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Posts Tagged ‘Jennifer Ehle’

Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle as the Dickinson sisters

“A QUIET PASSION” My rating: B 

125 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Like most of Terence Davies’ films, “A Quiet Passion” moves at a glacial pace that taxes an audience’s patience.

Stick with it, though, and you’ll get Cynthia Nixon in the performance of a lifetime.

As poet Emily Dickinson, Nixon (most of us will always know her as the red-headed Miranda on HBO’s “Sex and the City”) plays a physically passive character.  About the most exciting thing Emily Dickinson does is leisurely walk through her family’s 19th-century garden beneath a parasol.

But beneath that civilized, socially-acceptable exterior there beats an angry heart, and periodically it surges to the forefront with dazzling results.

Davies’ screenplay follows Emily from her graduation from a girls’ school (in early scenes she’s played by Emma Bell) to her death in 1886 at age 55. With the exception of an opening scene set at the school, Davies film unfolds entirely in the Dickinson family home in Amherst, Massachusetts — fittingly so, since by middle age Emily was something of a recluse who devoted herself to her ailing mother.

She also devoted herself to her writing,  though Dickinson  died before her work was widely distributed.  Today, of course, she’s regarded as one of best poets this country ever produced, but during her lifetime she saw only about a dozen poems printed in local newspapers.  And those were heavily tinkered with by editors who disapproved of her creative punctuation and other eccentricities.

Film biographies of writers are usually odd affairs.  Nothing terribly interesting in a person scribbling with a pen or pecking at a typewriter.  Davies includes a few shots of Emily writing, but mostly he uses Nixon’s voice-over narration to read relevant Dickinson works.

What the film is really about are Emily’s interactions with her family and friends, and how they reveal her mind and personality. Some of these confrontations are genteel and measured, others volcanic.

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**** and ****

Michael Barbieri and Theo Taplitz

“LITTLE MEN”  My rating: B

85 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Suffused with somber wisdom and and delicate emotions, Ira Sachs’  “Little Men” is a terrific movie about boyhood friendship.

It’s also about conflicts in the adult world that can destroy that innocent and easygoing intimacy.

Thirteen-year-old Jake (Theo Taplitz) is initially dismayed when his parents move from glamorous Manhattan to pedestrian Brooklyn and the building long owned by his recently deceased grandfather. Yeah, there’s more room in the rent-free second-floor apartment where Grandpa lived…but it’s Brooklyn.

He undergoes an attitude adjustment after meeting Tony (Michael Barbieri), whose mother Leonor (Paulina Garcia) operates a dress shop on the ground floor.

The kids complement each other nicely.  Jake is quiet and thoughtful; Tony is brash and confidant (and very, very bright).  Moreover, they share a love not only of video games but of the arts.  Jake is a promising painter and Tony has set his goal on becoming an actor.

Over time they set in motion plans to get into an arts-themed high school.

The boys are so tuned in to each other’s emotions and intellects (there’s just the slightest suggestion that Jake might be gay, but the matter is left hanging) that they’re late in realizing the conflicts developing in the adult world around them.

Jake’s parents — his psychoanalyst mother Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) and struggling actor father Brian (Greg Kenner) — discover that Leonor has been paying Grandpa a fraction of what should be the going rent on her storefront shop in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

Leonor maintains that she and the old man were very close (just how close is a matter for speculation) and that he wanted her to have the space more or less in perpetuity.  Furthermore, she maintains she was more of a family to him than his flesh and blood across the East River.

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Gwyneth Paltrow...not feeling so good

“CONTAGION’’ My rating: B (Opening wide on Sept. 9)

105 minutes |MPAA rating: PG-13

There’s no shortage of big names in the cast, but the real star of “Contagion” is filmmaker Stephen Soderbergh.

His latest is a hypnotic juggling act, a carefully calibrated mashup of characters and situations that proves him a master storyteller.

This time the maker of “Traffic,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Che” and “Out of Sight” (and, yes, the “Ocean’s” flicks) delivers a “what if?” thriller about a killer flu pandemic that puts mankind on the ropes.

“Contagion” paints a grim but fully-detailed picture of how we’d react in such circumstances, and it’s not pretty.

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