Friday, February 13, 2015

Love, Lust and Bears: Movie Tips

True love, hot sex, Hollywood egos and a furry face in London.  Those are elements you'll see in these current movies that you might dig as much as I did.  Eddie Marsan was unforgettable as the angry Brit whose temper boils over as he tries to teach a steely optimist how to drive.  Sally Hawkins, the Blue Jasmine Best Supporting Actress of 2013 Oscar nominee, should've received her first Oscar nomination for playing that optimist in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky.  In Marsan's performance, you could practically feel the veins pop out in the neck and forehead of his hot-tempered teacher.
On Showtime, TV viewers see Marsan as the physically disabled former boxer on Ray Donovan, the series starring Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight.                                                                                                          
Eddie Marsan is absolutely marvelous as the plain, simple British gentleman in STILL LIFE.  Unlike his 2008 Happy-Go-Lucky role, his Still Life character is someone very dear.  This movie is like an unexpected little gift.
He plays a caseworker who sorts through the personal effects of recently deceased persons -- people who passed away alone and seemingly forgotten.  John May sorts through the effects in order to find a living relative and give dignity to the deceased in funeral arrangements.  Often, he's the only person in the church pews at some of the funerals.  And he wasn't related to or a longtime friend of the person who died.  He's often the best friend a dead stranger ever had.
Some of the surviving relatives he finds make him see why the deceased were alone.
At home, he lives a simple life alone.  A predictable life.  There's a sameness of what he wears, what he eats and how his non-colorful home looks.

But, in showing care for the recently deceased, he will find some unexpected color and romantic surprise.  His daily existence will no longer seem like still life.  Something will bloom.  Perhaps there a chance of this single man not being alone and forgotten like the people whose funeral services he's attended.  Joanne Froggatt of TV's Downton Abbey co-stars in this story.  She does lovely work.  The movie has a tone as simple as the caseworker's life.  But it's not boring.  Stay with it.  The last act of Still Life is so poignant.  I highly recommend this new British film.  If you loved Alec Guinness in the 1950 classic, Last Holiday, I'm sure you'll be fond of Mr. Marsan in Still Life.
Julianne Moore deserves to win the Best Actress Oscar for her non-maudlin, moving portrayal of a middle-aged university professor and family woman stricken with early signs of Alzheimer's Disease.  This drama is called STILL ALICE.  Alec Baldwin co-stars as Alice's husband and, giving the best performance of her film career so far, Kristen Stewart as Alice's rebellious yet loving daughter.  Julianne Moore has given vivid, inventive movie performances --  Safe, The Big Lebowski, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Far From Heaven, The Hours, The End of the Affair, A Single Man and The Kids Are All Right.  Still Alice features one of her best.  She's brilliant as Alice Howland.

Moore gave another dramatic performance in another 2014 release that is so opposite of her sweet New York City character in Still Alice.  In David Cronenberg's MAPS TO THE STARS, Julianne Moore is terrific as one of the most annoying and self-absorbed middle-aged movie stars in Hollywood.  Pill-popping Havana Segrand makes Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. seem low-maintenance.

Havana's late mother was a 1960s movie sensation.  She was a screen beauty who died in a fire.  Havana wants to star in a remake of the movie that made her mother a star.  No one is interested in making this project with the aging actress -- and the ghost of Havana's mother appears occasionally to criticize her shallow daughter.
Havana wants a new "chore whore."  That's her term for "personal assistant."  She fired the previous one.  Who better to ask for a lead on a good "chore whore" than Carrie Fisher.  Carrie recommends a young lady she met at a Star Wars convention after finding her online.  When Carrie hears of Havana's desire to play her mother, she replies "Every daughter should have that opportunity, right?"

A show biz family still seeks the spotlight in this movie.  That's a cast of characters you want to line up and slap in succession the way The Three Stooges were slapped. Havana, connected to the family, uses three-way sex as a form of Hollywood networking.
Moore has dyed blonde hair, a shade of blonde that accentuates her middle-age.  The hair is too long.  It's perfect for the character. Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right also with Moore and 2011's Jane Eyre) plays the overwhelmed and ultimately humiliated personal assistant.  Robert Pattinson of Twilight vampire movie popularity plays a limo driver.  Keep in mind that this is a David Cronenberg film.  You will see graphic sexual situations, an uncircumcised penis being fondled and a violent Hollywood crime.  You'll hear lines like "Her labia's pierced."  Moore makes this movie, partly a black comedy, fun to watch because her Havana is such a hot mess in need of a major reality check.  Can these Hollywood characters get over the ghosts of their past? Watch and see.
Director Cronenberg also gave us the 1986 remake of The Fly, the auto erotic Crash starring James Spader and Holly Hunter in 1996 and the 2005 drama, A History of Violence.

Reese Witherspoon also deserves to be in the Best Actress Oscar race for her performance in WILD.  Wow.  This is the best film and one of the finest performances she's delivered since her 2005 work as June Carter in the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line.  In Wild, see Witherspoon once again play a real life person.  Cheryl Strayed goes on a long, grueling Pacific Coast hike.  She's also boldly crossing through the wilderness of her troubled soul to get to a spiritual/emotional clearing in her life.  Cheryl has been sexually reckless, did her time with drugs, had a marriage that ended in divorce and she suffered extreme heartbreak when her mother died.

This is a really good, very compelling movie.  One thing that holds you is that Reese Witherspoon is so alive in this performance.  She's fascinating to watch as this strong, flawed woman who keeps a diary of her journey.
The relationship with her mother, played with excellence by fellow Oscar-nominee Laura Dern, is so lovable that you feel Cheryl's grief at the mother's death.  And you understand Cheryl's reckless behavior.  There's a hole in her heart.  That's what makes us act out, whether it's having anonymous sexual hook-ups, drinking, getting high, going on a shopping binge or over-eating.  There's a hunger in our soul that we must tame.  We've all been there.  Watching hiker Cheryl survive Mother Nature's challenges in the wild, deal with men who may have dark motives in the woods and deal with a man on the highway who thinks she's a hobo...they're  all memorable scenes in this well-done movie.  Have a Wild time.  I think you'll like it.

Not getting an Oscar nomination does not mean an actor's work lacked merit.  Nowadays, I often wish we didn't put actors in competition with each other thus making art seem more like a horserace.  However, if Imelda Staunton had received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role as the working class, small town woman who defies town bigotry and embraces diversity in PRIDE, I would have cheered.  She's fabulous and so is the film.  Imelda, playing a real life character, is a woman who may be conservative in her attire but not in her viewpoints.
Three of us film reviewers gave it three very enthusiastic "thumbs up" on one edition of Arise On Screen. the weekend film review & entertainment news show that airs on cable's Arise.TV.

Pride deserved more promotion than it got.  It also needed more specific marketing.  When I saw the lobby posters and the trailer, I expected something along the lines of The Full Monty.  Wrong.  There is humor and a very festive dance scene in the movie but it also deals with some serious and historical events.  Pride is, to a degree, a biopic.

As we mentioned on Arise On Screen, we didn't recall American TV newscasts telling us about British gays and lesbians uniting with striking miners during the Margaret Thatcher era.  This was a major story in Great Britain in the summer of 1984.  Gays were ostracized.  The miners needed better working conditions.  They were socially kicked to the curb.  These two unlikely factions united to form a strong group and changes were made.  One group of underdogs reached out to help another group of underdogs.
This is a true story of gay activism that America knew very little, if anything, about until Pride.  You see the development of straight/gay friendships and the disappearance of ignorance.  Gay activists raised money to help families affected by the British miners strike.  Imelda Staunton is pure gold in a scene with Bill Nighy.  They're old friends simply making sandwiches but the scene is about much more and it's beautifully done.  I loved Imelda Staunton as Hefina Headon (who passed away in 2013).

The whole cast is good.  Like The Full Monty, Pride is a heartwarming movie.

You may be able to see WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD on Amazon.  Actor Chris Meloni is a big, brawny, handsome and versatile actor who acquired a large TV fan base with his work as the killer prison inmate on HBO's Oz and as the tough, compassionate New York City cop on Law & Order: SVU.  This movie got overshadowed by the major box office popularity of Gone Girl.  Both stories show us a wife who disappeared and a husband who wants answers.  Meloni, playing against his TV image, is the passive, somewhat dorky 1980s suburban husband.  Shailene Woodley is a knock-out as the complicated teen  daughter who accompanies her father when seeking help from a detective.

Eva Green supplies even more power as the angry, agitated wife.  We see her in flashbacks and watch the suburban marriage fray at the edges.  The wife starts to dress like a tart.  This mystery has more in common with Mike Nichols' The Graduate than Gone Girl.  Mother and daughter are out to get their lips on the same young dude.  Mom definitely wants to get her "Mrs. Robinson" groove on.
The loving, troubled daughter is left to console her sad and clueless dad.
White Bird in a Blizzard was directed by Gregg Araki, the man who gave us the profane and tender Mysterious Skin.

Here's a situation:  A young Peruvian bear with a sweet, brown face seems to be lost and alone in a big city train station cafe.  You strike up a conversation.  Soon, the bear is going home with you.  Personally, I've had dreams like that which I won't go into right now, but this is the open of a feature that's mighty fine if you need family entertainment.
It's PADDINGTON.  Not outstanding like a Toy Story or The Incredibles in the category of features for kids that will also appeal to adults, but it's not bad either.  It's warm, amusing and the special effects are quite good.  Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville plays the slightly grumpy but lovable head of the London family that takes Paddington home.

I admit it.  I got really tickled watching Paddington try to follow directions as he used an escalator for the first time.

And his bathroom sequence was pretty cute too.  Just the ticket for kids 12 years of age and under.

Paddington finds a family that loves him.  He learns about his own bear family background.  And he escapes from an evil taxidermist played by Nicole Kidman.
Paddington's face was often more animated than hers.  Frankly, I'm concerned.

Well, there you have it.  Some movie entertainment for you to keep in mind.

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