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Thursday, September 27, 2012

HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

Comedian Bill Murray turns serious in his portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the weekend visit  of King George VI (Samuel West)  and his wife Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) to his mother's home at Hyde Park.

While beautifully costumed, set designed and photographed, the emphasis of the film is the relationship between FDR and his sixth cousin Margaret "Daisy" Suckley.  Although she hadn't seen FDR in years, when summoned to Springfield, the Roosevelt family home in Hyde Park, Daisy went and became a rather constant companion to the most powerful man in the nation.

By now we all know that FDR was no saint and had numerous affairs with his secretaries, cousins and various other females with whom he came into contact.  Developed from letters discovered after she passed away, the story shows Daisy as an individual who helped the President relax and forget about his worldly problems while his wife Eleanor (Olivia Williams) and her "she-men" friends were busy doing other things.

According to the story, Daisy has to learn to share FDR with his secretary Marguerite "Missy" LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel) and some other possible paramours as well as the official visitors and statesmen.  It's a difficult thing for her to accept but according to the information on which the film is based, she eventually swallowed her pride and her jealousy and did so, becoming one of several sexual liaisons..

Director Robert Michell does an admirable job of directing this complex story with an outstanding group of actors. Especially appealing are the scenes between the King and the President, with war hovering in the wings, as they seek to form a friendship and an alliance. According to this story, it's the weekend of that which solidified the friendship between the two world leaders and led to agreement that the United States would support and fight with Great Britain in WWII.

With both FDR and Daisy deceased, the veracity of the affair cannot be verified.  Under those circumstances one has to wonder whether it's fair and tasteful to disparage a man as important as FDR.  So much has already been written about his philandering, is another film on the subject really necessary?

Additionally, since we know the Royals employ a staff that does advance research prior to their trips and supplies them with current information on where they are going and what the customs are there, it's somewhat hard to believe that the King and Queen as portrayed in this film would be so completely oblivious to basic American foods (i.e. hot dogs) and customs (i.e. picnics).

The film's positive side is that it shows a man who never wallows in self-pity despite his affliction from polio.  While he doesn't advertise his affliction, he doesn't hide away from public responsibilities either.  Never expecting to be treated differently, Murray's FDR appears to be at home in a world full of turmoil and trouble.  He adapts to his situation via some adjustments to his living and driving arrangements but otherwise acts just as you would except a non-handicapped individual to act.  In fact, his philandering is very much a "normal" non-handicapped endeavor.

Overall, this is a fascinating look at a small segment of FDR's life.  Focus Films appears to have a winner here in a film that is gaining popularity and a cast that gives outstanding portrayals.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BARBARA

By D.E.Levine

A NNFF50 SELECTION

Director Christian Petzold presents a remarkable story set in 1960 in Eastern Germany, still under communist rule, where a doctor from Berlin (Nina Hoss) has committed some transgression so severe that she is banished to the boonies.

Although she works in a hospital and seemingly does nothing revolutionary, she is harassed by the secret police, subjected to body and home searches, and she is silently waiting and burning.

Barbara is a dissident who pushes back against totalitarianism.  She's also somewhat paranoid, but with good reason since from the moment she arrives in her remote village she is being watched by another East German.

Her watcher is another young doctor, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld) who discusses her with Klaus Schutz (Rainer Bock), a very official and distant character who works for the Stasi or secret police.

Barbara is wary and cautious as she moves between Andre, who has a warm personality, and Klaus, who regularly searches her apartment and frightens her.

Drawn into the life of Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), a runaway from a work camp who lands in the hospital, Barbara also goes to extreme measures to meet with her lover Jorg (Mark Wasche).  Somehow, despite the restraints of her bring banned to a rural area, the constant monitoring of her actions and phone calls, Barbara actually manages to lead her life and plan her escape.

It's only when we understand what actually makes Barbara tick that we can understand the unexpected ending to the film.







THE BAY

By D.E.Levine

A NNFF50 SELECTION

For much of The Bay the viewer is uncertain about whether the film is fiction or an actual documentary.

Set in Maryland at the height of the summer, the action takes place on July 4, 2009 in Claridge, a fictitious Chesapeake town where hundreds fall fatally hill from a hideous ailment whose cause is unknown.  As people become ill their bodies decay from inside and become quite gory.

Director Barry Levinson has created a "pseudo documentary" with much of the filming apparently done by handheld cameras that give a shaky effect that add to the overall tension and fear.

The story actually is exposed three years after that fateful July 4th, and after the government has done a massive cover-up of what actually happened when a ferocious aggressive parasite leaped from fish to humans.

A young reporter (Kristen Connolly) uncovers film footage that exposes the cover-up.  The footage is apparently captured on the mobile phones, security cameras and webcams of people who experienced the events but never lived to tell about them.

Levinson skillfully juggles this plot line with the video diaries of two marine biologists that reveal an infestation rapidly spreading in local waters and a doctor who, overburdened with patients showing signs of a highly contagious disease, Skype chats with the CDC in an effort to find a solution.
 uggling the plots and various video formats, the viewer sees a town plunged into chaos and experiences




Thursday, September 20, 2012

PASSION

By D.E.Levine

A NNYF50 SELECTION

Although it's a remake of a 2010 French thriller, Director Brian De Palma has added his own touch to make this twisty thriller.

Starring Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams, this thriller deals with professional and romantic jealousies at a Berlin ad-agency.

McAdams plays Christine, an icy blonde villainess who as an ad agency boss is frenemies with Isabelle, her very ambitious creative director. Christine soon starts taking credit for Isabelle's work in order to promote her own career.  Other players include Dani (Karoline Herfurth) who yearns for Isabelle, and Dirk (Paul Anderson), Christine's boyfriend and Isabelle's lover.

Although initially Isabelle lets Christine get away with stealing her thunder, eventually, at Dani's urging, she turns the tables.  While billed as an erotic thriller, overall the film isn't actually that erotic.  There are, however,  surprises throughout and a real twist at the end.

It's a good film and typical De Palma.  Although some say that his style is dated, Passion provides good entertainment and De Palma's devoted following is glad to see this latest endeavor..

Saturday, September 15, 2012

THE ROLLING STONES: CHARLIE IS MY DARLING

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 SELECTION

The Rolling Stones are celebrating their 50th anniversary and they're still going strong.  This documentary is an accidental film that came about because 50 years ago someone put some film away and kept it all these years, without looking at it or discarding it.

In 1965 the Beatles and everyone else were making movies and being quite successful at it.  So, when The Rolling Stones released "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" and went to Ireland to do four shows (two in Northern and two in Southern Ireland), their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, commissioned filmmaker Peter Whitehead to film the performances and their experiences on the road.  The idea behind the filming was to see if the Stones were ready to make a movie.

Understand that this all took place before The Rolling Stones became THE ROLLING STONES.  They'd had some success but they were also a cover band, performing songs made popular by other groups.

Director Mick Gochanour visited the Stones achival vault in London and discovered many hours of heretofore unseen footage of the live performances, the enthusiastic fans, and the off-stage c

Keith Richards comes across as the catalyst for musical collaboration and a 22-year old Mick Jagger comes across as particularly astute and aware, stating that the Stones onstage are theater - putting on a show for the audience, while the Stones off-stage lead pretty ordinary lives, mixing and mingling with the public.

It is truly amazing to see that in the performances from 50 years ago, the  physical movements,vocal phrasing and approach are exactly the same as the performances the Stones currently give.  This is where they honed their techniques and developed the show or "theater" that they currently perform.

Overall, this is a very entertaining film with significant historical value that will definitely be appreciated by Stones fans.

THE SAVOY KING: CHICK WEBB & THE MUSIC THAT CHANGED AMERICA

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 SELECTION

This is a fascinating documentary about a musician who had an enormous impact on the Swing era of music and has gone unappreciated due to his short life.

Chick Webb was a peer of Duke Ellington who having broken his back as a child and contracted TB of the spine, lived a painful life as a hunchback.  The nickname Chick came from his unusual walking gait due to his illness and deformity.  Studying drumming to build upper body strength, Webb approached it with a vengeance and was initially noticed by Ellington himself, who helped created Webb's band.

Webb was a perfectionist who turned down lucrative gigs when they required musical compromises and was willing to pay for the best musical arrangements.

Jeff Kaufman has produced an interesting and entertaining documentary based on newspaper and magazine articles, vintage newsreels and first hand accounts from that time.  Webb became a well-known fixture in the Swing scene of Harlem, where there was segregation even in the black community.

The Savoy Ballroom was where Webb became a fixture and it's described as a virtual haven of integration where black and white alike, celebrity and common man, co-mingled, danced and enjoyed the swing music.

He also had an eye for talent and developed young performers, among them a very young Ella Fitzgerald, who lived with Chick and his wife.

Kaufman has gotten a host of well known actors to do readings of reminiscences by both Webb and his followers.

His life was cut short too soon, at the age of 30, and ten thousand fans lined then streets of Harlem when he was buried.

While this documentary may not have wide distribution, it is educational, interesting and leaves the viewer wanting more information on both Chick Webb and the Swing era.