The Sense of an Ending

Posted on February 27, 2017 at 8:27 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, a violent image, sexuality and brief strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Suicides
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 10, 2017
Copyright CBS Films 2016

Life is messy. Stories are our way of cleaning it up to help us try to make sense of it. Some of those stories are in books or movies, but most of those stories are just the editing each of us does all the time in telling ourselves and others who we are. Whether it is explaining to a traffic cop why you should not get a ticket or the difference between the “how we met” story of a couple who are still together and one who has split up, or living in a version of Lake Woebegone, “where all the children are above average,” all of us burnish the truth a little to make ourselves feel better and look better.

Julian Barnes’ award-winning novel The Sense of an Ending is the story of a older man who has to rethink the stories he has told himself and realign his understanding of his life. On screen, the delicacy of the performances stands in for the lyricism of his prose.

Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) is semi-retired, the owner of a store that sells vintage cameras, and kind of semi-married, with a warm, companionable relationship with his lawyer ex-wife, Margaret (Harriet Walter, with a voice like a dry martini). Their daughter Susie (“Downton Abbey’s” Michelle Dockery) loves her dad, but finds him exasperating. She is pregnant, and says that her child will call him “Mudge,” for curmudgeon.

The camera store is significant. The vintage cameras are superbly crafted and in some ways better than digital cameras, but they are expensive and complicated and considered obsolete by most people. Tony identifies with the underappreciated quality of the instruments of precision and gets some satisfaction with being out of step with modern technology and mores.

But his romanticized view of the past is put into sharper focus (those cameras again) when he gets a letter about a bequest from a woman he had not seen since he was in his 20’s, when he was dating a woman named Veronica, and visited her family. After he and Veronica broke up, she dated his close friend Adrian, who later committed suicide. Now Veronica’s mother has left him Adrian’s journal, but that raises many questions: Why did she want him to have it? Where did she get it?

And where is it?  Her letter says it is enclosed, but it is not. Tony could let it go, but he stubbornly insists on seeing what it is, without considering where it might lead.

We go back in time, the moments and even the gestures mirroring the present as Tony explores the past and reconsiders many of his most fundamental assumptions about how he has lived his life. Veronica (now played with quiet fury by Charlotte Rampling) will not let him to have the journal. Instead she gives him something else, a letter that will make Tony confront one of his most painful and shameful experiences and open up to his ex-wife as he never has before.

The honesty of story’s portrayal of the foolish and selfish mistakes we make and the hurt they can inflict on people around us is tempered by the film’s tenderness toward its characters and the sensitivity of the performances, especially Broadbent and Walter. It judges them less than Tony is pushed to judge himself, and that is why it is so touching.

Parents should know that this movie includes two suicides, some violence, strong language, sexual references and a situation, and tense confrontations.

Family discussion: Why did Victoria’s mother want Tony to have Adrian’s journal?  Why was Tony wrong about Victoria’s brother?  Why did he forget about the letter?

If you like this, try: “The Remains of the Day”

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Based on a book Drama Movies -- format

Brooklyn

Posted on November 25, 2015 at 5:22 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015

“Brooklyn,” based on the book by Colm Tóibín, is exquisitely lyrical, the story of a young woman who immigrates from Ireland to New York in 1952. She is sad, homesick, and lonely at first, then just as she begins to feel at home she is called back to Ireland.

Movies can show us monsters and aliens and explosions but none of that will ever have the quiet power of Saoirse Ronan in close-up. The breathtaking intimacy of being so close to her face, her sky-blue eyes, the lift of her chin, is a story in itself. For once, the Irish-raised actress is using her own accent, and the lilt of it is pure and poetic.

She plays Eilis (pronounced EYE-lish), who lives with her mother and sister Rose in a small town. Rose has helped her make arrangements with a priest in New York (Jim Broadbent) for an apartment and a job. Eilis loves her family. But she is stuck in a part-time job working for a shrew in a grocery store. Ireland in the post-WWII years has little to offer her by way of love or work. And so she takes a voyage. The reason she is the only one at dinner the first night out is revealed when she gets very, very sick. But a sympathetic roommate helps her through and advises her about how to pass muster at Ellis Island — to act like an American, which means looking confident.

Eilis moves into an all-Irish boarding house, owned by the formidable Mrs. Keough (Julie Walters), a sharp-eyed but not unkind woman who can tell the difference between the simpering giggles of the other girls and the shy but steady Eilis. Soon Eilis is working at a department store, where the complexities of the transactions (payment sent to a central location via vacuum tube) and inventory are not as challenging as learning to chat pleasantly with the customers. It is an amusing change from the store in Ireland, where the owner barked at someone for wanting shoe polish on a Sunday, and “Mad Men’s” Jessica Paré is excellent as the manager.

Eilis slowly begins to feel at home.  Ronan’s performance is precise and sensitive.  She shows, not tells us how Eilis begins to bloom through taking some bookkeeping classes and meeting a nice guy, an Italian boy named Tony (the piercingly sweet Emory Cohen).  There is believable magic in their sweetly developing relationship.

And then, there is a tragedy at home and Eilis has to go back to Ireland.  But is that her home anymore?  Can she fit into her old place?  Does she want to?

Director John Crowley is a careful observer, and every moment rewards careful observation from us.  A yawn in church.  The faces of the people at the dock saying goodbye to their emigrating family members.  The look on Eilis’ face as she struggles to tell Tony how she feels — it is a wonder, and one of the year’s best films.

Parents should know that this film includes a non-explicit sexual situation, sexual references, some strong language, and a sad death.

Family discussion: Did Eilis make the right choice? Why or why not? Who was most helpful to her?

If you like this, try: “In America,” another story of Irish immigrants in New York

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Based on a book Date movie Drama Romance

Cloud Atlas

Posted on October 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Six nested stories set in the past, present, and future entwine grand themes of the conflicts between those who would oppress and those who demand freedom, those who must create and those who want to repeat what is already there, those who love and those who are afraid to love or be loved.  Some in the audience will be enchanted by the grand scope of the story-telling and the intricate details of the mosaic that make up each of the story’s parts.  Others will be impatient with the gimmicks and distracted by the prosthetics, wigs, and make-up.  Many will grapple with the frustration of experiencing both reactions.

When they made the “Matrix” films, they were known as the Wachowski brothers, Andy and Larry.  But since then, Larry has become Lana while resisting terms like “transition” as “complicity in a binary gender narrative.”  That clearly fueled the commitment to age, race, and gender fluidity throughout the film. Even the most sharp-eyed cataloger of prosthetic noses and teeth will be surprised as the credits reveal the multiple roles taken by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving (Mr. Smith in the “Matrix” films), Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, James Broadbent, Ben Wishaw, Keith David, Doona Bae, and others.

The oldest story, set in the early 19th century and told in the  traditional style of ahistorical drama, has Sturgess as a man disturbed by the abuse of slaves in the Pacific who is being poisoned by a doctor (Hanks) he thinks is curing him.  His journals become a book on a shelf in the next story, set in the 1930’s, with a musician (Wishaw) writing to the man he loves about assisting a venerated composer and working on his own composition, called “Cloud Atlas.”  In the 1970’s, styled to remind us of that era’s “paranoid cinema” films like “The Parallax View” and “The China Syndrome,”  an investigative reporter (Berry) gets stuck in an elevator with an elderly scientist who gives her some important information about a nuclear facility.  She discovers his 40-years-old correspondence with the musician in his papers.  In the present day, we see something of a shaggy dog story as a British publisher (Broadbent) goes on the run from hooligans and ends up having to escape from a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”-style facility.

Two stories are set in the future.  The first, in what is now Korea, has a “Blade Runner-“ish society made up of consumers and “fabricants.”  One of them sees a movie based on the story of the publisher’s escape (starring Hanks), which helps her understand that she must rebel against the abuses of her society.  Her story becomes part of the origin myths of a post-apocalyptic society hundreds of years even farther into the future, where much of humanity has returned to an almost bronze-age level of technology and everyone speaks in a Jar-Jar Binks form of pidgin English that may have worked better on the printed page but on screen is intrusive and overdone.

As the the “Matrix” films, the more specific and concrete it gets, the less resonance it has.  Its greatest message about human aspiration and inspiration and connection is in the message as medium.  The scope and audacity of this undertaking, the biggest budget independent film in history, with the Wachowskis putting up their own homes to make the final budget numbers, outshines the details that never quite reach the clouds.

Parents should know that this film includes some graphic violence including murders, rape, shoot-outs, knives, arrows, suicide, brutal whipping, poison, car crashes, and a character being thrown off a balcony.  Characters are in peril, injured and killed.  There are dead bodies with disturbing images, some strong words including f-word and n-word, gay and heterosexual sexual references and explicit situations as well as nudity, crude sexual humor, portrayal of slavery and totalitarianism, smoking, and drug use.

Family discussion: Which of the stories was the most compelling and why?  Who was the bravest character?  Who learned the most?

If you like this, try: the book by David Mitchell and the “Matrix” movies

 

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Drama Epic/Historical Fantasy Romance Science-Fiction

The Iron Lady

Posted on January 12, 2012 at 6:43 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violent images and brief nudity
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Some violent images including war and terrorism
Diversity Issues: A theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters: January 13, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B0059XTUVI

A performance by Meryl Streep of endless intelligence, skill, and sensitivity cannot keep this impressionistic portrait of Baroness Margaret Thatcher from being exactly the sort of sentimental nonsense she spent her career trying to avoid. “People don’t think anymore; they feel,” she says in this movie, with infinite disdain. “It used to be about trying to do something,” she says in an earlier scene. “Now it is about trying to be someone.” This film recognizes her point of view but then comes down on the side of feelings and of being rather than doing.

Margaret Thatcher was one of the most influential and polarizing figures of the last half-century. She was the first woman to serve as the British Prime Minister and she held the position for an extraordinary and transformational decade that included highly controversial privatization initiatives, major reductions in the power of unions, and a brief war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

Based on this film, however, one would conclude that she is a dotty old lady who was once fierce, peremptory, and ambitious, but now cannot quite remember what it was all about.  It is always a relief to be spared the usual biopic structure of highlighted anecdotes as a shorthand explanation for the person’s motives and fears, followed by assorted personal and professional high and low points, all conveniently assembled to create the illusion that lives can be neatly dissected.  But, as with “J. Edgar” a few months ago, this film goes too far in the other direction, leaving us with an unreliable, subjective approach.  A movie about a real life should not pretend to be definitive, but it should be illuminating.

Streep is truly magnificent, creating a vibrant character of passion and strength and her scenes with Jim Broadbent as Thatcher’s supportive husband are touching.  But without some sense of what made her so passionate and how she formed her ideas about economics and foreign policy it’s just a less glamorous version of “My Fair Lady.”  A young woman is literally groomed for success, her hair shellacked into an intimidatingly immobile helmet, her voice lowered, her accent raised.  Without a “why,” though, it’s just a trip to the ball.  It is a shame that a film produced and directed by women takes such a diminished view of Thatcher, reducing the scope of any doubts or regrets she might have at the end of her life to house and home and overlooking the fierce engagement with ideas that was truly her core.

(more…)

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Based on a true story Biography Drama Movies -- format
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