Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Matter of Life and Death

In the middle of an air raid, a British RAF pilot (David Niven) makes a brief and undeniable connection with an American radio operator (Kim Hunter) before evacuating his plane without  a parachute, an action that should have claimed his life had his heavenly handler been on point. Now while embarking on a love affair with the operator, the pilot is informed that he will have to argue the case for his life before an ethereal court and seek a representative who can best testify on his behalf. "A Matter of Life and Death" (released as "Stairway to Heaven" in the U.S.) is an incredible work from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and serves as a summation for their numerous WWII films.  A young Niven delivers a remarkable performance as the quintessential Brit and Hunter is his match playing his sweet soulmate. Roger Livesey has a great supporting role as a doctor helping Niven with his visions as does Raymond Massey who plays the prosecuting attorney, an English hating American revolutionary. Filmed where heaven is seen in tints and earth is shown in ebullient complexion, a counter to the color scheme presented in "The Wizard of Oz", "A Matter of Life and Death" ranks among The Archers most visually fantastic, imaginative, and touching features.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Anna Karenina

Set in tsarist Russia, Tolstoy's tragic heroine's (Keira Knightley) love affair with a dashing count (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is seen as played out largely upon a stage, which is coupled with the seldom filmed courtship of her sister-in-law (Alicia Vikander) to a meager landowner (Domhnall Gleeson). Joe Wright's adaptation of the often filmed classic is somewhat of a disappointment, considering what he did with the literary treatments of "Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement", both of which feature Knightley. Here, with famed screen and playwright Tom Stoppard, he makes the dastardly decision of treating the sprawling work as a stage play, and severely limits not only the story, but his own visual talents. That being said, there are many sumptuous passages and Knightley delivers a fine performance. However, you are never quite sure what draws her to the count, who is unremarkably played by Taylor-Johnson). Jude Law does a much better job of investing subtle traces of humanity in a mostly cold bureaucrat, allowing you to see what Anna must have when they first married. Also, the Gleeson storyline adds little but length to the film, and it becomes evident why it had been omitted in so many other adaptations. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Margaret

4/8/12 A cheeky and intelligent teenager (Anna Paquin), living in a high rise flat with her stage actress mother (J. Smith-Cameron) and attending an esteemed private school with Manhattan's elite, feels guilty for the death of a woman (Allison Janney) hit by a bus she was flagging down. Having had a spiritual connections with the stranger in her dying moments and in trying to fit the tragedy in with her ideal world view, the teen reverses her initial story told to the police and attempts to hold the bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) pays for his transgression, a crusade that she doesn't care who it affects. "Margaret", based on a poem entitled "Spring and Fall" by Gerlad Manley Hopkins, is ambitious, literate, and incredibly well realized filmmaking from playwright Kenneth Lonergan who wonderfully captures New York City shortly after 9/11 and captures and explores many of the attitudes in that time frame. In addition to the main storyline featuring a nicely tweaked performance from Paquin, Lonergan juggles a different and sweet storyline featuring J. Smith-Cameron as Paquin's mom who embarks on a romance with an exceedingly charming Jean Reno. Matt Damon, Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, and Lonergan himself also have excellent and often humorous supporting roles. "Margaret" strives to achieve a series of lofty goals, and carries them off with style, wit, and gusto.

11/25/12 I watched the extended version (which totals over three hours) of this excellent and troubled film (it spent over six years in post-production) and found it just as fine, if not superior to the theatrical version. It contains many new humorous and well approached scenes, in addition to more protracted shots of the city coupled with operatic overtones and muted eavesdropping on its anonymous inhabitants, all of which abets the the films. Once more, I appreciated the work of Paquin, Smith-Cameron, and the many fine supporting players.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Catch-22

During WWII on the island of Pianosa located in the Mediterranean, Capt. Yossarian (Alan Arkin) finds his discharge request on the basis of insanity denied on the illogical Army maxim that a person recognizing his own insanity cannot in fact be declared. Yossarian now bears witness witness to the mad of war that envelops him as he deals with self serving superiors, the prospect of flying interminable missions, and witnessing the death of his contemporaries. "Catch-22" is a surprisingly sturdy adaptation of Joseph Heller's monumental 1962 which is probably unfilmable but must have seemed prime for a generation engulfed in the Vietnam War. It was director Mike Nichols and writer Buck Henry's (who also appears in the film as Lt.Col. Korn) followup to "The Graduate",  and they make tolerable changes and offer about as good of an adaptation as can be expected, although much of Heller's dialogue is sadly omitted. I found Arkin to be wrong for Yossarian, as he contains hardly any of the disbelief or exasperation which distinguished that character as a hallmark of American literature. The greatest strength of the film can be found in the casting of the supporting roles of the eccentric servicemen, with Orson Welles, Martin Balsam, and Bob Newhart standing out as the most memorable.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ghosts of Ole Miss

In September of 1962, as the federal government was integrating the University of Mississippi and a band of U.S. Marshals were ushering James Meredith in as its first black student, the worst the state had to offer was on display as residents rioted and clashed in protest with the officers--a pathetic swan song and desperate last battle, if you will, of the Civil War. A group of Ole Miss football players determined to show a positive side of their state (bear with me, I'm merely reiterating the thesis of the film) and offered up the only undefeated season in school history. "Ghosts of Ole Miss" is a horribly written historical sports documentary featuring histrionic narration which draws absurd comparisons and conclusions and butchers what should have been an interesting story totally divesting it of any meaning whatsoever. The film is redeemed by interviews from members of that undefeated squad and with Meredith himself.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Life of Pi

A reporter (Rafe Spall) learns of a fantastical story and meets with Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) to hear his version of events. Born in a zoo in French India and named after a Paris pool ("piscine") beloved by his champion swimmer uncle, young Pi (Ayush Tandon) found himself fascinated with and began adopting the ways of several religions ("I was a Catholic Hindu meaning I got to feel guilty before thousands of gods"). As a teen (now played by Suraj Sharma) when his father is forced to sell the zoo and travel to Canada by cargo ship with its inhabitants in tow, a devastating storm sweeps away his family and leaves him marooned on a lifeboat with a full grown Bengal tiger.  "Life of Pi" is a wondrous and moving film from master filmmaker Ang Lee, who applies his deeply felt and sensitive abilities to a novel (written by Yann Martel) thought unfilmable by many and a 3D process deemed largely unpalatable. The result is a sumptuous feast, a visual wonder whose human story has moved me in a way that very few had done before.

side note: I read that Richard Parker, the tiger in the picture was almost entirely the result of computer generated imagery. While this conceit should have probably been obvious to me, it speaks to my feelings of the CGI process in that when it's done badly I don't want to see it, and when it's done splendidly I don't care to know how.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

A bipolar ex-high school teacher (Bradley Cooper), still in the heightened stages of mania, is released to his parent's custody (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver) from a state mental hospital, where he determines to win back his estranged wife, whose marital infidelity was the stimulus for his latest psychotic episode. While his parents encourage him to get on his feet and partake in the Philadelphia Eagles games they so avidly enjoy, a young and likewise damage widow (Jennifer Lawrence) enters into his orbit and fosters his mental rehabilitation. From the novel written by Matthew Quick, David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" is a delightful and offbeat romantic comedy that elevates itself above the usual dreck and finds truth through humor in the familial elements of its story. One of the refreshing joys of the movie is witnessing a superb performance from an actor I haven't really admired, and Bradley Cooper asserts himself admirably here. Another is seeing an icon of the screen in De Niro, lately lost in a sea of unworthy movies, resurface in what will be seen as one of the finest turns of his career. I also appreciated the work of Weaver, Shea Whigham as Cooper's older brother, and Chris Tucker who pops up from time to time as an escaped patient from the mental ward. It's only in Jennifer Lawrence, who is too young for the role and seems to be trying way too hard, that the film falters. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Dust Bowl

Lured by a renewal of the Homestead Act in the early part of the 20th Century, a migration occurred toward the grasslands of the Great Plains, an area thought to be completely averse to agriculture. As the soil was plowed and masses of wheat crop were planted, though many plentiful years were seen, Mother Nature fought back and unleashed the greatest sustained natural catastrophe the United States has ever known. Over the course of a decade spanning the 1930s and coupled with the affects of the Great Depression, Plains inhabitants--most horridly those centered in the Oklahoma Panhandle--would suffered a barrage of incomparable dust storms and seemingly endless drought, leading to a kind of destitution unthinkable in today's America. Ken Burns' "The Dust Bowl" is both a heart rending remembrance as told by children of the era and a harrowing cautionary tale. Known primarily for his archival work and the pan and zoom "effect" which bears his name, this film serves as a reminder both of what a great filmmaker--capturing incredible present day shots of the land--and interviewer--eliciting profound and often agonizing stories from his subjects--Burns truly is.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Crossfire Hurricane

As they embark on the international tour celebrating their 50 years together as a group, the living members of The Rolling Stones--Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman--reflect, through what can actually be remembered, on their spectacular rise to stardom and the controversial, often tumultuous events that followed which include several drug arrests and prosecutions, their nightmare at the Altamont Speedway, and the demise of bandmate Brian Jones. Declining to be photographed for the interview, the iconic group speaks over an incredible array of archival footage which showcases them at their best and their worst, and features what most people tuning into a Stones documentary want: a constant stream of their inimitable melodies. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lincoln

As the bloody siege of Petersburg has finally begun to show signs of a weakening Confederacy and a new assault on Willmington deems the fall of Richmond imminent, Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis), having just gained reelection, sees the current lame duck session as a crucial juncture in American history--one where he can both end the debilitating Civil War and abolish slavery through the passage of the 13th Amendment. Along with stalwart abolitionist and U.S. Representative Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), Secretary of State and confidant William Seward (David Strathairn), and his frenzied yet adept wife Mary (Sally Field), and other members of his party, Lincoln schemes and deals as he braces the nation once more for cataclysmic change, in the final few months before his assassination. After years of production halts, Steven Spielberg finally brings his portrait of the 16th President to the big screen in typically masterful fashion. Working again with Tony Kushner ("Munich"), who scripted from Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Spielberg focuses on a very brief (though crucial) point of Lincoln's life and, in doing so, is able to offer an all-encompassing and uncompromising look at the life of our great secular saint, and even goes beyond that by offering a warm and humorous film that, among other things, details the inner workings of our Congress. In uncanny make-up, Day-Lewis is expectedly brilliant and commanding,  rivaling even the greatest Abe film performances of Henry Fonda or Raymond Massey. His ability to channel Lincoln, underplay his hand, and not go over the top is only a testament to his considerable talents. The supporting cast is incredible and too vast to list here, with my favorites being Jones delivering an Oscar caliber, prickly (what else?) performance, Jackie Earle Haley as pragmatic Confederate Veep Alexander Stephens, and James Spader in an outrageous and pleasantly unexpected turn as a reprobate lobbyist. For the last few months prior to seeing the film my thoughts were, why are Spielberg engaging in such a safe project, right within both of their wheelhouses? Instead I was blown away in ways I never expected, by a film with a film that strives for realism with incredible epic ambition that is by turns stimulating, deeply felt, and entertaining.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Norman Mailer: The American

Norman Mailer was an influential author and journalist known for his books The Naked and the Dead & The Executioner's Song, a famous profile of Marilyn Monroe, and cofounding The Village Voice. Yet, he also had an irascible, sometimes volatile personality, which resulted in an often tumultuous personal life, which is sadly what the filmmakers of this documentary chose to focus on, offering a tabloid view of what should have been an interesting life story. By the time the film concludes and the experts have espoused him as the greatest writer of the second half of the 20th Century, we don't feel we've been given that impression, or rather that these summations adequately sum up the film's theses.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Hill

At a military prison in Libya during WWII, a brutal sergeant major (Harry Andrews) subjects his prisoners to grueling and interminable tasks. When a new inmate dies under such conditions, his squad leader (Sean Connery) defies the warden and finds himself the target of his sadism. "The Hill" is a gritty prison movie from master director Sidney Lumet, made at the height of (and assumedly as an antidote to) Connery's successes in the Bond films, who proves truly effective here. He is supported by a well-rounded cast highlighted by Andrews, chilling as the barbarous R.S.M., and Ossie Davis playing a member of Connery's squad. "The Hill" must have served as inspiration for Rod Lurie's "The Last Castle", a tepid, similarly plotted film starring Robert Redford and James Gandolfini, which took to moralizing and lost much of the message that was demonstrated here (if it indeed sought to retain it). In his film, Lumet grimly captures the horrors of a military prison and makes a more profound statement on the human spirit.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Poetry

After learning from her doctor that she is in the early stages of dementia, an elderly woman learns that her no account grandson had been involved with classmates in a gang rape, an act which came to light following the victim's suicide. While facing this dual crises head on, the indomitable woman enrolls in a local poetry class and uses the medium of the form of expression. While reading this plot description to yourself, close your eyes and try picturing an American film with this set-up made in a non-exploitative, non-cloying manner, without any hint of cynicism and with great technique and passion. Though the notion may seem improbable, this is exactly the film fashioned by South Korean director Chang-dong Lee, a thoughtful and moving film  that features an outstanding performance from Jeong-hie Yun, has not one hint of mawkishness, and is always challenging and visually stunning.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Where Eagles Dare

A team of British paratroopers, led by a stoic major (Richard Burton) and an American lieutenant (Clint Eastwood), parachute behind enemy lines to siege a mountaintop castle occupied by Nazis in an effort to rescue a general, whose knowledge of key Allied stratagems would turn the tables of war towards the Axis' favor. "Where Eagles Dare" is an gripping war picture that features gorgeously filmed European snowcapped locations, and the special treat of seeing two iconic, antithetical actors appearing in the same film. Following the excellent espionage set-up, however, the film does overplay its hand leading to one too many plot twists and a needlessly redundant final hour.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Casino Royale

Following the assassination of M (John Huston), an aging James Bond (David Niven) is coaxed out of retirement to once more thwart the evil forces of SMERSH, and instead decides to send his nephew James Bond (Peter Sellers) who himself must contend with a series of agents, opponents, and villainesses also named James Bond. When Columbia Pictures held the movie rights to Ian Fleming's premier film instead of  Eon, the studio which has produced most of the other 007 films, they opted to make a goofy spy spoof mashup instead of trying to contend with the lauded series. Employing no less than 6 directors and 10 writers, which inexplicably features the likes of Huston, Woody Allen, Ben Hecht, and Billy Wilder, "Casino Royale" is an incomprehensible mess which only serves as a curio for its sometimes amusing cameos which include Allen, Huston, Orson Welles, and Peter O'Toole.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Goon

While at a hockey match, a feeble minded bartender (Seann William Scott) bloodies an obnoxious heckler to a pulp, which is just the quality being sought out by the local semi-pro team. Now, guided by his vulgarian best friend (Jay Baruchel), the mentally defective psychotic with a heart of gold now has the opportunity to lead to team to glory. "Goon" is a frighteningly confused film that gives credence to a homicidal imbecile simply because he means well, and tells his story in a completely ineffectual, unfunny fashion. It is the kind of film where like-minded blockheads cheer along in glee as person after person has their face bashed in, which is in turn shown by the filmmakers in intimate clarity. As someone who intakes a high volume of films, I still vet the movies in my queue, and am usually able to avoid shit like this. "Goon" seems like a vehicle written exclusively for Adam Sandler, which even he would have the sense to turn down.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Darjeeling Limited

Three brothers (Owen Wilson, ), all reeling in their own way following the death of their father, meet in India and embark on an expansive journey by train, in an attempt to reconcile old wounds. With a surreptitious motive for the trip held by one of the brothers, the trio embark in misadventure after misadventure, each self-revealing and healing by turn. "The Darjeeling Limited" is a gorgeous location film that offers further evidence in the maturation process of Wes Anderson. Bringing his acutely delicate sensibilities to the project, Anderson tells an affecting story and features fines performances from Owen Wilson (who recreates his highly ordered character from "Bottle Rocket"), Jason Schwartzman (who cowrote the screenplay with his cousin Roman Coppola and Anderson) and Adrian Brody. The touching finale also conjures up memories of Powell and Pressburger's great "Black Narcissus."

The Criterion DVD features a simultaneously filmed short featuring Schwartzman and Natalie Portman entitled "Hotel Chevalier" which doesn't work by itself, but fits nicely within the context of the film, and probably should have been included as part of it.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Benji

In 1984 at Simeon Career Academy, a high school on the South Side of Chicago, Ben Wilson was a rising basketball star. Having just led his team to a state title as a junior, Ben was invited to premier scouting camps and even  topped a highly regarded national ranking of prospects. This was all shattered in an instance though, when a meaningless argument with a random stranger outside of school led to Wilson's senseless killing. "Benji" is a touching tribute by family and friends (which include, perhaps distractingly, hip-hop artists R. Kelly and Common) lamenting their lost friend and his unfulfilled dream, which also comments on the urban violence which continues to this day to plague the Windy City. Directors Coodie and Chike tell a deeply felt, multifaceted, and cohesive story, which is more than can be said about many of the films in this series, especially as of late.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Skyfall

After chasing a suspect in possession of a vital piece of intelligence through the rooftops of a Turkish bazaar and a moving train, 007 (Daniel Craig) is accidentally clipped by his partner (Naomie Harris) where he falls to his presumed demise. Enjoying the perks of death, Bond emerges from the shadows when a brilliant and psychotic ex-agent (Javier Bardem) launches a vindictive terrorist attack, not with the aims of world domination, but at his contentious yet motherly mentor M (Judi Dench). What began with the stride that was "Casino Royale" and was lost in the anemic "Quantum of Solace", is completely realized here, not only in the reinvention of the character 007 but also in crucial elements of the story. Daniel Craig again provides a wounded, vulnerable Bond where we actually fear that danger can be had by him and those around him. In Javier Bardem's supremely invested cyber-villain, who owes more than a little to Heath Ledger's Joker, much is gained from his character's single mindedness. Director Sam Mendes brings his acute filmmaking sensitivities to the project, which is evident from the rousing opening sequence to the stunning "Straw Dogs" style finale. His success should also be shared with cinematographer Roger Deakins. Looking at the resume of the trio of writers credited with the screenplay, Robert Wade and Neal Purvis both had worked on several Bond films, good and bad, and I wager much credit is due to John Logan, an accomplished penner of a variety of films ("Gladiator", "The Aviator", "Hugo"). Another successful tactic used in the Harry Potter one of casting as many veritable Brit actors as possible which in addition to the aforementioned Dench include Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw (an excellent, young Q), and Albert Finney.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Flight

An airline pilot (Denzel Washington) wakes up in his Orlando hotel next to a flight attendant (Nadine Valazquez) and a slew of empty beer and  mini bar bottles, and does a quick bump of coke to right himself for his quick morning jump to Atlanta. After helping himself to yet another cocktail during his in-flight address, an equipment malfunction causes the craft to nosedive, leading to a seemingly impossible crash landing which cost the lives of only six on-board  Hailed a hero by the national media, the pilot shacks up with a junkie (Kelly Reilly) he meets in the hospital and retreats to his father's country home, as the impending inquest forces him to confront his alcoholism. "Flight" is a more than welcomed return to live-action filmmaking by Robert Zemeckis (his first since "Cast Away"), who brings his keen eye to John Gatins' measured screenplay, and his special effects acumen to the opening, hair-raising, utterly authentic crash sequence. As for Mr. Washington, though he is one of our finest stars and a powerful actor, his work is often indelicate, as he usually pushes for sensationalism. In this role, one which cries for melodrama, Denzel delivers a commanding, nuanced performance, which in effect is one of the finest he's ever exhibited. Two more fine turns are offered in supporting roles by Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood, playing an attorney and airline union representative, respectively, who are both trying to see Washington's character through the inquest. The film's only flaw is in Reilly's character whose addict with a heart of gold brings nothing to the story (saving one touching seen of magnanimity), except length to the considerable running time. "Flight" showcases two old pros at the top of their form, and tells a worthy, honest tale of self-realization.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Best Man

At the Democratic National Convention, two candidates have emerged as front-runners for their parties next presidential nominee: a time tested pragmatist (Henry Fonda) and a McCarthy-like tyrant (Cliff Robertson) whose thirst for the presidency knows no bounds. Soon the backroom deals for crucial endorsements and political backbiting begin, with damning oppositional evidence falling into both leading candidates hands. "The Best Man" is Gore Vidal's cynical adaptation of his satirical stage play, providing a seemingly behind closed doors account of the wicked ongoings of our electoral process. As expected, Fonda is excellent as the tried Senator and Robertson is no less his equal as his vicious rival.  The supporting cast is likewise excellent, with Lee Tracy as the current president, and Margaret Leighton and Edie Adams as the candidate's respective wives being particular standouts. Although the nastiness of today's political climate, and in particular betwixt the two lackluster nominees pandering your vote today, make the political jostling in this movie seem like a friendly round of golf, Vidal's script still demonstrates how the worst (though not in all cases) in human nature can be brought out of us through politics.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Sessions

Afflicted with polio at a young age, completely disabled from the neck down, and dependent on an iron lung, 38-year-old, Berkeley based journalist Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) decides that it is high time for him to lose his virginity, the prospect of which triggers a deep rooted fear. With the guidance of his parish priest (William H. Macy), Mark hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt)--which is explained as being very different from a prostitute--for a series of no more than six instructional sessions. From O'Brien's own published papers, Ben Lewin's "The Sessions" is an incredibly poignant, and never mawkish human comedy that lovingly approaches its characters and its offbeat subject. Having been building a reputation as a reliable character actor in recent years, Hawkes delivers an incredible, fully fledged, award caliber performance and is given equally stellar support from Hunt and Macy.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cloud Atlas

Reciprocal acts of altruism between a slave (David Gyasi) and a young attorney (Jim Sturgess) on a ship set sail from a Pacific Isle in 1849, have a quasi effect, stirring a humanistic, revolutionary spirit over the course of several centuries: from a brilliant yet troubled composer's assistant (Ben Whishaw) in pre-WW2 Cambridge, to a  determined journalist (Halle Berry) in 1973 San Francisco, and through the misadventures of a failed publicist (Jim Broadbent) in the present, leading up unto a drone's (Doona Bae) dastardly bid for freedom 2144 Seoul, and concluding with the plight of an overrun tribesman (Tom Hanks) set "106 winters after The Fall." "Cloud Atlas" is a hugely ambitious adaptation of David Mitchell's 2004 novel done in collaboration between Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run", "Perfume") and the Wachowskis ("The Matrix", "Bound"), three kinetic and highly stylized filmmakers. Where many have found have found fault with overreaching and disconnectedness, I have found superb, engrossing modes of several different forms of storytelling made all the more fascinating by the bare threads that hold each tale together (although I could have done without one-eyed futuristic Tom Hanks jibber jabberin bout the true true). All the principal actors appear throughout the other stories in different parts (in addition to those mentioned Keith David, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, James D'Arcy, Xun Shou, and Hugo Weaving appear) and this has an often moving though sometimes off-putting effect. The stories involving Whishaw and Broadbent in 1943, Berry in 1973, and Broadbent in 2012 are told the best, but the initial one involving Sturgess and Gyasi and again with Sturgess with Bae in impending Korea are perhaps the most affecting. Avid, expansive films have a tendency to repel audience who are unwilling to think, and only seek escapism in their forms of entertainment. "Cloud Atlas" is challenging, but never unduly perplexing, and consistently engaging on a multitude of planes.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Nick Nolte: No Exit

In "Nick Nolte: No Exit", the the gruff method actor/once sex symbol who has more often than not found himself embroiled in controversy partakes in this series of unrestricted conversations with no less than himself conducting the interviews. Through clips and discussions of his greatest successes ("48 Hours", "The Prince of Tides", "Affliction"), approaches to his craft, and reminiscences on various antics and romantic trysts, Nolte frankly discusses his personal and professional life. As a feature length (albeit short) film, "No Exit" is an unjustifiable publicity stunt. But for what it is, the film is an honest and engaging profile of a consummate actor, who comes off as curt but probably more together than the tabloids have led on in recent years.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Entertainer

In the midst of the Suez crisis, a chintzy  failed stage actor (Laurence Olivier) refuses to acknowledge his state of affairs, while performing in front of empty houses, cheating on his drunken wife (Brenda de Banzie), and ripping off his sickly father (Roger Livesey) to finance his latest production, all the while pulling the wool over his doting daughter's (Joan Plowright) eyes. "The Entertainer" was one of Olivier's greatest successes, on both stage and screen, and he truly is a veritable force, playing an unscrupulous and intensely unlikable character. Director Tony Richardson successfully catches the dingy London locations and the nasty aura of the story, but the movie is turgid and much of its ongoings are indistinguishable. It is also interesting seeing actors Alan Bates and Albert Finney in early, supporting roles, both playing Olivier's sons.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ethel

Ethel Kennedy's background bore many similarities to her husband Bobby's, both being from prominent, extended East Coast Irish families. Her outgoing and charming personality provided a balance and comfort to his serious mindedness and to the tumultuous times he faced during his political tenure as U.S. Attorney and New York Senator. Following his assassination, Ethel took on the role of sole caregiver with the same tenacity demonstrated throughout her life. "Ethel" is a loving documentary made by Rory Kennedy, the youngest of Bobby and Ethel's eleven children, and featuring the participation of her remaining siblings. There is nothing revelatory about the film or the stock footage it features, but the added personal touch and Ethel's wonderful presence, make this an extremely rewarding non-fiction feature.