Thursday, January 26, 2023

Hits and misses in an interracial romcom

   The humor in You People sometimes is broad enough to encourage a call for a clean up on aisle sitcom. 
    I wish that weren't the case because this comedy about tensions spawned by a looming interracial marriage has a sharp comic cast built around Jonah Hill, Eddie Murphy, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, all of whom have their moments.    
    Hill, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Kenya Barris (Blackish), plays Ezra Cohen, a broker who wants to make a living as a podcaster with his partner Mo (Sam Jay). Jay and Hill give the movie a promising opening, bantering freely about hiphop culture. 
   But romcom rumbles loom and along with them typical comedy ploys.
   After concluding that he'll never find true love, Ezra has a meet-cute with Amira Mohammed (Lauren London). The two connect, but the movie takes a Meet-the-Parents turn with emphasis on racial and cultural differences taking charge, too often in obvious ways.
     Louis-Dreyfus plays Ezra's mom as a stereotypical liberal who spills her wokeness like a drunk trying to hold an overfilled glass of wine. She’s inappropriate in her blatant displays of “liberalism
    Murphy portrays Akbar, Amira's Muslim dad. Murphy occasionally succeeds at squeezing a bit of funny out of a stern character and gives the film its strongest presence.
    David Duchovny and Nia Long are largely wasted as respective spouses. 
   How broad can the humor get? At a dinner where the parents meet, Louis-Dreyfus's Shelley sets fire to Akbar's kufi, a treasured cap supposedly given to him by none other than Louis Farrakhan. Attempts to introduce humor about Jews and Blacks are more referenced than explored.
    Ezra's Las Vegas bachelor party (Akbar attends) also lands with a thud and a gratuitous introduction of cocaine use.
    London also could have used some scenes of her own.
    Look, there are laughs to be found here, particularly in the early scenes, but You People shows little interest in ruffling feathers. 
    Before the movie concludes, everyone learns lessons about tolerance, love, and open-mindedness and You People squanders an opportunity to take a more challenging ride across comedy’s cutting edge.


'Shotgun Wedding' fires blanks


There are silly movies and then there are really silly movies. Shotgun Wedding fits into the latter category — and I don’t mean that in a good way.  A destination wedding romcom, Shotgun Wedding stars  Jennifer Lopez. An able comic actress, Lopez gives the movie her all but like her unfortunate cohorts, she's burdened by a preposterous story line that generates as many groans as laughs. Director Jason Moore guides J.Lo and Josh Duhamel (the story's groomthrough scenes in which  ransom-seeking pirates invade the wedding and hold the guests hostage. Additional cast includes Cheech Marin as the wealthy father of Lopez's Darcy and Lenny Kravitz as Darcy's smooth-talking ex. Sonia Braga has a brief turn as Darcy's mother and Jennifer Coolidge  appears as the comically brash mother of the groom. Add some late picture stunts that wobble their way into action/comedy turf and you've got ... well ... a romcom with grenades and explosions. A lame screenplay, set at a Filipino resort,  forces the cast to try too hard  for laughs. Let me clarify. I called this a really silly movie. In fairness, I should say that Shotgun Wedding isn't trying to be an exercise in high wit. Still, it's difficult to say "I do" to a wedding comedy that's married to so many ill-conceived gags.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Oscar nominations in a "go-figure" year

    Perusing the list of Oscar nominations for 2023 was a bit like scanning a giant smorgasbord table at which no one bothered to coordinate the cuisines. 
   Perhaps taking a cue from the title of the most nominated picture — Everything Everywhere All At Once — the Academy created a crazy quilt portrait of an industry torn by pressures to diversify, wobbly box office, and no clear consensus about what constitutes high-quality viewing.
   Writing in The New York Times, Brooks Barnes provided the best overview of Oscar 2023:
    “In some ways, spreading nominations widely reflected the jumbled state of Hollywood. No one in the movie capital seems to know which end is up, with streaming services like Netflix hot then not, and studios unsure about how many films to release in theaters and whether anything but superheroes, sequels and horror stories can succeed.”

   Go figure. On the 10-movie best-picture list, you’ll find titles as wide-ranging as Top Gun: Maverick, Triangle of Sadness, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Elvis. Talk about a multiverse.

    Each of those movies, by the way, already can be streamed, as can many of the other Oscar nominees. Gone are the days when Oscar nominations provided theaters (remember them?) with much-needed revenue boosts.

    If home is where the movies are, that's also where a lot of movie talk has gone. With more people opting to work from home, water-cooler talk may have vanished from the American experience, having been replaced by any number of online options.

  By evening, more folks likely will be wondering about the classified documents that turned up at Mike Pence's house than whether Women Taking, a best-picture nominee, has any shot at winning.

  No matter what levels the Oscar buzz reaches or doesn't, the Academy Awards will be telecast on March 12. You can find a full list of nominees on the Academy's site.

   And good luck to Jimmy Kimmel, who'll try to re-establish the role of host. What, by the way, is the over/under on how long it will take for someone to mention last year's slap heard 'round the world?

Thursday, January 19, 2023

A frustrated father and a troubled son

 In adapting his stage play, The Son, for the screen, director Florian Zeller finds emotional moments that ring true amid many that miss badly. Zeller, the French playwright who directed The Father (2020), explores what happens when a father (Hugh Jackman) -- divorced and remarried -- tries to keep his mentally troubled son Nicholas (Zen McGrath) from ruining his life. Jackman's convincingly exasperated performance reflects the difficulty of communicating with a kid who dissembles and has little insight into his self-destructive behavior. The New York-based story kicks off when Nicholas's former wife (Laura Dern) asks Jackman's Peter for help dealing with Nicholas, who has been skipping school. Peter and his wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby) take in the seventeen-year-old, a decision that's complicated by Peter and Beth's situation; they've recently become parents to a new infant son. Nicholas's increasing inability to cope diverts Peter's attention from work and the important Washington job he's about to land. During a trip D.C., he's lectured by his high-achieving, bullying dad, played by a briefly seen Anthony Hopkins in a powerful scene. Among the movie's problems: We don't really get to know Nicholas, partly because he keeps himself hidden and partly because he's reduced to a single dimension: The problem kid who resents his father for leaving his mother. The movie contrives to reach its expected conclusion with Zeller adding a misguided scene that just doesn't play. Too bad. The Son misses an opportunity to deal convincingly with a difficult but important subject.

Trying to solve a mystery on-line


A free-standing offshoot of 2018’s Searching, Missing follows its predecessor’s lead by taking place entirely on screens: computers, cell phones, and other devices. A gimmick? Sure. But first-time directors Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick use devices and the images they convey mostly to good effect. Still, the movie, which sports more twists than an amusement park ride, can’t overcome the sense that it’s not about much more than the agility with which it stitches together a plot. And, by its third act, the screenplay strains credibility. Storm Reid plays 18-year-old June. June’s mother (Nia Long) embarks on a Latin American vacation with her new love interest (Ken Leung). When Mom goes missing, June — initially delighted to be free of parental oversight — swings into action. She does her best to discover what happened, even enlisting the help of a low-rent but helpful Colombian investigator (Joaquim de Almeida). The screenplay reveals secret after secret, some of them offering jolts. The performances play second fiddle to the movie’s overall approach, which — though deftly manipulated — ultimately has the feel of a surface affair. Enough. Missing keeps you watching even if it fades from memory as quickly as one of those lost emails you swear you didn’t mistakenly delete.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The relationship between an editor and writer

    Robert Gottlieb, now 91, has spent most of his life publishing books. As editor-in-chief at Alfred A. Knopf and Simon & Schuster, he nurtured a gallery of important writers: Doris Lessing, Joseph Heller, Toni Morrison, and Michael Crichton, for example.
   Gottlieb also edited and published the work of Robert Caro, the 87-year-old author who created a stir in 1974 with The Power Broker, a definitive work about New York builder Robert Moses. Caro followed with a massive quartet of books about the life and career of Lyndon Johnson. 
    Directed by Gottlieb’s daughter Lizzie Gottlieb, the documentary Turn Every Page examines the relationship between Caro and Gottlieb, offering biographical sketches, career summaries, and interviews in which both men discuss what has been a productive, sometimes contentious collaboration. Both are motivated by high standards.  
    Caro is nothing if not focused. He has spent much of his life producing four volumes about Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, Means of Ascent, Master of the Senate, and The Passage of Power.  A fifth book will appear when Caro, not one to hurry, completes a series that justifiably can be called monumental.
    Tireless and exhaustive, Caro conducts interview after interview,  pours over documents, and writes as he uncovers the theme of each  book. A masterful reporter, he takes nothing for granted.
    If you’re a stickler for details, you’ll particularly enjoy learning about the ongoing disagreement between Caro and Gottlieb concerning the use of semi-colons, not a barn-burner of a topic, but one that demonstrates each man’s commitment to the most effective use of language.
    Gottlieb serves the texts of others but isn’t shy about expressing his ego;  he credits himself with having changed the name of Heller's Catch 18 to Catch 22. Another World War II book with the number 18 in the title loomed. Gottlieb also thought 22 was funnier.
   Caro has earned the right to the exhaustive, time-consuming efforts that have defined his career and have produced books that are no strangers to best-seller lists.
    If you're interested in writing, journalism or publishing I wouldn't miss the opportunity to glimpse into the worlds of a consequential editor and writer who have produced important work of lasting value.
   I don’t think Gottlieb doubts his skill and insight as an editor. His record speaks for itself. But he'd also probably agree that finding a Robert Caro doesn't hurt, either.

'Alice, Darling' shows the impact of abuse


Alice, Darling -- a psychological study bolstered by thriller elements -- relies on the observation that not all abuse is physical. The story centers on Alice (Anna Kendrick), a successful young woman who lives with her boyfriend, an artist played by Charlie Carrick. The two appear to be happy, but Carrick's Simon continually gnaws at Alice’s confidence. The plot, such as it is, begins to unfold  when Alice agrees to spend a weekend with two girlfriends (Kaniehtiio Horn and Wunmi Mosaku). The occasion: Horn's Tess has arranged a women-only celebration of her birthday at an isolated cabin. Alice tells Simon she's taking a business trip because she knows he’d object to her spending time with women who will encourage her independence. Kendrick captures Alice's ably fears, which limit her willingness to make her own decisions. Her friends try to loosen her up, but she's still under Simon's control. Director Mary Nighy creates a mood of uneasiness as Horn and Mosaku push Alice toward assertion. They know their friend is being tyrannized. The story's final eruption verges on overstatement  — and at times, the movie seems to be straining, particularly with a story about a missing local girl that lingers in the background. Working from a screenplay by Alanna FrancisAlice, Darling works best as a well-observed study of the effects of abuse, and Kendrick’s complex performance as a vacillating, conflicted woman gives Alice, Darling some painfully real bite.

Bill Nighy's memorable turn in 'Living'

   If a doctor, heaven forbid, were to tell Bill Nighy that his demise was imminent, we’d expect a clever retort or a subtle response that resisted turning the moment into high-stakes drama. Nighy has become an actor we feel we know.
   Of course, I have no idea how Nighy might respond to such devastating news, but in Living, Nighy plays a dying character whose emotions are expressed in ways that are bravely undemonstrative. 
   Nighy plays Mr. Williams, a bureaucrat in London’s Public Works Department. He’s a widowed commuter whose life, as he says at one point, has avoided either happiness or misery.
   Mr. Williams lives in the suburbs with his son (Barney Fishwick) and daughter in-law (Patsy Ferran) and governs his life with structured routine. If it’s “picture day,” Mr. Williams goes to the movies. 
   As the supervisor of a small group of paper pushers, Mr. Williams focuses on the stack of paperwork before him, reacting unemotionally to the bureaucratic buck passing that unfolds when his agency is asked to approve construction of a small playground. 
   The movie begins by introducing us to Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp),  the newest member of the Public Works team.  Unbent by years of service, Wakeling questions what the others long have accepted — the absurd workings of a procedure-crazed government agency.
    Aimee Lou Wood portrays Margaret Harris, a young woman who, unlike her colleagues, seems not have lost touch with the rhythms of life. Not surprisingly, she has accepted a job at a restaurant, where she hopes to ascend into management.
   An English-language remake of Ikira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952), Living benefits from the stiff constraints that, in this movie, define  London life during the 1950s, the period when the story takes place. 
   The story's development hinges on what only can be described as Mr. William’s quiet rebellion.
   Once told that he’s dying, Mr. Williams stops going to work. He  travels to a beach town where he encounters a footloose fellow (Tom Burke) who tries to introduce him to the local pleasures.
   Mr. Williams doesn’t return to work, but a chance encounter in London with Miss Harris leads him to an attempt at capturing a bit of life before it’s too late. And, no, we’re not talking about a misguided sexual encounter.
    Working from a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, director Oliver Hermanus can’t blot out every trace of sentimentality, but Nighy’s restraint makes it clear that Mr. Williams is not the sort of fellow ever to gush and his performance serves to characterize the movie. When Mr. Williams lets down his hair, it’s strictly one strand at a time. 
   Nighy creates a memorable portrait of a decent man who has lived a dreary life but who comes to understand that small gains must be savored, perhaps because for him (as for most of us) that might be all there is.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

2023 Critics Choice Awards winners


The 2023 Critics Choice Awards for 2023 were announced Sunday evening (Jan. 15). The organization's 28th annual awards should stir the waters of interest for the upcoming Academy Awards, giving a boost to Everything Everywhere All at Once. Everything Everywhere led the field with five awards, including best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best editing, and best supporting actor (Ke Huy Quan). *
Here's a full list of the winners:

Best Picture
Everything Everywhere All at Once 
Best Actor 
Brendan Fraser – The Whale 
Best Actress
Cate Blanchett – Tár 
Best Supporting Actor 
Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once 
Best Supporting Actress
Angela Bassett – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever 
Best Young Actor
Gabriel LaBelle – The Fabelmans 
Best Acting Ensemble
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery 
Best Director
Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All at Once 
Best Original Screenplay
Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All at Once 
Best Adapted Screenplay
Sarah Polley – Women Talking 
Best Cinematography
Claudio Miranda – Top Gun: Maverick
Best Production Design        
Florencia Martin, Anthony Carlino – 
Best Editing
Paul Rogers – Everything Everywhere All at Once 
Best Costume Design
Ruth E. Carter – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever 
Best Hair and Makeup
Best Visual Effects
Avatar: The Way of Water 
Best Comedy
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery 
Best Animated Feature
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio 
Best Foreign Language Film
Best Song
Naatu Naatu – RRR 
Best Score
Hildur Guðnadóttir -- Tár
*For the record, I'm one of the 600 members of the CCA.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Bob's Cinema Diary: Jan. 12, 2023: 'No Bears' and 'Saint Omer'

No Bears

 In 2010, Iranian director Jafar Panahi was prohibited by his government from making films. Despite the ban, Panahi was able to make five films. Last July, Panahi was jailed for six years. Even he has been unable to make films while incarcerated. Prior to his imprisonment, Panahi made No Bears, a film that, among other things, deals with difficulties of filming when a director must operate surreptitiously. In No Bears, which sometimes resembles a documentary, Panahi (This is Not A Film, Taxi) plays a director who has moved to a village away from Teheran. He uses his laptop and phone to stay in touch with a crew that's filming a story about two people who are trying to leave the country. In the film-within-a-film, Zara (Mina Kavani) and Bakhtiar (Bakhtiar Panjei) aren't in agreement. She has obtained a fake passport; he has not. She refuses to leave without him. For his part, Panahi runs into trouble with the townspeople of Jabbar, a small village near the Turkish border. Panahi's solicitous landlord (Vahid Mobaseri) apprises him of problems he may have with the locals who are upset about a supposedly compromising photograph they believe he has has taken. Both narrative streams of Panahi's film lead to tragic results. Employing a no-frills style, Panahi has made a complex, thought-provoking film that raises questions about a filmmaker’s responsibilities and makes you wonder about a society that would put such a gifted artist in jail.*

Saint Omer

First off, it's necessary to know that Saint-Omer is a small town in France that was home to a trial that gripped the French imagination. A French woman of Senegalese descent confessed to the murder of her toddler. She left her child sleeping on a beach so that death would follow when the tide rolled in. The woman claimed the devil -- or more accurately -- demons made her do it. That crime becomes the basis for director Alice Diop's Saint Omer, a meticulous depiction of the the mother’s trail as seen through the eyes of Rama (Kayije Kagame), a Senegalese-French writer and professor. Rama, who's pregnant, convinces her publisher that she should write about the trial. She sees a connection between the defendant and Medea. Much of the movie involves the testimony of Laurence (Guslagie Malanda), the self-confessed murderer. An aspiring student of philosophy, Laurence cuts a peculiar figure; she says she hopes the trial will provide an explanation for what she did. Rama's fascination with Laurence gives the movie the provocative charge of a writer trying to tackle a disturbing but irresistible subject. No, Rama decides this isn't some modern version of Medea. Diop allows the racism that Laurence faces to emerge as the trial unfolds. The resultant movie peers into both Senegalese and French cultures, focusing on issues of race, motherhood and alienation. But Diop doesn't stop there: She confronts us with the inexplicable side of human behavior which she explores in lengthy, immobile shots that resist the sensationalism a subject such as this might have elicited. Perhaps Diop wanted to move slowly so that we could ponder how ill-equipped we are to deal with secrets the heart insists on keeping — even from the person in which it beats.

*On Feb. 3 news broke that Panahi was released from prison. Panama's release came two days after he had begun a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. Let's hope that Panahi remains free. 

Friday, January 6, 2023

Shopworn idea given amusing spin


Movies with even a modicum of ambition tend to score big in January, not normally a time when new releases boast much of a "wow" factor. M3GAN is such an entertainment, a movie about a doll brought to frightening life (or at least a synthetic version of it) by AI and engineering genius. M3GAN, pronounced Megan but really an acronym for Model 3 Generative Android, becomes the best friend of young Cady (Violet McGraw), a girl who's living with her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) after her parents are killed in a car crash. Gemma, M3GAN's inventor, hopes the "toy" will help restore the spirits of the grieving Cady. Gemma knows toys but has no idea about kids, an irony that gives the movie a hint of social relevance. Over relying on M3GAN to act as a parent, Gemma sets up the inevitable transformation that will convert doll to killer, often in the name of protecting Cady. Gemma also hopes that her invention will sweep the toy world, as does her money-grubbing boss (Ronny Chieng). Director Gerard Johnstone's visual approach isn't much different than an after-school-special but the movie boasts smatterings of mordant wit. Credit  M3GAN's capacity to deliver snide remarks with exaggerated sincerity. A bit of PG-13 gore and some routine genre violence (a nail gun becomes a weapon) unfold as expected. But Amie Donald's performances as M3GAN  (voice by Jenna Davis) allows the movie to punctuate its more generic components with some welcome amusement.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Tom Hanks taps into crankiness


A Man Called Otto, an American remake of a better 2015 Swedish film, follows a familiar formula: A grumpy older man who thinks he's right about everything pushes away those who try to be nice to him.  With Tom Hanks playing Otto -- the old man of the title -- you can bet (and you'll be right) that Otto will soften before the movie ends. Working from a screenplay by David Magee, director Marc Forster has little to offer aside from watching Hanks play a less-than-likable character -- at least for a while. Of course, Otto has reasons for the dyspeptic approach that marks his golden years: retirement, the death of his wife, and the deterioration of the quality of nearly everything. In Otto's mind, all things were better in the past. Early on, the hapless Otto tries to hang himself. He fails, but we're meant to know that Otto has had it with living. Flashbacks in which Hanks' son, Truman Hanks portrays a younger version of Otto, show him falling in love and beginning to build a life.  In the movie's present-tense sequences, Otto encounters friendly neighbors (Mariana Trevino and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). Otto also meets a trans kid (Mack Bayda) who fondly remembers his late wife, a teacher who honored the kid's identity. Other neighbors crop up and an evil developer must be warded off. Not even a persistent stray cat can turn this cranky-to-cuddly movie into anything fresh and, more important, believable. Hanks? He's a great actor but when it comes to sour old men, Clint Eastwood (see Gran Torino) can be both crankier and, of course,  older. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Throwing off the weight of oppression


   If you were looking for an evening's diversion, it might not occur to you to spend it hanging out with a group of Mennonite women living in an isolated community in a Latin American country.
   Grim, serious, and weighted by patriarchal oppression, Women Talking makes Amish country seem luxe by comparison.
   Forbidding and talky, director Sarah Polley's movie, adapted from a novel by Canadian author Miriam Toews, tells a reality-based story about women seeking libration from a calcified society that hides its sins behind a religious mask.
    And, yes, you read that “reality-based” sentence right. The story inspired by a 2011 event in Bolivia in which seven men from a Mennonite colony were convicted of rape. 
    The story focuses on the response of the colony's women. Outraged by men who drug them with cow tranquilizers, rape them, and then blame ghosts or demons, the women arrive at a point of decision.
   As a whole, the community's women are divided about what to do. So eight women form a kind of high council of the oppressed, retreating to a hayloft to discuss options that will impact the rest. 
    The women are able to talk frankly because the men have gone to town to bail out the attackers after the authorities intervened. We don't need to see the men because this isn't a movie with two sides: It's a movie about what happens when women no longer can tolerate a soul-crushing system.
   Three choices emerge: Do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. The men have given the women two days to decide to forgive them, so the clock is ticking. The faux rectitude of the men’s position —  only forgiveness will be tolerated — needs no further comment.
      Because the men have forbidden the women to learn to read or write, a black-sheep male (Ben Whishaw) has been selected as recording secretary. Whishaw's August occupies an uneasy position vis a vis the community. His mother was expelled for speaking her mind. He left and attended college but returned to become a teacher for the young men in the community. He’s an outlier.
      Frances McDormand, one of the movie's producers, appears briefly as a woman committed to upholding the prevailing order. 
       Mostly, the movie plays as an ensemble piece built around powerful actresses: Jessie Buckley, Rooney Mara, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Claire Foy, and Michelle McLeod.
      As the women debate, we learn a bit about them. Mara's Ona, a woman with a dimpled beatific smile, has become pregnant after one of the rapes. August is in love with Ona, but the stern environment isn't exactly conductive to romance.
      Foy's character bursts with fury over the rape of her four-year-old daughter, a rage so powerful it frightens her.
      Few would argue with the movie's message. These women want equality, freedom to express themselves, and faith that isn't used like a cudgel, inducing resignation and despair.
      The last point is important; these are women of faith, influenced by the need to forgive and by religiously inspired pacifism. They don't want to abandon all they hold sacred. They're also reluctant to leave older sons, who may already have drunk the colony Kool-Aid.
      Polley and cinematographer Luc Montpellier cloak the movie's images in weighty browns. The visual environment matches the  strictures under which these women live, making it clear that throwing off its terrors won't be easy.
     Polley's cast embraces the variety of possible responses to the movie's central predicament, although it takes a while to keep track of who's who. And the characters sometimes feel as if they've been reduced to the positions they take.
    But then, in a way, they have been -- by the abuse they've faced. 
   Women Talking might have been more powerful had it been presented on a stage, where it could have benefited from the kind of theatrical electricity that creates its own urgency.
     In the end, though, Women Talking gets under the skin and its shocking story compels. Polley makes us want to escape this stifling, barren world in which obedience has conquered love.
     Put another way, we want these woman to find the new lives they've only begun to imagine.  

A royal woman’s constricted life


   She sensitive about gaining weight, especially at age 40. She spends inordinate amounts of time having servants comb and braid her hair.  She's a loving mother and a somewhat indifferent wife. She's widely known as a major figure in 19th Century Europe. 
  She's Elisabeth of Austria or, more precisely, a fictionalized version of an empress who once created international buzz.
    Vicky Krieps plays Elisabeth in Corsage, a movie in which director Marie Kreutzer defies period-piece conventions. Kreutzer  purposefully loads her movie with anachronisms, suggesting that any contemporary relevancies in Elisabeth’s story should not be ignored.
  To cite two examples: At different points, you'll hear renditions of Help Me Make It Through the Night and As Tears Go By, not exactly 19th-century tunes.
    Not everything about Kreutzer's approach works, but at her best, Kreutzer disarms, turning Elisabeth (known as Sisi in her day) into a woman defined by a role that she's increasingly reluctant to play.
   As for the title, Corsage refers to the corsets that Elisabeth wears, instructing her handmaids to pull them so tight, they seem like instruments of torture. Metaphoric leaps encouraged.
   Elisabeth cared about her waistline.  She obsessed about it. For much of the movie, she seems so averse to eating that her behavior probably qualifies as an eating disorder.
   The men in Elisabeth's life don't do much for her. Florian Teichtmeister plays Emperor Franz Joseph;  he doesn't care if his wife's amorous attentions wander so long as she fulfills her public duties as a regal representative of the empire.  
   Elisabeth has freer relations with Louis Le Prince (Finnegan Oldfield), a visitor who introduces her to his invention, an early motion picture camera. She's attracted to a man who tends to horses (Colin Morgan) at one of her estates. But these relations don’t do anything to topple the rigid structure under which Elisabeth lives.
  Although interestingly appointed and visually deft, Corsage belongs to Krieps, who creates a complex woman: petulant, rebellious, narcissistic, and keenly aware that she's losing the beauty for which she was widely admired. 
   Elisabeth also possesses a rueful understanding that nothing she says or thinks will impact her husband's decisions. She's meant to be the living equivalent of an official portrait. 
   Pay attention to the movie's third act, which sets up a tricky finale. Those familiar with Elisabeth's story will know that Kreutzer has taken many liberties, particularly with the movie's conclusion.
    Krieps performance intrigues, as does this adventurous take on how to present an historical figure. Kreutzer and Krieps opt for humor, purposeful distortion of time and place,  and, ultimately I think, respect for both the contradictions and resolve that marked  Elisabeth's personality.