“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.

“The Lunchbox”

Viewing a film is a lovely way to learn and to connect with the world. It is never a waste of time. “The wrong train can get you to the right station” so to speak. And this line from first time director Ritesh Batra’s movie “The Lunchbox” speaks to lives lived.

Middle class Mumbai is the setting with its crowded streets,tiny quarters and old prejudices. The romance is epistolary,the smell of worn clothes revealing and the white bows of hair braids disarming.This film seems a tad longer than its one hour and forty- five minutes,but women’s household duties and men’s accounting chores are as tedious as getting from one end of the city to another. But this is not a film about the messiness of travel. “The Lunchbox”is a serious film about the way one chooses to spend one’s emotional time.

Humor is here in theidentification of old adages like “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” and in the time -saving vegetable cutting techniques of one bus rider.

View this film and see the highest grossing art film in India’s history and learn about the “dabbawallas” and their 125 year system of food delivery. Connect with the huge, lonely, and warm eyes of Irrfan Khan while you deplore the self-important and neglectful husband and father of far too many world households. Enjoy the subtle social commentary of this film and tell me what you think.

“Gloria”

Somehow this 1970 reaffirmation of woman alone set me back. Is the self-sufficient woman the subject of thematic acclaim still? This Chilean film directed by 39 year old Sebastien Lelio seems like a throwback.”Gloria” disappoints because the viewer learns nothing new and sees nothing new. A sixty year old woman discovers one is basically alone, though not necessary lonely. Even given her glaucoma drops,her sightlessness is more akin to a 30 year old partaking in risky behavior.Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” needs to be more like ” I Feel The Need To Love Myself”.

Paulina Garcia stars. She reminds me of an unglamorus Annette Bening here,but I was not charmed by her late coming of age. The hairless cat scenes, the frisky disco romps and oldster intimate grapplings, the numbing and sound enhancing drugs were ho-hum retro. Just like I found this well-celebrated film.

“In Secret”

One more Oscar Issac film to mention is a period piece based on Emile Zola’s 1867 novel”Therese Raquin”. I was not disappointed in the film renamed “In Secret”. Issac is masterful as lover and murderer. Jessica Lange was a tad campy,but is always brilliant in inhabiting a character so thoroughly. She does the French Emile Zola proud as she has done the American Willa Cather. I ,for one, am glad Glenn Close bowed out of the role.

The cinematography is beautiful in capturing the rather seedy nineteenth century Pont Neuf Paris in blues,olives and grays.The sexual awakening of Elizabeth Olsen,as Therese, is smile -inducing at times;and I caught her out of period at least twice. Repressed sexuality,sickly cousin/husbands, illicit affairs,guilt and madness and a mother’s love reign in this morality tale. The quick fall from ecstasy into meanness is more realistic than romantic. But what is not to like when it comes to obsessive love, lust, and the retribution of madness!

“Still Alice”

I have been watching Julianne Moore since she was an ingenue on the now defunct soap “As The World Turns”. She played twins: the good and the bad. As a teenager, she was emotive and fun to watch. Her facial expressions held range from vengeful spite to sympathetic care. Here, as a Best Actress nominee, Moore has honed her craft. It is not easy to play a strong,intelligent woman thrown to her knees by a debilitating disease and still show triumph in all her loss. As her character Alice states, ” I am not suffering; I am struggling”.

Director and writers Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer take Lisa Genova’s book and give their cast a perfectly paced and unsentimental script of a privileged academic’s family’s heart- searing journey. The settings of Manhattan and Saugetuck allow us to see the family at work and at play.At lunch with one daughter,we see Alice in her good-humored acerbic asides as a harried water whisks away her almost finished salad. “She chirps “Thank you, I’m done and rolls her eyes at her actress daughter. We see her blaming the champagne when she is at a loss with her wordstock of language. She thrives on her work as a research linguist and lecturer and plays “Words with Friends” obsessively with her eldest daughter. We relate to her in her panic. Her body framed in long hallways and winding jogging paths mirrors her journey from blurred vision and thinking she has a brain tumor to her rare,but confirmed diagnosis of familiar Alzheimer’s.

Nothing about the script is labored. We get fast glimpses of a Dove shampoo misplaced in the kitchen pantry,erratic lectures and student complaints, botched dinner plans with department heads, yet all with a relentless verve that “this might be the last year I’m myself.” All I can say is this film begins with a toast and ends with one. A great script that will have you looking up Elizabeth Bishops’ poetry on the art of losing,as well as, smiling at yellow markers and butterflies.

Alec Baldwin surprised me in his modulated portrayal of a loving,but career -driven husband. The family’s resourcefulness is made easier by their upper middle class status, but his “whatever happens, I’m here” is a pledge kept. Kristen Stewart and Kate Bosworth were equally affective in bringing out their mother’s soul,and they were sisterly real.

Technology plays a big role in this rendering of connection and loss. The face to face computer meeting of the planning and strategizing Alice withbthe floundering and forgetful Alice is Oscar worthy. Here are Moore’s twins again: the intelligent leader and the docile follower. One of the most ironic lines is delivered by her Columbia department head. After Alice has shared her diagnosis with him,he asks “unpack that for me”. Alice’s liberated brain is unpacking everything ,already.

Shriver Productions produced this film,and many will recall that Maria Shriver’s father died of Alzheimer’s. Early onset,for Alice at age fifty, is objectively explained by her neurologist; but it is Baldwin’s tears and Moore’s hysteria and the faces of their children that move us. It is Moore’s heavily rimmed glasses, her defining of herself by her ability to articulate,and her facebook time with her other self that sets this finely tuned film apart. The toll it takes on this family with all of its resources leaves us thinking of the other one in ten who may be left adrift.

This is not a happy film,but it is filled with dignity and love, and the sense that this disease needs to be made curable. When Alice returns to the yogurt shoppe and forgets her favorite toppings,her husband takes over. Fifteen minutes later with one scoop left to savor, Alice looks at him and says “not done yet, do we have to go?” Empathetic audiences feel the same. Let me know what you think about the power of this film.