Are you not entertained? Films & TV

In this series, I share my choices for better-than-average entertainment. Maybe you liked these, too? 

FILMS

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Green Book (2018) Easily the most enjoyable film of the year for me so far, the chemistry between Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) is believable. Both actors shine brightly in this inspiring true story about the black concert pianist in the 1960s who lives above Carnegie Hall alone in his ivory tower. Highly educated and affluent, respected with friends in the highest places, Shirley travels to the deep south to be a presence among whites who only see blacks as sharecroppers. He takes with him a Bronx bouncer, a loveable Italian called Tony Lip. Their road trip doesn’t change the world, and the straightforward story doesn’t preach. If you liked Driving Miss Daisy, this story was just as good, if not better. I cared for both men and their ironic friendship. High praise to the acting of Mortensen. My ex-husband was from the Bronx and lemme tell ya, Viggo nailed it. Highly recommended. 4.5/5 

Trespassing Bergman (2013)  I find it is interesting to begin at the end of a story and learn backward. For example, if you are like me and know little about filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, instead of first watching his films blindly, a documentary provides me with the end result, his legacy. I want to know about the person first. Who better to explain his impact than the leading filmmakers as they recall their memories and the influence Ingmar Bergman had on them? Tip-toeing around Bergman’s estate on the faraway Swedish island of Faro, top directors pay homage. Jane Magnusson and Hynek Pallas direct this documentary oozing with ethos. Interviewees include Woody Allen, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Ang Lee, Lars Von Trier, Yimou Zhang, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Wes Anderson to name a few. For the sophisticate who possesses a solid foundation about Ingmar Bergman, I do not know how much will be gleaned. But for me, I enjoyed getting to know the man in his natural habitat and learning why his films had a powerful impact on filmmakers today. Now I will explore a few of his films. Where should I begin? Summer with Monika3.5/5 

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TELEVISION

SEASON THREE  – THE LAST KINGDOM 

Oh, King Alfred! I knew you would die in season three. I knew it was coming, but seeing you dead on your royal bed truly saddened me. What a sophisticated, complicated character! Better than the Game of Thrones and The Vikings, and far better than Outlaw King (2018) starring Chris Pine, what makes this BBC Netflix series entertaining is the balance achieved between the battles and the struggles, the accomplishments, and the forgiveness between Alfred (David Dawson) and Lord Uhtred (Alexander Doetsch). Series three was all about closure. Swedish director Erik Leijonborg did a fine job encouraging the actors to feel and provided them time to cultivate their personalities. If you have not seen the series, this is outstanding entertainment. 4.8/5.

Are You Not Entertained? Books and Films

I’ve watched a lot of films and read a lot of books this past month, and many were okay, but I’d rather cut to the chase and share the best book, film, and television I highly recommend.

BOOKS 

The Shadow of the Wind is a 2001 novel by Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón and a worldwide bestseller. The story begins with 10-year-old Daniel in 1945 in Barcelona. Deep in a library called the “cemetery of lost books”, forgotten, out of print books are shelved and Daniel chooses from a choice of thousands The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. The book contains gothic elements with chilly descriptions of the temporal as well as the temperamental weather. Outlandish and believable characters like sidekick Fermín Romero de Torres whose clownish physical features melt with wise advice and passionate feelings for women contrast the rain clouds that seem to drip blood over haunted mansions. As the novel progresses, Daniel ages and he experiences love and becomes obsessed with the life of Julian Carax. In fact, Carax’s story parallels David’s so that the novel is structurally interesting. Above all, the novel is a mystery. It is beautifully written; most of the characters get their own flashback narrative where obsession becomes a major theme of the novel. It’s a true page-turner, a rare luscious novel that’s florid in style and exciting to read. 4.5/5. 

FILMS 

I watched several, but they were mediocre at best, so I don’t have any to recommend.

TELEVISION

 

Alias Grace was Margaret Atwood‘s 1996 fictionalized account of the notorious Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), a servant who was convicted along with stable hand James McDermott (Kerr Logan) of the 1843 murders of employer Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross) and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin). Grace leaves the prison every day to talk privately with psychiatrist Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) who falls in love with her. Grace retraces the steps of her life for him while he furiously takes down notes. His job is to determine whether she is insane or deserves to be set free after being in the penitentiary for fifteen years. The committee determined to set her free has paid Dr. Jordan to give a favorable report. This six-part series on Netflix is not to be missed.

Other than Paquin, the cast is refreshingly unrecognizable. Sarad Gadon is breathtaking as Grace and the acting by the ensemble is commendable. Margaret Atwood sits as executive producer while Mary Harron is the director. She did a marvelous job framing the landscape and switching camera angles from far to the minute stitching of the quilts. Favorite detail? The explanation of the quilts and what they represent. Here’s a great article introducing the females behind the series in NOW TORONTO ARTICLE FOUND HERE.

As Grace tells her story, the flashbacks are abundant, and I wondered if this overused device would kill the project for me. But by the conclusion of the series, I understood the purpose was to show the various perspectives from the trial, so that the audience wonders, “Is Grace innocent or guilty?” Grace is so charming and practical, you want her to be innocent. But flashback perspectives are so contrary, one wonders what really did happen?

I won’t ruin the climax of the final installment of the series, but my skin crawled. The dual contradictions and confusions finally made all the sense as the story came to a satisfying ending. Beautifully filmed, expertly acted, an exquisite script including the details of the life of females in the 1800s showcasing their conflicts and impossible oppression without preaching made Alias Grace the best television I’ve seen in years. 4.8/5. 

Another Pair with Gene Hackman

This is the second installment of my winter project of investigating the filmography of a male film star I know too little about. According to Allen Hunter’s biography, Gene Hackman, he grew up in his grandmother’s house surrounded by the unremitting cornfields of Danville, Illinois. He dropped out of high school, joined the Marines on a whim, and served from 1946-51. Acting school followed at the Pasadena Playhouse and the cementation of friendships with peers Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall. You can read about their unique 50-year-old friendship in Vanity Fair HERE.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) 

Warren Beatty produced the film and likened to the role of Clyde because he was a character who wanted to “be somebody’ in the uncooperative climate of the Depression. This motivation was the force behind Clyde; Bonnie coaxed that motivation. Clyde saved her from a boring life and she was willing to do anything for the thrills of their partnership. When her poem, “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde” was published, they had a national audience. Bonnie finally gets the passion she craved. The violence of the film pushed the envelope (a shot to the face of an apprehender smears blood on the getaway car) and the emergence of Faye Dunaway as the reckless Bonnie elevated the film to lofty heights. Dunaway reminded me of a young Bette Davis. The nuances, the body language, and her loveliness were exceptional. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen by a female performer. But wait. What about Gene Hackman? As brother Buck to Clyde, he gave an enthusiastic, convincing performance as did the rest of the cast, but no one surpassed Faye Dunaway. Fifty years later, the film still stands.  4/5.5  

If you like crime history, here is information about the FBI case of Bonnie and Clyde.

What stood out:

1. Gene Wilder‘s bit-part facial expressions. “Step on it, Velma!”

2. Blanche (Estelle Parsons) screaming; a most annoying character and perfect antithesis to independent Bonnie. Parsons won the Oscar for her role. I love her final scene when the Sheriff coaxes information with false sympathy. She is blind and bandaged and clueless til the end. Awesome role.

3. The opening sequence with Faye Dunaway, bored, restless and naked. Bonnie and Clyde sizing each other up in a matter of minutes, each cool and confident.

4. The famous ending directed by Arthur Penn. I liked the hard cuts, the montage that revealed the final thoughts of Bonnie and Clyde, and the sequence of events to their end.

Scarecrow (1973) 

What is best about the script of these unlikely friends is the 180 degree flip-flopping of their characters. (Lion) Al Pacino and (Max) Gene Hackman are allowed the space to give full-bodied performances. While the story-line was dull at times during its first half, it more than made up for any lags by the last half. Lion’s phone call to his estranged wife Annie was heartbreaking, and the anticipation of Lion’s fall was painful. Max goes from an unlikable character to someone who has benefited from a sincere friendship. It has been compared to Of Mice and Men; if Steinbeck’s classic engages you, you would no doubt enjoy Scarecrow.  4.5/5. 

What stands out:

  1. Watching a young, kindhearted Pacino (instead of later scene-chewing roles) teach the irascible Max a better philosophy of life even though the script seemed heavy-handed at times.
  2. Watching Hackman’s Max change. Usually Hackman is hard and mean and stays that way. It was great to see such a fine transformation. I smiled broadly when I found out why he slept with the shoe under his mattress. When Lion asks him why he picked him to be his partner since he trusts no one, Max responds, “Because you gave me your last cigarette. And you made me laugh.” The chemistry between the two characters was real and showcased great acting .
  3. I loved that open scene with the stormy sky and gold wheat field. The across the highway exchange was wonderful.

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