Denial (2016)


Timothy Spall reacts to the news that Johnny Depp has been cast in the "Fantastic Beasts" film series.

Timothy Spall reacts to the news that Johnny Depp has been cast in the “Fantastic Beasts” film series.

(2016) True Life Drama (Bleecker Street) Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott, Jack Lowden, Caren Pistorius, Alex Jennings, Harriet Walter, Mark Gatiss, John Sessions, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Pip Carter, Jackie Clune, Will Attenborough, Max Befort, Daniel Cerqueira, Laurel Lefkow, Elliot Levey, Helen Bradbury, Hilton McRae, Andrea Deck. Directed by Mick Jackson

 

The trouble with history is that people are constantly trying to rewrite it. Sometimes that’s in an effort to interpret the significance of events but sometimes it’s in an effort to promote a point of view.

Deborah Lipstadt (Weisz) is a professor of Jewish history from Queens teaching at Emory University in Atlanta. She is promoting a book entitled Denying the Holocaust in which she discusses how an insidious effort is being made to discredit the pain and suffering of millions of Jews. At a lecture promoting the book, she is confronted by David Irving (Spall), a British historian who had enjoyed a lucrative career on the basis that he claimed there was no evidence that Auschwitz had any gas chambers. An unabashed admirer of Hitler, he offers $1,000 to anyone who can conclusively prove that the Holocaust happened. Lipstadt refuses to debate him on the basis that she doesn’t “debate facts.”

xzSo Irving sues the American academic and her publisher (Penguin Press) for libel, but he does so in a British court because under British law, the burden of proof rests with the defense rather than the accuser. In other words, Lipstadt must prove that the Holocaust happened and then on top of it, that Irving knowingly distorted the facts otherwise. Penguin agrees with her that this suit must be fought and so they hire a British dream team; solicitor Anthony Julius (Scott) and barrister Richard Rampton (Wilkinson). Incidentally, the film explains the two roles; the solicitor researches the case and the barrister argues it in court.

The strong-willed and often just plain stubborn Lipstadt immediately begins to butt heads with her defense team. She wants to take the stand but they refuse to put her there and she also wants Holocaust survivors to testify. They absolutely refuse; for one thing, the charismatic Irving, who is acting as his own barrister, would use the opportunity to shame and abuse the survivors and in the words of Julius, “they’ve suffered enough already.” Lipstadt begins to have serious doubts that she is being well-represented.

Although this was fairly big news when it happened less than ten years ago, the details are not well-known particularly in America where knowledge of news going on across the pond tends to be less well-reported. While you may know how the trial turned out (and in case you didn’t I won’t mention it here) how it got there might be a bit less well-known.

Weisz has a tendency to play somewhat strident characters and certainly Lipstadt qualifies. While I’m not sure she’ll get Oscar notice since the role is somewhat similar to ones she’s done before, it certainly is not outside the realm of possibility that she will. I’d also put up Wilkinson and Spall for nomination consideration as well.

Strangely, Weisz was one of the things I liked least about the film. She whines quite a bit through it and often comes off as condescending to the British legal experts who I would think know her system much better than she does. I don’t know how accurate a portrayal of the real Lipstadt this is but if it is, she’s not a very pleasant person to know. It isn’t until the end of the film that she forms even a glimmering of a relationship (with Rampton) that isn’t confrontational and judgmental.

Even though the material is fairly dry – unlike how they’re portrayed in the movies most court cases are unexciting and even dull – Jackson does a good job of keeping things lively and even interesting. He manages to explain most of the ins and outs of how the law works in Britain to us ignorant Yanks without talking down to us. I am curious if it played differently in the UK where they’d understand the system somewhat better than we do.

There are some things in which the filmmakers acquitted themselves – ‘scuse the pun – well as well as others in which the jury is still out on. Weisz can be an acquired taste as an actress, particularly in roles like this which aren’t necessarily likable. Those who don’t like courtroom dramas might also think twice about this, even though the courtroom scenes are staged better than most. And some people just plain get uncomfortable around the holocaust. You know who you are.

At the end of the day, this is not necessarily a triumph so much as a success. I liked the movie overall and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it but at the same time it’s not the kind of movie that’s going to end up being one of the movies that this year is remembered for, at least by me. Check it out if you have the chance but I think that you may wait and see if the Academy gives it any love before you do.

In these uncertain times with a climate seemingly skewed towards bigotry and hate, it is somehow comforting to see truth and justice win over those things – perhaps it still can. I like to think so. It takes people like Deborah Lipstadt, standing up for those who would lie and obscure and diminish and in so doing, relegate an entire race to second-class status. It’s a lesson that all of us should take to heart.

REASONS TO GO: Most of the performances here are strong. There are some very powerful moments.
REASONS TO STAY: Weisz is a little shrill here.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult concepts here that might be too much for the sensitive sorts; there’s also some fairly strong profanity from time to time.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: All the dialogue in the courtroom scenes are taken verbatim from the trial transcripts.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/19/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Man in the Glass Booth
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Gimme Danger

Advertisements

About Time


Father and son.

Father and son.

(2013) Fantasy (Universal) Domnhall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Richard Cordery, Joshua McGuire, Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie, Will Merrick, Vanessa Kirby, Tom Hughes, Clemmie Dugdale, Harry Hadden-Paton, Mitchell Mullen, Lisa Eichhorn, Jenny Rainsford, Natasha Powell, Catherine Steadman. Directed by Richard Curtis

We often wish the opportunity was there to go back in time. What would you do if you could? Fix the mistakes you’ve made? Spend it with a loved one who’s passed on?

Tim (Gleeson), a diffident just-turned-21-year-old who lives in one of those eccentric British families that is more endearing than creepy, is given just that dilemma. He’s pulled aside from his kindly eccentric dad (Nighy) and told that the men in the family can inexplicably travel back into the past. Not just any past – just their own. All they have to do is go into a dark place, shut their eyes and clench their fist and think about the moment they want to go to and bingo bango bongo! There they appear, wearing the same clothes they wore at the time.

Tim, an aspiring lawyer who is just about to move to London to take up a practice, is surrounded by that lovably eccentric family I just mentioned. Kit Kat (Wilson) is his free-spirited younger sister who loves to hug but hates to wear shoes and has terrible taste in men as it turns out, leading her down a scary road. Uncle Desmond (Cordery – referred to as Uncle D) is scatter-brained and possibly senile but is a natty dresser. Only Tim’s mum (Duncan) seems to have any grounded sense whatsoever, putting up with her husband’s eccentricities and puttering about in the garden in their lovely but somewhat seedy Cornwall manse.

With this gift in his grasp, he decides that rather than pursue fortune or fame (or just catch up on his reading as his father does) he chooses instead to get himself a girlfriend. At first he goes after Kit Kat’s friend Charlotte (Robbie) but that doesn’t go quite so well, so he moves into the flat of perhaps the meanest most curmudgeonly playwright in Britain (Hollander) and strikes up a friendship with office doormat Rory (McGuire). He also maintains his longtime friendship with socially awkward Jay (Merrick).

Going out to dinner with Jay at one of those restaurants that serves their meals in complete darkness, they end up sitting at a table and having an unintended double blind (literally) date with the tartish Joanna (Kirby) and the mousy American Mary (McAdams). Tim falls for her hard at first sight outside the restaurant. From then on, his focus is on winning her over, correcting the mistakes he makes by ducking into nearby closets and toilet stalls.

As his extraordinary but ordinary life progresses and Tim continues to use his gift he discovers that not everything can be fixed and those things that can be often come at a great price. He also learns what is important in life and what moments shouldn’t just be relived – but lived in the first place.

Curtis previously directed one of my all-time favorite movies (not to mention one of the best romantic comedies ever) in Love, Actually and also has written such fine films as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones’ Diary. His penchant is for writing about somewhat awkward, stammering nebbishes with nonetheless sweet hearts who look for and find love, sometimes with unexpected partners. Hugh Grant has been his main stand-in but Gleeson (son of brilliant character actor Brendan) isn’t half-bad. The ginger-haired ex-Weasley from the Harry Potter series has a lot of the same characteristics that Grant has – the wry wit, the stammering delivery, the self-effacing charm.  He is less handsome in the traditional sense (although he’s plenty good-looking) and is more of a believable un-self-confident sort than Grant ever was.

Bill Nighy, a regular in Curtis’ films (who could forget his Billy Mack in Love, Actually?) can steal a movie just by being Bill Nighy. His droll delivery and eccentric demeanor are completely endearing. His chemistry with Gleeson is considerable and there seems to be a genuine warmth between the two men. One looks forward to Nighy’s films and his final scenes are powerful indeed.

This isn’t just a movie about finding love, or of time travel. It’s much deeper than that. This is a movie about appreciating the moment, of cherishing the things that are small and everyday occurrences.  Curtis reminds us to live each day to the fullest possible, to savor the little joys – the gratitude of a harried counter girl, the smiles on the faces of your children when you come home from work (although if this were an American film the little brats would be glued to a videogame) or the glow of lamplight as you walk into your home from the darkness after a long day.

While like a lot of Curtis films the cute factor sometimes brushes up against overload, the meaning behind the movie is clear and will give you lots of food for thought well after the end credits roll. While the cynical and jaded sorts (many of whom are New York film critics) may not find this to be their cup of tea, you’ll want to pour honey and lemon in and sit back and sip contentedly. Like a good cup of hot tea, this movie will leave you with a warm, loved feeling and perhaps also with an irresistible urge to hug someone you love.

REASONS TO GO: Surprising depth and warmth. Nighy steals the show but Gleeson proves to be an able comic actor.

REASONS TO STAY: Too cute for its own good in places.

FAMILY VALUES:  A fair bit of cursing and some sexual scenes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This the third movie in which Rachel McAdams plays the love interest of a time traveler (Midnight in Paris and The Time Traveler’s Wife are the other two).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/17/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 68% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Time Traveler’s Wife

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Zaytoun

Closed Circuit (2013)


Furtive Looks 101 will be taught this term by Professor Eric Bana.

Furtive Looks 101 will be taught this term by Professor Eric Bana.

(2013) Thriller (Focus) Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Ciaran Hinds, Riz Ahmed, Jim Broadbent, Kenneth Cranham, Jemma Powell, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Julia Stiles, Anne-Marie Duff, Barbora Bobulova, Luing Andrews, Neil D’Souza, Doug Allen, James Lowe, John Humphreys, David Sibley, Angus Wright, Adam Tedder, Denis Moschitto, Pinar Ogun, Hasancan Cifci, Leila Wong. Directed by John Crowley

The task of a British barrister is to represent the interests of the client to the best of his or her ability. When that task is rendered impossible due to the interference of outside sources, what is a barrister to do?

London’s ancient Borough Market has been bombed and a Turkish national named Farroukh Erdogan (Moschitto) has been arrested for the crime. Martin Rose (Bana) has been appointed to defend him after his original barrister Simon Fellowes (Lowe) commits suicide. Because some of the evidence in the case is of a sensitive nature, a second barrister is appointed to handle that aspect of the case as a judge has been given the task of determining if the classified information can be used in open court or if it is too risky to allow the information to become public knowledge. That barrister is Claudia Simmons-Howe (Hall) who at one time had an affair with Martin which ended up wrecking his marriage. Martin is still in the midst of an ugly custody fight stemming from that.

Both Martin and Claudia have no great desire to work together but as this is an extremely high-profile case that could do wonders for both their careers, they both agree to keep their past relationship past. The two of them are told that they may have no contact whatsoever for fear of the knowledge that Claudia has  been given be transmitted to Martin who might then use it in court anyway. Of course, you know THAT’S not going to last long.

It becomes clear pretty quickly that both of them are under surveillance and that Sinister Forces are at work. Sinister Forces of course are at work because there are Dark Secrets that the Government doesn’t want to get out. In movies like this, these sorts of terms are always capitalized. Soon the two discover independently of each other that they are both in danger as is the family of the accused and that the secrets that aren’t connected to the information that Claudia has been given are far more serious and far-reaching in consequence than they could have imagined.

The British are normally exceedingly good at these sorts of thrillers – look to John Le Carre if you don’t believe me. There is a good deal of moral ambiguity and a dearth of action. Those are the sorts of things that are poison to the general American market who tend to prefer their heroes to act first and think after.

Bana is usually an actor whose films I look forward to seeing but here his character is cold and emotionally shut off. There’s an upper class arrogance to him that makes him unpleasant – not to mention the knowledge that he cheated on his wife, even if she’s been bitchy to him since he’s clearly earned it. Hall’s character Claudia has a bit of a stick up her bottom, and it never becomes clear to me what attracted these two characters to one another in the first place although it must be said sex often does strange things to people.

The opening sequence is quite marvelous – we are shown footage from closed circuit cameras, one morphing into two, then four, then eight. We get a variety of views of people going about their day and we know something awful is about to occur. We are briefly shown where that is going to happen (a truck parked in a place where it shouldn’t be) and then there is a flash and smoke and then nothing. It’s very effective and gets ones hopes sky-high.

Sadly, they don’t use the conceit again and most of the rest of the film is shot in standard style. It’s the one place where Crowley goes outside the box and it works beautifully. One gets the sense that Crowley – whose directing experience is mostly in the theater – didn’t have the confidence to continue that kind of thinking. I hope he acquires it because that sequence shows a great deal of confidence as a director.

The story relies a good deal on the minutiae of English law. I’m obviously unfamiliar with British law but two separate barristers to handle different aspects of the case? Why would that be necessary? Why not just submit the sensitive material directly to the judge and let him/her rule on whether or not it was admissible in open court?

Hinds, a reliable actor, gets a cup of coffee as Martin’s assistant and Stiles is incongruous as an American journalist whose sole function is to be used to force Martin into realizing that there’s an Evil Conspiracy afoot. You know, the Sinister Forces I alluded to earlier. I also thought Bobulova was fine as a government functionary who’s not what she seems and Broadbent jovial as the British Attorney General whose threats are veiled within friendly banter.

I have to say that the movie isn’t bad, it’s just okay – but JUST okay. It didn’t really possess enough substance to engage me much beyond the closing credits but there was enough there to be maddening that a better film couldn’t have been made.

REASONS TO GO: Excellent opening sequence. Urbane.

REASONS TO STAY: Predictable. Lots of plot holes. Love affair is unrealistic.

FAMILY VALUES:  The language is a bit salty in places and there’s some violence as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Borough Market, setting of the first scenes in the movie, also has played host to such films as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/31/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 44% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Runaway Jury

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Truly, Madly, Deeply

Starbuck


Here's how you'll likely feel after seeing this movie.

Here’s how you’ll likely feel after seeing this movie.

(2011) Comedy (EntertainmentOne) Patrick Huard, Julie LeBreton, Antoine Bertrand, Dominic Philie, Marc Belanger, Igor Ovadis, David Michael, Patrick Martin, David Giguere, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, Sebastien Beaulac, Patrick Labbe, Andre Lanthier, Patrick Caux, Catherine De Seve. Directed by Ken Scott

 Florida Film Festival 2013

Being a father is easy (and fun). It doesn’t even require a mom these days – just sperm. Being a dad however is a whole ‘nother story.

David Wozniak (Huard) is about as irresponsible as guys can get. He works for his father (Ovadis) delivering meat to various stores and restaurants around Montreal. It’s the easiest job in his dad’s business but even that David screws up. He uses the delivery van for personal business, forgets vital tasks (like picking up soccer jerseys for team picture day) and generally gets into trouble without meaning to. He’s been with his beautiful girlfriend Valerie (LeBreton) for four years and seems content to let things remain pretty much as they are.

He’s a bachelor slacker, well-liked but not respected. Then Valerie gets pregnant. HE is willing to do the right thing but SHE has taken a good hard look at David and realizes, perhaps regretfully, that he is anything but dad material. She wants to break up; he wants to prove to her that he can grow up.

But he is deeply in debt to loan sharks (who send thugs around to his apartment to laconically hold his head under water to remind him that if he doesn’t pay up soon he is going to end up floating face down in some unpleasant body of water) and nobody really takes him seriously enough to give him a chance to prove himself. To make matters worse, he is served with a summons that turns out to be quite a blast from his past.

As a younger man he had regularly donated sperm to a specific sperm bank in order to make some cash. Due to a clerical error, more than 500 of his samples have been used to impregnate different women . He is now the proud daddy of 533 kids and 152 of them are suing to get his identity revealed.

At first David is appalled and hires a friend (Bertrand) to represent him legally. That friend is also a dad, although his kids basically don’t EVER listen to him and treat him like a jungle gym more than anything else. His friend, the scruffiest barrister ever looks on this as an opportunity to argue a groundbreaking case, maybe the only one he’ll ever have.

After initial reluctance, he begins to look at the profiles of his now-adult children. He tells himself it will be just once. When that child turns out to be a superstar soccer player, David is ecstatic. It becomes like a drug, looking in on his kids and surreptitiously inserting himself into their lives as a kind of guardian angel. Gradually David grows to realize this might be the opportunity to prove himself that he can improve himself that he was looking for.

The movie has a profound charm to it and a kind of scruffy sense of humor. It is sweet at unexpected moments, sometimes tugging the heartstrings without warning. Huard is given a much more layered and complex role than at first it appears – David is certainly a slacker of epic proportions but he also has an amazing heart – his father tells him in one of the most affecting scenes in the movie “I never have to worry because everyone loves you.” In short, one of those rare dads who recognizes that there are different standard of success in life than the ones he measures himself by. It truly is one of the most difficult parts of being a parent – understanding that your definition of success may not be what your child is looking for in life.

Starbuck is one of those rare movies (although this year there seem to be more of them) that looks at what it means to be a dad – there have always seemed to be more mom movies than dad movies in Hollywood, particularly in the last 50 years. Being a dad has challenges of its own, and sometimes in our rush to exalt motherhood (and don’t get me wrong, motherhood deserves exaltation) we forget the important and vital contributions that father’s make in the nurturing of children. Parenthood isn’t a process or a science and it’s barely even an art form – it’s thinking on your feet, it’s being willing to change your own outlook before trying to force your kid to change theirs. It is frustrating, demanding, infuriating – and ultimately as rewarding an endeavor as a man can undertake.

This isn’t the ultimate fatherhood movie – there are a few too many easy-to-spot plot points for that. Still, I found myself enjoying the charm and outright manipulation the movie put me through. Huard is likable enough and the movie pulls just enough unexpected moments to drive the score as high as it winds up. If you’re looking for a case of the warm fuzzies, here’s your source.

REASONS TO GO: Heartwarming. Very funny at times. Huard does a terrific job.

REASONS TO STAY: A bit far-fetched occasionally. A tiny bit too long.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a good deal of sexual content, a pretty fair amount of rough language and a teeny bit of drug material.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The title refers not only to the character from Battlestar Galactica but more specifically to a Canadian Holstein bull that during the 1980s and 1990s fathered thousands of progeny and is considered one of the most fertile creatures ever to have lived.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/9/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100; not what you’d call an overwhelming critical endorsement.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Daddy Day Care

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: The Painting and more 2013 Florida Film Festival coverage!!!

56 Up


Neil Hughes looks on his life with a bit of melancholy.

Neil Hughes looks on his life with a bit of melancholy.

(2012) Documentary (First Run) Michael Apted, Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Suzanne Dewey, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Susan Sullivan, Tony Walker. Directed by Michael Apted and Paul Almond (archival footage)

In 1964, director Paul Almond along with a young researcher named Michael Apted who went on to a successful directing career interviewed fourteen 7-year-old children from around England (mostly the London area) from differing social circumstances. The interviews consisted of the hopes and dreams of the children; what they thought their lives would turn out to be. The television show that resulted in these interviews became a wild success in British and was made a feature film that received a great deal of acclaim here in the United States.

Every seven years since then Apted would return to chat with the fourteen subjects (Peter Davies dropped out after 28 Up in 1985 but returns in time for the newest installment, ostensibly to promote his band the Good Intentions and Charles Furneaux dropped out of the series after 21 Up in 1978 to pursue his own documentary career). Remarkably, all 14 have reached middle age with varying degrees of comfort.

The initial series was supposed to be a commentary on the British class system. What it has become is something else entirely. It has become much more of a personal study, looking at the individuals and how their lives have progressed.

Few lives have been as poignant as that of Neil Hughes. He has skirted on the edge of society, on occasions being homeless. There are certainly demons there; he is asked point blank about his sanity and reflects that he has received some sort of therapy although he doesn’t elaborate. He often seems melancholy, as if disappointed by his own experiences and in where his life has gone. None who saw the ebullient young Neil in Seven Up! and Seven plus Seven Up would have predicted this. In 56 Up he is on a town public works council in Cambria (he seems to prefer Britain’s north) and has become an Anglican canon where he gets to do just about everything a priest does. While he doesn’t seem completely satisfied with his life, he at least seems to be more sanguine than he’s been in recent years.

It is hard to ignore the incidence of divorce in the lives of these kids. While some have been blessed with long marriages (some rocky – Tony Walker dealt with his own infidelity but he and his wife managed to work things out without divorcing) five of the kids have been divorced at least once with one having never married (Neil).

Their lives have turned out quite a bit differently than they would have predicted I think. At 56 the gaze is turning more to the past than the future; ahead lies retirement and grandchildren (some of them are already enjoying the latter) and at this time of life one becomes more or less resigned if not content with one’s position in life or at the very least accepting of it.

These movies are a bit of a mixed blessing. They are fascinating on the one hand to see the progression of life from youth to middle age but these are mere snapshots. It’s like taking a Polaroid of a life and extrapolating from it. As Nick Hitchon, now teaching electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin says that this “is not an absolutely accurate picture (of me) but it’s the picture of somebody and that’s the value of it.”

It is not for me to judge a life and in some ways we are forced to do just that in viewing this. We become as voyeurs, making opinions of these lives and passing judgment on those who have lived them and while that’s inevitable, it’s also something to be resisted. Keep in mind that we are seeing these people through interviews that last approximately six hours out of seven years. We really aren’t getting to know them as people, just the surface facts. And for some of them, it is more compelling than it is for others.

This is a fairly long movie (about two hours) and it can be tedious in places. There is certainly a value to these movies – this was reality television before there was reality television – but it isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. If all you want out of a movie is to be taken out of your own life and transported to more exciting and wonderful places, this isn’t going to do much for you. But those who look to find insight into their own lives by seeing the lives of others will find much value here.

REASONS TO GO: Fascinating, particularly if you’ve been following the series for 49 years.

REASONS TO STAY: Not every life is interesting.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit of foul language but that’s about it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The series began on British television and continues there to this day; it is in the United States that a compilation has been released as a feature film for almost every installment.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/12/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100; the documentary got outstanding reviews.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: 49 Up

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Jack the Giant Slayer