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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Wilkinson’

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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selma-bridge“SELMA”  My rating: B+ 

127 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Like writing history with lightning.”

That was President Woodrow Wilson’s reaction to a 1915 White House screening of the Civil War epic “Birth of a Nation,” a film whose artistic ambitions were matched only by its racism.

A century later, director Ava DuVernay has given us “Selma,” a docudrama about a pivotal campaign in the fight for civil rights for black Americans. You could say this film writes history not so much with lightning as with compassion.

“Selma” often gets the details wrong (shuffling chronologies and geography, for instance), but its emotional heft is undeniable. In re-creating the 1965 protest marches from Selma, Ala., led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the movie captures the epic sweep of social upheaval, but also the way it played out for the individuals — famous and anonymous — who made it happen.

David Oweyolo as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

David Oweyolo as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s as close to being there as most of us will ever get.

The screenplay by Paul Webb (his first) cannily begins with three scenes that establish the film’s breadth of focus and what is at stake.

In Oslo, Norway, the Reverend King (David Oyelowo, who like most of the lead players is British) accepts the Nobel Peace Prize.

In Selma, black housewife Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey, one of the movie’s producers) attempts to register to vote. A sneering clerk orders her to recite from memory the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. When she does so flawlessly, he tells her to come back when she has memorized the names of all the county judges in Alabama.

And in Montgomery, Ala., four black girls are killed when a bomb planted by racists goes off in their church during Sunday services.

King and other civil rights leaders focus their efforts to register black voters in Selma, a burg so racially backward and with such thuggish law enforcement that it perfectly meets their needs.  With the media focused on the situation — dignified protestors being abused by white cops and racist mobs — the federal government will be forced to get involved. (more…)

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Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL”  My rating: B (Opens wide on March 21)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a whopper of a shaggy dog story – or more accurately, it’s a series of shaggy dog stories that fit neatly inside one another like one of those painted Russian dolls.

The film’s yarn-within-a-yarn structure and a delightfully nutty perf from leading man Ralph Fiennes are the main attractions here. I had hoped that “Grand Budapest…” would scale the same emotional heights as Anderson’s last effort, the captivating “Moonrise Kingdom.”

It doesn’t. But there’s still plenty to relish here.

Describing the film requires a flow chart. But here goes:

In the present in a former Eastern Bloc country, a young woman visits the grave of a dead author and begins reading his book The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Suddenly we’re face to face with the writer (Tom Wilkinson), who is sitting at the desk in his study. After a few introductory comments and a brusque cuffing of a small boy who is proving a distraction, the author begins telling us the plot of his novel.

Now we’re in the 1990s in the formerly sumptuous but now dog-eared Grand Budapest hotel in the Eastern European alps. Staying there is a Young Writer (Jude Law) who befriends the mysterious Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). An aged empresario who owns several of Europe’s most luxurious hotels, Moustafa keeps the Grand Budapest running for nostalgic reasons.

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Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington

“THE DEBT” My rating: C+ (Opening wide Aug. 31)

114 minutes | MPAA rating: R

It’s got star power out the wazoo, yet “The Debt” feels slight and perfunctory.

It certainly never achieves the depths it is so clearly aiming for; perhaps this remake of a hit Israeli thriller requires an Israeli audience to truly appreciate the morally conflicted situation it presents.

John Madden’s film takes place in two decades separated by 30 years. In the present (actually the mid-1990’s) we have the publication of a book about one of Mossad’s most celebrated operations: the 1966 capture and elimination of German war criminal Dieter Vogel, the notorious “Surgeon of Birkenau” who conducted fiendish “medical” experiments on Jewish prisoners.

The agents who undertook that mission — Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren), her husband Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkinson) and David Peretz (Ciaran Hinds) — long have been regarded as national heroes.

But the book’s publication opens old wounds, for these three know their story is based on a lie.

Okay, that’s a good premise.

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