Director Stanley Tucci knows how important the absence of words can be for some critical scenes. So do Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush and Emmy-winner Tony Shaloub. So when this threesome creates their magic within sculptor/painter Alberto Giacometti’s casually littered Paris studio, the result is sublime. The film’s Final Portrait title refers to a black, silver-grey, and white portrait of American-born author James Lord where the eyes peer sphynx-like from a figure posed like the famous seated statues of Ramses II. In contrast to Rush and Shaloub, Armie Hammer’s performance as James Lord seems like he was more comfortable hiding behind the Lone Ranger’s mask which he wore in the film where Johnny Depp overacted in the Tonto role. So forget Hammer and revel in watching Geoffrey Rush create a larger-than-life portrait of a different kind.
Although his polio-induced paralysis prevented young Itzhak Perlman from attending Julliard, he did appear as a 13-year-old on the Ed Sullivan TV show. His talent as a “fiddle player” is legendary, but what Alison Chernick’s endearing documentary, Itzhak, reveals is how much fun Itzhak has everyday. We get to see him play the National Anthem at a Mets game, tag along on a visit to Tel Aviv, and delight in the joy involved in ordering pickles by phone.
John Krasinski, who most people remember as the “nice guy” from The Office TV show, is the talented actor/director/producer/co-writer behind the creepy and very original sci-fi horror film A Quiet Place. The family at the center of the movie communicate with sign language, creep about barefoot, and have even created a sand-covered path to town for the sole purpose of remaining as quiet as they can. So instead of talking heads, the movie is filled with the ambient sounds of the house and surrounding woods—or no sound at all when we see through the deaf daughter’s POV. We learn the underlying reason for all this stillness is one of simple survival. The BEM’s (bug-eyed-monsters) who have invaded Earth may not see very well, but they they utilize their helluva sense of hearing to track and eat whomever happens to make noise. I don’t want to reveal anything else except to say that Emily Blunt’s version of wife and mother steals the film.
I just recorded the April 8th broadcast of my NPR radio show Word By Word with award-winning storyteller Greg Sarris and his new book How A Mountain Was Made. It turned into a mini-class on the rhythms, structures, and thematic elements involved in sharing culturally important stories (in this case, the Miwok Creation Myths). So when watching Wes Anderson’s newly-created movie-myth, The Isle of Dogs, I could immediately see the subtle profundity of what he (joined by story creators Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola, and Kunichi Nomura), have done in this stop-motion masterpiece. I don’t want to give away the twists and turns of the unfolding story, but in the simplest terms, it is a futuristic sci-fi allegory where, because of a canine pandemic, all of Japan’s dogs are dumped on a trash-dump island to survive as best they can. One boy misses his pet so much, he flies to the island to find him. After a crash landing, the dogs ask each other, “Are we eating him, or rescuing him?” Brilliantly, the Japanese characters speak Japanese, and the dogs speak English. I suggest that you bring a copy of this column with you to the theater, so you will have a handy list of voice-actors at the ready when you play “who is that actor?” with yourself.
In 2001, Thomas Riedelsheimer’s lyrical documentary called Rivers and Tides focused on the environmental sculptor Andy Goldsworthy creating some of his transitory outdoor installations. Fifteen years later, the a filmmaker’s Leaning Into the Wind once again tracks the artist (now joined by his grown daughter, Holly) as they create works in Brazil, Spain, France, Scotland, New Hampshire and San Francisco. The result is a journey through one of Goldsworthy’s most important mediums—time.
Love, Simon captures the essence of what it means (meant?) to be a teen today (or 5 years ago?) by focusing on the core of male and female “best friends forever” who pal around together, stick up for each other against bullies, and casually undercut each other’s confidence with sarcasm and misdirected wit. Simon is a closeted gay male having a secret e-mail relationship with another closeted guy in the same school, and like Becky Albertalli’s book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, the film uses a high school production of the musical Oliver as the glue that holds a group of old and new friends together. Cross-dressing characters (Oliver is played by a girl onstage), mistaken identities, threats to reveal the secret e-mails, helicopter parents, and the ubiquitous “who am I anyway?” question suggest more than a trace of a classic Shakespearean farce—but one with a positive message.
Based upon Madeline L’Engle’s 1962 novel, A Wrinkle In Time, this was a film labelled “impossible to make.” Underneath all the glitter, glamour and sci-fi, special effects, it is a simple story of a girl’s search for her missing father, and the archetype story line works well. However the numerous time-transitions still need quite a bit or ironing to get the wrinkles out. The “fairy-godmothers” AKA “three witches” are called “Missus” here, and the actors cast to play them seem to be having a heck-of-a-lotta fun. Much has been written about how this $100 million+ film is created, directed, and stars larger-than-life women, so it is ironic that it is the guys (most noticeably Chris Pine as the father and Deric McCabe as the quirky little brother) who steal the movie.
“Modernizing” the La Femme Nikita trope by adding scenes of porno/voyeuristic kinky sex and torture, Red Sparow's filmmakers have the gall to advertise this as a “female empowerment film.” In a nutshell, it is the calculated debasement of Dominika, a beautiful and talented Bolshoi Ballet dancer who loses everything after a graphic onstage injury. Faced with the prospect of she and her invalid mother being thrown into the streets, she agrees to help her leering uncle with “an assignment.” It turns out to be a Secret Service assassination, and the only witnesses allowed to stay alive are members of “The Agency.” Faced with the choice of “sign-up or die,” she chooses life and ends up in a torture school run by a sadistic headmistress who tells Dominika “your body belongs to the state.” After way to many scenes of gratuitous, voyeuristic sex and violence, Dominika is sent to Budapest to seduce an American spy who may (or may not) know the identity of a Russian double agent. This last bit never works, and just seems tacked on to the BDSM-themed torture-fest.
It would be easy to pigeonhole Chile’s Foreign-Language, Oscar Nominee, A Fantastic Woman, as a tale of a transgendered woman coping with societal prejudice after her lover dies. However, doing so, limits appreciation of the the intelligence, creativity, and artfulness of the film. Daniella Vega shines in the starring role as Marina, who first acquiesces to authority figures who talk to her using masculine pronouns. But when others infringe on Marina’s self identity and sense of worth—barring her from the funeral, evicting her from her apartment, and even taking her dog, she (and the magical realism projected on the movie screen itself) react with determination, fire and raw emotion.
Outsiders consider the African nation of Wakanda to be a Third World, s*** hole of a country—but they are very, very wrong. The land is the only-place-on-Earth depository for a rare-earth, meteorite called vibranium, and decades of wise leadership has invested in a technological infrastructure so advanced, it makes other cities seem like antiques. Prince TChalla (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his homeland to assume the throne of his recently deceased father, but, as is often the case with generational transfers of power, things do not go smoothly. Five different tribes call Wakanda thome, and their leaders have different visions for the future. The new king is supported by a trio of powerful women: the all-female Special Forces leader Okoye (Danai Guirira); warrior-woman Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o); and Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright). In addition, King TChalla has a secret identity. When he dons his vibranium super-suit (more powerful than anything worn by Ironman), he becomes the Black Panther. Director/co-screenwriter Ryan Coogler has created something very special with this film. Female and male Africans are portrayed as intelligent, brave, wise, thoughtful, and politically savvy human beings, in a film that is just as intelligent—and delightfully fun to watch!