Tuesday, December 28, 2021



The New year is all but here with an ever-increasing number of films attempting to get under the wire for Academy consideration or (I dunno) maybe income tax credits. Here are some more, with commentary, to add to my previous offering:

The Lost Daughter: Olivia Colman is the darling of every critic you will ever hear from on both sides of the Atlantic. Doesn’t matter what she does, any film or  television mini-series she is in is bound to be on everyone’s ten best list. Let me here and now apologize for breaking with that tradition. This movie is a low-key, borderline monotonous, waste of time. Jessie Buckley as Colman’s younger self is interesting, Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith’s daughter, Dakota Johnson, has her moments, and Ed Harris is his usual craggy-faced solid self. Everyone is fine and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut seems to have come off without a hitch, but (I have to ask) who gives a damn? It is a boring movie based on a novel that I am sure I would never be able to wade through, but if you insist on seeing every one of the films that will be nominated, no matter how forewarned, see this on Netflix while on a comfortable couch. It might help your insomnia.

Cyrano… is a poor idea made even worse by certain, what seem to me should have been, obviously poor decisions. Taking a play that is all about the beauty of poetry, and the magnificence of the spoken word, then turning it into a musical… with all the restrictions/limitations that any lyric not written by Stephen Sondheim must endure…is to begin with…a poor idea. Then to remake an Oscar winning motion picture classic with that same limitation only doubles the bad bet.

As in all past renditions, Cyrano refers to Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, not only a 19th century poet extraordinaire, but the finest swordsman in all of France. And, in this case, some swordsman he would have to be, given that Peter Dinklage, the very fine actor who plays the title role, has a reach deficit of something (if you will excuse the expression) short of his opponent’s by perhaps three feet. Tough to win a sword fight with that handicap. But win he does (with nothing to explain away how he conquers this incredible disadvantage….and with nothing on screen to demonstrate a particular acumen, athleticism, or even the last resort moment of cleverness where he whips out a derringer and just shoots his adversary, with the poetic equivalent of “parry that, mother f’…er).

The rest of the story we all know. I was a teenage usher at East LA’s Boulevard Theatre in the early 1950s and watched Jose Ferrer pull this role off show after show without ever being redundant or dull. Steve Martin surprised when he did a semi-wonderful modern-day version of the same story with most of the same 19th century dialogue that somehow Mr. Martin made sound contemporary.

Do not see Cyrano (to begin with it is not worth braving COVID at a movie theatre). Better to rent the one with Mr. Ferrer. I know, I know, it’s in black and white, but deal with it. It is one of the greats and this new version…isn’t.

Don’t Look Up: Director Adam McKay who did such a brilliant job with The Big Short, a movie all about the very complicated financial collapse that hit America at the end of the Bush II administration, now has taken on climate change and the American way of governance with a stellar cast in what is one of the better political satires of this generation. The film is not as good as its predecessor, but it is still worthy, and I commend it to you. As long as the subject of political satire has been broached, let me also commend the CBS limited series Brain Dead written by the same team that brought America two great series, The Good Wife and The Good Fight. Trust me, Brain Dead is worth your time and will tickle your funny bone. These TV offerings are both on Amazon Video and Paramount+. Don’t Look Up can be streamed on Netflix.

Spencer: May be currently rented (or purchased) through Amazon Prime for streaming at home. Kristen Stewart is a legitimate candidate to be Oscar nominated for this character study which primarily focuses on a weekend in the country with her folks… the Royal Family of England. It is time for the annual holiday family fete, a time of coming together, but Princess Diana’s world is doing just the opposite. The unraveling of all of that is the conceit of the movie as it presumes to know what was going on in the mind of the people’s princess at that particular time, and in that unique place. I found it interesting, if not entertaining, and was (as indicated above) impressed by Ms. Stewart’s performance. The rest of the movie… the sets, the supporting players, the cinematography is all English top drawer. Aficionados of The Crown should be forewarned of potential disappointment with this incarnation of the British Royals.

Operation Mincemeat: An English film, doing what the English filmmakers do best; a World War II spy drama based on a true story that, if you are into this sort of thing, will engage you every step of the way. A cast led by Colin Firth and some other folks you will recognize from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Succession is simply flawless. This will not ring any bells at Academy Award time, but it is a movie staple that is as good as any ever made in this idiom. It should soon be on Netflix, and if not, in your local theatres.

Benedetta: This is a French film, which some might say, does what the French do best; that is making a sensual, very sexy movie. Except, it ain’t all French. Paul (Basic Instinct) Verhoeven, the director, is Dutch and it is very much his imprimatur that is on this movie that takes place at a convent in the 17th century as it tells what is reputed to be the true story of a nun and her lesbian lover. The film is uneven in the telling, but overall, the film maker’s work, and that of his cast, is compelling. This movie is not for everyone. The brief description already outlined should suffice for why that is, but beyond that are the religious visions that are graphically portrayed along with the disturbing dramatization of the Catholic church of that long ago time. Virginie Efira is gorgeous, in addition to being often brilliant in the title role. Daphne Patakia is believable in support, as are Charlotte Rampling and Lambert Wilson. So far this film can only to be found in movie theatres.

The Tragedy of Macbeth: In my lifetime there have been three important filmed versions of The Scottish play by William Shakespeare. First---few would say foremost---was the Orson Welles version, followed shortly thereafter by Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, and then, decades later, Roman Polanski’s take on the Bard’s play. Now there just may be four. The Joel Coen motion picture, starring his wife, Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth, and Denzel Washington as her husband, the man who would be King, comes close as a qualifier to be included in this prestigious list. Close, but (just maybe) no cigar.

The movie is both spartan and stylish at the same time, owing more to the visual style of Olivier’s Academy Award winning Hamlet than it does to any of its predecessors by Welles, Kurosawa, or Polanski. The sets are stark, and their architecture is heightened by the lights and shadows of Bruno Delbonnel’s austere black and white photography.

Considering the violent nature of the play itself, the motion picture does little to cater to any appetite for blood and gore. Mr. Coen seems more than aware that what distinguishes this Shakespeare epic is not the play itself, but that it features some of the best moments of human speech ever written in the English language. That is “where the money is” and that is what Mr. Washington and Ms. McDormand deliver… pretty much. I was, in the final analysis, a bit less than knocked out, but (in fairness) the actor’s minimalist approach to dialogue and monologue fit right in with the overall austere design of the film itself. Suffice to say, even without the actors, the director, or the cinematographer bringing chills into and through the spines of their audience, this quartet will all be nominated come Academy Award time. But if I had to make a bet, I would seriously consider the best chance at a long-shot Oscar take-home to be supporting actress Kathryn Hunter who, single-handedly, plays all three of Shakespeare’s witches and does so brilliantly. Trust me, about her: something special this way comes.

And so too will more movie reviews. To be continued.


Barney Rosenzweig

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