Monday, November 20, 2017

Wonder: The French trailer

I’ve been gushing over this movie every since I saw it a few days ago. I shared my complete thoughts about Wonder on Saturday. Naturalmente, seeing that it may be one of the last times I play along with Paulita Kincer’s Dreaming of France meme—Paulita is going to stop dreaming and make the big move any time now—I thought I’d share the trailer en français. No matter what language, it’s a lovely message. One of inclusion and kindness. The book is also available in French, in paperback, or to download on your Kindle or Nook.
Based on the New York Times bestseller, WONDER tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time.
Auggie is played by Jacob Tremblay in Wonder

It’s the story of a boy who transcends what makes him different and teaches us—in a non preachy way—how to practice kindness. 

Here are two of the french-dubbed bande annonce, followed by the english language trailer. Whatever language you see it in, see it. It really is a special film, putting us in touch with a young man representative of people we’re usually much more comfortable pretending not to see. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Wonder: My take on the movie starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson & remarkable Jacob Tremblay

Based on the New York Times bestseller, WONDER tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time.

After sharing with you that some of those in the craniofacial syndrome community had issues with the film I was a little hesitant about seeing the movie which opened today. Based on the book by R.J. Palacio, August (Auggie) Pullman is played by young actor Jacob Tremblay (he was remarkable in Room), with the help of prosthetics and makeup. Some of the complaints I read expressed regret that Auggie wasn’t played by a real 10 year old boy who had the syndrome themselves who couldn’t take off what amounts to a mask. We heard a similar response to the casting of Sam Claflin as the paraplegic Will Traynor in Me Before You. Why cast an able actor to play a disabled person?

I understand the sentiment and feel sorry that it feels insulting but those complaints don’t take into account how acting really is an art, it’s a skill that takes talent. Extraordinary talent if the film is to work. I don’t know if the producers or director Steven Chbosky searched for a young boy who both had the syndrome and the acting ability, but he would be quite a find. What I think matters most is the light that Wonder shines on the syndrome, and in doing so increases our understanding of what those who have it, go through. As Auggie, Tremblay breaks your heart with his honest portrayal of a brave little boy challenging himself to break out from behind his self imposed mask, the helmet that protects him from the stares and cruelty of children and others. The book was meant for the young and the movie similarly slanted, delivers a ‘be kind’ message without falling into uncool, preach-y territory.

Julia Roberts—who isn’t actually of hispanic descent as the mother in the book is, another complaint—plays Isabella, Jacob’s understandably worried and protective mom. She brings star power to the movie, and star power is what gets movies green lit. ‘‘I hope they’re nice to him’’ she says on his first day of middle school, while we all know they won’t be. At least, not at first. Owen Wilson as his dad is funny and adorable and endearing as a man who takes a back seat to his wife. In the Pullman family, it’s Mother Knows Best, not father, although dad does pull off a couple of genius moves, one which has to do with Auggie’s helmet. New-to-me Izabela Vidovic is lovely as Auggie’s sister Via who tells us Auggie is the son/sun and the rest of the family revolves around him. An issue many kids with disabled siblings understand all too well. 

Noah Jupe (Suburbicon) and Jacob Tremblay become friends

As you might expect, the story begins with Auggie feeling rejected by his classmates who frankly haven’t seen anyone like him before, and by the end of the movie, due to his persistence and the kindness of a few, he’s embraced and loved by all. That’s not a spoiler, you knew that, right? How could a heart-warming movie for kids end any other way? 

The thing is, Wonder spreads an important message, when you have a choice, Be Kind. For me, it echoes my own beliefs, not in a particular religion but in the practice of following the Golden Rule. I hope plenty of kids have a chance to see this movie in their formative years, to help them understand that they will encounter people in their lives who will be different than them. People who may be disabled, physically or mentally, or perhaps people who look different in terms of their skin color or who may be from a different country, people who may ‘speak funny’ or wear strange clothing. People who scare us because we don’t know them, and the unknown is always scary. And when they encounter those people that seem scary at first, to take a breath, be brave and be kind. End of lecture but one note. Every year studios spend gazillions of dollars sending out DVDs to industry award voters. My husband receives them from the DGA, thousands of actors receive them from the Academy, so why not send them out to schools around the country and the world. Really spread the Be Kind message. Okay, now the lecture really is over.

In addition to Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and the film’s young star, the cast of Wonder includes Mandy Patinkon as the caring school principal, Daveed Diggs—Thomas Jefferson/Marquis de Lafayette in the original Broadway cast of Hamilton—as Auggie’s gifted teacher and the acclaimed Sonia Braga in a teensy part as the kids grandma.

Here’s the trailer in case you’ve missed it

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Goldfinch: Sarah Paulson is a Smoking Hot Casting Choice

Having cast Ansel Elgort as Theo, it’s time to get serious about The Goldfinch

Sarah Paulson is the newest addition to the cast. The American Horror Show actor is on a bit of a tear right now with her Golden Globe winning portrayal of Marcia Clarke in American Crime Story propelling her ever forward. Paulson has half a dozen projects in various stages of post and pre-production, The Goldfinch in which she'll play Xandra, among them.

Sarah Paulson cast as Xandra 
‘‘But the restaurant was loud and Xandra (between gulps of white wine—maybe he'd quit drinking but she sure hadn't)was alternately complaining because she couldn't smoke and telling me in a sort of unfocused way how she'd learned to practice witchcraft out of a library book when she was in high school somewhere in Fort Lauderdale. ("Actually, Wicca it's called. It's an earth religion.")
We love Sarah Paulson as Theo’s father’s girlfriend Xandra. Because while I pictured someone a bit more, dare I say it—obviously slutty—her work in American Horror Story has proven her ability to play that kind of gritty character. There is also something caring and maternal at the core of Xandra's character. Paulsen is the kind of exceptional actor who can take a caricature and give her an unexpected level of depth and vulnerability. Also, she clearly knows how to smoke! 

Aneurin Barnard as Boris 
“We looked at each other. And it occurred to me that despite his faults, which were numerous and spectacular, the reason I’d liked Boris and felt happy around him from almost the moment I’d met him was that he was never afraid. You didn’t meet many people who moved freely through the world with such a vigorous contempt for it and at the same time such oddball and unthwartable faith in what, in childhood, he had liked to call “the Planet of Earth.” 
Could Aneurin Barnard—you loved him in War and Peace— be any more perfect to play Boris, Theo’s best friend during his Vegas days and who becomes a central figure later in Theo’s adult life?  

The Goldfinch is just getting underway with director John Crowley—the director of the beautiful Brooklyn—busy setting the key parts. The film is based on Peter Straughan’s screen adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning book. Fingers crossed Straughan delivers a script more akin to his Oscar nominated adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy —he won the BAFTA—rather than his recent adaptation of The Snowman which was a bit of a disappointment.

What do you think of Sarah Paulson as Xandra? Aneurin as Boris? I’d love to hear from you.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Alicia Vikander & James McAvoy meet cute on a deserted beach in Submergence

I’m adding a second clip to the Submergence file, all thanks to the Submergence fan page! Earlier I shared a clip featuring James McAvoy as James More in the film based on the J.M. Ledgard book. 

This second clip includes Alicia Vikander as Dani and shows the two characters ‘‘meeting cute’’ ... as they say in the rom-com world. Of course, Submergence is no rom-com! 

Here’s the movie’s logline ...
In a room with no windows on the eastern coast of Africa, an Englishman, James More, is held captive by jihadist fighters. Thousands of miles away in the Greenland Sea, Danielle Flinders prepares to dive in a submersible to the ocean floor. In their confines they are drawn back to the Christmas of the previous year, where a chance encounter on a beach in France led to an intense and enduring romance.

Thanks @submergencefan! Directed by the legendary Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) the film has been picked up by Samuel Goldwyn Mayer Films so plan on seeing Submergence in theaters sometime in the new year. Lots of time to read the book first!

Watch Submergence Clip #1 featuring James McAvoy

Submergence starring James McAvoy & Alicia Vikander: Watch the clip!

You’ve gotta love the internet. Yesterday I said I wish there was a trailer for Submergence starring James McAvoy & Alicia Vikander. Today I was tweeted a short clip from the movie by the creators of a Submergence fan page! They created the page after seeing the movie for themselves at the San Sebastian Film Festival this September in Spain. Thanks for sharing @submergencefan!

The clip is a tiny teasing look at a moment from this wide-ranging film. I’m so intrigued! Apparently it’s a love story entangled up in a bundle of ideas. Based on J.M. Ledgard novel, these ideas, according to the Guardian, are messily handled.  
"Submergence feels like a clumsy melange, a confused adaptation made by people who don’t seem quite sure exactly what they have on their hands’ ... Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy." There’s a lot going on in Wim Wenders’s latest, and arguably most accessible, film, Submergence. It’s a love story, it’s a spy thriller, it’s an underwater adventure, it’s about terrorism, it’s about climate change, it’s about being ghosted by text (!). But ultimately – sadly, predictably – it’s also a bit of a mess."
Which may be why we haven’t seen a trailer! I took a look online, hoping to find more positive reviews but time and again I came up with negative viewpoints.

From Variety: 
Wenders has never let go of the languid reflective pacing, the morosely droopy scenes that dither and digress, the long-and-winding structure that theoretically holds a movie together but is too abstract to lend it a real shape. 
From IndieWire:
Choked by overwrought trappings and suffocated by an unforgiving narrative structure, Wim Wenders’ “Submergence” is only bolstered by a pair of sterling performances from stars Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy, both of whom somehow rise above the lackluster film they’re sunk into. Based on J.M. Ledgard’s novel of the same name and adapted by screenwriter Erin Dignam (who previously penned Sean Penn’s much-maligned “The Last Face”), the film revels in playing up hinky parallels that rarely coalesce into anything of much substance. It sinks. 

Then I found this from the Hollywood Reporter. Light at the end of the dark tunnel!
James McAvoy and Alicia Vikander play separated lovers in Wim Wenders' romance, his most broadly accessible fiction film in ages.
A study of longing in conditions both desperate and profound, Wim Wenders' Submergence follows lovers who, having known each other just a day or three, must endure a separation that may never end. James McAvoy and Alicia Vikander make a photogenic pair in this sometimes sweepingly romantic film, the most roundly satisfying fiction feature Wenders has made since, well, that first one about the angel so in love he gives up immortality. More conventional than Wenders' best-loved work, it should manage to please some old fans while reaching — thanks to star power — younger moviegoers who've never heard of him.
More thematically restrained than some of Wenders' grander films, this one is only about love, the origins of life, the increasing scarcity of natural resources and the conflict between the West and radical Islamist terrorism. But where he has occasionally had a weakness for clunky allegory or let his narratives' themes spin out of control (as in the thought-provoking but hydra-like Until the End of the World), this one, with Erin Dignam's script adapting a novel by J.M. Ledgard, finds natural places for its concerns. Its intelligent pairing of real-world crises with heartache calls to mind Fernando Meirelles' adaptation of John le Carré's The Constant Gardener, though this film lacks that one's involving mystery.

As we learned yesterday, Samuel Goldwyn Mayer has picked up the distributor rights so we will be seeing Submergence here in the states. Will there be re-editing or will the legendary Wim Wender’s work stand as is? For those of us who are fans of McAvoy, Vikander or both, surely this is a welcome addition to their canon. 

Let’s take a look at what director Wenders and James McAvoy had to say about the film at TIFF.

You can also follow the Submergence fan page on Facebook, where they take the critics’ attacks and share their counterpoint, one by one. This is definitely a film I want to see for myself. Fingers crossed, we’ll get the chance early in 2018. Anybody out there a fan of the book and/or movie already? 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Can't wait to see the trailer for Submergence starring James McAvoy and Alicia Vikander

 Submergence starring James McAvoy and Alicia Vikander screened at TIFF earlier in the fall, the Wim Wenders’ directed film lacked an American distributior. Samuel Goldwyn Mayer has stepped in to fill that gap, promising to bring the movie to US movie goers in 2018. I love what Wenders says about the film:

“Our film has global dimensions and shows all the beauty of our planet, but also its conflicts and violence. I had Dr. Martin Luther King’s words in capital letters on the front page of my script: 'You cannot drive out darkness with darkness. Only love can do that.' That’s why the love story is our driving element. I’m happy we’re in the hands of Samuel Goldwyn Films for our American release."

Here’s the lowdown on the 2011 book by J.M. Ledgard: 
In a room with no windows on the coast of Africa, an Englishman, James More, is held captive by jihadist fighters. Posing as a water expert to report on al-Qaeda activity in the area, he now faces extreme privation, mock executions, and forced marches through the arid badlands of Somalia. Thousands of miles away on the Greenland Sea, Danielle Flinders, a biomathematician, half-French, half-Australian, prepares to dive in a submersible to the ocean floor. She is obsessed with the life that multiplies in the darkness of the lowest strata of water.

Both are drawn back to the previous Christmas, and to a French hotel on the Atlantic coast, where a chance encounter on the beach led to an intense and enduring romance. For James, his mind escapes to utopias both imagined and remembered. Danny is drawn back to beginnings: to mythical and scientific origins, and to her own. It is to each other and to the ocean that they most frequently return: magnetic and otherworldly, a comfort and a threat.
Boy, do I want to see this! In the meantime, a trailer would be great but I haven’t seen hide nor hair of one. Have any of you festival goers out there seen this one at either TIFF or the Hamburg Film Festival or the Warsaw Film Festival in October? Tell us about it.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Wonder stars Jacob Tremblay as a boy with a craniofacial condition. The controversy.

Wonder began as a middle school reader written by R.J. Palacio. Next week on November 17th, it hits our movie screens with Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Tremblay as Auggie, the boy with a ‘cranio-facial difference’ going to school for the first time. Tremblay is the remarkable young actor who played Brie Larson’s son in Room. Lionsgate has just released this new featurette about the making of the movie. 

While most of those who’ve seen the movie see it as a message of hope and kindness, the film has its detractors. There are those who object to the fact that the young actor is wearing the disability like a mask that can be removed while those who have this very real cranial difference can’t simply remove the makeup and return to their adorable looking selves. 

Jacob Tremblay as Auggie (left)  Tremblay without the makeup

"Rat boy. Freak. Monster. Freddy Krueger. E.T. Gross-out. Lizard face. Mutant. I know the names they call me. I've been in enough playgrounds to know kids can be mean. I know, I know, I know." 
- Excerpt From: "Wonder" by R. J. Palacio

Take a look at what Ariel Henley, a young woman who grew up with Crouzon Syndrome wrote for 

It's not Halloween, take off the mask," a stranger yelled to me from his car window, as I walked home from class. The man continued howling as he drove passed me. I avoided eye contact with the people around me and hurried into the nearest academic building, where I hid in a bathroom to cry. I was 21 years old, and a student at the University of Vermont. Though I've long been used to living with Crouzon syndrome, a craniofacial condition that resulted in disfigurement, I've never been willing to accept the cruel ignorance that often surrounds me.
Growing up with a disfigured face, the belief that I was inferior and unworthy of basic equality was ingrained in me. We live in a world where physical appearance often dictates our role in society. And even worse than the public mocking and ridicule, is the fact that history's long standing cultural attack on those living with facial differences remains a widely unrecognized issue.
According to popular media—film, television, and books—to be disfigured means to be evil. In movies, villains are often disfigured. There's Freddie Kreuger, Scarface, and Darth Vader. This message is even planted into children's minds. In Lion King, the evil character is even named "Scar." The subliminal messaging present in entertainment is harmful and damaging to those living with facial differences.
Aside from the villain niche, the mainstream representation of individuals with physical differences is practically nonexistent. Perhaps that's why I was elated to discover the film Wonder, (set to release late this year) a story about a child named Auggie—a ten-year-old boy who was born with a craniofacial condition and lives with a facial disfigurement. Based on the book by R.J. Palacio, the story chronicles Auggie's experience as he enters a mainstream school for the first time, and how his classmates react to him.
According to Palacio's website, the author was inspired to write Wonder after her own child reacted negatively to seeing a young girl with a craniofacial condition at an ice cream parlor—a story I found all too familiar. Growing up, I was unable to leave my house without facing public ridicule. I know what it is to be that girl. I know what it means to have people repulsed by and afraid of your very existence—to be treated like a monster.
"When my younger son looked up and saw her, he reacted exactly the way you might think a three-year-old would react when seeing something that scared him: He started to cry—pretty loudly, too," Palacio says, on the site. While the author goes on to acknowledge the problematic and offensive nature of her son's reaction, it doesn't justify writing a book about an experience she has never lived. How can someone without a disfigurement, who has no idea what it's like to actually be disfigured, who has no idea what it's like to have traumatic head and face surgery, who has no idea what it's like to not belong anywhere in society, write a book about it?
In addition to the book, the film adaptation of Wonder, has further demonstrated just how far people like me still have to go in terms of mainstream inclusion. Starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay, the abled, whitewashed casting of the film transformed a story that was supposed to give a voice to those of us with craniofacial disorders into a situation of oppression.
You see, Tremblay, the actor cast to play Auggie (who, remember now, is supposed to have a craniofacial condition and facial disfigurement), does not even have a "facial difference." That's the phrase often used to describe what I have, which resulted from the premature fusion of my cranial joints. Facial differences are typically facial characteristics of individuals with craniofacial conditions—widely spaced eye sockets, underdeveloped upper jaw, large skull, and slanted eyes that bulge from the face. Instead, Tremblay will be made to look disfigured with prosthetics and heavy makeup. The actor will also fake a speech impediment. There are numerous actors with disabilities who could have been hired to play these roles.
As someone with a craniofacial condition, I wanted to like the fact that there was going to be a major motion picture about a child with experiences that were meant to be similar to mine. For the first time, I'd be able to see someone like me in a character on the big screen. Like Auggie,  I endured numerous surgeries to correct facial disfigurements. I grew up trying to understand why I was different and why I didn't belong. I was constantly on the outside. Individuals who looked like me, who had conditions like mine, were never written about in books.
There weren't children who looked like me anywhere: not on television or in movies. While I wanted to like that Wonder was supposed to tell a story similar to mine, I didn't. Because even though people with craniofacial conditions are often mocked for their appearance, called monsters, and told to remove their "masks," directors decided to cast a generic looking child and have him do just that—wear a mask. But unlike Tremblay, those of us with craniofacial conditions cannot remove our faces. We can't take off a mask, wipe off makeup, and suddenly blend into society. While Tremblay and the rest of the cast can go home after filming and readjust to their privileged, abled lives, those of us with facial differences continue to countenance ignorance, adversity, and marginalization on a daily basis. The makers of Wonder have not yet replied to my request for comment.
"I wonder how you, the rest of the facial difference community, and I will feel when we see the movie and we see how hard the make-up artists work to make the actor look like you and me, figuratively, when they could have just asked one of our young peers to play the role," says Jenny Kattlove, who was diagnosed with hemangioma—a condition that caused benign tumors to grow on her face—as a child. The more I think about it, the more upset I get about it. Are we [the facial difference community] not worthy of representing ourselves?"
The National Craniofacial Association reports that one to two of every 1,000 babies born in the United States will have a craniofacial condition. Individuals with craniofacial disorders and facial disfigurements help make up the more than 50 million individuals living with disability in the US. According to research from the Ruderman Foundation, individuals with disabilities account for 20 percent of the population, yet fewer than 1 percent of characters on television are portrayed as having a disability. To make matters worse, disabled characters are rarely played by disabled actors. In fact, 95 percent of disabled characters are portrayed by able-bodied actors. We saw this at the 2017 Oscars, where four of the nine movies up for Best Picture had disability-related themes, yet not a single actor in a disability-related role, had an actual disability.
The casting of Tremblay to play Auggie is not the only problematic casting issue in this film. Julia Roberts, a caucasian actress, will play the role of Auggie's mom—a Latina woman. It's not okay for cultures or ethnicities to be costumes, and it's not okay for my disfigurement and my medical condition to be a mask. It's racist, ableist, and does a great disservice to the communities they claim to represent.
"For the past 10 years, we have quantified disturbing patterns around the lack of media representation concerning females and people of color in film. Despite elevated awareness around this issue, the numbers have not budged," a recent report from USC reads. And while people of color, women, trans and/or gender nonconforming individuals, and every other marginalized population absolutely deserve increased representation in Hollywood, individuals with disfigurements are completely left out of almost every single inclusion-related study. "Shifting from invisibility to inclusion is no easy task. Companies have the opportunity to dismantle the structures and systems that have guided decades of exclusionary decision-making," the report continues. Yet, as we see in films like Wonder, they simply choose not to.
"It must change. Wonder was an astonishingly perfect, easy opportunity to start, and they failed at the first hurdle, apparently without even trying," says Mike Moody, who was born with Crouzon syndrome. "I'm honestly quite angry about the film. I often think about how, when I was nine, I would absolutely have gone to the original Harry Potter auditions had they been easily accessible, just to try—and now, a part specifically existing for a disfigured young actor is stolen, and it's incredibly dispiriting."
Update 3/14/17: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the makers of Wonder have yet to reply to our requests for comment.
I’m hoping that when the film opens we will all find that it’s a sensitive portrayal and that rather than casting a negative light, it illuminates the issue, teaching those of us in the able community to be not just kind, but more open, under standing and accepting of people different that the rest of us. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

First US Trailer for Stratton starring Dominic Cooper

An American trailer for the British film Stratton starring Dominic Cooper has just been released. The film about a British Special Boat Service commando who tracks down an international terrorist cell threatening London is inspired by the book series by Duncan Falconer. Falconer himself is a former Special Service Boat Commando and writes from first hand experience. 

I’m not sure that Dominic Cooper has the star power to bring in US audiences and the reviews in the UK were not kind. 

The Telegraph called Cooper “lethally bland’’ and the movie a ‘‘dull flop’’ while the Guardian called it ‘‘moderately silly’’. A shame since if the movie did well, there is a whole series of titles waiting to be adapted. I haven’t heard of the book series which sounds like a genre my husband might be more interested in than I am. Are there any Falconer fans out there? Stratton which opened in the UK and Europe this past September opens in select US theaters + on VOD starting January 5th, 2018. Interested?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Happy BIrthday Leo DiCaprio: Let's Watch "Revolutionary Road"

It's Leonardo DiCaprio's birthday which means we're legally required to watch a Leo movie. I went back to my archives to dig up this past Saturday Matinee and an eternal favorite. Here we go ... 

In honor of the Golden Globes airing tomorrow night, todays Saturday Matinee stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, both former Golden Globe winners and both nominated again this year. Leonardo DiCaprio, last years Golden Globe winner for The Wolf of Wall Street is nominated for The Revenant, while Kate Winslet—a ten time Golden Globe nominee and two time winner—is nominated for best supporting actress in Steve Jobs.

So what movie shall we watch together today? Titanic which promises an ocean of tears, a memorable story of explosive young love, stopped from fading only by an event of epic proportions? 

Or Revolutionary Road which all too realistically portrays a couple imprisoned by their own and the worlds expectations of what life, marriage, and family are supped to look like in the 1950s? A depressing, if beautifully rendered look, at young love as it devolves into negative space. 

“This film is so good it is devastating.” 
Roger Ebert

Yes, of course. Were watching 2008Revolutionary Road based on the 1961 novel by Richard Yates. Both Winslet and DiCaprio were nominated for a Globe, with the extraordinary Winslet winning in her category. 

“If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy.” 
Richard Yates, author, Revolutionary Road

Scripted by Justin Haythe, the film was directed by Winslet’s then husband, Sam Mendes, who was also nominated for his work here. Mendes, who gave us the last two Bond films, Skyfall and Spectre, won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for American Beauty. Mendes is a man who clearly understands darkness and desperation. I imagine he relates to what the author Richard Yates said about the novel’s theme.

The set design and decoration earned the film an Oscar nomination along while the Foreign Press gave the costume design from Albert Wolsky the nom. Both beautiful replications of the 1950s world they evoke. The acclaimed Roger Deakins was the cinematographer, the music is from the oft-nominated Thomas Newman. Basically a high calibre film on the talent front including a performance by Michael Shannon strong enough to earn him an Oscar nomination.

The late great Roger Ebert loved the film saying that Leo and Kate “ are so good, they stop being actors and become the people I grew up around.”  

Ready? Revolutionary Road is available to stream on iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, Google-Play, and Amazon.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express: What I liked about the ride.

A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man's race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.
‘‘It’s getting horrible reviews,’’ I told my husband. ‘‘We don’t have to worry about getting seats ahead of time.’’ 

When we got to the theater for the first showing of Murder on the Orient Express we were surprised to find that while the show wasn’t sold out, it was a very crowded house. I guess we weren’t the only ones who wanted to judge the movie for ourselves.

The short story: We knew the story going in, having read the book and seen the prior versions of the Agatha Christie classic, which might have helped. It may also have been that our expectations were so low that exceeding them was hardly something to brag about. In any case we genuinely enjoyed the movie, and judging by the response of many in the audience who gave it a smattering of applause when Murder on the Orient Express was over, we weren’t alone. 

I’d been really concerned about Kenneth Branagh’s mustache (moustache?) having such a bias towards David Suchet’s dark curly model. And Branagh himself, his height and his graying hair, the moustache that spreads across the lower half of his face like a horizontally growing vine, vs the short little man Agatha Christie created seemed an insurmountable problem to me. But he won me over with his humorless devotion to his task, his mindful gathering of the facts, his determination to to judge right from wrong and balance the scales of justice. Both as an actor and the director, to my mind, Branagh delivered the story as the serious whodunnit Agatha Christie wrote. While he made the story more relevant to today’s audience by adding diversity to the cast and changing the initial crime that opens the film to one that centers on the idea of a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim, he made few other embellishments. For some indiscernible reason Branagh did add a minor note, a long ago love interest for Poirot, an addition that seemed completely unnecessary but ultimately it was an addition that didn’t bother me. He didn’t mock the material by making it over the top.

Johnny Depp, as Edward Ratchett, worried me as much as Branagh did. Depp has a well-known tendency to overdo, and judging by the trailers I was expecting little more than a caricature. As it turned out, his scarred gangster felt right. And as is the case with most of the cast, his screen time is limited, his more so than most.

Michelle Pfeiffer delivered—as always—and for his part, Josh Gad brought a tear to my eye. The balance of the cast in the ensemble were for the most part, fine. Branagh did his best his make the interview process visually interesting which is why Daisy Ridley is outside supposedly freezing next to the snow-bound train, sans gloves!

Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr, Judi Dench, Elizabeth Coleman, Willem Dafoe and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo played their parts in this ensemble with remarkable humility. Everyone—with the exception of Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton in an overly showy bit as the count and countess—seemed content to be supporting actors’ to Branagh’s star turn as Poirot. 

The film is gorgeous to look at, from the exotic locale of its opening scene set in Istanbul to the sumptuous surroundings of the luxurious Orient Express itself as it wends its’ way through shimmering snow-covered mountains. The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos (Cinderella, Thor) was technically brilliant with the exception of a couple of questionable shots which were so out there that director Kenneth Branagh surely was complicit: the first had the camera looking down on the action when the murder victim is revealed. I can’t imagine what Branagh thought was to be gained by giving us a view of the tops of the actors’ heads. The other is a moving shot used while the train is stopped on the tracks with Branagh as Poirot and Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham sitting poised between the open carriage doors. The camera travels down below the opening and up above it as though it were some sort of amusement park ride before it comes down to settle on the conversation in the train car. All it achieved was a giant question mark and a vague queasiness.

Production design by Jim Clay and his art and set direction teams was spot on as was the period perfect costume design by Alexandra Byrne. 

Academy Award material? No. The movie didn’t reach down and grab me by my gut. It didn’t have the qualities of transcendence and transformation we find in Oscar winning movies. It didn’t teach me or show me anything new. 

But was it an entertaining one hour and fifty four minutes? Definitely. My recommendation: Keep your expectations in check and enjoy.

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express: Set Design

Everyone Is A Suspect

Luckily, none of these actors have been accused of sexual assault or harassment. 

Another day, another round of allegations. Kevin Spacey is being cut from a film set for release in December. Charlie Sheen denies he abused Corey Haim when the actor was just 13. Jeffery Tambor has been accused of sexually assaulting his assistant. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world. Make that it’s a sad, sad, sad, sad world.

In that light, looking for some light relief, I’m ignoring the critics who seem universally opposed to Murder on the Orient Express and going to see the film when it opens here in LA tonight. It’s not just critics, a friend who saw an early screening said, and I quote, Agatha Christie will be rolling over in her grave. On the other hand, another friend gave it high marks and said she even got used to Kenneth Branagh’s moustache.

That being said, check out this mini featurette highlighting the set design. I’m hoping the set design, the glorious costumes, a story as comfortable as an old shoe will make for an entertaining couple of hours and an evening out with my husband tonight. Sometimes, that’s really all one needs in a film. 

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