Showing posts with label Balthazar (Movie Review). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Balthazar (Movie Review). Show all posts

Friday, January 30, 2015

"Cake" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Cake" and the DVDs "No Good Deed," "Love is Strange" and "Jimi: All is By My Side" and the book "Part Swan, Part Goose," actress Swoosie Kurtz's memoir.   I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with the classics: "Bigger Than Life" and "Au Hasard Balthasar" ]


Following a car accident, Claire is in chronic and psychic pain.

We first encounter Claire (Jennifer Anniston) at a chronic pain support group.  Everyone is sharing how they feel about the recent suicide of one of their members, Nina (Anna Kendrick).  The group leader, Annette (Felicity Huffman), wants them all to speak directly to a picture of Nina about how they feel.  When it is Claire's turn, she doesn't want to do the exercise at first, but when prompted by Annette lashes out by describing Nina's suicide (she jumped off a highway overpass) in a graphically black humor sort of way, upsetting the rest of the group. She is later told by Annette that she isn't right for the group and please don't come back.  We get it.  Claire is not a happy camper.

Claire is looked after by her housekeeper, Sylvana, beautifully played by Adriana Barraza, and Claire isn't very nice to her either.  We discover that Claire lives alone, except for Sylvana, is estranged from her husband, is addicted to her pain pills and has the occasional shag with the pool boy, which, I have to say, was a kind of unbelievable blip in this otherwise realistic little indie film. If I was in the kind of pain Claire appears to be in, sex would be the last thing on my mind.

It becomes clear that being in constant pain can do all kinds of things to one's mind, but then there is also the psychic pain of guilt and loss which Claire is also feeling because her little son died in the accident. She is addicted to her pain pills and a typical evening appears to be popping pills, followed by a bottle of wine. She doesn't seem to want to live and it doesn't help that she keeps getting visited by the ghost of Nina who keeps urging her to also end her life.  Claire becomes a bit obsessed with Nina, even going so far as to visit her husband.  She gets the address by blackmailing Annette, telling her if she doesn't give her Nina's address, she will sue for being kicked out of the group.  When she arrives at Nina's house, she pretends she used to live there and Nina's husband, Roy (Sam Worthington) plays along even though Annette has already called him to let him know Claire was coming.  They form a wary alliance, each eventually helping the other with their psychic pain.

Never having been a big Jennifer Anniston fan, I wanted to see what the buzz was about with this performance (she was nominated for a Golden Globe and many think she was robbed by not getting an Oscar nod).  Was it just another beautiful actress playing a part without makeup and getting props for that?  Which begs the question, if you are a beautiful actress, do you have to take off your makeup to get recognition for your acting (think Charlize Theron)?  

No, makeup or no makeup, Anniston was quite wonderful in this difficult role.  None of her Rachel Green mannerisms were apparent here (which often leak into her performances) and she was completely believable in portraying a woman in constant pain.  Adriana Barraza was a  revelation, though, as the sympathetic housekeeper.  I hope to see her in more English language films and Felicity Huffman, though playing a small role, was also a standout.  Huffman's husband, William H. Macy, also makes a brief appearance as the cause of Anniston's accident.  Sam Worthington was deliciously scruffy and charismatic.

There is a lot of dark humor in the script by Patrick Tobin, and director Daniel Barnz has captured the grey world of a woman who has to find the will to live, but not much happens beyond Claire working her way through all of that pain.  Claire is covered in physical scars which looked very realistic, so props to the makeup people, and props to Anniston for showing Claire's psychic scars so effectively.

Rosy the Reviewer says... the film was kind of a pain, but an Oscar worthy performance by Anniston makes it worth it.

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

No Good Deed (2014)
Taraji P. Henson is terrorized by Idris Elba in a paint by numbers thriller.
Colin Evans (Idris) is up for parole after spending five years for a manslaughter charge.  He is denied parole (because he's a bad, bad man), but escapes from the van on the way back to prison from his hearing.  He is wounded in the course of his escape and heads out of Knoxville toward Atlanta.
Switch to Terri in her nice suburban house in Atlanta, her lawyer husband and her two little kids. Terri used to be a district attorney but now stays home with the kids.  Guess what is going to happen?  If you watch enough Lifetime Movies, you know. Terry opens the door to help Colin, who says he has been in a car accident and needs to use the phone and things don't look so good for Terri because, as I said, Colin is a bad, bad man.

The thriller/Lifetime Movie clichés abound here:  Naturally, it's a dark and stormy night; Terri's girlfriend who figures out the plot, but too late, gets whacked before she can warn our heroine; you think the bad guy is dead but then he jumps up for a cheap thrill; the cop arrives and should put an end to this travesty but is too clueless to get the drift in time; and finally the cat and mouse game between Terri and Colin as he cuts the electricity, hides all the knives and stomps about after Terri not realizing Terri is not going to give up easily.

Colin did not randomly target Terri.  There is a plot twist at the end that you can see coming from miles away.

Elba and Henson are terrifically good actors, but even they are not able to get us to suspend disbelief. One wonders what drew them to this film. Elba must have wanted to shake off his noble image as Nelson Mandela in "Mandela:  The Long Walk to Freedom."  Not sure why Henson wanted to be part of this mess.
Rosy the Reviewer says...I've said this all of my life - "No good deed goes unpunished" - and I felt like I was being punished watching this film. 
Long term couple, Ben and George, finally get married, but then Ben loses his job and they lose their apartment, forcing them to live separately until they find a new place which proves difficult for everyone involved.
Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are a middle-aged gay couple who are finally able to get married after 39 years together. They live in a lovely NYC apartment with loving family and friends.  George is a music teacher at a Catholic school and when the school finds out he is married, they fire him for going against the school's principals, despite the fact he had worked there for nine years and everyone knew he was gay.  Turns out getting married is like screaming that fact from the rooftops and the school just couldn't have that.  (Interestingly, this very thing happened here in Seattle).
So with limited funds between them, Ben and George need to find a place to live. While they are trying to figure that out, they each end up in separate accommodation:  George with a young gay couple and Ben with his nephew and his family.
It doesn't take long to realize this arrangement is taking its toll on all parties.  Ben becomes an irritant to his nephew's wife, played by Marisa Tomei, who is a writer and is used to working alone without interruptions.  George sleeps on the couch of his single neighbors apartment so when they party, he can't go to bed.  Each feels increasingly in the way.
No one seems to understand how difficult it is for these two to be apart, focusing only on the disruption to their own lives.  Ain't that the way.
Then Ben takes a tumble down the stairs just as George finds the ideal rent-controlled apartment.
It's no fun getting old and we see that as George and Ben try to cope with being apart and treated as if they are in the way.  But with age comes some percs - mastering your craft --  and mastering their craft is what Molina and Lithgow have done. That they are at the top of their acting game is evident throughout this lovely film where they truly make you believe they are a loving couple of 39 years, with all of those nods and looks and inside jokes that come from being together for so long.  They are delightful to watch, despite the bittersweet ending.

Ira Sachs directed and co-wrote with Mauricio Zacharias this seemingly simple script that beautifully captures the nuances of long term love, the heartbreak of being apart and getting old amidst the busy lives of everyone else.
The cinematography here is also one of the stars. It is as lush and as beautiful as a Vermeer painting.
Rosy the Reviewer says...a lovely, sweet film that comes to life because of the amazing acting chops of Lithgow and Molina.

Jimi Hendrix's London year right before he made it big in the U.S. at Monterey Pop.

Andre Benjamin plays Jimi during his early years in the late 60's as he tries to make it as Jimi James and the Blue Flames.  But one night at The Cheetah Club, Jimi meets Keith Richards' girlfriend, Linda Keith (Imogen Poots, who is everywhere these days) and everything changes for him. She is fascinated by him and mentors him, introducing him to important people in the music industry.  When she introduces him to Chas Chandler of the Animals, Chandler quits his job with the band and becomes Jimi's manager and gets him to come to London in 1966 and it is there that Jimi takes off.

Filmed documentary style with a lot of interesting camera work, the movie has an improvisational cinema verite feel.  The clothes, the music all create the "Swinging London" of the 1960's, and Benjamin channels Jimi with his quiet way of expressing himself.  Many "look-alikes" of those who helped Hendrix in his career pop in and out:  Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Noel Redding.

This is a slice of life the year before Jimi hit it big at Monterey Pop and his career would never be the same again. If you are hoping to hear familiar Jimi Hendrix music, you will be disappointed (Jimi's estate would not give them the rights), but the music is atmospheric and captures the mood.

Writer/Director John Ridley, who wrote the script (and won an Oscar)  for "12 Years a Slave" has produced a rather disjointed film, almost as if we are in a drug trip with Jimi.  There are hints at issues such as Jimi's flower child persona in contrast to his temper which could lead him to beat up his girlfriend, and the racial issues in London at the time. There was a brief allusion to racial tensions in the segment with Michael X when he tries to radicalize Jimi by saying "You will never be anything but a curiosity."  But that was more of a distraction than anything else and none of these issues were pursued.

Ridley just gives us this one year in the life.

Rosy the Reviewer says...It's difficult to say how much of this is true, but it captures what "Swinging London" might have been like and is a fun blast from the past especially for Baby Boomers and their kids who might want to know what Mom and Dad were up to in the 60's.


***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

282 to go!

Have you seen these?

Bigger than Life (1956)

A small town teacher is prescribed steroids, he becomes addicted and the drugs turn him into a neurotic megalomaniac who tries to kill his young son.

Directed by Nicholas Ray and starring James Mason (Mason also produced), this film tells the story of Ed Avery, a small town teacher who becomes very ill and given only a short time to live.  However, doctors prescribe cortisone and his recovery is miraculous.  But his recovery is not without a downside.  He becomes addicted to the cortisone and the side effects turn him into a neurotic manic depressive, one minute grandiose, another irritable and scary, terrorizing his wife (Barbara Rush) and young son (Christopher Olsen).

Before his illness, Ed was trying to make ends meet by moonlighting as a taxi dispatcher, once again proving the point that teachers don't make enough money.

So the message here is also about  the "disease" of a dead-end middle class life, forever trying to keep up with the Jones. Ray uses interesting camera angles and shadows to show the claustrophobia of his life and the impending psychosis overtaking Ed.

Mason does brooding, tormented types like no other ("A Star is Born") and this film is no exception.  Barbara Rush looks like a 50's version of Nicole Kidman and a young Walter Matthau makes an appearance as Ed's fellow teacher and friend.

Why it's a Must See: "Though best known for Rebel Without A Cause (1955), Nicholas Ray's finest film is a brilliant expressionist melodrama that used the then-topical controversy over the discovery and deployment of the 'wonder drug' cortisone (a type of steroid) to mount a devastating critique on materialistic, middle-class conformism in the postwar era...a profoundly radical movie, then, distinguished not only by its distaste for suburban notions of 'normality' but by the beautifully nightmarish clarity of its intensely colored CinemaScope imagery."
---1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Rosy the Reviewer says...a classic!

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

French director Robert Bresson's film about shy Marie and her beloved donkey, Balthazar, and the fates that befall each of them.
Bresson was a huge influence on the French New Wave and is considered one of the greatest film directors of all time. 
This film opens with a father buying a baby donkey for his son and daughter, who are spending the summer on a farm with young Marie and her family.  The children name the donkey Balthazar. When the children leave for the summer, promising to return, they leave Balthazar on the farm where he becomes the beloved pet of Marie.  But time passes and young Marie falls in with some local thugs, she forgets about Balthazar, and he is sold to become a beast of burden.  Over the years, he has several owners, some who treat him well and some who abuse him. Likewise, Marie's life is filled with abuse.
Balthazar is the silent witness to the foibles of humans and represents the innocence that is lost as humans grow from children into adults. But no matter what happens Balthazar endures.  Life is about putting up with crap and not complaining and that is what Balthazar does until his last breath.  (I sure wish, though, there had been something at the end that said, "No donkeys were hurt during the making of this film.")
This film is also a reminder of how "colorful" beautifully filmed black and white films used to be.
Why it's a Must See: "Bresson's film as been labeled by at least one critic as 'the zenith of purity in the cinema.' But the highest praise of all comes from Andrew Sarris in his Village Voice review: '[Balthazar] stands alone atop one of the loftiest pinnacles of artistically-realized emotional experiences.'"
---1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Rosy the Reviewer says...if you can't stand to see animal abuse, this is NOT for you, but it's a poignant story illustrating the "saintliness" of animals amidst the often cruel and sadistic world of humans.
(b & w, in French with English subtitles).
***Book of the Week***

Part Swan, Part Goose: An Uncommon Memoir of Womanhood, Work and Family by Swoosie Kurtz (2014)

The Tony and Emmy award winning actress shares her life and career.

Though Kurtz has won two Tony Awards ("Fifth of July" and "House of Blue Leaves"), an Emmy ("Carole and Company"), and starred on numerous television shows, most notably "Sisters" and "Pushing Daisies," and currently  in "Mike and Molly," hers is not a household name, though it certainly is an unusual one. Kurtz is one of those faces. You recognize her, but can't recall her name.  (Her name comes from "The Swoose," the B-17 bomber her highly decorated pilot father flew in WW II).

Her father was an Olympic diver and war hero and her mother was a military wife who chronicled their marriage in her book "My Rival, the Sky." The two were a celebrity couple who had a marriage that Kurtz greatly admired.  She shares portions of her mother's book as she also shares her own life, growing up an only child in the shadow of her remarkable parents, her devotion to her career that belied marriage and children of her own, and the present, where she now cares for her 90-something mother suffering from dementia. She shares the difficulties of caring for an aging parent while trying to maintain a career in Hollywood and on Broadway.

This is not a tell-all book in the classic sense. There is not much in the way of juicy details, but she tells her story in a humorous yet gentle way and shares lots of inside anecdotes about acting and what goes on backstage on Broadway. But this memoir is as much about her parents as it is about her.  She clearly loves and respects them, and it's refreshing to read about a loving family in light of so many memoirs that share the horrors of childhood.  Her father has passed away, but her mother is nearing 100 and she is caring for her.  She has always had a very close relationship with her mother and that remains, even as her mother nears the end of her life.

She writes at the end of the book,

"Gathering [my mother] in my arms, I am overtaken by unexpected weeping, overwhelmed with a liquid light show of emotion.  I have known this feeling before: those moments onstage when I find myself felicitously cast in a rare, perfect-for-me role.  I feel the best of my aptitudes shining beyond what I'd imagined I was capable of.  Something is brought out of me I would not have believed was there.  Startled and profoundly grateful I soar.  This is not a state of grace in which one is allowed to live.  It is a zephyr at best, and I have finally learned to cherish it instead of questioning my worthiness or pre-grieving the inevitable.  If we're lucky, and I have been, it presents itself many times in a life and career, but always in a different guise, so we must be wise enough to wait for it, brave enough to take on the difficult day in which it comes, and strong enough to let it go.  The name of this particular zephyr is love." 

Rosy the Reviewer says...Broadway babies and those caring for a parent with dementia will find this rewarding.

Thanks for Reading!

That's it for this week.

See you Tuesday for

"What I've Learned from Beauty Pageants"
(You don't want to miss this one!)


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