REVIEW: Woman in Gold

4 04 2015

Woman in GoldA few months ago, upon seeing the trailer for “Woman in Gold,” I made the snarky suggestion on Facebook that the film was “Philomena” meets “The Monuments Men.”  The calculation wound up being correct, though thankfully the hybrid resembles the Judi Dench charmer more than Clooney’s bomb.

Helen Mirren stars as plainspoken Maria Altmann, an aristocratic Austrian émigré turned Angeleno shop owner.  Back in the 1940s, she fled the Nazi incursion after her cultured family found themselves the target of pointed hostility from the Third Reich’s plunderers.  Maria left before they could take her pride – but not before they confiscated artwork that was rightfully hers, including a portrait by Gustav Klimt that was commissioned by her uncle.

Fast forward half a century, and that same portrait, widely hailed as a national treasure, hangs on the walls of Vienna’s Belvedere Museum.  Maria, meanwhile, hangs her head in despair after the loss of her dear sister.  On a whim, she reaches out to the down-and-out son of a family friend, Ryan Reynolds’ lawyer on the rebound Randol Schoenberg, to see if he can assist her in a restitution claim.

Neither, however, realizes the many personal and cultural nerves they will hit in their years-long quest to right a historical wrong.  Austria’s restitution began as a PR stunt but quickly became a Pandora’s box of past grievances coming back into the light.  “Not everything is about the Holocaust,” opines one upset citizen when spotting Maria after an intense session in court.  The line resonates not only given the recent explosion of anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe but also in a more global sense, where those who did not suffer from past discrimination still cannot fathom grappling with its present-day effects.

“Woman in Gold” provides a very satisfying watch, even though it is definitely far from perfect or groundbreaking.  Director Simon Curtis achieves a feat similar to the one he achieved on his feature film debut “My Week with Marilyn” by providing a consistently engaging, entertaining story with stakes worth the price of admission.  This film, though, does suffer from some less than ideal casting (Reynolds and his on-screen wife Katie Holmes) as well as some unmotivated cutting back to Maria’s backstory as a young woman in Vienna.  Still, I would not hesitate to recommend it for anyone looking for a drama that will not sap all their cognitive energy.  B2halfstars

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REVIEW: The Giver

15 08 2014

The GiverIf there was any doubt that we’re reaching the point of supersaturation with dystopian YA adaptations, “The Giver” confirms that the tipping point has arrived.  I get that life in post-recessional America doesn’t exactly inspire hope, be you a teenager or an adult.  But I doubt real life could be any worse than escaping into this derivative and, often times, outright laughable film.

I first read the film’s source material, Lois Lowry’s Newberry-winning novel that is now a staple of middle school English curricula, as an impressionable 12-year-old in 2005.  At the time, the post-“Harry Potter” adolescent fiction boom had not begun to tarnish the newly bolstered reputation of writing aimed for emerging readers (not even the “Twilight” series had been published).  YA was neither a dirty word nor a marketing buzzword then; it was just my demographic.

Lowry’s book might have been relatively short, but it sure packed a punch.  “The Giver” can serve a crucial function in the escalation of material for language arts, providing a key stepping stone towards more weighty adult literature.  If you can place yourself in the position of a teenager, the dialectical push and pull between order and chaos as well as pain and pleasure are actually quite thought-provoking.

Yet no matter how deeply one might have regarded the thematic content of the novel, it’s entirely possible to discredit “The Giver” as little more than a compilation of shallow marketing hooks for a cookie-cutter dystopian YA film.  The very premise of the story loses sophistication and nuance as it’s forced to fit the mold made popular by “The Hunger Games.”  What made Lowry’s story special is largely discarded in favor the conventional, leaving behind a film that’s a shadow of its literary incarnation.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 19, 2010)

19 11 2010

Looking for a warm Thanksgiving-themed movie to watch while the turkey is in the oven?  Take a bite out of the delectable comedy “Pieces of April,” my timely pick for “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  I watched the movie back in March because of Patricia Clarkson’s Oscar-nominated supporting role, but there’s so much more to love about the movie than her.  I’ve been an enthusiastic fan for quite some time now, and I held back posting about it until now, when the timing seems right.

Think about, we get a plethora of Christmas movies but no love for Thanksgiving?  By the time November rolls around, all the stores are already decorated to sell Christmas gear, XM Radio has already started their Christmas station again, and the retailers start to post their holiday sale information.  There’s so much to celebrate about Thanksgiving, one of the few holidays we have left that isn’t heavily commercialized.  So for all those who think that Thanksgiving is just the day before Black Friday, step away from the wallet and sit on the couch and watch “Pieces of April.”

Since Thanksgiving is a holiday about family, it makes sense that this a movie all about family, both the ones we are forced to be a part of and the ones we make ourselves.  April (Katie Holmes, pre-Tom and Suri madness) is the twenty-something rebel living in New York to maintain a distance from her dysfunctional family, but welcomes them to her tiny apartment for Thanksgiving dinner, potentially the last for her mother Joy (Clarkson), embittered by her breast cancer diagnosis.  The movie follows both sides as they think they have the hardest part of the deal: April actually attempting to cook a turkey and her family making the journey from suburbia.

Each encounter difficulties, with April’s oven breaking and Joy’s negativity forcing them to take some trite and unnecessary delays.  However, April finds that her cooking struggles force her to interact with her neighbors, with whom she had never associated before.  She finds that she can actually be friends with these people, and that’s what makes “Pieces of April” such a great movie for such a great holiday: it’s all about the relationships, both appreciating the ones you have and being open to making new ones.