Tag Archives: Historical

Endless Poetry (Poesía Sin Fin)

[3 stars]

Endless Poetry picks up just about where Dance of Reality left off. In fact the overlap and reuse of actors and sets is so complete I thought I had started to rewatch Alejandro Jodorowsky’s previous film and had to stop to be sure. However, it quickly veers as we follow the young Alejandro from his childhood home to Santiago. This next chapter of his life story is not about his parents so much as about his creative blooming.

Much like the last (and all of Jodorowsky’s) work, this is in his unique voice. While highly biographical and personal, it is also surreal and experimental. Not quite film and not quite theatre it flows along leaving you with incredible visuals, intriguing ideas, and moments of beauty set off by disturbing scenes of ugliness. Though I will say that this film seems to find the beauty in everything it sees, no matter how base or fouled.

As the title implies, this is the path by which our intrepid artist learns to see poetry in everything in life. It is a hopelessly optimistic approach, but not an unfair depiction of a young poet. It echos a lot of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s (The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet) early work. The rich colors, the odd characters, the fantastical approaches to life. The bottomless ability to find the positive amid the disturbing. And, ultimately, the core belief that the human spirit can not only survive anything but also use it to create art.

This is a film you watch for the experience. What you take from it will change depending on when you watch it. It is a stunning piece of vision making it worthwhile even when the story itself is so personal to Jodorowsky as to be inscrutable. But, of course, you have to like that experimental theatre feel and approach.

Endless Poetry

Crooked House

[3 stars]

Unlike the recent Ordeal by Innocence, this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s twisted mystery is more arch, following the traditions of the previous decades. It is certainly enjoyable, but I find the newer approach to the stories to be more believable. Crooked House is still chock full of talent.

As the elderly aunt, Glenn Close (The Girl With All the Gifts) steals the movie along with the precocious Honor Kneafsey (Miss You Already) as the youngest child. The two bristle in their environment rather than feeding into it, helping them stand out. They also get some of the best lines, which doesn’t hurt.

But the story is really driven by Stephanie Martini (Prime Suspect: 1973), whose noirish debutante feels a lot like a Ruth Wilson copy, and Max Irons (Terminal), who is a marginally effective detective in well over his head. And that is part of the issue. Irons becomes the excuse for the story to occur rather than the man who picks apart the threads for the truth. He isn’t completely ineffective, but his purpose is more romantic than responsible.

Gillian Anderson (X-Files),Christina Hendricks (The Neon Demon),  and Terence Stamp (Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children) add some nice fun to the story in smaller roles. The rest of the cast is just as recognizable and fill in the tale.

Director and co-writer Gilles Paquet-Brenner is clearly a lover of the classic Christie mysteries, be it the TV versions or the recent remake of Murder on the Orient Express. It is all very much in the tenor of the books, though it is an approach that is starting to feel a little thread-bare and forced as culture marches on. The sensibility shouldn’t be too surprising given that one of the co-writers was Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey). However, this is still fun if you like Christie’s look at the upper-class and murder through a marginally satiric lens, and this is no exception.

Crooked House

The Little Stranger

[3.5 stars]

You never go into an adaptation of a Sarah Waters story expecting something straightforward. Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet, The Handmaiden, are all complex and layered tales of deep psychological intensity. Lenny Abrahamson (Room) understood this when he tackled directing this Gothic horror that lives comfortably alongside Remember MeTurn of the Screw, The Haunting of Hill House (its latest upcoming remake), and other deliberately paced, unsettling fare.

Abrahamson had each actor wound so tight they were always on the verge of flying to bits. Domhnall Gleeson’s (Goodbye Christopher Robin) pauses and looks each spoke volumes to his motivations and actions. Ruth Wilson (How to Talk to Girls at Parties), alternating between cornered mouse and mother bear, was also utterly transformed into something we’ve not really seen before with a new accent and even a new walk. Will Poulter (Maze Runner: The Death Cure) was a sympathetic and twisted wreck of a man, barely holding onto his sanity after the war and severe injury. And Charlotte Rampling (Red Sparrow), while the least transformed physically, was a walking wound of a bereaved mother and fallen aristocracy.

Writer Lucinda Coxon (Danish Girl) gave each of the characters beautifully trimmed sentences that were loaded with subtext, thanks to sure directing and deft acting. Unlike most Waters’ stories, this is presented primarily from a male point of view and its sense of the supernatural is quiet but very palpable. Waters often plays along this line, but in this tale it is up to the audience to decide what is really going on, at least as it is told by Coxon and Abrahamson.

This is a horror story, but it is aimed at lovers of period drama and psychological terror. It isn’t about cheap scares or buckets of gore. Because of that, it is likely to never find a wide audience despite its excellent craft and delivery. If that is the kind of story you enjoy, make time for it. If you are hoping for highly paced action and scares, move along to something else. This is a movie to absorb, contemplate, and even discuss after the credits roll.

The Little Stranger

The Names of Love (Le nom des gens)

[3.5 stars]

Quirky. Amusing. Sexy. And all with a purpose. It is very… French; a dark comedy that is also a political romance. There is nothing traditional about this one at all.

Sara Forestier (Gainsbourg: Vie Héroïque) is evanescent and the walking embodiment of Id and sex. She is also strong and independent to a fault. And, opposite her (in so many ways), Jacques Gamblin is about as buttoned down as one can get. Yet, somehow, they become an unlikely couple.

There isn’t much more to tell that won’t give away the surprises. If you like quirky romance and don’t mind some politics thrown in, this is for you. It is very funny at times, and a bit pointed at others. If you want just a light romance, this probably isn’t your best choice.

If you get this on disc, there is also a short film by co-writer Baya Kasmi that is clearly the inspiration for this longer piece she put together with director Michel Leclerc. The bones of the story are in this short, but the sensibility is quite a bit different. If you do watch The Names of Love, give the short a go and see what spawned it. It is a good little film in its own right.

The Names of Love

BlacKkKlansman

[5 stars]

Undoubtedly, this is Spike Lee’s (Chi-Raq) best film since Do The Right Thing. Not because he is back on political ground, he never left it, but because it flows, it is human, and it is a masterful piece of storytelling that takes you from Point A to a Point B in unexpected ways. It is an hypnotic film that draws you in with its humor and, while never subtle, slowly turns the screws to leave you with that same self-reflective feeling Do The Right Thing managed way back when.

Certainly Lee’s trademark camera work and shots are present, but he holds them back for better impact than he has in the past. And his direction for the actors is subtle as he orchestrates the off-beat and nearly unbelievable tale.

In the lead, John David Washington (Ballers) floats perfectly through Stallworth’s story. Adam Driver (Logan Lucky) supports him well by his side and navigating his own complex history. As difficult as these roles were to play, Topher Grace (The Calling), Ryan Eggold (Lucky Them), Jasper Pääkkönen (Vikings), and Paul Walter Hauser (I, Tonya) deserve special notice. They had to navigate some very dark places with conviction and without allowing them to become caricatures; no easy task.

This film is rather female poor, which was a surprise. However, Laura Harrier (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Ashlie Atkinson (One Dollar) each create fascinating, true-believers who are very much part of the story. As a surprise short bit, Alec Baldwin (Mission: Impossible: Fallout) sets the tone nicely if not entirely fits in the movie. There are many other performances to notice, but this would get too long to list them all. Suffice to say that it is a well heeled and directed cast.

But, unlike the also true Shock and Awe, Lee managed to find the personal stories in the tale and to talk to us openly and honestly, bringing home the point of his film. In fact, he baldly lectures and nods to our present day. Because he does, but within the strictures of the story he’s telling, it becomes wry, sarcastic humor rather than pure chest-beating exposition. I don’t know how he managed that, but it worked.

The movie has its flaws, but not many. Most of the concerns I had fled as the movie wrapped up and the reasons for many choices became clear. It is certainly an odd structure, but it is also a beautiful piece of architecture and a movie not to be missed. Make time for this film in the theater. It isn’t necessarily a big-screen flick, though Lee certainly knows how to frame things, but it does deserve your support and time. It isn’t a pleasant subject, but you get plenty of sugar with the medicine. That BlacKkKlansman is a true story only adds to the weird and scary wonderfulness of it all.

BlacKkKlansman

Indignation

[3 stars]

Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters) is not the first actor I would have considered for the lead role as a Jewish intellectual outcast in the wilds of Ohio 1951, but he surprised me. While his sense of inner turmoil and contradiction is less obvious than I might have preferred, his delivery and control helped sell the complicated young man. With Sarah Gadon (The 9th Life of Louis Drax) beside him much of the way, the two cut a tumultuous rug overhung by desire and dread. In short, a Philip Roth novel.

Around the young lovers are the adults that help define the story and results, though not a one of them would ever accept that responsibility. Which is, to my mind, part of the point. Tracy Letts (The Post), in particular, is a quiet powerhouse of a character. Letts embodies a personality that was common then and, sadly, still too far common now. And, as his parents, Danny Burstein (The Family Fang) and Linda Emond (Song to Song) are heartbreakingly real in their love and selfishness that influence Lerman’s life.

Writer/director James Schamus (Eat Drink Man Woman, The Wedding Banquet, Lust, Caution) is no stranger to delicate and fraught relationships.  His adaptation of Roth’s tale captures the intellectual and lyrical nature of the author nicely. For as simple as Roth’s stories are, the underlying intent and the social and personal commentary are not. His characters are constantly challenged and often fail. They question their purpose and their morality. They often don’t fit into the world around them at all; outsiders in a crowd. Sometimes outsiders in their own bodies. And they are passionate to the point of their own demise.

Indignation is loaded with history and layers. It is a quiet film that will pull you along to its final moments. It nicely hits on a personal level while leaving you with plenty to consider, and consider changing. And it captures its era beautifully…only reminding us how little has changed in human nature and politics.

Indignation

Shock and Awe

[3 stars]

At a time when the free press is under attack from the very highest offices in the government; and at a time that these self-same leaders are inciting and encouraging literal attacks on those in the Fourth Estate, Shock and Awe is a reminder of the power of, the need for, and the fragility of the foundation of news organizations and their place in a democracy.

Rob Reiner really couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time to create and deliver this story. Like The Post, this is also an accurate tale of finding and reporting a truth that the public needed to know. Unlike The Post, the people standing in the way were not the government, but rather the newspaper editors themselves due to an extreme rise of nationalist fervor in the wake of 9/11.

As a reminder of truth and the value of a free press, this movie is invaluable. As a film, it is crafted with journeymen-like care but it isn’t necessarily a great movie. It tends to avoid deep dives and explanations, shifting the focus from an All The President’s Men effort to that of a more personal story. In some ways, that is fair and more impactful; the only mystery here was why no one would print the truth rather than what the truth was. To hold it together, Reiner frames it with a very personal story to remind us of the consequences of such situations.

Shock and Awe is competently delivered by the cast. In addition to Reiner, Wood Harrelson (Solo: A Star Wars Story) and James Marsden (Welcome to Me) make a great and competitive team. Tommy Lee Jones (Just Getting Started) brings in his trademark curmudgeon with a brain and heart. Most surprising was a nice turn by Milla Jovovich (Future World) who breaks type and works well with Harrelson. Jessica Biel (Hitchcock) gives us a nice character, but doesn’t really add to the main story. Even the introduction of Richard Schiff (Geostorm), whose character is directly related to the tale and whose performance is nicely balanced, doesn’t quite build up the story as it could. Combined, we get a taste of the world they were all a part of, including their personal lives, even if we don’t ever really understand the details or feel it as deeply as we should.

The result is a watered-down polemic about what nationalism can bring and why questioning, generally, is a good thing. It is also a solid reminder of why the press isn’t “the enemy of the people” as our current leadership has been heard to say, and often repeat.

What is a surprise in this story is that it also reminds us that, in majority, those with careers in government do care about the truth and the country. That may seem an odd thing to say, but more than one person I know has expressed the sense that those in elected office are craven and self-serving, unconcerned about anyone and anything other than their own comfort and finances. Or perhaps that doesn’t seem so odd to say these days when we’ve a leader who has hired his whole family and pushes government meetings and international guests to his own properties while still accepting deals in apparent trade for favors overseas?

What is made clear is that the only people who fear a free and honest press are those trying to hide the truth. But it is also important to hold the press to account, as this story does, because they do wield immense power. However, we do need them as an un-jaundiced eye on the world to understand it.

[Keep in mind that there is variant of reporting that is really just entertainment. Fox News (and its ilk) if you go for that kind of thing, is fine entertainment, but it isn’t news. In fact, it legally isn’t news. It is classified as entertainment, and they often lie and misreport to get ratings; they have no legal obligation to the truth (and no morals to speak of). This is factual statement, go look up the court cases and interviews with their leadership that prove it.]

News, on the other hand, has to be balanced and honest, and stick to the facts, editorializing only when necessary and always doing so openly. News organizations aren’t infallible, but they do have to make every attempt to be accurate. Shock and Awe puts up a mirror to the past and what can happen when the press doesn’t do their job… and how bad and long-lasting the consequences can be.

Shock and Awe

Woman Walks Ahead

[3 stars]

Woman Walks Ahead isn’t a great movie, but it dramatizes an interesting slice of history, especially given today’s politics. It also isn’t your typical Western, though it certainly retains a lot of the machismo overtones even with Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game) as the main focus and star of the film. Working closely with Michael Greyeyes (Fear the Walking Dead), the two form the main spine of the story and hold it together well.

But, honestly, the most nuanced and interesting characters were really along the sidelines. Bill Camp (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) really steal this movie out from under the leads. Camp’s General is inscrutable and weirdly fascinating. And Rockwell seems to have found a niche for himself in Hollywood as a semi-redeemable asshole. He’s good at it, but I’m really hoping he isn’t going to get stuck in that persona. Also worth noting were Ciarán Hinds (Red Sparrow) and Rulan Tangen as a mixed-race couple a la Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln.

Steven Knight’s (November Criminals, Peaky Blinders) script is intriguing and full of nice subtleties and historical bits that aren’t afraid of the realities. Despite that, what I realized was that I found myself reacting emotionally more to the events rather than to the characters themselves. My reactions were logical rather than emotional because I wasn’t identifying with the main characters. To me, this means director Susanna White (Parade’s EndNanny McPhee Returns) somehow bungled the execution. Chastain and Greyeyes have an intense and intensely quiet relationship. It isn’t that there isn’t tension between them, but Chastain, in particular, is so closed off that we never really get inside her head. Greyeyes has a few more moments, but again is often walled off.

As I said, this isn’t a great film, but it is an interesting one. Whether you think it was worth your time will be a combination of what you think of the actors and how much of the history you already know or think you know. The 1890s weren’t a pretty period for women or native Americans. If you you do make the time for this movie and want to keep it a true learning experience, pop in Wind River afterwards and find where it all leads and how little has changed.

Woman Walks Ahead

Ordeal by Innocence

[3.5 stars]

The latest evolution of Agatha Christie continues. Unlike the better known story Murder on the Orient Express, however, this particular stand-alone mystery is less familiar, though it was turned into a Marple mystery and a separate movie. I’ve seen both of these versions, but frankly don’t remember them that well. This incarnation, however, is a gripping three-part drama that keeps you guessing till the very end.

Sarah Phelps, who also wrote the recent and wonderful Witness for the Prosecution, adapted and constructed this mystery to provide a number of believable suspects. Director Sandra Goldbacher (Me Without You) controls the mystery and motives to keep you rethinking your options. The field of possible murderers doesn’t even start to diminish until the last 30 minutes of the three episode series, as the truth fully comes out.

Casting certainly was in their favor as well. With Bill Nighy (The Limehouse Golem) leading the family along with Anna Chancellor (Shetland), there is a great dynamic that sets the tension. The family of adopted children each bring their own sensibility and motivations. Anthony Boyle has the most complex role of the sibs, but he is well supported by Christian Cooke (Witches of East End), Crystal Clarke (Assassin’s Creed), Ella Purnell (Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children), and Eleanor Tomlinson (Death Comes to Pemberly). A couple of outsiders bring in the final ingredients: Luke Treadaway (Fortitude) and Matthew Goode (Self/less).

To be honest, it isn’t an entirely fair mystery; some information is held back till the final episode. Some of the blind spots are obvious (we see the murder multiple times from different time frames and angles) but some are about hidden relationships. However, even though the “who” is strung out, the clues and other aspects of the construction are beautiful. It all adds up to a much more believable story than we usually get to see, and one that is delightfully dark and satisfying through to the final frame.

Everything is Illuminated

[3.5 stars]

This is a sneaky little film, and all to the good. Liev Schreiber (Pawn Sacrifice) pulls off a clever bit of structure that would often destroy a film in less sure hands. Here it works wonderfully. And given that this was his first attempt at both writing and directing, it is an even more impressive result.

Elija Wood (The Last Witch Hunter) is the only readily recognizable face in the film. He provides a great spine for the tale. An equally strong performance is from a face you may or may not recognize, Boris Leskin. The interplay of these two characters is part of the magic that Schreiber pulls off.

I don’t know how much of the story from the original book is true, but the impact forgives it any embellishments. If you missed this in the past, make time for this story at some point. Let its quiet pace and wry humor take you along to unexpected places and endings. It is powerful and, sadly, still very relevant in today’s world.

Everything Is Illuminated