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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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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