Mr. Turner


Timothy Spall is nothing if not Dickensian.

Timothy Spall is nothing if not Dickensian.

(2014) Biographical Drama (Sony Classics) Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Karl Johnson, Ruth Sheen, Sandy Foster, Amy Dawson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Niall Buggy, Fred Pearson, Tom Edden, Jamie Thomas King, Mark Stanley, Nicholas Jones, Clive Francis, Robert Portal, Simon Chandler, Edward de Souza, Karina Fernandez. Directed by Mike Leigh

J.M.W. Turner was a man of his times but he was also ahead of his time. In the prime of his career, he was one of the most respected and successful artists in the history of Great Britain but as he began to change his style he fell out of favor although ironically it is his later work which presaged the impressionist movement and is among the very best of his output.

Turner (Spall) had a certain amount of fame and had a love-hate relationship with his celebrity. He’d often leave his home base in London to sketch and dwell in places like France and the Netherlands, or in Margate where he grew up or on the country estates of wealthy patrons. At home he lives with his father (Jesson) who buys his paints, constructs his frames and mixes his paints for him. Turner’s hard work ethic definitely comes from dear old dad who for his part is tinkled pink that his son has made something of himself. There’s also the housemaid Sarah Danby (Atkinson) who clearly has feelings for the painter which he studiously ignores, although from time to time the two rut without much affection, at least on Turner’s part.

There’s also a former paramour (Sheen), a relationship that has yielded two daughters that Turner also studiously ignores despite the nagging of their mother. She harangues him about his thoughtlessness and lack of support; he tolerates it for the most part for a few moments before turning his back and returning to work. Mortifying behavior back in the early 19th century.

On a visit to Margate he encounters Sophia Booth (Bailey) who runs a rooming house on the waterfront with her retired seaman husband (Johnson). Turner takes a shine to the location as well as to Mrs. Booth. When her husband passes away, she and Turner become lovers although at first she doesn’t know him by his actual name; he uses one of his middle names, Mallord, when dealing with the Booths as he doesn’t want any sort of special treatment which he finds uncomfortable.

Time passes and Turner’s style begins to change. When his father passes away in 1829, Turner’s world crashes in on him, although in true British bulldog fashion he doesn’t show much outwardly. However, he turns even further into his work, only now doing the dreary parts himself. He finds himself weeping when he sketches a young prostitute. He finds his style changing to the point where some question whether his eyesight is failing him and yet his work now illuminates as well as illustrates. Paintings as beautiful as any ever produced by anyone begin to emerge.

Turner is largely unknown outside of Britain, certainly not to the American general public. I must admit that I was ignorant of his work, not being particularly an art aficionado although my sister is far more knowledgeable of art history in general than I am. I was quite taken by the work I saw onscreen and while I’m not sure whether these are reproductions or the actual works of Mr. Turner I can say with certainty that few artists loved sunlight as much as he judging from the way he displays it on canvas. Mike Leigh channels Terrence Malick by creating visual landscapes that use the sun in much the same way Turner himself did, creating almost ghostly milieus in which to display his actors. Some of the shots are breathtaking,

Spall, a veteran British character actor, has been hailed for this performance which many thought might net him an Oscar nomination (but didn’t). I have to say I have mixed feelings about it; Spall grunts, snorts, and wheezes like an asthmatic javelina. At times his mumbled dialogue is incomprehensible and I wished there had been sub-titles. Still, there’s a bulldogged quality to the performance and while I’m not familiar with what the real Turner was reputedly like (from what I understand he was not as nice as he is portrayed here) I can imagine the painter speaking his mind as shown here and devil take the hindmost if you disagree, although he is shown with a group of fellow painters having to endure the brainless cogitations of a dimwitted scion of a titled and wealthy family. Turner holds his tongue although you suspect that he’d very much like to loose it.

One feels the weight of the era on the film; Leigh does a very good job of capturing Imperial England just as Queen Victoria is ascending the throne from the costumes to the architecture to the technology and especially in the attitudes of those who are well-to-do. What Leigh doesn’t do well is tell a straightforward story. Often times you are left wondering what the purpose was for a particular scene as it seems to come up without reason or meaning. Da Queen found this very disquieting and as a result liked the movie a lot less than I did, although I have to admit I like it a lot more upon further reflection than I did exiting the theater. Sometimes movies will do that to you.

REASONS TO GO: Gorgeous imagery. What feels like an authentic capture of the period. Spall is a force of nature here.
REASONS TO STAY: Disjointed and sacrifices story for scenery. Could have used subtitles.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some somewhat brutal sex.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The replica of the early railroad train that Turner painted was loaned to the production from the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry for a single day, so the filmmakers had only one day to get the shot right.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/18/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 94/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Seraphine
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Seventh Son

Advertisements

Another Year


Another Year

An idyllic summer moment in Geri and Tom's backyard but Mary has forgotten the latin saying "in vino veritas" - in wine there is truth

(2010) Drama (Sony Classics) Jim Broadbent, Leslie Manville, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wright, Oliver Maltman, David Bradley, Karina Fernandez, Martin Savage, Michele Austin, Phil Davis, Stuart McQuarrie, Imelda Staunton. Directed by Mike Leigh

 

Why is it that some people seem to have all the happiness they want while others can’t get even a small portion no matter how hard they try? It’s a question people struggle with to answer, and one which rarely gets addressed in the movies.

Geri (Sheen) is a therapist who is working with a very depressed married woman (Staunton) whose life has crumbled into dust. Geri is quite the opposite, happily married to Tom (Broadbent), a geologist who consults with local governments all over the world for public works projects. The two live in a quiet suburban neighborhood in London, happily potter around in a public garden, invite friends over for dinner and dote in their son Joe (Maltman) who at 30 is still looking for Ms. Right but still adores his parents. Very convivial if you ask me.

Mary (Manville) works in the office with Geri and the two seem to get on well, but deep down Mary is a mess. She is 50 and single, her looks – once spectacular – fading away rapidly. She smokes too much, drinks too much, talks too loudly and makes people uncomfortable around her too much. She envies Geri and Tom their happiness and wants some of it of her own, either by osmosis or perhaps by establishing a romantic relationship with Joe. That leads to some genuinely awkward moments and when Joe brings home a new girlfriend Katie (Fernandez) Mary winds up making a spectacle of herself.

Ken (Wright), Tom’s friend is kind of like Mary in that he smokes too much, drinks too much and is a little bit desperate. He takes a shine to Mary but she’s having none of it, she’s all for Joe. As the year winds to a close, Mary’s single-minded pursuit of Joe may alienate her completely from Geri and Tom.

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? And yet it is a rich and full tapestry of lives that feel real and lived-in. Tom and Geri (yuk yuk yuk) are people you’d want to hang out with, people who you could see yourself being friends with (particularly if you are, like myself, middle aged or older). Their happiness is genuinely won and seems to be a byproduct of their contentment. In fact, Leigh’s message seems to be that the road to happiness leads through being content with who and where you are. The ones who are unhappiest in the movie are those who are the least sanguine over who they are and Mary, who has the least contentment of anyone, is by far the unhappiest.

The conceit of the movie is that it is told over the course of a single year, with the movie being divided by season and in each season, a gathering at the home of Tom and Geri is the focal point with one exception. One segment takes place in Hull, where Tom is from, and revolves around the funeral of his sister-in-law. Tom is there to support his taciturn brother whom he eventually brings home. Mary doesn’t really figure in this scene although she and the brother Ronnie (Bradley) do interact later in the film. The funeral scenes are awkward and almost seem like they’re from another movie until later on you realize that it’s just something that happens; as in life there are moments that take us out of phase with our natural rhythms.

Manville gets the meatiest role here and she makes the most of it. Her character is never shrill but seems to be just on the edge of it most of the time. As she imbibes more alcohol, her cadences change and her demeanor alters; most actors merely slur their speech when playing drunk but Manville gets it dead on.

Broadbent and Sheen are both veteran character actors with Broadbent being the better known and both deliver congenial performances. They both have to walk a fine line by making Tom and Geri likable without making them stereotypical; these need to be real people who aren’t perfect but are genuinely nice. They are both successful in walking that line.

There are those who are going to have a hard time with this movie because it doesn’t move at a terribly fast pace. Instead, it captures the rhythms of a life well-lived, with the occasional discordant note being sounded albeit mostly by those outside the family. That might be literal torture for those of younger generations used to quick cuts, faster pacing and non-stop action. If there is a complaint to be made, this is a movie almost entirely of exposition rather than action. That can be dull, but instead I found it fascinating getting to spend time with these people, even Mary who can be a pill. Everyone here is likable at the core and although only a few find real happiness, it’s a movie that might inspire you to appreciate the joys in your own life more.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific slice of life film that is inhabited by real people. Manville, Broadbent and Sheen all give masterful performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The pacing is unhurried and there are those who might find this boring, particularly the young who may have trouble relating to the mostly-middle aged cast.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a little bit of foul language, but not much.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mike Leigh received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the 2011 Academy Awards but didn’t win.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a nice feature on director Mike Leigh, his creative process and the challenges of bringing Another Year to the screen.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $18.5M on an $8M production budget; was slightly profitable.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Young Adult

New Releases for the Week of January 28, 2011


January 28, 2011
Bless me father, for I have sinned…

THE RITE

(New Line) Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciaran Hinds, Rutger Hauer, Toby Jones, Marta Gastini, Chris Marquette. Directed by Mikael Hafstrom

A skeptical seminary student is assigned to exorcism school at the Vatican in Rome despite his disbelief in the devil. He is introduced to an unorthodox priest, one who is a veteran in the war against evil who ultimately introduces him to the reality of faith; if you believe in the goodness of God, then you must understand that there is its opposite – evil personified. The young student, so well-versed in the practical, must find his faith in the spiritual or else be condemned to burn in the fires of Hell.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing thematic material, violence, frightening images and language including sexual references)

 
Another Year

(Sony Classics) Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Ruth Sheen. The latest from acclaimed director Mike Leigh examines the relationship of a middle-aged couple through the seasons of their life through triumphs and tragedies, as chronicled by the presence of friends who use the couple as confidantes to their own issues.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard,

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some language)

Biutiful

(Roadside Attractions) Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella. A career criminal in the Barcelona underworld discovers he has a fatal disease. Devoted to his small children, he struggles to find a way to secure their future while suffering from the effects of his illness and staving off the inherent dangers of his chosen career.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for disturbing images, language, some sexual content, nudity and drug use)

Blue Valentine

(Weinstein) Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel, John Dornan. A couple whose marriage is crumbling makes one last desperate attempt to rescue their relationship in a single night. As memories of their courtship color their perceptions of one another, they find refuge in sex and violence which may ultimately be their salvation – or their destruction.

See the trailer, clips and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Drama

Rating: R (for strong graphic sexual content, language and a beating)

Casino Jack

(ATO) Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz. The final film of the late George Hickenlooper (a much-respected filmmaker), it chronicles the doings and dealings of Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who was convicted of financial misdeeds concerning Native American casinos and a cast of characters that even Hollywood couldn’t possibly dream up.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and brief nudity)

The Company Men

(Weinstein) Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper. Three executives are laid off as a result of corporate downsizing. All of them, defined by their success and standing in the corporate world, are forced to redefine themselves, learning to take control of their own lives and adopt more lasting terms of self-definition.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and brief nudity)

Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)

(UTV Communications) Aamir Khan, Prateik Babbar, Monica Dogra, Kriti Malhotra. An affluent investment banker taking a sabbatical strikes up a friendship with a laundry boy, which even in modern Mumbai is just not done. As the relationship deepens, a friendship with a gifted painter threatens to throw both their worlds into disarray.

See the trailer and featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: NR

The Mechanic

(CBS) Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, Tony Goldwyn. A highly skilled assassin is employed by a “company” who then sends them on assignments. When the assassin’s mentor is killed by the company, the assassin takes on his son to teach him the skills of the trade. Together they are going to go after the corrupt elements in the company – if the bosses don’t get to them first. Loosely based on a Charles Bronson movie of the same name.

See the trailer, clips, promos and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Thriller

Rating: R (for strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity)