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Posts Tagged ‘Eddie Marsan’

Mel Gibson, Sean Penn

“THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN” My rating: B (Now on Amazon Prime)

124 minutes | No MPAA rating

Given that it was initiated three years ago by Mel Gibson’s production company, that its release was delayed by internal controversy, and that its director has insisted on using an alias in the credits, one expects “The Professor and the Madman” to be a hot mess.

Instead it is a fascinating slice of history and a moving tale of friendship and salvation. Plus it features one of Sean Penn’s greatest performances.

Be thankful the film was picked up by Amazon, where it will be experienced by far more people than would have paid to see it in a theater.

Based on Simon Winchester’s non-fiction best seller of the same name, “Professor…” stars Gibson as James Murray, a self-taught Scotsman who ended up leading a team that over 70 years produced the Oxford English Dictionary, an attempt to catalogue and parse the history of every word in the English language.

A genius with an almost encyclopedic memory when it came to language, Murray set up a system by which everyday British citizens from throughout the Empire could contribute postcard-sized analyses of words, quoting examples of their use in great literature.

His work created problems on the domestic front — Murray’s obsession with the project led to tension with the Missus (Jennifer Ehle). And he was forever being undercut by the titled snobs attached to the project, who resented Murray’s Scottish background and his lack of a university degree.

Murray is the “professor” of the title.  The “madman” is a veteran of the American Civil War, surgeon William Minor (Penn), who suffered from what today might have been diagnosed as PTSD, along with a good dose of schizophrenia.

Minor was convinced he was being targeted by an assassin; in Lambeth in 1871 he shot to death George Merrett, a man he believed was stalking him. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and incarcerated in an asylum.

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Jai Courtney, Lily James

“THE EXCEPTION” My rating: B-  

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

At 88 years of age, Christopher Plummer just keeps getting better.

In “The Exception” he portrays an historic figure — Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany — and pretty much mops up the floor with actors half his age.

The premise of David Leveaux’s directing debut finds a young German officer — Capt. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) — assigned to the thankless task of heading the household guard for Wilhelm II (Plummer), who has lived in exile in the Netherlands since abdicating the German throne two decades earlier after losing World War I.

Though the Nazi hierarchy has little use for the old man, Wilhelm still is regarded by some members of the German public as a beloved figurehead.  It would be a p.r. black eye should he be lost to an assassin or kidnapped by the Allies and spirited off to England. Brandt’s presence is meant to prevent that.

For the young officer — who was wounded in the invasion of Poland — the assignment is a bit of an insult. Wilhelm and his wife, Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer), live as high as they can on the cash Hitler’s henchmen provide, all the while dreaming of restoring the monarchy and once again wearing the crown.  Brandt is expected to tolerate their pretensions without encouraging them.

There’s one bright spot in this assignment. The Kaiser has a new housemaid, Mieke (Lily James), who catches the Captain’s eye.  Before long they are having a grand old time despite Hermine’s rule against copulation among members of the staff.

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Gemma Atherton, Bill Nighy

“THEIR FINEST” My rating: B-

117 minutes | MPAA rating: R

What is it with filmmakers making movies about making movies?

“Their Finest,” the latest from Danish director Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”), takes that admittedly amusing self-absorption and pumps it up with World War II-era nostalgia and nascent female empowerment.

In Blitz-ravaged London, copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) lands the gig of a lifetime.  She’s hired by the Ministry of Information’s Film Division to write a feature film — one that is both “authentic and optimistic” — that will embody Britain’s can-do spirit in the face of Hitler’s juggernaut.

The film is intended as pan-Atlantic propaganda that will show war-wary American audiences that Britain is more than supercilious aristocrats, that it’s a nation of everyday men and women fighting heroically for survival.

Catrin finds her subject in the real-life experiences of two spinster sisters who stole their drunken uncle’s boat and became part of the mass evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in France.

Though she already has a significant other (Jack Huston, playing an unsuccessful painter of glum cityscapes), Catrin finds intellectual stimulation (and other sorts as well) in her new writing partner, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin). He’s one of those seen-everything cynics who nevertheless knows exactly how to manipulate an audience (“Film is real life with the boring stuff cut out”).

Together they figure out how to cajole a fading matinee idol  (Bill Nighy, playing the sort of jaded egomaniac he does so well) into taking the seemingly inconsequential role of the drunken uncle. Somewhat more perplexing is how they are to satisfy the Ministry by creating a character for a non-acting American  (Jake Lacy) who has been flying missions for the R.A.F.

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