FINAL PORTRAIT (2018)

April 5, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Geoffrey Rush is such a uniquely talented performer that I wouldn’t hesitate to walk into any of his projects with little hint as to the subject matter. He is simply that good at what he does. Here he plays renowned Swiss sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti, a man Rush seems destined to play given their quite similar physical appearances. It’s a 90 minute joy ride (though it’s not really joyful) for anyone who enjoys watching an artist work … or in this case, an artist working as an artist.

Writer-director Stanley Tucci is best known for his acting career, and he also has an eye for the camera and clearly admires Giacometti and his work. Set in 1964 Paris, most of the film takes place in Giacometti’s shabby little compound that includes his studio and a bedroom he sometimes shares with his wife Annette (Sylvie Testud). Occasional forays take us to his favorite café, or walks through the city by his latest portrait subject, the American art writer James Lord (Armie Hammer). In fact, the film is based on Mr. Lord’s memoir “A Giacometti Portrait”, which details his experience posing for the master … a task that was originally promised to last a couple of hours, and turned into 3 weeks.

Also appearing are Tony Shalhoub as Diego, the artist’s brother and assistant, and Clemence Poesy (IN BRUGES) as Caroline, a local prostitute who also serves as Giacometti’s muse. It’s a fine and talented cast, but this just as easily could have been a one-actor play. Rush plays the lead as a typical artist in shambles – one who cares as little for relationships as he does about money, clothes and appearances. He’s perpetually rumpled with mussed hair and a dangling cigarette being his sole accessory.

He is both charming and miserable, sometimes in the same breath – unwittingly pitting his forlorn wife against his more pampered muse … never more obvious than when comparing gifts of a new dress versus a new BMW. Much of the time on screen is spent in the daily ritual: adjusting the chair just so, Lord sitting down and assuming the pose, an artistic gaze cast, followed by the careful selection of a particular brush. More often than not, Giacometti mutters an “Ahh F***”, and proceeds to start over (and over and over). An honored yet frustrated Mr. Lord is forced into numerous flight reschedules, as time means nothing to an artist.

Director Tucci shoots through the smudged window panes more than once, and when Giacometti tells Lord, “I’ll never be able to paint you as I see you”, it really captures the tortured madness and brilliance of such an amazing artist. He doesn’t see the world the way most of us do, and that’s what sets his art apart. Of course the personal toll on the man and those around him is quite high … Giacometti passed away less than two years after the Lord portrait.

watch the trailer:

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127 HOURS (2010)

November 24, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Spoilers are strictly avoided in my comments. I completely understand that not everyone rushes out to see new releases the way that I do. For this movie, there can be no spoilers. We are all painfully aware of the real life ordeal suffered by Aron Ralston in 2003. This taut film succeeds at bringing to life the visuals our minds can only imagine.

Danny Boyle is a terrific director who has three (now four) outstanding and diverse movies to his name (Slumdog Millionaire, Millions, Trainspotting). Here he re-teams with Slumdog writer Simon Beaufoy to bring us the screen version of Aron Ralston’s book “Between a Rock and Hard Place”. It’s the story of an adventurous young man who is forced to take drastic measures when his arm is pinned after a fall while rock climbing.

What the film really explores is Ralston’s personality and an individual’s will to live. Aron is a cocky, adventurous, fun-loving guy whose “oops” moment consisted of not telling anyone where he was headed. A cardinal sin of solo hiking. Five days later he stumbles back to life, minus one arm. Ralston faces one of those moments when he must decide just how important life is. His choice leads to life … through excruciating pain.

Boyle does an amazing job in capturing the moment and the inevitibility of the setting. In what could be a hopeless situation, Ralston clings to life. James Franco delivers an Oscar worthy performance as Ralston. His range here is remarkable. Watching his hallucinations, flashbacks and persistence makes this an extremely watchable and human film despite the topic.  An interesting note is that Ralston did have a video camera with him and had previously only shown the clips to his family and a few close friends.  He did allow Boyle and Franco to see the actual video, so what you see onscreen came directly from Ralston’s real emotions.

Support work is minimal but decent from Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Treat Williams, Kate Burton and Clemence Poesy. Franco and Boyle are the real stars as they capture Ralston’s spirit. As a viewer, this taps into our inner most fear. What if this were us? What if we were him? Could we do it? Would we do it?

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can’t believe I mention James Franco and “Oscar” in the same sentence OR you get a charge out of watching the strong will to survive take over.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you get queasy when you break a fingernail