors. Actors surely will jump at the opportunity, to portray humorous and profound characterizations like the ones Chekhov has delineated in The Seagull.

 

 

 

Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society Nominations

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I am taking out the time to post this release on my site because I agree with the spirit of this online film society. I have seen a number of the nominated films in festivals across the nation. Other films they overlooked were smashing. For example, Last Flag Flying (screenplay, performances) and  Wonderstruck  (art design, music). And Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is noteworthy because of superb performances by Annette Bening and Jamie Bell.
Last Flag Flying, Darryl Poniscan, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, NYFF 2017

(L to R): Darryl Poniscan, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston at NYFF Q and A, ‘Last Flag Flying’ (Carole Di Tosti)

Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, HIFF 2017

Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Q & A ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,’ HIFF 2017 (Carole Di Tosti)

And of course, there are some nominations with which I do not agree. Lady Bird, I believe, is overrated; the performances are uneven, the characters stock and predictable.  The humor is pressure-cookered and not organic. Also, I would have added to the Best Actor category, Armie Hammer. His portrayal in Call Me By Your Name is easily underestimated.  It is more complexly rendered and must be sussed out, more so than his co-protagonist Timothée Chalamet, not to take away from Chalamet who is incredible. LAOFCS picks are below.
Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name, NYFF 2017, Nigel M. Smith

(L to R): Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Director Luca Guadagnino in ‘Call Me By Your Name’ Q & A at NYFF 2017, hosted by Nigel M. Smith (courtesy NYFF Talks)

Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name, NYFF 2017, Nigel M. Smith

Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, NYFF 2017 ‘Call Me By Your Name’ Q & A hosted by Nigel M. Smith (courtesy NYFF Talks)

The Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society Announces Its Inaugural Year’s Nominations:
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water leads with 11 nominations while Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird lands in second place with nine and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk in third with eight.

(Los Angeles, CA – December 4th, 2017) – The Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society (LAOFCS) is pleased to announce that their Awards Ceremony will be held on January 3rd, 2018, at which time the winners will be announced.

Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water, HIFF 2017

Richard Jenkins ‘The Shape of Water,’ HIFF 2017 Q & A (Carole Di Tosti)

Fox Searchlight’s The Shape of Water tops the nominations list with eleven nominations including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay while Lady Bird earns nine nominations and Dunkirk earns eight. Jordan Peele’s massive hit, Get Out scores nominations for Best Male Director and Best First Feature.

Ruben Ostend, The Square, NYFF 2017

Ruben Ostend, director ‘The Square,’ NYFF 2017 Q & A (Carole Di Tosti)

Studio films such as Wonder Woman, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Blade Runner 2049 are also among the nominations scoring five nominations each.

A few smaller released films have found their place on the nominations list including Neon’s Colossal, Trademark Films & Break Thru Films’ Loving Vincent, and the Sundance Institute’s Columbus.

Diane Kruger, In the Fade, HIFF 2017

Diane Kruger, ‘In the Fade,’ HIFF 2017 Q & A (Carole Di Tosti)

Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet are each nominated for Best Actress and Actor as well as Best Performance by an Actor or Actress Under the Age of 23.

The Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society is pleased to announce that it is the first ever critics group to feature two Best Director categories; one for female and one for male. “There has been so much conversation about the power of female filmmakers and we wanted to embrace it,” said Mantz. “There is a Best Actor and Best Actress category as well as Best Supporting Actor and Actress, so why not have a Best Male Director and Best Female Director category?” asked Menzel. Good idea considering more attention must be given to the exceptional work of female directors who are often closed out in favor of their male counterparts.

In total, the Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society members have nominated over forty different films ranging from smaller art-house releases to major blockbusters.

Sam Rockwell, HIFF 2017, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Sam Rockwell, HIFF 2017 ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ (Carole Di Tosti)

Nominations for the first Annual Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society Awards:

BEST PICTURE

The Big Sick
Colossal
Call Me By Your Name
Get Out
I, Tonya
Lady Bird
Molly’s Game
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Bryan Cranston, Last Flag Flying, NYFF 2017

Bryan Cranston, ‘Last Flag Flying,’ NYFF 2017 Q & A (Carole Di Tosti)

BEST FEMALE DIRECTOR

Dee Rees, Mudbound
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Kathryn Bigelow, Detroit
Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman
Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled

BEST MALE DIRECTOR

Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name
Steven Spielberg, The Post

Jamie Bell, Film STars Don't Die in Liverpool, HIFF 2017

Jamie Bell, ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,’ HIFF 2017 Q and A (Carole Di Tosti)

BEST ANIMATED / VISUAL EFFECT PERFORMANCE

Andy Serkis, War for the Planet of the Apes
Doug Jones, The Shape of Water
Dan Stevens, Beauty and the Beast

BEST EDITING

Baby Driver
Dunkirk
I, Tonya
The Post
The Shape of Water

Annette Bening, HIFF 2017, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

Annette Bening, HIFF 2017 Q & A ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,’ (Carole Di Tosti)

BEST SCORE

Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
War for the Planet of the Apes

BEST STUNT WORK

Atomic Blonde
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
John Wick: Chapter 2
Wonder Woman

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR OR ACTRESS UNDER 23 YEARS OLD

Brooklynn Prince, The Florida Project
Dafne Keen, Logan
Jacob Tremblay, Wonder
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

BEST SCI-FI/ HORROR

Blade Runner 2049
Get Out
It
It Comes at Night
The Shape of Water

Brooklyn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, NYFF 2017, The Florida Project

(L to R): Brooklyn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, NYFF 2017 Q & A ‘The Florida Project’ (Carole Di Tosti)

BEST ACTION/WAR

Baby Driver
Dunkirk
Logan
War for the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman

BEST COMEDY/MUSICAL

The Big Sick
The Disaster Artist
Girls Trip
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

BEST FIRST FEATURE

Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Kogonada, Columbus
Jeremy Gasper, Patti Cake$
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Armie Hammer, HIFF 2017, Call Me By Your Name

Armie Hammer, HIFF 2017 Red Carpet, ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ (Carole Di Tosti)

BEST INDEPENDENT FILM

The Big Sick
Colossal
A Ghost Story
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

BEST BLOCKBUSTER

Beauty and the Beast
Dunkirk
Logan
War for the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Bruno Delbonnel, Darkest Hour
Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water
Hoyte van Hoytema, Dunkirk
Rachel Morrison, Mudbound
Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
War for the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman

BEST DOCUMENTARY

An Inconvenient Sequel
Jane
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
Step
Whose Streets?

Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne, Last Flag Flying,

(L to R): Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne in ‘Last Flag Flying,’ (courtesy of the film)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

BPM, France
First They Killed My Father, Cambodia
In the Fade, Germany
The Square, Sweden
Thelma, Norway

BEST ANIMATED FILM

The Breadwinner
Coco
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
The LEGO Batman Movie
Loving Vincent

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Sam Rockwell, David Nugent, HIFF 2017, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

(L to R): Sam Rockwell, David Nugent, HIFF 2017 Q & A ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Carole Di Tosti)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game
Luca Guadagnino, James Ivory, & Walter Fasano, Call Me by Your Name
Michael H. Weber & Scott Neustadter, The Disaster Artist
Scott Frank, James Mangold, & Michael Green, Logan
Virgil Williams & Dee Rees, Mudbound

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Idris Elba, Molly’s Game
Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name
Patrick Stewart, Logan
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Williem Dafoe, The Florida Project

BEST ACTRESS

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

BEST ACTOR

Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Tom Hanks, The Post

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