A Marriage Story (Film Thoughts: Hope Gap)

1hopwOne of the biggest shames in the world is that Annette Bening still does not have an Academy Award. I think she is one of the best actors out there today. One needs to just watch ‘Hope Gap’ to see that – this is a woman who lives in every character she portrays. In this film, directed by William Nicholson (and based on his play) she plays Grace, a woman who has been married to her husband of almost twenty nine years. Grace can be insufferable – she is overly dramatic, in the hopes of any kind of reaction from her husband (Bill Nighy) who seems to have checked out of the marriage. Well, it turns out he is in the throes of checking out – he has met another woman, and has planned to leave Grace.  Blindsided, Grace reacts passively and violently all at the same time. She screams, she shouts, she stalks. In the hands of a lesser actress, the effect would be shrill – but there is a lot of layers in Bening’s performance that you instantly understand what Grace is going through, This is an actress who makes you believe.

Too bad the film can be sometimes too genteel. Nighy’s quiet resigned performance is perfectly matched. Josh O Connor (he is everywhere these days, and thank you Lord for that) is fantastic as the son caught between the parents. But I like genteel – I love most of the aspects of the film, from Grace’s obsession with poems, to the breathtaking views of the cliffs in Seaside, England. I so wish Bening would get notices for this role, but I think the film is much too subtle. Still, watch this for a living legend in action.

Torturous (Film Thoughts: The Report)

The-Report-poster-2-600x889Can you find drama in an almost 7000 page report about the CIA torturing prisoners after 9/11? Director Scott Z Burns certainly tries. In his film ‘The Report,’ the details are mostly dry, and it really doesn’t make for a great film. Armed with a great cast, the actors make do, and most of them succeed in giving the film a boost of energy, but some of the material is deadly dreary. The first hour of the film is certainly a struggle to get through at times, but after that it picks up, and fueled by the great energy of Adam Driver as Daniel Jones (who is the chief investigator of the report) it picks up steam. If only the first hour could be tightened, this would be a better film. As it stands now, we can all just marvel at all the great acting, especially Driver and Annette Benning, who convincingly plays Senator Dianne Feinstein.

One For The Stars (Film Thoughts: Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool)

SDC_1401148_2018-11-1--15-28-32It’s Valentine’s Day and I am continuing my streak of desperately trying to find some romantic mood in my movie-viewing. I saved ‘Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool’ because, based on the trailer anyway, I thought it would be closest to a love story. It’s not, if I want to be real strict about it. But it’s a fairly good movie experience, thanks to great acting by Annette Bening and especially Jamie Bell.

I think I have mentioned before that I have been underwhelmed by the Best Actress front runners this year so I am quite dismayed that Annette Bening has not been in the conversation for her performance here. While she has been better, she gives a pretty solid performance here as Gloria Grahame, the aging silent-film actress who goes to London to do some stage work there. She is effective, and seems to have gotten the actress’ spirit here. I totally loved the earlier scenes when she first meets Peter, played by Jamie Bell. They have great chemistry together, and gave the film light and shine. And speaking of Bell, he is a bonafide leading man here- attractive and charming, and he gives his character huge depth. I know some critics have mentioned his performance here as very noteworthy and I do agree.

fstThe film, directed by Paul McGuigan, is just a bit too somber, though. I wish they showed more about Grahame, the actress, because, well, I don’t really know much about her and/or her career, aside from the fact that she won an Oscar in 1952 for ‘The Bad and The Beautiful.’

As for a Valentine’s Day movie choice, it’s good enough. The movie has a beating heart, and love is celebrated here in some kind of form. I could do worse.

I Have Three Moms (Film Thoughts: 20th Century Women)

large_twozeroth_century_womenOne of the biggest crimes is that Annette Benning has still not won an Oscar. (And Hillary Swank has two, and beat her both times) She is one of the best actresses working today, and just take a look at her performance here in ’20th Century Women,’ playing Dorothea, a single mother to her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann)  It is one of those lived-in roles, from the first scene you believe the authenticity of this character, and so wonderful to see an aging actress who is still naturally beautiful, seemingly without the help of botox and fillers. I mean, if for anything, she is even more beautiful than some actresses-of-a-certain-age working in Hollywood. And when she says something, you can always see the myriad of emotions in her reading, done so effortlessly.

In the film, Dorothea enlists the help of two other women, Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and Julie (Elle Fanning) to help raise her son. The film is cut up in ‘biographies’ of these women. That, for me, is my beef with the film – there is a lot of character study in each of the women characters that a plot is almost lost in the mix. We get to know these women, but what of it? As a result, I could not relate to any of the characters and feel detached to the whole film.  Elle Fanning mostly succeeds with her Jule, the young girl Jamie has a crush on, but Gerwig just annoyed me – I have this dislike of her an her acing, and she did not redeem herself her.

Set in 1979 Santa Barbara, the film looks and feels retro and dreamy, as if shot through an Instagram filter, and Director/Writer Mike Mills has a great flair for dialogue. I wish I liked it more, and felt sad I didn’t.