“Paris Can Wait”

Seeing an 81 year-old female director in her film debut was one impetus for seeing “Paris Can Wait”. Seeing a woman listened to, appreciated, and romanced old-style was another. A “chick flick” for the over-fifty-set this may be, but Diane Lane brings her character, Anne, to the forefront. She is a woman, who has stepped back, has often been stepped over, but has never been stepped on. Yes, she is financially privileged, used to fine service, and is loved by her second husband, played briefly by Alec Baldwin. Anne has lost a baby son, and raised a loving daughter, owned a dress shop, and dabbles at photography. There is nothing remarkable about her.

Using the structure of a road trip, director Eleanor Coppola
sets up a temptation for Anne. Will she or won’t she succumb to the wiles of our dapper Frenchman, Jacque?

Jacque is played deliciously by Artaud Viard. Flirty, warm, attentive, he is a charmer who understands that his colleague, Anne’s husband, prioritizes his work over pleasure. Their marriage often plays as afterthought. Anne is not discontent with Michael, but she enjoys the attention of the irrepressible sensualist, who seems to have a coterie of women fawning over him. He takes the time to savor all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes and touches. Anne is intrigued and rather awkwardly beguiled.

Here, Lane is perfect as the a woman: unstartled, practical; and yet, instinctually imaginative. In this imaginary land, she is enjoying the wandering, and to a point, we do to. Some sequences of road travel do seem to over dally.

Scuptuous food platings and river walks below Roman ruins fill the screen. There is a capricious picnic amid car troubles, and metronomic flattery amid confidences shared. The atmosphere is light, but possibly transformative. French “joie de vivre” is the tempo.

Some of the most knowing intimacies of a twenty-year-old marriage are humorously portrayed. Michael lets a phone call interrupt kissing his wife, and he depends on her for the details of his inseam measurements and his sock pairings. Business calls during their meals have Anne explaining that she knows it is rude behavior, but she is used to it. Jacques tells her that she should not be. And the game is on.

The game is about romancing. Mozart, truffle season, heaps of roses, creamy chocolates and Jacques’ famous, ” Let’s pretend we don’t know where we are going, or who we are?” He gives Anne the pet name, “Brulee”. Creamily, creme de la cream, evocative!

There are hints of mean testosterone in Jacque when he discloses an indiscretion of Michael’s, and we wonder who will pay for all the cheese, fruit, wine, and watercress. Even a little jealousy is tried as Jacque introduces Anne to Martine, who tells her that “You will never forget your travels with Jacque. Trust me!”

This is an easy summer flick to take your husband to when “your not used to feeling this way”…meaning romanced!

“My Cousin Rachel” (2017)

Not everyone remembers the first film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic novel “My Cousin Rachel” (1952), but it was Richard Burton’s first Oscar nomination. His last line, “Rachel, my torment”, made young girls wish they could elicit such power and passion.

Here, Sam Claflin plays a seemingly younger, more naive lover. A couple of scenes are almost smirk producing! Obsessive love merges with mystery and mistaken perception to give one an “Sense Of An Ending” jolt. In fact, these two based-on-book films would be fun to compare.

Du Maurier’s setting is 19th century Cornwall with its rocky cliffs, foamy seascapes, cantering horses and rumbling carriages. Her tenth novel,” My Cousin Rachel, published in the summer of 1951, uses the traditional Irish wolf hounds, the sunshine curse miasma and the stock romance elements to beautiful effect.

Philip Ashley is the 23-year-old narrator, the orphan and nephew of Ambroise Ashley. His beloved uncle writes Philip a letter imploring him to come to his rescue. His young wife,Rachel, is poisoning him, watching him like a hawk; and he fears for his sanity. He has fevers, headaches, and is light-sensitive. Ambroise distrusts his doctor, and piteously entreats Phillip: ” For God’s sake, come quickly!”.

When Phillip arrives at the villa, Dr. Gamboli intones, ” I have been expecting you. He is dead.” Phillip is to inherit the entire estate. Rachel has left for London, but weeks later will return with the storm. The dogs follow her upstairs and her commanding presence takes charge. Phillip attempts to confront her, but his anxious rapping on her door leaves her offering him tea. Her charms beguile even in her black mourning veil. He later tells her: “You are not the woman I hated.” Besotted, he gives her family pearls and increases her allowance. We hear servant whispers and rumors of a duel in her past between husband and lover, unbridled extravagance, and limitless appetite. Rachel Weisz seems born to play her namesake. She captures just the right winsome smiles and stoney eye glints.

The cinematography of Mike Eley is as memorable as any gothic romance filmed. Cliff falls, pearl cascading close-ups, make him a master of premonition. One of the most lovely scenes, features Phillip and Rachel’s romantic romp in a bed of bluebells. She is disinterested, he sated. There are alleyways with woman plucking chickens, candle lighted bedroom scenes, and ominous cliff paths to enjoy.

Director Roger Michell will undoubtably send viewers back to the author of ” The Birds” and may even have viewers purchasing ” Manderley Forever”: A Biography of Daphne Du Maurier by Tatiana De Rosnay translated into English this year. I could see this film again. One just wants more.

“Gifted”

Dueling values, familiar battles, and a seven-year-old math prodigy, who needs what all children need~ to know that they are loved~ are the spokes of this rather run-of-the-mill custody courtroom drama. Abandonment issues aside,”Gifted” deals with using another’s talent for self-aggrandizement. The acting sets this film apart. Marc Webb’s directing is laudable.

The villain grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) is a haughtily clueless intellectual. The script has made her British. Your guess may be the same as mine! Her money gives her power, and now she wants a legacy in academia that her gifted daughter kept from her.

Her grand-daughter Mary, played remarkably by McKenna Grace is the second math prodigy in this very bright, but depression ridden family. Both Mary’s mother and her grandfather have taken their own lives. Blaming the cold, intellectually ambitious matriarch is a tad too simple. Even though,I can see viewers using the “being Evelyn” every time someone acts superior by using a snarky, putdown. Evelyn’s best rhetoricals are thrown at her son:” This god-forsaken mosquito hutch was a conscious choice?”

Uncle Frank (Chris Evans) has been given sole custody of the certainly precocious and often bratty Mary. He is a drop-out philosophy professor who repairs broken boat engines like he has energized his orphaned niece. As a now laid-back Floridian, he attempts to normalize the abnormal. A pet cat named Fred, a loving neighbor and sometimes sitter, outdoorsy activities, a piano, disco all help keep Mary’s head out of the math theorems and quadratic equations. Mary knows she is different. Uncle Frank is trying to preserve her childhood while still home-schooling the young savant in Trachtenberg methodology.

School placement becomes an issue. Jenny Slate plays her classroom teacher. A romance develops with Frank. She becomes a pivotal figure when she sees a one-eyed cat poster and acts accordingly.

As Evelyn focuses on the “The Seven Great Millenium Problems In Mathematics” and salivates over the Nobel Prize, her family falls apart. Somehow it is she who has not thought things through.

My favorite scene takes place in a maternity ward. Frank knows how to teach by showing, not just telling. When Mary stops jumping up and down and asks, ” Can we stay for another?”, there is not a dry eye in the theater.

This is not a great movie, but it is a crowd pleaser. The sound track is horridly overdone, but the lessons broached are worthy of a family hug.

“Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent”

One hundred and three minutes of being utterly fascinated by this paen to the man lauded as the father of the new American cuisine (1980-1990’s)  left me sated. This documentary has the pace and tone of a Thomas Lynley mystery novel. A poor little rich boy story where a six-year-old is left on his own to order his meals and roam  the kitchens of the likes of the Queen Mary. A lonesome prepubescent lad on family vacation with no family around the Great Barrier Reef, an aboriginal fisherman instructing him on how to cook barracuda with herbs from the jungle, and the subsequent molestation of said child, all set the stage.

His family wealth provided amazing travel opportunities like six weeks in India. Often left alone with aspics and racks of lamb, Jeremiah Tower reflects that, “Food was my pal, my companion”. “There was nothing to do on those cruises , but order and eat,” Tower recalls. Trees of caramel – glazed profiteroles  and dark, meaty consommé made him fall in love with 1st class. Schooled in France and earning a Harvard degree in architecture, Tower did live in an Edwardian dream world of romantic perfection on one level ,and he was a neglected child on another. In his grand hotel upbringing, at one time each parent thought that the other had enrolled him in school. The culinary staff adopted him, and he read menus before he read books. His parents’ martinis started early; and subsequently, his day was orchestrated around commercial kitchens and food.

Director and writer Lydia Tenaglia and her film have taken me back to my 1982 Alice Waters’ “Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook” where Jeremiah Tower is mentioned on two pages ( 29 & 239) . The cookbook’s assembled 120 inspired transformations of classic French dishes now seem more of her former partner’s, Jeremiah Tower’s. Waters acknowledges only his innovation and inspiration. Page 29 reads, ” My friend Jeremiah Tower used to tell stories about his Russian uncle when he cooked blinis and couliiacs at Chez Panisse. To know if you had enough butter on the blini it had to be dripping off your elbows as you put it in your mouth, and he recalled his uncle washing this down with lemon-flavored Russian vodka.”

I do wish the film had more of his dishes, cooking, and anecdotes. But I have his book ” Jeremiah Tower Cooks” ( 2002) for this. Waters does on page 239 write,”Many of the menus were conceived and executed by Jeremiah Tower,who was the chef at the restaurant during its formative years. He developed the idea of regional dinners celebrating the food of Provincial France, Morocco, Louisiana, and ultimately, our own region of Northern California; his innovation and adventurous menus gave the restaurant its reputation for ambitious experimentation and exploration.” Tower was co-owner of Chez Panisse.

The British Jeremiah Tower believed “you could read a culture through its food, and you could change a culture through food.” His own four books and his twenty-five PBS ” America’s Best Chefs” programs attest to this thesis, though none are mentioned in Tenaglia’s documentary. The film notes that Tower reads deeply into ancient and classic food writers. He writes that “the soft and precious flavors and techniques of the past have given us a framework in which to use the riches of the present.

Though I liked the film tremendously and was intent on seeing it, I would had liked more snippets of his blending his early experience with his actual cooking. For instance, Tower writes of Kedgeree: “This grand pilaf is one of the many good things that came out of Anglo-Indian cookery and is an example of one of the first “fusion” dishes. The word comes from the Hindi ” khichri”, a breakfast rice that contains cooked lentils and a lot of butter with fried onions on top. If you were rich in the 15th c. , you fed it to your elephants as well. Kedgeree made mt first reputation as a cook when I was twelve. I cooked it for the family Sunday breakfast, as a change from our usual, either haddock or huevos rancheros.All I remember is everyone asking me, ‘How did you do that?’ ‘Easy’, I thought privately, ‘I’d do anything to avoid eating that smoked haddock in milk and onions again.’ Years later, when I cooked the haddock for myself, it was fine, and I realized that my mother had been cooking the fish too fast, letting the milk boil, and toughening the fish to dryness.”

Seeing the handsome Tower clad in his white chef jacket with a wooden spoon in the breast pocket is the picture of his influential, self-confident flair. Having Jacque Pepin, James Beard, Ruth Reichel, Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, and Anthony Bourdain praise him on camera was more than merely collegial, all acknowledged his genius.

Though some bitterness is shown toward Alice a Waters, (she the Joan of Arc/ I the footnote) much of the film is focused on Tower’s San Fran restaurant “Stars”. Here map-cap antics and cool celebrities partake in seeing and being seen indulging in magnificent food. He stepped out of the kitchen as celebrity chef. He recreated ocean liner reality. Dinner became entertainment with whimsy. Tenaglia even re-posts Tower’s Dewars profile. At 46, he was the rock star chef. And then, he was gone, rumored to be scuba diving in Italy and Mexico. Jacques Cousteau was his hero even in architectural school, but the rest is a mystery.

Fifteen years out of the profession and Jeremiah Tower is making news again as the chef-savior for NYC’s “Tavern On The Green”. He has problems with management and a court case with the firing of a worker, who had AIDS. He addresses the camera under a five-foot oil portrait of himself at five, velvet suit, white collar, and holding a stuffed bunny. He seems at peace with his aristocratic self, the last magnificent, so to say.

The final credits show him deep-sea diving and culling the ocean beds. All is blue, silent, and well-deserved. I could see this documentary again, just as I could savor his Montpelier butter.

“Norman”

A Jewish farce brimming with humanity is full of lessons and life. What else can be said about Joseph Cedar’s “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Downfall of a New York Fixer” could fill a Saul Bellow novel. See this film to watch napkin jottings of socio-grams  become high drama.

Richard Gere is Norman Oppenheimer, a little man to whom ” attention must be paid” Arthur Miller style. Gere inhabits the role of a jabbering wheeler-dealer as effortlessly as he has in more stereotyped cute lover roles. This is a great character study that reminds viewers not to be too judgmental. We have character growth and a transcending of self-actualization Maslow-style.

Cedar’s tale is structured into four acts: ” A Foot In The Door”, “The Right Horse” and ” Anonymous Donor”, and ” The Price of Peace”. Gere morphs before our eyes from “macher” into “mensch”. At first questions like, ” How much money could you make if you knew ” put us off. We see Norman flummoxed at the treatment he receives from affluent Mr. Town ( Josh Charles ). Isn’t he just trying to link people up and be appreciated for it ? His nephew played beautifully by Michael Sheen tells Norman that he is like a drowning man waving at an ocean liner. Norman optimistically replies with a smile, ” but I’m a good swimmer.” Good things come in surprising ways to be sure in this film. Continue reading “Norman”

“A Quiet Passion”

Terrence Davies has directed a masterwork true to his film’s touting. The Amherst maid’s reclusive existence is meshed beautifully with her poetry.  Emily Dickinson’s isolation produced over 1800 poems, over 500 of them on the subject of nature. The family estate and its lush grounds and gardens are slowly shown through rolled glass window frames. The camera slowly rotates over vase, decanter, candle and desk. Piano and hearth and clock chime center family life. We are transported to the inspiration for as many as six beautifully recited poems: her experience put as impetus for her poetry in detailed fashion.

With the same clockwork precision, the camera circles around each seated family member, and we come to understand Emily Dickinson’s close familiar network.

In “A Quiet Passion”, we follow the young Emily ( Emma Bell ) as she leaves Mount Holyoke Seminary. Her studies include dreary ecclesiastical history. She quips that she will not be “forced to piety”. Her soul is her own. Her distain for being charged with “servant duties” is shown in one scene where she slams a plate on the edge of the dining table. Her disciplinarian father has pointed out that the plate was dirty. Her small rebellions include not going to church services:” God does not need me in a pew to know what is in my heart.”Dickinson loved Emerson, and his faithfulness to a person’s deeper self was her truth.

Cynthia Nixon taking the role of the adult poet is mesmerizing. She is not likeable, and holds herself distant and a tad resentful. As poet Adrienne Rich has written, Dickinson ” chose silence for entertainment”. Yet, her soft barbs like “cherish your ignorance” are offered up in candleglow.

Her parents are played by Keith Carradine and Joanna Bacon. It is interesting to see how ” in my father’s house” begets asking permission to write late at night. She prefers to compose from one to three in the morning. We hear that women should not take the stage or exhibit themselves, and that women can not create the treasure of literature.

Certainly, her spinx-like mother spends most of her time behind lace curtains and under bed clothes. It is remarked when she comes down from her bedroom that it is like the gods coming down from Mount Olympus. Bacon plays a dreamy matriarch, who is often ill. Her own death scene mirrors Emily’s own. She is a sad mom for whom post-partum depression seems to have not left. Dickinson’s father’s funeral cortège produces her ” of so Divine a loss”.  Emily does not attend, but sequesters herself in her room. She states that she does not now cross her father’s ground.

Her sister Lavinia is at first Rose Williams and then the lovely Jennifer Ehle. Vinnie’s  sweetness and insight provide a nice foil to Emily’s eccentricities. We hear them discussing ” Wuthering Heights” and the Brontes and George Elliot. Tennyson’s “Hiawatha” does not fare as well, and to Emily “is but gruel”. Vinnie’s statement that ” integrity can be ruthless” shows a gentler, more tolerant spirit than Emily’s.

Jodhi May is her betrayed sister-in-law, Susan. Emily’s loyalty to her is deep. Catherine Bailey, the bantering, cheeky, libertine friend was added to the script to give Emily’s wit a chance to shine outside her poetry and her immediate family. As Vryling Buffam, she seems to be the flighty rebel Emily wishes to be. The dutiful Emily can be cantankerous, but never as outlandish as her friend. The film stresses Dickinson’s sincerity and wit. Can virtues be vices in disguise?

Provincial  life provides scarce acquaintances. Aunt Elizabeth ( Annette Badland) and  Austin ( Benjamin Wainwright ) provide her most heated arguments. Emily is shown speaking harshly to employees, but she later apologizes. Her ambition in winning a bread baking contest seems to have gotten the better of her. Later, she shows the same attack dog temperament when she admonishes her publisher, Mr. Bowles, for tampering with her punctuation and capitalization.

Emily’s first poem was a mock valentine published anonymously in the Springfield Republic in 1852. Thwarted love has been the central myth about Dickinson. The “poetry of misery” her one-time publisher calls it.  Yet, one of my favorite scenes was Emily holding her nephew Ned and reciting ” I’m Nobody Who Are You” to him. We see how her art intertwines with her experiences. This is one of the most remarkable feats of Director Davies.

“A Quiet Passion” has a beautiful score, and cinematography that keeps the thoughts coming.  Hazy, shadowed doorways and door knobs symbolically open and close like Dickinson’s soul. The ending has her as a chloriformed hysteric, hyperventilating in seizures that are as fitful to watch. The death rattle and overhead bed shot are a tad period heavy.

Her love for Reverend Wadsworth, a married man is treated stoically. His cold wife and the hot water tea scene is perfect. Mrs. Wadsworth’s, ” levity and the will of God are incapatible” makes this “tea party” memorable ! The scene where her father wishes to pay 500 pounds for a Civil War substitute for Austin is linked with Emily’s phrases ” cavalry of woe” and ” plumed procession”. When Rev. Wadsworth admirably pronounces her poems ” remarkable & non-compromising” , we feel her joy, not her bitterness.

Continue reading “A Quiet Passion”

“The Lost City of Z”

“The Lost City of Z” is itself lost as it misses the mark in telling the story, in cinematography, and in editing. Read the book and skip this lengthy mess. Why the director and writer decided to make this passionate adventure story a family affair, I don’t know. By balancing the gender roles between wife and husband, the script does a disservice to the “woman left behind” true 19th century story. Modern sensibilities and inordinate goodbyes seem disingenuous and, in truth, rather boring in this misguided period piece.

I found the acting even a tad wooden. While Robert Pattinson is a fine adventure companion, Charlie Hunnam seems uncomfortable as Percy Fawcett, the British soldier who becomes obsessed with finding a lost South American civilization. Sienna Miller’s portrayal seems less than long-suffering. She abandons herself to her husband’s enterprise and at the film’s end seemingly walks out of her parlor door into the greenery of the jungle. Somehow the script has strayed from David Grann’s wonderful book on Percy’s exploits.

The politics with The Royal Geographic Society and the ambition of Fawcett are broached in his want of advancement. The snide remarks of the gentry toward our adventurer are stated directly. His ” unfortunate choice of ancestors” leaves him the underdog who is not invited to royally dine. Doors are closed to him even when he “makes the kill”. If he wants promotions, he will be transferred around the Empire. Soldierly decorations will make it possible to reclaim his dissolute father’s reputation, we are told. His yesteryear strivings show epic sacrifice that seems more silly than heroic.

Kipling poetry sends the small band of seekers machete chopping through ridges of uncharted green. 1906 Bolivia with its mosquitoes and “primitives” has been done better before. While some of the screen images are hazy and romantic, most are dark and claustrophobic.

The English disinterest in any civilization older than its own and the proposition that savages may be equals is rather cliche. “Finding the glory” becomes a more personal quest in this film and it takes away from the romance of adventure and knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Grann’s book was of a  grander scale.

The gender politics distract, also. Sure lines like ” I don’t need a tent mate in need of constant care” , and ” You have given no thought to my aspirations” make us wish we were back in the jungle, the best sequence being when an arrow is stopped by a raised journal to the face.  One interesting bit of knowledge was shown when a milky substance was sprinkled in the river to stun the fish. The natives only kill what they need we are told.

Angus Macfadyen plays James Murray, who is portrayed as a disgrace. He eats the food of others and is fearful of swimming. The dishonorable Murray is sent on his own with a horse. The horse comes from nowhere! The details be damned. Other mix-ups abound. Especially irritating was the erratic ages of Fawcett’s children. If he was in the jungle for three years, that daughter should have been walking. Rank still rankles  Fawcett, and he states “rank does not guarantee mettle” with aplomb.

Victorian flourishes like palm readers, idyllic outings with children, and 1917 WWI are all covered in epic scope. Fawcett’s rousing speech and his near blindness from chlorine gas propel us forward. Now, a colonel, Fawcett finds his destiny back in the Amazon with his son. We get ” a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what is heaven for”. Both Fawcetts disappear in the Amazon in 1925. Skip the James Gray movie, and read the David Grann book.