Masterful, brilliant performances imbue this torturous saga of self-discovery; a struggle to chastise demons, doubts, destroying one's mental, psychological, physical path to health and inner peace.
Joaquin Phoenix, in a role, likely never to be repeated, is "Freddie Quell" suffering from post-traumatic–stress-disorder, largely undiagnosed after World War II; a veteran of the Pacific front, he is a misfit, volatile, alcoholic, working as a department store photographer in 1950. Phoenix in his every gesture, smile, walk is frightening, illuminating in depicting Freddie's paranoia and combustibility; he shrinks, getting thinner, skeletal as as his psychosis deepens throughout the film.
Philip Seymour Hoffman's genius portrayal as "The Master" "Lancaster Dodd" is incredulous. From the moment he meets "Freddie" who in a drunken stupor, has stowed away on a boat taking Dodd's family to New York; his hypnotic powers are electrifying, captivating; he cultivates the relationship with insouciant charm and a will of steel. Freddie and "The Master" develop a bond that is more than Svengali and protégée, it is a pairing that feeds off each other; a yin and yang so addictive that ideology cannot cure the craving. Unforgettable scene, of exorcism proportions has Freddie, with eyes closed, going back and forth from wall to window, describing what he feels; Dodd orchestrates the endless, painful cleansing until Freddie and the audience scream "enough".
Dodd is master of "The Cause", leading with a messianic drive and hypnosis, a core of dedicated disciples (vaguely referencing Scientology), who find meaning by time-travel, sometimes receding thousands of years, to unearth the "self" buried under layers of obfuscation. Dodd is mesmerizing, irresistible, his lectures a divine combination of levity, laughter and wisdom. Whether a charlatan or genuine there is no denying his craftsmanship.
Amy Adams gives a chilling performance as Peggy Dodd (most likely the third wife); she will suffer no indiscretions and her gentleness masks a woman of substance and power.
Emotionally pulverizing this is not a film for those looking for escape from the trauma of everyday life. Director Paul Thomas Anderson bulldozes boundaries and gifts viewers two memorable characters; flawed, human, ultimately imprisoned in their own minds, wills.
THREE STARS & 1/2 STARS!!!
Bollywood is still grasping, fighting for a piece of the Western film pie and this enchanting tale should garnish its fair share; if only audiences did not shun this genre that has captivated Eastern viewers for decades.
"Barfi" is a deaf/mute who listens and hears only the sound of his pure spirit, eliminating the cacophony of noisy nothingness; his love of life is tangible, free from the shackles of predetermined behavior; his priorities so finely tuned he generates an aura of joyful spirituality. Ranbir Kapoor's performance is mesmerizing; vestiges of Raj Kapoor, Charlie Chaplin emanate in his portrayal; wordlessly he conveys his bountiful love, depth of empathy; instincts, like a priceless Stradivarius violin, flawlessly refined; he is life, light.
Barfi falls madly, passionately in love with "Shruti" (gorgeous, heartfelt performance by Ileana D'Cruz), whose upcoming quasi "arranged" marriage presents a huge roadblock in the nurturing of their relationship. Shruti is conveying the story through a series of flashbacks. The film is rich in questioning stifling traditions; when does the heart take precedence over the intellect? Does a past love ever die, or fade away?
The brilliant core of the film revolves around "Jhilmil" an autistic young woman whose fragile essence is traumatized as she is shuffled from one home to another. Priyanka Chopra gives an iconic performance, worthy of the highest accolades; without sensationalism she encapsulates the typical symptoms of the autistic individual: fear of "touch", lack of eye contact, uncontrollable, nervous, frenetic movement; living in an enigmatic world that allows no entrance, no trust.
Director Anurag Basu has produced a charismatic gem; "Barfi" at times silly, tearful, but always wise and warm; a less than typical, more realistic conclusion; a genuine, happy fantasy that lingers long after the final credits; happiness, what more can anyone ask, or need from a film?
Never enamored with the sobriquet "chick flick"; admittedly there are films that fall into that genre. "Beloved" garnishes a slot. It is French Marshmallow Fluff; vanilla, sickeningly saccharine, sentimental, sensational and I could not wait for it to be over.
Spanning decades, Ludivine Sagnier as "Madeleine": young, vivacious prostitute who marries a "John" has a daughter, divorces; ingÃ©nue "Madeleine" matures into seasoned adulthood; Catherine Deneuve, still luscious, imbues the character with salty sinuousness, balancing her ex-husband (delightful depiction by Milos Forman) and present mate; she watches her adult daughter "Vera" (Deneuve's actual daughter, Chiara Mastroianni) fall tragically in love with a homosexual musician. The successful, subtle nuances between the two should have been capitalized upon; gracing the screen with compelling chemistry.
"Beloved" is too ambitious, indecisive and flounders between monumental issues: infidelity, Russia's invasion of Czechoslovakia , AIDS, heartache, all set to music; the lyrics are hummable, recognizable and struggle to compliment the scenario, but only "aid" the melodramatic, meandering, predictable outcome.
TWO & 1/2 STARS
"Arbitrage" is the simultaneous buying and selling of a security at two different prices in two different markets, resulting in profits without risk." It is NOT illegal and this film does NOT address "arbitrage".
Predictably, the successful capitalist is untoward, manipulative, earning his ill-gotten wealth, not by skill and ingenuity but subterfuge, fraud. Devastatingly handsome Richard Gere is "Robert Miller" the "master of the universe" , the "rainmaker", the hedge-fund king whose "Midas touch" is in jeopardy of turning bronze; Gere imbues the character with enough smarmy charm and sagacity to captivate the viewer. Reminiscent of "Bonfire of the Vanities" an adulterous affair could result in his undoing; nevertheless a streak of the humane saves "Robert" from drowning in moral turpitude.
A solid supporting cast lend a fragment of legitimacy to "Arbitrage": Susan Sarandon is "Ellen Miller" the fund-raising, feisty philanthropist, "turning a blind eye" to Robert's indiscretions; a wife, not to be taken for granted but to be leery of; Brit Marling portrays Robert's daughter "Brooke", bright, naive CFO of the soon to be sold Miller empire; the destruction of her idealism was forecast from the commencement of the scenario. It is the performance of Nate Parker , as the ex-con "Jimmy Grant", who rescues Robert from a catastrophic collision that gifts the film a level of dignity, integrity; his steely character, true grit, loyalty and obstinacy earn "Arbitrage" an extra star.
In conclusion, there were too many discrepancies. Whose car was involved in the accident? Why did the writers, director misinterpret the true meaning of "arbitrage"? In the myriad of millionaires, are there any untainted, unscathed, free from illegal guise, graft? Any to be lauded, instead of maligned? If so, instead of being portrayed as evil, avaricious, lacking a moral compass, the blight of the middle class; how refreshing to concentrate on the few and mighty whose talents increase productivity, pay the bulk of tax revenues, empower their foundations to rescue the less fortunate; those who live and recognize "to whom much is given, much is expected"; whether documentary, fable or fiction it would be an interesting diversion from the ubiquitous doses of "the capitalist rogue".
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!
If you are driven to see this drab, depressing, droning film, check "On Demand"; at least in the privacy of your home you can self-medicate; aiding, wading through a well-performed but meaningless tale of angst at the end .
Fine actors (Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis) cannot salvage this story of a dying, wealthy, Australian matriarch, luring her hapless children back into the poisonous luxury of their ancestral adobe; the year is 1972, and the bitter taste of the Holocaust is still palatable in the role of a German housekeeper.
At first the viewer empathizes with "Elizabeth Hunter" (Rampling) beloved by her "help", shunned by her children, "Basil" (Rush), "Dorothy" (Davis); gathered around her deathbed to suck the spoils of her imminent demise. But as the film progresses, through a series of flashbacks, we recognize why her children strayed so far from the hearth; "mommy dearest" on steroids; she steals her daughter's lovers, refuses to attend her son's stage performances; beds whomever she fancies; she is amoral, unaccountable, vainglorious, self-centered; her erasure should have come at a precipitated rate.
Novels by James Michener and James Clavell address the calm, aka "eye" before the apocalyptic conclusion. "The Eye of the Storm" offers a behemoth's tiresome struggle against the inevitable; there is nothing calming about the process.
In Terrence Malick's film "The Tree of Life" there is a twenty minute sequence that depicts the birth of the world, the Big Bang Theory; it is breath-taking and the only reason to see the movie. Ron Frick and Mark Magidson's "Samsara" is a glorious extravaganza, a homage to the universe through the eyes of imposing, innovative geniuses. Wordlessly, we travel through 25 countries, accompanied by the haunting sound track of Michael Stearns, Lisa Gerrard and Marcello De Francicisci; hypnotically, we tramp through temples, fly over the formidable dunes of Namibia, interrupt monks at prayer; marvel at the disparity between wealth and poverty in the third world; mourn the devastation left in the wake of hurricane "Katrina"; dance with the limbered, beautifully, intentionally- deformed hands of Indonesian beauties; see the frenetic processing plants in Japan and China: watch the fascinating evolution from life, death, to the markets, of livestock, robotically accomplished by thousands of anonymous factory workers; crawl through the detritus, garbage with the rag -pickers in India.
The unrelenting pace, dizzying speed in which Fricke and Magidson touch upon all religions; the manufacture of guns and bullets; nature and man working in tandem and against each other; unblinking individuals, indistinguishable from sculptural artifacts, gifts the viewer a roller-coaster ride of exhilarating, exhausting magnitude; witnessing visual, sensual, incredulous pageantry.
It is daunting to choose a resonating scene, they are all meaningful, mesmerizing, memory-binding; but seeing the "inmates" performing in perfect harmony; a pristine Frenchman transform himself from mundane to monster; a single tear descending the luminous cheek of an Asian angel; vast, cinematic landscapes referencing God's and man's omnipotence, magnificence; leaving one with a sense of peace, grace, wonder and awe that filmmakers, taking seven years, have produced a tour de force; unquestionable eminence, destined to reign permanently, in the hierarchy of film masterpieces.
A tale within a tale within a tale of three authors; at its core a scenario of plagiarism, the act of stealing another's idea, lying and convincing the world, and yourself, it is your creation, your brain-child; it has been around since antiquity, and undoubtedly will continue until the end of time.
This is a good film: well-scripted, presented, comprised of an excellent cast. Bradley Cooper stars (also produces) as the conflicted novelist, "plagiarist" "Rory Jansen" whose lust for approbation, recognition, of his skill has gone unrequited; years of drudging, agonizing hours in front of a computer; words, thousands of words, cascading, sculpting thundering thoughts, doors of the dictionary opening, spilling forth at a spell-binding pulse, pungently powerful, potent language never realized on a page before. Rory, flawed but likeable, must address his trepidations, limitations; torpedo his wife's (lovely, lithesome Zoe Saldana) gustatory worship, carve a life from the rubble of a diminished psyche.
Jeremy Irons as the wronged author is mesmerizing; he empowers his performance with immense dignity; living a life in obscurity; one brief moment of brilliance, a supernova; a manuscript composed in the late 1940's; uniquely compelling, beautiful, never to be replicated, gone forever, until Rory rears his plagiaristic "pen".
Dennis Quaid completes the triad, as a successful writer, narrating his most recent book entitled "The Words" and weaves the plot, lacking transparency, that deliciously allows the viewer to decipher.
One is left pondering what drives someone to literary kidnapping; what transpires, deforms one's judgment when the realization strikes that your "best" is frozen mediocrity; a psychological Rubix Cube, demanding years on the "couch" of an expert in the deviations, inconsistencies of the human condition. Herein lies the success of "The Words".
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!
This candidly remarkable film is not for everyone, but more than any movie in recent memory, deals honestly with the staggeringly powerful tentacles of addiction; a hunger that imprisons the body and more pivotally the mind.
"Anders" is granted a day in Oslo after ten months in rehabilitation; he is clean but terrified of unshackled freedom, the bane, angst of choice. Anders Danielsen Lie's breathtaking depiction of this brilliant, tortured soul will haunt you days after viewing; he is an aesthete, gaunt, an "El Greco" replica, blessed with a smile devastatingly, painfully poignant; peppered with pain, vulnerability.
His day in Oslo symbolizes, mirrors a reflection of his past experiences; his friends, lost love, memories of a life lived in the warmth, cocoon, haze of addiction, the fleeting invincibility, the rewards of obfuscating reality, the nightmare of waking to a world uninhabitable, without cocaine, heroin. The quiet, pristine orderly streets of Oslo in contrast to the tumultuous, chaotic psyche of Anders is a splash of genius from director, Joachim Trier.
"Oslo, August 31'" is one man's journey, searching, questioning but always realizing the answers hover at the very core of his being. An unforgettable day in Oslo, as the summer wanes and a 34-year-old Anders determines his fate.
David Cronenberg has made some pivotally powerful films ("Eastern Promises", "History of Violence") but "Cosmopolis" does not flirt or touch the legitimacy of his past movies.
A dark, senseless "awakening" in a materialistic, capitalistic "cosmos"; billionaire "Eric Packer" spends a day in a white stretch limousine (technologically equipped), visited by staff, girlfriends, financial advisers, even his doctor; while watching his portfolio shrink into oblivion; his car massacred by disgruntled, frustrated mobs; his wife of few weeks, regains her senses, abandons him. He is an emotionally bereft cad; undeserving of a modicum of empathy.
With galvanizing effort I try not to be influenced by actors off screen personas; they are not cognizant of my existence; they are a financial obligation; their only responsibility, to entertain. I lack all interest in their relationships (whether asexual, heterosexual or homosexual), their political affiliations or vacation destinations. But it was hopeless to shun the bombardment of the Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson debacle; I went to see "Cosmopolis" because I pitied Mr. Pattinson, cuckolded, humiliated by Ms. Stewart; universally, blatantly advertized; an error I pledge never to repeat.
"Eric Packer" poker-faced, staccato-voiced, disillusioned titan of mega-wealth; Mr.Pattinson's physiognomy is the sole redeeming aspect of this tiring, excruciating, exacerbating, pedantic diatribe dedicated to the blight of capitalism, its concentration on the few, and exclusion of the masses. Eric, heartless, devoid of passion, spews intellectual sophisms; questions, quests for validity in his vacuous world. He and his wife have droning, incomprehensible, zombie-like conversations; two windup, robotic oddities, devoid of connective tissue.
Minor roles, depicted by major actors (Amy Morton, Juliette Binoche, Paul Giamatti) could not save this platitudinous prattle from sinking into a mire of murky melodrama.
ONE & 1/2 STARS!!
In 1994, San Antonio, Texas 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappears, vanishes without a trace; he is blond, blue-eyed, incorrigible, loveably irritating, a bane to his mother and older brother; his sister Carey Gibson, for years, grieves and searches, for her younger, painfully-missed sibling. Almost three and a half years later he surfaces in Linares, Spain.
"The Imposter" is an excellent documentary that should be seen for its mesmerizing, psychological analogies; a major news story in 1997, the scenario commences with heart-wrenching testimonials from family members, and a grown-up, dark-skinned "Nicholas".
It is impossible to dissect "The Imposter" without revealing salient aspects of the unfolding, unbelievable progression from myopic faith to bludgeoning, horrific reality. Here is a study of the fragility, vulnerability of human nature; the vanishing of a loved one, resulting in a life of perpetual torture, the Hades, purgatory of never knowing; a life devoid of closure, incapable of healing; a wound that oozes unremitting anguish. The power of the unconscious and conscious mind; stunning, alchemical ability to accept the inconceivable. In tandem, an investigation of a gifted chameleon, a magician, Merlin of obfuscation, potently altering, poisoning lives one lie at a time.
Long after the credits concluded I sat frozen, wondering how and why this tragedy, travesty occurred; questions unanswered, but cognizant "but for the grace of God" I will never feel the agony of a family ripped asunder, vivisected forever from normalcy; you ache for them, pray for them.
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!