Friday, April 10, 2015

"Woman in Gold" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Woman in Gold" and the DVDs "The Equalizer"  and "The Rewrite." The Book of the Week is "Audrey and Bill: A Romantic Biography of Audrey Hepburn & William Holden" and I alert you to some noteworthy television:  "Sinatra: All or Nothing at All."  I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with: the Iranian film "Taste of Cherry." ]

 

The true life story of Maria Altmann, a Holocaust survivor, who takes on the Austrian government for restitution for the art stolen from her family by the Nazis - most notably, Gustav Klimt's "Woman in Gold."

Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), who left her homeland of Austria as a young woman to escape the Nazis, discovers, when her sister dies, that paintings that were once owned by her wealthy Jewish family and stolen by the Nazis now sit in the Belvedere Museum in Vienna. She especially wants the Gustave Klimt painting, "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I," also known as "Woman in Gold," because it is a portrait of her Aunt Adele, an aunt to whom she was especially close.  Maria seeks out the son of a friend to give her legal advice as to her rights to get the paintings back especially in light of Austria's 1998 Art Restitution Act.  The Klimt painting alone is worth over 100 million dollars, but it's not about the money.  She wants the stolen paintings back because they also symbolize her stolen life, the life she was forced to flee.

Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), a descendant of the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, is a young lawyer with limited experience but is basically railroaded into helping Maria until his own fervor for the cause kicks in. However, the Austrian government is not happy to let loose of one of its most famous paintings.  After all, they sell refrigerator magnets with that picture on them.  So Maria and Randol have a long and arduous fight ahead.

Helen Mirren has made a career out of playing imperious women who can wither those she disapproves of with a single glance - I mean, she's played Queen Elizabeth more than once, for god's sake, and is currently starring in that role on Broadway.  And didn't she play this same character in "The Hundred-Foot Journey," except with a different accent? It's starting to be a bit one note. And Mirren's portrayal of Maria is not played as a particularly sympathetic character until the end and by then, it's too late. 

However, the film is saved somewhat by the counter story of her younger self (played by Tatiana Maslany, who has made a name for herself in "Orphan Black") escaping Austria during the Nazi occupation.  But Mirren as an 80 year old?  I think not.

It's good to see Ryan Reynolds again.  He hasn't had a big film role for at least a year and those he has had since 2012 haven't done that well at the box office. I mean, tell me you have heard of "The Captive" or "Mississippi Grind" or "R.I.P.D." If you have, you must be either a huge Ryan Reynolds fan or a much more rabid movie fan than I.  I figure he is trying to shake the pretty boy rom-com typecasting, but, hey, I really liked "The Proposal."  I say, when you are good at something, why not stick to it?  Or maybe he just wanted to enjoy his marriage to Blake Lively. Here it looks like they have tried to "dumb down" his looks, or should I say make him look smarter (he plays a lawyer) and more like the real life person he portrays, by giving him false teeth and glasses.  A shame because he is such a handsome guy.  The director must have not wanted us to be distracted.

Austria is not painted in a particularly good light except for the presence of the journalist (Daniel Bruhl, "Rush") who wants to help them so as to make reparations for the fact his father was a Nazi as in "not all Austrians are bad."

But the film belongs to Mirren and Reynolds, so one wonders why Katie Holmes would choose to play the small role of Schoenberg's wife, and even more mysterious is why Elizabeth McGovern would want the few minutes she gets as the judge who allows Maria's case to go forward in the United States.  Doesn't playing Lady Cora on "Downton Abbey" pay enough?  Oh, sorry. She's married to the director. OK, I get that, then. But why would Jonathon Pryce want this miniscule role as the Chief Justice on the Supreme Court or Frances Fisher hers as Randol's mom?  Charles Dance as Randol's employer in his law firm at least gets some good lines for his short time on film.

But despite all of that talent, the film just didn't gel.  It didn't make me really care whether or not Maria got her paintings back or not.

Directed by Simon Curtis with a screenplay by Alexi Kaye Campbell, the films stands as a grim reminder of the atrocities visited upon the Jews by the Nazis during WW II, only some of which was their stolen art.  In that, the film is a success.  As a piece of film art on its own, not so much.

The story is an interesting, though small, one but it is just too pat and clichéd in its depictions to make us care very much. It's a typical Daniel vs. Goliath formula.  And there are some preposterous scenes such as when searching for her Aunt's will in Vienna, Maria and Randol are confronted with a room full of rows and rows of files that they must search through by hand in one night and naturally Randol finds the relevant file. The whole time they were searching I was thinking, "But can he read German?" 

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you liked "Philomena," you might like this film, but it doesn't have the power of "Philomena."  It's just an interesting idea turned into an ultimately disappointing film.


***DVDS***
You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)


The Equalizer  (2014)
 
 
A mysterious man with a mysterious past tries to live a quiet life, but is called into action when he meets a young prostitute who needs his help.

Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall.  McCall lives alone in Boston in an immaculate apartment, works at a Home Depot-like store and is helping his young colleague, Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis), lose weight so he can get a job as a security guard there.  McCall also can't seem to sleep because he spends most of his nights sitting in a diner reading classic novels. He has a bit of OCD as he is constantly straightening the salt and pepper shakers on the diner's table and timing everything he does. He also seems to be too controlled, as if he is poised to attack at any minute.

He meets Elena, whose street name is Teri, a young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz, "Carrie, "If I Stay") and they strike up a friendship.  When he finds out she is being used by a Russian crime ring and that they beat her up, his vigilantism begins.  He shoots up a restaurant which acts as a headquarters for the bad guys, which brings him to the attention of the head honcho, Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich).  Pushkin sends his baddest bad guy, Teddy (Marton Csokas), to deal with McCall.  Teddy is a very bad guy (Teddy is a strange name for a bad guy, don't you think?), who reminded me of a young Kevin Spacy in "Seven,"  one of the creepiest movies of all time.  However, Teddy has no idea who he is dealing with.

The film is slow to start but trying to solve the mystery of McCall's past is as much fun as the action that will soon ensue. If you stick with it, it gets really good with lots of action and violence.  Denzel is one calm, cool and collected kick-ass action hero.  There is a grand finale bloodbath in the Home Depot-like store where, let's just say, Denzel makes use of the many tools that are available there.

Denzel is a credible action hero and gives another one of his great performances.  One can't help but compare him to the original Equalizer, Edward Woodward, but that would be a disservice to Denzel.  Denzel is less like the original Equalizer and more like his character in "Training Day," which is not surprising since this film is directed by Antoine Fuqua, the director of that film too.  Fuqua has created a gritty, moody milieu for Denzel to be one big bad ass, but Denzel exudes a sensitivity that keeps McCall from turning into a cartoon character.  The screenplay (Richard Wenk) is sharp, sometimes humorous and fast paced.

From the ending shot, this appears to be a prequel so expect some sequels.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a smart, riveting action movie.  You will never see a Home Depot the same way again.
 


The Rewrite (2014)
 
 
A Hollywood Oscar-winning screenwriter has writer's block and can't get a job, so takes a job teaching screenwriting at a college in the Northeast.

Hugh Grant plays Keith Michaels, a writer whose screenplay "Paradise Misplaced" won an Oscar, but now he can't even get hired to do a reality show.  He's also a kind of sleazy guy. He hasn't talked to his son in a year. His agent gets him a teaching gig at Binghamton College (not to be confused with SUNY Binghamton), where he almost immediately manages to insult the woman who teaches Jane Austen (Allison Janney) - not a good idea - and he clearly doesn't know what he is doing so he tells his class to come back in a month.  He is just basically a sarcastic, jaded Los Angelean who is disdainful of what he perceives as "the boonies." Enter Marisa Tomei, an "older" serious student who is trying to get her life together and you can tell what is going to happen from a mile away.

Where is our stuttering, cute little Hugh who thrilled us ladies to the core in "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill?"  I know, we all get old.  But that doesn't excuse him from sleepwalking through this thing. I should have realized what I was in for when I saw him on talk shows recently promoting the release of this DVD.  He was sleepwalking then too.

J.K. Simmons is Dr. Lerner, the Head of the Department, an ex-marine who "likes to follow the rules."  Too bad "our hero" doesn't.  He shags a student and chooses his class from their pictures on Facebook (pretty girls and geeky boys), rather than on the merits of their submitted screenplays. His class is like something out of "Welcome Back, Kotter," except each of them is obsessed with something. You have the sex-obsessed girl, the guy obsessed with Star Wars, the girl obsessed with "Dirty Dancing," the know-it-all girl obsessed with hating "Dirty Dancing" and you have the usual kooky mix.  Where is Vinnie Barbarino when you need him?

Chris Elliott shows up (where has he been? - I used to love him in "Get a Life") - but doesn't bring the kookiness of his past.

Marisa Tomei is always good and is the bright light here, but she and Grant have zero chemistry and in fact, this is not really a rom-com at all.  She is here more to help Keith out of his slump, so if you are expecting our usual charmingly clumsily romantic Hugh, you will be disappointed.


Writer/Director Marc Lawrence and Grant have collaborated several times, most notably "Music and Lyrics" and "Two Weeks Notice."  Unfortunately, things have gone downhill since "Did You Hear About The Morgans?"  And now this.

Basically this is your typical "fish out of water" story where our hero learns from those he originally disdains and they learn from him (Yawn), and I guess the theme here could be: Sometimes our "rewrite" isn't exactly as we would write it for ourselves but at least we get a second chance.  If Hugh continues to sleepwalk through his films, he might not get another one.

This must have gone directly to DVD because I don't remember it in the theatres at all.  Good thing, because if I had spent real money on this I would have been even more disappointed.

Rosy the Reviewer says...for a movie about writing a brilliant screenplay, too bad this wasn't one.

 
 
 
 
***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
 
 
 
268 to go!
 
Have YOU seen this one?


Taste of Cherry (1997)
 

An Iranian man drives around Tehran looking for someone to bury him under a cherry tree after he kills himself.

Why it's a Must See:  [Director] Kiarostami] is a master at filming landscapes and building parable-like narratives whose missing pieces solicit the viewer's active imagination.  This even extends to the film's surprisingly cheerful, self-referential coda: profound isolation radiates with wonder and euphoria."
---1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
 
Despite the fact that I know you all respect me as a serious film-goer and though I can appreciate the originality of the story and the artistry, there are four things that can mar my enjoyment of a film:  No women, bleak desert locations, long monotonous periods of time where nothing happens and non-stop talking. Unfortunately, this film had all four and translates to me as boring. Maybe I am not such a serious film-goer after all, but despite the "art" part of a film, in my mind, it must also be an enjoyable movie experience.
This wasn't.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...I didn't get it and not really sure it's a movie I must see before I die.
 
 
 

***Noteworthy Television***





Sinatra: All or Nothing at All

(Showing on HBO through mid-April)


The life and career of "Old Blue Eyes."
 
Alex Gibney, who brought to the screen "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief," turns his lens on Frank Sinatra, the "Poet Laureate of Loneliness" and shows what a brilliant documentarian he is. 
 
This two-part HBO series begins in 1971 with Sinatra's first "retirement" concert.  Sinatra chose the songs for his swansong to illustrate his life and Gibney uses those songs as a jumping off point through this series to focus on aspects of Sinatra's life.  He backtracks to Sinatra's early years, his strong-willed midwife mother, his desire to be the next Bing Crosby, his early marriage to Nancy, his obsession with Ava Gardner, his so-called Mob connections, his views on race and women, his women, his acting career, the kidnapping of his son, what he did to elect President Kennedy and Kennedy's subsequent snub, Sinatra's marriage to Mia Farrow and the denouement of. his career  It's all here and I dare you not to be moved.
 
Sinatra would have been 100 this year so there are few who remember the phenomenon that he was.  Hysterical "bobby soxers" screaming for Sinatra predated the hysteria that Presley and the Beatles unleashed.
 
Sinatra exuded the cool that the TV series "Mad Men" has exploited but he also wasn't able to change with the times.  Women were "dolls," smoking and hanging with the Mob were cool and rock and roll mystified him.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...Sinatra never wrote an autobiography so this serves us well as a full homage to the legend that was Sinatra and Gibney does him proud.

 

***Book of the Week***



Audrey and Bill: A Romanic Biography of Audrey Hepburn & William Holden by Edward Z. Epstein (2015)
 


Reveals the love affair between Audrey Hepburn and William Holden during the filming of the movie "Sabrina."

Audrey Hepburn, with her elegant gamine looks, has remained a cultural and fashion icon despite the fact she passed away 22 years ago.  Holden, possibly not as well-known today, was known for his American manliness.  Both were Oscar winners and when they met on the set of the movie "Sabrina," a love affair ensued, despite the fact that Holden was married.

However, when the much younger Hepburn learned that Holden could not have more children, she broke off the affair and despite affection from afar, they were never really together again.

So the title of this book is a bit of a misnomer. However, it is a well-written dual biography of two of Hollywood's greats.

Rosy the Reviewer says...despite the fact the title is a bit misleading, this is a good run-down on the lives of two popular actors from The Golden Age of Hollywood and who should not be forgotten.


Thanks for Reading!
 



That's it for this week.



See you Tuesday for

"Anglophilia"
(and no, it's not a disease. 
Well, maybe it kind of is. 
Check it out on Tuesday to see what you think)

 


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