Collateral Beauty

Collateral Beauty (2016) by David Frankel

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This is an unusual pick for me. I’m not what you would call a Will Smith fan, neither do I like to watch sad movies about grief, but I’ve been in love with Kate Winslet for almost 20 years, so… I guess it actually is not that unusual after all.

A short synopsis:

collateralbeauty5Howard (Will Smith) lost his little girl 2 years ago and he can’t get over her death. His friends and colleagues Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Peña) are worried and hire a private investigator (Ann Dowd) to find out what he’s up to. She finds out that Howard writes letters to Death, Time, and Love.

Whit has the idea to hire actors to play Death (Helen Mirren), Time (Jacob Latimore), and Love (Keira Knightley) to confront Howard. But Howard has already begun his way toward healing by joining a support group for grieving parents (Naomie Harris among others).

Considering the subject matter, one already knows that this is not a light-hearted film. Even the title seems to point to that fact. We have a man suffering severe depression and his friends can’t help him because he shuts them out and also off. And I, for one, felt shut off from him as well. I don’t get to know Howard, not in the beginning anyway. And that’s really strange for one to not get to know the protagonist of the film. Instead, I get to know Howard’s friends and their problems.

And this is, I feel, one of the problems of the film. While it seems to center around Howard CB09078.dngand his grief, this storyline is pushed to the sidelines in the beginning. While we know that Howard is hurting, we don’t really get to feel with him. We get to know Whit and the problems the advertising company he owns together with Howard has. We get to know Claire and Simon who have, of course, problems of their own. Then we meet the actors who’re supposed to stand in as these conceptual things Howard once cherished and now despises.

There’s a lot going on. Given, it is all very well acted, because… look at that cast! I got a total kick out of that scene at the theater with Kate and Helen and Keira and the three dudes (sorry, but that’s how I experienced it, having three great actresses I admire talk to each other in one scene… heaven!). But it’s still part of the reason the movie could barely reach me: too many cooks, too many stories, too little time.

Howard’s story almost completely plays out between him and Naomie Harris’ character Madeleine. And those are beautiful, well-acted scenes as well, but it’s hard to focus on their grief. It seems like the film’s makers run circles around their subject matter to not make the film about grief, while one of their characters is dying, while one’s afraid of losing love and another might never find it. I think they mean to make it a generational piece, something profound about life and how it goes on, how death is part of it as much as time and love… but the movie wants too much and becomes an indecipherable adding of brilliantly acted scenes that fall short of actually telling a story.

collateralbeauty7Don’t get me wrong, there are scenes which touch you, which amuse you, which tell you something about life, but then you’re taken from it into another scene that doesn’t add up. The big reveals of the film are none because you see them coming a mile away. Nothing suprised me because the film only flirts with big life issues, but doesn’t deliver. Instead, we get old Hollywood clichés.

The film wasn’t abysmal, not with that kind of cast. But I found watching it a very unsatisfactory experience. Whether it was the writing, the directing, or maybe even the editing (all three?) – the film just doesn’t add up to an emotional challenging story. Disappointing.

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Back to tv: The Closer

The Closer (2005-2012) created by James Duff

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As you can see, I’m only just starting on the show and have now watched the first two season. I have watched a couple of episodes on German tv (that’s how I came across it, after all) but watching stuff on German tv is tricky because it is all dubbed. For a show that relies so much on its main character and characterization in general this means: no accents. Yeah, you see where I’m going with this: watching The Closer without Brenda Leigh Johnson’s distinctive accent is kind of missing the point.

thecloser1It took me a while to even find out that Brenda had an accent and why everyone was acting the way they did around her – but I got there and decided it was time to watch the show in the original. And I’m not sorry I did. For once, I have always liked Kyra Sedgwick. I’m not sure where I saw her first (could have been Singles) but the moment I saw her I liked her and that hasn’t changed. For another, I’m partial to Jeffrey Deaver’s books and I recognized in Brenda Leigh Johnson what I like about his Kathryn Dance-series: the shrewd intelligence of a person who is good at reading people and using this to her advantage. I like people – if I’m not hating them with a passion. I like the complexity of us, the diversity and the sameness – and I like watching people concerning themselves with people. And this is what The Closer is about.

That isn’t to say that it’s all good. As you can easily see in the pictures, the show has a gender-challenge. The challenge being that of a woman in a man’s world and a lot of what is going on in the first season made me angry. The feeling of Brenda Leigh Johnson having to fight old boys club-windmills was prevalent and it irked me. Fortunately, they eased up on this in the second season. I’m thecloser3not saying that this isn’t a real issue, it is, but sometimes real issues make me so mad in real life that I don’t want to deal with them in an imaginary world, or at least not too much. The glass ceiling exists, Brenda Leigh likes to ignore it but she doesn’t have to do this in every episode for women to feel empowered, or for everyone to acknowledge that it exists.

It is difficult for me to watch a show with so many male characters, I’m not going to lie to you about this. Fortunately, most of them are if not likable then at least characterized convincingly which is due in great part to having good actors play them. I really hate Will Pope, for example, the way he strings Brenda along, the way he sometimes hangs her out to dry and always demands that she’d do her job by yesterday and then criticizes her for how she does it. And J.K Simmons is just the actor who can still make Pope annoyingly sweet. You can see why she fell for him but also why he’s bad for her and her career. And the other male characters are portrayed and cast just as well as he is.

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The show has very strong assets to convey police work. the acting, the writing, the characterization. It’s a good show, a clever cop-show while also not being a typical cop-show. Then, of course, there’s the fact that I’m a sucker for a Southern accent – and beautiful women. And although most of the characters are male, there is Kyra Sedgwick and there is also (at least so far) Gina Ravera and seeing those two walk onto a crime scene… definately worth watching.

Les Misérables

Les Misérables (2012) by Tom Hooper

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Finally, Les Mis opened in Germany! Finally, I watched it!

You might think that this has been a livelong dream of mine, that I could think of nothing else while waiting for it to happen, that I was thrilled by the choices of actors – or devastated. But you would be wrong. I knew very little of Les Misßerables before, and I don’t feel that I know a lot more now. Sure, the plot is fairly clear now, some quotes that I may have heard before make sense – but I have never read the novel by Victor Hugo, I haven’t seen a version of the musical before now.

lesmis4And still, when people started talking about it on the blogosphere, I became intrigued and I wanted to see it – even more so when I heard that Helena Bonham Carter would be in it, singing once again as she had already done on Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Anne Hathaway? Can she sing? Russell Crowe? Can HE sing? Hugh Jackman? Awesome, he can sing! The list of cast just got better and better and then I waited, patiently. Until yesterday:

The year is 1815, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has spent 19 years in prison, five for stealing a loaf of bread, 14 more because he tried to escape. Now he’s on parole and he’s given the chance to better himself. But he can’t do that while still wearing the stigma of a con – so, he makes his former self disappear and builds a new identity. One, that becomes mayor of some city and a respected businessman. At his factory works a young woman by the name of Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who is dismissed by Valjean’s foreman after finding out that she has an illegitimate child.

Fantine takes to the street while Valjean has to face his past in the figure of lesmis2Javert (Russell Crowe) who was a guard at prison and recognizes the man. Valjean finds Fantine and takes her to the hospital where she dies after Valjean promises her to find her daughter, Cosette, and care for her. He does but has to flee with the small girl (Isabelle Allen) because Javert is after him again. Nine years later in Paris, Valjean and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) live in hiding. Cosette falls in love with a young revolutionist, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Javert once again enters their lives. Trying to escape they are caught up in the machinisms of a revolution and everybody has choices to make, debts to pay.

The story isn’t the greatest part of it, and I’m not even sure if it’s Hugo’s doing or simply the script of even the musical version, but there are certainly a few questions that are left unanswered, a little too many coincidences happening. But these probably shouldn’t even be mentioned in the light of a fantastic cast lesmis3giving a breathtaking performance. Yes, they can all sing and they do. And while they’re all really wonderful, it is Anne Hathaway who blows everyone else out of the water. Oscar-worthy performance? Abso-fucking-lutely (pardon my French, and the pun)! There are no words to discribe her intensity. She makes the audience feel lost with her, makes everyone want to reach out and protect her. She is the face that has been ruined, not by her own doing but by others judging her. She should have lived where others died but she doesn’t. She dies and the audience cries for her.

Luckily, they bring Anne Hathaway back for the grand finale because by then you have missed her – not because it had all turned boring and lame by now but simply because she was THAT good.

Whoelse was good? Well, you guessed it: Helena Bonham Carter. It doesn’t really matter what she does, she does it all fabulously. And the weight of not letting the whole show drudge into misery and sorrow lay heavy on her and Sacha Baron Cohen’s shoulders and they pulled it off and making it look effortlessly.

I’m mentioning these two actresses but I should mention everyone involved. lesmis9The cast was fabulous. I think I was most surprised by the role of Javert. It would have been easy to have him being the villain, somebody who doesn’t care. But Javert does care. He really believes that Valjean belongs in prison, that he’s a dangerous man. He also believes in the system, in the law, and that’s exactly why he must fail in the end – because the system fails him. He is confronted with the question of right and wrong and must admit to himself that he has been wrong all along, because he has put himself on the wrong side. I feel, that his is really the most complex of roles, more so than Valjean’s, because Valjean has the opportunity to redeem himself – Javert doesn’t. And Crowe is really great at protraying this.

There’s another interpretation that lends itself to these two characters, of course. It feels a little like a love story between the two men. None of them seems to have any other romantic linkages but one is always following the other, watching for him. Yes, there’s antagonism but there’s also honor and a sense of one coin with two sides. One is Valjean, the other Javert (their names are eerily similar with the prominant Vj/Jv sounds in them). It’s really a kind of symbioses that binds them, they cannot let go, they cannot carry on.

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There is so much in the story, there’s so much in the songs, there are emotions and thoughts. I will watch it again and listen to the soundtrack and maybe even read the novel – hopefully it will all make sense at some point, or at least the things that I found a little lacking in the plot. It was the only thing that lacked anything really, as this was a brilliant movie. Now go see, if you haven’t already.

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Sneak Preview: Hitchcock

Hitchcock (2012) by Sacha Gervasi

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Last Thursday I went to another scneak preview, embarrassed myself by shouting that Daniel Day-Lewis had won only two Academy Awards (I didn’t even know that he won for There Will Be Blood), and ended the 98-minute-film rather inebriated. But it was all in good fun.

The movie is about movie-maker icon Alfred Hitchcock’s relationship to his wife Alma Reville, herself an accomplished assistant-director, editor and screenwriter, and the production of Psycho.

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It is not surprising that the movie lives from its stars. Anthony Hopkin’s subtle style of acting seems to inspire his co-stars and the result is an example of underlined witicism and tongue-in-cheek references. Yes, the film shows Alfred Hitchcock’s overbearing nature, his sexual deviancy, if you will, in peeping into the actresses’ dressing rooms. But this film is not a psychological look at Hitchcock’s egotism, it’s more of a love story and a comedy.

If Hopkins inspires his co-stars, Helen Mirren inspires the audience. She is by far the best thing about a movie that is good to begin with. She makes Alma Reville into a believable conspirator of Hitchcock’s thrillers but also his harshest critic. Alma is the loveable part of the Hitchcock-marriage and the movie never ceases to remind us that she is very talent in her own fields, taking over directing when her husband is ill, revising the script, etc. Here’s a woman who knows her movies.

Toni Collette’s is another note-worthy performance. She plays Hitchcock’s hitchcock6assistant, Peggy Robertson. It may not be a big role but Collette stands out, not by overacting or pushing herself forward but by standing in the background, waiting for her cue and then being spot-on. It is really amazing to me how the Academy could overlook her as well as Helen Mirren’s performances in this movie, they were both great.

It was certainly interesting to see Hitchcock’s struggle with Psycho, from both a productive as well as a creative point of  view. The fact that he wanted to do it but didn’t really seem to be sure of how to do it, is fascinating. Seeing a director of his ability struggle with his vision is both reassuring and scary. And if it hadn’t been for his wife, Psycho might have been a big flop. Fascinating.

hitchcock5The film has a pro-feminist feel to it that I appreciate, certainly, it was the late 1950s and Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johannsson) talked a lot about her husband Tony and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) had given up a great career in favor of being happily married but the movie tells us that all these women, Alma and Peggy included, were strong women, they made no excuses for who they were, they decided for themselves. And that is not only remarkable for a movie playing in the late 1950s but also for one who has been done in 2012 – sadly remarkable.

It is a really good film, very entertaining. One thing, and I don’t even remember what it was, really, had me laughing so loud that it amused the whole audience… might have been the beer, but I think it was actually really funny. Be that as it may, light-hearted entertainment, especially for movie geeks. You should have watched Psycho, though, it helps (and don’t even think of watching the remake!).

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The Thing About Batman…

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) by Christopher Nolan

So, I watched The Dark Knight Rises on Saturday. It’s actually a little weird to say that because after the last Batman-movie I promised myself to never watch another one of those. Why?

The thing about Batman is… that I really don’t like him. As a character. Bruce Wayne is altogether too serious and too snobby to be really likable. I like to compare him with Tony Stark because they are both insanely rich and orphans but Stark is sarcastic, has a wicked sense of humour, while Batman takes everything to heart, is obsessed with saving people. It seems he has to ultimately fail because he will never be able to save his parents. Of course, this comes from someone who is no expert on comic books at all.

Let’s talk a little about the movie then. It was long, and it was also good. What I take from the franchise under Christopher Nolan’s supervision is that everybody is just a person. Nobody has superpowers, some are freakishly disfigured but by some miracle still alive – and are incredibly angry. People are hurting. Our hero is hurting, too, but he still finds it in him to want to make the life of others better.

Gotham seems to be a pit really… this city seems way beyond saving.  And maybe this is another thing about the whole Batman-franchise that I do not like: the dreariness, the bleakness, the darkness. Gotham City is depressing, like some 1930s film noir New York or Chicago, it has too many shadows and in every single one of them lurks an even darker shadow that sometimes wants your money, sometimes your life.

But then there are also things I like about Batman: Everybody is wonderfully three-dimensional. The character development within the franchise is great. The villains are evil because they actually do evil – not like some wannabes who never get their act on (right, Loki?). And then there are some who are not even evil but merely… criminals. Like Catwoman/Selina Kyle in this new installment. And let me tell you – she is glorious. But then she always was. Think Eartha Kitt, think Michelle Pfeiffer, okay, don’t think Halle Berry… Anne Hathaway owns the catsuit and she looks mighty fine in it. She was the reason I watched the movie and I am not even a little disappointed – she can act and she does and she looks good doing it. The one regret I have about her – she and Bruce/Christian Bale had zero chemistry… it happens and maybe it shouldn’t be forced…

Marion Cotillard’s role as Miranda certainly was surprising but it was also very well acted. At first I thought she was wasted as love interest but I had another thing coming and it was gooooood. I guess it is not really surprising that I found the women of the movie more compelling than the males. Though I must say: Blake (or Robin)… Joseph Gordon-Levitt has becomes such a capable actor. And why not continue with only him and have a Robin-movie. This is actually something I would like to watch – despite my misgivings about Gotham City. And I guess I don’t have to mention the awesomeness that were both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, right? I mean with those two it’s a given.

So, yeah, it was a good movie. It sure had its lengths but I liked the various topics within the movie about whether the Dent-Act is still valuable even if Dent was not the hero they made him into. And also the socialist component, the question if people like Wayne (rich people) have any purpose…

And then there was this and it made a good movie into a great one:

Anonymous

Anonymous (2011) by Roland Emmerich

Shakespeare and I have a history (and yes, this is going to be a longer post, so go make some tea and get comfy). I was 13 when I had the splendid idea that I should read Shakespeare (in the German translation), and I chose Macbeth (and yes, it was a mistake). I read three pages and threw it into a corner where it lay for about three years (no, I did not allow anybody to pick it up, I wanted it to feel as shamed and embarrassed as I did when I didn’t understand it).

So, three years passed, and I watched Much Ado About Nothing, and I suddenly understood Shakespeare (or Branagh’s version of it). And I tried to read Macbeth again and gave up after two pages. I bought Much Ado and I understood that – so, the moral of this is probably that not every Shakespeare-play is for me. (Meanwhile I had to read Macbeth, and though I do understand it now – it is actually easier to understand in English than in its German translation – it is still no favorite of mine.)

Of course, I was thrilled when I read that there was to be a movie about the identity of the world’s greatest poet. I love most of his work, I have read different accounts on who he was and I am fascinated with his story. So, here’s the trailer:

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I personally see Shakespeare as more of an institution than a man. Surely, there was a man named William Shakespeare working as an actor in London at the time but it is fairly doubtful that he was THE William Shakespeare who wrote those plays. Even if he did, this script would have gone through many hands afterwards, would have been revised by other writers during production. But, of course, the idea of some nobleman (or -woman?) having written these plays is more likely since he must have been able to write, known some Greek tragedies, a little bit of the world… Maybe there were even more than one person involved in writing the plays?

This movie by Roland Emerich picks up a common theory among academics: Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans, Jamie Campbell Bower) was Shakespeare. The movie shows him as an unlucky fellow who had to marry a girl he did not love but then falls in love with Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson) and she with him – and then she gets pregnant.

This is also the story of the very influential Cecil family (lead by William Cecil played by David Thewlis) who behind the scenes protected the Queen’s secrets and kept her save from her enemies.

There is also the son of Oxford and Elizabeth – it is actually believed that Elizabeth had several children from a multitude of lovers – who is not even considered for the throne because he, of course, did not know he was the queen’s son. The story is told on several time lines. We see Oxford as a man in his forties, who is obsessed with writing plays and has them played out under a different name – it is more of a coincidence that it is Shakespeare – and not Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) – who claims to have written the plays. Then there is the younger Oxford who lives with the family of Cecil and marries their daughter. He wants to make a name for himself but William Cecil always interferes and spends a good part of his fortune.

It is also the story of Ben Johnson who wants to become a great playwrite himself (and he certainly was that) but today he is most famous for the inscription on the First Folio.

The movie tells a lot of stories, it is about a man who has to write but is not supposed to write, a man who cannot write and is supposed to be the best playwrite of his time, a man who did write but was never the best of his profession, and a woman who was a queen and a lover but was never allowed to be a mother.

The cast is great and, I must say, I have seen so many Elizabeth I but Vanessa Redgrave… holy mess! She is fantastic. The idea to cast her daughter Joely Richardson as her younger self is brilliant, of course. The movie is great and far more interesting than I make it out, believe me. It has fighting, and flight, and things explode and burn (this is Roland Emmerich, after all). People die. I was once again captivated by the performance of Jamie Campbell Bower who I though great in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and who made for a really good young Oxford, arrogant, tortured, lost.

The introduction of the movie certainly is referential to Branagh’s Henry V, as it begins with Derek Jacobi as prologue. It is actually a little disconcerting seeing this film that has been made by Emmerich and Thor which has been done by Branagh. One might rather think that the two films had been done by the other… Anyways, it is – as always – a pleasure to see Shakespeare and it is certainly interesting to know and understand some of the debate that the poet himself inspired. Who was Shakespeare? I don’t know and it is not crucial for me to know but this movie showed an interesting theory, so I felt thoroughly entertained.