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Posts Tagged ‘Jessie Buckley’

Dakota Johnson, Olivia Colman

“THE LOST DAUGHTER” My rating: B (In theaters)

121 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Many a man has bailed on his family and kept his social status…but let a woman exhibit indifference toward her children and the pillars of civilization start to crumble.

“The Lost Daughter,” Maggie Gyllenhaal’s impressive writing/directing debut, is about a bad mother. At least that’s what a traditional moralist would say.

But things aren’t nearly that cut and dried in this smart, thought-provoking adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s  novel. 

This is a deeply ambivalent, jaw-droopingly subtle effort that eschews the usual big dramatic exposition (“…this is why I did what I did…”) in favor of showing us, building its story (and its case) through the slow accumulation of images and information.

Leda (Olivia Colman) is vacationing alone on a Greek island.  She’s a college professor, a Brit by birth but working in America, and she’s going to spend her summer sitting in the sun and researching her next book.

She tolerates the scuzzy American ex-pat (Ed Harris) who manages the vacation home she rents.  And she’s amused by Will (Paul Mescal), her eager-to-please cabana boy. They enjoy a chaste flirtation.

But Leda is absolutely mesmerized — and appalled — by the family with whom she shares the beach.  They’re a loud, obnoxious bunch.  The head of the clan seems vaguely shady;  he’s got a pregnant trophy wife half his age.

The real object of Leda’s fascination, though, is the man’s daughter-in-law, Nina (Dakota Johnson), who has a handsome but pushy husband and a pretty but spoiled young daughter. 

Lena appears obsessed with the tiny interactions between weary, frustrated mother and willful child. When the little girl goes missing the family is thrown into a panic. Leda finds the child and returns her to the fold…but not without secretly claiming a souvenir of the encounter that will come back to haunt her.

“The Lost Daughter” is being described as a “psychological thriller.” Actually, “psychological jigsaw puzzle” seems more accurate.

Through casual conversation — Gyllenhaal’s dialogue is amazingly unforced and natural — we learn that Leda has two daughter, now in their 20s, who live with her ex.  Apparently she rarely sees them.

Peter Sarsgaartd, Jessie Buckley

In flashbacks we see her as a young mother (played now by Jessie Buckley), struggling to balance family and career, and engaging in an affair with a much-admired professor (Peter Sarsgaard, Guyllenhaal’s spouse) that will push her further away from her conventional existence.

Most women have days in which they would just as soon dump the husband and kids and strike out for parts unknown.  Leda is the rare individual who actually kicks motherhood aside in the hope of discovering a different sort of fulfillment. 

But one does not achieve that sort of liberation without paying a huge emotional price, and the wonder of Colman’s performance is how she tells us everything about what Leda is feeling without actually ever saying anything. 

A lesser filmmaker might make excuses for her heroine’s choices, providing her with explanatory monologues, poking at every little shred of guilt clinging to Leda’s consciousness.

There’s no need for that when you have a leading lady with Colman’s range.

Is Leda a heroine or a villainess?

Why not neither? Or both?

| Robert W. Butler

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Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel Brosnahan

“THE COURIER” My rating: B- (In theaters March 19)

111 minutes: MPAA rating: PG-13

Like its title, “The Courier” is an unprepossessing Cold War thriller that, despite an OK turn from leading man Benedict Cumberbatch and a based-on-fact birthright, never works up a full head of steam.

In the early 1960s British businessman Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch) was recruited by his country’s spymasters. An independent salesman who represented dozens of Western manufacturers, Wynne was encouraged by the M-16 spooks to expand his operation to the growing Soviet market.

Mostly he was to carry on business as usual. But from time to time he would be asked to bring pilfered Soviet secrets back to London.

Initially Wynne rejects the idea.  He’s not a spy, after all.

Noting Wynne’s unremarkable military record and his gone-to-flab physique, his handler reassures him: “If this mission were really dangerous you’re the last man we’d send.”

Wynn’s contact in Moscow is Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), a WWII hero now working for the KGB, though his “official” title is that of trade specialist.  Penkovsky is the film’s most interesting character, a guy so traumatized by Krushchev’s podium pounding and the growing Cuban Missile Crisis that he’s willing to turn his country’s secrets over to the West in the hope of avoiding all-out nuclear war.

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Rene Zellweger as Judy Garland

“JUDY” My rating: B

118 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

One of the biggest thrills in moviegoing is seeing a familiar performer sink so completely into a character that you forget who  you’re watching.

That’s the case with Rene Zellweger’s portrayal of Judy Garland in “Judy.”  Bet she’s already cleared space on the mantel for another Oscar.

Scripted by Tom Edge and directed by Ruper Goold, “Judy” is a film whose flaws are more than compensated for by a monumental performance.

Set in 1969, the last year of Garland’s life, when she was persona non grata in Hollywood and had to travel to London to get a nightclub gig, the film has some rough spots, particularly in its depiction of a once-great talent circling the drain. It’s pretty depressing stuff.

But Zellweger’s portrayal lifts the entire enterprise. She not only looks like the 47-year-old, drug-worn Garland, but she channels the star’s eccentric body language. And she sings Garland’s songs — not as well as Garland did, but enough to wow moviegoers. (It helps that by this time in her career Garland’s power was more in her unique delivery than vocal strength.)

We meet Judy and her two young children returning to L.A. from a tour playing clubs in the South. It’s not a happy homecoming — they’re evicted from their hotel for back rent, and Judy’s ex, agent Sid Luft (Rupert Sewell) says that while he’ll take in the kids, he’s also going to sue for custody.

The only way to get enough cash to make her case in court is for Judy to take a gig in London, performing at a club run by a no-nonsense promoter (Michael Gambon); wise to his star’s reputation for temperamental meltdowns, he assigns a handler (“Wild Roses'” Jessie Buckley) to coax, cajole and physically push the quaking singer out onto the stage.

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Jessie Buckley

“WILD ROSE” My rating: B

101 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The struggling young artist with an impossible musical dream has been a movie staple since the advent of sound.

Tom Harper’s “Wild Rose” recycles many of the usual tropes before putting a distinctive spin on the genre; above all else this Scottish film heralds the arrival of Jessie Buckley as a major talent.

We’ve seen the Irish-born Buckley before. In 2013’s “Beast” she played a withdrawn girl who falls for a boy who may be a serial killer; she was terrific but the movie was too much of a downer to create much buzz.

This is not the case with “Wild Rose.”

We meet Buckley’s Rose-Lynn on her last day in prison on a drug conviction. Outfitted with an ankle monitor (which she hides inside a pair of white cowboy boots) she returns to the two young children she left behind — though not before a quick shag in the park with her ex and a visit to Glasgow’s version of the Grand Ole Opry, a country music emporium that was once her home base.

The homecoming is strained. Her son and daughter have all but forgotten her and her mother (the great Julie Waters), who has been caring for them in Rose-Lynn’s absence, is more than a little dubious of her errant daughter’s commitment to responsibility.

Here’s the thing: Rose-Lynn isn’t just an accomplished screwup (though she is); she’s also  a country music fanatic whose forearm bears a tattoo reading “Three chords and the truth,” her explanation of country music’s essence. All her life she has dreamed of singing professionally…but a Scottish country singer? C’mon.

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Johnny Flynn, Jessie Buckley

“BEAST”  My rating: B- 

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A gnarly character study posing as a serial killer thriller, Michael Pearce’s “Beast” very nearly defies description.

On its most graspable narrative level it’s about a socially challenged young woman who falls hard for a local lad, then begins to suspect that he may be the murderer terrorizing the island on which they live.

But it’s also a wince-worthy portrayal of a destructive family dynamic, of sexual rapture after a life of chastity, and of a hermetically-sealed society driven off the rails by paranoia and panic.

Which is a lot to cram into one movie.  With his first feature writer/director Pearce sometimes struggles to keep it all in balance, but thanks to solid performances he delivers the modest goods.

Moll (Jessie Buckley) is such an outsider she seems a stranger even at her own birthday party.  With an explosion of unkempt red hair and a personality that seems always in retreat, she’s a perennial misfit.

Moll works occasionally as a tour guide — like filmmaker Pearce she lives on the Isle of Jersey, an outpost of stiff-upper-lip Britishness just off the hedonistic French coast — but mostly she’s  caretaker to her dimentia-riddled father. She’s more or less cast in that role by the rest of the family, especially her domineering and icily biting mother (Geraldine James), who treats her like a con on probation.

Which, in a sense, Moll is.  Fourteen years earlier she used a pair of scissors to skewer a bullying classmate. She still hasn’t lived down her reputation as violently unstable. (more…)

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