Anticipated 2019 Indie Films

I was reading the December 2018 article by David Ehrlich, et al,  “The 20 Most Anticipated Movies of 2019” on Indie Wire to stimulate my curiosity for films I might like to see this year.

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Ad Astra. James Gray leaves the jungle in The Lost City of Z and offers a science fiction drama in space. Starring Brad Pitt, Ruth Negga, Tommy Lee Jones, and Donald Sutherland, it will be a challenge to create a realistic space epic about a son who travels through the solar system to find his father and why his mission to Neptune failed. I am hopeful. Release date: May 24. 

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The Irishman. Martin Scorsese explores the hitman Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran’s possible involvement in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. If you like mobster movies, I don’t know how one could not be interested, when considering the cast: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel. Scorsese signs up with Netflix for total creative control and resources. The CGI de-aging of DeNiro has caused rumblings. I’m hoping the chemistry and a well-written script keeps me captivated. It should be seen on the big screen, so I hope it makes it to the theaters. Release date: “Sometime in late Autumn.”

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Jojo Rabbit. New Zealand director Taika Waititi (Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok, Two Cars One Night) whose mother was a Russian Jew, creates an unusual tale about a young German boy who searches for his identity in a fascist regime by creating his own version of Hitler as an imaginary friend. In reality, his mother is hiding a Jew in the basement. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Thomasin McKenzie, who was amazing in Leave No Trace, it sounds like a quirky, dark satire. I hope Waititi’s sensitive side adds compassion and irony to a potentially thought-provoking story. Release date:  November 27. 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Is this Quentin Tarantino’s final film before he retires? Whether you love him or hate him, this film intrigues me. It’s Quentin Tarantino’s goal at creating the historical climate of Hollywood in the early seventies. Will it be enough? As with most Tarantino films, I find the plots dubious and rambling — a lot of borrowed style but little content. I hope the script he took five years to create has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yes, of course, I would love to see Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio together on screen. So, too, Margot Robbie and Al Pacino. It also helps that the Manson murders are a backdrop and not the central plot point of the movie. That Sharon Tate’s sister approved of the script and that Tarantino had the class to ask her for her blessing, helps the cause. Release date: July 26.

What are some films you are looking forward to watching this year?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

 

After watching a few burps (The Sandpiper, The VIPs, Dr. Faustus), Richard Burton’s acting was never finer than in Albert Albee‘s vicious play set to the screen. It was Mike Nichol‘s directorial debut. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) received 13 Academy nominations. Although Richard Burton lost to Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons, Elizabeth Taylor won her second Best Actress award (BUtterfield 8 was her first)  and Sandy Dennis won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Other winners included Haskell Wexler‘s cinematography, Irene Sharaff’s costumes, and Richard Sylbert and George James Hopkins‘ art direction. Richard Burton did receive the British Academy Award for his performance of George, the emasculated history professor who rises to the surface to sting his brass and bawdy wife, Martha.

From the sing-song chant of the title, one understands this is a play about games. An all-night party turns carnal as the young academic couple, Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) fall prey to the daughter of the college president, Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and her husband George (Richard Burton). The hosts have a lustful appetite for ripping and shredding the mental and emotional selves of their guests and themselves.

The young couple could very well be the future George and Martha. They watch with morbid curiosity. Illusions mask reality. Invention and the dubbing force of alcohol is the playground where George and Martha escape from their trapped lives. George’s dreams of creative authorship are denied by “Daddy”, the president of the college. Martha’s dream of livin’ la vida loca outside the boundaries of the conservative college and her boring husband is denied. Unable to conceive, she punishes herself and her countenance is as sour as her soul. So used to playing corrosive games to spice up their lives, they become dependent upon them and disintegrate.

When George speaks Latin like a priest presiding over the death of their invented son, Martha wails. Under the harsh light of dawn and stripped of their games, will Martha and George survive? The audience is left to speculate without much hope that they will.  “Martha and George,” she chants earlier in the play. “Sad, sad, sad.” Burton and Taylor are a tour de force. It’s exhausting. 4.5/5. 

This is one of my favorite scenes. Burton shows the complexity of frustration and rage.

Winter Project: Richard Burton, Spy

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My choice for this winter’s project to educate myself on the films and story behind an actor whose filmography I know little about is Richard Burton. I am reading Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger’s novel Furious Love and watching a lot of Richard Burton films based on recommendations from my great blogging buddies.

I chose to group them by genre than by chronological order. Here’s the first pair to talk about.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

Directed by Martin Ritt

Starring Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack

Won the BAFTA for Best British Film

Synopsis:

At the height of the Cold War, British spy Alec Leamas (Richard Burton) is nearly ready to retire, but first, he has to take on one last dangerous assignment. Going deep undercover, he poses as a drunken, disgraced former MI5 agent in East Germany to gain information about colleagues who have been captured. When he is thrown in jail and interrogated, Leamas finds himself caught in a sinister labyrinth of plots and counter-plots unlike anything in his long career.

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The picture starts slowly but gains rapid momentum after the love interest and job assignment is established. When Leamas decides to infiltrate behind enemy lines to retrieve information, the movie became interesting. What did I like best about the film? The plot twists, the trial, the overall setting, and cinematography. I predicted Claire Bloom‘s character Nan Perry would show up at the fortress. When Nan entered the trial room, I felt her bewilderment.  The subtle emotion from Leamas as he realizes her life is in his hands was moving. It’s the ending that got to me. I was surprised at how sad and right his final decision was.  It was the perfect way to end the movie. 4/5

Where Eagles Dare (1968)

Directed by Brian G. Hutton

Screenplay by Alistair MacLean

Starring Clint Eastwood and Mary Ure 

Synopsis:

A crack team of Allied soldiers stages a daring rescue during World War II. A U.S. general is being held captive in an imposing castle fort, high in the Bavarian Alps. The plan calls for Lt. Schaffer (Clint Eastwood), Maj. Smith (Richard Burton) and other operatives to parachute down wearing Nazi disguises. They’ll penetrate the mountain outpost while undercover operatives aid them from within. But their mission changes when they discover that there’s a traitor in their midst.

There’s a lot to like and laugh about with this film. The best part is the commendable cinematography set in the winter landscape in Bavaria. I enjoyed Eastwood and Burton marching around the snow and the filming location in Werfen, Austria was breathtaking. I thought it unlikely that their secret plan was to invade Hohenwerfen Castle, and their special ops team march right into the hornet’s nest as the only soldiers in the entire town wearing white parkas. Can’t say I approved of the decision for all actors to speak English, as well as the other German officers, but then the low ranking soldiers speak German when they were on their smoke breaks and talking among themselves seemed like a mistake to me.

Burton and Eastwood steal a ride on top of a cable car as it ascends the castle. That was clever. No one notices them. This happens throughout the film. I thought Burton was miscast in the film. He looked dazed and puffy standing next to Clint Eastwood. Clint looked out of place with his angry stare. Burton lacked chemistry with his sex kitten partner in crime, Mary (Mary Ure) who lay down every time he barked at her to spread her legs. She had an interesting spot in the film as a female special forces soldier. She parachutes down from the plane. She shoots the gun and saves the dynamic duo with a rope strategically place for them to climb up a vertical wall. But her character lacked any personality. Too bad.

The escape scene was impractical and staged. There’s enough dynamite to blow up the Alps, so for those who like action and machine gun fights, there’s a lot here to like. I enjoyed the plot twist in the great chamber when Burton’s character changes it up and confuses the Gestapo and the German officers before Clint blows them away.  The film has a long running time of almost two and a half hours. I think director Hutton should have cut out a few scenes to keep it the narrative tighter. Despite the holes, I enjoyed the action overall. 3.5/5.

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