Movie Review: A Summer’s Tale (Conte d’Ete) dir. by Eric Rohmer

I began writing this post back in September.  And then I let it fall fallow.

And I only have posted three things since then and nothing at all in December. (I wrote about one movie, one short story, and one novel.)

And now I see that A Summer’s Tale itself has just now been released on video.  I am late for the movie goers–but maybe not for the cinephiles.

*     *     *     *     *

In the middle of September, there was a spate of perfect days. The air was beginning to get crisp, but the skies were clear and there was still plenty of daylight left. I had the evening clear for some reason and I decided to treat myself:  dinner and a French movie.

U.S Poster for A Summer's Tale

U.S Poster for A Summer’s Tale

I stopped at one of my favorite spots–National Mechanics–and had my usual, the cheese board and three glasses of red.  I love eating alone. I love

French poster for "A Summer's Tale"

French poster for “A Summer’s Tale”

people watching, I love reading while I eat.  After the meal, I rushed the two blocks to the movie house–it was not crowded.

A Summer’s Tale is an odd story and one whose history I could not get to the bottom of.  It was filmed as the third of Rohmer’s four part cycle entitled Tales of the Four Seasons.  It was released in 1996, but unlike the other three seasons it was never released in the U.S. until now. Why?

I couldn’t find out.

There is certainly nothing controversial, nothing titillating, nothing faintly erotic.  (In fact, some might argue that it is rather boring, sort of “Greg Brady goes on vacation and gets in–oh boy–girl trouble”!)  So why?  I have still not gotten an answer.

The film follows young Gaspard, a young mathematician and aspiring musician. He arrives on vacation on the Breton coast, expecting to meet up with his girlfriend, Lena. But Lena does not show when he thought she would.

In the interim, Gaspard is befriended by a quirky waitress Margot who, although having her own designs on him, tries to fix him up with her friend, Solene. Everyone seems to be attracted to Gaspard, but he is confusingly aloof.  There are conversations between the different pairings, but they are not particularly revelatory. Unless, that is, if you find the self-involvement of young people in a resort town to be a revelation.  All we know is that Gaspard struggles with this odd triangle of women in his life.

Then, Lena shows up.  Was Gaspard exaggerating his relationship with her?  Was he deluding himself?  For when she shows up, she is not as smitten with young Gaspard as he was with her in her absence. And she certainly would not have passed up the chances for romance that Gaspard did.

And so the film ends, with Gaspard still torn between the three young women on his summer vacation–and–shades of every sit-com ever–finds himself having promised to escort three different women to a nearby island. But by now, we the viewers are no longer interested in his choices  (Although, we have begin rooting for the waitress who seems the most grounded of everyone.)

Perhaps, the cause of the 18 year difference between A Summer’s Tale’s European release and its U.S. release was that the film was simply not very interesting.

Or maybe I am missing something.


Movie Review: Pride, directed by Matthew Wurchus

The very essence of the movie Pride

The very essence of the movie Pride

They called her the “Iron Maiden” for good reason. She was the toughest politician in a male-dominated world–and perhaps feeling she had to overcompensate as a woman–she felt the need to be tougher than her male counterparts.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

Perhaps no one felt the wrath of Margaret Thatcher’s steely resolve (some might say steel-heartedness) more than the the British coal miners and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). After Thatcher’s government announced its immediate plans to close 20 of the nationalized coal mines and its future plans to close 70 more, the miners walked out on strike.

The strike lasted a year, a hard and violent year, with Thatcher’s government not blinking and the miners returning to work, having lost much of their substantial political, social, and economic clout. For many, her dealings with the coal miners defined her.

The film Pride, directed by Matthew Wurchus and written by Stephen Beresford, plays out against the miner’s strike, already nine months in progress.  At a Gay Pride march in London, gay-activist Mark Ashton gets the idea that since oppression is oppression no matter what, and if Maggie Thatcher has her steel boot on the necks of the miners’ union, then the LGBT community–which knows something about oppression itself–should step in and lend its support. And so the organization, “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” is born.

Ben Schnetzer as Mark Ashton in the film Pride

Ben Schnetzer as Mark Ashton in the film Pride

The unions did not want their help.

And so, the London gay community–rebuffed by the officials of the union– brings it support and it funds to a little Welsh mining village instead. There is tension, lines are drawn among the villagers, and there is also some great fun as the the more open-minded villagers get to know their visitors from London.

Pride is a comedy with a social awareness. There is drama with villains and heroes, with domestic and social conflicts, with intolerance and the haunting shadow of AIDS and Thatcherism. But it is, nevertheless, primarily a comedy, the type of comedy that comes about when two incongruous groups come together.

For instance, there is a scene when a dozen of the Welsh villagers come to London to attend a benefit concert–The Pit and Perverts Benefit–which succeeds in collecting a huge sum of money for the miners. After the concert, the villagers accompany their hosts to a variety of gay clubs and discover–and giggle–at much of what they learn. It is comedy straight out of The Full Monty but instead of strippers we have the gay community.

The benefit concert features Bronski Beat, and is indicative to how great–and fun–the soundtrack is. From protest songs to disco numbers, from Billy Bragg to the Communards, from the powerful union song “Bread and Roses” to Sylvester’s “Do You Wanna Funk.” The music is essential, and it captures the excitement, the power and the heartbreak of the times. (The Communards’ poignant song “For a Friend” was actually written for Mark Ashton who died of AIDS shortly after the events of the film took place.)

Miners supporting the LGBT

Miners supporting the LGBT

Pride is a fun and a “feel-good” movie. It opts for lightness rather than heaviness, although there is a heavy cloud blowing in, which we feel the effects of in the final credits. But it is a fine gesture in defiance of Thatcherism. (In my opinion, the film Brassed Off may be the best look at the devastation that Thatcher’s policies wreaked on the coal miners and their families. Peter Postlethwaite’s speech at the end of that film should be shown in every government/history/social science class.)

But Pride doesn’t have to be Brassed Off.  It doesn’t need to have a heart-stirring speech.  It is what it is–a  sweet film that is provocative without being preachy. And it does what it does well. It doesn’t hit you over the head with its message, but we know the message is there all the same. And it’s an important one.

Movie Review: Words and Pictures dir. by Fred Schepisi

Poster for Words and Pictures

Poster for Words and Pictures

It wasn’t what I was expecting, so I should not hold that against it, but I found Words and Pictures just a tad disappointing. It is a very nice movie, not a great movie, but nice, and its heart is in the right place.

Clive Owen as Jack Marcus in Words and Pictures

Clive Owen as Jack Marcus in Words and Pictures

The film deals with an English teacher Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) who teaches at a very privileged prep school in Maine. Marcus–who once had a promising start as a writer– is brilliant, witty, energetic, and charming. The students love him; his colleagues tolerate him; his bosses are beginning to tire of him.  We immediately see him chastised for being late–an occurrence that is more and more frequent because at night he is drinking more and more. (I found this part a bit unbelievable because after his nightly excesses there is no way he could perform so elegantly in the classroom each day.  Add to that the thermos full of vodka he drinks with his lunch each day and his engaging classroom demeanor seems unreal.)

Because of cuts at another school, the school is able to hire a new art teacher, Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche). A successful gallery artist, Delsanto has left New York City due to crippling rheumatoid arthritis which forces her to walk with a cane, strap brushes to her wrists, and suffer intense pain, and she has come to rural Maine where she gets the necessary help from her sister.

Juliette Binoche as Dina Delsanto

Juliette Binoche as Dina Delsanto in Words and Pictures

She immediately clashes with Marcus, but not without hidden a smile of pleasure.

And this is where I got it wrong. As Hollywood usually goes, the film begins as a typical romantic comedy. Two strong-willed, feisty characters are thrown together–ala Tracy and Hepburn– battle and show their disdain for each other, and finally fall in love.  Yet, Words and Pictures takes another tack.

In her first class of Honors Art, Delsanto tells her class that “Words are lies, traps.” Since Marcus teaches the same students, her comments get back to him, and he initiates a war.  Words vs picture:  What is more powerful?  What is more true?  What is more dangerous?

And while the battle began between the two adults, the students get very much involved, and actually experience a truly great learning experience. (Educators now call this kind of thing “Project Based Learning.”) The “words” that the students use and the artwork they create as different sides in this battle of philosophies are impressive at the least.

As the battle goes on, Marcus learns that the school board is considering his dismissal, his relationship with his son is becoming more and more estranged, and his muse has completely dried up. And, he begins drinking even more heavily.

Delsanto’s condition worsens–she cannot undress herself or hold a brush without help–but her artistic output is becoming more and more robust.

Ultimately, these two flawed adults get together, but their lovely day together is sabotaged by Marcus’ destructive, drunken night.

It takes the final school assembly, where the contest between “words and pictures” is judged to bring some resolution to the film.  Here, Marcus gives a speech stating that there is no greater approach–that together words and pictures are often more powerful than apart. (I’m not sure I agree.)  Afterwards, we are left hanging–does Delsanto merely forgive Marcus or does she let him back into her life.

Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche as Jack MArcus and Dina Delsanto in Words and Pictures

Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche in Words and Pictures

To see a romantic film about two adults, seriously flawed in their own ways, is a rarity in film these days (at least in American movies). And to have this romance played out by the like of such actors as Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen is special. And this is where Words and Pictures promised a delight.

But somewhere along the line, the relationship between Marcus and Delsanto gets hijacked.  The philosophical arguments of “words vs. pictures” take center stage, and–by the very nature of film– can only be superficial at best, and ultimately unfulfilling.  And we are further distracted by the subplots of Marcus and his son’s disintegrating relationship and an annoying story of a predatory student who continually harasses a shy student in his class. (Granted both of these subplots can be tied into the overall argument of “words vs. pictures,” but again, it is weak.) And so, the “romance”–even the relationship–between Marcus and Delsanto too often gets pushed aside and loses its cinematic momentum,

In the end, I enjoyed Words and Pictures, but I wanted to like the film more than I did.  It had the makings of  a  sweet romance, but the un-fleshed-out philosophical argument got in the way.

What I found most interesting was that all of Dina Delsanto’s artwork was painted by Binoche herself.  That bit of info, coming late in the credits, is amazing, for the paintings are powerful expressionist and abstract works that to my untutored eye were dazzling. Binoche has always been one of my favorite actresses…now even more so.

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Gore Vidal Illustration 2014 by jpbohannon

Gore Vidal
Illustration 2014 by jpbohannon

The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country…and we haven’t seen them since.” Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal is perhaps one of the U.S.’s most under-appreciated writers, certainly was one of its most vocal political intellects, and truly one of its most fascinating personalities. Novelist, screenwriter, playwright, essayist, he parlayed his wit and intelligence–and his knowledge of the backrooms of politics– into becoming a favorite choice when looking for a liberal spokesman for televised debate (most famously with William F. Buckley), a panel member, or talk show guest.


The infamous of their many debates where Buckley called Vidal a “queer” and Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi.” They were discussing police brutality in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention.

Nicholas D. Wrathall’s documentary, Gore Vidal: The United States of America attempts to capture the wit, the acerbity, the political thought and the literary presence of Vidal, but at last, Vidal is really simply large a figure to truly pin down in little less than two hours. So it focuses on the political.

The film tries to be chronological but it is not really historical, moving ahead and back indiscriminately in chapters set off by one of Vidal’s aphorisms.

“I heard bad news on the way over here: the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library was just destroyed by fire, and, tragically, both books were a total loss. Worse yet, he wasn’t finished coloring the second one.” Gore Vidal to the National Press Club on Ronald Reagan

The United States of Amnesia is primarily focused on Vidal’s political thought–and his ultimate pessimism about the reality of the United States. The biographical part moves rather quickly. He was raised primarily by his blind grandfather, the U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, Thomas Gore, for whom he acted as page and guide, and for whom he would read out loud the senator’s voluminous reading list of philosophy and political thought. The political ideas and conversations that his grandfather was interested in had to come first through the mouth of his young grandson, and gave the young man an invaluable schooling. Vidal–who was christened Eugene Luther Gore Vidal–took the grandfather’s last name as his own and became Gore Vidal.

Even as a child, Vidal was surrounded by the powerful and famous. Not only did Vidal walk the august halls and back offices of the U.S. Senate with his grandfather, but his father was a close adviser to FDR and was, according to one biographer, the great love affair of Amelia Earhart. His mother married four times, once to Henry Auchincloss, the step-father of Jacqueline Bouvier, the future Mrs. Kennedy. Vidal also reported that she had a long “on-again, off-again” affair with the actor Clark Gable.

After service in the navy during World War II, Vidal published–at the age of twenty-one– the novel, Williwaw. Based on his military experiences, the novel was highly successful. His second novel published two years later The City and the Pillar, caused a furor of controversy because of its matter-of-fact portrayal of homosexuality. So outraged was the mainstream press, that the editor of The New York Times, Orville Prescott, refused to “read or review” any subsequent Vidal novels.  (Vidal got around this to a small degree by writing under the pseudonym  Edgar Box.)

“What is in question is a kind of book reviewing which seems to be more and more popular: the loose putting down of opinions as though they were facts, and the treating of facts as though they were opinions.  Gore Vidal

With his books banned from review from the national “papers of record,”  Vidal set out to become a screen writer in Hollywood. He wrote several television plays–the most notable being The Best Man–and several feature films, including the rewrite of the script for Ben-Hur.  

In the 1960s, Vidal returned to fiction, writing three  novels Julian, Washinton, D.C. and Myra Breckinridge. In a way, these three encompass the themes of all his later fiction–ancient history, Washingtonian politics, and broad comedic social commentary.  Importantly,  also in the 1960s, Vidal moved to the Amalfi coast in Italy.  He was not the first writer to believe he can see and comment on his native country better from a distance…and that is what he did.

Vidal’s targets were many:  American foreign policy, the militarization of America, the role of big business in American politics, the growth of religion in government.  In journals such as The New Statesman, The Nation and The New York Review of Books, Vidal spoke his mind in well-crafted, observant and illuminating essays. Indeed, it is the essays for which Vidal is most celebrated.  Always witty, always incisive, and always confident in his beliefs, the tendencies of his political thought still harkened to the populist politics of the grandfather who raised him.

It is difficult to capture all of Vidal in a movie.  In Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, we have film clips of the famous debates and talk show appearances, we have photographs of the famous and celebrated who attended his many parties, and we have talking heads reminiscing about Vidal.  Perhaps, the most rewarding of the bits is when Vidal himself remembers particular moments. An adept storyteller–often supplying different accents–he tells us of a shooting party with him, JFK and Tennessee Williams, of an encounter between Paul Neuman and William F. Buckley following the legendary “crypto-Nazi” debate, and of the pain of ultimately packing up his beloved home in Italy when he became to feeble to stay there himself.

Poster for Nicholas Wrathall’s documentary on Gore Vidal.

The film begins with Vidal visiting the tombstone where his life long partner Howard Austen was buried and where his name is etched waiting for him to join. It ends there as well, a full circle.  It is an enjoyable two hours, filled with insight and humor and not a small bit of nostalgia for a time when non-conformist ideas and opinions were voiced in the mainstream and not lost in a sea of cable channels and internet sites.

“All in all, I would not have missed this century for the world.”  Gore Vidal

Movie Review: Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine


Blue Jasmine Illustration 2014 by jpbohannon

Blue Jasmine
Illustration 2014 by jpbohannon

More than a year and a half ago, I first saw the trailer for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. I was excited about it, as I usually am with new Woody Allen films, but now my interest was especially piqued: it was a return to the U.S. for Allen whose recent work had been in London, Rome, Barcelona and Paris.

The director whose greatest actor had always been the city of New York was returning home…although his depictions of the European sites were equally memorable and noteworthy.

The cast was eclectic (as is often the case in Allen’s work), and even before its general release, there was murmuring about Cate Blanchett’s performance. Already, the wags were talking Oscar (and they were right in their early prediction.) The setting was New York–Manhattan and the Hamptons–and San Francisco. And the writing seemed crisp and clever.

But for some reason, I put off seeing it. The times or the opportunities were never right, and I found myself hesitating because of the many people who told me how depressing they had found it. The analogies that I had noticed between it and A Streetcar Named Desire were now being mentioned in every piece I read.

And Streetcar can be rough.

And so now, twenty-two months after it was released, three months after Cate Blanchett won every major award for Best Actress, and several months after it was put on “On-Demand” I saw Blue Jasmine.

Poster for Blue Jasmine

Poster for Blue Jasmine


And I loved it.

Cate Blanchett-as “Jasmine,” the pampered rich-girl whose world comes crashing down when her Bernie Madoff like husband (Alec Baldwin) is arrested by the F.B.I. and who loses everything– alternates between haughty insensitivity and splintered lunacy. The moments when she is lost and most fragmented are frighteningly real. The moments when she is full of herself are maddening and distancing.

The film, in many ways, is a portrait of a woman who is shattered. We see her life as it once was–rich, pampered, and idle–and we see her now. Fueled with Xanax and vodka, talking out loud to herself, losing track of the present moment, and trying to manipulate those around her,  she is a wreck of a woman.

And as in Streetcar, Jasmine –the Blanche duBois character–finds romance and possibly love, and as in Streetcar, it is sabotaged. And like Blanche, it is the final straw for Jasmine, and we last see her chattering to herself like a madwoman on a park bench.

Cate Blanchett as "Jasmine"

Cate Blanchett as “Jasmine”

While Blue Jasmine is undoubtedly Cate Blanchett’s film, she is supported by some wonderful actors. Sally Hawkins plays Jasmine’s “sister,” Ginger.; Alec Baldwin, the smarmy husband whose financial fraud and infidelities send Jasmine down the road to mental breakdown; and Andrew Dice Clay and  Bobby Cannavale as Ginger’s ex-husband and her present fiance–an amalgam of Stanley Kowalski from Streetcar.

My original fear that Blue Jasmine was going to be just too depressing was wrong. Instead, I found it fascinating–a fascinating film and a fascinating story, anchored by a truly fascinating and extraordinary performance.

Beware of Maya: Illusion, Cary Grant, Wes Anderson and Owen in Paris

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Towards the end of Wes Anderson’s latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, the elderly Moustafa (played by F. Murray Abrahams) says this about his mentor, the concierge M. Gustav H.:

“His world had vanished long before he entered it. But he sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.”

And this reminded me of Cary Grant.

I saw three movies this week. And oddly–and not purposefully– they dovetailed into a similar theme.  I was sick as a dog in the beginning of the week and so, lazing around, I  watched two films on television.

The first was To Catch a Thief.  How gloriously campy it now seems.  Cary Grant’s ascots alone are only outdone by the sweet innuendos that he and Grace Kelly ad-libbed with Hitchcock’s permission.

Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief

Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief

It is all pure fantasy. Pure illusion.

One time, when Cary Grant was told by an interviewer that countless men would love to be “like Cary Grant,” he replied that so would he.  For he knew it was all illusion: the sophisticated banter, the artless seductions, the calm equanimity.  It was his job, being Cary Grant.  In the end, Grant ultimately left the movie business when the illusion gave way to reality. His type of character–as unreal as it was–was no longer in fashion in the gritty, realism of modern cinema.

A few days later I watched Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. The entire movie is built on illusion, one that we all suffer from. The plot deals with the idea that we all believe that an earlier time was more exciting, more inspiring, more fulfilling.  The fallacy of the belief is wonderfully depicted, as Owen Wilson’s character–Gil Pender–returns to the 1920s and falls in love with a beautiful woman whose dream is to live in the 1890s. Even in the presence of his literary and artistic idols, Wilson’s character comes to realize that the past is painted with gold dust and that our image of that past is greatly unreal.


Owen Wilson with Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway and Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein.

And in the end, it is all illusion. Many of us believe that another time was better than the one we live in. And some believe that, if only, they had been born at a different time their lives would be so much different–and better. (At this point read, E. A. Robinson’s poem “Miniver Cheevy” which is referenced in the film as well.)

And so, I finally go out and go to the movies and I see Wes Anderson’s The Budapest Grand Hotel.  It is a beautiful movie to look at and the performances of Ralph Fiennes and his young protege, Tony Revolori, are extraordinary.  But it too is all illusion. The world it describes is long gone, if it ever existed at all. And the heroism of the film–if it can be called such–is that Fiennes’ character maintains the illusion that that world still exists, still matters. And we are even more removed from it than he.

And after all that is what movie making is about.  Sixty years ago, Cary Grant left movie making because he believed the magic had left, that hard-nosed grittiness had blown the magic away.

But that is not the case.  Most of the time, we still go to the movies for the magic. Whether it is the unreal pleasures of the moneyed classes in Monte Carlo or the time-tripping adventures of a sincere romantic in Paris, the movies still provide a good dollop of magic. And in The Grand Budapest Hotel all that magic comes full circle. For not only is the set and the landscape and the costumes and the cartoonish villainy not part of our real world, but even the characters themselves are clinging to an illusion, to a world that has longed passed, but which in our “Golden Age” memories is a thing of refinement, class and excitement…more civilized world than the one we know.

Movie Post: About Time written and directed by Richard Curtis

About Time is largely advertised  as being from the makers of Notting Hill, Love Actually, and Four Weddings and a Funeral. And the film nods politely to all three of its ancestors.  Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral were carried by Hugh Grant’s bumbling and boyish charm, and Love Actually by Bill Nighy’s performance as an over-the-hill rock-singer, as well as a packet of sweet and moving love stories.

About Time capitalizes on both.  Like Hugh Grant, Domhnall Gleeson is all boyishness and sweetness and bumbling good will. Without the classic handsomeness of Grant, Gleeson’s is a more affecting, more real character. The same can be said of his love interest played by Rachel McAdams. Her simple beauty is open and fresh and void of Hollywood sheen. And together they make a couple we might know, whom we like and root for.

But it is Bill Nighy who anchors the piece.  Has Nighy  become the go-to-guy when someone needs a somewhat eccentric, aging British male, who is always ready to give the finger to the establishment and to all that it expects of him?  If so, he does it wonderfully. (See his character in Love Actually, Pirate Radio, even the Last Marigold Hotel).

Bill Nighy (August 16, 2012 - Source:

Bill Nighy
(August 16, 2012 – Source:

At first, the plot sounds a bit of a stretch–on New Year’s day of his 21st year, a young man Tim (Gleeson) is told by his father (Nighy) that the men in their family have the ability to travel in time. This is not H.G. Wells science-fiction stuff, however, simply the ability to return to a moment and correct any faux pas that one might have made.  You know those moments that only after they have passed do you realize what you should have said, should have done? (The French have a phrase for those moments–l’esprit de l’escalier.)  Well, what Tim’s father is giving him is the chance to always go back and say or do that right thing, make that suave gesture, deliver that saving grace.

Dubious of his father’s newly shared secret, Tim tests his new power immediately by returning to the previous night’s New Year’s Eve party where he had slighted a young woman at midnight (a slight that had him tossing in his sleep all night long.)  He is able to correct what happened and is rewarded by a smile on the young woman’s face where there had once been pain.

The remainder of the film follows Tim as he courts Mary (McAdams), prevents disasters for his roommate, and tries to save his sister’s descent into a damaging and abusive relationship.  His attempts are charming and amusing–his first night with Mary is filled with many “do-overs” until he has it down perfectly–and the goodness and sincerity of his wishes are heartwarming.

Rachel McAdams and Donhail Gleeson in About Time Photo by Murray Close - © 2013 - Universal Pictures

Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson
in About Time
Photo by Murray Close – © 2013 – Universal Pictures

But it is the eminent death of his father that is the most poignant.

Moving seamlessly from a cute romantic-comedy to a poignant examination of fatherhood and family, About Time surprises us with an emotional wallop that we weren’t really prepared for. But it works perfectly.  The father’s last request of sharing a time-travel with his son is beautifully filmed and presented.

Richard Curtis’s films are regularly sweet confections, mixed with a comforting dollop of poignancy. (Who could forget the recitation of Auden’s “Funeral Blues” during the one funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral?) With About Time, Curtis has perfected his style. It is a funny, romantic and sweet film…but what separates it from the rest of the pack is a certain emotional sophistication.

I think it is a beautiful film.

Here’s the trailer.

About Time

Movie Review: Goldfinger : fifty years later


I was a young boy living for one year in a suburb of Chicago–Arlington Heights. I don’t remember much of that year: a monstrous ice-storm that shut everything down and men ice-skating to work; an enormous and popular race-track that burned down after we left; a candy store and a record shop. I don’t remember much else.

I do remember however that my parents did not give me permission to go see Goldfinger. Secret Agents were all the rage–that Christmas my little brother had even received a toy briefcase that fired missiles–and here was the ultimate secret agent of them all: 007… Bond, James Bond.

My buddies were all going, I argued–but still I was not allowed. (At the time, the Catholic Church still had a large influence on the “rating” of films, and Goldfinger surely must have been on some list singled out by the Legion of Decency. A list my parents believed in.)

And so now, several decades later, I saw Goldfinger for the first time. I watched it this weekend.

Boy, have times changed.

Let’s consider the reasons that one would not let their children see a movie (and in America there is only ONE reason, followed by a simpering second.) First there is SEX and then there is Violence (which Americans find preferable to viewing sex.) The violence in Goldfinger is cartoonish. There is a car chase scene where Bond is able to test the extras on his Aston Martin: smoke screen fogger, oil slick sprayer, ejector seat, bullet proof armor and machine guns. There is a later “fight scene” where the American military (which was “pretending” to be knock out by nerve gas) take back Fort Knox. The violence is much less than what appears in a saturday morning cartoon today.

And of course there is the first of the great Bond villains–OddJob.

Harold Sakata as Oddjob

Harold Sakata as Oddjob

As for the sex. Well, there is none. In the beginning of the film, Bond charms and disarms one of Goldfinger’s sexy “henchmen” who is helping him cheat poolside at a game of gin. (Egads, what criminality!) We assume there has been sex, because there is some post-coital conversation–she lying wrapped in sheets and Bond standing in some sort of sleep wear. When he goes to his fridge for another bottle of Dom Perignon, he is attacked and knocked out. When he regains consciousness, his lady friend is naked, painted in gold, and dead from suffocation.

The next “sex scene” is a jiu-jitsu struggle in a barn with Pussy Galore. Bond is thrown a few times, she is thrown a few times and the two end up in the hay (literally),  kissing–fully clothed. That is it.

And my parents wouldn’t let me see it.

Excepting for the sophomoric double entendre on Pussy Galore’s name, the film is squeaky clean–at least by current standards.

And still today, the coolest part of the film is the car. Certainly not the girls and hardly the “action.”

And yet, in hindsight, the film is intriguing: we are witnessing the birth of a franchise. There are those who argue that no other Bond can match Sean Connery and they may be right. He is suave and stylish, resourceful  and droll. From this vantage point, he seems to understand that he is already a parody of himself. And yet, he is always a gentleman. And like any secret agent worth his salt he is extremely cool under pressure. Truly, he invented the type.

Sean Connery as James Bond

Sean Connery as James Bond

So much so, that the Ian Fleming Publishing Ltd. recently commissioned the British novelist, William Boyd, to write a new Bond novel. Boyd, a critically and commercially successful novelist, took the commission gladly–he loved the Bond novels and figured his plots would be better than Fleming’s.  (And when you examine the plot of Goldfinger, you’re pretty likely to agree.) Boyd’s novel Solo will be released on September 26 in Britain and on October 8th in the States. It is not like Bond ever went away…except now he is newer and fresher.

William Boyd's novel Solo

William Boyd’s novel Solo

I wonder if my parents would let me read it.

Movie Review: In a World… dir. by Lake Bell

Lake Bell as Carol Solomon in In a World...

Lake Bell as Carol Solomon in In a World…

Last week a friend and colleague of mine e-mailed me with an odd request. He was making a film on an Institute he had attended this summer and wanted me to do the voice-over. I was honored and a little nervous. After I agreed, he sent over the script–a mere twenty lines–and I began practicing.

We wrapped it up the next day.

I’m not sure I want to see/hear the finished project.

Anyway, in this world of coincidences I went to the movies and saw In a World…, Lake Bell’s delightful film about a young woman in the voice-over business.

in-a-world-posterLake Bell–who also wrote and directed the film–plays Carol Solomon, the thirty-something daughter of the “King of Voice-Overs,” Sam Sota, played by Fred Melamed,  Sam is a bit full of himself; He has published his own kiss-and-tell autobiography and quickly in the movie kicks Carol out of their apartment because his 30-year old girlfriend is moving in.  (That the 30-year old girlfriend ultimately acts as his moral conscience shows the shallowness of the man.)

Carol is trying to crack into the male-dominated world of voice-overs. (Easily a microcosm for the difficulty of women finding jobs in the entire film business). And rather than help his daughter in the business, Sam places every roadblock in her way.  He truly believes that women have no place in the voice-over business–even if it is his daughter–and so he mentors the rising new “voice-over” superstar, a man perhaps sleazier than Sota himself.

Suddenly without a home, Carol crashes at her sister and brother-in-laws’s house where there is an undercurrent of marital tension and ekes out a living as a voice coach.  That is until a few breaks come her way and she makes the most of them.

The arc of the plot is familiar, but the film is no less enjoyable because of that. Bell is a delight to watch.  She is quirky without being annoying, serious without being sober, and she is intelligent–in front of and behind the camera.  Her relationship with her sister is satisfying, and the romance she has with the sound man, Louis–played by the always enjoyable Demitri Martin–is one that you find yourself  rooting for.

Louis and Carol (Dimitri Martin and Lake Bell)

Louis and Carol (Dimitri Martin and Lake Bell)

I came out of the film smiling.  Not because of any silliness or humor, but because In a World… is a small film that gives off a good feeling. In a quiet way, good appears to win in a pretty cutt-hroat town, and that is always an unexpected pleasure.

Movie Review: Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, dir.)…verisimilitude in film

“Verisimilitude” is a word I know from movie criticism and from literary criticism. I define it as a strict faithfulness to the truth of reality. And it is a concept that the movie director, Richard Linklater, has striven for in his triology, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. In many ways he has succeeded.

For those who don’t know, in 1995, Linklater cast his stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in the first movie, Before Sunrise, as young twenty-somethings who meet on a train from Budapest to Vienna, who spend a day and night together and go their separate ways. (That the day is June 16th, the day that James Joyce met his life partner Nora Barnacle and the day that his novel Ulysses takes place is one of the many Joycean allusions in the triology.)

Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in Before Sunrise

Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke)
in Before Sunrise (1995)

To be truthful to his quest for truthfulness, Linklater nine years later, cast the same two actors to play the same characters who happen to meet again nine years later. This time Hawke’s Jesse is on a book tour in Paris when Delpy’s Celine meets him. His book–which fictionalizes the day they had spent together a decade ago–is a success. They spend this second time together walking through Paris before he must fly back to America. (Because the film takes place in mid-afternoon, Linklater only shot at that time to get the light exactly right. This is verisimilitide. )

Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) in  Before Sunset2004

Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) in
Before Sunset 2004

Now in the summer of 2013, we catch up once more with Jesse and Celine. As it is with the actors, it is with the characters–nine more years have passed for both. Now, in Before Midnight, Celine and Jesse have been together for nearly a decade. They have twin girls, and Jesse’s son with his ex-wife, now a young boy going into high-school, has spent the summer with his father and his new family in Greece.

In fact, as the film begins, Jesse is dropping his son off at the airport for the return flight home. Jesse is now a very successful novelist, having written two critically and commercially acclaimed novels (both based on the events that we saw in the previous two movies.) However, he is unhappy about his distance from his son and is toying with the idea of moving his European family to Chicago to be closer to the boy.

The film is divided into three basic scenes: the trip to the airport, a dinner at the villa they are sharing, and a night at hotel together without their daughters (a gift from their friends at the villa.) In the first scene, we see Jesse struggling with saying farewell to his son, Celine announcing that she has the opportunity to change jobs, and the two bantering amicably in the car, both daughters asleep in the back seat. However, Celine does not like the idea of a move to America or the prospect of refusing the career opportunity that has just now cropped up.

Celine and Jesse (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) in Before Midnight (2013)

Celine and Jesse (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke)
in Before Midnight (2013)

The second scene is at their villa where the males sit outside discussing literature while Celine and the women prepare the dinner. It is light, gregarious, and beautiful–but you feel the emotion lying low within Celine. The dinner itself is wonderful. At turns, amusing, intelligent, and poignant, the conversation is witty and enjoyable. There is a tad of acid in some of Celine’s comments, but for the most part, it is a dinner which I very much would have liked to have joined.

As a gift, their friends have bought them a child-free night in a hotel in the local town. After dinner, the two walk into town, talk, reminisce, and plan for the future. In the lobby, Jesse is recognized and asked to sign a book. Celine is also asked, as the reader assumes (correctly) that she is the woman whom Jesse writes about. She reluctantly agrees.

The night however does not go exactly the way they had planned.

Like its predecessors, Before Midnight is wonderful because it seems real. (There’s that “verisimiltude” again.) People talk, plan, argue, hurt, and enjoy. There are no cataclysmic disasters pushing them into conflict, no terrorists to fight, no snarky humor to overcome. It is simply two people at a patch in their relationship that is proving a little rough. In their forties now (both the actors and the characters), they are looking at life differently and with more cognizance of its quick passing. If I have problem, it is that Celine’s outburst–while we anticipate its coming–still seems to come out of nowhere. But it is wonderfully honest and wonderfully real.

But, maybe that’s the truth of life–and the truth of relationships–we know little of the turmoil going on in a partner’s soul. Maybe that’s the truth of the movie.

And while Hawke and Delpy have comfortably grown into their parts for the past two decades and while the small supporting cast is more than excellent (Walter Lassally as the aging writer with whom they are staying, Xenia Kalogeropoulou as his widowed friend, and Yiannis Papadopoulos and Athina Rachel Tsangari as the couple who present them with the child-free night), it is the setting that struck me most. Filmed on the southern Peloponnesian coast, it is filled with gorgeous coastline, quaint villages, memorable sunsets, and illuminating sunlight. When I got home from the film, I spent the next two days searching real-estate in the area.

I spent two weeks there once. I wouldn’t mind spending more.

Here’s the trailer, if you want: