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Posts Tagged ‘Willem Dafoe’

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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Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” My rating: C  

114 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The year’s strongest cast wrestles inertia to a standstill in “Murder on the Orient Express,” the latest addition to the pantheon of unnecessary remakes.

We already have Sidney Lumet’s perfectly delightful 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s great  railway mystery. But as with Shakespeare, Dame Agatha’s yarns are worthy of retelling for each new generation.  Problem is, this retelling is stillborn.

It’s always difficult to know exactly why a movie goes wrong, but in this case it may very well lie with the decision to have Kenneth Branagh both direct and star as eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

The character dominates virtually every scene, which means the acting weight alone was exhausting. To then also ride herd on a huge cast of heavy hitting thespians was too much to ask of anyone.

As it now stands, Branagh disappoints in both capacities. His features masked by absurd facial hair as obviously fake as the computer-generated backgrounds, he makes a mess of Poirot, who goes from crowd-teasing cutup to moody depressive without much in between. Lines that should evoke a laugh barely generate a tentative smile.

As for the directing end of things…well, what can you say when you have this much talent on hand and still end up with a dull yarn weighted down by blah characterizations?

Set aboard a snowbound luxury train on the Istanbul-Paris run, Michael Green’s screenplay clings to the basics of Christie’s tale (the “who” in the “whodunnit” makes for a one of the better revelations in all detective fiction) while dabbling with some of the particulars, largely in an effort to make the project more attractive to today’s mass audience.

Thus the screenplay finds time for one karate fight, a chase down a railroad trestle and a shooting — none of which are to be found in the novel or the earlier film.

While a few of the characters have undergone some tweaking (a physician aboard the train is now a Negro played by Leslie Odom Jr., providing the opportunity to dabble in some racial issues), most cling to Christie’s parameters. (more…)

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Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince

“THE FLORIDA PROJECT” My rating: B+

115 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) lives in the shadow of Disney World.

Not that she’s ever visited the Magic Kingdom.  Moonee and her mom Halley (Bria Vinaite) are guests/inmates at the Magic Castle, a purple monstrosity of a motel where rooms go for $36 a night and the clientele consists mostly of homeless families struggling to survive in the tourist-oriented economy of central Florida.

It’s not like Moonee feels deprived at never having been up close and personal with Mickey and Donald and all the other Disney characters. She’s the kind of kid who creates her own adventures, and if she often runs afoul of grownups  (people don’t like brats who amuse themselves lobbing phlegm bombs onto other people’s cars), she’s sassy and defiant and seemingly untamable.

Moonee and her  playmates regard the motel complex as their own personal realm, and their pint-size depredations are the bane of the existence of Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the manager forever trying to walk the fine line between corporate dictates and those of his own conscience.

Bobby chastises Moonee and pals for cutting off power to the entire motel by throwing the master switch in the utility room — but even as he does so you can sense that on another level he admires the kids’ lippy defiance.  But he’s also a sort of guardian angel to these mini-Visigoths, quickly swooping down on a pathetically feeble-minded pedophile (Carl Bradford) who hangs around the motel’s swing sets and struggling mightily to cover up Gloria (Sandy Kane), an overpainted septunagerian who insists on sunbathing topless.

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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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