The Artist-rm- The name of the lead character in this movie in George Valentin. Since the French director and writer Michel Hazanavicius emmersed himself in the study of silent films in preparation for this movie perhaps, in some way, it is an homage to silent screen star Rudolph Valentino who died at the age of 31 in 1926 a year before the time line begins in this film. This certainly is not a story about that film star just as it isn’t a remake of A Star is Born although it resembles the plot of that 1950s movie. French actor Jean Durjardin, who has worked with Hazanavicius in three previous movies, plays a silent film star whofor whatever reason doesn’t want to try to convert to talkies when they emerge on the scene. Whereas a young budding actress whom he helped along, rises to the top in this new medium. Berenice Bejo, who happens to be the director’s wife, is captivating as Peppy Miller, the new born star. John Goodman plays Al Zimmer, the cigar chomping producer type who supports the story line. The complete feel of this movie experience is that of watching a great Hollywood silent film of the early 1930s when they were the state of the art. The filmmaker not only studied this genre but paid attention to as many details as possible to gain the authentic touch of this movie. He didn’t use a steadicam. He used black and white monitors for his dailies and he chose genuine Los Angeles locations which added to the effect. For example, one ofthe houses used had belonged to silent screen star Mary Pickford. This is a silent movie about silent movie stars and about the changing movie industry of the 1930s. Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood and especially one that is extremely well done all around with great acting, a very appropriately matched musical background and even an extraordinary dance sequence.. This all adds up to some well deserved recognition during Oscar time. (2011)
Archive for 2011
J Edgar rm- There are very few Americans who can be recognized without their last name. J. Edgar Hoover is one of them. Clint (Eastwood) is another such name who directed this biopic about the man who served nine US Presidents and is the person most responsible for the establishment of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as we know it today. Enter Leonardo , not DaVinci but DiCaprio who certainly deserves consideration for an Oscar nomination for his magnificent depiction of J. Edgar from his early days in law enforcement until his death as the revered, feared and even despised leader of the FBI. Hoover is shown initially to be a patriot and a sincere crime fighter but his passion and his hate of those he felt were enemies led him ultimately to gather power, overstep his authority, attempt to glorify himself and use his position to blackmail and intimidate anyone who was in his way. Perhaps the most revealing part of this character study was the demonstration of this man to have a stunted emotional growth. He is shown to be completely under the sway of his mother (Judi Dench ) and at least in this version to have an inability to have an adult relationship with women. His comfort and attachment to Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer ) whom he hired, befriended, made him his Associate Director of the FBI and ultimately lived with, is a major part of this film. Hammer should be up for a supporting actor award winning performance as he ages from dapper young FBI agent to sickly old man during the course of the film. It is suggested but never fully clarified wither they had an overt sexual relationship but nevertheless the irony is in your face that J. Edgar sought out other peoples’ secrets which he used against them while he had a very big one himself. This character’s ambivalence and underdeveloped personality makes it hard for us hate him , love him or identify with his persona. If anything we feel sorry for him. Despite the fact that there was nothing in the film to keep us on the edge of our seats, the 2hours and 17 minutes of the film did not seem boring with credit to Clint’s ability to keep things moving and his skill in telling his story. (2011)
A Separation –sp (with subtitles ) One of the remarkable things about this movie is that Iran chose it be it’s Oscar nominee for the best international film. It shows the conflicting values in Iran today. The focus of the film is on two families who find themselves in a major disagreement. The story addresses Iranian life in regard to divorce, child custody, carrying for an Alzheimer parent, fundamentalism, oppression of women as well as the economic problems and the legal system of this country. It also raises the question of whether given a choice might a family there choose to emigrate to another country. The movie obviously generated a great deal of interest in Iran as it is on it’s way to being one of the most successful homegrown movies ever made there. The film is written, produced and directed by experienced filmmaker Ashgar Farhadi. American filmgoers can identify with particularly the dilemma Termeh, the daughter of one of the couples, who agonizes over what is the truth of the disagreements between these families and most importantly with which one of her divorcing parents she would choice to live. This key role is played by Sarina Farhadi , daughter of the filmmaker, who was a preteen when the movie was produced. The acting all around was quite good. It is a dialogue driven movie so you must become immersed in the subtitles. You certainly get a feel of what everyday life might be like in an urban city in Iran. You also get an insight into what may be similarities and differences of this family crisis in a country about which most of us know very little .
My Week With Marilyn rm- If you grew up in the 50s, you no doubt recall the actress Marilyn Monroe as the ultimate sex symbol. If you know anything about her life you probably know that she was married at least three times to husbands including Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. She was rumored to have had an affair with JFK and she died of an apparent accidental overdose of barbiturates although it may have been a suicide. It is also known that she was in psychiatric treatment with the well-known Los Angeles psychoanalyst Ralph Greenson and apparently had a very strong attachment to him. This movie has very little to do with any of these things but nevertheless presents a very realistic picture a beautiful young Monroe (Michelle Williams) who while very talented and able to project her personality effectively on the silver screen, is a very immature and troubled young women. It is based on the diary of Colin Clark who at the time was a 3rd assistant director (meaning a gofor) working for actor and director Lawrence Olivier on the set of the movie The Prince and The Show Girl being filmed in England in 1957. Clark (Eddie Redmayne) who ultimately became a successful filmmaker is shown in his apprentice first job as he develops a short lived relationship with Monroe where she reveals her insecurities, childlike and yet remarkably seductive qualities. All this is in the atmosphere of being surrounded by Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), Vivian Leigh (Julia Ormond) who was Oliviers’ wife and a movie star and other experienced actors and actresses who were there to make this movie. Director Simon Curtis tells this beautiful, fanciful yet apparently true story in a relatively succinct manner (99 minutes). Williams has captured the essence of Monroe in a very accomplished performance. She may very well may get those prize winning nominations by the film industry who love it when silver screen legends are brought back to life. Redmayne is quite believable as the young man who cannot resist the playful charms of Monroe who desperately needs reassurance that she is loveable. Branagh who is an Englishman and Shakespearean actor himself fits very well in the Olivier part and is the perfect supporting actor for this movie. A good job is done by all for a very delightful movie experience.(2011)
Still Bill- nf It is very possible that you have never heard of singer songwriter Bill Withers unless you are a big fan of rhythm and blues of the 1970s-1980s and thereabouts. But almost for sure you have heard recordings of him singing his music , Lean on Me, Aint No Sunshine, Just the Two of Us and many other great hits of that time. Damani Baker and Alex Vlack as young filmmakers knew about his music and a little about the man and as is often the case with Independent films, it took them about 11 years to make this documentary. Needless to say , it has a great music track. It is a film not just about the man and his music but it is about the character of man who wasn’t out for the adulation and glory that easily descended upon him. He cared about expressing himself in the stories that he wanted to tell through his music. He led an unlikely career and then faded from the public music scene at the height of his fame. He was born the youngest of 6 children in the coal mining town of Slab Folk West Virgina . His grandfather was born a slave and he was greatly influenced by his grandmother whom he immortalized in one of his classic songs, Grandma’s Hand . He stuttered for the first 28 years of his life He enlisted in the US Navy and worked as a mechanic and then took a job in an aircraft factory. Around this time he started playing the guitar and writing songs and decided to give it a try when he was given the opportunity to record an album. He had no idea if it would work out and was prepared to continue his work “ installing Johns on planes.” Almost overnight his album was a gigantic hit and he found himself on the Johnny Carson show. This documentary begins with a 70 year old seemingly very contented Bill Withers who hasn’t been on the music scene for probably at least 20 years. He is married and his daughter is finding her way as a singer. He reflects on his career and how he has faded into the background because, as he says, he just doesn’t have much to say at present. He appears to be financially secure having had 3 gold albums with numerous successful songs and having toured and sang with many great musicians. The film makers show the essence of this man through informal conversations with several of his friends including Tavis Smiley, Jim Brown (the football player) , Bill Russell (the basketball player) , his son, wife, daughter and others. At times he tears up as for example when he visits a school where young students with stuttering problems put on a small concert for him. In a heartwarming sequence although perhaps somewhat contrived, he decides to go back into the studio with a good friend who is a blind musician and his daughter. They begin to write and record. Wither’s delight in the process and in the music seems genuine and is wonderful to watch. The documentary ends on this note. You get the feeling that there is now more to come. (2009)
War Horse sp – Steven Spielberg, producer and director along with his team may have made another classic film. The movie is based on a book by Michael Morpurgo as well as Broadway show that had puppets for the horses. The screen play is by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis. The film has very well done elements, a music score by John Williams, photography by Janusz Kaminski and features Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Peter Mullan and Tom Hiddleston and what appeared to be a cast of thousands. The storyline deals with the universal appeal of the love of an animal, father-son relationship, accomplishing something against almost impossible odds, the fascination with epic war scenes, breathtaking scenery with magnificent colors and much more. The problem with this 146 minute film is that is that it seems that Spielberg and the writers couldn’t decide if this were to be a young person’s movie where you fall in love with the horse , root for it, cry with it and identify with the young people who befriend this lovely creature. Or is it really an adult movie which gives us the best and most realisitic depiction of World War I trench warfare and the battle scenes since , All Is Quiet on the Western Front ? It obviously is a combination of both which probably made it a little difficult for us to get completely lost in it since we weren’t sure if it was our child self or adult self that was into the film. At the point where we might think that it would a great film for our 10 year old granddaughter ( it is PG-13 however) , the story progresses where we are watching a fairly violent massive battle scene although no blood is really shown. And just as we were getting into the realism of World War I we realize the German soldiers are speaking English with a German accent. ( German with subtitles may have been more realistic a la Tarrentino’s Inglorious Basterds) . We recall reading stories where during World War I, opposing sides on Christmas Day or other occasions would emerge from their trenches and socialize and then return to their respective sides and continue to try to wipe each other out. This spirit was captured so well in the highlight of the film where two soldiers from opposites sides of the battle line meet midway between their trenches because they care about a horse. No doubt the appeal of this film will be to people from both sides of the age divide and should be enjoyed by most of them.(2011)
In Darkness- sp- ( English subtitles ) If you are ready, willing and able to handle another heavy duty holocaust movie, this one may be right for you. 80% of the film takes place in the dark sewers underneath the Polish ghetto of the city of Lvov, that is being wiped out by the Nazis. You will need to endure the pain and suffering that the men, women and children are going through for 2 hours and 25 minutes although that is nothing compared to the 14 months which was the duration for the Jews there in reality. Polish movie director and sometimes US television director ( episodes of The Wire and Treme) Agnieszka Holland who was guest at the preview screening, latched on to this true story which in total took eight years to make it to the screen from a book by one of the survivors. She was reluctant to cut the length of film because she wanted the audience to experience a sense of the prolonged hardship that these people were going through. Although gripping and suspenseful, we were aware that we were being shown all the expected episodes of starving people hiding in the sewers, rats running around, everyone hungry and thirsty, children trying to play their chidhood games, some people being claustrophobic, almost being discovered by the Nazis , trying to celebrate the Jewish holidays, and a baby being born in these circumstances. All the actors were excellent and apparently are well known stars in their own country. Of particular note is Robert Wieckiewicz who plays the man who after being not such a nice guy turns out to a “righteous gentile.” Observing the changes that he undergoes in response to the heroism of the people he is hiding is the highlight of this movie. The film is being nominated for an Oscar as the Polish entry for best foreign film. It has already won an award at the Telluride Film Festival and will open in the US in January. It is not an easy movie to watch but we came away from it being glad it was made and that it will be there to be shown to future generations. (2011)
A Dangerous Method – rm- As people who have some some acquaintance with psychoanalytic theory and it’s history, we were drawn to want to see this movie. The psychiatrist among the two of us found it a more enjoyable experience although we both found many deficiencies in the movie. This movie, directed by David Cronenberg, with a screenplay by Chrisopher Hampton which came from a book by John Kerr, of course is based on real people and highlights the break between Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung who at one time Freud had thought would be his heir apparent to the psychoanalytic movement. The movie starts off in the early 1900s as a young women, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is involuntarily brought to the Burgholzi, a psychiatric hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, run by the famed Eugen Bleuler. Her exaggerated mannerisms and dramatic presentation suggests the type of “hysterical” patients who were known to be hospitalized in those days. Jung (Michael Fassbender) becomes her psychiatrist at the hospital and begins to use the new psychoanalytic method which Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) in Vienna has advocated. He ultimately is shown becoming drawn into a sadomachistic sexual romantic affair with her. Jung travels to Vienna and meets with Freud several times in which they discuss theoretical issues as well as this patient. Over time Freud is depicted as becoming disenchanted with his previously highly regarded younger colleague. The reasons for this rift would appear to be Jung’s willingness to go beyond Freud’s concept of sexuality and psychic determinism and bring in such ideas as the supernatural, premonitions, telepathy, religion and many others that were not explained in much detail in the movie. In fact, the more well known ideas of Jung about the collective unconscious , symbolism and dream analysis were not very well clarified. Freud appeared to be concerned that any significant deviation from his main thesis and what he believed was the scientific method might be a reason for his theories to fail to gain wide acceptance. As best we can determine, in reality the actual affair between Jung and Speilrein was suspected, but historically it was not universally agreed that it had actually occurred. In this movie it is shown that Speilrein wrote to Freud and told him of her affair after Jung rejected her. Freud did not believe her and she subsequently is depicted as convincing Jung to acknowledge the affair to Freud who then gave this as an additional reason for cutting his ties with Jung. Once again Freud is very concerned about the appearance of his analytic movement and such behavior as an affair with one’s patient at that time as well as at present would be highly unethical. The nature of the affair and the meaning of their attraction to each other is really a key part of this movie, whether it actually happened or not. The characters in their dialogue state that Jung, who is shown being torn by the relationship, views attraction to his patient to be on the “dark side” and that with his wife on the “loving” side. Yet he declares his undying love for Spelrein and is bereft by her leaving him. We are not provided with real insight inot this relationship nor any significant understaning of Jung’s conflict. The film also does not do enough to explicate Jung’s ideas and their influence on Spielrein. While we more often proclaim that a movie should have been tightened up and shortened we believe this film needed a clearer illustration of the ideas that this story was supposed to be about. The acting in the film was very strong. The atmosphere of Freud’s office, the streets , people’s dress, horse drawn vehicles and early motor cars made it a wonderful period piece. But alas, as much as we were interested to learn about these people, we felt we came up short in our understanding as well as in caring about them. (2011)
Young Adult-sp- Director Jason Reitman (Up In the Air, Thank You For Smoking, Juno) who was a guest at our preview screening compared his directing style to that of this father Ivan Reitman (Animal House, Ghost Busters, Twins). He explained whereas his father likes to make movies that make you feel good, he prefers films that make you uncomfortable. He succeeded in his goal using the screenplay written by Diablo Cody (Juno) and what should be an award winning performance by Charlize Theron.
She plays Mavis Gary a very attractive (of course), divorced, moderately successful writer without any meaningful relationships in her life who learns that her old high school boyfriend and his wife have just had their first child. This stirs her up and sets her off on a mission to return to her hometown, find her old boyfriend, rekindle their true love which she feels has always been there, and try to get him to go off into the sunset with her. Theron makes this unbelievable character quite believable in the most subtle manner as she picks her way through her home town, picking at her hair and showing a propensity to put away drinks. Her determination begins to get scary as she casually shares her plan with old high school friends that she meets, a visit with her parents and her meeting with her old bf (Patrick Wilson ) and his wife (Elizabeth Reaser). The depth of this character or perhaps the lack of it is highlighted in her encounters with one high school classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt) who is has been damaged physically on the outside as much as we realize that she is damaged on the inside. There is a great musical background throughout the movie and the closing song is Diana Ross singing “ When We Grow Up” from the classic Marlo Thomas album “Free to Be You and Me” This provides the depressing mood of this film which sadly for this character highlights the line “We don’t have to change at all.”
The Descendants-rm This movie immediately puts you into the life crisis of a man(George Clooney) as he come to grips with the fact that his wife who on life support in a coma after a water skiing accident is about to die. He is confronted with the question of what kind of a husband has he been, as well as the nature of his relationship with his two children. His learning something about his wife that would be devastating to any man then complicates things and sets the trajectory of the story. Clooney out does himself with one of his finest performances where he starts off as an insensitive, somewhat awkward husband who also obviously has not been a very good father and is now overwhelmed with what he is facing. He evolves throughout the movie to connect to his daughters, as they become a team with a mission with a 4th member (Nick Krause) who is the older daughter’s boyfriend and provides some help in understanding his plight as well as a comedic touch. Clooney emerges as a now likeable guy who appears to have accepted his tragic circumstances and you believe is going to make the best of it. Aside from Clooney there are two standout performances. One is by Shailene Woodley as the 17-year-old daughter who goes from a bratty teenager to a caring sister and daughter who is wise beyond her age. This is her first major role and is clear that she has a great future. The other star is the beautiful state of Hawaii with its magnificent vistas and breathtaking coastline as well as it’s unique history which are all part of the storyline of this movie. However, much of the credit of the success of this move should be given to director Alexander Payne (Sideways) who brought out excellent performances by his two younger cast members (Woodley and Amara Miller) . There also was the every effective Hawaiian musical background provided by Dondi Bastone and Richard Ford. The film is based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings and the screenplay is by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Payne probably could have worked with many other very fine male leads and ended up with an excellent film as this one is. However, the presence of Clooney will assure it the attention which it deserves and demonstrates once again the versatility of this great actor.