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Posts Tagged ‘michael gambon’

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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Judi Dench, Ali Fazal

“VICTORIA AND ABDUL”  My rating: B-  

112 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Dame Judi Dench — who won an Academy Award for portraying one British monarch (Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love”) and was nominated for playing another (Victoria in “Mrs. Brown”) — now goes for the trifecta with “Victoria and Abdul.”

Stephen Frear’s comic costume drama finds Dench once again in the glum mourning clothes of Queen Victoria, this time late in the monarch’s reign.

As you’d expect, this great actress eats up the screen, in the process compensating for a screenplay that isn’t exactly sure what it wants  to say.

This Victoria remains the isolated, lonely widow who in “Mrs. Brown” found companionship (and perhaps chaste romance) with her Scottish gamekeeper.  But now, several years down the road, she’s  getting a bit dotty. Dozing off at state dinners is  standard operating procedure. And she’s a voraciously fast diner, posing a problem for others who are expected to stop chewing when she does.

Victoria’s advisers and hangers on (played by a Who’s Who of Brit thesps like Michael Gambon, Tim Piggot-Smith and Olivia Williams)  are running the show in her intellectual absence. The  Queen’s influence is  limited to picking menus.

Based on a little-known historical incident,“Victoria and Abdul” centers on the arrival in court of Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), one of the Queen’s Indian subjects who prior to this has been a humble clerk in a prison.

Abdul is tapped to represent India at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee not because of his standing but because of his, er, standing — he’s a lanky fellow and clueless British officials reason that a tall man will look better presenting Her Majesty with a rare and precious gold coin from the subcontinent.

What nobody counts on is that the old gal will look into Abdul’s Omar-Sharif eyes and strike up a remarkable friendship, one that revitalizes Victoria’s mental faculties, sharpens her interest in affairs of state and threatens the status quo of the royal household.

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Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Armstrong

“VICEROY’S HOUSE” My rating: B 

106 minutes | No MPAA rating

Gurinder Chadha’s “Viceroy’s House” is more history lesson than viable drama. But it’s compelling history, told with insight, cinematic savvy and a sense of scale that would make David Lean proud.

The screenplay (by Chadha,  Paul Mayeda Berges and Moira Buffini) concentrates on the last days of British rule in India in 1948, and the efforts of the last Viceroy of that country, the famous Lord Louis Mountbatten, to juggle dozens of competing interests to ensure that the new Indian republic gets off to a good start.

As it turns out, this is a fool’s errand, thanks to the perfidy of Mr. Churchill’s government (represented here by actors like Michael Gambon and Simon Callow). which is pulling strings behind the scenes.

But Mountbatten, a supremely decent man as played by “Downton Abbey’s” Hugh Bonneville, is a hopeful, sincere and largely selfless warrior doing what he thinks will be best for millions of Indians.

The film follows two trajectories.  First there’s the arrival of Mountbatten and his Lady Edwina (Gillian Anderson) and his installation as Viceroy amid all the pomp and ceremony of a royal coronation. Unlike virtually all of the Viceroys who served in India over three centuries,  Mountbatten and his wife are concerned mostly with the common good.

While Lord Mountbatten spars and cajoles with the leaders of various factions — historic figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah — his wife turns to humanitarian concerns. Both work to eliminate the Brit racism that seeped through previous administrations. Both seriously try to understand the culture and ethos of the great continent which they are charged with giving away. (more…)

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Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins

Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins

“QUARTET” My rating: B- (Opens January 25 at the Tivoli and Glenwood Arts)

98 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Quartet,” the movies’ latest exercise in geriaxploitation, is about old folks living in a not-for-profit British community for retired musicians.

It’s  “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” with operatic solos instead of sitars and tablas.

It’s also the feature film directing debut of actor Dustin Hoffman, who doesn’t appear on the screen but proves himself more than capable of calling the shots behind the camera. “Quartet” isn’t astoundingly cinematic, but Hoffman clearly knows how to work with actors.

Of course it helps to have an A-list cast of graying Brit thesps on hand.

Set in a formerly grand English country house which now has been divided up into apartments, Ronald Harwood’s screenplay (based on his stage play) centers on the arrival of Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), a once world-famous soprano whose shaky finances have forced her to give up her London townhouse. Now she’s come to Beecham House to live among her aged peers.

Not that she’s looking forward to it. Group living is a real comedown for the imperious Jean, who spends the first few days taking her meals in her room and listening to old LPs of her performances.  There’s a touch of the imperious Lady Violet Crawley (of “Downton Abbey,” natch) in Smith’s performance, but also a welcome vulnerability.

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