At times, a poignantly realistic portrait of a marriage that lost its carbonation at the twenty-fifth anniversary bench mark; two individuals, strangers, who have built fortresses around their inadequacies, insecurities, sleeping in separate bedrooms, barely acknowledging each other's existence. "Kay" (another fine performance by Meryl Streep) recognizes the size of the crater separating her from the man she married and thinks she still loves, "Arnold" (Tommy Lee Jones, a problematic performance, partially redeemed midway), a curmudgeon, accountant, whose wife is at best a mirage, who prepares, surfaces at mealtimes. Arnold is so obtuse and surly it was a challenge to imagine what she saw in him thirty plus years ago. The movie commences on their thirty-first wedding anniversary; sad, saccharine, pathetic non-celebration. "Hope Springs" is more tragic than comedic.
Kay initiates "couples therapy", she is being strangled by loneliness, loss of intimacy; she is aware of her ageing visage, staring wistfully in the mirror, but not without optimism, at the woman she has become; is she unworthy of love, communication, companionship? Hope, expectation, initiates with Kay. She plans a week in the small town of "Great Hope Springs", Maine, under the tutelage of psychiatrist, Dr. Feld ( a bland, benign but sincere, Steve Carell) hoping for a miracle (along with the audience) to ignite a spark, a plea for rejuvenation; a longing for the delicious absent flavor of remembered passion; a passion that should have been savored, nurtured, instead of starved, shunned, ignored for years.
We live in a milieu where there is constant bombardment, advertisements, for chemical aids, enhancements for potency, intimacy; we see smiling couples, "seizing the moment"; the darker side are the multitudes of dysfunctional marriages, relationships, living in dehydrated vacuums, lacking the gumption to correct, fight for revival, attentiveness in their partner; settling in a murky, mundane aura of stagnation, ennui. Kay at one point sates she would be less lonely, if she were alone; she had aspirations, spunk, courage.
"Hope Springs" exceeds boundaries and one's comfort level in unearthing unspoken fantasies, needs; it is a compelling lesson for all marriages, partnerships; there should be a cherished vitrine in one's heart where the loved one remains wrinkleless, sagless, perfectly-sighted, joyously, profoundly flawless as the first moment you knew…this is love.
The first half-hour is thrilling, especially if you have never seen or cannot "recall" the original 1990 version with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone. Not for lack of supreme effort Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel were unable to generate enough interest to illicit a modicum of empathy from the audience. Possibly, it was the condensed script (at its most loquacious, barely three pages), or the massive inundation of recent sci-fi films, or the placid predictability of the outcome.
Farrell is confused, confounded "Douglas Quaid", plagued by nightmares (neglected to mention it is 2084); huge memory chasms, working in a monotonous job, making mannequins of mass destruction. He goes to "rekall" (futuristic poetic license) to fill in recollection lacunas and perhaps create a new persona; during this process things go awry; Quaid is on the run, overcoming vicissitudes at the herculean level, until evil is felled and good prevails, etc.
The major anomaly of "Total Recall" was at the end of the twenty-first century cars function both vertically and horizontally; cell phones are embedded in one's hand; robotic officers are ubiquitous but the world resembles East Berlin of the 1950's; shells of gothic churches, barely an echo of past resplendence; clothes hung outside to dry, withering on sunless porches; wars have been fought, but the victors destroyed the "spoils"; gloom and detritus prevail; anyone would crave forgetting, recalling a more optimistic, edifying era, (circa 2012).
In conclusion, if one is avoiding pondering foot surgery, hip replacement or acupuncture "Total Recall" might cauterize the inevitable for a brief time; otherwise, you would be better served by reading Dostoevsky, Silva, or E. L. James.
A friend of mine states "money does not care who owns it"; Jackie Siegel ("Queen") and husband David Siegel, ("King") reign over the mammoth time-share company, Westgate Resorts. They are the subjects of director Lauren Greenfield's riches to rags scenario; propitious, that Ms. Greenfield in 2007, focuses on the Siegel's because they are constructing the largest private residence in the US. 90,000 square feet; gargantuan and garish replica of Versailles, a seventeenth palace in France.
Jackie, is forty-three, blessed (purchased?) with a Jane Mansfield pneumatic chest, lithesome legs and eight children. She is tragically defined by her purchasing power; closets, the size of railroad cars, packed with shoes, gowns, accessories; she spends a million dollars a year on her wardrobe; unfortunately too low on one end, too high on the other; but uniformly, tasteless. She is a pathetic creature incapable of understanding the implosion, explosion of the real estate market and the global financial collapse. She has children so the nannies can raise them; they run rampant, unsupervised, surly, spoiled (most likely ensconced in the therapeutic process or worse); repugnantly, animals share their domain (paltry 26,000 square foot home): snakes slither, lizards languish, dogs defecate. Jackie is clueless, unconscious to the boundaries needed to curtail her compulsive spending, raising children, managing a household. She is not a bad person, just detached, avaricious, naive and stupid.
David, (31 years Jackie's senior) no longer a titan, robbed of his integrity; his braggadocio deflated with his financial demise; hibernating in splendid squalor, a sour septuagenarian, looking for salvation, blaming the banks for his bankruptcies, foreclosures; shuns his children, wife; wastes his days looking for bailouts; staring at photos: grinning with ex -presidents, other financial tycoons, beauty pageant winners. Like Shakespeare's "Timon of Athens" he is a hollow, colorless, wasted man; an empty vessel without his billionaire status.
2008 resonates with massive tales of fortunes lost, lives altered, lessons learned; I found Jackie and David Siegel unsympathetic but even worse, uninteresting.
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!
Tuesday July 31st, Gore Vidal, one of the world's most prolific and at times, most controversial writers, died at the age of eighty-six; his iconic quotes have been bantered in newspapers, talk shows over the last few days. As I watched this stupendous documentary (made by first time filmmaker Alison Klayman) about Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, one of Vidal's bon mots resonated: "Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn."
Ai Weiwei has an established reputation in the contemporary art world (he was one of the designers, along with Herzog & de Meuron, of the Bird's Nest Stadium 2008, Beijing Olympics); but it was his unexplained 81-day incarceration (2011) in a Chinese prison that has poll vaulted him into international prominence; he is now a symbol of an oppressive, totalitarian society, where the individual is denied freedom of expression; one's life is under constant survellience; government, intransigent in its garroted repressiveness.
As Westerners, with an abundance of largesse, it is impossible to fathom the loss of our First Amendment privileges; herein, is the essence of this intelligent, forthright story of a man whose daily existence could, at any second be extinguished, because of his intractable will to speak, create and struggle for, not only his inalienable rights but for rights of every man, woman and child in China.
Ai Weiwei, the son of persecuted poet Ai Quig, feels a responsibility to flay the tyranny of past generations. His 12-year sojourn in New York City gifted him a feverish lust for an unshackled life and Carnegie Deli's pastrami sandwiches. Returning to China due to his father's failing health; the internet was his salvation and blight. In 2008, after the horrific earthquake in Sichuan, where tens of thousands lost their lives, including multitudes of children, because of shoddy, government construction; he memorialized (along with the aid of 50 volunteers) those lost, youthful souls by posting their names on the first anniversary of the disaster. This was a staggering act of defiance, a monumental slap to a monolithic, punitive power. How ironic that in the West similar memorials by artist/ architect ,Chris Burden/ Maya Lin, referencing unsung heroes are lauded, celebrated, revered.
Ai Weiwei was named most powerful man in art, 2011 "ArtReview"; he feels there is little distinction between art and politics; his art is about "life, human dignity". Ai Weiwei is a metaphor for the "power of one"; he has made a difference, "knowing, saying, not giving a damn"; he a man, not a saint, let's pray he does not become a martyr.
FOUR & 1/2 STARS!!!!
Based on the play by Tracy Letts, director William Friedkin has remained religiously faithful to this ragingly, raunchy, raw rendition of a family pushed to the edge; options dead, every action a reaction; trailer park trash painfully vitalized and depicted by compelling acting.
Matthew McCaughey is brilliant as "Killer Joe", an amoral lawman for murderous hire. Emile Hirsch is smarmy, stupid "Chris" a twenty-two year old drug dealer, conjuring his financial salvation by hiring Joe to kill his mother for her life insurance. Thomas Haden Church ("Sideways") is "Ansel" the clueless, guileless, gullible father of Chris, duped into duplicity. Gina Gershon as "Sharla", (Chris's stepmother and wife of Ansel) oozes cunning sexuality from every pore, her salty, salacious demeanor forecasts a tide of tribulation.
Juno Temple as "Dottie" is positively, pristinely riveting as a naive "savant"; with beguiling innocence she floats, never quite connecting or involved, with her vile, destitute environment; she is "Cassandra", "Baby Doll" a "Siren" of captivating, sinuous, seductiveness, enmeshing all in her web.
"Killer Joe" earns and deserves an "R" rating, (not NC-17); the blatant nudity, blood and brutality portray a world to be shunned but one that lives; herein lies the power of the terrible tableau; never for a second does one doubt or question the validity of a hell on earth; various versions headline newspapers, media, bludgeoning our sensitivities; Warholian, repetition breeds ennui; anesthetized, we accept the horror, acknowledging its pervasive inevitability; praying its lethal tentacles never sense our presence.
"Killer Joe" has contemporary nuances of a medieval morality play; herculean struggle to justify the means to produce the end, without writhing in moral turpitude. Joe never languishes; he is Faustian in his business arrangements; his code, like the commandments, chiseled in marble; a compassionless man with the tongue of an angel, the soul of Beelzebub.
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!