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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Giamatti’

Mia Wasikowska as Emma Bovary

Mia Wasikowska as Emma Bovary

“MADAME BOVARY” My rating: B 

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

It is wise to approach a new screen version of Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” with caution. (And today in KC we see the openings of two cinematic interpretations…see my review of “Emma Bovary.”)

In even the best of productions Flaubert’s tale of a foolish young wife — so convinced that she deserves a life of romance and luxury that she drives herself and her poor sap of a husband to ruin — is a downer.

The movies’ track record with Emma Bovary is spotty.  Americans are most familiar with the 1949 version starring Jennifer Jones, a spectacular beauty who oozed sexuality. It was easy enough to view her Emma as born to wickedness, and the character’s ultimate downfall must have proven particularly satisfying to misogynists who could argue that this is just the way these silly women are.

Now director Sophie Barthes emphasizes the tragedy in Flaubert’s tale by casting as Emma the wan Mia Wasikowska, who at age 25 could pass for a teenager. No voluptuary, Wasikowska — we first noticed her as the title character in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” — has the physical presence of  a gawky adolescent.

In fact, Barthes and Felipe Marino’s screenplay opens with young Emma being educated by nuns. She’s a free spirit, though, who won’t follow instructions, and the next thing you know she’s being married off to country doctor Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) and planted in his drab house in a drab village filled with drab people.

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Paul Dano as the young Brian Wilson

Paul Dano as the young Brian Wilson

“LOVE & MERCY” My rating: B+

120 ninutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Several pages in The Book of Great American Lives should be reserved for the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, whose 72 years have been packed with genius, celebrity, madness and redemption.

There’s more to the Wilson saga than could ever be wedged into just one movie, but Bill Pohlad’s “Love & Mercy” spectacularly chronicles one man’s rise-fall-rise in riveting human (and musical) terms.

Pohlad, a first-time feature director with an impressive list of producing credits (“12 Years a Slave,” “Into the Wild,” “Brokeback Mountain”) and screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner have come up with a brilliant way of presenting Wilson’s story.

They’ve made two movies: one set in the 1960s starring Paul Dano as the young Brian, the other in the mid-’80s with John Cusack taking on the role. They so cannily entwine the two that just as the first, earlier story is spiraling into tragedy, the second tale, of the middle-aged Brian, is struggling toward recovery.

Let’s acknowledge up front that neither Dano nor Cusack looks much like the real Brian Wilson. Nor do they really resemble each other.

Doesn’t matter. Through some sort of cinematic alchemy, each actor nails the essence of Wilson at different stages of life. And far from triggering a disconnect, the casting of two performers in the same role enhances the story’s richness.

“Love & Mercy” opens with a montage of newsreel-like re-creations of the early Beach Boys in action — on the concert stage, posing for publicity photos on the beach (most of them were not actually surfers), playing for a “Shindig”-like TV show (go-go girls as a backdrop).

These are the heady days of innocence, fame and hit singles. We sense almost immediately, though, that the songwriter and arranger, Brian, stands apart from the group. He’s an odd duck, unnerved by live performances, crippled by panic attacks and driven to create music that he can hear in his head but must struggle to capture on tape.

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Michael Fassbender
Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Chiwetel Ejiofor

“12 YEARS A SLAVE”  My rating: A  (Opens wide on Nov. 1)

133 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“12 Years a Slave” is gruelling.

Exhausting.

Horrifying.

It is, one can say without fear of contradiction, the best, most complex and fully-realized fictional film ever about American slavery.

Here the full panoply of institutional evil is on display, not just the physical abuse (whippings, chains, drudgery) but the emotional toll.

There have been other movies on the subject, but most have either been a whitewash (“Gone with the Wind,” which feels unwatchable in the wake of the gut-punch that is “12 Years…”) or the stuff of lurid exploitation (“Mandigo” and, yes, Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”).

Steve McQueen’s film – based on the 1853 memoir of a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery – manages to reference slavery’s many evils without feeling exploitative.

Moreover, it does something I’ve never before seen.  In addition to telling its story from a slave’s point of view, it is a devastating study of the corrosive influence of the “peculiar institution” on the lives of slaveholders themselves.

In 1841 Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) lived in upstate New York with his wife and family.  A free Negro, he enjoyed the rights and privileges of any citizen. He was well liked and admired and made a good living as a musician.

Lured away with the promise of work on the road, he was drugged and awoke to find himself in chains in a dank cellar somewhere in Washington D.C.  (The still-unfinished Capitol building towers over the town, providing a silent but eloquently ironic commentary on Solomon’s situation.)

Like any free man, he indignantly protests his treatment — and is beaten for it. He learns to keep quiet.

Soon, with other kidnapped blacks, he finds himself with a new name – Platt – and on a steamboat headed south to Louisiana, where he will pass through the hands of two masters.

Ford (Benedict Cumberbach) is what you might call a Jeffersonian slaveholder. An essentially decent man, he knows slavery is wrong but is too invested economically in his plantation to repudiate the practice.

Still, the slave and the master develop something approaching mutual respect – it’s pretty clear that Solomon/Platt is the only person for miles around with whom Ford can hold an intelligent dialogue.

But in a world where a black man can be hanged for reading and writing, Solomon knows to keep his light well hidden. (more…)

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“THE IDES OF MARCH” My rating: B+ (Opening wide on Oct. 7)

101 minutes | MPAA rating: R

George Clooney, viewed by many as a liberal white knight who really ought to run for office, sends an answer of sorts with “The Ides of March.”

In this political thriller — directed and co-written by Clooney — the charismatic movie star plays a charismatic state governor who has thrown himself into Ohio’s presidential primary in a bid for the Democratic nomination.

Watching Clooney’s Mike Morris gracefully glide through debates, press conferences and stump speeches is a bit weird…it’s like a preview of what a genuine Clooney candidacy would be like. The Morris campaign even has a poster depicting the candidate in the same pop art/street graffiti visual language of that famous Obama image from ’08. Lefties will be swooning.

But this candy apple has a razor blade hidden inside.

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