Posts Tagged ‘Timothy Spall’

Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz

“THE PARTY” My rating: B

71 minutes | MPAA rating: R

With a running of time just over an hour, Sally Potter’s “The Party” plays like a classic one-act play, filled with slamming door exits, fiercely funny wordplay and wonderfully brittle, self-delusional characters.

Potter,  the British creator of films like “Orlando” and “The Tango Lesson,” specializes in gender issues and anti-establishment politics.  “The Party” embraces all that while remaining bitterly hilarious.

In the film’s first shot a frantic looking woman (Kristin Scott Thomas) yanks open her front door, stares momentarily at the visitor on her stoop (the camera takes the vantage point of the guest) and points a pistol at us.

We then flash back 70 minutes.  That same woman, Janet, is busily futzing around the kitchen, preparing to entertain some old friends. Her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) sits in the living room, wine glass in hand, deejaying old blues and experimental jazz LPs. He has the look of a  shell-shocked combat vet.

One by one the visitors arrive and we gradually learn what the celebration is about.  After years of struggle as a party faithful, Janet has been named head of the country’s Ministry of Health. She is constantly interrupted by congratulatory phone calls, including several heavy-breathing text messages from an unidentified lover.

The deliciously catty April (Patricia Clarkson) is allegedly Janet’s best bud. As an American she takes a withering outsider’s view of Brit politics…but then she’s withering on just about every subject. Asked to evaluate if Janet’s new job has transformed her in any way, April observes that her friend now is “slightly ministerial in a post-modernist, post-feminist sort of way.”

She’s even harder on her boyfriend, a blissed-out, New Age-y German life coach named Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) who so adores her that he puts up with a constant stream of abuse. April announces that she intends to dump Gottfried that very night: “Tickle an aroma therapist and you find a fascist.”




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Rachel Weisz as historian Deborah Lipstadt

Rachel Weisz as historian Deborah Lipstadt

“DENIAL”  My rating: B

110 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The arrival of “Denial” could hardly be more timely, given the increased white nationalism encouraged — or at least not denounced — by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Based on historian’s Deborah Lipstadt’s 2005  memoir History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, Mick Jackson’s film  is a legal drama with repercussions far beyond the courtroom.

In 1997 Holocaust-denying historian David Irving  sued Lipstadt (of Emory University) and her publisher, Penguin Books,  for defaming him  and his theories in  her book Denying the Holocaust.

Irving opted to sue in a British court, choosing that venue rather than one in America at least in part because under British law persons accused of libel must prove their innocence  (in theU.S. it’s the plaintiff who must prove wrongdoing).

Timothy Spall

Timothy Spall

The resulting film is well acted, informative, and emotional for the quiet contempt it heaps upon anti-Semitism with a scholarly face.

Rachel Weisz portrays Lipstadt with a tightly-wound, steely exterior that periodically bursts into fierce flame.

She first encounters Irving (Timothy Spall) face to face when he shows up at her college lecture and waves $1000 which he’ll give anyone who can prove that any Jew was ever killed in a Nazi gas chamber.

The bulk of the film centers on Lipstadt’s interactions with her British solicitor (the lawyer who will prepare her case) and her barrister (who will argue it in court).  These figures of probity and quiet dignity are portrayed, respectively, by Anthony Scott (best known as Moriarty on the PBS “Sherlock”) and the ever-wonderful Tom Wilkinson.

Part of the team’s preparations involves a trip to Auschwitz (on a eerily beautiful foggy winter’s day), where Lipstadt is moved by the echoes of dead souls but also somewhat perplexed…before the war ended the Germans blew up the gas chambers in an effort to destroy evidence of their crimes.


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Timothy Spall in "Mr. Turner"

Timothy Spall in “Mr. Turner”

“MR. TURNER”  My rating: B+

150 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Though Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” centers on the great English painter J.M.W. Turner, it isn’t really a conventional biography of an artist.

Nor does it offer much insight into the process of painting. Only rarely do we see Turner — brilliantly portrayed by Timothy Spall — with a brush in his hand.

And there’s no plot to speak of…not all that unusual when you consider that Leigh makes his movies after months of collaborative improvisation with his players.

Best to think of “Mr. Turner” as a time machine, a vehicle for transporting us to another era and so completely capturing the feel of the place that you’d swear you can smell the oil paint and the sea air.

The film concentrates on the last years in Turner’s life.  By this time (from the late 1840s to his death in 1851), Turner has been widely recognized as one of the great artists of the day. He specializes in seascapes, but his style is so radically impressionistic as to border on the abstract. His work alienates many (there’s a scene of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert viewing a Turner canvas and concluding that the artist must be going blind or mad), yet among his fellow artists he is regarded as a genius.

Genius he may be.  As a human being, this Turner leaves something to be desired.

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