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Film Reviews

 

"My Week With Marilyn” by Linda Bergman

“She was a dream come true.  My only talent was to not close my eyes.”


    This is the last line of the film set in England and sums up the seven tumultuous days twenty-three-year-old Colin Clark spent with the world’s most magical star in the summer of 1956.  Legend has it that it took him forty years to publish his diaries chronicling the six-month shoot of  “The Prince And The Showgirl” co-starring and directed by Sir Lawrence Olivier. But oddly, the account of this one special week was missing. Many years later, Clarke wrote a second book entitled, “My Week With Marilyn” that offered an uncommon look as to how he won the golden ticket and fell into the position of being Marilyn’s intimate go-to, cohort and cuddler in the absence of her new husband, playwright Arthur Miller.


    Newly graduated from Oxford, Clarke, who calls himself  “the youngest of a family of over-achievers” tests his parent’s patience and goes to work as a lowly production assistant on the set of Olivier’s beleaguered film. As Olivier (played brilliantly by Kenneth Branagh) continuously asks, “What have I gotten myself into?” Marilyn comes to the set later and later and when she does show up, her insecurities dissolve any ability to remember lines or the motivation she needs to say them. Olivier, refusing to accommodate her tardiness or devotion to Method acting, sends Colin to peel his troubled star away from her coach and enabler, Paula Strasberg, and a fast friendship is formed. During her husband’s absence, a tense, erotically charged week sets the stage for Clarke to climb a ladder into Marilyn’s locked room, remove pills from her suicidal grasp, and hold the most famous woman in the world in his arms until daylight.  They play hooky, swim naked, run in the fields and tour the countryside where she reveals the achingly real and troubled woman underneath the glossy Hollywood image.


    This is director Simon Curtis’ (Cranford) first feature film and he feels “…very lucky…”, he says, “to have gotten the rights to such a wonderful piece.”  He teamed with producers David Parfitt and Harvey Weinstein (Wings of The Dove, Gangs of New York, Shakespeare In Love) and together, they approached screenwriter, Adrian Hodges, with whom Curtis had worked on a BBC production of David Copperfield.
    British actor Eddie Redmayne is perfect as the Opie-ish Colin Clark, and his natural naiveté makes audiences smile. Julia Ormond (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button) plays Vivien Leigh, Emma Watson (Harry Potter) plays the wardrobe mistress who falls for Colin, and Academy Award winner Dame Judi Dench plays Dame Sybil Thorndike.


    I leave the casting of Michele Williams as Marilyn for last because it deserves to be set apart. As I have always hated impersonators or “tribute artists” as they are called these days, not wanting to have my memories of screen legends tainted by wannabes, I was skeptical that I would or COULD buy in to the fantasy.  Happily, I report that Williams so embodies the look and the spirit of Monroe, you are transported to Marilyn-ville in seconds. It doesn’t hurt that the opening images are a long shot of Michelle’s Marilyn singing “That Old Black Magic” and dancing in a back-lit diaphanous gown. Nor do you mind that Michelle William’s real singing voice is so beautiful it takes your breath away. The wondrous appeal of Monroe is only enhanced by the riveting appeal of the actress portraying her.  Williams is neither afraid to show hers or Marilyn’s vulnerability as all of Marilyn’s dreams seemingly go wrong at the same time. Director Curtis says about her, “She is a phenomenal actress in that her performances are all marked with stunning psychological complexities.”


    Ironically, the combination of Olivier and Monroe in “The Prince And The Showgirl” that was touted as the vehicle to rejuvenate Olivier into a movie star and transform Monroe into a real actress, turned out to be a dud. They each went on to make separate history with Marilyn starring in Some Like It Hot and Olivier receiving his fifth Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for The Entertainer.

 

The movie will be in full release on November 25th.

 

 

 

"ALBERT NOBBS” by Linda Bergman

As I watched our KCET CINEMA SERIES screening last night of “Albert Nobbs" starring Glenn Close, I kept writing two words in the dark – ‘compelling’ and ‘curiosity.’  For me, the character, her performance and the direction compel you to watch with utter curiosity.


The film, based on a nineteenth century George Moore short story that was later turned into a play, has been a passion project of Close's for almost 30 years. (She won an Obie playing the title role in the play back in the early '80s, she co-wrote the film's screenplay, produced and even wrote lyrics to the vocals.)


The film tells the story of Mr. Nobbs (Close), a butler lucky to be working in a posh late-19th century Dublin hotel in a time of abject poverty.  In the back-story, we learn Nobbs was an illegitimate female child who never knew her true identity and took the surname of the woman who was paid to raise her. She was raped at fourteen, and so stigmatized, she then chose to disguise her gender as protection, but also so that she could earn a man's wages.


When we meet him, Albert’s worked hard as an impeccable servant for thirty years and saved judiciously, hiding his considerable fortune under a floor board in his hotel room. When the hotel owner forces Albert to take in a male house painter for the night, Albert’s secret is threatened and the story is off to the races. It isn’t long, however, before the painter, Hubert Page, exposes to Nobbs a secret of his own!


    It’s a strange tale, (and feels still like a short story) at times predictable and cliché, but deeply affecting with an emotional power that’s hard to put your finger on.  Although Albert has lost all female instincts, his actions pose questions about lesbianism and cross-dressing as he pursues a beautiful young maid played by Mia Wasikowska. (Alice In Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right, Jane Eyre).


It’s hard to take your eyes off of Close layered in prosthetics. She plays Albert as a timid, delicate soul mired in a tough world but because he/she is so compelling (there’s that word again!). Albert can’t disappear into the story because even when we are awed at how good a man she is – it’s still Glenn Close in costume.


I am sure this won’t be a problem come Academy Award time, but if you find yourself wondering, ”What it’s all about, Albert?” don’t say I didn’t give you a heads-up.


Director Rodrigo Garcia,(Revolution, Mother And Child, In Treatment) is true to form as we watch him illicit stunning performances out of his top-notch cast, especially Janet McTeer (Sense and Sensibility), Brendan Gleason (Harry Potter, The Gangs of New York) and Aaron Johnson (The Illusionist).

 

 

 

"THE LADY” by Linda Bergman

Our Academy film series turned serious and extremely relevant last night as we screened “The Lady”. Luc Beeson’s portrait of pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, the leading opponent to the savage military junta in Burma and her husband, scholar, Michael Aris, is a heartbreaking true love story set against political turmoil.

 

Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Memories of A Geisha) is outstanding in her portrayal of a woman forced to choose between her country and her family.

 

Besson’s take on Suu’s life story begins in 1947 in Rangoon. Scarred forever by the assassination of her father, nationalist leader General Aung San, (who is considered the father of Modern Burma) Suu leaves her politically active mother and hometown to move to New Delhi, New York and London to study. She becomes a mother of two after marrying Michael Aris, a British writer and scholar of Tibetan culture.

 

Called back to Burma after her mother has a stroke, Suu witnesses atrocities that light the flame of her own activist nature and soon she has a pro-democracy following of thousands.  Afraid of losing an upcoming election to her, the superstitious and brutal dictator Than Tun has her placed under house arrest, hoping that cutting her off from her followers and family will convince her to go back to England. Suu knows if she leaves Burma she will never be allowed back in.  As a result, she stays committed to her cause at huge personal cost.  Her family is only allowed sporadic visits, her mother dies, many of her supporters are imprisoned, and her husband fights a losing battle against cancer without her by his side.


Watching this story of unfailing determination and extraordinary courage, I couldn’t help wondering how a mother could make such a choice -- spend years without seeing or talking to her husband and sons. The film and the research I have done since the screening suggests that she didn’t have a choice. Driven by the atrocities she witnessed, her love and respect for her father’s memory, and her genetic code implanted in Burma, she was compelled to ignore her own feelings in order to help millions of people.

 

After fifteen years under house arrest in her childhood home, Suu was released in 2010 having not seen her two sons for ten years. While in captivity, she received among other awards, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

 

The stunning actor, Michel Thewlis, (Harry Potter, Seven Years In Tibet, The Big Lebowski) who plays her husband, also has a dual role as her husband’s brother.  He reported they had to shoot this film in secret because any word of its being made could have been a danger to Suu’s life.  When director Besson finally met her for the first time in person, filming had already finished in Thailand.  He told students in Lille, France, that he filmed seventeen hours on a hand-held camera while posing as a tourist, and superimposed actors onto the Burmese backdrops. Besson said when he contacted Suu after completing the film's editing, she said, 'Thank you, it sheds light on my country. I’ll see it when I'm courageous enough to see the deaths of my father and husband on screen.''

 

Although Burma is changing, loosening restraints gradually and releasing political prisoners, there are still thousands suffering at the hands of this same regime today. Many of those in peril are Buddhist monks and children forced to ferret out land mines by walking across the Burmese version of the Killing Fields.

 

“The Lady” written by Rebecca Frayn opens in France on November 30.

 
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