THE DUKE (2022)

April 26, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It made headlines in 1961. Francisco Goya’s ‘Portrait of the Duke of Ellington’ was stolen from London’s National Gallery. Director Roger Michell, with a screenplay from Richard Bean and Clive Coleman, dramatize the story so that it’s part comedy and part love story, and thanks to screen veteran James Broadbent, full of charm.

Oscar winner Broadbent (IRIS, 2001) stars as Kempton Bunton. We first see him in the midst of his courtroom trial. Pretty quickly, the film flashes back to 6 months prior. Kempton hasn’t had much luck in keeping his job as a cab driver, or a baker, or any other. He’s a bit of a rabble-rouser, quick to share his unsolicited opinions, and on a constant mission to look out for ‘the little guy.’ He is also a would-be writer who cranks out novels (“Susan Christ”) and plays that never get published, all of which adds to the chagrin of Kempton’s wife, Dorothy, played by Oscar winner Helen Mirren (THE QUEEN, 2006). Dorothy works as a maid, and only desires a simple, steady, and predictable life with her husband … who delivers quite the opposite.

Living in a working-class neighborhood with one of their sons, Jackie (Fionn Whitehead, DUNKIRK), Kempton and Dorothy have an interesting relationship … one that includes contrasting methods of grieving over the death of their daughter. She internalizes while he writes about it. Kempton’s latest protest is against the government buying back the Goya painting while so many citizens suffer the indignity of paying a television licensing tax. He insists the government should spend the money on the people, not on frivolities like art. It’s during this phase when we wonder if son Jackie is learning more from dad than we originally suspect.

Director Michell includes some fascinating shots, including the theft of the painting, which leaves Edvund Munch’s “The Scream” in the video wake. We also see the scene in the 1965 James Bond film DR NO which features the Goya painting and a little inside humor. There are also numerous shots with Broadbent superimposed into archival footage of 1960’s London, and actual newsreels from the era. The tone shifts when Kempton turns himself and the painting into the authorities. His courtroom behavior plays like a stand-up comedy routine, while his barrister (played by Matthew Goode) uses Kempton’s everyman-likability to his advantage.

Director Roger Michell passed away in September 2021. He’s best known for NOTTING HILL (1999) and VENUS (2006), and unfortunately, he didn’t get to see his final film released in theaters. Broadbent’s charm is on full display here, and the film easily could have gone deeper into the topics of social inequality and governmental mismanagement. Instead, it’s more sentimental and funny than enlightening … an outlandish heist story that plays just as well as a gentle love story. And that’s a pretty good cause for Mr. Michell the filmmaker.

Opens in NYC and LA on April 22, 2022 and nationwide on April 29, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER

“Bring a Friend Back to the Movies” will provide one complimentary ticket to customers who purchase a ticket directly from the Angelika website, app or in theaters to see “The Duke” during the first week of its release. Select Angelika locations will also offer each ticket holder for “The Duke” a specially priced split of bubbly to share with their friend in celebration of their return to the movies


BLACKBIRD (2020)

September 17, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Even though death is imminent for each of us, we don’t all get the opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones. For those who do, it may not go as smoothly as they’d imagined. This is especially true if they are choosing to end things on their own terms due to a terminal illness. Roger Michell (NOTTING HILL, 1999; VENUS, 2006) directs this remake of the 2014 Danish film SILENT HEART (directed by Bille August), both written by Christian Torpe.

Family matriarch Lily (Oscar winner Susan Sarandon) has a terminal illness, and has arranged for the family to return home for one final get-together. See, Lily, with the assistance of her doting doctor husband Paul (Sam Neill) is planning to ‘go’ on her own terms, while it’s still physically possible for her to take the medicinal potion. “Death with dignity”, or euthanasia, is becoming a more frequent topic in films and conversation, despite still being illegal in most states. Of course, the legal and moral questions are heavily debated, but when it’s a family member, it’s the emotions that heat up.

First to arrive is eldest daughter Jennifer (Oscar winner Kate Winslet) and her husband Michael (Rainn Wilson, “The Office”) and their son Jonathan (Anson Boon, CRAWL). Kate is the uptight, demanding type who is always judging others – including her nerdy well-meaning husband, and her free-spirited son. The younger daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska) arrives with her partner Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus, “The Killing”), and it’s immediately clear that Jennifer and Anna are personality opposites (with some baggage), and that Anna is carrying an unspoken burden. Last to arrive is long-time family friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan), who is so close to Lily and Paul, that the family photographs show her on many family vacations and events over the years.

This has the look and feel of a stage presentation, as most of the scenes are filled with dialogue and occur within the confines of the stunning east coast home, apparently designed by Lily. There is a family walk along the beach and dunes, but most of the run time is filled with interpersonal interactions – some pleasant, some not pleasant at all. In fact, an early (by a couple of months) Christmas family dinner is sprinkled with pot smoking and emotional outbursts. It turns out, not surprisingly, that some of the secrets previously kept, find their way out into the open causing a few bumps in Lily’s farewell weekend.

The complexities of family dynamics are amplified in this situation. Who is ready and who isn’t, and why, becomes a topic of multiple discussions. We never really learn the meaning of the film’s title, but we do enjoy the work of so many fine actors. You might recall Susan Sarandon played a dying woman more than 20 years ago in STEPMOM (1998), and this movie blends two memorable and recent films: FRANKIE with Isabelle Huppert, and HERE AWHILE with Anna Camp. Saying goodbye is never easy, but it sure beats missing the chance.

In theaters and On Demand beginning September 18, 2020

watch the trailer:


HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (2012)

December 16, 2012

hyde Greetings again from the darkness. It’s a bit of a curiosity why the only four-times-elected US President has been portrayed so few times on screen. Without putting much thought into it, the most memorable non-documentary occurrence may have been by Jon Voight during Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. Bring on Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the 1939 first ever US visit by British monarchs … King George VI(“Bertie” played by Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) … and the stage is set for a behind-the-scenes political tale of the “social” meeting that led to the US and England joining forces in WWII. Unfortunately, that’s not really what we get.

Director Roger Michell (Morning Glory, Venus) and noted playwright and screenwriter Richard Nelson (Ethan Frome) just can’t seem to make up their mind which story they want to tell. Is it the historical meeting between FDR and the King? Is it the hyde3fling between FDR and his 6th cousin Daisy (Laura Linney), whose relationship was uncovered through the diaries and letters left behind when she passed in 1991? Is it the ongoing manipulations by Mrs Roosevelt (FDR’s mother, played by Elizabeth Wilson) and the cagey Eleanor (Olivia Williams)? Is it a political statement that all powerful men have insecurities and needs? The film is narrated and mostly told through the viewpoint of Daisy, a local 47 year old spinster, who gets dragged wide-eyed into the FDR mayhem. Mrs Roosevelt, Eleanor and FDR’s assistant Missy (Elizabeth Marvel, The Bourne Legacy) all understand the President’s reason for allowing Daisy into their inner sanctum. Daisy, a bit slow on the take, learns why once FDR stops the car in a meadow during one of their private, scenic drives. The running story of Daisy is probably the least interesting within the film, and it often deflates whatever momentum might get started.

hyde2 The best and most interesting portion involves the private meeting between FDR and the King that takes place in the study after hours. The two bond as men who are in positions of power, share the same insecurities, and who both curse their afflictions … the King and his stuttering, and the President with his polio. The best line of the film occurs during this meeting when the President asks “Can you imagine the disappointment when they find out what we really are?” It’s a reminder that all great men are just that … men.

This barely qualifies as a historical drama, and the far more interesting personal topic (rather than Daisy) would be the ongoing power struggle between Eleanor and Mrs Roosevelt. FDR does have to remind them that HE is the President! There is acknowledgment of Eleanor’s sexual preference, as well as her acceptance of FDR’s extra-marital desires and needs.

hyde4 Much is made of the famous American picnic where the King and Queen are served hot dogs, and this story highlights the Queen’s paranoia that this is yet another slap in the face meant to dishonor their presence. In fact, it is presented as a shrewd move by FDR to introduce the British royalty as people to be embraced by the American public.

It must be noted that though the film plays much like a made for TV movie, Bill Murray does a solid job portraying FDR as a man filled with humor, mischief and in full command of the burden he carries. His need for “me” time is understandable and his agreement with the press photographers explains why so few pictures exist of his wheelchair or other challenges in living with the polio. Unfortunately, the film just doesn’t keep up with Murray’s performance or with the powerful subject he portrays. Sound familiar Mr. Voight?

**Note: stay for the credits and see footage of the infamous “hot dog picnic”

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy Hallmark-style movies dwelling on interpersonal relationships OR you still need proof that Bill Murray is a legit actor.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for a historical drama centered around Franklin Delano Roosevelt

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQaScjiWDyY


MORNING GLORY (2010)

November 16, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. It would be easy to dismiss this film as typical lighthearted Hollywood fluff that carries no real message (other than a 2 hour escape). The interesting thing is that its really not an escape – we are tossed right into the workaday world of a manic TV producer. Additionally, though it has plenty of light moments, it also carries a bit of depth in breaking down a couple of lead characters.

Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller, morning TV show producer. Becky is a cute, driven, frantic, EverReady Bunny ball of energy who watches multiple TV’s and carries on multiple conversations, all while texting incessantly. She is hired by Jeff Goldblum in his final attempt at resurrecting ratings for “Daybreak”, a mere blip of competition to “The Today Show”.

The story gets interesting when Becky recruits/blackmails news legend Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) to co-anchor the show with Diane Keaton‘s character. To compare, Keaton’s character will kiss a frog or don a pink tutu and has mastered the perpetual smile so necessary for morning TV. Ford’s character may not have smiled since 4th grade and views the mission of TV as delivering news and hard stories and information.  The good news is that Keaton is actually in control and not over the top, as she has been in most of her recent movies.  Ford certainly takes grumpy to the extreme.

The conflict in the story comes from Ford’s character (labeled the world’s third worst person), whom the world has passed by, and McAdams’, who is the eternal optimist. It’s pretty obvious they will somehow save each other, but still I found it entertaining to watch the road.  I also got a kick out of the exploits forced upon the poor weatherman played by Matt Malloy.  The weatherman role has always seemed to me an odd intersection of clown and scientist.

The film itself, directed by Roger Michell (Venus, Notting Hill) and Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada), does a nice job with insight into those whose personalities are bound tightly to their job. There were a few occasions where the film felt choppy – like some scenes were cut or reinserted, and the music was consistently weak. I also could have done with about 8 fewer scenes of McAdams running through New York in her heels – we get that she never stops moving! The love story with Patrick Wilson felt forced, though making the point was necessary.  And thank goodness, there was no May-September romance between Ford and McAdams!  Even though it’s not at the level of Broadcast News, it offers enough depth and comedy to make this a worthwhile film to see.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can’t imagine letting loose of your blackberry for anything or anyone OR you are fascinated by any woman who can sprint while in heels.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you actually believe Harrison Ford is a grumpy old man OR watching Diane Keaton kiss a frog crosses the line for you