“The Invisible Woman”

This film directed and acted by Ralph Fiennes is an exquisite period piece that channels Victorian England by dramatizing Charles Dickens as a successful forty-year-old luminary embarking on an affair with an eighteen-year-old, inexperienced girl. The screenplay is based on Claire Tomalin’s 1991 dramatic biography “The Invisible Woman:The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens”.

This film shares the same question one may ask after reading “Fifty Shades of Grey”: Can impressionable young woman be protected from the narcissitic manipulations of high-ranking men? And in the case of Nelly,can a mother contract her daughter out for the promise of economic stability? No matter how archetypal the theme,this arranged mistress storyline smarts;and Dickens’reputation is lowered a notch or two. Those who see this as a true love story may disagree. The film balances both takes,and it is my moralizing that judges Dickens and his ilk harshly. The privileged male syndrome has had its comeuppance, I hope.Preying on those coming of age in order to achieve one’s sexual desires is verboten by most. A romantic muse need not lead to carnal displays . As I reread this,I fear that I am the “Victorian”! Yet,I was very satisfied with the film,even after three weeks of seeing trailers that misled the public.

Attention to detail sets this film apart. A 2014 Oscar win for Costume Design was almost assured with the film’s twelve million dollar budget. One frame is especially stunning. Felicity Jones, as Nelly, is encased in lavender and white gauze against grey and lavender clouds. The ensuing effect takes one’s breathe away. Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind” came to mind, as did Lara in “Dr. Zhivago”.

The three female actresses Felicity Jones as Nelly,Kristin Scott Thomas as Nelly’s mother and Joanna Scanlan, as Catherine Dickens, Charles’ wife are a trilogy of talent. With the use of a narrator and flashbacks, the not so secret love affair unfolds. Scanlan drew tears from my eyes as she suffered with her husband’s infidelity and brutal abandonment. She commanded the screen and used silence and a query as no other has. An Oscar loss,she did not deserve.

Fiennes stepped into the part of Dickens when as director he lost his leading man. He played Dickens as vain,love-sotted and scheming. Both tender and cruel. Full of life affirming possibility and vigor. At the time Dickens was writing “Great Expectations” he ironically had a few of his own.

In this film, one noticed the silence in lieu of background music. When the violins did start, it was heart-rending. A “Dr. Zhivago” for the Anglophile ! Did I leave anything out?

“Ida”

“Ida” is a quiet film. A quiet film that touched me so deeply in its reverence and execution that I place it in my memory like “The Pawnbroker”,another holocaust-themed film where the emotional cost to one Holocaust survivor is recorded through hardened pain and self-immolation. I find “Ida” one of the most inspirational and moving foreign language films that I have seen.

In just eighty minutes of black and white framed images,Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski has delivered a back story and a future one that shows a woman and her niece making decisions based on their shared historical past.

Nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film in 2014, “Ida” is also the haunting debut of the young Agata Trzebuchowska (b. 1992). Her beautifully boned face is
Madonna- like and soulful. She encapsules the 1960’s novitiate setting with an ease that is both powerful and resplendent. When Ida is sent by enlightened and fair-minded nuns to visit her only living relative,she learns of her past and of her family’s. She listens to her aunt,a unique combination of one emotionally removed while being emotionally charged.You will not forget her screen presence as she blows smoke on her niece and haughtily questions, “What do you know of life?”

Like with Amish “rumpspringa, Ida’s restrictions from convent behavior allow for experimentation with 1960 style drugs,sex and friendship. Her rite of passage rings truer than most. When she is last seen walking up the frozen road to the convent,we know why. This film is religious,metaphysical and real.Comments,please.

“Non-Stop”

Need a good popcorn thriller before Valentine’s Day? Try Jaume Collet-Sera’s “Non-Stop”. Maybe I still feel akin to claustrophobic air travel and Barcelona,but this forty- year -old Spanish director has given us one hour and forty minutes of tension inducing,edge-of-your-seat villainy.

Liam Neeson is good sixty-two year old eye candy, and he and Julianne Moore bring enough depth of character and backstory for the viewer to care. Yet,Corey Stoll’s New York cop role is more note-worthy.I changed my villain choice numerous times throughout the film,as did my seat mates. The script is flawed,but the one drawback that irked me most was soldiers and teachers getting a bad rap as deluded revenge patriots. Genre comments,please.

“The Grand Seduction”

“The Grand Seduction” is a remake of a 2003 French- Canadian film by Jean-Francois Pouliot.I was again seduced by the 2013 version with its Canadian shenanigans and its character actors: the former secondary math teacher, Brendan Gleeson; and the darlingly-dimpled model/actor, Taylor Kitsch.Both know how to charm an audience.

The storyline is anchored in a cocky, 29  year -old doctor’s learning how to “read people”. After the predictable broken engagement and the memorable scene of phoney fishing, our young doctor moves away from the “clueless” category. Funny and small -village -wise, this film carries you along in feel -good  discovery and in the  affirmation of real caring. The gramma- knitted- chenille bedspread cricket caps are hysterical, and give a new take on “the close-knitted” moniker of village life.The harbor scenery reminded me to book a ticket for a Nova Scotia ferry ride from Portland to Nova Scotia soon. You just want to be in a like-minded place.

Dialogue coach Heather Hill needs to be lauded for her contribution to all the mirrored seduction plots. Sparkling repartee and right -on dialects  provide  half the fun. While the middle dragged a bit, one enjoys being dragged.And the fumbling on the cricket field actually made me want to learn the rules of the game. Vignettes of telephone stenographers comically take you to another time when “social media” was just as important for staying in “the know”.

Cats are the animals of choice. Cultural collisions of Indian curry and  jazz fusion further the laughs and insight. Corporate manipulation never looked more jaded,while the harbor community never looked sweeter or more savvy. Manipulation may be the motif of this film, but good-heartedness is the outcome. I say…charming,engaging,and slice-of-life silly should be part of everyone’s day! If you think “The Grand Seduction” is a rewarding divergence from mainstream fare let me hear your comments.

“Philomena”

As one of my fellow bloggers wrote ” Having a duvet day”,and now  it is time to publish a backlog of reviews before the 87th Oscar Evening arrives. A film I enjoyed last year was “Philomena”. It was based on both a true story and book, “The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee” by Martin Sixsmith. This tale of sexual shame (which Catholics are good at) and forgiveness ( also what Catholics are good at) hits just the right religious chords of awe,tolerence and redemption.

This tale is beautifully acted by Brits Dame Judith Dench and Steve Coogan and the Scottish Sophia Kennedy Clark. Coogan playing a rather officious and haughty reporter learns the most from a journey that takes Philomena (Dench and Clark) back to the convent and the workhouse in search of a lost son. As the truth is painstakenly uncovered, our reporter has trouble controlling his righteous anger. Dench delivers her line,” Anger…it must be exhausting” with the wisdom of the ages.

A laudable depiction of partnership in final wishes being met– and just enough gentle humor to remind me of Coogan’s performance in another film “The Trip”(2010) where he wrote restaurant reviews while touring Northern England. Here, in “Philomena”,the Irish countryside is the backdrop. The money game, whether selling babies or up-dated Sunday missals every year, is the evil. A sad history re-visited and peace made with pain.

“Her”

The debut of Spike Jontz as screenwriter extradinaire has given me my favorite film of 2013. Oddly,it is a sci-fi romance, part satire,part sensitivity training and part metaphysical query. “Her” delivers a portrayal of such bittersweet longing that the score and the trailer still affect me. The film is emotionally wrenching,but with a smattering of oddball quirkiness for relief. I did not find this film “creepy”. The romantically rejected always have a place in my heart. Here the possibilities of cyber-love for Theodore Twombly are aural. He falls in love with a voice and an evolving artificial intelligence.

Professionally,Theodore writes personal letters for people who can not seem to do so.
There is a shot where we see many cubicles with workers doing the same. This service is weirder than hiring a personal shopper for familial gift selections or asking a secretary to handle these obligations,but it may be the next emotionally numbing, futuristic step. Joaquin Phoenix is masterful in portraying the sensitive scrivener. I thought he deserved the Oscar for Best Actor. His delight and vulnerability were palpable. This film received five Oscar nominations and won Best Screenplay.

The musical score was composed by the Canadian band Arcade Fire. This music was so much apart of the emotionality of the film that “Her” would not be the same film without this score. And “The Moon Song” by Karen O has remained a favorite of mine for it draws on and underscores love’s need for trust and safety. You will find yourself humming “A Million Miles Away” after leaving cyber-space. Send any real cineasts here..to see “Her” for one of the most original art -house- quality films to date. Oh, and Scarlett Johansson’s voice is lovely.

“The Face Of Love”

“The Face of Love” is a great Friday night film with a nod to Alfred Hitchcock and a wink to the only child.I prefer obsessive love noir films like Truffaut’s “Adelle H”. And this B class psychological thriller mixes grief and doppelganger allure in scary and humorous ways. My mind kept jumping ahead guessing and adjusting for all the possible endings. As a just- functioning widow, Annette Bening shows a fear I have never seen on her usual  pixie face . It rather shook me. The games the mind can play. Ed Harris is equally as good playing the sappy new lover and then the outraged lost -husband double. The late Robin Williams plays an unusual role as neighbor and anamoured confidente. He is self-aware, vulnerable and intense just like we have come to expect and miss.The cast is superb and as believable as your imagination will let you believe given the definable disorders and denials of reality in play.

The tension is tight as we wait to see this tale unwind. Subjects of grief and loss go way beyond Kubler-Ross. Real love as muse or mate really isn’t fundamental to this film. It is what the mind can conjure.

I would not have chosen the L.A. and sunny Mexican locales as setting, but then again, “Rebecca” has already been made and the water imagery is still put to good use. See this for yourself and let me read your comments.