Truman Movie Review

Truman from Catalan director Cesc Gay is a warm, insightful and sensitively portrayed gem about an unspoken friendship between two middle-aged men that is humorous, deeply moving and resonates with truth. Tomás is played by Javier Cámara—Talk to Her (2002).  A Spanish expat living in Montreal, he goes on an introspective trip to visit Julian, his longtime childhood friend in Madrid.  Julian is a divorced Argentine actor who lives alone in a downtown Madrid apartment with his loyal aging dog Truman. What Tomás finds when he arrives at his friend Julian’s apartment is not what he expects and he’s not sure he’s ready to deal with it.  What he thinks will be a casual nostalgic reunion between old friends turns into something much more urgent and revealing. Truman is completely without sentiment as it examines one man’s attempt to take control of his life in the face of a dire diagnosis.  After many attempts with various chemotherapy treatments to rid his body of cancer, Julian announces to his close friends that he no longer intends to spend his last days in and out of hospitals. Ricardo Darín—Wild Tales (2014)—plays Julián with the pressing impulse of a man who knows there is little time left to do the things he feels must be done.  He’s not one to indulge in nostalgia but wants to see his son one last time without telling him about his situation.  Together with Tomás, they come up with an excuse to travel to Amsterdam where his son studies, so they can meet him and his new girlfriend. This honest and brave film exposes some of the most difficult decisions that people are faced with when they know the end is near.  How do we want to spend those precious last few months or years?  And what is really important to us in the end? These...

The Lady in the Van Review

The Lady in the Van is the mostly true story of a British playwright and author Alan Bennett who lived for a time around 1974 in the well know literary community of Camden Town, London, where he became acquainted with an eccentric homeless woman living in a van outside his house on Gloucester Crescent. The peaceful stone-walled, hedged and gated streets of this well-kept cultured community of old converted lodging homes was a popular area to live for many famous British authors, playwrights and artists of the time.  Known for its quiet family atmosphere, the residence of Gloucester Crescent were not prepared and quite perturbed by an uninvited guest who took up residence on their front doorsteps one day.   Who Is the Lady in the Van? The dubious guest is a smelly ill-natured elderly homeless woman living out of her van and moving from house to house as she pleased once she outstayed her welcome.  Teased and bullied by neighborhood children, Miss Mary Shepherd, as she came to be known, eventually sheltered under the watchful gaze of the shy timid writer of plays Alan Bennett. As Alan sat quietly contemplating in his cozy study writing and looking through his bay window, the foul bag lady in the van rolled into his view one day and became a permanent fixture of his daily life. Maggie Smith, known for her role as the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey, plays the humorless acerbic lady in the van with biting realism and subtle vulnerability.  No one would ever guess she was once a sensitive musical prodigy who became deeply suspicious of and hurt by a callous uncaring society. The story is told from the perspective of the writer Alan Bennett, played by Alex Jennings, who is shown in the film as two distinct personalities.  One of a person who is...

Grandma & The Grump Movie Reviews

GROUCHY OLD PEOPLE ARE BACK IN STYLE.   Poking fun at grumpy old people who have lost touch with the ever-changing world around them, complaining about how much better life was back in the old days, seems to be striking a chord with the aging Baby Boomer generation if these recent films are anything to go by: Grandma (2015) and The Grump (2014). These two films mine the comedy inherent in feisty silver-haired people who find no pleasure in their day-to-day routine struggling with the challenges of modern society, new technologies, and attitudes of young people.  Perhaps after losing a loved one, they are now bitter about having to cope without their partner to help them get through life. Septuagenarian Lily Tomlin in Grandma is going through a personal crisis when she breaks up with her latest partner and finds herself caught between conflicting personalities of her uptight, career-minded daughter and her rebellious granddaughter who comes to her for help after getting pregnant. Despite her alienating gruff exterior, Elle (Lily Tomlin) goes on a journey to collect enough money to help her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) while confronting her past and her failings with her own daughter Judy (Marcia Gay Harden) with sarcasm and acerbic humor. Paul Weitz’s low-budget Sundance hit, Grandma is a sensitive comedic drama illustrating how grandparents can still play an important role in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives.  Children in today’s ever-trending virtual society often find themselves without traditional role models and in conflict with their parents.  Grandparents from the free love and flower power generation of the 60s are often the ones they feel more comfortable turning to for guidance. There’s an important underlying message of family failings in these two films.  As the mother fails her daughter in Grandma, so the father fails his son in the Finnish comedy The Grump.  Children are...

The Rites of Spring… and Duct Tape

    Duct tape is like The Force: it has a light side and a dark side and it binds the galaxy together. — Carl Zwanzig Charlie, my beloved mate of 30 years, is firmly attached to many things.  Me, our daughter, his extended family and friends, chainsaws, home improvements, computers, and fondly… duct tape. In spring he can be found wearing a roll of it at his belt, keeping it handy.  Give him that and a project and he’s off. MacGyver in Space Remember that old ‘70’s show?  I swear they modeled it after my husband.  It is hilarious to me how much Charlie (who disassembled his mom’s vacuum cleaner at age two) resembles that character in his creative ideas.  His mother, exhausted, finally gave him a hammer and nails to keep him busy.  This idea, seemingly unwise in the extreme, worked out just fine. We watched The Martian the other weekend, a most marvelous film.  But when Matt Damon whipped out the duct tape (affixed at his belt, of course) and repaired his own cracked helmet, I lost it.  I shrieked “Charlie!  They made a movie of you in space!” “Expensive Camping”  Charlie is a true handyman.  If he doesn’t know how to do something, he’ll learn about it.  We live in a restored and renovated (mostly by him) 1906 farmhouse.  If he wasn’t so handy, I doubt we’d still be here.  Duct tape has been his boon companion during many emergencies and repairs.  That—combined with his innovation and skill, a chainsaw, and a generator—have enabled us to live in Fairfield County (aka “Expensive Camping”) with comfort. My husband leaves me in awe with his ability to fix just about anything.  I only have to mention it, and I’ll find whatever it was repaired later.  Often I am amused to find that duct tape was involved.  He...

Son of Saul Movie Review

WINNER OF THE GRAND PRIX, CANNES FILM FESTIVAL. Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, has seen too much horror in the senseless deaths of men, women and children.  Stripped of their dignity and unceremoniously gassed or shot to death, their naked corpses are piled like pieces of meat to be incinerated and their ashes shoveled into the river. He is part of a special group of Jews forced to help the Nazi camp commanders to exterminate their own people, knowing that they will also be subject to the same fate when their time comes. Prisoner functionaries like Saul, who were chosen to help with the processing and exterminating of Jews on a daily basis, understandably must develop an unnatural detachment as a way of coping with guilt and preserving their sanity.  Saul copes by shutting down those parts of his senses which are unable to process the insanity he is witness to.  He doesn’t look at his victims any longer, he keeps his vision unfocused and he doesn’t hear their screams and confused cries for help. Son of Saul is extremely disturbing to watch but also intensely thought-provoking.  No one has ever brought us this close to the horrors of the Holocaust and specifically the experience of what it must have been like inside the death factories.  Director Laszlo Nemes’s first feature film provocatively breaks this cinematic taboo to confront the Nazi atrocities in the Auschwitz death camp, but in so doing, he leaves much of it to the imagination. We only see and hear the atrocities from Saul’s traumatized perspective—and only peripherally and out of focus—as Saul goes about his duties mundanely ushering in crowds of people who think they are being sanitized and will have a warm bowl of soup waiting for them after they shower.  We hear their screams behind the locked shower...

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