Monday, June 8, 2015


I would pay to see SET FIRE TO THE STARS  a second time.  I liked it a lot.  And it's got good Wood.  Actor Elijah Wood does a fine job indeed as an aspiring poet in the New York City of 1950.  The poet is a Harvard grad who has taken upon himself the potentially soul-sucking deed of trying to save the hard-drinking celebrity poet, Dylan Thomas, during a week-long retreat.  The hell-raising writer is the young man's hero.  They are both headed for an engagement at Yale in Connecticut.  This is a semi-biographical tale.  The young and sweetly insecure aspiring poet hasn't yet learned that sometimes you just shouldn't meet your heroes.  John Brinnin (Elijah Wood) will learn the hard way.
His full, cherubic face can mislead you.  Dylan Thomas is one heavy piece of furniture. When first we see him, he's chasing a pretty babe at a party and puts his head under her dress after she lands on a couch.  Yes, he's drunk.  Later he says, "I'm hungry for something, John."  He's sitting in a bathtub full of water when he says that.  And he's fully dressed.  Young John has his work cut out for him during this road trip.
This Dylan Thomas is not mean.  You care about him because he cares to connect to John.  He does have talent and self-awareness.  "I'm a horrible little imp" and "I'm a drunk!," he tells John.  He feels things.  He can express emotion.  John needs to do that.  He needs to unlock himself more.  This movie is beautifully photographed in black and white.  It's got a cool, jazzy tone to it.  And the film was shot on location in Wales, Thomas' birthplace.  He died in New York City in 1953 at age 39.  Booze did him in.

This movie has the gift of a stellar performance by Celyn Jones as Dylan Thomas.  Wow.  He's terrific in the role.  He can be majestic one moment and a mess the next.  His Dylan Thomas ranges from wise to juvenile, bold and cowardly.  Both poets will touch each others lives in a short time.  Like Thomas did, actor Celyn Jones also hails from Wales.  Andy Goddard has directed several episodes of TV shows but never a film -- until this one.  Let's hope Goddard directs more films.  Goddard also wrote the screenplay.  Actor Celyn Jones co-wrote the screenplay.  Here's a trailer for Set Fire To The Stars.
Black and white was the perfect choice here.  I love black and white cinematography and wish more filmmakers were brave enough to go that route.  George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck, the 2011 Best Picture Oscar winner The Artist, 2013's Nebraska starring Bruce Dern and last year's brilliant feminist-charged tale of a ruthless female vampire in Iran, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, are films that I feel have more emotional texture in black and white than they would had they been shot in color.  Actor Elijah Wood, by the way, was an executive producer for the female vampire thriller.

Wood always gets my attention on screen.  He's got those soulful eyes and a talent for playing a male-for-male intimacy that isn't sexual in a story.  Let's face it -- his Lord of the Rings adventures as Frodo were ripe with bromance.  On TV, I loved Wood in the surreal sitcom Wilfred.  He played the often whiny manic depressive who sees his neighbor's randy dog as a big uninhibited guy in a dog suit.  Lots of wacky homoerotic overtones in that series.  Wood played clueless and closeted dork so very well.
In Set Fire To The Stars, two men see into each other's hidden heartbreak.  They will ignite emotions.  I really dig the look of this film.  We're in 1950.  A time when folks used public pay phones, smoked Pall Mall cigarettes and watch a new home appliance called television.  Of the women in the film, a waitress comes off a bit more like a caricature. She overdoes a bit with the orders diner food slang and the "What's it to ya?" attitude.  There's a married woman named Shirley.  Dylan invites Shirley and her husband over for dinner with him and John.  At first, she looks mousey.  But she seems to have the ammo in her to be a Martha like in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Scottish actress Shirley Henderson delivers a sharp and witty turn as Shirley.

Remember the 1982 comedy movie, My Favorite Year?  Peter O'Toole starred as a top action movie Hollywood star making an appearance on a live TV comedy show.  In a way, that 1982 comedy and this drama have the same blueprint.  A larger-than-life celebrity is recruited to make a personal appearance.  His main handler is a big fan whose life will be disrupted when he, instead of being just a handler, must be more like babysitter and nursemaid to the hard-drinking and irresponsible -- and charming -- celebrity.  Their short time together will be an unforgettable experience.

Subtle and stirring, Set Fire To The Stars boasts sterling performances from Elijah Wood and Celyn Jones.  The foreign film opens here in the U.S. on June 12th.

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