Showing posts with label movie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movie. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"SUNSET SONG" - THE MOVIE

Last week I watched "Sunset Song", one of the saddest movies I've seen recently. Directed by Terence Davies, the film is set in the period just before and during WWI on a farm in northeast Scotland. Chris Guthrie, a bright young girl's whose dreams of going to teachers college are shattered when, after her mother bears numerous children, she commits suicide and kills her two youngest twin boys when she discovers she's pregnant again.

When Chris is left with her father, a brutal man, and her older brother, Will, after relatives take the younger children to live with them, she gives up her dream of teachers college to care for the household. For minor infractions, John, the father, takes the horsewhip to Will, and Will finally saves enough money to leave the farm and marry. Chris is left alone with her father.

The mood is dark and somber throughout the movie, except for a brief interlude of happiness after John dies of a stroke, and Chris marries Ewan, an amiable young man who lives nearby. Ewan reluctantly volunteers for the Scots Guards after war is declared and goes off to training. When he comes home on leave before being shipped to fight in France, he's drunk and brutal with Chris in the sight of their young son. Chris does not understand what's happening with Ewan, but she stands up to him when he shows sings of becoming violent, like her father.

When Ewan turns brutal, which we learn later is from stress about going into the fight in which thousands upon thousands have already died, I thought, "Oh! I've seen this movie before," and I debated whether to continue watching a replay of Chris living with another violent man. I decided to go ahead, and the dark mood continued, till weak hope is offered toward the end of the film by Chris' oneness with the land.

The stunning cinematography, which redeems somewhat the sadness of the movie, is by Michael McDonough. Northeast Scotland is gorgeous, and McDonough takes full advantage as he moves the camera slowly and lingeringly on the beautiful scenes. Indoor scenes are poorly lighted, as were the farmhouses at the time, and the camera again moves slowly. The light and shade in certain scenes resembles lovely paintings, and I was grateful again for the lingering camera.

The soundtrack by Gast Waltzing is very much in tune with the sadness of the movie and deserves credit.

I was going to post the video of the trailer for the film, but I think it gives away too much. It's on YouTube if you'd like to see it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

AIR FORCE - THE MOVIE

This afternoon I happened upon one of the first propaganda movies made after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the film titled Air Force. I clicked on TCM and the movie had just started, so I saw it in its entirety. Howard Hawks directed and John Garfield, John Ridgely, Gig Young, Arthur Kennedy, and Harry Carey starred, all names I recognize from the olden times. All things considered, that the film is intended to boost the morale of the people in the US and the members of the military, the story is believable and engrossing, and the actors give strong performances.

As I read the reviews of the DVD on Amazon, I was greatly amused by one reviewer's comment that no great movie stars were in the film. Maybe one has to be old to remember, but John Garfield was a great movie star.

Garfield tried to enlist in the Army when the war started, but he was turned down because of a heart condition resulting from a bout with scarlet fever. After the war, he was hauled before Joe McCarthy's HUAC during Hollywood's involvement in the Red Scare and refused to name names. The actor died at the age of 39 from his heart condition, possibly aggravated by the stress of his testimony before the committee, which was followed by threats of being charged with perjury.

After the film was over, I thought about the number of deaths of members of our military and those of our allies fighting the Nazis in World War II, and how we will soon have a man who formerly ran a white supremacist, antisemitic news site working in the White House with President-elect Trump. I nearly cried. How can this be?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

MUD - THE MOVIE

Yesterday, I watched the movie "Mud", which I enjoyed very much.  The indie film is a coming of age story in the style of Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn of two 14 year old boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who live on or near the Arkansas River in Arkansas.  On a small island in the river, the boys meet a stranger, Mud (Matthew McConaughey), who's living in a boat stuck up in a tree that Ellis and Neckbone hoped to claim for themselves.  Mud convinces the boys to bring him food, because he has no money.  The boys later discover that Mud is on the run and can't go into town.

As the boys are drawn deeper and deeper into the relationship with Mud when his requests escalate beyond food, tension rises as the viewer suspects that no good will come from the boys' association with him.  The young actors are superb and completely believable. McConaughey's performance is somewhat mannered, which actually works in this instance, since Mud is a con man. Reese Witherspoon performs well as Mud's girlfriend, Juniper, as does the always excellent Sam Shepard as the father substitue in Mud's life.

Writer and director Jeff Nichols grew up in Arkansas and fought hard to have the movie filmed on location in the state.  The scenes filmed on the river and the island are gorgeous.

Picture from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"FAIR GAME" - THE FILM

Saturday night, I started to watch Fair Game, the 2010 movie based on Valerie Plame's memoir of the same title that tells the story of the events that led to Plame's outing as a covert CIA officer in a column in the Washington Post by Robert Novak.  Novak attributed the leak to two senior officials in the Bush administration.

Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, had served as a diplomat and ambassador in several countries in Africa. In 2002, at the request of the CIA, Wilson traveled to Niger to investigate a claim that the government had sold yellowcake, a refined form of uranium, to the Iraqis.  In his report to the CIA after he returned, Wilson concluded that documents upon which the claim was based were forgeries and, after speaking to several government officials in Niger, that no such sale ever took place.

In January, 2003, George W Bush claimed in his State of the Union speech, "The British government has learned that the government of Saddam Hussein recently sought  significant quantities of uranium from Africa."  When Wilson learned he was one of the supposed sources for the yellowcake claim, he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, titled What I Didn't Find in Africa, rebutting the claim and undermining the Bush administration's case for the invasion of Iraq earlier in the year.

As the story unfolded, my feelings of despair during the run up to the Iraq war and the immediate aftermath came flooding back.  When the real-life filmed scenes of the bombing in Iraq appeared on the screen, I stopped the film, because I knew I would not sleep at all if I continued to watch.

Sunday morning, I watched the rest of the movie from were I'd left off.  Though I fully realized at the time that the invasion of Iraq was launched on the basis of lies, I remember being shocked and incredulous that people in the Cheney/Bush maladministration would destroy the lives and reputations of two faithful public servants.  The Wilsons believe that the purpose of Plame's outing was to discredit Joe and the information in the op-ed in the NYT.  The attacks took a toll on the personal lives of Plame and Wilson that cannot be overstated.

Launching a war on lies and deception is the larger evil, and the tragic consequences of the unnecessary invasion continue today.  Why then did I find the attacks on Plame and Wilson so shocking at the time?  In hindsight, I think the revelations of the Plame/Wilson affair confirmed my worst fears about the Cheney/Bush maladministration in a way that made the ugliness of the larger picture of the Bush years easier to comprehend and all the more distressing.

Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are utterly believable as Plame and Wilson.  I loved Sam Sheppard in his brief appearance as Sam Plame, Valerie's father.

After I told Tom about the movie, he wanted to watch it, and, since my viewing was interrupted, I wanted to see the film again without interruption before I mailed the DVD back to Netflix.  We watched together - for me this time with more detachment and somewhat less distress.  When fictional movies are disturbing, I always tell myself it's only a movie, but Fair Game is the story of the lives of real people that I watched play out in the news not so very many years ago, years that I would not wish to relive under any circumstances.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

"CAROL", THE MOVIE

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Carol, a wonderful, slow-paced film that focuses on relationships and conversations.  I know people who hate this sort of movie, in which "hardly anything happens", but so long as they're done well, as Carol is by director, Todd Haynes, and the actors, I enjoy them. Haynes has no fear of pauses in action and dialogue that allow the presence and facial expressions of the actors to speak.  The slow pace of the film makes the brief scenes of violence all the more shocking.

The film is set in New York City in the early 1950s during the formative years of my late teens, a time I remember well.  Cate Blanchett wears 50s fashion chic beautifully, as though she owns them, and is a joy to watch. Blanchett and Rooney Mara perform beautifully as Carol Aird, a woman in her late 30s, married to a successful businessman, and Therese Belivet, a young woman in her early 20s, who works in a department store as she pursues her passion for photography.  The two women meet and fall in love.  Carol and her husband, Harge, have a young daughter, which greatly complicates the story set in a time when attitudes toward lesbian and gay relationships were nearly universally hostile. Couples of the same sex paid a terrible price for their love in those days.

Scenes in the movie are heartbreakingly sad, but rather than wanting to turn away, such is the excellence of entire production that I was drawn further and further into the lives of the characters.  For me, a suspension of disbelief is vital to my enjoyment of a movie, and Haynes and the actors succeeded far above and beyond meeting my standards. Altogether gripping for a film filled with silences, in which "hardly anything happens".  I will watch this one again.

The screenplay by Phyllis Nagy is taken from the novel, The Price of Salt (also known as Carol), by Patricia Highsmith.

Edit: I forgot to mention Carol's and and Therese's "Thelma and Louise" type road trip out west; the cinematography is stunning.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"SPOTLIGHT" - THE MOVIE

Several nights ago, I watched the film Spotlight, which was riveting and all around excellent.  The movie earned its well-deserved Academy awards in Best Picture and Best Screen Play categories.  Though I followed the story of child abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Boston in the newspaper from the beginning, the story as told from the point of view of the newspaper reporters and editors kept me in full suspense mode throughout.  I'd be hard put to single out particular actors for fine performances, because the principals were all outstanding.

The child abuse scandals in Louisiana broke earlier than the Boston scandal, but there was only spotty coverage by the national media.  South Louisiana is heavily Roman Catholic, and I now realize how courageous the reporters and editors in the local newspapers, the Daily Comet and the Houma Courier, were in publishing their stories.  No doubt, they took a great deal of heat from diocesan leaders and lawyers at the time.

The Catholic Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux is small, and I knew some of the people involved.  When I learned of the child abuse, the hush money paid to victims, and the attempts to cover up by supposedly moral and psychologically sound leaders, I left the church at age 60.  Though my alliance with the church had been uneasy for quite a while, my decision to completely break the ties was difficult.

Night before last, I watched Spotlight again before I sent the DVD back to Netflix. I wanted to enjoy the fine artistry on display in the film without being overwhelmed by suspense.  Upon seeing the movie the second time, I remembered the light-bulb moment when, after hearing the stories about more than one priest in more than one diocese in Louisiana, I concluded that the abusive priests didn't simply slip through the cracks, but that the actual policy of the church was to shift abusive priests from parish to parish, perhaps after a leave of absence, where the abusive behavior continued in their new placements.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

"THE PRIZE WINNER OF DEFIANCE, OHIO" - MOVIE

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, was pulled from theaters soon after its release in 2005 in only a small number of venues because of early negative reviews.  How sad.  Because my first viewing was interrupted several times and because I loved the film. I watched it twice.  Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore) is the mother of ten children, married to alcoholic Kelly Ryan (Woody Harrelson).  Kelly spends much of his wage as a machinist at the liquor store, which sometimes leaves the family with no money to buy food or milk before the next paycheck.

The running thread of Evelyn's (and Kelly's) humiliation is highlighted throughout the movie by Evelyn pleading and bargaining with Ray, the milkman, (Simon Reynolds) to leave milk for the children when she has no money to pay the bill.  The desperate and embarrassing plight of the family leads Kelly to despair and turn even more to the bottle for relief.

The story is true (allowing for artistic liberties) and is based on the book of the same name by "Tuff" Ryan (Jordan Todosey), one of the daughters of Evelyn and Kelly.  Set in the 1950s and 1960s, when the traditional role of a woman was to be a wife and mother, Evelyn is expected to put up with the lack of money and Kelly's occasional drunken rages and try harder to make the best of the situation.  Julianne Moore's performance is splendid.  Evelyn carries on, mostly cheerfully, against enormous odds for the sake of the children and for the sake of maintaining her own sanity.  With ten children, her options are few to none.

Prizes for sending in lyrics for jingles for TV commercials were in their heyday at the time, and Evelyn has a gift for finding the right words to match the jingle melodies.  Her family urges her to send in her lyrics, which she does, and she begins to win.  The prizes get larger and larger, and she goes from toasters, to freezers, to trips, cars, and money.   Usually, the trips have to be exchanged for funds, and the cars cars sold to make ends meet.

Before my review becomes too much of a spoiler, I'd better stop.  I'd only add that I recommend this sentimental, bittersweet movie highly.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"THE GUARD" - FILM

The other night, I watched The Guard on DVD. Often the movies from Netflix have been on my list for quite a while, and, when I look at the title, I wonder why the film on was on my list in the first place. As soon as the movie started, I remembered why. The wonderful Brendan Gleeson stars in the leading role as a sergeant in the Guarda (Irish police), and the equally wonderful Don Cheadle plays an FBI investigator gone to Ireland to help with the investigation of an international drug cartel. The movie, which is an Irish police whodunnit/comedy, is excellent, and I recommend it highly.

I'd seen Gleeson in the role of an Irish priest in Calvary and praised the actor and the film on my Facebook page. Because I enjoyed the Gleeson's moving performance immensely in the previous film, a few of my excellent FB friends recommended The Guard. Thank you. The movie was a treat.

Because I live in a small town, movie theaters near me seldom show independent films or well-reviewed films that play to less than blockbuster audiences. Later, local movie rental outlets often did not stock the less popular films, so, unless I purchased them (which can be quite expensive), I'd never get to see them. Three cheers and more for Netflix, because now I watch movies that I never expected to see in my lifetime.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

'INDOCHINE" AND "THE LAST METRO"

Two recent films from Netflix, Indochine (1992) and The Last Metro (1980), both starring Catherine Deneuve, were enjoyable and well worth watching.   As a side note, from the first time I saw Deneuve in a film, I longed to look like her, and I was well past my teen years.  I still want to look like her.

Indochine is long and sometimes moves at a rather slow pace, which I don't mind, so long as the movie holds my interest.  Scenes throughout Indochine interrupt the slowness to startle, sometimes with violence and nearly always with a rush of events taking place in a short space of time.  The setting is French Indo-China during the 30s and 40s when the seeds of rebellion against colonialism were already sprouting.  I remembered very little of the film besides the gorgeous scenery and cinematography, Deneuve's usual beauty, and her romance with the younger French naval officer, so it was a bit like seeing the film for the first time.  Little had I realized what a beautiful country Vietnam is before I saw the movie the first time.  The story is well-scripted and directed, and the actors, especially Deneuve, are excellent.

It's still a mystery to me why the powers-that-be in the US ignored the recent history of the French war in Indo-China that lasted 15 years and foolishly decided to launch a war in the country, which resulted in deadly, tragic consequences.  The domino theory of the threat of the spread of communism in Asia, along with our hubris in imagining we could stop the movement and impose our version of democracy in the country produced a folly beyond our imaginings.  Colonialism is always cruel, but our attempt to "fix" the country was no less cruel.

The Last Metro (1980), written and directed by François Truffaut, takes place during the occupation of Paris by the Nazis during World War II.  Along with Deneuve, a young Gérard Depardieu, appears in the film.   A number of the scenes in the movie are dark, literally, because they are set outside at night or in the basement of a theater, where Deneuve's husband (Heinz Bennent), the owner and producer of the theater, is hiding from the Nazis because he is Jewish.  The darkness is quite appropriate as the occupation of Paris was indeed a dark time.  The title refers to the curfew when Metro service was cut off at a certain time in the evening, and Parisians could not be out and about. As is often the case, Truffaut leaves us in the end with surprise and ambiguity.

Both films are in French with English subtitles, for which I'm grateful.  I hate dubbed foreign language movies.  I'll never forget the dubbed Italian film during which I could hardly keep from laughing out loud in the theater, as I watched the Italian actors speak with Midwestern American accents.   I intended for the reviews to be short and sweet, but I'm too much like The Long-Winded Lady, Maeve Brennan, who wrote for The New Yorker some years ago, except I don't write nearly as well.

The Netflix DVD mail program is a treasure trove of fine older films, which will probably end sooner or later as the company moves exclusively to streaming, but I will be very sorry.  One plus for the DVD program is that new movies are usually available on DVD sooner than for streaming on the internet.   Also, once the company owns the DVD, it is theirs, whereas streaming rights can be withdrawn at any time.

Monday, October 12, 2015

"BIRDMAN" - FILM

The complete title of the movie is Birdman; The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.  Right there you have a smile - at least I did.  I watched the movie twice and laughed out loud during a number of scenes both times, more so in the second viewing, but the humor is dark, indeed.  My responses ran the gamut, from, "What's going on?" (my initial reaction), to laughter, to suspense, to sadness, and back more than once to all of the above, till the final, "What's going on?"

Michael Keaton is brilliant as Riggan Thomson, aka Birdman, an aging film superhero, who, of course, can fly, and who is trying to change the direction of  his career by bringing to the stage a short story by Raymond Carver in which he also plays a starring role. Emma Stone is terrific in the role of Riggan's daughter, Sam, who is just out of rehab.  Stone is a commanding presence each time she appears on the screen.  The scenes with Sam and Michael Shiner (Edward Norton), an actor who is brought into the play in a leading role at the eleventh hour, are especially funny, tender, and poignant.  Jake (Zach Galifianakis), Riggan's long-suffering good friend and lawyer, is very fine in his supporting role.

As for the play within a movie, from the scenes that appear the film, the drama is not the least believable, nor is it recognizable as based on a Carver story, but, nevertheless, it serves to advance the dark, chaotic hilarity of the story. 

Since I watched the film twice, you've probably guessed that I think it worth viewing, and I very much do.  Though I highly recommend the movie, because of the blackness of its satire, Birdman is probably not for everyone.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING"


Last week, I watched and enjoyed The Theory of Everything, which I thought was a biopic about Stephen Hawking. About halfway through the film, I thought to myself, "This is more the story of Jane Hawking than Stephen." Well, duh... You see, I did not know the movie was based on Jane's book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen Hawking. Even as Stephen faced enormously difficult challenges that would have defeated all but the strongest and most determined among us, Jane's life was no bed of roses.

Eddie Redmayne was superb as Hawkings. The physical and psychological efforts required to do justice to the role must have been daunting, indeed. Felicity Jones as Jane holds up her end quite well, too. Elaine (Maxine Peake) is wonderful as Stephen's nurse, hired to help with his care and relieve some of the burden for Jane. She is an overbearing, take-no-prisoners type, and her relationship with Stephen eventually takes its toll on family relationships. Jane and Stephen subsequently divorce, and Elaine becomes his second wife.

The film includes quite a bit of wit and humor, and I highly recommend it. One of the funniest scenes in the movie takes place when Elaine arranges for a technological wiz to provide Stephen with a computerized voice after he undergoes surgery to insert a permanent tracheotomy tube and loses the ability to speak.

Technician: "There we go. Welcome to the future."
Stephen Hawking: [via computer] "My name is Stephen Hawking."
Jane: "It's American."
Technician: "Is that a problem?"

Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"FORCE MAJEURE" - THE MOVIE

Anyone out there seen the Swedish film Force Majeure, directed by Ruben Östlund? Did I order the movie from Netflix because of a recommendation from a friend, or a review that praised the film? It is a puzzlement. Apparently, I ordered it some time ago, and, when it arrived, and even after watching, I wondered why I put it in my queue. Anyway, I thought it intriguing, though rather strange, and overly long. The movie included very funny moments, and I suppose it could be characterized as black comedy. Live and learn, and, in the end, I'm not sorry to have seen it.

In the film, a Swedish family, which includes the father, Tomas, the mother, Ebba, and two children, Vera and Harry, is on a ski holiday in the French Alps. The performances of the main actors, Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are not of the highest quality - the father's especially, I thought quite weak. The child actors, Clara Wettergren and Vincent Wettergren, are very good in their roles.  The family meets up with an old friend of Tomas, Mats (Kristofer Hivju), of the startlingly wild red beard, and his 20 year old girlfriend, Fanni (Fanni Metelius), whose performances outshine those of the parents.

The film created a buzz at Cannes and is rated highly in reviews by critics at Rotten Tomatoes, but less so by the audience reviews. Shades of Ingmar Bergman, but surely not in his class of genius.

Monday, August 17, 2015

"GOSFORD PARK" - THE MOVIE


Gosford Park, written by Julian Fellowes, is MASH, written by Ring Lardner, Jr, filmed all these years apart, with both movies having the unmistakable stamp of Robert Altman's genius.  The major difference is that MASH is an anti-war movie, set in Korea, and Gosford Park is an Agatha Christie type murder mystery, set in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a shooting weekend in an English country house.  Otherwise, the two are just the same.  Of course not, but, as I watched the film, MASH came to mind more than once.

Bob Balaban, actor, director, and producer, convinced Altman to collaborate with him on the film and suggested Julian Fellowes to write the script.  The movie is perhaps more Downton Abbey than Agatha Christie, but the result is brilliant.  The two, with the assistance of casting director Mary Selway, gathered a splendid ensemble cast, in which major British actors sometimes play relatively minor roles.  The actors include Eileen Atkins, Alan Bates, Charles Dance, Laurence Fox, Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Tom Hollander, Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, and Balaban himself.  Phew!  Balaban is the sole character from the States, and, like the rest of us Yanks, he makes the usual hash of his visit to England.

Altman encourages cast members to improvise, sometimes to excellent and witty effect, and Gosford Park includes the same rapid fire crosstalk I remember from MASH and Nashville, another great Altman film. Even as the movie addresses serious social issues of class, money, sex, gender and sexual orientation, it does so with humor and without heavy-handed preachiness. 

I'd seen the movie in the theater when it was first released, and, because of the crosstalk, I knew I'd missed quite a bit of the dialogue.  Also, the cast of characters is quite large, and thus it's a challenge to keep track of who's who and the relationships, so I was pleased with the opportunity to see the film again on Netflix DVD.  Before I sent it back, I watched a third time and realized I'd still missed a lot the first and second times around.  Since I enjoy the film so much, I decided to buy the DVD.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"LOVE IS STRANGE" - MOVIE

Love Is Strange, directed by Ira Sachs, is a wonderfully tender, bittersweet, and gently humorous love story with very fine acting by all the performers, especially the two principals, John Lithgow, as Ben, and Alfred Molina, as George, two Manhattanites of a certain age who have been together nearly 40 years and are finally able to marry.  Unfortunately, smooth, wedded bliss does not follow as George is fired from his job teaching music in a Roman Catholic school. 

The school authorities knew George was gay and partnered and looked the other way, but his marriage is a whole other matter and costs him his job. Ben is retired, and, with their income reduced to Ben's pension and payments from George's private pupils, the two are forced to sell their apartment and live apart until they find a place they can afford. 

Ben moves in with his nephew, Elliot (Darren Burrows), wife, Kate (Marisa Tomei), and teenage son, Joey (Charlie Tahan), who live in a smallish apartment, where he shares a room and bunk beds with Joey.  George stays in the apartment of his two partying policemen friends, where he sleeps on the sofa, which is difficult when there's often a party going on. 

The two men give perfect performances as long-time lovers who remain quite fond of one another, despite the petty annoyances common to all relationships.  There's no sex in the film, but the actors show affection for one another in what is perhaps the most believable way I have ever seen in a movie.  Marisa Tomei is outstanding as Kate. The film is understated, and the facial expressions and body language of the actors speak as eloquently as words.

Of the three outstanding and memorable movies I've seen recently, I'm sad to say not one was a big money maker at the box office.  I hope the earnings from rentals and streaming are sufficient to encourage the producers and directors to continue with such quality productions.  The other films are Calvary, with Brendan Gleeson, and Locke, with Tom Hardy, which I posted about earlier.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

"THE IMITATION GAME" - FILM

The Imitation Game was last week's movie. I have the least expensive Netflix subscription, so I receive only one DVD at a time and average about one movie a week.  Since I can watch only one movie at a time, the inexpensive option works well.  I assume most of you know something of the story of Alan Turing, thus I am not concerned about writing a spoiler review.  During World War II, Alan Turing, a brilliant Cambridge mathematician, worked at Bletchley Park Code and Cypher School in England where the supposedly unbreakable Enigma code used by the German military was, in fact, broken, thus shortening the war by a number of years and saving a large number of lives.  Turing also formalized "the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine", a hypothetical device that is the father of the computer as we know it today.

While I enjoyed the film, I had the sense throughout that the story was in some way forced, that the director, Morten Tyldum, and script writer, Graham Moore, were trying too hard in a way that seemed fairly obvious to me.  However, since I knew only the bare bones of Turing's story, that he was a mathematical and cryptological genius, that he helped break Enigma, the German military code, while working at Bletchley Park during World War II, and that he was gay, I couldn't be sure of the how and why of the apparent strain.  After watching, I did a bit of online research and learned that the story, as told in the movie, took great liberties with the facts of Turing's life, such as they are known.  Though I agree it's quite common and sometimes works well when films take liberties for the sake of a more interesting story line, it seems to me that the movie would have been more entertaining if the director and writer had not portrayed Turing as two-dimensional, an awkward, anti-social, nerdy, gay genius and martyr to an ungrateful, homophobic nation, and rather fleshed him out as a complex and more rounded human being.

In 1952, Turing was charged with "gross indecency" for committing homosexual acts to which he confessed after he was arrested. To avoid prison, he was forced to undergo a year of chemical castration therapy.   In 1956, a little over a year after the hormone therapy had ended, Turing committed suicide.  Laws against same sex relationships were on the books in England until 1967 (and much later in some states in the US).  Though I do not minimize the cruel consequences of the laws for gay men, I wish the movie had been truer to the story of Turing, the man, who made no great effort to hide his sexual orientation from those who knew him and worked with him.  Also, according to biographer Jack Copeland, though he was indeed introverted and eccentric, "Once you got to know him Turing was fun — cheerful, lively, stimulating, comic, brimming with boyish enthusiasm."   Copeland also questioned the suicide verdict of the inquest.

If Turing is portrayed as two-dimensional in the movie, the supporting characters are one-dimensional, and that's not to demean the performances of Benedict Cumberbatch, as Turing, and the other actors, whose skillful efforts succeeded in holding my interest throughout the film by doing their best with poor material.

What the movie accomplished was to motivate me to learn more about Turing, which I've done by searching for material online and giving Jack Copeland's book, Turing: Pioneer of the Information Age, a place on my reading wishlist.

Friday, June 26, 2015

"LOCKE" - THE MOVIE

The film, directed by Steven Knight, is gripping, harrowing, and claustrophobic. Nearly the entire movie is filmed inside a moving car with with one character, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), a foreman in the concrete business, talking on the phone with various voices on the other end of the phone. Ivan is on his way to London from the hinterlands at night, in the dark, under great stress. The moving car lights on the road and road lights whizzing by are dazzling, dizzying, and blinding, all of which make for a dangerous ride and sustained suspense for the viewer. Will Ivan make it to London in one piece?

Locke has a cold; he coughs and constantly wipes his dripping nose throughout the film. The viewer sees Ivan's face, arms and hands, surrounded by darkness and never gets a look at the rest of him.

One bad thing after another happens to Ivan all along the way, but we hear about them only through the phone conversations. As Ivan's life begins to fall apart, in a sort of crazed desperation, he talks to his dead bastard of a father about how well he's handling all the problems. At one point, he says, "The Lockes were a long line of shit, but I straightened them out." And yet, and yet, even as he's near the edge, Ivan maintains enough control and sanity to deal with the problems as best he can, with very mixed results.

Hardy as Ivan is superb; words fail to adequately praise his performance. As noted above in the conversations with his dead father, gallows humor (unintended by Ivan) runs throughout the course of the film. I think especially of Ivan's attempts to calm the women on the other end of the phone by repeating, "You're distressed", and to calm those around the women with, "She's distressed". Another instance is when Ivan responds to one of the voices wanting reassurance that everything will work out, "Absolutely!...hopefully" The actors doing the voices on are terrific, too, especially Andrew Scott as Donal, Ivan's assistant on the job.

After watching the movie once, I decided to see it again before I sent the DVD back to Netflix, and I watched once more the following evening. Indeed, I had missed parts of the dialogue that I picked up on the second viewing, so it was a good thing I saw the film again. Not quite so harrowing the second time around, but nonetheless quite enjoyable.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"CALVARY" - THE MOVIE


The other evening, I watched the film Calvary written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, starring Brendan Gleeson, as Fr James, a good Roman Catholic priest serving in a small church in the north of Ireland. Gleeson's performance is riveting, comparable to Mark Rylance's work in Wolf Hall. In Wolf Hall, it was Rylance's eyebrows and silences that so often communicated without words.  Gleeson, who is a large bear of a man, appears in nearly every scene in the film, and his rough, mobile facial features speak volumes without words.

McDonagh's script doesn't flinch as it takes us through the via dolorosa, which is Fr James' everyday life and most surely tests his faith to its limits. The good priest has the heart of a pastor and goes about his parish work shouldering the burden, as many priests do, of the aftermath of the child abuse scandal.   A dark comic thread runs through the movie but does little to relieve the sadness and gloomy portent that pervade the film.  Though I was completely caught up in the story throughout the course of the film, I found it difficult and disturbing to watch, but, at the same time, it was impossible for me to turn away. Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal came to mind.

The movie was filmed in and around County Sligo in the north of Ireland.  Though the beach scene settings and recurring views of the impressive Benbulbin rock formation are picturesque, I could not help but think of the town and the surroundings as relentlessly godforsaken places.

Writing about Calvary was probably the most difficult review of any I've ever done, because I admire the film greatly, and I wanted to get the words right.  Gleeson is magnificent in his role, and, though he dominates the film, the supporting cast of characters are intriguing and talented enough to hold their own.  In his script and direction, McDonagh resists any temptation to cater to the audience or take the easy way out in tackling difficult and controversial subjects in this splendid and powerful film.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"CATCH-22" - THE FILM

A couple of weeks ago, I watched the film Catch-22. Like Mash, another anti-war movie I watched again recently, it was released during during the Vietnam war, but the story is set in Italy during World War II. The futility of war is once again exposed, though WWII is remembered as the "good war". Catch-22 does not wear as well as Mash. In the beginning, laughs are blended with violence and absurdity, but later in the film, the mood grows darker until the laughs all but later in the film, the mood grows darker until the laughs all but disappear, and there is little respite from violence, futility, and hopelessness. Still, throughout the the movie, in the most somber scenes, irony occasionally breaks through, and the names of the some of the characters are always good for a smile.

Thank you, Joseph Heller. I've heard others say that the film does not at all do justice the book, but, since I read the book so long ago, and my memory is dim, I can't say.


Image from Wikipedia.

Monday, March 30, 2015

MOONRISE KINGDOM

Earlier in the week, I watched the delightful, poignant, funny, sweet movie, "Moonrise Kingdom". The cast includes Jared Gilman, as Sam, and Kara Hayward, as Suzy, the 12 year old pair who run away together and cause concern and mayhem in the lives of the adults who are responsible for them. The two young actors shine in their roles. The stellar actors in the other roles are fantastic - Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton, an embarrassment of riches, yes? Suspend disbelief (which is easy to do), and enjoy a very good time.

Monday, March 9, 2015

"BOYHOOD" - THE MOVIE

This past Saturday, I watched Richard Linklater's wonderful movie Boyhood and enjoyed it very much.  The film is clocked at 2 hours and 44 minutes, but it didn't seem that long because I easily slipped into the groove of the pace, which is admittedly sometimes slow, but never boring.  Patricia Arquette, who plays the boy's mother, Olivia, in the movie, is excellent and Ethan Hawke, as the father, Mason, Sr, has done some of his best work with Linklater in this movie and in the Before trilogy.   I wonder how the writer/director could have known that the acting talent of the star of the film, six year old Ellar Coltrane, as Mason, would hold up so amazingly well throughout the 12 years that the filming took place.  Perhaps he didn't and took a chance anyway.   Linklater's daughter Lorelei plays the role of Mason's older sister, Samantha.

Linklater has done and is doing amazing and innovative films such as in the terrific Before trilogy, in which he takes up the stories of the characters at intervals of 10 years, with the principal actors aging in real time between filming.  And now Boyhood, with the actors aging, but not in real time, rather in scenes filmed over a period of 12 years and integrated into a single very fine film.

As with the earlier trilogy, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, Linklater invited the actors to collaborate in writing the script, which developed as the movie was being made.  As a writer/director, Linklater appears be quite sure of himself and his talent to film without a finished script and to allow such close collaboration by the actors, resisting what must be the urge of most auteur filmmakers to have complete control of their projects.

Note: Not about the movie, but about me.  During some of the scenes of Mason and Sam in their teen years, I was uneasy, because I had flashbacks to the years when we had three teenagers in the throes of adolescenthood, which made the film quite difficult to watch.  Those were not the easiest times in our lives.