Beatriz at Dinner


Wine, women and song.

(2017) Drama (Roadside Attractions) Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Chloë Sevigny, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, John Early, Sean O’Bryan, David Warshofsky, Enrique Castillo, Natalia Abelleyra, Soledad St. Hilaire, Amelia Borella, Debbie Kindred, Pamela Drake Wilson. Directed by Miguel Arteta

 

In 2017 the distance between the haves and the have-nots has grown wider and the moral gulf between the two has widened similarly. In many ways, it’s hard to reconcile the two; they might as well be two completely different species.

Beatriz (Hayek) is definitely one of the have-nots. She lives in a ramshackle house in Altadena, a primarily Hispanic suburb in Los Angeles along with her menagerie of dogs, cats and goats. She’s a little troubled; her beloved goat was recently killed by an angry neighbor, a goat she’d brought up to America del Norte from her small village in Mexico.

She works at an alternative cancer treatment center, supplementing her income by doing massage therapy. One of her clients is Cathy (Britton), a wealthy housewife in Laguna. Beatriz was instrumental in her daughter surviving cancer and Cathy sings the immigrant’s praises to all and sundry. When Beatriz’ car won’t start and nobody can come get her until the next day, Cathy impulsively invites her to stay overnight and attend a small dinner party her husband Evan (Early) is throwing to celebrate the successful conclusion of a business deal.

Attending is Alex (Duplass), the lawyer who helped arrange it and his wife Shannon (Sevigny) and the guest of honor, billionaire investor Doug Strutt (Lithgow) and his wife Jenna (Landecker). Strutt is one of those one percenters who gives the upper crust a bad name. He’s boorish, arrogant and a bit of a blowhard and maybe a symbol for everything that’s wrong with Trump’s America.

Beatriz recognizes Strutt but is assured that it is because he is famous; she thinks he may have been responsible for a development that decimated her home village and destroyed the way of life there that she loved, forcing her family to separate and flee. She’s not sure so she holds her suspicions to herself.

Although she is constantly mistaken for a servant, Beatriz nevertheless acts with grace and courtesy even when Doug is saying spiteful snarky things to her. She holds her temper even though at times he seems to be goading her perhaps unwittingly, pissing on every precept close to her heart. The only time the two warm up to each other is when she gives him a neck rub and sings a song for the party. But the longer the dinner party goes on, the harder it is for Beatriz to hold her tongue; eventually it becomes obvious that when the confrontation comes it is going to be spectacular.

There are certain allegorical aspects to the movie, particularly with class warfare which seems to be a favored theme in 2017. Arteta and screenwriter Mike White are careful not to turn the characters into caricatures, with each of the party attendees given depth and much room to work with. The result is an array of impressive performances but none more so than Hayek.

She has always been an underrated actress, although those who saw her in Frida know what she’s capable of and she delivers a performance here that is at least on par with that one. Deliberately going unglamorous, wearing no make-up and putting her hair in a pony tail while dressed in the somewhat frumpy uniform she wears for the cancer center, Hayek looks mousy here although even this unflattering look fails to disguise the fact that she’s one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. She puts vanity aside in favor of creating a complete character and filling that empty shell with personality and life. Beatriz may be quiet and a bit on the new age-y side but she has a heart of gold.

The same can’t be said for anyone else at the party, even Cathy who proves herself to be just as material-oriented as the others there. All are busy licking Doug’s boots and heaping praise upon him as he jovially trots out potential titles for his autobiography, each one more pretentious and bombastic than the last. I’m not sure if Strutt is meant to be a stand-in for Trump but the similarities are there; the narcissism, the obsession with winning and of course the fact that he is, like Trump, a property developer. You can draw your own conclusions but the comparison isn’t a wrong one.

Lithgow who has been an amazing character actor for decades excels here. He’s made a career of playing some of the best and most despicable villains in movie history. He makes a perfect foil for Beatriz and Hayek and the two complement each other well as polar opposites. They are definitely the yin and yang of the movie and when you have two powerful performances in that position, you can’t help but have a terrific movie.

That is, until the final five minutes when an ending is delivered that stops the movie dead in its tracks. I won’t reveal specifics, only that Beatriz – a character who cherishes life – acts completely out of character not just once but twice. All the hard work that Hayek has given is sabotaged because her character is revealed to be either completely false to what we have seen, or the filmmakers decided to pull a fast one on their audience. Either way, it is disrespectful to the viewer and I sorely wish they had come up with a different way to end the film.

It’s a shame too, because this could have been one of the highlight films of the summer. As it is it’s a hidden gem that will likely pass unnoticed to the vast majority of the movie-going public who tend to get their prompts from heavy marketing campaigns and big summer blockbusters. If you’re looking for something that’s flying under the radar a bit, this is certainly one to consider. It’s just a shame that the ending makes me hesitate to recommend it wholeheartedly but I can at least count it worthy because of the performances and concepts up to that point.

REASONS TO GO: Hayek gives a remarkable performance and is supported superbly by Lithgow.
REASONS TO STAY: The ending is horrible enough to nearly ruin a good movie.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some instances of profanity, a brief scene of drug use and a scene of unexpected and shocking violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third collaboration between Arteta and screenwriter Mike White.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/24/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 78% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Dinner
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Good Fortune: The John Paul DeJoria Story

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Coherence


On the outside looking in.

On the outside looking in.

(2014) Science Fiction (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Emily Foxler, Nicholas Brendon, Maury Sterling, Elizabeth Gracen, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher, Hugo Armstrong, Lorene Scafaria. Directed by James Ward Byrkit

Some movies are better the less you know about them beforehand and this is one of them. If you’re planning to see this anytime soon, read no further. If you have seen it and want a different opinion to bounce off of, read on.

On the night a comet is due to pass close by the Earth, Lee (Scafaria) and Mike (Brendon) are throwing a dinner party. Attending are married couple Hugh (Armstrong) and Beth (Gracen), dating couple Em (Foxler) and Kevin (Sterling) and newly dating Amir (Manugian) and Laurie (Maher) who is Kevin’s slutty ex.

The comet’s proximity messes up cell service and actually causes some of the phones to crack their screens spontaneously – why? Someone with a better grasp of physics might explain this one because I can’t. Anyway, soon the power is disrupted and the partiers begin to grow concerned. There is only one house in the neighborhood with lights on and Hugh and Amir volunteer to venture forth and see if  they can use the land line to contact Hugh’s brother, a scientist who specializes in…um, comet phenomena.

Anyway that’s when things begin to get weird. I don’t want to go into it too much because frankly I don’t think I have the brain capacity to explain this properly without  A), messing up the synopsis and B), having my brain explode. Suffice to say that we’re talking some theoretical quantum physics here that the writers seem to have a better grasp of than I ever could.

So what’s to love? Plenty. This is a smart concept, utilizing Schrodinger’s Cat and quantum physics in ways I’ve never seen done in a movie before that didn’t have “Property of Cal Tech” stamped on the disc cover. The writers do manage to explain things fairly clearly so even those of us who didn’t take quantum mechanics back in the day should be able to follow along pretty easily. Clearly the writers have at least a familiarity with the science and that’s kind of refreshing in an era when “dumb (and dumber) is better.”

The acting is pretty sharp with Buffy, the Vampire Slayer‘s Brendon showing some pretty nice chops in a most un-Xander-like role. Foxler, the female lead, reminds me a lot of Elizabeth Olsen and has the potential to become a big star somewhere down the line.

This isn’t a big budget production by any stretch of the imagination. Nearly all the action takes place in a single room and when they do go outside to view the comet it looks realistic enough. This is an example of how you can make a good science fiction film without a big Hollywood budget.

What’s not to love? Well, these are some of the most shallow characters you’re ever going to run into in a film. A friend of mine claims that grounds the film but if I wouldn’t want to spend a moment with any of these characters if they were real, why would I want to spend an hour and a half of my time watching a movie about them? They represent all the things the rest of the country hates about L.A. with wanna-be actors and ballerinas mixing with herbal Earth mamas and talking about Feng Shui and juice cleanses. It’s enough to make you crave an enema after the movie’s over.

I also wasn’t fond of the jump cutting and blackouts that make the film feel choppy. I get that the director is trying to make the viewer feel that something is out of kilter, but it gets old after only a few times it happens and he does it throughout the movie. There’s nothing wrong with trying to do things differently but this was something he should have utilized a little more sparingly. Trust your actor and your story to set the mood.

I wasn’t a big fan of the ending either but to go into it in any length would be to give away too much. Let’s just say that Em doesn’t seem the type to do what she does and I don’t think having a comet pass hundreds of miles away from the Earth is liable to make people behave the way they do here. Nor do I think it would cause an event of this dimension and scope. If you’re going to use physics, at least have the decency to use real world physics consistently. Neil deGrasse Tyson would have a field day with this.

 

It’s definitely fascinating and hopefully if you’ve read this far you’ve already checked it out. I would recommend it to anyone seeking smart science fiction with the caveat that the characters might just drive you to ask for a Joss Whedon rewrite.

REASONS TO GO: Fascinating and smart concept. Taut and paranoia-infused.
REASONS TO STAY: Often confusing. Characters so shallow you want to scream.
FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a smattering of foul language and a scene of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Elizabeth Gracen won the 1982 Miss America title. Lorene Scafaria directed the apocalyptic comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/3/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Plus One
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Weather Girl

Change of Plans (Le code a change)


When in doubt...flamenco!!!

When in doubt…flamenco!!!

(2009) Dramedy (IFC) Karin Viard, Dany Boon, Marina Fois, Patrick Bruel, Emmanuelle Seigner, Christopher Thompson, Marina Hands, Patrick Chesnais, Bianca Li, Laurent Stocker, Pierre Arditi, Jeanne Raimbault, Isabelle Cagnat, Marc Rioufol, Cyrille Eldin, Michele Brousse, Michel Motu, Guillaume Durand, Zahia Said, Anne Agbadou-Masson. Directed by Daniele Thompson

When I was a kid, my parents used to host dinner parties from time to time – not on a regular basis but at least once or twice a year. When their adult guests would arrive, we’d be ushered off to our rooms which we were frankly happy enough to do – in our view, adults were boring, uncultured sorts who didn’t even have the foggiest idea of the serious intellectual properties of Scooby Doo.

These days, I get the sense that dinner parties are something of a lost art. Four or five couples at a dinner table talking about adult subjects? For one thing, how many of them could stay off of their cell phones for three or four hours? And of course these days opinions on current affairs are mostly excuses for shouting matches unless of course you invite people who agree with you politically and then what sort of fun is that?

The French however have kept this art form alive – and a good dinner party is very much a work of art. ML (Viard), a high-powered attorney, and her husband Piotr (Boon) are hosting such a dinner party and they’ve chosen an auspicious occasion – the celebration of Parisian street music known as Fete de la musique which takes place every 21st of June. Piotr, of Polish descent, will be the chef and has chosen as the main entree a stew called bigos (which in case you’re interested in trying out yourself the recipe is listed during the end credits courtesy of Seigner’s husband, director Roman Polanski).

On the invitation list is Melanie (Fois), a gynecologist who has been carrying on an affair with a jockey and is preparing to leave her husband Alain (Bruel), a kind oncologist who genuinely cares for his patients and who has no idea what is going on behind his back (to be fair, ML is carrying on with the contractor who supervised the remodeling of her kitchen). Lucas (Thompson), an overbearing sort who works for a rival firm and is attempting to get ML to jump ship, as well as Lucas’ wife Sarah (Seigner) who has all the self-confidence of a student driver behind the wheel of their first driver’s education class.

Also on board is Juliette (Hands), ML’s sister who has grown distant from her sibling and who has brought an older gentleman, Erwann (Chesnais) who may or may not be her lover. Arriving late is ML’s flamenco teacher Manuela (Li) who has dreams of opening up her own school as well as Jean-Louis (Stocker), the previously mentioned contractor who is ML’s lover. Arriving unexpectedly is Henri (Arditi), the father of Juliette and ML who has been estranged from his daughters for some time – and strikes up an unsuspecting friendship with Erwann.

Nearly all of the party guests are having an affair, just called off an affair or are thinking of having one. Apparently extramarital sex is much on the mind of the average Parisian and just as apparently most American critics are a bit squeamish about it. Sometimes it is difficult for Americans to look at extramarital sex in the same way that the French do, who are much more pragmatic about it and much less emotional than we Americans are. We tend to use words like “cheating” and “betrayal” in regards to it while the French have looked on it as a natural part of life. It is one of those cultural differences that both sides find the other hard to fathom.

So getting past that can be hard for an American audience, but it isn’t the aspect of the movie that should be dwelled upon. Ms. Thompson uses a flash-forward to illustrate the beginnings of significant changes in the lives of those who attended the dinner party which started as small events at the dinner party, reassembling those who had originally attended the party a year after the fact. It is a bit jarring when the first flash-forward occurs but once one understands that they are viewing two separate parties than it begins to make sense.

This is a very strong cast, with Viard, considered by some to be the French equivalent of Meryl Streep, in strong form as the very much conflicted hostess who is frustrated at being the support of her chronically unemployed husband whom she nevertheless loves. Boon, for his part, is better known as a comic actor but plays it straight nicely, Seigner has a small but juicy role and reaffirms why she is one of my favorite Gallic actresses working today and Bruel also pulls off some decent work.

The drawback to having this many guests is that not all of the stories are as compelling and while they all entwine and enmesh tightly, it does make for a rather ponderous pace as we move from one storyline to the next with the two dinner parties the linking thread. American audiences, used to a different sort of pacing, may grow restless with this. Take your Adderall before you watch it folks.

WHY RENT THIS: What could be more entertaining and stimulating than a French dinner party? Well-acted and well-written.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the storylines are less diverting than others. An occasional excess of fluff.

FAMILY VALUES: There are adult situations and some sexuality and occasionally foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Daniele and Christopher Thompson are mother and son; she is the daughter of director Gerard Oury and actress Jacqueline Roman. She also was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar in 1976 for Cousin, Cousine.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a fairly lively interview with actor Dany Boon.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $46,714 domestically on an unknown production budget (the film’s international totals were unavailable).

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mid-August Lunch

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT; H

The Perfect Host


Always use your right hand when threatening a guest with a knife.

Always use your right hand when threatening a guest with a knife.

(2010) Thriller (Magnolia) David Hyde Pierce, Clayne Crawford, Tyrees Allen, Cooper Barnes, Megahn Perry, Annie Campbell, Helen Reddy, Indira Gibson, George Kee Cheung, Brooke “Mikey” Anderson, Cheryl Francis Harrington, Amanda Payton, Joseph Will, Nathaniel Parker, Greg Brown, Mike Foy, Tracy Britton, Maple Navarro. Directed by Nick Tomnay

What makes the perfect host? Is it the immaculate home they live in? Or perhaps the feeling of welcome and hospitality that they radiate? Or is it the details of putting on the perfect party?

When entertaining, one may sometimes be accosted at one’s door by a complete stranger, claiming to be a friend of a friend. Do not immediately assume they are a bank robber or some similar reprobate but invite them in. Should you see evidence on television that they are in fact a bank robber, do not panic and whatever you do, never lose your civility. Should the bank robber pull a knife on you, remember these three things – manners, manners, manners! Offer your guest refreshment.

And by refreshment, of course, we mean wine. But what wine should the perfect host offer in such a situation? Why, red of course! That way when you drug the wine, the powder dissolves more fully, allowing the sedative to move more quickly through your guest’s system. And while he takes a nice refreshing nap, a perfect host always ties his slumbering guest to a chair so that there is no danger of him hurting himself through a fall or being stabbed with his own knife. Thus we see the hallmarks of a perfect host – courtesy, concern and commitment.

Despite his status as a party crasher, a perfect host always includes his guest in the activities of the party. Should a conga line form, make sure it snakes around him – don’t allow him to join the line however, as the physical exertion so soon after a restful nap may lead to perspiration and we can’t have that.

We’ve seen this kind of film before, including the Michael Haneke classic Funny Games but this one has a bit of a twist. Neither one of the protagonists are really likable. The bank robber, John Taylor (Crawford) is a nasty piece of work and although the script works at making him likable, at the end of the day he isn’t a nice guy.

Then again, neither is Warwick Wilson (Hyde Pierce), the titular homeowner whose dinner party Taylor crashes. In fact, Warwick’s hold on reality is extremely tenuous and we’re never quite sure if what’s going on is all in his head or real. Hyde Pierce is perfectly cast, drawing on his stiff-as-a-board Niles Crane role from the Frasier TV series only adding a psychotic edge. The results are very effective.

Where the movie goes off the rails is in the last third; one gets a sense that the writers painted themselves in a corner and rather than getting paint on their shoes hired an imaginary helicopter to fly them out. It doesn’t really work, even as the metaphor above doesn’t work.

Still, the movie is funny (in a sick and twisted way) in places and scary in others. You’re never really sure who has the upper hand and which one of the two you want to see get their just deserts until near the very end. Personally I wish they’d just bitten the bullet and made Taylor a truly despicable man instead of giving him an out. To my mind that would have been a better movie, although the one that they ended up making is pretty dang good.

WHY RENT THIS: Hyde Pierce gives a bravura performance. Well cast, well-written and funny as hell upon occasion.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Falls apart in the last third.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of foul language, some sexuality and some violence as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie originally began life as a 26-minute black and white short.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed, oddly enough although clips of the original short can be seen in the making of feature, the full short isn’t included here for reasons completely beyond my comprehension.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $48,764 on a production budget of $500,000; the film lost money during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Misery

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The American Experience begins!

The Freebie


 

The Freebie

Dax Shepard and Katie Aselton have each, unknown to the other, chewed entire cloves of raw garlic prior to this take.

(2010) Romance (Phase 4) Dax Shepard, Katie Aselton, Bellamy Young, Ross Partridge, Sean Nelson, Marguerite Phillips, Joshua Leonard, Frankie Shaw, Houston Wages, Ken Kennedy, Leonora Gershman, Scott Pitts. Directed by Katie Aselton

 

Who knows what really happens between couples? Once behind the bedroom door, there’s a privacy that is intrinsic to any relationship. Not all relationships, no matter how healthy they seem on the outside, are as healthy as they might be.

Darren (Shepard) and his wife Annie (Aselton) seem to pretty well have it figured out. Outwardly friendly and affectionate, they’ve been married seven years and going strong. However, there’s that pesky behind closed doors thing going on; the spark has faded. It’s been ages since they’ve had sex; most nights they’re content with a little cuddling and crossword puzzles before lights out.

A dinner party in which Lea (Gershman), a friend, informs them that she’s split up with her boyfriend leads to a discussion in which she’s encouraged to put herself out there, to date regularly and have plenty of sex. Not terribly responsible advice but then again these aren’t supposed to necessarily be responsible people. Darren as a matter of fact boasts that when he was single he was quite the playa.

That leads to some conversation between Darren and Annie. The thrill is most definitely gone and they both are eager to get it back. They decide to rev things up by allowing each other a freebie – one night to go outside the marriage and have sex with no repercussions.

Darren immediately seeks out a barista he’s had his eye on (Young) while Annie heads to a bar where she opens up to a bartender (Partridge) about her situation with which he is more than happy to volunteer to assist with. When the night is over, it turns out that their solution to their problem was more like throwing gasoline on a fire and then throwing live ammo into the conflagration.

Aselton is married to director/writer/producer/actor Mark Duplass, who is associated with the mumblecore movement which some critics have lumped this movie into. Quite frankly, I don’t think this really fits into that mold; there are a few elements that are associated with that style (such as the hand-held cameras and intimate conversations being a part of the “action”) but overall there are more elements unalike than like…which isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing.

She does a good job with a subject that can be kind of tricky – sex within a marriage. Hollywood tends to look at the subject either as a raunchy comedy when it isn’t ignoring it altogether. Contrary to what we sometimes let on, sex doesn’t end once the marital vows are said, but often sex takes a different role within the marriage than it filled in the relationship before the marriage. It can wax and wane in terms of importance; sometimes it takes a backseat to other acts in the marriage such as cuddling and talking. Stress in the marriage (whether relationship-related or from outside sources) can also take a toll on the sex life.

For a movie like this to work, the couple in the spotlight has to be absolutely believable and Shepard and Aselton have good chemistry together. Shepard, who’s generally known for his comedic work, does some of the best work of his career to date in a role that’s more likable for the most part than the characters he generally plays. Aselton is also likable and sexy and one gets the sense that in the relationship, the problem tends to be more on Darren’s side than Annie’s; if he wanted to jump her bones she would likely be all too happy to let him.

At times this is very much like being the fly on a bedroom wall, with all the awkwardness that implies. Some might find that off-putting. Also, I was disappointed in the ending which had implications that could conceivably render the entire movie moot; that’s not a good feeling to have when you’re done watching the end credits. Still, Aselton is already a fine actress and it’s clear her husband isn’t the only director in the household. She has talent and has a future both behind the camera and in front of it – or in both places. I’m rooting for the latter, personally; the world could use a few more women who are adept at both.

WHY RENT THIS: A surprisingly adult and even-handed discussion of marital sexual apathy. Shepard delivers one of his finest performances. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little uncomfortable at times. The ending is a bit of a cop-out.

FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of bad words and given the subject matter plenty of sexual situations as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shepard joined the cast a mere 18 hours before shooting began.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are four faux public service announcements promoting National Freebie Day, which were also used to market the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16,613 on an unreported production budget; no way this movie made money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hall Pass

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Total Recall (2012)

A Single Man


A Single Man

Elegance, sophistication and despair, 60s-style.

(2009) Drama (Weinstein) Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Ginnifer Goodwin, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult, Jon Kortajarena, Ryan Simpkins, Teddy Sears, Paulette Lamon, Aaron Sanders, Paul Butler, Lee Pace, Adam Shapiro, Jon Hamm (voice). Directed by Tom Ford

We live our lives out for the most part in isolation. It is a horrible fate that we strive to avoid and when we find someone to share our lives with, we feel a certain amount of relief, as if we have finally received our membership card for the human race. However, when that is taken away from us, our careful façade can show cracks as despair and grief set our very souls to crumbling.

That’s where George Falconer (Firth) is. He receives news that his partner of 16 years, Jim (Goode) has perished in a car accident. This being 1962, George’s relationship with Jim is barely acknowledged and when George makes inquiries about the memorial service, he’s told in no uncertain terms that his presence is not welcome. Very civilly, he thanks the caller (Hamm) for the information, hangs up the phone and stares into the abyss.

Eight months later, the grief has far from subsided; it has multiplied, feeding on itself and growing exponentially until George can no longer stand it. He wakes up in pain every morning, and confides that for the first time in his life, he cannot see a future. Without a future, with an intolerable present, George makes plans to end his own life. He meticulously arranges his study so all the important papers will be easily found, and goes about the business of his last day on Earth.

In it, he will lecture his class at a Los Angeles-area college on the works of Aldous Huxley and set up a philosophical discussion about invisible minorities. He will attend a dinner with his old friend and ex-lover Charley (Moore), who yearns for one last go at a man she knows is lost to her, but she herself is lost so that has little meaning. He flirts with a Spanish hustler (Kortajarena) and with a kindly student (Hoult) but in the end he knows there’s a gun waiting for him in his bedside table.

This is the first directing effort by fashion designer Ford, who is credited from rescuing Gucci from bankruptcy and turning it into a billion-dollar brand name. As you would expect from someone with that kind of eye, extreme attention is paid to art direction, the meticulous detail of recreating 1962 is done with great authentic detail from the brand names to the attitudes. The Cuban Missile Crisis is in the background but never  becomes the centerpiece; it is a topic of conversation and colors the film a bit without being the focus. Ford also takes some artistic cues from famed Chinese director Wong Kar-Wei, using colors as emotional triggers in the film.

However, as impressive as Ford is, it is Firth who steals the show here. He was Oscar nominated for his performance here (which he didn’t win but it set the stage for his win earlier this year for The King’s Speech) and it was richly deserved. Firth has made a name for himself for playing uptight British sorts, and so he is here, so tightly wound that it seems at times that one pinprick in the right place will let loose a barrage of screams.

His scene in which he is notified of Jim’s death is reason alone to see the movie; he’s just talking on the telephone, sitting down but you look at his eyes, his demeanor, his body language – while he looks composed, you can see him disintegrating inside. There’s no tears, no dramatic gestures, just the quiet despair of a man who in the space of a few moments has lost everything that has any meaning to him.

Firth shuffles through the film with a grey, lifeless pallor which only heats up in certain instances. One of them is with Charley, the divorcee who in many ways is as lost and desperate as George is. Moore gives her life, not only reading the lines with the caustic cattiness that was perfect for the period and the character but also showing the vulnerability she is careful to keep away from the surface, but so intense is it that it appears without warning and despite her best efforts. Moore was nominated for a Best Supporting Dramatic Actress Golden Globe; she didn’t get an Oscar nomination but I doubt anyone would have complained had she received one.

The Christopher Isherwood novel this is based on is considered a touchstone of gay English language literature and it is indeed ambitious that Ford, who is also gay, would take it on as his first filmed project but in many ways this is a movie that needed to be made and having someone with the visual eye that Ford has made him the right choice for the role, despite his limited experience as a director.

There are those who have skipped this movie because of its gay themes, and to those folks let me say this; you may be uncomfortable with the expression of same-sex love and there is certainly a good deal of that here, but I never found it uncomfortable or intrusive. This is more accurately a portrayal of grief, of a limited ability to express that grief both publically and privately, and the character study of a man deeply wounded but who in the end finds a certain measure of peace. It’s a very good movie and gay or straight, you should make an effort to see it.

WHY RENT THIS: An amazing looking film perfectly capturing the period. Firth does an amazing job in the role of George.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It’s a very slow-moving film.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexual content, as well as some fairly disturbing images. There’s also a little bit of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Firth nearly turned the role down and had composed an e-mail to Ford sending his regrets. He was about to send it when he was interrupted by a repairman who was there to fix his refrigerator. While the fridge was being repaired, Firth reconsidered and never sent the e-mail. Firth thanked the “fridge guy” when accepting his BAFTA award for Best Actor for the part.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $24.9M on a $7M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: Thor

Flipped


Flipped

John Maloney is fully aware that youth is wasted on the young.

(Warner Brothers) Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, Anthony Edwards, John Maloney, Aidan Quinn, Rebecca de Mornay, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Weisman, Ashley Taylor, Israel Broussard, Cody Horn, Ruth Crawford, Stefanie Scott. Directed by Rob Reiner

Everyone remembers their first love. It holds a special place in our hearts, something that is never recaptured in quite the same way. Often we can remember minute details about the object of our affection, where we were when we first realized what we were feeling, the music that was playing, even the smell of their shampoo. It’s the kind of magic that science can’t explain, that nobody can really put into words but nearly everyone can understand on one level or another.

Bryce Loski (McAuliffe) is moving into a new neighborhood, which in itself is a traumatic thing when you’re in the second grade in 1957. However, when you’re a 14-year-old boy in 1963, nothing is more traumatic than attracting the attentions of the girl next door, or in this case the girl across the street. She’s Juli Baker (Carroll) and she has the kind of smile that lights up a room, and the kind of spirit that warms that brightly lit room. Besides that, she has the kind of character to stand up for what she believes in, even if there’s risk. She also has the compassion to understand the frailties of those around her, especially her dad Richard (Quinn), who paints pictures for a living and sells them at local art shows and county fairs. She has the kindness to want people around her to be comfortable.

All that is lost on Bryce, however; he’s more concerned with the mortification of having someone besotted with him. He does everything he can to deflect her attention, some subtle and some downright cruel. The only thing he doesn’t do is tell her to leave him alone and that he’s not interested.

She takes his disinterest for shyness and redoubles her efforts. Even when he starts going out with her nemesis, Sherry Stalls (Taylor) she just sits back patiently and waits for the relationship to fizzle, which it does courtesy of Bryce’s best friend Garrett (Broussard), possibly the worst best friend ever.

Most everyone can see the shine on Juli, especially Bryce’s grandfather Chet (Maloney) who is grieving for his wife that Juli reminds him of strongly. Certainly Bryce’s Mom (De Mornay) can see it; perhaps the only one who can’t is Bryce’s dad Steven (Edwards) who is a bitter, angry man although he disguises it with a crooked grin and a manly slap on the back. Eventually all of Bryce’s little cruelties open Juli’s eyes to the thought that the boy with the dazzling eyes may not be greater than the sum of his parts. He may be, in fact, less.

This is bad news for Bryce who has begun to see Juli for what she is and has flipped for her. He’s made so many mistakes in running away from this girl; can he convince her that he is the boy she saw those years ago the day he moved in to the house across the street?

Rob Reiner has a great eye for era; he proved that with Stand By Me and Ghosts of Mississippi. He’s gone a few years without a truly outstanding movie on his resume, although he has plenty of great movies, including The Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, Misery and When Harry Met Sally among them.

Here he takes the acclaimed Wendelin van Draanen young adult’s novel and transplanted it from a modern setting to 1963, an era in which he seems comfortable filming, possible (because he was a teenager himself at the time albeit an older one (his IMDB page lists his birth date as 1946). What he does retain from the novel is the alternating point of view, relying on voice-over narration from the two main characters to address the same incidents from different points of view, something Kurosawa made famous in Rashomon only on a grander scale.

It works here because everything that happens is about motivation, and you can’t always tell what someone’s thinking by what they do and it’s very important that the audience understands what the two young people are thinking. That Reiner makes the back-and-forth work so seamlessly is a tribute to his skills as a filmmaker.

The movie is sentimental without being unnecessarily sweet; this is largely because the two young actors, Carroll and McAuliffe are so stellar. It may be my imagination, but we seem to be going through a phase where really good juvenile actors are much more common, from Dakota Fanning to Abigail Breslin to Saorise Ronan and now, these two. Carroll, in particular, strikes me as the kind of actress who could have a legitimate career that could extend well beyond her teen years; sometimes you catch a glimpse of that and it strikes a chord in you. I may be wrong about her, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I was right.

There are some notable performances in the supporting ranks as well, particularly from Maloney who always manages to project character and kindness in every role he plays; as the grandfather he is wise and giving, although saddled with a son-in-law who is not. Edwards, who we’re used to playing sympathetic roles as in “E.R.” and Revenge of the Nerds, plays a thankless, unlikable role and manages to give the character hidden depth; just enough of the source of his frustrations are revealed to hint at humanizing Steven Loski and making him almost sympathetic.

There is a different family dynamic between the Loskis, who are outwardly more prosperous but internally dysfunctional, and the Bakers, who are outwardly struggling and inwardly close. The differences between the two fathers – Richard who is loving, artistic and a little bit Bohemian and Steven who is uptight, condescending and boorish – help explain why the two children are who they are. I have to say that one thing that impressed me was that nothing here seemed manufactured in any way; everything about the plot is organic and flows nicely, even the flipping back and forth between like and dislike for Bryce and Juli.

Quite honestly, I initially wasn’t looking forward to seeing this and did mostly because something about the trailer spoke to Da Queen. While I like Reiner as a director, his recent track record has been spotty and I was thrilled to see him not only return to form, but deliver a movie that will seriously challenge for the number one spot on my year-end list this year. I was touched by the movie and left it feeling warm inside, remembering my own childhood crushes and aware of how wonderful sitting in a sycamore tree and able to view the world around you can be. I tell you, hand to God, you will not find a movie with more heart than this one.

REASONS TO GO: Beautiful and rich in detail, this presents a romance in an organic and non-manufactured way that is charming and yet realistic. This is a movie that will grab you by the heart and keep holding you there.

REASONS TO STAY: People who have difficulty dealing with the finer emotions may find this boring.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a couple of scenes that might be a little difficult for the smaller sort to understand, and there are a few suggestive words here and there but certainly this is fine for teens and most pre-teens as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rob Reiner founded Castle Rock, the production company behind Flipped but later sold it to Warner Brothers; this is the first time he’s worked with them since 1999.

HOME OR THEATER: While much of this movie is shot on an intimate level which is normally fine for home viewing, I think the overall experience is heightened by seeing it in a theater.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: Frost/Nixon