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3 Days to Kill (2014)
Costner Flexes His Star Power in a Thriller That is A Lot of Fun
Ouch, some of the responses here are way too harsh. Have you seen the competition lately? Luc Besson, with the collaboration of Adi Hasak has created a star vehicle for Kevin Costner, one of the last big movie stars who can put me in a movie or home theater seat any day of the year. His dying CIA operative is terrific--hitting his action marks with the same expertise he handles the scenes with his wife, and daughter, as well as the amusing and touching family who has squatted in his long-abandoned Paris apartment. The mix of comedy and action works very well while still maintaining the demands of a thriller. Amber Heard is wonderfully over the top as Costner's CIA boss who is handing him perhaps his last assignment. Bailee Seinfeld and Connie Nielsen as his neglected daughter and long-suffering wife, also make fine contributions.
The bad guys here are really bad. Yes there are clichés. At first I worried that Besson was taking too much from his "Taken" franchise, and was relieved he didn't go there. And when the tense moments come, Costner's character too often succumbs to the effects of the experimental drug he's taking to keep him alive. While the comedy never spills into the wonderful absurdity of the "Red" franchise, 3 Days to Kill, is equally entertaining. Costner's other recent foray into the thriller genre, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, is a better film, but for sheer entertainment, this movie grabbed me and never let go. Kevin Costner has sustained a movie-star presence on the screen for more than three decades. He's mastered the art of the movie star, giving his audiences a body of work that will stand the test of time. Is it great art? No. But he's rarely lost his bond with his audience. Glad to see him back in such top form.
Grace and Frankie (2015)
Fonda & Tomlin Are Magic Together
I will always love Lily Tomlin. I always enjoyed Jane Fonda in her youthful movie star mode, but since she came out of retirement, she elevates everything she's in. I think she was the primary reason I kept watching Newsroom for three seasons. I kept waiting for her every appearance. In Grace and Frankie, Tomlin and Fonda have to overcome a rather unbelievable situation--that is to face the fact that they husbands they have been married to for over forty years have somehow falling in love and intend to marry each other. Relegated to a kind of "Odd Couple" status, they end up living in a Malibu beach house their husbands bought years earlier. Each couple used the house on separate weekends. Now Grace and Frankie have to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives and move on. Jane Fonda as Grace is at her brittle comedic best. She delivers in spades, looks stunning in her latish 70s and plays off Lily Tomlin's hippy-esque character with spunk and funny nerve. Grace has to face the fact that she's an uptight, judgmental pain in the ass. And Tomlin's Frankie is just the person to remind her over and over again. The scripts are tightly funny. The interplay between the two ex-couples is expert. Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen have nearly thankless roles as the two spouses who dump their wives, but they handle the dialog ad the romantic banter with dignity. But let's face it, you're waiting for Grace and Frankie to spark off each other. It's not the kind of laugh-out-loud absurdest insults The Golden Girls hurled at each other with such glee, but the humor is key here. There is is just enough drama to remind us of the absurdity of life. I couldn't wait to watch this show when it was announced. Fonda and Tomlin were terrific with Dolly Parton in Nine to Five, but they are even better here. This is a terrific show. I'll stick around as long as these two glorious stars are here to make us laugh and cry.
The Rewrite (2014)
Hugh Grant Recovers his Movie Mojo in a Redemptive Rom-Com
I'm not sure many people went to see The Rewrite. It received such little buzz that I was completely unaware of its existence. I've been hoping that Grant, who really had a long, A-list movie career in romantic comedies such as Four Weddings and A Funeral, Notting Hill, A Boy's Life, and Two Weeks Notice, would eventually rebound in something that required him stretch his talents. Earlier in his career he had done wonderful work before his rom- com success. Loved him Impromptu where he played the neurasthenic Frederic Chopin, and he was truly tragic as the high born British private school student in love with a fellow student who forsakes his homosexuality because it is not acceptable in his society. But I think the actor who charmed us in Love, Actually and was a pleasurable louse in Bridget Jones's Diary, has put his work on auto-pilot of late. Music and Lyric and Did You Hear About the Morgans? were pretty lazy movies, where he seemed to be in a coma. I thought his lack of a film profile of late indicated a desire to withdraw, or maybe he might explore edgier dramatic territory. So here he is, back in rom-com land, but with a bit more substance.
The Rewrite is actually more About a Boy than Four Weddings and a Funeral or Notting Hill. The worn out screenwriter who can't get screen work grabs at a job teaching in Binghamton, New York. He hasn't got a clue what's involved, thinking he can breeze right through it. He chooses his screen writing students based on their photos. He doesn't read their work and is constantly snide and snarky. He a bit of an arrogant chauvinist, offending the school's Jane Austen scholar (Allison Janney, a genius character actor who deserves her wonderful success). The equally wonderful JK Simmons offers one of his sharply observed characters as the head of the department, who is constantly reminding our hero that he is married with four daughters (shades of Jane Austen). Chris Elliott is a fellow teacher and his landlord. All these fine performers are here to gently remind our hero that he's an ass and needs to figure things out.
Enter the glorious Marisa Tomei as a single mother of two daughters who is a sophomore attending his screen writing class. it is her job to make sure our professor sees that his life isn't working. If all this seems a tad predictable, credit director/screenwriter, Marc Lawrence for his light but sure touch with the material. Grant is droll and funny and really engaging here. Tomei is such a wonderful film actress. She continues to offer great work in movies. May she make movies forever.
By all means try to rent or see The Rewrite. Nice to see Mr. Grant in such fine form again. Welcome back.
His agent (played by the wonderful Caroline Aaron),
Last Weekend (2014)
Game Cast Tries to Keep a Weak Script Afloat
A wealthy family gathers for a final summer weekend at their beautiful stone home on Lake Tahoe. Mom (played with her patented elegant glow by Patricia Clarkson) and Dad have decided to sell. Things are not boding well for this family gathering. One son has been fired from his job with a financial firm over an expensive clerical error. He arrives in a bad mood and everyone puts up with his insufferable, whiny behavior. The other son, who is gay and works in the film industry, has brought a friend with whom he is forming an attachment that doesn't quite feel like a relationship, and invited a female movie star friend. He is simply embarrassed by his mother's shallow, acquisitive behavior (at one point, Mama plunks down a considerable amount of money on artsy farmer's market things). Nobody is connecting in this family. Mom is a snob. Dad is remote. The kids bicker and look awkward. Throughout the first two-thirds of the film, I wanted to strangle Mom and the kids. But the skill of the actors are what keeps you watching. When there is some sort of sea change in the family, they become a little more likable. But I'm never quite sure why. At the end of the weekend, the son doesn't tell his mother about his work woes, and she doesn't tell either son that she's planning to sell their beloved summer home (though there is some doubt that this will actually happen). I suppose the family games will continue. This is a very well-made film with a strong cast, goo direction, excellent sets, good camera work. Did we need to have the trio from Mozart's COSI FAN TUTTE yet again (this has to be the fourth time I've heard it used on a soundtrack). The film's faults can be directed at a very weak screenplay. I'm not looking for a tidy denouement, but I do rather insist that things make at least a little sense.
Les saveurs du Palais (2012)
Catherine Frot is a Magical Screen Presence
I've only seen Catherine Frot in one other movie--Coline Serreau's stunningly complicated CHAOS and she was marvelous. So when HAUTE CUISINE showed up on Netflix, I jumped at it. I love movies about food--WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE?, BIG NIGHT, MOSTLY MARTHA, EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN, BABETTE'S FEAST. They almost always manage to find humanity, absurdity and gently funny moments associated with food. Based on the real story of the first female chef who comes to cook for President Mitterand at the Elysee Palace, HAUTE CUSINE is a sweetly earnest story of Hortense Laborie, a fine French cook who is pulled away from her truffle farm in France to become the personal chef of the French president. Along the way she will encounter the petty and mean-spirited competition from the all-male kitchen that serves the palace, as she works tirelessly to provide the President with the foods he remembers from his childhood. The story is told in flashbacks as Hortense s finishing up a year-long stint as a cook for a research group in Anartica.
What makes the film work is the casting of Catherine Frot as Hortense. This superb actress gives Hortense a tense, focused and convincing believability. Horrtense arouses total loyalty from her sous chef and maitre'd as the palace personalities around her make life often rather difficult. Losing her calm only once, Frot has a confrontation in the movie that is a very satisfying answer to the pettiness she is surrounded by at the Palace. It is in stark contrast to the grateful affection she is shown by the men she cooks for every day in coldly forbidding Anartica.
HAUTE CUISINE is a quiet film of disarming charm. It doesn't break new ground, but it is a very satisfying movie which Catherine Frot at its center. Some have complained here that is a trifle and I'm not entirely disagreeing, but it is a movie worth seeing. I know I'll be seeing it again.
Striking Distance (1993)
Violent and Over-The-Top, But Good, Game Cast
Thank goodness Bruce Willis and Sarah Jessica Parker have good chemistry because they are not allowed any time for a relationship to develop. In a blink they are smack-dab in a romance. But this police thriller has some funky, operatic and over-the-top moments that show the plot's weaknesses. The clichés keep piling up from the bad-mouthing, trash- talking banter between "Irish" and "Italian" cops, to the endless profanity, and the staginess of the big scenes. It's also pretty violent.
Bruce Willis is almost always a good action hero. Sarah Jessica Parker knows how to do the girl part perfectly. Their scenes have real chemistry. Dennis Farina is always a great cop and he manages to keep you fascinated even when his sons are acting perfectly ridiculous. John Mahoney, Andre Braugher and Timothy Busfield show their talent and professionalism and are captured before bigger roles made them major TV stars. I did find Braugher chewing up the scenery a bit too lustily in the hearing scene.
I save Robert Pastorelli's utterly hammy appearance for last. He's a fine actor and I loved his classically funny house painter, Eldin on Murphy Brown. But he's assigned the psycho role here and the screenplay doesn't give him any depth at all. He's just an insane psychopath. There's not a clue as to why he behaves as he does. Maybe the director should have stepped in more to tone it down. The final confrontation with Willis steals from every thriller you've ever seen, most obviously Fatal Attraction. And it goes on forever.
Rerun on TV it was fun to encounter this movie, which I had not seen when it was first released.
Les Misérables (2012)
Not a Bad Movie if You Can Take Some Truly Mediocre Singing
I finally screwed up my courage and sat through this on Sunday. I thought the director did a very good job of pacing this dark and gloomy tale. But only Anne Hathaway could truly sing it, and her acting was touching and believable. She deserved her Academy Award. The rest of the cast was pretty miserable, vocally. I suppose Hugh Jackman has yelled himself out of a once truly nice Broadway lyric baritone. "Bring him home," was full or rocky moments, vocally, and he resorted to yelling without a floating lyric line, necessary for this difficult-to-sing role. Besides, asForbidden Broadway waggishly lampooned the song, "it's too high," for his lower-centered voice.
Russell Crowe was a dour Jauvert and his singing was unpleasantly one-dimensional. Samantha Barks' Eponine was sincere, but the singing was uneven. Amanda Seyfried's Cosette twittered in a high, squeaky, unsupported soprano that was unpleasant to listen to. Eddie Redmayne as Marius, sang well enough, but lacked charisma in close-ups. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen mostly spoke their song lyrics, and "Master of the House" passed by without any impact at all.
Whoever was responsible for the musical side of things on this picture, was undone by camera-ready stars with inadequate voices. This is a sung-through musical, with dialog that requires expressive singing, near operatic singing. Only Marius's doomed revolutionaries had the necessary vocal thrust for their parts.
The reason the movie musical is an endangered species--oh hell, the genre is as dead as a western--is that movie studios put musical matters in the hands of people who don't trust the music to make its affect. The composers of LES MISERABLES intended for this score to be sung by professional singing actors. They had enough star power with Jackman and Hathaway. It didn't need mediocre singing to undermine one's enjoyment.
The Guardian (2001)
Compelling TV with A Riveting Star at its Center
I've slogged through two full seasons and just about a quarter way through the third and final season of this nearly excellent series. Simon Baker play Nick Fallin, the son/partner of a Pittsburgh law firm. The other Fallin is the always excellent Dabney Coleman. Nick's day job is handling legal work for Pittsburgh's wealthy and powerful elite. But a nasty drug habit nearly derailed his career. To avoid jail, Nick spends a lot of his days working for a cash-strapped children's protection services agency that handles legal issues of the city's poorest, neediest, and in dire straights. Penance comes via helping these kids who have fallen through society's every crack in the system to find them homes, or shelters, or mental facilities, step-families, reunite them with lost relatives. These stories are heartbreakingly real. And the show's writers show no mercy. This is truly a show with virtually no happy endings.
To say Nick has issues is pure understatement. Outwardly glamorous, good-looking, successful, Nick is an emotional basket case, cut off from just about everything. He loves his father, but Burton's macho posturing and sense of his own power entitlement often puts himself at odds with his son. Father and son love each other deeply, but the writers never give them an emotional break from the nearly non-stop tragedy that befalls them in every episode. Worse, Nick's so busy putting our fires at the agency and at the law firm, he has no time to stop and take stock-- ever.
THE GUARDIAN will remind viewers of Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, two classic Steven Bochco series. They all share that jerky, single camera, technique. The dialog is often gritty and the plots are freighted with tough irony and often senseless tragedy. The writers, sensing the characters of the young black lawyer, kills him off before the end of the second season, even though he was a regular the audience had already invested a lot of emotion behind. Why kill him off? It made no dramatic sense. The character of Jake, a kind of loser lawyer in Nick's firm, is often the brunt of cruelty and why? Because his legal degree is from a lesser college. Suddenly after two seasons, Jack is revealed to be in a homosexual relationship which comes out of nowhere. There was nothing in the character that would indicate he was gay and when it does comes to light, all the viewer can do is say, "huh." Talk about not seeing that coming!
Similarly, Nick's relationship with Lulu is puzzling. Both of them seem incapable of finding emotional balance in the other unless they are snatching a quickie. Then they put on their clothing and we're back in why-are-they-behaving-like-that?-land. Neither one of them ever raise their voices and its frustrating to watch them NOT connect. I agree with another poster who who said they truly lack chemistry. The actress who plays Lulu, is awfully tight lipped.
Alvin, the head of the children's protection services agency, is played by Adam Rosenberg (who had a nice run on Cybil). Alvin is full of Jewish schtick, plus he's a recovered alcoholic. We are asked to believe this deeply flawed character lives for the protection of the kids the lawyers are asked to defend. Yet Alvin's behavior is nuts. He interferes in issues that are none of his business, such as reporting a colleague's violence towards his badly behaved nephew when he decides to discipline him in a boxing match. Frankly the kid need his ass kicked, and Alvin's interference costs the kid his life, and ultimately the life of the young lawyer whom he respects. It's a stupid story line.
What makes THE GUARDIAN WORK is Simon Baker as Nick Fallin. He's not a flashy actor, and he works in a kind of minimalist way. He speaks quietly, and draws the viewer into his dark world of hurt, disappointment, frustrated love, and stress, as well as his ability to be both a shark as a corporate lawyer and a compassionate and empathetic advocate for lost kids You want him to make peace with his father once and for all, the cost on him is emotional distance. Baker shows all this and a lot more. Nick's flaws and complications make for a fascinating anti-hero character. There's ambivalence in the way he can work both sides of the law. You don't dislike this guy because he can be both bad and good. I think Nick is looking for redemption, but temptation is always calling him to err.
Kathleen Chalfont is a semi-regular on the series and should be singled out for praise. She should be working non-stop. Always investing her lines with a believability, Ms. Chalfont compels attention.
Because Simon Baker is so good here, I'll have to start watching episodes of Baker's current series, THE MENTALIST. I found this whole series on Netflix. Worth checking out if you missed it when the show first ran.
Disappointing Movie Made from a Fine Memoir
I think Nigel Slater is the best writer about food in the English language today, and have read many of his cookbooks as though they are novels. I enjoyed TOAST, his memoir growing up in the drab late 50s and early 60s that was post-war England. Slater, the only child in a marriage of a dying mother and a cold and remote father, just makes you wish for a happy ending. Mother can't cook a lick except for making toast and mince pies. The food subjected to middle-class English households is pretty grim. Once mum is firmly dispatched, father engages a house-keeper, played with delicious relish by the wonderful Helena Bonham- Carter. She's a bit coarse, and determined to snag young Nigel's father. She does so with her superb cooking skills. But Nigel's stepmother isn't quite the monster he would have you believe (nor do I recall her being written quite that way in the memoir). In TOAST young Nigel is a sullen and angry boy (yes, his father is a cold fish), but his life is dull, with bad food. He's not abused, or mistreated, or unloved. That is a typical family of that era. I could understand his resentment of his eventual stepmother, but he is stiff-backed and cruel to her and she is mostly agreeable, holding her ground against this low-wattage brat.
In the movie, Nigel decides to compete with her as a cook, and she's not having it. She pulls out all the stops and she trumps him, until his father dies. Then the older Nigel is off for his culinary career, vowing never to set eyes on his step-mother again.
Frankly, my sympathies were with the stepmother, and not Nigel, as this movie disappointingly droned on. There is much charm and lovely observation in the real Slater's memoir and I wish I had suck to that only.
A young Oscar Kennedy makes an impressive film debut as the younger Nigel with Freddie Highmore stuck trying to give the teenage Nigel some interest. Ken Stott is excellent, but ends up with one-note rage as Nigel's father. Victoria Hamilton imbues the role of the dying mother with a wistful sadness.
The film belongs to Helena Bonham Carter. Always a good actress, even when she fails (she got Mrs. Lovett in SWEENEY TODD nearly right, but ran off the rails for lack of a real voice to sing this tough part). In a career that is now over two-decades long, she's making an indelible impression in nearly every film she takes on these days, which is terrific. Someone has to fill the shoes of Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, and Carter is more than their rightful successor.
Though TOAST sports a good, game cast, it is let down by an ill-conceived approach to this story and a director who lacks a light and sensitive touch to pull it off.
Is There a More Likable Leading Man than James Garner
I cannot remember a time since I was eight that James Garner hasn't completely won me over. His easy mix of handsome leading man charm, and skill as a movie actor has made him a favorite of mine for more than 45 years. Only Cary Grant can match that. Garner throughout his long and productive career has succeeded in doing what John Wayne could not--make consistently interesting films. The Americanization of Emily, Victor/Victoria (helmed by Blake Edwards and co-starring Julie Andrews), The Thrill of it All, The Great Escape, Murphy's Romance, are all movies I love and have watched over and over again. Few actors have as consistently good body of work as Garner. Even in weaker films, such as The Children's Hour or or Grand Prix, Garner manages to hold them together.
I don't know who came up with the inspired casting of Garner and Willis, but the results are just wonderful here. Wyatt Earp and Tom Mix solving a murder, romancing the ladies, using their brains and their charm to get them in and out of trouble can make for a very enjoyable movie. I was a huge fan of the first two seasons of Moonlighting and Willis must be given a huge amount of credit for the incredible chemistry he had with Cybill Shepherd. Willis has brought that charm to other roles such as Nobody's Fool and especially Bandits. That charm can turn to smirkiness that the critics so often jump on him about. His Tom Mix is one cool dude. Everyone's best friend, the guy you can always count on, Willis is adorable, rash and ready. He makes up his mind that Wyatt Earp is someone He can respect. He admires Earp's lived-in cool and he knows something is always going to happen around this legendary lawman. Willis even manages to pull off one outrageous western costume after another The hats are huge as mountain tops; the shirts are colorful, the chaps are as wide as Montana. It's a tribute to Willis' ability to sell the character of Tom Mix without being swamped by all the fabric he's hauling around. Garner's easy affability makes watching them a real pleasure.
Mariel Hemingway and Kathleen Quinlan as their girls are also well cast. The biggest problem is the casting of Malcom McDowell as the dark and sinister film producer Alfie Alperin. On the surface, this is a part that McDowell could have phone in--creepy, controlling, violent, and threatening. But McDowell seems bored right from the start. There's no spark or real inspiration for this bad boy and Jennifer Edwards as his lame sister is equally miscast. All the bad guys are real clichés here. The final showdown between Earp, Mix and their McDowell's now completely unbelievable villain goes on too long and you know every step of the way before the film reveals the heavy handed plot.
Henry Mancini's big western score is tuneful and memorable as any written by experts in the genre, and show off his huge versatility.
Up the final denouement Garner and Willis make you remember why buddy pictures can be so much fun. I happen to love Blake Edwards films--always have. The best are just really, really good. Most of SUNSET is very, very good.
At last, a movie about falling in love, is not cute romantic comedy
In reading several reviews posted about this outstanding film, I note several things:
*I'm sick to death of people complaining they cannot understand English people speaking English. Pay attention, they are completely understandable!
*This isn't a romantic comedy!
*If straight audiences are squeamish about a movie anyone can relate to--well tough!
A superior film about a sexual and then romantic period in two young men's lives, WEEKEND is a riveting and adult piece of filmmaking. Andrew Haigh's writing and direction is so well observed and detailed the viewer is left astounded at the simplicity of his vision and the skill of his masterly direction.
Tom Cullen and Chris New play Russell and Glen with utter conviction, all the more impressive in their love scenes, and in their moments of intimate touching because one of them is straight. This must have been nerve-wracking for both of them and yet they handle these scenes with restraint and with believable ardor.
I loved the scene where Russell is visiting his straight best friend and finally admits he is deeply shaken by Glen. His friend is perfectly happy and insistent to drive him to the railroad station.
The only scene that didn't completely work for me was their night of boozing and drugging. I just didn't see Russell indulging in cocaine and while I know some people think it makes the mind clear, but there are no real revelations during this long night. Reminded me of another long filmed sequence--that endless wedding reception in Rachel Getting Married. A real misstep.
The chemistry between Russell and Glen's characters goes a long way towards the film's excellence. There is nothing cute, or silly, or humiliating or just plain dumb between these two very likable men. The camera allows you to discover them and the movie is a real gem for it.
One True Thing (1998)
A Terrific Family Drama with Three Outstanding Actors
Meryl Streep has played lots of married women in her long and storied career. But none quite as radiant and loving as she does in this outstanding family drama. In fact, I wouldn't have thought this a part for Streep at all (this is Susan Sarandon territory). Streep is the total wife and mother to her English professor husband, and published author (William Hurt), and two adult children who have come home to celebrate their father's 55th birthday. I remember liking this movie a lot when it was first released in theaters. I found a copy of the DVD and bought it and last night watched it. I had an entirely different appreciation for Anna Quinlan's richly observed story of a family in crisis as the result of the mother's suffering from a harrowing illness. This is not a spoiler. You know the mother has cancer from the very first frame.
My recollection was that Streep was playing a tightly controlled Martha Stewart-type domestic perfectionist and of course, watching it the second time, I realized nothing could be further from the truth. At first you are lulled into thinking this might be the case. She throws a costume birthday party for her husband and seems ridiculous dressed as an aging Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, complete with ruby red slippers and a toy Toto. When her daughter, played by Renee Zelwegger is in the kitchen with her mother, she finds herself corrected constantly but only because her daughter has rejected her mother's domesticity and in the family home, she is a stranger in a strange land--inept and uninterested. The day after the party, we learn that Streep's character is being kept in the hospital for surgery, and suddenly Dad is insisting that his daughter take leave from her job as a reporter for New York Magazine, and stay home to take care of her ailing mother. Bristling with resentment, she obeys her beloved father's demands, but this sets up the stage for many shifting changes in the family dynamic.
Tellingly, the daughter says at upfront that she was never close to her mother, and was the perfect Daddy's little girl. She emulated her father to the point where she also became a writer, and looks to him for approval, which he is rather stingy with and often with backhanded criticisms. Meanwhile, the daughter takes on the chores of running the household while taking on the duties of ministering to her mother. She makes lunch for her mother's club, The Minnie's, a group of the town's women who do lots of beautifying and other civic chores. She arrogantly assumes, it's not big deal to cook, but can't cook a lick and the badly prepared meal lays on the plates, mostly untouched. But her mother's praise for her daughter's effort is genuine and laced with love. As Daddy's feet of clay become more brittle, the mother's non-judgmental behavior and warmth and appreciation for her daughter begins to open the younger woman's eyes to the reality of her parent's marriage. Daddy's probable infidelities, his vanity, his literary snobbishness and willingness to kiss ass of a visiting writer he idolizes, show him to be less of a hero in his daughter's eyes. Worse, she see that he does nothing in the house to help make his wife more comfortable, and he increasingly stays away as her condition deteriorates. The daughter's resentment builds to confrontation that leaves her confused and more angry.
There's a telling scene near the end of the movie when Streep confronts her daughter about her anger at her father. It is in this beautifully staged scene with Streep and Zelwegger playing superbly together, that the mother reveals to her daughter that she knows everything her daughter knows about her father. She has made her accommodations because that is what you do in a long marriage. She neither asks for her daughter's sympathy, or the audience's indulgence. She's not one of those embarrassed politician's wives who have been humiliated in public and then made to feel shame for sticking it out. She has created a loving home for her family. The mother in this film simply plays her part--as does her husband in this relationship. Streep is absolutely at her subtle best here, never never sacrificing the dignity of this dying woman. There could have been plenty of opportunity to go for the emotionally-charged big moment, but Streep refuses to ask us to feel sorry for her. She is totally in the moment of this character's situation and she's utterly fabulous. Zelwegger, an often outstanding screen actress who has become a bit mannered and fussy in her recent roles, shows how this character has matured through grief and anger, and as she begins to see just how great a mother she's always had, we share those revelations.
William Hurt doesn't flinch from this unlikeable character, and the final revelation is cathartic. He's never been my favorite actor, often taking on roles that are hard to like. But his work is rich in characterization and he never overplays or reaches for a cheap emotional payoff either. The role of the brother is not very detailed here, nor is Zellweger rather caddish boyfriend. It was nice to see the young Lauren Graham, playing Zellweger's best friend--her delightful Lorelai Gilmore persona in chrysalis.
In many ways, ONE TRUE THING is a throwback--an absorbing family drama full of words and emotions, a throwback to the era of the "woman's pictures" of the 30s and 40s. The three main characters never lose their focus. A very fine movie, well worth your time.
Could Someone Explain Why This Movie is So Admired?
I saw JUNEBUG for Amy Adams, a radiant actress who always adds dimension to every role she takes on. But I slogged through about 20 reviews here before I found one that matched my utter confusion about the success of this film. Previous reviews seem to be defensive about the lack of pace or telling the reader that not much happens in this film. And they would be right. And despite Amy Adams's fine performance, with excellent support from the rest of the cast, I'm baffled why so many like it. What the hell is wrong with baby brother? I want to know why he's such an angry young man. Daddy is walking around in a comma. Momma is in a bad mood all the time. As a previous poster said, we're left wondering why the older, so-called prodigal son would inflict his family on his new wife. He spends most of the movie trying to be the good son and be sexually attentive to his wife. I never know what he does for a living, and in fact it seems that his British wife, who owns a successful art gallery in Chicago, is controlling the purse strings here (not that it matters to the story). They are down south somewhere where the wife is pursuing an artist she would like represent.
I don't want to be admonished for having every i dotted or t crossed in a movie. I don't. But I want a modicum of character motivation. I'm really annoyed by the dumb southern slant in this film. The pace is glacial. Absolutely little happens and when it does, you're left wondering, what was that about?
Amy Adams character is the most fleshed out. A sweet and loving wife, she reveals she wants the guy she fell in love with in high school back. She cheerfully puts up with his moodiness when most of us would have thrown in the towel. Could it be this guy's problems are that he IS an idiot? I never felt an ounce of sympathy for him. The whole family tiptoes around his boorish behavior.
I get family dysfunction. I just don't get this particular depiction.
Rachel Getting Married (2008)
A Good Film Is Nearly Undone by Jumpy Camera Work and Too Long a Running Time
Rachel Getting Married puts you off right away. Demme's hand-held camera work makes you dizzy. The film's muddy colors and grainy images annoy. And Anne Hathaway's behavior as Kym, returning home from rehab to attend her sister's wedding is so insistent on being noticed that you want to slap her. But soon your are completely absorbed into this drama of family dysfunction and Hathaway's sad, bleeding and deeply unhappy character makes you want to protect her even as she's manipulated everyone around her. This is a nice change of pace for her, though we noticed her dramatic turn in Brokeback Mountain. This is a fine actress who has range and depth. How nice that she can handle this kind of meaty dramatic role as well as romantic heroines. She's exhibited star power from the beginning. There's a bit of Audrey Hepburn (whom she's said is her favorite actress) in her. By that I mean, she can be radiant and deeplyvulnerable at the same time. And she has the same element that Hepburn had of sadness behind the radiance.
The rest of the cast delivers performances of a similar caliber. Bill Irwin as the ineffectual, smothering father, Anna Deveare Smith as the girl's empathetic step-mother, Mather Zickel as the Best Man and Tunde Adeibimpe as the groom all deliver strong work. Rosemarie DeWitt as Kym's angry and resentful sister, matches Hathaway's intensity superbly. These sisters are very connected despite the wall of resentment between them. Maybe the best performance is also the shortest. Deborah Winger, in a return to form, give an amazingly restrained performance as the Kym and Rachel's emotionally distant mother. She's probably not on screen for 10 minutes, but you are riveted . I wish this talented actress worked more. The scene of confrontation between Kym and her mother has perfect pitch and it is devastating.
Besides the jumpy camera, my only other complaint is the film's length. Did we really need to follow the reception in such excruciating detail? By then, most of the film's loose ends were tied up. I liked that Demme and Lumet (a really strong screenplay) refused to offer easy redemption to the characters, but the reception seems to point to the probability that more drama is to come. It never happens. So why such an interminably long scene?
Rachel Getting Married gets so many things right. And that is attributable to its superb actors. For anyone who admires good acting, this is the film to see this season.
La môme (2007)
A Magnificent Biopic, but Overwhelmingly Sad
Piaf's tumultuous life receives a superb framework in this excellent biopic. I've read some criticism of Dahan's editing style which switches often to various parts of her all-too-brief life, but with a woman of such roiling emotions and dramatic upheavals, how could it not be so? The two things I found missing here were her WWII Resistance activities and her final marriage to a man twenty years her junior. But then again the film might have approached the three- hour mark and at nearly two and a half, you walk away feeling as though you witnessed a train wreck in slow-mo. Please do not let this prevent you from seeing an astonishingly fine recreation of a life that is so fully lived you cannot believe it. Piaf's magnificent, emotional singing is fully complemented by Cotillards balls to the wall performance. Heart and soul are in total sync here and Cotillard manages to age astonishingly well. This is a terrible tale of a child grotesquely abandoned emotionally by her parents. Piaf's will to live is inspiring even in the face of self-destruction that makes Judy Garland's own battles with alcohol and drugs seem minor in comparison. The parallels to both women are hard to ignore. The rest of the cast is first-rate, and the film beautifully evokes the eras covered in her life. Best of all there is the great Piaf recorded legacy which is well-handled here. There's no sense that Cotillard is not singing and that's a testament to the skill that suffuses this fine film. Excellent.
The Black Orchid (1958)
Magnificent Sophia As Usual
I never knew about this film until I saw it on Netflix and decided to rent the DVD. I have always loved Sophia Loren. Along with Audrey Hepburn, she was my favorite female star growing up. Here's a 50s kitchen sink drama that if you look too hard seems awfully implausible. Loren plays the widow of a mafioso who has been killed drying to give his Italian-born wife (Sophia) everything her heart desires. Now a grief-stricken widow, she's trying to make ends meet while coping with a son who keeps running away until he is sent to a reform school. Her nosy next-door neighbor wants to fix Sophia up with a family friend, but Sophia resists, wallowing in her own self-pity and guilt, convinced her desire for material needs has caused her husband's death.
Enter Athony Quinn, a somewhat older man--a widower with a grown daughter (Ina Balin) on the eve of her own marriage. Quinn's wife has died, apparently suffering from some form of mental breakdown and Quinn's daughter has been lovingly and obsessively taking care of her father. Quinn notices Sophia and falls for her right away. After resisting his advances, she finally begins to date him and in not time at all, Quinn proposes, saying he will sell the New York home in Little Italy and move to Somerville, NJ near his factory, and help her get her son out of reform school and live happily as a family.
The difficulty here is Quinn's possessive daughter, who is now insisting that her fiancé move into with her and daddy after they marry. He understandably balks at the suggestion and whenever they argue, she has the bad habit of simply walking away from him.
Of course when she finds out that her Dad wants to marry "that Mafia woman," Quinn's daughter has a meltdown. In a confrontation, Daddy slaps daughter who retires to her bedroom refusing to come out. All is resolved when Sophia takes matters in her own hands and confronts the daughter. Sophia and Quinn are blissfully reunited, and her son is released form the reform school. The daughter is reconciled with her fiancé, and they all live happily ever after.
This is utterly absurd and doesn't make a bit of sense. However, under Martin Ritt's expert direction, Sophia delivers an expert, subtly acted performance that she would later become truly famous for. Quinn is outstanding, but you've seen this big, sensitive and physically imposing performance before. The daughter's role is the big hole in this movie, and newcomer Balin cannot do a thing to make her likable. The rest of the cast does their job expertly.
Still the movie achieves wonderfully acted moments and anything that Sophia did during this period is worth watching. Her Hollywood years didn't yield a lot of outstanding studio movies, but she always transcends the thin material she's given. Sophia's essential luminescence always shines through. More than worthwhile.
The Upside of Anger (2005)
Costner's Gift to Joan Allen
I've always admired Kevin Costner's laconic screen presence, in BULL DURHAM, TIN CUP, even DANCES WITH WOLVES, JFK and PERFECT WORLD. Now no longer leading-man handsome, he's developed into a first- rate character actor, and as a washed-up, alcoholic ex-baseball player-turned radio talk-show host, Costner offers company and comfort to Joan Allen as a drinking buddy in the bittersweet THE UPSIDE OF ANGER. Mike Binder's superb film about an abandoned wife of four teenage girls should qualify as one of this year's best films. But because it was released so early, did only respectable business, and isn't a vehicle for an over-hyped box-office attraction on magazine covers now, it will probably only get the respect of word-of-mouth. I saw this engrossing, deeply wonderful film when it opened last winter, and made up my mind that I would have to have the DVD as soon as it became available.
Joan Allen, as Terry Wolfmeyer dazzles us in a performance that is both comically and dramatically masterful as the drunken mother seemingly at war with her four beautiful daughters. Terry's rage over her husband's abandonment of her and their children, is a mean-spirited rebuke to her daughters, who try with great patience to survive their mother's theatrical bitterness. But mama has given them the gift of her humor, and I think it's what saves these girls. There's a look that Joan Allen gives when one of her daughters is doing exactly what she doesn't want them to be doing. What it is they are doing to upset their mother is always in doubt because she's never really making rational sense. She's only filtering her displeasure through the rheumy eyes of her last cocktail. There's a scene at the family dining room where Hadley, her eldest daughter (the ever fascinating Alica Witt, who should be starring in her own movies), announces she's pregnant with her second baby. Allen was none-to-happy that her daughter opted for marriage and motherhood over a career, and her beady- eyed stare at her daughter's latest announcement of her grand-motherhood is a comic masterpiece. But when Allen finally can no longer avoid facing her crippling anger, Allen breaks your heart. Having never had an outlet for her comic abilities, she's surprises you with her skill. That she walks this fine tightrope between both extremes says much for her talent as an actor.
Finally back to Costner. Denny Davies might have been a dangerous character for Costner to revisit. Afterall, he's played washed up or played out sports characters before. His career has suffered a very precipitous fall following the media-created debacle of his so-called grandiose ego in WATERWORLD, and the opportunities have been few and far between since then. But Denny is a rich character any actor would love to sink their teeth into, and Costner embraces Denny's humanity with consummate ease. Discovering his neighbor has been abandoned by her husband, Denny offers to keep her company while they drink. They warily circle each other during these boozy afternoons of watching television, drinking and not saying much to each other. And when that changes, you see the transition from friend to lover mainly through the eyes of Denny. When she first proposes they sleep together, it's Denny who chickens out at the last minute. But as their relationship develops, you see Denny reach out to Terry's girls in a way that is sympathetic but also gives them room to accept and then love him in return. This is a terribly important test for Denny. So when the youngest of the girls finally asks him if he plans to marry Terry, Denny comes to understand that the girls have welcomed him into the family. Costner is sensational in this film, but he keeps it all so low-key, always keeping the focus on Allen's character, and he ends up giving her the film--and rightfully so, I think. This is a gift to Allen. Costner recognizes this, and I think the movie is all the better for his act of generosity. This is a performance that people will talk about for years to come. Like Jeff Bridges and Dennis Quaid, Costner is one of our best screen actors, and it's great to see him in a role that is truly worthy of his fine talent.
Each of the daughter's is skillfully rendered by Erka Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russel and Alicia Witt. These young women look and act like siblings. Auteur Mike Binder has given himself a role as Denny's radio producer, who is romancing one of the daughters, much to her mother's disgust. He's funny, pathetic, and just a bit creepy as a Romeo with romantic ideas way above his station!
Binder's fine script gives this ensemble film the ballast that keeps you laughing and crying. He's found the emotional core in these character's lives, and the pace of the film, which clocks in at just under two hours, provides a sense of completeness.
Ultimately it is Costner's generosity as an actor that so disarms the viewer. In every shot, Joan Allen's Terry is the riveting center, with Costner playing to her every moment without stealing attention away from her. That earns my whole- hearted respect.
THE UPSIDE OF ANGER should be seen and savored by anyone who cares deeply about moves with something to say about the human condition. Binder's adroit direction makes this a film to set beside TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, AS GOOD AS IT GETS, and Lasse Hallstrom's vastly underrated SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT. Finally it's such a pleasure to see two pros such as Allen and Costner hit it right out of the park!
I girasoli (1970)
The DVD is a Disgrace to De Sica and his Cinematographer
So many reviews talk of the beauty of this film, but you can't see it on the horribly transferred DVD I saw from Netflix last weekend. So much of the color has been drained from the source, and you'd thought the movie was shot in experimental color in 1939 instead of 1970. Shame on the quick-buck types who have violated De Sica's original film. It's simply awful to watch.
I had never seen this emotional film about an Italian couple who marry on the eve of his being sent to the Russian front. He never returns, and she never gives up hope of his return. The Loren/Mastroianni pairing has always been potent on the screen. And it is so here with Loren utterly magnificent as the loving wife and the grief-struck and abandoned woman later on. When the wife travels to Russia to find him years after the war, she's much older, and her life has been ruined. So the scene where she finally is connected to him through his Russian wife, and then sees him arriving at the local train station, is truly heartbreaking. While he has committed himself to his new life in Russia, marrying another woman and father two children, Loren's face shows her disappointment and overwhelming sense of sadness as she finally see that all that this woman has is now denied to her. Mastroianni has a bothersome role here. It is Loren who initially proposes they marry at the beginning of the film. He's just another callow fellow having a fling before he goes off to war. Later when he's nearly dead from walking through the frozen Russian winter, in retreat and trying to get back to Italy, his character finally gives up and falls down in the snow to die. He is saved by a beautiful Russian girl who drags him back to civilization. I guess, grateful for her ministrations, he eventually marries her and settles into a new life in Russia. So the character is rather passive to begin with, robbing Mastroianni of his usual comic bombast.
In the end, you wonder why waste these two screen giants on this weeper of a movie. I have always adored Loren. Besides her jaw-dropping beauty, she always projected such warmth, generosity of spirit, a sense of fun, and when called for, she could be as great playing tragedy as any screen actress of any generation. TWO WOMEN proved that, and films such as A SPECIAL DAY and Marriage Italian STYLE only underlined the marvelous acting skills she possessed. So it's disappointing to see her giving her usual great self to a property that isn't quite worthy of her.
It's worth seeing for two stars who can elevate any material they've been given, but wait for a better DVD remastering. This one will not do at all.
The Doris Day Show (1968)
Pure Corn, Plain and Simple
Doris Day was my first movie star. I just loved watching her. She was beautiful, smart, funny, had one of the best figures of any Hollywood actresses of her generation, and showed a tremendous amount of versatility. But as her husband/manager's personal fortune (and Doris's along with it) began to overwhelm his judgment, he secretly signed Day to a CBS contract that included a TV series and music specials. Day, as well all know, was a pro and honored the contract. By then she had little choice. Her husband had lost all her money and died.
By the time THE DORIS DAY SHOW appeared in 1968, I was in my late teens and not watching TV at all. So I missed all five seasons of the show (I only saw parts of episodes) and it never cropped up on reruns where I lived. So I was delighted when the first season of the show was released on DVD.
Well that delight has turned into stupefication. This is one of the dreariest, formula TV comedies I've ever seen. Let me say that Doris is always game, gracious and watchable. But she's stranded in a storyline that is so full of saccharine nonsense, you're left wondering why there weren't any special features to relieve the tedium.
The writing is simply god-awful (shockingly, the young James L. Brooks is given credit for one episode during the first season), and misses the point of Doris Day's wonderful comic persona. Living on a farm, a la Green Acres, isn't very original. As someone said earlier, the show's borrowing formulas from every other sitcom on TV. it's a testament to Day's magnetic appeal that she rises above the tiresome formula, radiating that unique blend of charm and spunk that gave her such wide audience appeal. I lasted through the first 15 episodes, before finally calling it quits.
I understand the show improves in seasons two and three, and if they are released, I'll get them from Netflix and then only one DVD at a time in case they are as hopeless as this first season was.
Doris Day was a major movie star, and TV let her down badly. How do you take one of the great career girls of American movies and turn her into a Mom in Podunk???
God Bless James L. Brooks
James L. Brooks has been giving us such splendid entertainment as a writer, as a producer, as a director for so many years now. I stayed away from SPANGLISH over the Christmas holidays because the reviews were less than mixed, and in a busy season, I made the mistake of thinking it probably wasn't very good. I'm no Adam Sandler fan either. Well I saw SPANGLISH last night and went on this site to read other comments about the film. Lots of you seemed to like the film, and so many of you had questions or thought the film was somehow incomplete:
Why would Flor, the housekeeper for the Clasky's give up here daughter's private school scholarship?
There's no way a gorgeous woman like Flor would be unmarried and working as a housekeeper in Beverly Hills.
Tea Leoni's character is bipolar.
The film tries to tackle too many story lines at once.
The proof of SPANGLISH's excellence is that everybody sees something different, and I think that's where its greatness is. I also think we'll be watching it for years to come with an ever-developing affection and cult-like devotion. I'm assuming you've read the plot line, so I'll just stick to the aspects of this movie which made it such a great experience for me.
Brooks' real talent is in giving us stories about people we care about, even after we've decided we don't like them. Shirley MacLaine's great performance in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, and Jack Nicholson's in AS GOOD AS IT GETS are not nice people, nor are the three leads in BROADCAST NEWS very likable, but they grow on you. In SPANGLISH we enter the lives of a upwardly mobile Los Angeles couple, both driven by their work which makes them nuts, but too busy to get off the treadmill and smell the flowers.
Tea Leoni 's Deborah is a character who is very neurotic, controlling, arrogant, competitive, spoiled, bratty, cold, and all-too-human. Now a full-time house- mommy after being downsized by her company, she's feeling unfulfilled and dazed by being somehow reduced to motherhood. Leoni gives an incredibly brave performance, and you still don't like her in the end. Adam Sandler, putting aside his obnoxious screen schtick for a second, is totally believable as John, the sweetly hen-pecked and cuckolded husband, who is falling for Flor. Scared of his success as a first-rate chef, he's nearly paralyzed when his sous-chef announces he has the backing to leave and open his own place. But as usual, both husband and wife throw money at any situation that seems to threaten them. Cloris Leachman is back to remind us just what a superb character actress she is, and her wise and loving alcoholic grandmother who is indulged and ignored and condescended to by her daughter, ends up with some of the wisest advice she can give her daughter when the crisis of her marriage has to be faced in real terms and without her usual hysterics. Grandma has lots to atone for over her own neglect, and Leachman's character seems brave enough to put down the booze and face the music.
Paz Vega is a gorgeous woman and is radiant as Flor, the housekeeper. She's a wonderfully protective mother, and she gets totally caught up in her employer's dysfunctional family. The device of having her speaking only Spanish in the first half of the movie, and shyly testing her English in the second half really works as she is an expressive actress. I had no trouble reading her thoughts. All the kids are pitch-perfect, especially the young actress who plays the Clasky's daughter, Bernice. Crushed by her mother's never-subtle hints about her weight, there's a heartbreaking scene where her mother gives her shopping bags of new clothing, all of it too small to fit her.
Brooks doesn't offer any tidy answers here. His characters don't emerge "better"--they just are. Flor quits and takes her beloved daughter with her, away from Deborah, who acts like the only reason she helps to arrange a scholarship for her at her daughter's private school and showers her with gifts, is because Flor's child is really the kid she would prefer to have. And away from John because she knows there's no future for her. She's not a home-wrecker, and she wants to preserve her daughter's own identify, not become middle-class and Anglo. Many people would argue she's nuts to deny her daughter, including me. But I see Brooks' point. You know Deborah and John will probably not stay together. She's wound way too tight, and when her daughter goes through puberty, war will be declared in that household.
As much as I liked Sandler's warm and neurotically hen-pecked patriarch, he's way too passive-aggressive in his own house, colluding with his daughter to make up for her mother's insensitivity. Grandma may have put herself on the wagon to save her daughter's marriage, but there are issues between them from their past that need lots of healing. And what of the virtually ignored little brother?
A little messy, and hugely ambitious, SPANGLISH is a lot like life. Brooks is a great auteur, and here he offers no easy answers of solutions. He keeps giving us films with characters with depth that we recognize and care about. His is a great talent in an industry where humor and intelligence are in very short supply. I watched this film with a friend of mine who started to cry halfway through the picture and didn't stop.
SPANGLISH is going into my permanent DVD collection.
Queer as Folk (2000)
Always A Surprise
As an older man (55), I'm amazed at the level of graphic nudity, the frankness of the sexual couplings whether gay or lesbian sex is involved, and it struck me as astonishing that the reason I would sometimes be uncomfortable viewing these scenes, is that there are virtually no images for gay people on TV that are comparable to those in QAF. I'm no prude, and thank goodness I've stopped squirming. My normal reaction is that if a series is good in its original British guise, the Americanization will be awful. Not so here. QAF started for me as a superficial soap about gay life. But once the first season was half over, I was hooked. I found I cared deeply about these characters. Their insular gay world in Pittsburgh was refreshing. The relationships work beautifully and you see a fairly representative slice of gay life on this series. Sure everyone always seems to be showing up at the big gay club with its go-go dancers and steamy back room. But how wonderful to have a show all about gay people where nobody gets killed for being gay, or commits suicide or is in some sort of depression or any other negative situations that have been such a feature of films showing gay characters as life's losers.
Gale Harold's Brian took me totally by surprise. His no gamesmanship attitude towards sex and relationships makes total sense. What I responded to is his character's absolute refusal to be liked, unlike the very likable Michael (Hal Sparks) whose insecurity demands that he be liked. Brian's a stunning bad boy, confident of his looks, his talent, his ability to spot bullshit a mile away. He wants to be appreciated for his worth. Nothing wrong with that. He's unapologetic about his sexuality and is not obsessed with settling down into domestic bliss the way Michael is. Michael is a child, but a sweet one with his love of comic books, and his unresolved longing for Brian. His character's worry about everything has finally become endearing. Peter Paige's Emmett is adorable and heartbreaking. I love that he's always picking himself up after every romantic disaster, dusting himself off and heading towards the next with high hopes. Scott Lowell has a natural affinity for Ted Schmidt's insecure and manipulative accountant. I'd like him to settle down for awhile. I sometimes weary of his travails.
At first I thought Randy Harrison's sweetly beautiful Justin was going to be a fluffy love toy for Brian, but Justin's own problems have shown Brian's caring side, and you get to see that Justin is no dummy. He goes after what he wants. Nothing wrong with that. Sharon Gless's working Mom waitress can be abrasively grating at times, but she presents a loving mother to a gay son, and that's a good thing. Michelle Clunie as Melanie and Thea Gill as Lindsay strike me as an appealing, smart, and caring lesbian couple Their stability as a couple shows what is possible without proselytizing.
Now in its fifth season, I've come to appreciate the show in big gulps since I rent each season from Netflix. It's a real wallow, and I'm always sorry that it's over. Right now I'm deep into season four and I can't wait to find out what happens next. QAF is excellent series TV, vastly entertaining. Best of all it won't make you feel dumb.
12 Unimpeachble Reasons to Love This Film!
Here are 12 reasons this is one of my all-time favorite films.
1. Audrey Hepburn 2. Cary Grant 3. Whoever thought of casting them together in this particular film. 4. Stanley Donen's effortless homage to Hitchcock. 5. Peter Stone's elegant, menacing and romantic screenplay. 6. Henry Mancini's hummable score. 7. Hubert de Givenchy's stunning wardrobe for the enchantingly elegant Audrey. 8. Walter Matthau (who knew he could play a mean guy!) 9. James Coburn 10. George Kennedy 11. The funeral scene. 12. Memorable lines: Audrey: How do you shave there? (pointing to Cary's dimpled chin).
Audrey: You know what's wrong with you? Cary: No. What? Audrey: Absolutely nothing!
Cary and Audrey gliding on the Seine. Cary: "Boy when you come on, you come on! Audrey: Well...come on!
Non ti muovere (2004)
We're Never Far Removed from Uncivilized Behavior
DON'T MOVE may be the most adult, most thoughtful, most challenging movie I've seen since GODS AND MONSTERS. Sergio Castellito, an actor I only discovered recently in MOSTLY MARTHA, shows an extraordinary affinity for bringing to the screen what must have been an extremely inward and searching story based on the award-winning and bestselling novel by Margaret Mazzantini.
Here we see Timoteo (Castellitto)--a civilized, married doctor, whose life is thrown into turmoil when his fifteen-year-old daughter requires surgery as a result of her injuries in a motorbike accident. While he waits, wondering if his daughter will survive her accident, he sees the vision of a woman in red shoes and short-cropped hair who is dragging a white chair into the middle of the entrance way to his hospital. Despite the fact it's raining, she sits with her back to him. We will later find out this apparition is Italia (Cruz), his mistress. I wasn't sure he was recalling his relationship to this woman, 'Okay, I'll do whatever you say--just let my daughter live." Maybe the possibility of losing his daughter was too close to his relationship with Italia.
Some fifteen years past, Timoteo's car had broken down in a dicey neighborhood of a large Italian city. While waiting for his car to be repaired, he is offered help by a local woman. Cheaply dressed, overly-made up, her posture and walking stance a train wreck of attributes that refuses to mesh, Italia's kindness is violently taken advantage of by the good Doctor. He rapes her in a drunken fit of violence. Appalled by his behavior, Timoteo returns and apologizes, only to find his lust aroused again. This time, Italia responds just as violently to him. As he keeps returning, their couplings give way to passion and eventually to a strong bond of love. It is as if Timoteo is returning to some previously uncivil part of his life because you constantly observe his violent flashes of anger--amazing behavior for a well-educated doctor who moves easily in an upper-class world of professional ease and comfort.
Timoteo's relationship deepens as he shuttles between his life with Italia and his married life with his wife Elsa (Claudia Gerini). Elsa is not eager to have children, despite Timoteo's desire be a father. So he's delighted when Italia tells him she's pregnant. He impulsively decides to tell Elsa the truth about this other woman, but before he can do so, she reveals to him that she too is pregnant.
I'll stop with plot details here. This is not a film about narrative so much as it is about character and Castelitto's mastery of character in what must have been a difficult adaptation is nothing short of superb. This is an astonishingly assured film--only his second directing effort.
Penelope Cruz should depart the U.S. for the kind of work she clearly deserves at home in Europe. Like Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Deuneuve, Romy Schneider, and countless other European leading ladies, Cruz's Hollywood efforts have only underlined her lack of comfort acting in English, as well as Hollywood's inability to offer her anything other than the trite and formulaic stuff she's done thus far. Her Italia is a revelation. Changing her look to the point where she is barely recognizable, Cruz convinces that she's a poorly paid seasonal hotel maid. Albanian, and ghettoized for her background, her dark hair is badly dyed blonde at the ends, her blue eye shadow, gaped front teeth, nearly bow-legged gait and cheap attire, truthfully underline her low-life status. Without looking like merely a cosmetically applied bit of movie magic, Cruz harrowingly conveys her familiarity with poverty and abuse. When Timoteo brutally assaults her the first time, you know this is not the first time a man has mistreated her. And you have to wonder what she is thinking and responding to with each visit as she progresses towards a deep and abiding love for Timoteo. This is the kind of performance that people should be buzzing about, and perhaps will bring her the respect that has eluded her in Hollywood so far.
Castellitto is not a conventionally handsome man. His nose and eyes are too big, giving him a nearly comic look. But he's a soulful, and yes, sexy mature man and as the beast in him subsides, we are left with a deeply tortured soul who has attached himself to Italia as intensely as one grabbing for a life raft in a sea storm. I have never seen Claudia Gerini, but as Timoteo's distracted wife, her eyes convey how much she understands that her husband has another life away from her. The rest of the cast is excellent.
This is a movie about a man that whose behavior should repel you. I would love to read the novel from which the book's author and Castellitto have adapted so smoothly. DON'T MOVE is a film of strong emotions and stays with the viewer.
Something to Talk About (1995)
One of Julia's Best
This is a great "woman's" picture that is also very entertaining for anybody. Someone mentioned that Julia Roberts offers up a convincing southern accent. Well hell's bells, she's from Smyrna, Georgia. How convincing does she have to be!
Set in Kentucky horse country, Julia Roberts plays a young wife and mother who runs her father's (Robert Duvall) horse business. She's a fine wife and mother, and a good business woman. One day while driving in town, she sees her husband (Dennis Quaid) kissing a pretty woman in a red dress outside his office building. Busted, Quaid finds himself kneed in he groin by his potty- mouthed sister-in-law (the adorably gusty Kyra Sedgewick) and thrown out of the house by his furious wife.
Her husband infidelity turns her contained and comfy world upside-down. Daddy (who has his own issues with infidelities) is uncomfortable with his daughter's anger and insensitively insists that she overlook the problem and get on with her life. Mama (the great Gena Rowlands) who has been looking the other way for years, and is not in a position to offer any advice, tells her daughters that southern woman have been putting up with their philandering husbands for years. Sedgewick can only offer her own withering scorn to her parents (she lives in a house on her father's farm with no visible means of support and therefore is beholden to her parents), while she clucks sympathetically with her sister.
Meanwhile, Robert's character has to move on. Her daughter, an excellent young rider, is nudging her to compete in horse competitions, which is is reluctant to allow. She's confused about her parent's separation. Julia is running the business, but her father constantly interfere, making her management decisions. The women in her local Junior League are condescending and smug in the knowledge that their marriages are safe as hers is not. Roberts has a brilliant comic moment telling her sisters that their husbands are cheating on them too!
A contrite Quaid is on a mission to reconcile with his wife, but she is resisting. Taking the advice of her beloved Aunt, she mildly poisons her husband's dinner in an attempt to "teach him a lesson he won't soon forget." You know it's only a matter of time before she forgives him, but you enjoy her insistence that this is a serious breach of trust in their marriage, not to be ignored lightly, or forgotten.
The film reaches a very satisfactory conclusion. Daddy is finally made to pay the consequences for his own extra-marital dalliances when Rowlands finally locks him out of their house. And he finally learns to respect his daughter and realize the psychic damage his flagrant misogyny has caused.
This is a quiet gem of a movie and one of Julia's best. The cast is expert and Hallstrom's direction is fluid and detailed. Khalie Couri's screenplay is alert and adult. An earlier review chastises the Robert's character for "poisoning" her husband. She didn't kill him, nor did she intend to. But I think it's quite appropriate for her to make him feel some of the pain he's caused her. At the very least, he should have been discreet. Acting out his affair in public is just asking for trouble.
And the women in this family make their men grow up. A throughly enjoyable movie.
A Gorgeous Adapation of a Very Personal Novel
I saw MAURICE when it first appeared in theaters in the mid-80s and enjoyed it. I was surprised on a second viewing on DVD last night at how much I had forgotten about this film. This story of a thwarted love affair between two upper- class men during their years at Cambridge is a deeply absorbing and entertaining adaptation of Forster's posthumously published novel, which I read at in 1971. I thought the book rather dull. The movie seems anything but, which makes me wonder if I shouldn't pull it off my library shelves and give it another go.
Though James Wilby's Maurice Hall is the main character, it is Hugh Grant young aristocrat that is most intriguing here. Clive Durham (Grant) is a spoiled and deeply entrenched member of Britain's snobbish ruling class. It is Durham who pursues Wilby (not the other way around as some of these reviews would have you believe). Initially spooked by Durham's admission of his love for Maurice, he pursues Durham with a naive passion. But that passion is ruined when a fellow classmate from Cambridge is set up by a soldier in a bar and arrested by the police. This young man's future in politics and society is ruined (horrified, Durham says no to him when he asks to testify on his behalf), and he is found guilty and sentenced to six months in jail and hard labor. His picture is splashed across the headlines of London's tabloids. The realization that this could happen to him forces Durham to reject Maurice, pursue and marry a young girl from his class and move himself deeply into the closet. So much for the politics of homosexuality in Britain, circa 1912.
Maurice is devastated by his friend's rejection of him. Miserable, he seeks every avenue he can to reverse and cure his own homosexual longings. He even subjects himself to the quackery of a hypnotist-therapist (Ben Kinsley in a hilarious turn). Maurice finally gives in to his feelings when he finally falls deeply in love with the gamekeeper of Durham's estate (well played by the young and very handsome Rupert Graves).
This Merchant-Ivory film is, typically, gorgeous to look at, its pacing is novelistic and deeply rewarding. Hugh Grant showed early star appeal as the superficial and ultimately defeated victim of his class and society. He would rarely get the chance at so fine a part in the future despite his great success as a light comedian in a string of international hit movies (ABOUT A BOY being one such terrific film performance from this very appealing actor). James Wilby is pitch perfect as the perplexed and emotional Maurice. The expert supporting cast under the commanding direction of James Ivory delivers this period piece superbly. It's period look is typical of Merchant-Ivory productions--detailed, richly appointed and very beautiful. Kudos also to Kit Hesketh-Harvey's excellent screenplay.
One viewer here complained that ending was far too upbeat and unrealistic for its time, but I really didn't see it that way. There were many men and women who set up housekeeping in both London and New York, living their lives in discreet harmony under the noses of hostile societies. Still others preferred to move abroad to live their lives in discrete peace and tranquility. I prefer to think this is just what Maurice and Scudder do. If Maurice were as much of a snob as Durham, this might not have worked. But we see Maurice's slow understanding of the hypocrisy of his class in the aftermath of his affair with Durham, and he comes to realize that even he is somewhat constrained by his own upper-class upbringing in his initial interactions with Scudder's far lower standing.
This is a deeply affecting movie and holds up superbly. Highly recommended.