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Posts Tagged ‘Rupert Friend’

Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh

“AT ETERNITY’S GATE” My rating: A-

110 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-12

Epically poetic yet aching personal, “At Eternity’s Gate” may be the best film ever about Vincent  Van Gogh.

For that matter, it is among the best movies ever made about a visual artist. Undoubtedly much of the insight and emotion radiating off the screen can be traced back to writer/director Julian Schnabel who was, of course, a famed painter long  before he began  making films.

Visually lush and aurally haunting, “At Eternity’s Gate” follows Vincent through the last year or so of his life.

It is told in fragmented fashion, with scenes built around a series of dialogues between Vincent (Willem Dafoe in the best performance of his career) and others: his supportive brother Theo (Rupert Friend), his combative fellow painter Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), a fellow patient in a mental institution (Niels Arestrup), a disapproving priest (Mads Mikkelsen), a sympathetic physician (Mathieu Amalric).

And when he’s not talking, this Vincent is painting, creating before our eyes the colorful masterpieces that would not be appreciated until long after his death at age 37. A good chunk of “At Eternity’s Gate” is devoted to following Vincent on his nature walks, easel and canvasses strapped to his back, head shaded with a floppy straw hat.

This is a transcendental Vincent, a man who stands in the sunshine with his arms outstretched, smiling ecstatically at the light that bathes him.

Our first encounter with this Vincent, though, occurs in darkness. We can only hear his voice. He’s talking about loneliness, about how he feels set apart from the rest of humanity: “I just want to be one of them…I’d like them to give me some tobacco, a glass of wine, or even ask: ‘How are you?’…from time to time I’d make a sketch of one of them as a gift.”

The key to Dafoe’s inspiring, heartbreaking performance is the way in which Vincent’s almost religious love affair with the world’s beauty is undercut by his sad “otherness.”  Most people don’t like him. They make fun of him. His eccentricities, poverty and neediness bring out the worst in his fellow man. (An art dealer of my acquaintance once explained that “Everybody wants a Van Gogh in their dining room; nobody wants Van Gogh in their  dining room.”)

Thus he’s an apologetic mystic, aware that he rubs others the wrong way, but unable to escape the almost epileptic thrall into which he is forever being plunged by the beauty of the world around him.

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Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Jason Isaacs as Zhukov

“THE DEATH OF STALIN” My rating: B+

 107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Cold War-bred baby boomers may be perplexed to discover that Nikita Khrushchev  — the Soviet bigwig who infamously pounded his shoe on a desk at the United Nations and proclaimed that “We will bury you” — is the hero of “The Death of Stalin.”

Just goes to show: History makes for strange bedfellows.

Make no mistake: Khrushchev, played here by a balding, pudgied-up Steve Buscemi, is presented as a hustling, scheming political climber.  But compared to the forces he’s battling, he’s one of the angels.

Unfolding over several days in 1953, “The Death of Stalin” is history retold as a black comedy.  It was written and directed by Armando Iannucci, the Scottish filmmaker who in 2009 gave us the brilliant sendup of Bush-era idiocy, “In the Loop.”

If anything, “…Stalin” surpasses that effort with its toxic/weirdly entertaining mix of terror, paranoia and manic broken-glass satire.

Iannucci and his co-writers (David Schneider, Ian Martin, Peter Fellows) waste no time in laying out the miseries of Stalin-era USSR.  In a brilliantly edited opening sequence, we hopscotch around Moscow on a chilly March  night.

At Radio Moscow an official (Paddy Considine) freaks out when he gets a phone call from Stalin asking for a recording of that night’s live Mozart concerto. Problem is, the program wasn’t recorded.  The doors are barred, the nervous audience members told to return to their seats (“Don’t worry, nobody’s going to get killed”) and a guest conductor is snatched from his apartment in his pajamas to replace the original maestro, who has knocked himself unconscious by taking a header into a fire extinguisher.

The Radio Moscow man knows that people have been shot for less than failing to produce a recording for the glorious leader.

Meanwhile in the Kremlin, Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) is busy hobnobbing with his security chief Beria (Simon Russell Beale), whittling down a list of “enemies” to be arrested and disposed of that very night.

“Cracks me up, this one,” Stalin chortles, pointing to one of the names.

Nearby, Communist Party leaders like Khrushchev, Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) and Molotov (Michael Palin) trade vodka shots are behaving like boorish frat boys, recycling war stories and trying not to piss off Stalin. (After each meeting with the head honcho, Khrushchev goes over every comment so as to avoid in the future any topics that Stalin finds distasteful.)

The next day Stalin is found lying on the floor, barely alive, the victim of a stroke.

His cohorts are paralyzed by indecision. They can’t even agree on whether to call in medical assistance: “All the best doctors are in the gulag…or dead.” (more…)

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##and **

Linnea Saasen and Alex Holdridge

“MEET ME IN MONTENEGRO” My rating: C

90 minutes | No MPAA rating

You’d think that a movie that was so overwhelmingly autobiographical would be more interesting.

Alas, “Meet Me in Montenegro” is a bit of a shrug.

It was written by,  directed by, and stars real-life couple Alex Holdridge and Linnea Saasen and gives us — in  fictionalized form — the story of their romance.

Holdridge, whose “In Search of a Midnight Kiss” was an Independent Spirit Award winner back in 2007, has been trying for years to make another feature, and he’s incorporated that struggle as part of  his character’s back story.

Anderson(Holdridge) is a once-promising indie filmmaker now wasting away while trying to sell his new sci-fi script to a big studio.  Nobody’s biting.

Also, he’s moping over the collapse three years ago of a big affair with Lina (Saasen), a Norwegian dancer he met in Berlin and with whom he spent six glorious weeks in Montenegro.  It ended when she vanished without a fare-thee-well. Anderson returned to the States an emotionally bruised loser.

Now he’s back in Berlin. Actor Jason Ritter (playing himself) has expressed an interest in the script and at his own expense Anderson has flown to Germany to take a meeting. Wouldn’t you know it? He runs into Lina, and after some tentative maneuvering they pick up where they left off. (more…)

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