“The Age Of Adaline”

The American politician Adlai Stevenson is credited with the statement:” It is not the years in your life,but the life in your years that counts.” Certainly, the protagonist in the movie “The Age of Adaline” would agree. Yet at 107, who wouldn’t enjoy over nine decades of being eternally desirable by any number of handsome men? Who wouldn’t bask in being the Trivia Pursuit queen or the master of many languages and have pet dogs whose lineage parades through eighty years? Harrison Ford’s comment to his former lover (Blake Lively)”you have lived,but you never had a life” doesn’t ring true to me.

The silly stuff is the talk of nucleic acid jumbo and of telomeres being lengthened by a core body temperature of 87 degrees and then a direct lightening strike. This is what keeps the lovely Adaline from aging past twenty-nine. She has researched her condition when she had a job at a California school of medicine. She has concluded that there is no scientific reason for her agelessness.She now must keep moving and changing her name, her job,and her residence every decade or she will be pursued as a curiosity,a specimen, to be categorized and studied. Even the FBI tries to haul her in and run tests!

All of this being said,the movie is fun to watch. We see love at first sight and its fireworks, hear smart repartee,and revisit the Italian adage that “years,lovers, and glasses of wine should never be counted.” One of my favorite being the elevator come-on : “I’d like to spend twenty floors with you!”

We get lots of aerial views and starry skies. One lover who resurfaces forty-five years later as the father of a new beau is an astronomer (Harrison Ford) ,who has named a comet after her. Ellis,his son,is currently in love with her. He is wealthy,a philanthropist and on every civic board imaginable. He donates classics to the library and romantically hands her a flower- book-bouquet of Dandelion Wine,White Oleander,and Daisy Miller. We see a frame of an open book with its pages fluttering just like her librarian heart! “Let Go” becomes their mantra when she breathily asks, “Tell me something I can hold onto and never let go”.

The film is told initially in narrative. We hear of Adaline’s husband Prescott and their daughter,Fleming. Fleming played beautifully by Helen Burstyn is introduced later as the ageless Adaline’s grandmother. Their odd relationship is loving even when Fleming is fixated on ailments and retirement homes as her mother has captured a new beau young enough to be her great-grandson. Adaline,now under the alias “Jennifer” has nothing but the future. As she smirks at her daughter’s request for a picture,”seen one photo of me, you have seen them all.”

I liked how the young actor who played the young Harrison Ford sounded just like him~ a little bit of kitsch,here.And Michiel Huisman’s line to the older Harrison was romantic:” because nothing makes sense without her”.The throwing of cars keys ~ a classic father/son thing.

Golden Gate Bridge images and the words “very close” get trying, but as a vehicle for Blake Lively’s role as a Kate-Hudson-lookalike and for Kathy Baker to play another jealous, irate wife, the set is ready. I kept waiting for Adaline to revert to an aged zombie,but I am not the normal sixty-seven year old who may find solace in sharing aging with a soulmate. Does embracing gray hair really mean one is capable of change?

“The Water Diviner”

There is a lot of “Hollywood” in the romantic anti-war movie “The Water Diviner”, but there are some good lines and grand sentiments delivered,too. Imagine Russell Crowe riding a white steed along side his new-found friend cantering on a black one. The friend the same Turkish military officer fighting against all three of your sons in Gallipoli circa 1915. You have the image:Crowe (Mr. Joshua Conner) is a hero who can forgive,divine the hidden (water and sons), and save a surprise slaughter with a cricket stick. He also,besides sticking by a suicidal wife, mentors a young boy and captures the love of a beautiful Turkish widow. Crowe is the director,too!

The action begins with close-ups of Turkish preparations for war. We see dust and death,but the music is too loud to allow for the soulful images to sink in. Based on truth,we know many Aussies joined the British in fighting the red and white crescent and starred flag of the Turks.The walled trenches became prisons of death.The brutal hand-to-hand,head bashing combat that is portrayed here are some of the hardest frames to watch. War is seen as viscerally savage.

The story does not unfold chronologically. We have flashbacks and jerking “four years before ” screen memos. We are introduced to Lizzy,Conner’s wife, and we hear him reading “The Arabian Nights” to his three sons. Middle Eastern literature is given its due ala Warner Brothers. Using the dowsing sticks to find water and shoring up a newly made well is muscled fun and gratifying to watch and ties in with a beautiful watery escape later in the film.

After a rough start,the film hooks us up with Conner’s pilgrimage to return his sons to their Australian homeland and bury them near their mother.Conner believes all three of his soldier sons ( Arthur, Henry, and Edward ) were killed on the same day, August 7th, 1915. After his grief stricken wife drowns herself, Conner shovels dirt on her grave and promises,” I’ll find them love,and bring them back to you.”

By using a son’s returned diary, Conner travels to Istanbul. Amidst a maze of fezzes and alleyways,through baazaars and mosques, we are initiated into a culture where the beautiful Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) is met. There is a lovely shot where her shadow -tears show her widow’s pain. She measures a man by how much he loves his children. She is abused by her brother-in-law who wishes to take her as a second wife and visit her every third night. We see her doting on her ten-year-old son,reading coffee grounds,preparing meals,beating rugs,caring for an aging father,dancing and enjoying music,and keeping twenty paces behind Conner so that perhaps there will be no shame. As their shared belief that “Hope is always a necessity” strenghtens their physical attraction,the situation changes when Conner tries to intervene on her behalf and is set up for an honor killing.Ayshe fearing for him screams,”This is not your world. Go home,Mr. Conner. ”

After he gives her son his copy of “The Arabian Nights”, she helps him escape over rooftops and into the caves of Turkish Nationals who allow him to follow them to the restricted battlefields in search of his sons. The British have thwarted his efforts,but the Persian curse, “May you outlive your children” is deeply understood by the Turkish major. It is from the wise major that we hear,”you invaded us”,and the divisions you drew up will keep the “factions constantly at war.”

The one-hundred year anniversary of the battle at Gallipoli calls for a little research,at least more than is given in the film’s few framed texts. ANZACS ( an acroymn for the New Zealand and Australian Army Corp) and part of the larger British Forces wished to control the Dardenelles so that shipping lanes could be unlocked and Russian wheat and Allie supplies could flow. In 1911, Russian wheat exports constituted thirty-seven per cent of World market.

Still, “The Water Diviner” tries to do too much for one film. It is like the director Crowe wishes us to “climb onto the magic carpet” and let him be savior-sultan-mate for three hours.

I have not even mentioned the shell-shocked,church icon-painter and whirling dervish. Or the funny lines when Connor berates the Turks for their lack of record keeping.The response being, “We are Ottomen, not German!” Or the thirty-one cemeteries where Turkish and British bones were attempted to be separated out. Or the institutional church which tries to punish by with-holding burial in consecrated ground,and is smacked with the rhetorical question,”How much blood do you need for it ( ground) to be holy?!”

I feel the question for this film may be similar. “How much ground do you need to cover to show that to recover from war grief and war guilt  one needs action ?”

“Clouds of Sils Maria”

Olivier Assayas’s film “Clouds of Maria’s Sils” is a slow, layered meditation on living life in the moment, without discounting the past or the future. At times it is like watching sand filter through an hourglass, rushed yet somehow wasted. Time is the centering theme and the clouds’ movements life’s metaphor. Sils Maria is a place name. High in the Swiss Alps southeast of Switzerland, .it becomes a retreat for the famous actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche). Binoche, always a favorite of mine, is easy to identify with as she prepares to give homage to her first director at a Zurich award ceremony. The seventy-one year old Wilhelm Melchior commits suicide before the tribute can be given. The first layer of sand is sprinkled. Life is short, personal and mysterious.

This is a film for people who want to discuss film as a life-recording vehicle akin to the novel. Images will not be forgotten. We begin with a dark, shaking train ride where all are on cell phones. We meet Maria’s personal assistant,easily played by Kristen Stewart,and learn that Maria is negotiating the terms of her divorce. Window reflections mirror the transience of relationships while we hear Maria bolstered by “You love him. Words will come. You will be true to him”. The second layer of this story within a story is laid by watching Stewart meet every need and whim of Maria. No fruit basket, no tv, less Internet, less regret, more nature, exercise and line practices. We learn how much Maria is invested in her career and how seriously she inhabits her characters. M. Enders at the close of her career is not ready to end anything.

The clouds bring sadness, but joy, too. And no one can light up the screen with their laughter like Binoche. We see her skinny dipping and cavorting in unctuous praise. We see her enjoying a warm sun nap on a cliff’s edge, and we see her scream “I can not accept it” with equal relish. This women knows how to live in the moment. I strongly imagine Binoche does,too. She is just so good at being present. She fills the screen.

Part Two introduces us to the Maloja Snake. I thought this cloud formation more resembled a dragon as it moves and encompasses every craggy crevice of the river valley below. It is a perfect metaphor for time’s passage. Much more beautiful than the fragile, contained hourglass.

After her tribute, Maria is asked to play the part of Helen, an older lesbian who commits suicide when she is left by her young lover, Sybil. At eighteen, Maria starred as Sybil, and Maria is not keen about changing places as the less free-spirited woman. The role scares her. She is superstitious. The last “Helen” died in an accident. We know that the youth culture will still see Sybil as the brightest role. Older woman falling for scheming girl reprised may wound Maria’s spirit.

Claus,bthe director of the bleak play “Maloja Snake” has changed the play’s ending. Maria does not read the last three pages, and we surmise that there will be no suicide. We end with a fade out of Maria in London on stage looking every bit the corporate controller. She will age gracefully and powerfully.

All the cast members are good, but Binoche still shines the brightest. Chloe Grace Moretz as the new Sybil is a starlet one loves to hate. Scandalous and dismissive of everyone ,Moretz would be over the top if it were not for the tabloids
we know so well. Kristen Stewart won the Cesar Award for her assistant performance as Valentine. She plays an intelligent foil to Maria. She exits when she feels her views are discounted. She is replaced as easily as the Maloja Snake fills the gaps. A lesson for us all.

“Clouds of Sils Maria” will stay with you long after you leave the theatre. The five bars of Handel serve as the “om” that will focus your meditation on acting and on life, on what is fiction and what is truth.

“Ex Machina” & “Transcendence”

I keep waiting for Mary Doria Russell’s novel “The Sparrow”,my favorite sci-if book, to be filmed. A Jesuit in another dimension is a convention of the genre,as are meditations of what it means to be human. I adored Spike Jonze’s “Her” ( reviewed February 10th),so I had to see Johnny Depp in “Transcendence”,another foray into hybrids. “Transcendence” held my interest,though a few slow scenes could have been deleted.

Rebecca Hall was grand as the possible new Eve,Evelyn. Paul Bethany and Depp were convincing and evolving.Depp is Dr. Will Castor whose wife Evelyn and best friend Max support his Artificial Intelligence research. Dr. Will Castor is killed by an anti-tech terrorist and Evelyn uploads Will’s consciousness. Here his consciousness madly develops and tries to be the All-powerful. The World Wide Web was to make the world smaller,but paradoxically without it the world becomes smaller and still, the product of one man’s ego.Power and control themes end in a ridiculous fake sunflower cameoing. Still among the blinding white images there are topics to discuss. This is Wally Pfister’s directorial debut. “Transcendence” was written by Jack Paglen.

Much more artistic is the new film “Ex Machina”. Here Alex Garland, talented British author of “The Beach”, makes his film directing debut. “The Beach” dealt with an utopian society in Southeast Asia. Here, he mines the creating of synthetic beings with gel-like fluid brains and crystal,fiber optic, spider-like ganglion so that these wire and mesh forms create their own synaptic consciousness.

Named after Wittgenstein’s “Blue Book”,our genius’s company has provided him with the means to purchase the most beautiful and isolated setting known to cinema. Filmed in  Valldalen, Norway, the interspersing of nature’s forests,waterfalls, graphite-like mountains and the modern glass bunker-like lodge and research center (Juvet Landscape Hotel,actually) is one of the keys to this film’s success. The fog over mountain symbolism mirrors the trust issues in the storyline. The birdsong and babbling brook ground us. Technology’s power is somehow balanced in this natural setting which few have seen in this primordial form. What sentient being would wish to leave? Two hours of helicopter flying does not cover our scientist’s estate. Without any story at all, this scenery is worth your movie ticket! But there is a story and big questions about Artificial Intelligence and the furthering of evolution.

And there is the amazing Oscar Isaac! He commands the screen. Here, as bearded and head-shaven Nathan Bateman,he explains how he gave sexuality to his synthetic women. ” She can have sex and she will enjoy it.” He later admits to the “prize winning” 26 year old programmer,Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) that he fashioned his AI’s features from an amalgam of porn star sites Caleb visited. Controlling,intense,art-and-music-loving,Nathan can drink,dance and use “fuck” like most millennials as a groovy adjective ad infinidum. “I want to share it with you. I want to share it so much it is eating me up inside.” This sounds honest in Isaac’s mouth. The potential for danger is set.

The film is also divided into numbered sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander),who is both vulnerable and wire-shiningly sophisticated and evolving. As AI,she has us asking “Who is the smartest?””Who is the most moral?” ,while Nathan asks Caleb if he can tell he is interacting with a machine. After session # 7 “fucking unreal” becomes an ironic understatement.

The score composed by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow is atmospheric, and the the violence heart-stopping in its slow motion. Ava triggers power outages, and Nathan detoxes on brown rice and mineral water. Caleb steals Nathan’s key card as he is passed out on the couch, and Caleb thinks he has taken charge. Directives like “Please approach”,”Face the screen” , and “You may now enter” no longer apply. Caleb,the human component, is now trapped and his facile words are useless. The AI is head-turningly free to “break the ice” on any city intersection in the world. Ava has used empathy and emotional intelligence to con the good kid. Has the analytical won out? Is what makes us human to be our downfall? This film is unnerving and destined to become a classic,both in content and design.

“Danny Collins”

What an incredibly well-acted “slice of life” drama awaits in the film “Danny Collins”! Al Pacino’s charm and depth captivated me. I was ready for a has-been debauched old stoner, not for a self-deprecating and self-reflective “heart-of-golder”. Pacino is marvelous. He makes you care about him because of his flaws, not despite of them.

The storyline is all too familiar. A talented young lyricist’s earnestness gives way to selling out for fame and remuneration. Major mistakes are made and regret takes hold. Pacino’s Danny knows that fame and money open doors,but it is not enough. The way these advantages are used is central to underscoring his self-distain.”I haven’t written a song in thirty years. I was the real thing once. I gave up. I’m broken.” He is worldly tired of people’s response to his fame.  Yet, Pacino plays Danny as personable and playful,rather than depressive. His funny “I like your lawn” brings laughs, but somehow he seems genuine.He has the performer’s need to please.Drugs are the aged rock star’s crutch. We just put up with his unbuttoned shirt,neck scarf and chest hair. Forget the dye,drink and polish.

Supporting cast members are flawless,too. Christopher Plummer,as manager Frank,doubles as savvy friend and wise sage. Annette Bening is so real in her print blouses and patter that you appreciate how she can keep in character and not outshine the lead because we know she is capable! Her Mary Sinclair is solid and honest,and yet surprised by how smitten she is with Danny’s attention. Jennifer Garner is fresh and different as daughter-in-law Samantha, a role that could have been easy to schlep through. Her facial control and line delivery near perfect. “Shame on you,you missed out on the perfect daughter-in-law” was understated,but heartfelt.Bobby Cannavale has the hardest part. He makes sick, angry and appreciative meld with exasperated, scared and nurturing. He has so many emotions to portray that the viewer’s own rise and fall at roller coaster speed. If the above is not a call to view this movie on the big screen, consider the best performance ever by a first-grader in need of an IEP (Independent Educational Plan).Giselle Eisenberg’s energy exhausts you,but keeps you smiling long after she exits the screen. As the symbolically named “Hope”,I found her spontaneous,and well ~amazing. The backyard- kiddy- pool scene is evocative of every postage-stamp-backyard family. Her answering the front door is adorable and singing “itsey-bitsey spider” and repeating her father’s slow nose-breathing poem will melt every grandparents’heart.

In fact,this film is scene driven often with two people in dialogue. No fancy camera work or scenery, here. The final setting in a doctor’s examination room is a stunner. Down to the tap on the door, we are there director-Dan Fogelman-style.

While the symbolism is a tad overdone,that framed prized letter from John Lennon unites Danny’s progression from awed-desire to letting-it-go gift-giving. Be prepared for good dialogue and snappy humor. “Hey,Sylvia Plath”, “gumming licorice for two hours”, and “that’s fucked-up in a lot of ways” and “wear a shirt with some buttons”,”sweet and weird like I like them” all resonate in a long,but smart script.

The Beatle’s lyrics “love is real” and “Love is wanting to be loved” and Danny’s “Autumn leaves do fall” work as layers on a theme. “I’m walking blind on this road in search of higher ground.Don’t look back,don’t look down” does not seem coying. It fits like the bag of bagels.Danny’s huge tour bus pulling away from a residential New Jersey curb tears off tree limbs and leaves a great frame of Tom Donnelly (Cannavale) amidst twenty bags of Toys R Us detritus. As a sub-theme states “Only you can corrupt your art”. This is a chord this film does not play as Pacino lets go of his past and “lives for today”. A tad schmaltzy,but an actor’s must see.

“Woman In Gold”

Helen Mirren does a mean glance and a meaner stare. Both show up many times in the much-advertised “Woman In Gold”. When her young attorney,the son of a friend exclaimed that an event happened a half century ago,she eyes him incredulously and questions, “You think that is a long time?” We are drawn in with her demeanor and her carriage of a life having been lived. The remainder of the film bravely intertwines her past with the future.

This is a story of survivor’s guilt,art and music’s evocations,and Austria’s soul. Based on the true story of Maria Altmann, niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer the subject of Klimt’s portrait “Lady In Gold”, and of her dogged attorney ,  E. Randolph Schoenberg ( grandson of the Vienese composer, Arnold Schoenberg), who sacrificed family and job to pay homage to his ancestry.The past asking sacrifice of the present is a central theme.

Reasons to see this film besides learning about art restitution laws and adding to the genre of “less we forget” pieces would be the cast. Ryan Reynolds is so believable as he passionately prepares and delivers his Supreme Court remarks:” She came to America for peace. Let us give her justice,too.” We root for this man who began for money and finished for heart and justice. The “can of worms” imagery will delight any litigator, by the way. Katie Holmes is sweet, supportive and savvy.Helen Mirren funny and heartrendingly responsible. Her “I left them there” will bring tears to your eyes.

The music and lyrics “Mary, don’t you weep no more”  is just perfect as Maria faces her ghosts. The screenplay written by Alexi Kaye Campbell  is rife with understatement. Mirren delivers “The postcard doesn’t do her justice” and “I wish they would have accepted him (Hitler) to the art academy” with aplomb. Explaining the stacks of boxes in one room after her sister Louisa’s death, Mirren smiles and says “my sister moved in with me when she died.”

Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele introduces the film. We watch him as he prepares a section of the gold leaf to embellish his canvas.I thought this was an ingenious way to showcase the care and preparation required to produce this masterwork. Later, I considered the attorney’s verbal preparation and brief a masterwork,too. Back and forth, our understanding comes from Maria’s memories: her wedding, her aunt’s tutelage, and the most realistic foot chase scene as Nazi police try to stop Maria and her husband from fleeing Vienna.

The scenes of 1940 Vienna are extreme. Maria’s father’s cello playing,her husband’s operatic serenade, and then the humiliation of Jews made to scrub the pavement with acid, and the jack-booting Nazi parades. After 1998, a different kind of patriotism is called for, and the investigative reporter who aids their cause in Austria tries to make up for the sins of his Nazi father and his Fatherland. Again,the past is asking for something of the present lest we forget. See this film directed by Simon Curtis  and remember anew.

“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

On occasion when I am not particularly looking forward to a sequel,I will let a few weeks pass and let others see it first. I remember enjoying the 2012 “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel For The Elderly and The Beautiful” all the while knowing that the film was capitalizing on my age group and beyond. The characters were well drawn and the pace was delightful in its introductions and comminglings. Friends varied in their feelings for “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” 2015. Three friends raved ,two did not like it and one actually reviewed it with a theater worker’s comment, “a Marvel action film for senior citizens”. I saw it with my husband this afternoon because I had to see for myself,and it was a rainy Monday. We both felt the sequel fell short of our low expectations.

Three years is a long time to remember the circumstances of all the varied players.I can’t imagine seeing the sequel without having seen the original. I will flatly state don’t try it. You are immediately thrown into a California scene where Maggie Smith and Dev Patel are in a convertible driving down Route 66. They magically end up in San Diego, not in L.A. The fast-talking Sonny (Dev Patel) is seeking financing for his second hotel. We guess that Muriel Donlevy (Maggie Smith) is brought along for her “economy of expression”. We later learn her part in the second enterprise is more critically important.

After suffering through some weak lines about weak tea,we are back in India at the local ex-pat. club learning that the boarders all have part-time jobs be it watering down the wine,guiding tours badly,or buying pashminas and fabric for a retail company. The hotel is home of the “happy hunters”, many looking for sex and companionship. Madge(Celia Imrie)has one of the worst lines. On seeing Guy Chambers (Richard Gere)register, she yelps “Lordy,Lordy, have mercy on my ovaries”.

Other banalities ensue. “It takes teamwork to make a dream work” and “We can still shake it,you know”. “Good things don’t come on their own,one must make them.” “Water doesn’t flow until you turn on the tap” and “No one is checking out until the ultimate ‘check-out'” are bromides less than wise.Snarky comments like,”what a busy little pensioner bee” and questions like,”When was your last check-up?” are the funniest.

There are too many mini-vignettes to enumerate besides a major engagement party and a wedding. Instead of the end of things and the beginning of things, we see a continuation of the same misunderstandings and befuddlements. Should we have more respect for our elders? Well, if they deserve it. Too many of this lot are still into scheming,bartering,cheating and insinuating. Don’t expect much wisdom here. These guys are still trying to figure life out, but for one exception. The wisest,Muriel, (Maggie Smith) gets the voice overs and the right to call Sonny a self-pitying mess-up.

I loved the dancing and the Indian music and ambiance. Tina Desai was beautiful as Sunaina,the bride. I hated the “novelist” hoax with the weakest lines I have ever heard Richard Gere deliver.Dev Patel reminded my husband and me of Ray Romano in his goofiness. I missed Tom Wilkerson and thought Bill Nighy and Judi Dench mis-matched. Whether the “Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is “franchised or foot-noted” better not be up to me for director John Madden’s sake.