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The American

Posted on December 28, 2010 at 8:00 am

There’s a reason so many movies give us a character who has just one last job to do before he (it’s almost always a he) can get free. It is because we can sympathize with someone despite even the most reprehensible past if what he wants is to escape from it. Our heads may want justice but in our hearts we can understand the dream of breaking away.
Especially in a romantic location, with the possibility of new and unquestioning love. “The American” may be the story of an assassin but it is not a chases-and-explosions movie. It is an almost elegiac meditation on choice, fate, trust, and purpose, punctuated by shoot-outs.
We know him as Jack (George Clooney, who also produced). But two women call him “Mr. Butterfly” for two different reasons. One is a professional colleague, who sees his appreciation for a butterfly that rests, briefly, on her when they are out in the woods. The other is a prostitute he visits, who sees the butterfly tattoo between his shoulder blades. Both women indicate an interest in him beyond their professional relationship. One of them will make him think about it.
We know he is all business. In the very first scene, we watch him coolly execute someone he cares about only because she saw too much. In the scene where he is briefly bewitched by the butterfly he takes out a bottle of wine he had taken the time to chill for verisimilitude because they were pretending to be on a picnic. His colleague is clearly willing to make it into a picnic but he pours it out, again a stickler for plausible deniability and staying on point.
“Above all, don’t make any friends,” he is told by the only person he seems to trust, the man he goes to when people are trying to kill him and he needs to find out who they are. But he finds a place to stay in a breathtakingly picturesque Italian town and finds himself talking to the local priest (a warmly sympathetic Paolo Bonacelli) and a pretty prostitute (Violante Placido). He jumps at backfiring Vespas and dropped books but he is right to be suspicious more often than not. The priest tells him, “You’re American. You think you can escape history.” But Jack knows that it is not an individual adversary who is cornering him, but his past.
Audiences can see this as a metaphor of American actions abroad, as the British put it, a question of how much crockery is broken at the end of the day. Or it can be seen as the story of an individual who did something because he was good at it and now wonders if that was enough of a reason.

(more…)

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Based on a book Drama Thriller

Interview: Andrew Jarecki of ‘All Good Things’

Posted on December 27, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Andrew Jarecki, whose first film was the award-winning documentary “Capturing the Friedmans,” has made a feature film starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst called “All Good Things.” It is based on the real-life story of Robert Durst, the son of a wealthy New York family, who is connected to two unsolved murders and was acquitted of a third over an 18-year period. Like “Capturing the Friedmans,” it is an exploration of family dysfunction and the failures of the legal system.
But Jarecki says that his focus in both films is on secrets. “I think it is very interesting to try to understand what people are really thinking.” He spoke about chatting with American tourists in Amsterdam. “They looked like accountants, dressed very conservatively.” They told him they did accounting for jewelry manufacturers. “Maybe I’m always looking for conspiracy but to me that sounded like an answer designed to shut you down. So I said to the guy, ‘C’mon, what do you really do?’ And he looked at me for a second and then looked around and said, ‘My wife and I run a network of pornographic websites and we make a lot of money doing it.’ I thought, ‘I’m so glad I asked him what he really did — that is so much more interesting than the first answer.'”
All_Good_Things_movie_movie_poster.525w_700h.jpgThere was a personal connection that drew him to the story as well. Durst was the son of a wealthy and powerful family whose father tried to keep him connected to the family business even though he wanted to leave New York and run a health food store. (The title of the film comes from a health food store Durst ran in Vermont until his father pressured him to come back and work in real estate. “I had a father who was enormously successful and wanted me to go into the family business and I had other ideas. There was something about that that appealed to me.”
It was a challenge to take a story that happened in fragments over a long period of time. “This is a story that perks up over the years, you see little bits of it. A good scandal happens over a few months, usually.” The movie follows the Durst character (called David Marks in the film) from the 1970’s to the 2000’s. He was “quirky but charming, the interesting eldest son, everyone expects him to go into the family business. By accident he meets a beautiful girl and 10 years later she goes missing, she disappears. That was interesting to me when I first learned about that.” We see him meet and marry his wife and watch their relationship deteriorate as she becomes more mature and independent and he becomes more withdrawn and controlling. Then she is gone.
David is a likely suspect, but without any evidence, his wife’s disappearance remains unsolved. For almost two decades. “There was this missing girl and there was a lot of speculation. And then the whole thing went to sleep for a while. it didn’t become a national story because nothing happened for a while. Eighteen years later the new prosecutor got a tip and re-opened the case, and suddenly there’s a new story, which his that someone is thinking the same thoughts as other people have for a while but it is someone who is motivated to do something about it.”
“And then nothing much happens,” Jerecki continued. “They somewhat lackadaisically get themselves organized to pursue the case. They decide to go and find out what this one witness has to say and almost immediately she is found murdered. This thing keeps re-emerging. The New York police lets the LAPD know that they think it may be connected but they ignore them to pursue another suspect who turned out not to be a good suspect. The OJ case made them very nervous about high-profile defendants. They didn’t pursue it, didn’t get an indictment. And within a year of that, this body washes up on shore near Galveston, Texas, and that’s another chapter about Bob’s life. So either you look at this guy and say he is the unluckiest guy in the world or he was involved. He lost his wife, he was accused of her murder, he lost his best friend, he was accused of her murder. Then he loses his sort of roommate in Galveston, also to a terrible fate, and he is indicted and that’s when things start to get interesting.”
Durst acknowledged that he killed and dismembered the man, but plead self-defense and a panicked disposal of the body. “The case was so badly handled he would never have gotten convicted in any meaningful way,” Jarecki explained.
The true story is so strange (for example, Durst lived for a time as a mute woman) that “The toughest thing always is figuring what to take out,” Jarecki said. “You treat the audience as intelligently as you would want to be treated by the film-maker. At one screening, someone asked why we didn’t know what happened to the mother. I asked if anyone else in the audience wanted to see that. We know what that scene’s going to be like; that scene’s in another movie. If you’re just phoning it in, if you’re writing some scene just to show them going somewhere, if you can write it quick…it’s probably going to not be that complicated and therefore not that interesting. You want to see a lot of of layers going on at the same time if you can. That’s what makes a film watchable multiple times.”
As outlandish and unwieldy as the story is, Jarecki and his top-notch cast make it into a coherent, compelling narrative. “If people say, ‘Why did you have her do that?’ We can say, ‘It actually happened.’ If they say, ‘It isn’t realistic,’ I say, ‘It happened. What’s your definition of realistic?'”

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Directors Interview

The Concert

Posted on December 27, 2010 at 8:00 am

A Russian conductor, demoted to symphony hall janitor, intercepts an invitation to perform in Paris and decides that he will accept. Andreï Filipov (Aleksei Guskov) was once a celebrated conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra. But during the antisemitism of the Breshnev era, he was ordered to dismiss all of the Jewish musicians and he refused. He now sweeps up in the concert hall.

One day, while the conductor-turned-janitor is cleaning the orchestra director’s office, a fax arrives, inviting the Bolshoi to perform. And Flilipov is determined to accept, even if it means not just hiding the truth from his employer but having to put on a full-scale performance with a group of musicians who have not played together — or in some cases played at all — in decades. Even more of a challenge is enlisting the help of the man he blames for destroying his career. Ivan Gavrilov (Valeriy Barinov) a staunch Communist party loyalist, was the man who interrupted his last performance to tell Filipov he was fired. But now, he is the only one who can help them because he can speak French and negotiate the terms of the appearance. He does not like Filipov, either, but he has his own reasons for wanting to get to Paris, so he agrees.

Filipov has one more requirement. He will only play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and the soloist must be the beautiful young French musician (Mélanie Laurent of “Inglourious Basterds”). This leads to many complications and a few revelations and some thrillingly gorgeous music.

The story’s mix of comedy and tragedy is clumsy at times, lurching from farce (ethnic humor, mangled French) to stories of oppression. And there are some local references that will be lost on even cosmopolitan Americans. But Laurent is enormously appealing as the young violinist who never played Tchaikovsky and the music itself is every bit as transcendent as Filipov and writer-director Radu Mihaileanu promise it will be.

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Comedy Drama Inspired by a true story Music

Follow that Bird

Posted on December 26, 2010 at 8:00 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 1985
Date Released to DVD: 2009
Amazon.com ASIN: B001MYIQMW

Celebrate the birthday of Caroll Spinney, the man behind (or, I should say, inside) Big Bird. 1985’s “Follow That Bird,” features all of the show’s favorite characters and an array of guest stars but focuses more on gentle humor and lessons of tolerance than letters and numbers.

A well-meaning social worker decides that Big Bird needs to be with “his own kind’ and packs him off to live with the Dodo family. But while they may have feathers and wings, they are not really “his own kind,” and he feels lost and alone. He decides to go back home where he can be with the friends who are his real family and has adventures along the way, including an encounter with the Sleaze Brothers, who want to paint him blue and put him on stage as the “Blue Bird of Happiness.” But all ends happily as he is reunited with the people who love him, who are truly “his own kind.”

Families who see this movie will want to talk about the many ways that families are created and about how we decide what “our own kind” really means.

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