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The Intouchables (Gamount) (DVD)

3 Apr

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“Every so often a film is written that pulls at your heartstrings and brings both a smile and tears to your eyes as we watch the human condition unfold.”

Synopsis:  The Intouchables’ tells the true story of a wealthy, physically disabled risk taker, Phillipe, the picture of established French nobility, who lost his wife in an accident and whose world is turned upside down when he hires a young, good-humored, black Muslim ex-con, Driss as his caretaker. Their bond proves the power and omniscience that love and friendship can hold over all social and economic differences. The Intouchables depicts an unlikely camaraderie rooted in honesty and humor between two individuals who, on the surface, would seem to have nothing in common.

CAST

Francois Cluzet………………………………………Phillipe

Omar Sy……………………………………………………Driss

Alba Gaïa Kraghede Bellugi…………………………..Elisa

Audrey Fleurot……………………………………..Magalie

Clotilde Mollet……………………………………….Marcelle

Cyril Mendy…………………………………………….Adama

Anna Le Ny……………………………………………..Yvonne

Alba Gaïa Kraghede Bellugi……………………………..Elisa

Christian Ameri………………………………………… Albert

Grégoire Oestermann…………………………………Antoine

Marie-Laure Descoureaux……………………………Chantal

Absa Dialou Toure……………………………………….. Mina

Salimata Kamate………………………………………….Fatou

Review: Released in the U.K. as Untouchable, the film since its’ initial release has become one of the highest grossing films ever in France. Written and directed by, Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano the film tells the true story of  two people whose lives intertwine in an unlikely way.

The story  told entirely in flashback, starts At night in Paris, Driss is driving Philippe’s Maserati Quattroporte at high speed. They are soon chased by the police: when they are caught, Driss, unfazed, doubles his bet with Philippe, convinced they can get an escort. In order to get away with his speeding, Driss claims the quadriplegic Philippe must be urgently driven to the emergency room; Philippe pretends to have a stroke and the fooled police officers eventually escort them to the hospital. As the police leave them at the hospital, Philippe asks what will they do now, to which Driss answers: “Now let me take care of it.” as they drive off.

Through friendship, humor and respect the two, Phillipe a French millionaire, quadriplegic, who through tragic circumstances loses his wife. and Driss, black, Muslim,  ex-con, form a life-long bond. Phillipe, with the help of his assistant Magalie, looking for a  live-in caretaker, meets Driss, a candidate, has no ambitions to get hired. He is just there to get a signature showing he was interviewed and rejected in order to continue to receive his welfare benefits. He is extremely casual and shamelessly flirts with Magalie. He is told to come back the next morning to get his signed letter. Driss goes back to the tiny flat that he shares with his extended family in a bleak Parisian suburb. His aunt, exasperated from not hearing from him for six months, orders him to leave the flat. when Driss comes back to the next day Phillipe for his paper, he finds he has been hired on a trial basis.

He learns the extent of Philippe’s disability and then accompanies Philippe in every moment of his life, discovering with astonishment a completely different lifestyle. A friend of Philippe’s reveals Driss’s criminal record which includes six months in jail for robbery. Philippe states he does not care about Driss’s past because he is the only one that does not treat him with pity or compassion, but as an equal. He says he will not fire him as long as he does his current job properly.

Over time, Driss and Philippe become closer. Driss dutifully takes care of his boss, who frequently suffers from phantom pain. Philippe discloses to Driss that he became disabled following a paragliding accident and that his wife died without bearing children. Gradually, Philippe is led by Driss to put some order in his private life, including being more strict with his adopted daughter Elisa, who behaves like a spoiled child with the staff. Driss discovers art, opera, and even takes up painting. For Philippe’s birthday, a private concert of classical music is performed in his living room. At first very reluctant, Driss is led by Philippe to listen more carefully to the music and opens up to Philippe’s music. Driss then plays the music he likes to Philippe (Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind & Fire), which opens up everybody in the room to dance.

Driss discovers that Philippe has a purely letter writting relationship with a woman called Eléonore, who lives in Dunkirk. Driss encourages him to meet her but Philippe fears her reaction when she discovers his disability. Driss eventually convinces Philippe to talk to Eléonore on the phone. Philippe agrees with Driss to send a photo of him in a wheelchair to her, but he hesitates and asks his aide, Yvonne, to send a picture of him as he was before his accident. A date between Eléonore and Philippe is agreed. At the last minute Philippe is too scared to meet Eléonore and leaves with Yvonne before Eléonore arrives. Philippe then calls Driss and invites him to travel with him in his private jet for a paragliding weekend. Philippe gives Driss an envelope containing 11,000 euros, the amount he was able to get for Driss’s painting, which he sold to one of his friends by saying it was from an up-and-coming artist.

Adama, Driss’s younger cousin, who is in trouble with a gang, takes refuge in Philippe’s mansion. Driss opens up to Philippe about his family and his past in Senegal, where his then-childless aunt and uncle adopted him from his real parents, and brought him back to France. His adoptive parents later began having children of their own, his uncle died and his aunt bore still more children. Philippe recognizes Driss’s need to be supportive to his family and releases him from his job, suggesting he “may not want to push a wheelchair all his life”.

Driss returns to his suburbs, joining his friends, and manages to help his younger cousin. Due to his new professional experience, he lands a job in a transport company. In the meantime Philippe has hired caregivers to replace Driss, but he isn’t happy with any of them. His morale is very low and he stops taking care of himself. Yvonne becomes worried and contacts Driss, who arrives and decides to drive Philippe in the Maserati, which brings the story back to the first scene of the film, the police chase. After they have eluded the police, Driss takes Philippe straight to the seaside. Upon shaving and dressing elegantly, Philippe and Driss arrive at a Cabourg, restaurant with a great ocean view. Driss suddenly leaves the table and says good luck to Philippe for his lunch date. Philippe does not understand, but a few seconds later, Eléonore arrives. Emotionally touched, Philippe looks through the window and sees Driss outside, smiling at him. Driss bids Philippe farewell and walks away.

Every so often a film is written that pulls at your heartstrings and brings both a smile and tears to your eyes as we watch the human condition unfold. This is such a film. The performances by Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy register in their faces the love and respect they have for each other. Cluzet can only emote through his face due to his character’s condition, for any actor this is difficult enough, Cluzet is brilliant. Omar Sy gives us a sense of humanity through his humor and light touch, you become drawn to these two likeable characters and get taken along for the ride.

There are some who feel that there is in fact an American Buddy Movie formula going on here, I didn’t feel that as the film progressed. Some have compared the racial differences to Driving Miss Daisy , I find in both cases this is not the case. You can become too critical at times and not just enjoy the story which is based on real events. The film is uplifting and soars with human connection.  The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2012.

The film is available on DVD, at Netflix, Amazon and Red-Box.

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Quartet

23 Feb

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Synopsis: Directed by Dustin Hoffman in his directorial debut, set at a retirement home for retired musicians, the annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday is disrupted by the arrival of Jean, an eternal diva and the former wife of one of the residents.

Cast

Maggie Smith……………………………………………Jean Horton

Tom Courtenay………………………………………Reginald Paget

Billy Connelly……………………………………………..Wilf Bond

Pauline Collins……………………………………….Cissy Robson

Michael Gambon………………………………Cedric Livingston.

Sheridan Smith……………………………………..Dr. Lucy Cogan

Andrew Sachs………………………………………Bobby Swanson

Gwyneth Jones………………………………………..Anne Langley

Review: Quartet is a story that is set in an retirement home for aging musicians, on the English country side. The story revolves around two central plot points, one being the annual retirement home fund raising concert, the other being the arrival of Opera star Jean Horton played deliciously by Maggie Smith.

 The cast is rounded out by brilliant English actors, each bring their own eccentricities to the roles they play. As Jean Horton arrives Cedric, played by Michael Gambon, an actor remembered as Dumbledore in most of the Harry Potter movies, is directing the gala event. He decides, she and Reginald, (Tom Courtney), Wilf, (Billy Connelly), and Cissy, (Pauline Collins), should recreate their famous Quartet from Rigoletto.

 Complications set in when we find out that Jean and Reginald where once married. Reginald wants nothing to do with Jean and retreats. Wilf plays mediator between the two, and has all the crass and funny lines. Maggie Smith has all the droll understated lines and her comebacks (see Downton Abbey) are swift and deadly. Smith is an international treasure, she shines in everything she does.

 Pauline Collins has the task of making her character Cissy, a little dotty in the head, obviously very forgetful, perhaps early Alzheimer’s, and she navigates through it all with a sense of irony and comedy. Collins remains indelible as the main character in the film Shirley Valentine, here she is just as delightful.

 Comedian Billy Connelly as Wilf, is a crass womanizing retired Opera star. His comic timing plays counterpoint to Smith’s dry wit. He delivers a multi-layered performance and brings a sparkle to an otherwise dry screenplay. If you are unfamiliar with Connelly, their is plenty of  him and his stand-up on You-Tube. In Scotland, his home of origin. he is known as the Big Yen. There is more on him at http://www.billyconnelly.com.

 Tom Courtney, who first appeared in Dr. Zhivago so many years ago, plays Reginald as a deeply wounded individual. Jane had left him when they were married and hardly said goodbye. The two together Smith and Courtenay, play against each other with compassion. Reginald’s distrust of Jane is juxtaposed with his feelings of love for her, this is where Cortnenay shines.

Michael Gambon as Cedric, puts up with all the backstage drama so that he ultimately gets what he wants. His transition from lack of patience to restraint is apparent. It appears that everyone but the the four leads bend over backwards to make Cedric happy. He delights in the gala more than anyone else involved. Gambon is fun to watch, especially at the times when his plans seem to get foiled.

 The film is is light and plays like a classic chamber comedy. Hoffman chose wisely his directorial debut. The film might appeal to the older demographic and certainly to the those who enjoyed The Marigold Hotel.

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Albert Nobbs

8 Jun

Synopsis: Albert Nobbs struggles to survive in late 19th century Ireland, where women aren’t encouraged to be independent. Posing as a man, so she can work as a butler in Dublin’s most posh hotel, Albert meets a handsome painter also a woman disguised as a man, and looks to escape the lie she has been living.

Cast:

Glenn Close as Albert Nobbs

Mia Wasikowska as Helen Dawes

Aaron Johnson as Joe

Janet Mcteer as Hubert Page

Pauline Collins as Mrs. Baker

Brenda Fricker as Polly

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Viscount Yarrell

Brendon Gleeson as Dr. Holloran

Maria Doyle Kennedy as  Mary

Mark Williams as Sean

Serena Brabazon as Mrs. Moore

Michael McElhatton as Mr. Moore

Kenneth Collard as M. Pigot

Bronagh Galligher as Cathleen

Review:

Glenn Close stars as Albert Nobbs, her startling, Oscar nominated portrayal as a woman posing as a man in 19th Century Ireland is remarkable in its underlying sadness and asexuality. Based on the novella by Irish novelist George Moore, the themes of the story parallel the conundrum of 19th century battered and oppressed women with the struggles of lesbian woman in today’s society.

We learn that Albert as a 14 year old girl was abandoned by her mother and gang raped and beaten by a group of men. For reasons of economic security she poses as a man to find work as a waiter a job only given to men . For many years Albert works in a fine hotel as a waiter/butler and lives in fear of being found-out. She squirrels away all her money in a hole in the floor of her room hoping one day to find a way out and a better life.

In a profound moment a painter named Hubert Page, played by Janet Mcteer arrives at the hotel to paint the interior. Albert is forced to share her room with Page and is terrified by the prospect of sharing her bed with a man. Page a gangly, streetwise, cigarette smoking character sees through Albert’s disguise,   To stop Albert from cowering in fear, Page opens his shirt and exposes his breasts and to Albert’s astonishment finds out Page is also a woman posing as a man. They become kindred spirits for the rest of the film. Albert is also astonished to find out Page is married to another woman, Cathleen, and leads a relatively normal existence. Albert from this moment on wants the same and starts looking to purchase a tobacco business of her own and marry a woman she has fallen in love with.

There are a few twists and turns that lead this tragic story, Close’s performance is the glue that binds this all together. This is a fine film and Close makes Nobbs so real you can’t help but feel the emotion behind this character’s sadness and unlikeable nature. It is a brave and heartfelt performance worthy of the Oscar nomination.

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

11 May

Synopsis: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (also known as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful) is a 2012 British film directed by John Madden and written by Ol Parker. Based on the 2004 novel, These Foolish Things, by Deborah Morgacch. The ensemble cast includes Britain’s elite and arguably their best character actors, Dame Judi Dench, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy, Ronald Pickup, Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Penelope Wilton, as a group of British retirees “outsourcing” their retirementin the Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful, in India. Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) rounds out the cast as Sonny the young owner of the hotel.

Review: This is film less about the destination and more about the journey and catharsis of a group of seven retired British nationals whose life circumstances have brought them to Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful in a small city in India. Each with their own tale of woe and search for a greater future in their twilight years.

The movie begins with an prologue that describes each character’s present situation and what leads them to the hotel.

Dame Judi Dench plays Evelyn a recently widowed housewife who is forced by her family to sell her flat to pay off her dead husband’s debts.  Despite their son’s protestations, she decides to make her home in India, in Sonny’s home for the “elderly and beautiful”. She keeps a blog to inform her family of all that she does and all whom she encounters. It is through the blog that on a daily basis the story unfolds.She is marvelous in the role and plays it with class, determination and wit.

Tom Wilkinson (Benjamin Franklin in HBO’s John Adams Series) plays Graham, he is an British high court judge who for the past few years keeps saying he will retire any day now., finally at a retirement party for a colleague he decides today is the day. He goes to India where he gre up for the first 18 years of his life only to go back 40 years later to reconcile his past.

Dame Maggie Smith portrays Muriel an ex-housekeeper with a head for figures, is deemed surplus to requirements by her lifelong employers after she unwittingly trains her own replacement. She finds herself without a family of her own, having devoted her life to the care of another family. Living in a flat alone she is bitter and racist, and, when her doctor tells her that the only alternative to a six-month wait for a hip replacement is to be “outsourced” to India where the operation can be scheduled without delay, she is sent to Sonny’s hotel.

Bill Nighy plays Douglas the Husband of Patricia Wilson’s Jean. This is a married couple who gave all their savings to their daughter who has stated a new internet based company. Needless to say this has made the hotel the only place they can afford to retire to. Douglas is up for the adventure and his wife is desperately unhappy from day one. The strain on their marriage is too much for Jean to take and the couples differences bring their marriage to the brink.

Ronald Pickup plays Norman an aged Lothario, constantly on the look-out for a new woman and unable to face up to his own age and consequent undesirability for young women. He seeks a new start with new possibilities in India.

Celia Imrie plays Madge, she has had several unsuccessful marriages and, like Norman, wants fun, adventure and a new man. Tired of her daughter’s attempts to keep her at home as the family babysitter she flees the house and leaves for India.

The screenplay is witty and the humor is at times so true it touches you from the inside and at times moves you to tears. This is a fine film with a human soul that tugs at your heartstrings as it points out the irony of aging in a young world and coping with the sometimes bittersweet realities of life. This films caters to the much neglected demographic of aging baby-boomers and judging from the size of the audience I was in I would say that the future looks successful for this group of seven.

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A Film Trilogy by Ingmar Bergman

3 May

Synopsis: The Criterion Collection based on Bergman’s own spiritual crisis, brings you fully restored, his trilogy of films produced between 1961 and 1963. Bergman stories concern themselves with dysfunctional family relations, loss of spirituality and abandonment by God. The three challenging films in the trilogy or chamber pieces are as follows: Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence. Bergman and his new cameraman the brilliant Sven Nykvist gave the cinema going public three stories in rapid succession of release that threw out Bergman’s images of dreamy landscapes and chess games with death in exchange for a darker reality of angst and despair.

Reviews: Through a Glass Darkly centers around Karin played with a terrifying realism by Harriet Andersson. She is  a psychologically fragile woman,who seeks recovery from a nervous breakdown while on a remote-island vacation with her family. Her father portrayed by Gunnar Björnstrand, is a successful writer who regards her with clinical detachment. Karin’s husband , a doctor portrayed by Bergman regular Max Von Sydow,  feels unavailing in the effort to treat her. Karin’s brother portrayed brutally by Lars Passgard, is wrapped up in his narcissistic quest for sexual fulfillment. Karin’s descent into further loneliness and delusion exacerbates the heretofore unspoken alienation at the heart of this entire family, and drives the characters to brood over the existence of God, in Karin’s case, imagine that God is the chilling spider hidden behind an attic door. Through a Glass Darkly is heartbreaking, and a powerful work of art.

Winter Light stars Gunnar Björnstrand, this time playing a pastor suffering a crisis of faith while ministering to a shrinking congregation, he wrestles with the question does God exist?   Has God Abandoned me? He has no answers and he a man of the cloth feels empty and powerless. Max Von Sydow plays a parishioner lost to acute anxiety over the possibility of a nuclear holocaust. Neither man can help or heal the other, or even inspire renewed confidence in practiced rituals and older, more certain views of the world. Set on a chilly, Sunday afternoon, Winter Light‘s heavy stillness, lack of music, preference for intense close-ups and distancing long shots, and barren setting all lead us inescapably into the core of a profound silence, an echo chamber in which love can’t grow and religion rings hollow.

The Silence, The last chamber story in the trilogy is a nightmarish story of two sisters, Esther portrayed by Ingrid Thulin and Anna portrayed by Gunnel Lindblom, and the latter’s son played by Jörgen Lindström, all traveling by train to Sweden but forced to stay in a foreign country when Esther’s chronic bronchial problems require her to rest. A stifling atmosphere, a desolate hotel, encounters with a troupe of carnival dwarves, Anna’s anchoring illness, and an empty sexual encounter for Esther underscore the unnerving feeling that God has abandoned these characters to dubious salvation in their own connection. A highly memorable film.

These are perhaps Bergman’s most thought provoking films and are considered masterworks by this cinema giant. The mood set by the language of the images through-out each film rivet you and challenge your spirituality and religious beliefs.  The drama and intensity each film captures draws you into each story, kudos to the actors who were so true to the emotions, to Sven Nykvist’s stark and moody cinematography and to Bergman whose deeply layered story telling brings these masterworks to level of cinematic art rarely seen.

Available on Netflix, DVD, and for purchase at Amazon.com

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