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Sunday, November 30, 2014

BOYHOOD


By D.E.Levine

A most unusual film is the only way to describe Boyhood.  Richard Linklater had an idea of filming a family relationship with the  focus on a little boy and his sister growing up over a period of 12 years.

Approaching Patricia Arquette to play Olivia, the mother and Ethan Hawke, to play Mason Sr., the father, Linklater cast his daughter Lorelei as the older sister Samantha and a newcomer, Ellar Coltrane, as the boy, Mason.

For 12 years this group got together and rehearsed and filmed scenes for the movie.  That's right, it was not only written into the script, but it was actually filmed two weeks a year for 12 consecutive years.  When Ellar was cast, he was 5 years old and the first time you see him in the film he's 6 years old.  At the end of the film he's really 18.

Who would be crazy enough to bankroll and independent production like this one?  Well, IFC, its distributor committed to the project and came through with a bankroll every year, enabling Linklater to keep shooting on film (which he chose because there is a non-wavering standard while non exists in the digital camera realm).

Beginning in 2002, Linklater gathered his four main actors for work on the script, some rehearsal and actual shooting..  As a result, there are realistic scenes skillfully woven together that show the growth of the characters and their changing relationships.  There are very smooth transitions, believable characters and scenes, and a film that works in part because it doesn't seem like a commercial film but rather like a home movie of real life.

During interviews Ms. Arquette, Mr. Hawke and Mr. Linklater said they could immerse themselves because in their real offscreen lives they were raising children and going through many of the same events -- i.e. divorce, marriage, geographical relocation, financial problems, sibling fights, etc.

There are lots of two shots, shots that Linklater is extremely fond of which show two characters walking, talking, interrelating and developing or exploring their relationship.

Each time I see Boyhood I notice different things that I haven't noticed before.  This is cinematic realism rather than simply film acting.  The story is so realistic and believable that the film never loses its grip on the audience.  As we watch the actors age naturally and their bodies change with growth we relate.  Linklater has filmed many films both for himself and for other writers, but Boyhood is truly a masterpiece not to be missed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

INTO THE WOODS


By D.E.Levine

Adapted from a Stephen Sondheim musical which Roundabout Theater currently has a production of on Broadway, although not the most famous or most memorable of Sondheim's musicals, this film aims to entertain.

With an all star cast that includes Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, Biklly Magnussen, Lilla Crawford, David Huddlestone, Mackenzie Mauzy, Christine Baranski, Tracey Ullman and others, the film brings several of Grimms Fairy Tales to life.

Under the skillful direction of Rob Marshall and using wonderful special visual effects, the film achieves more than the on-stage production.

This is definitely a family film that can be seen by children as well as adult, and both categories will enjoy it.  Be warned however, that very young children might be frightened by some of the characters and special effects.

Overall, this is a thoroughly delightful way to celebrate the holiday season and beyond.

Friday, November 21, 2014

LEVIATHAN


By D.E.Levine

Director Andrey Zvyagintsev gives us a satiric expose of the Russian system which shows the struggle of the current society with alcohol, guns, religion and politics.  It's amazing that the director wasn't imprisoned for giving us this view of Russia.

In a small village on the Kola Peninsula on the northwest coast of Russia, scattered with the remains of whales and ships, the population struggles against corrupt politicians and a state that has lost touch with its citizens.

Residing on a riverside homestead settled by his ancestors, Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov) lives with his family, including son Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev), and second wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova).  When a corrupt town mayor seizes the land for his personal purposes, Kolya calls upon his old friend Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovitvhenkov), a lawyer, to come from Moscow and contest the mayor's claim of eminent domain.

After going to court and having their appeal denied, Kolya and Dmitri go up the bureaucratic chain of command and of course, since everyone is "in the mayor's pocket" continue to lose their appeals.  Dmitri has come prepared though and attempts to blackmail the mayor with a binder containing incriminating evidence.  In the interim, he has an affair with Lilya, despite the fact she's his friend's wife.  And Kolya never stops drinking throughout the film, obviously deeply depressed over everything in his life.

The movie is full of unexpected twists and turns.  It's a serious theme and a "heavy" film but it's also filled with comedy.  There are serious statements about the average working citizen suffering daily at the hands of the corrupt politicians, and the inevitability of all courses of action failing as they fight the "leviathan".  When we see the bleached bones of whales on the beach we also encounter the bleached lives and emotions of the residents of Russia.

This is not a light-hearted film.  It raises serious questions about the Russian system today and how long men and women can continue to support a system that fails them and offers nothing to hang onto.  It's a very depressing film for the viewer but it's also thought provoking, getting the audience to think about the political system in Russia and the plight of the citizens.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL


By D.E.Levine

Director Wes Anderson has once again brought us a new film cast with a long list of well known actors and comedians that is resplendent with rich scenery, costumes, sets and humore.

Packed with the type of visual shots that he's noted for, Anderson draws upon a group of actors frequently appearing in his films, including Tida Swinton, Jason Schwartman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Bob Balaban.  The group is headed by the most unlikely actor, Ralph Fiennes,  who is generally known for his dramatic roles.  In this film however, playing the concierge M. Gustave, Fiennes is extremely funny and delivers a flawless performance.

Based on the writings of the noted Viennese writer Stefan Zweig, the film takes place in the imaginary Republic of Zubrowka.  Introduced by an aging writer played by Tom Wilkenson, the story takes us back to 1968 when a younger version of the writer (Jude Law) stayed at the aging and somewhat tacky Iron Curtain Grand Hotel Budapest.  Meeting the hotel's owner, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the writer learns the history of the hotel and how Mr. Moustafa beame the owner .

Over an elaborate dinner, reminiscing about happier and more lucrative times, when the hotel was the centerpiece of  a group of "grand hotels", Mr. Moustafa tells the tale of how he started as a lobby boy named Zero (played by Tony Revolori) and became Mr. Gustave's "right hand" watching him rule the staff and devote himself to the clients/customers.

Nostalgic and beautiful, the central plot revolves around the death of a noble matriarch (Tilda Swinton), the theft of a priceless painting (Boy With Apple) by M. Gujstave, and the antics of the noble's family headed by her son (Adrien Brody) using "hit man" (Willem DaFoe) to recover the painting.  Along the way Zero falls in love with a baker's assistant (Saorse Ronan) at Mendel's, who artfully conceals miniature tools in pastry to enable M.Gustave and other prisoners to painstakingly dig their way out of prison.

With Zero's assistance Gustave flees across the frozen wasteland of Zubrowka, chased by the hit man and intent on clearing his name and bringing the matriarch's murderer to justice.  The settings are breathtaking, the acting impeccable and the film is extremely funny.

With an original musical score by Alexandre Desplat that sounds almost like Klezmer band music and adds to the film's feeling and action, Anderson has, in his eighth feature, once again provided a unique and novel comedy.

Monday, November 10, 2014

MR. TURNER


By D.E.Levine

For years I've admired the oil paintings of William Turner (full name Joseph Mallord William Turner).  There are two in the Frick Musuem in New York City, a sunrise and a sunset, hanging opposite each other, each resplendent with rich colors.  I've seen Turner's paintings at museums throughout the world but never knew much about the man.

Director Mike Leigh has once again given us a unique and absorbing film about the painter, representing him as a cantankerous middle-aged man who lacks social graces but has the ability to create magnificent paintings.

Mr. Turner concentrates on the last 25 years of the painter's life as he created magnificent and majestic paintings that pushed landscape painting toward impressionism.

Played by Timothy Spall, who won the 2014 Best Actor Award in Cannes, France, for his portrayal, Mr. Turner grunts a lot and isn't very sociable,  He shares a studio with his elderly father (Paul Jesson) whom he very obviously adores, and has a housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson) who is also his current lover.

Denying their very existence to the world and meeting with them half-heartedly we see that William Turner has a spurned, estranged and ignored a former mistress (Ruth Sheen), their two grown daughters and a grandchild, all of whom he ignores.

Mr. Turner is clearly not a family man.  He's not even a friendly and sociable man.  Spurred by inventiveness and artistic desires, he travels extensively, to other countries like Belgium and other towns, like Margate.  In Margate, using a pseudonym, he rents a small seaside apartment from a widow, Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey) and proceeds to produce some of his greatest.  Eventually, Turner, the giant of the art world, takes Booth, the big-hearted country woman, as his last mistress and the relationship proves instrumental in his transitioning from classical painter to more of an abstract, modern impressionist.

Leigh also gives us a look into the London art scene which was dominated by the Royal Academy of Arts.  An already famous Turner goes his own way, developing new techniques and masterpieces because he refuses to be restrained by the limitations of the art world and the Academy.

The famed art critic John Ruskin is Turner's advocate, but Turner doesn't appear to appreciate him.  Despite his various affairs, his participation in the Arts Academy and his commissions,   appears to be a loner.  He's neither affectionate nor considerate and, as portrayed by Spall, spends most of his time grunting rather than speaking.  As portrayed in this film, for Turner, art was his method of communicating and commenting on the world around him.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

THE JUDGE


By D.E.Levine

Oscar winner Robert Duvall takes a supporting role as the judge that the film is named for in this story of a dysfunctional family and the problems they face personally and professionally.

Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) is a moral pillar of the community who has sat on the bench for a very long time.  He heartily disapproves of his black sheep son Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.), an unscrupulous Chicago defense attorney whose practice is based on getting white collar criminals off.

Preparing to divorce his wife and sue for custody of his seven-year old daughter Lauren (Emma Treblay), Hank reluctantly heads back to Carlinville, Indianna when his mother dies.

Tension is high from the time Hank arrives home and continues as we meet other members of his family like older brother Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) and younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong).

As Hank prepares to leave Carlinville for good, the Judge gets arrested and charged with a hit-and-run murder.  Hank stays to defend his father and he and the Judge clash over the proper way to handle the defense.

It turns out the Judge is seriously ill and with a limited life expectancy the outcome of the case can have a significant impact on his and other family members' lives.

The film is not only a study in "good versus evil" but in the relationship between father and son, with all its problems and the resolutions finally reached.

Downey, who has been an action hero in his last few films, give a realistic performance as the glib successful lawyer.  While Duvall, now 83 years old, gives a deeper and more convincing performance than he has in years.

Well worth seeing, but not a feel good movie, The Judge is well worth seeing.