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Posts Tagged ‘Harvey Keitel’

“ISLE OF DOGS” My rating: B

101 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

So much is going on in Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” that it’s hard to wrap one’s head around it.

Perhaps it’s best to let our eyes do all the work, for this is one astoundingly beautiful animated film.

Shot with the same stop-motion techniques as Anderson’s earlier effort, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” this new entry employs the filmmaker’s usual deadpan humor with gorgeous Japanense-inspired designs and a yarn about human/canine relations.

It’s part sci-fi, part “Old Yeller.”

In an introductory segment designed to look like Japanense screens and woodcuts and propelled by throbbing Japanese drumming, an unseen narrator (Courtney B.  Vance) relates how, after an outbreak of “dog flu” and “snout fever,” all canines in the city were banished by the cat-loving Mayor Kobayashi, head of the ruling Kobayashi clan.

The dogs were transported to an island of trash off the coast where they learned to dig through the refuse for sustenance.

But not all humans are anti-dog.  A few still long for the days of “man’s best friend”; a pro-pup scientist is even developing a cure for dog flu.

The plot proper (the screenplay is by Anderson, who developed the story with Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura) kicks in with the arrival of Atari, the ward of the Mayor who has stolen a plane and crash landed on the Isle of Dogs in search of Spots, his beloved guard dog, who was torn from him by the canine exodus.

The boy immediately teams up with a quartet of puzzled pooches (voiced by Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum) and the suspicious Chief (Bryan Cranston), who understandably nurses a bad case of anti-human sentiment. (more…)

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Toni Collette, Rossy de Palma, Harvey Keitel

“MADAME” My rating: C

91 minutes |No MPAA rating

Farce should be lighter than air. “Madame” seems to have a bowling ball in its pocket.

Created by filmmaker Amanda Sthers mostly as a vehicle for the appealingly eccentric Rossy de Palma (the one-time Spanish model who for a while was a staple of Pedro Almodovar comedies), “Madame” offers an upstairs/downstairs scenario in which, thanks to a case of mistaken identity, a housemaid gets the life of a princess.

Maria (de Palma) is the chief maid and housekeeper for wealthy American Bob (Harvey Keitel) and his trophy wife Anne (Toni Collette), who are spending the season in their Paris home.  On the night of a big dinner party the superstitious Anne realizes that there will be 13 sitting at the table.

Panicked, she orders the reluctant Maria to trade in her black-and-white domestic’s outfit for party duds and pose as one of the guests, bringing attendance up to a safe 14.  Just keep quiet and mysterious, Anne advises her terrified employee.

Instead a tipsy Maria charms everyone with a slightly off-color joke, attracting the attention of David (Michael Smiley), a bearded British art broker who is far less stuffy than the words “British art broker” would suggest.

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Youth“YOUTH”  My rating: A- 

124 minutes | MPAA rating: R

I had to watch “Youth” a second time to really appreciate it.

Glad I did.

As with his previous film, “The Great Beauty,” which was inspired by Fellini’s “La Dolce Vida,” the latest from filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino is inspired by (and often directly copies) Fellini’s “8 1/2.” My mistake the first time around was to see it first and foremost as an homage rather than a free-standing effort that playfully samples a great film from the past.

And then there’s the fact that this is about as subtle a movie as we’re going to encounter this holiday season — minimal plotting, zero action, maximum atmosphere. Do not see “Youth” if you’re tired or short-tempered or preoccupied.

Unfolding almost entirely at a posh hotel and spa in the Swiss Alps, the film centers on two old friends rapidly approaching 80.

As the film begins composer/conductor Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is being approached by an agent of Queen Elizabeth, who for Prince Philip’s birthday wants Ballinger to conduct a performance of his seminal work “Simple Songs.” Ballinger turns down the offer and the accompanying knighthood, telling the oily emissary that he is retired. Period.

In the same hotel veteran filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) is working with five young writers to complete the script of his next — and penultimate — film.

Fred and Mick find plenty of time to hang out together. Not only is Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) married to Nick’s son, but the two men have been friends for 60 years.  They used to compete for the same women; now they battle over who has the most uncooperative prostate and shakiest memory.

There are other celebs to rub elbows with, like the current Miss Universe (who shocks and delights the two old cronies by swimming nude) and an American movie actor  (Paul Dano) who quietly seethes because his fame rests almost entirely on a cheesy sci-fi flick in which he played a robot. (To stir things up he attends dinner made up and costumed as Adolf Hitler.)

Fred and Mick also amuse themselves studying on other guests, like the obese South American who was once the world’s best soccer player, a Tibetan llama who reputedly has powers of levitation, a small boy learning the violin by playing Fred’s “Simple Songs,” and a young girl who is vastly more advanced than her hovering and provincial mom.

The film even opens its arms to embrace the staff of the hotel, especially a nearly-mute young masseuse with a mouthful of orthodontics — she communicates with her fingers, not her tongue — and a bearded mountaineer who shows up at just in time to catch Lena when her marriage collapses.

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Robin Wright

Robin Wright

“THE CONGRESS” My rating: B- (Opening Sept. 5 at the Alamo Drafthouse)

122 minutes | No MPAA rating

Masterful and maddening, spectacularly original and hugely frustrating, Ari Folman’s “The Congress” is unlike any other film I can name.  Though it dabbles with elements explored by fantasy epics like “The Matrix,” it has its own distinct personality.

Some of us are going to love it. Some will be irritated by it.  And some — like me — will experience both emotions.

Folman’s film (he was the creator of “Waltz With Bashir,” the brilliant animated effort about PTS among former Israeli soldiers) opens on the aging but still-beautiful face of actress Robin Wright.

Wright is playing herself here — or rather an alternative universe version of herself — and she’s reduced to tears as her long-time agent (Harvey Keitel) tells her that at age 44 her acting career is all but kaput.

She’s made too many bad choices in men, movies, and friends, he says. She’s thrown up too many obstacles about the kind of work she’ll do (no science fiction, no porn, no Holocaust movies) and she has earned a rep for not showing up on the set. Yes, yes, usually it’s because she has to deal with yet another emergency involving her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is slowly going both blind and deaf. But that excuse has gotten old.

A meeting with a bullish exec (Danny Huston) at Miramount Pictures provides a last-ditch solution.

The movie biz has been so changed by digital technology, the desk jockey explains, that  actors are obsolete. Most stars have allowed their faces, bodies, voices and emotions to be scanned into a computer where they can be reanimated by skilled CG artists.

The avatar actors thus created can be made younger or older, fatter or thinner. They’re never late. They make no demands or complaints. They never throw tantrums — unless the script calls for it.

“I need Buttercup from ‘The Princess Bride’,” the exec says. “I don’t need you.”

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Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL”  My rating: B (Opens wide on March 21)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a whopper of a shaggy dog story – or more accurately, it’s a series of shaggy dog stories that fit neatly inside one another like one of those painted Russian dolls.

The film’s yarn-within-a-yarn structure and a delightfully nutty perf from leading man Ralph Fiennes are the main attractions here. I had hoped that “Grand Budapest…” would scale the same emotional heights as Anderson’s last effort, the captivating “Moonrise Kingdom.”

It doesn’t. But there’s still plenty to relish here.

Describing the film requires a flow chart. But here goes:

In the present in a former Eastern Bloc country, a young woman visits the grave of a dead author and begins reading his book The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Suddenly we’re face to face with the writer (Tom Wilkinson), who is sitting at the desk in his study. After a few introductory comments and a brusque cuffing of a small boy who is proving a distraction, the author begins telling us the plot of his novel.

Now we’re in the 1990s in the formerly sumptuous but now dog-eared Grand Budapest hotel in the Eastern European alps. Staying there is a Young Writer (Jude Law) who befriends the mysterious Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). An aged empresario who owns several of Europe’s most luxurious hotels, Moustafa keeps the Grand Budapest running for nostalgic reasons.

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