ROMA


Cleo enjoys the view from the rooftops of suburban Mexico City.

(2018) Drama (Netflix) Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta, Marco Graf, Daniela Damesa, Nancy Garcia Garcia, Verónica Garcia, Andy Cortės, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Josė Manuel Guerrero Mendoza, Latin Lover, Zarela Lizbeth Chinolla Arellano, Jose Luis López Gómez, Edwin Mendoza Ramirez, Clementina Guadarrama. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

 

Some movies assault our senses frontally; others wash over us like a wave. Roma, the Oscar-nominated Netflix opus from acclaimed Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, is one of the latter types of films.

Set in the upscale Roma neighborhood during the turbulent 1970s and loosely based on the director’s own childhood. Cleo (Aparicio) is the maid and nanny for an upper middle class family, including Sra. Sofia (de Tavira) and the father (Grediaga), a medical doctor. On the surface, life is good for the family; they have a lovely home and enjoy evenings of watching TV together as a family with the maid and the other servant Adela (N. G. Garcia) taking care of the family’s every need.

But when the doctor leaves for a conference in Canada which turns out to be a euphemism for leaving his family for his mistress, things turn upside down for the family. Sofia becomes withdrawn, angry; she relies on Cleo more than ever to run the house. The children begin to act out. In the meantime, Cleo gets pregnant courtesy of her jerk of a boyfriend Fermin (Guerrero) and she goes into labor just as the notorious Corpus Christi massacre of 1971 is underway. The family begins to disintegrate from within.

In many ways the movie feels more Italian than Mexican; the slice of life aspect that sees the dual deterioration of Sofia and Cleo has the fatalistic yet dreamlike – albeit strangely realistic – quality that marks the films of some of the great Italian directors of the 70s through the 80s. Cuarón shoots the film essentially in medium shots nearly exclusively, making u feel like flies on the wall but oddly detached. We are not so much part of the family but spies within. All that’s needed to complete the effect is a gigantic tape recorder.

Shooting in black and white usually produces either a retro or documentary feel but again there is that feeling that we are voyeurs in the household. In fact, I would venture to say that this is reality television in the sense that movies once fulfilled that role. It is at once mundane and beautiful.

While Cuarón is specifically examining his own background in a specific time and place, this movie is equally applicable to virtually any time and place. Not all of us grow up with servants but nearly all of us grow up with challenges in our family, whether it be the sudden loss of a parent, alcohol or drug abuse or simply that the times they are a’changin’, we all know heartache in our lives.

This may be too slow-moving for some. The story unfolds like a rose even though there is more rot than rose to it. Parts of the movie are difficult to follow although Cuarón does tie everything nicely by movie’s end, I suspect that there aren’t a lot of Americans who will be patient enough for the two hours plus running time. Also, most of us are going to see this on television or computer screens at home or in some other distraction-heavy environment. If ever there was a movie that was meant to be experienced in a movie theater, it’s this one. Here in Central Florida, the movie was only available in The Villages which is a real shame. That’s partly due to the onerous rental terms that Netflix set for the film, making it nearly impossible for a theater to turn any sort of profit for running the movie. Maybe at some point kinder heads will prevail at Netflix and they will make the film available for a more reasonable theatrical release. I think the goodwill that such an action would generate among their subscribers (and potential subscribers) would be worth far more what they are profiting from the film currently.

REASONS TO SEE: Some of the most beautifully composed shots you’ll see this year. Aparicio is a major find. The cinematography is compelling.
REASONS TO AVOID: The movie is slow moving and occasionally disjointed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, profanity, graphic nudity and adult themes throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first movie from a streaming service to be nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/19/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews: Metacritic: 96/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cinema Paradiso
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
The Point Man

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Goodbye Christopher Robin


A lovely father, son and bear moment from the Hundred Acre Woods.

(2017) Biographical Drama (Fox Searchlight) Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther, Stephen Campbell Moore, Richard McCabe, Geraldine Somerville, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Shaun Dingwall, Tommy Rodger, Sam Barnes, Mark Tandy, Richard Dixon, Nicholas Richardson, Ann Thwaite, Allegra Marland, Victoria Bavister. Directed by Simon Curtis

 

The Winnie the Pooh stories and children’s books are among the most beloved on the planet. Who doesn’t long for the simpler times of the Hundred Acre Woods, the love and affection of Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger and of course Pooh himself? When the books were originally written between the wars, they were tonic for the troops, taking a country that had lost so much in the Great War and if not healing at least allowing those wounded and broken by the horrors of World War I to escape it for awhile.

The author, A. A. Milne (Gleeson) was himself  a soldier in that war, fighting in such places as the Battle of the Somme. When he arrived home, he suffered from what was at the time called shell shock but is better known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The backfires of cars, popped champagne corks and balloons bursting were enough to trigger Milne with terrifying flashbacks to the war; London had become intolerable for him so he hauled his young bride Daphne (Robbie) to the countryside of East Essex and set about trying to heal.

Shortly thereafter, Daphne gave birth to Christopher Robin (Tilston) whom his parents dubbed Billy Moon. Like most upper class parents of the time, they enlisted a nanny – Olive (Macdonald) whom Billy named Nou – to do the bulk of the child rearing. Daphne disliked the country life immensely, missing the parties and the culture of London and eventually went back to the big city, with no firm date as to when she might return. To add to Milne’s misery, Nou was also obliged to return home due to a family crisis, forcing Milne to spend time with his tow-headed son.

Against all odds the two end up bonding and Milne finds solace in the little adventures that the two set up for Billy’s beloved stuffed bear Pooh. Milne becomes compelled to write the stories down, first as a poem and then as children’s books which prove to be wildly popular. Daphne and Nou both return home and the family basks in the success for a short time.

But the public clamors to meet “the real Christopher Robin” and the clueless parents aren’t above trotting their progeny around for personal appearances, interviews and publicity stunts without a thought of what this might be doing to the boy. With Milne writing sequels and the demand growing exponentially, the real Christopher Robin begins to wonder if he himself is as loved as the fictional one by his parents and the resentment begins to grow and grow and grow.

Considering the joy and lightness of the Pooh books, this is a dark tale indeed and parents thinking that this is suitable for young children brought up on the Disney versions of the characters should be dissuaded from that thought. The themes here are very serious and adult and some of the scenes of war and its aftermath are likely to produce nightmares in the very young.

The odd thing is that most of the people in this film are thoroughly unlikable; Daphne who is a whining harpy who is completely self-centered (it is well known that in reality her son refused to speak to her for the last 15 years of her life), A.A. (called Blue by his friends) who was also self-absorbed and nearly broken and even young Billie Moon acts out an awful lot (understandably). Only Nou comes off as genuine, sweet and caring; fortunately for us she’s also the narrator In fact Macdonald just about steals the show here but I think it’s because the character is a life preserver in a stormy sea of selfishness throughout the film.

Although the film is said to be “inspired by true events” I understand that the filmmakers stuck pretty close to the facts which makes this almost tragic. There are moments of magic, yes, but Milne’s condition is so often and so thoroughly thrust in our faces that after awhile we want to grab Curtis and yell in his face “WE GET IT!!!!” The story of the creation of one of children’s literature’s most beloved characters is not a happy one and while I admire the warts and all portrayal of the Milne family, at the end I was longing for an escape into the magic of the Hundred Acre Wood myself.

REASONS TO GO: Kelly Macdonald gives a marvelous performance as the nanny. The film really picks up momentum during the middle third.
REASONS TO STAY: Tilston is a bit overbearing. The filmmakers overplay the PTSD element.
FAMILY VALUES: There are depictions of bullying, war violence, brief profanity and themes about coping with the aftermath of war and of parental exploitation.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The real Christopher Robin had one daughter, Claire, who was born with Cerebral Palsy. She passed away in 2012 at the age of 56, 16 years after her father did.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/15/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% Positive Reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Finding Neverland
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Daddy’s Home 2

Somewhere Beautiful


If you’re going to dump someone anywhere, you may as well dump them somewhere beautiful.

(2014) Drama (Bueno) Maria Alche, Anthony Bonaventura, Pablo Cedrón, Albert Kodagolian, Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Dominique Pinon, Robyn Buck, Zoe Kodagolian. Directed by Albert Kodagolian

 

The end of a relationship can be full of noise and fury, or a quiet exit. Just as no two relationships are exactly alike, no two break-ups are exactly alike either.

Kodagolian, a first-time feature director, took his inspiration from Atom Egoyan’s critically acclaimed 1993 film Calendar as he details the ends of two relationships. The first is set in Patagonia as a nameless American photographer (Bonaventura) takes his girlfriend Elena (Alche) to act as translator for his Argentinean guide (Cedrón). The photographer is so immersed in his work he scarcely notices the beautiful vistas he’s given to photograph or that his girlfriend is falling hard for the guide.

In the meantime, Albert (A. Kodagolian) who works in the film industry in Hollywood, is shocked when his wife Rachel (Buck) leaves him abruptly without explanation. He is an instant single dad, caring for his toddler Zoe (Z. Kodagolian), To help out, he hires a nanny (Lutz) who herself begins to see hidden depths to Albert that maybe his wife missed. As Albert and Elena start moving towards different chapters in their lives however, they must first deal with the end of the previous chapter.

The two relationships don’t intersect other than only in marginal ways – Albert is preparing to make a movie of the goings-on in Patagonia, but beyond that the characters have little in common. At times the tenuous connection between the two stories leads to some pretty rough cuts jumping from one to the other; the effect is jarring and takes the viewer out of the movie by reminding them that they are watching a movie, a cardinal sin of movie making.

There is some beautiful cinematography here, from the natural beauty of Argentina to the angular interiors of designer L.A. homes and sun-dappled drives down Sunset. This is a beautiful film to watch and sometimes the images are so mesmerizing that one can forgive the dialogue which can be pretentious at times. There is a distinctly 90s art house vibe to the film which may or may not invoke a sense of nostalgia depending on your opinion of 90s art house films.

What really saves the film are the performances, from the lustrous Alche who allows the emotions of her character’s situation to play upon her face and in her gestures. The photographer character she is with is so emotionally shut off that Elena’s feelings are like rain in the desert. We find ourselves needing to experience them. One of the more heartbreaking moments in the film is when she is saying goodbye to the photographer, trying to express some affection towards him but he stolidly turns his back on her and refuses to engage. It symbolizes all that must have been going on in that relationship and yet as a man, I could certainly empathize with the photographer who being dumped wants nothing to do with the woman dumping him. It feels very real – and very sad.

Veteran French actor Dominique Pinon, who plays a friend and colleague of Albert’s, also reminds us why this eminently likable actor is one of the most beloved stars in France. Here he plays something of a Greek chorus for Albert, at length telling him to get off his ass and start living, soldering in the device with his own experience. Pinon has always been an engaging character actor but he shows he can pull out the stops and deliver some worthwhile dramatics as well.

The soundtrack is full of indie rock songs and the filmmakers are to be commended to getting some good ones. The music is strangely upbeat for a movie that is portraying such discordant relationships but the juxtaposition is at least interesting and it truly never hurts to have good music on the soundtrack regardless of the scene that’s playing along with it. I didn’t get a chance to catch the soundtrack listing but there are certainly quite a few songs there that I wouldn’t mind adding to my digital collection.

There is a lot going on here but although Kodagolian sometimes goes for art house tropes that fall flat, for the most part this is extremely watchable and the relationships failing or not feel genuine. I don’t know how autobiographical the Los Angeles portion is – the fact that Kodagolian used his own child to play Zoe is telling – but Kodagolian, who might be a little bit too low-key here, projects some real emotional commitment.

This isn’t for everyone. Cinemaphiles will enjoy the Egoyan references and those who like slice of life movies will relish the peek into these lives. Those that need a bit more emotional release will probably have issues with this as the movie essentially begins in media res and ends that way as well. Still, it is a worthy feature that might be worth seeking out at your local art house or on VOD when it arrives there.

REASONS TO GO: The film is beautifully shot. The soundtrack is tres cool.
REASONS TO STAY: The film jumps a bit from scene to scene. A wee bit pretentious in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of mild profanity and some drug use..
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Patagonia sequences were shot in 16mm while the Los Angeles sequences were shot in standard 35mm.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/23/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Calendar
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Dave Made a Maze

The Boy


Greta tries to get Brahms to give her a high five.

Greta tries to get Brahms to give her a high five.

(2016) Thriller (STX) Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, James Russell, Jim Norton, Diana Hardcastle, Ben Robson, Jett Klyne, Lily Pater, Matthew Walker, Stephanie Lemelin. Directed by William Brent Bell

When you hire someone to watch your children, you are in effect hiring a security guard for your most precious item. Sadly, we rarely think of it that way and so often we leave our children in the care of people who we know nothing about.

Greta Evans (Cohan) is one such person. She’s an American in a small English country town having applied to be a nanny for Brahms Heelshire (Klyne) who lives on an isolated estate for a mysterious reclusive family. Papa Heelshire (Norton) and his wife (Hardcastle) are leaving on a well-needed vacation and they need someone to look after Brahms.

Greta has a bit of a past; she is on the run from an abusive boyfriend (Robson) and is looking to start over someplace where she can make new memories and at first it seems this situation is perfect for her. Then she meets Brahms and discovers that Brahms is a little bit different than most boys; he’s a porcelain doll.

At first she thinks it’s a joke and then when she discovers from flirtatious grocery delivery man Malcolm (Evans) that Brahms died in a fire nearly two decades ago (there are flame marks on the facade of the mansion) she feels some sympathy for the Heelshire clan. But she is given a long list of rules to follow; she must play music loudly for the doll, read stories to it in a loud clear voice. She must dress it and undress it and kiss it goodnight when she puts it to bed.

At length the rules and the weirdness of the situation begin to get to her. She begins to willfully disobey the rules but then strange things start to happen. She hears noises in the night, and a childish voice seems to speak to her. Then she notices that the doll isn’t always in the same position that she left it and items of her clothing begin to disappear.

She begins to wonder to Malcolm whether or not she is going crazy. She wonders if her ex has been paying her a visit. She also wonders if It might not be that the doll is actually alive – and little Brahms is, as his father so eloquently put it – still with her.

This has been marketed as a horror film but that’s not quite accurate; this is more of a thriller with supernatural overtones. There is a twist near the end and while I admire the spunk of the writer for going that way, it doesn’t really suit the film especially after what transpires in the first hour. Bell has fashioned a kind of Gothic atmospheric ghost tale, with a spooky mansion, things that go bump in the night and inanimate objects that move by themselves. The creepy factor is sky high.

Also sky high is Lauren Cohan’s potential as a leading lady. The Walking Dead star plays a much different role here and fans that only know her as Maggie are going to be a little discombobulated by the change. Greta is a bit less self-sufficient, a little more timid. She is not the sort of woman who takes charge and kicks ass, although when backed into a corner she comes out fighting. I can’t think that this will be her last shot at movie stardom; she has what it takes to be a huge star.

There are a couple of scary moments but the end of the movie is pretty disappointing from the standpoint that as imaginative as the first half of the movie is, the ending just seems to have been purchased at a Hollywood screenwriter surplus store. Endings are a very hard thing to write but this one feels a bit forced to say the very least.

I don’t mind stories that lead you one way and then go another; those can be quite delightful but when the way they were leading is far better than the destination they end up at it can be a problem. The movie looks like it’s going in a supernatural ghost story direction – and the filmmakers are building up a lovely mood without going overt on the special effects scale – and then end up doing an abrupt right turn and going in a more visceral rather than atmospheric direction. I ended up feeling like I’d invested so much into the first half that I left the film feeling a little cheated.

REASONS TO GO: Cohan has serious lead actress potential.
REASONS TO STAY: Creepy rather than scary.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some scenes of terror, a little bit of violence and some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the film’s exteriors were shot at Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/1/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 19% positive reviews. Metacritic: 42/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Quiet Ones
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Diablo

Ilo Ilo


Everybody ought to have a maid.

Everybody ought to have a maid.

(2013) Drama (Film Movement) Koh Jia Ler, Angeli Bayani, Tian Wen Chen, Yann Yann Yeo, Jo Kukathas. Directed by Anthony Chen

Offshoring

Two parents working is an economic reality that is true just about everywhere; it is not a matter of preference but necessity.

Jiale (Ler) is a young boy whose parents both work. His father, Teck (Chen) is a salesman whose product proves to be woefully inferior. That’s never a good situation to be in for any sort of salesman. His mother Hwee Leng (Yeo) who is substantially pregnant, works as an administrator for a business that is laying off employees at a frightening clip. You see, it’s 1997 and the Asian economic crisis has swept into Singapore like a monsoon followed by a tsunami.

As Jiale begins acting out in school, Hwee Leng, called to the principal’s office for what is likely not the first time, realizes that she needs help. She prevails upon Teck to hire a maid. That made is Teresa (Bayani) from the Philippines who left her son back home in order to earn money. However, she is not just to be a maid – she is also to be something of a nanny to Jiale.

At first, Jiale is furious at the intrusion. He finds ways to humiliate and torture Teresa that might have worked had Teresa been as timid inside as she was deferent outside. However she has a surprising core of steel and Jiale is eventually put to heel. In fact, the more time Teresa and Jiale spend together, the closer their bond becomes which doesn’t sit too well with Hwee Leng.

Both Teck and Hwee Leng have a lot on their minds. As Hwee Leng’s pregnancy progresses, she relies more and more on Teresa which bothers her quite a bit. Already with a bit of a patrician attitude to begin with, she continues to put Teresa in her place (which is squarely below Hwee Leng’s social standing) at every opportunity. It is Teck and Jiale who start to open up to the maid who becomes something of a confidant. And while the economic situation worsens for Teck and Hwee Leng grows more and more stressed, Teresa is slowly becoming indispensable for Jiale.

Chen, directing his first feature-length film, based this on his own experiences growing up in Singapore at the time period the film is set in with two working parents and a Filipino maid/nanny (in fact following the film’s Camera d’Or win at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, he was inspired to find her in the Philippines and re-establish contact). The film has that air of realism that often comes with semi-biographical films.

Ler is a pretty natural actor and dang cute on top of that. He is often called upon to be mean, surly and cruel which kids don’t necessarily take to naturally – and as the film progresses, he is called upon to be reflective, open and affectionate. Young Jiale is somewhat spoiled and very spirited and although it might sound like an easy role to play, let me assure you that it isn’t.

Yeo also has a thankless role, but pulls it off. She isn’t necessarily a sympathetic character (which makes one wonder about Chen’s relationship with his mother) but she’s a character who is definitely buffeted by winds outside of her control. Her husband is somewhat weak and doesn’t always act wisely or in the family’s best interests and that weighs upon her, almost forced into the role of being the pillar of the family which may or may not be a role she’s suited for (Hwee Ling I mean). Yeo became pregnant shortly before filming began and her pregnancy was then written into the film. Chen’s own mother was not pregnant during the time that his nanny was there. Incidentally, the pictures over the end credits are Yeo with her actual baby, who was born shortly after filming ended.

The relationships between mother and son, father and son and mother and father are all impacted by the arrival of Teresa, who changes the dynamics of all the relationships in the family. Her relationships with the family members are also very distinct and different from one another. They feel organic and realistic and go a long way to making the film accessible.

While the movie drags in spots and occasionally makes redundant points, the feeling here is of being the fly on the wall in an intimate family setting. We see the toll the financial stress takes on the family – the kind of thing plenty of Americans can relate to in these difficult times. We also see the toll Jiale’s behavior takes on the parents, which any parent from any culture can relate to. There will be those who will find this to hit a little too close to home in places, but at the very least it’s comforting to know that no matter where you live, there are things we all share in common.

REASONS TO GO: Nice complexity to the various relationships. Americans will be able to relate to the issues here.

REASONS TO STAY: Feels a little forced in places.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some foul language and smoking as well as some brief nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is named for the Filipino province where Chen’s actual nanny was from.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/26/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Nanny Diaries

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Offshoring 2014 continues!

Broken


Eloise Laurence won't let go of Tim Roth until he tells her what it's like to work with Quentin Tarantino.

Eloise Laurence won’t let go of Tim Roth until he tells her what it’s like to work with Quentin Tarantino.

(2012) Drama (Film Movement) Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy, Lino Facioli, Eloise Laurence, Rory Kinnear, Denis Lawson, Bill Milner, Robert Emms, Zana Marjanovic, Seeta Indrani, Nell Tiger Free, Rory Girvan, Clare Burt, Nicola Sloan, Martha Bryant, George Sargeant, Rosalie Kosky-Hensman, Faye Daveney. Directed by Rufus Norris  

 Florida Film Festival 2013

The things that go on in a quiet residential neighborhood. One cul-de-sac may look completely ordinary, the last place you would expect dark goings on taking place, but you never know what’s seething just below the surface of a normal street.

Skunk (Laurence) – that’s what everybody calls her but really nobody remembers what her real name is – lives on just such a quiet cul-de-sac. Her father Archie (Roth) is a barrister although not an especially important one. He’s just trying to make it through after his wife and her mother abandoned them. Skunk has Type 1 diabetes and requires constant monitoring. Archie has enlisted a nanny, Polish Kasia (Marjanovic) to keep an eye on her and her older brother Jed (Milner).

Kasia has a boyfriend, Mike (Murphy) who also happens to teach at Skunk’s school – and who also happens to be the object of Skunk’s crush. It’s all rather sweet and melancholy at the same time. Skunk also has a boyfriend of sorts; Dillon (Sargeant) who at first treats her like crap but gradually they become real affectionate-like.

One day out of the blue, one of her neighbors, Mr. Oswald (Kinnear) seemingly without provocation attacks Rick (Emms), an emotionally and mentally challenged boy who lives across the street from Skunk. As it turns out, one of his two daughters – Sunshine (Bryant) and Susan (Kosky-Hensman) had a condom discovered in her room by dear old dad and to cover herself she accused Rick of raping her. The case was eventually dropped for lack of evidence but not until Rick began to break down emotionally and had to be committed, much to the dismay of his Dad (Lawson) and Mum (Burt) who seemingly has problems of her own coping.

Things begin to spiral into further troubles. Kasia breaks up with Mike who utilize Skunk as a kind of go-between in an effort to get Kasia back. Sunshine and Susan turn out to be nothing short of psychotic, bullying kids around school (and beating up Skunk), continuing to level false rape charges against others and in Susan’s case, getting pregnant by sleeping with Jed. But as Rick finally comes home, his fragile mental state is far more explosive than anyone could have predicted and the neighborhood will never be the same.

This is Norris’ first feature film. He’s been a successful stage director, so I was curious to see if the movie would look static and stage-y and it did in a couple of places, but not as much as you’d expect from someone with such a theatrical background. It helps a lot that he has a compelling story, some fine actors.

I’ve come to expect fine performances every time out from Roth and Murphy and they don’t disappoint here. Murphy’s Mike is far from perfect although he’s trying his darndest to be. He constantly tries to do the right thing, often with catastrophic consequences. In other words, just like thee and me.

Roth rarely gets the good guy roles; he’s usually a villain or a bulldog-like cop. Here he plays a loving father who is distracted by all the drama around him which nearly ends up in tragedy. He is trying to create a normal life for himself and his children in an environment that’s anything but. Roth gives Archie a kind and gentle manner, very loving and very protective although he can show some iron when he has to.

The real surprise here is Laurence. This is her first production, and she performs with the self-assurance of a grizzled veteran. She has an engaging presence that stands out onscreen, enabling her to hold her own with some pretty accomplished actors. I don’t know if Miss Laurence has any ambitions regarding a film career but she’s got a bright future if she chooses that path.

The denouement of the film was a little on the melodramatic side, and there are some scenes during the movie that don’t have the same intensity as other similar scenes in the movie. That however doesn’t diminish the overall impact of the film which is considerable.

This has been playing the festival circuit, although that aspect of it’s journey seems to be coming to an end. Film Movement, a tiny indie distributor, has the distribution rights to the film although as of yet any sort of theatrical run hasn’t been announced. Hopefully it will make a few big screens here and there before heading to home video. If not, be sure and catch it anyway – it’s a terrific film.

REASONS TO GO: Very taut, edge of your seat stuff. Fine performances from Roth, Laurence and Murphy.

REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally loses its focus.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some sexuality (quite a bit actually), a fair amount of bad language, some teenage drinking and drug use and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The 2008 novel of the same name on which the movie was based was heavily influenced .by To Kill a Mockingbird according to author Daniel Clay.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score listed; while it appears the reaction is mixed, it’s still too early to tell for certain.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Lovely Bones

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Cockneys vs. Zombies

Arthur (2011)


Arthur

Russell Brand and Greta Gerwig try to out-cute one another.

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Warner Brothers) Russell Brand, Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig, Nick Nolte, Geraldine James, Luis Guzman, Christina Calph, Evander Holyfield, Leslie Hendrix, John Hodgman, Richard Bekins, Peter Van Wagner, Charlie Hewson. Directed by Jason Winer

 

The thing about remaking a movie which has become so beloved as 1981’s Arthur is that the new version is inevitably compared to the original and usually found wanting. The thing about films like Arthur (the original) is that they tend to be viewed through the dewy-eyed lenses of nostalgia and their flaws overlooked.

Of course, some movies are just flawed from the get-go. Arthur Bach (Brand) is the son of the CEO of Bach Worldwide, a major investment firm run by his mother Vivienne (James). Arthur is the sort of guy tailor-made for the tabloids, constantly getting involved in one scandal or another, usually having to do with women (he’s single) or alcohol (which he drinks a lot of). He is watched over by Hobson (Mirren), his childhood nanny who drily and somewhat acerbically sees to his needs and fruitlessly tries to protect him from himself.

But there’s one scandal too many and investors are beginning to lose confidence in Bach Worldwide. To stop the bleeding, Vivienne proposes to have Arthur marry Susan Johnson (Garner), her extremely competent right hand and the daughter of wealthy Burt (Nolte) the builder from Pittsburgh. She and Arthur had a previous relationship which ended badly.

Needless to say Arthur is reluctant to agree until Vivienne insists that if he refuses, he’ll be cut off from his inheritance of $950 million  (why couldn’t they just have made it an even billion?) so Arthur, not one to give up his toys easily agrees. Trust me, he’s got a lot of toys from a floating magnetic bed to the Batmobile. Yeah, that one.

So then he meets Naomi (Gerwig), a beautiful and spirited tour guide – well, a non-accredited one but she’s working on it. Arthur gets immediately taken with her and begins to woo her, despite her impending nuptials. He knows he has to go on with his wedding, not just for the money but because Burt the builder is going to use a power saw on him if he doesn’t. So Arthur is left with an age-old dilemma; marry for love, or marry for money.

The new version follows the old very closely, with some minor differences. Linda (the Liza Minnelli character from the original) and Naomi are very different, with Linda being a bit brassier and a bit shall we say less shameless while Naomi is a bit more quirky.

The movie rests on a several factors – the most crucial is the likability of Brand. He’s done this type of role before, the addled rock star Aldous Snow in Get Him to the Greek and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Brand can be charming and is here for most of the show but to be honest, it’s hard to really be too sympathetic to a spoiled billionaire rich kid with mommy issues. In all truthfulness, Dudley Moore really made the part his and Brand doesn’t quite measure up.

Secondly, the relationship between Arthur and Hobson has to be strong, and it is. Sir John Gielgud won an Oscar for his portrayal of the stiff English butler who has an arch streak in him and a soft spot for his gentleman. Mirren is a distaff version of the part who is almost motherly towards her charge but with a Margaret Thatcher iron spine. She doesn’t get as many bon mots as Gielgud did (“I’ll alert the media” in response to Arthur’s announcement he’s taking a bath, a classic) and she doesn’t have the same chemistry with Brand that Moore and Gielgud had.

There is a good deal of crudeness here; the original was for its day somewhat crude in its depiction of drunkenness but this one exceeds the quotient that way and for no good reason. The overall environment for the movie – the middle of an economic downturn might not be a time where the general moviegoing public might be terribly sympathetic to the super-wealthy – might also have contributed to its lack of connection to the audience when it was released to theaters.

There is some charm and warmth here which does go a long way – Arthur isn’t a bad boy at heart, merely a spoiled one. Garner does some nice work as the cast iron bitch who wants to marry him for his name and no other reason, a role that strangely suits her, possibly because she also does the nice girlfriend so well.

As for snuggling up with your honey on the big romantic movie night, there are probably some better movies to put on the DVD/Blu-Ray/VCR if you’re of such a mind, but if you’re into extravagant romantic ideas, there are some here that might fire up your imagination.

WHY RENT THIS: The source material had a good heart which shows through here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Russell Brand is no Dudley Moore. Crude in places it shouldn’t be.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is quite a bit of alcohol use here (mostly by Arthur), some sexuality, a few naughty words (very few) and a couple of drug references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the movie Arthur’s father is 44 when he dies, the same age as the original movie’s director Steve Gordon was when he passed away.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and outtakes which give you a further appreciation for Brand’s skills as a comedian but nothing that really sheds any light on the making of the film. 

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $45.7M on a $40M production budget; the movie was unable to recoup its production budget during its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Princess Bride