January Gems

The old year crossed into a new decade as I was glued to a destruction of a relationship. Devouring ‘Marriage Story’ in a couple of chunks on the small screen, the Netflix original has garnered four nominations (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress) in the current Academy Awards. It is interesting to note that movies made for the television platform have attracted 24 in all in a game-changing year. There’s no doubt that the performances of Adam Driver, Scarlett Johanssen and Laura Dern are exceptional as the couple at the core of the break-up spiral into the depths, assisted by the legal fraternity made up of Dern and a welcome cameo from Alan Alda. You feel compelled to stay with it to the last rites to see if the pair can claw something back out of the sorry mess. Driver’s character, a self absorbed stage-director, is totally career driven to the exclusion of his partner’s feelings. She, played by Johanssen, had to cope with his immaturity whilst trying to juggle a child and her own professional aspirations. The beauty of it being a generous two and a half hours-ish in duration is that you can spread it over as long a period as suits – and it is well worth the expenditure of time. Now ‘The Irishman’ and ‘The Two Popes’, also up for Oscars, are on my ‘to view’ list.

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Big screen wise Leigh and I had the pleasure of accompanying three grandchildren to ‘Dolittle’. I admit I enjoyed watching their faces, as they savoured the offering, more than the actual film itself. It wasn’t as bad as many critics have reported, but I found it hard to be attracted to Robert Downey’s performance and his relationship with the beasts, large and small, of the planet.

The most fun I’ve had at the cinema for quite a while came with ‘The Gentleman’. With a cast including Matthew McConaughey, ‘Sons of Anarchy’s’ Charlie Hunnam, ‘Downton’s’ Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Eddie Marsan and Hugh Grant, as we’ve rarely seen him before, the screen was full of London gangland mayhem and black, black humour. Guy Ritchie’s directing career has been patchy, but with this ensemble of class actors he’s on a winner.

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In contrast two movies that are the antithesis of the hectic pace of the above are ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ and ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ (how I hate leaving out the ‘u’!). The pace could be almost glacial with both, but the rewards are worth your forbearance.

The first listed has been greeted rapturously by the critics and has picked up a handful of prestigious gongs on the film festival circuit. With this product most of the joys are delivered towards the end, so patience is a virtue. For most of its length we can be satisfied by appreciating the sheer beauty of what is on screen, with the land and seascapes, as well as the gorgeousness of the two French female leads. In fact, there’s barely a male to be had, only the ferrymen at the commencement and a few more just before the end credits roll. It’s set in the late C18th on a storm blasted island off the coast of Brittany. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives on the isle to pretend to be a lady’s companion, but her hiring is really for the purpose to paint a portrait in secret. A noblewoman ensconced in a great gothic pile is at the bidding of her mother, determined to marry her off, something Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is none too happy about. The painting, of course, is necessary currency in the days of arranged marriages, pre-photography. The prospective Italian groom has to know what he is getting. Gradually, though, the truth is unmasked and a relationship, which becomes somewhat more than mere companionship, develops. It’s stunning, with added spice, perhaps for some, that the actress playing the initially frosty Héloïse ’s was once herself the partner of the opus’ director, Céline Sciamma.

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The slow boil continues with ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’, but here the pleasures are littered evenly throughout. It is essentially a vehicle for Tom Hanks, although his nomination at the big award is for Best Supporting. Matthew Rhys capably takes the lead as a gun reporter asked to write a puff piece on a living national treasure, Fred Rogers. A singular host of children’s television, he was a real life figure who was an institution for decades. Said reporter refuses to believe that Rogers can be so perfect a figure and sets forth to discover the darker side to the man that must be there. He bites off more than he can chew as Rogers regularly turns the table on him – with the result that the puff piece becomes so much more. It was also great to see ‘This is Us’ actress Susan Kelechi Watson in a prominent role, supported by Chis Cooper, who is always a treat.

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The movie has had mixed reviews from ‘a tonic of a film’ to ‘not even Tom Hanks can save this mess’. Stay for the end credits, with the minute’s silence mid-length being a highlight. I liked it very, very much. When Hanks and Rhys appeared on Graham Norton recently they reported that the director, Marielle Heller, was constantly asking both to slow down the speed of their delivery on set. I thought TH, in particular, was quite mesmerising as he did this. The lengthy pause is a constant feature of his performance.

So I struck it lucky in January with four gems. What will February hold?

Trailer for ‘Marriage Story’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHi-a1n8t7M

Trailer for ‘The Gentlemen’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B0RpUGss2c

Trailer for ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-fQPTwma9o

Trailer for ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VLEPhfEN2M

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