Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies!
Seymour: An Introduction (2014)
Starring: Seymour Bernstein, Ethan Hawke, Sam Bachelor, and several more.
Director: Ethan Hawke
Synopsis: Ethan Hawke interviews Seymour, whom he first met when he was randomly seated next to him at a function. Seymour, born in 1927, was a young piano star, later a soldier in the Korean War, and retired from public performances at around 40; but he continued (or resumed) teaching. Beyond his piano skills, he has a certain life philosophy that is inspirational to many. Besides teaching, Seymour assesses very expensive pianos and composes.
Impressions: Set up in the usual documentary style of interviewing, reminisces, most of them taking place in Seymour’s very small NYC apartment, current and former students are also included to give their impressions of and affection for their teacher. One interesting thing that one of his former students who is a piano success story talks about is the connection between B flat and black holes, which supposedly all of the great composers liked to compose in. (Being a non-musician, non-scientist I cannot comment on the theory.)
Awards: 2 wins and 2 nominations
Jenny’s Wedding (2015)
Starring: Katherine Heigl, Tom Wilkinson, Linda Emond, Grace Gummer, Alexis Bledel, Sam McMurray, Diana Hardcastle, Matthew Metzger, Houston Rhines, and many more.
Director: Mary Agnes Donoghue
Synopsis: As far as her family is concerned, Jenny has either had bad luck with men or is just too picky, but the reality is that she is a lesbian who has been in a relationship with her “roommate” for 5 years. The story revolves around Jenny coming out of the closet to her family to let them know she’s getting married and how the family members adjust to the information and decide whether they want to have anything to do with her generally anymore, including her wedding plans. The family includes a fireman father, a housewife mother, and a sister with two kids and a lousy husband. Lots of family dysfunction bubbles up into messiness when Jenny’s orientation is made known.
Impressions: Family connections are sometimes described as being similar to a mobile, where when one member shifts they all shift. “Jenny’s Wedding” is a very good demonstration of it. They did a good job of working through “the messiness” of it. Not everyone in this movie is likeable at first, but as it goes on their deeper, better selves shine through. Mother and father are more the central characters than Jenny.
Etc.: LGBTQI+ themed
Awards: 1 nomination
Born to be Blue (2015)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo, Callum Keith Rennie, Tony Nappo, Stephen McHattie, Janet-Laine Green, Dan Lett, Kedar Brown, Kevin Hanchard, Tony Nardi, Barbara Mamabolo, and many more.
Director: Robert Budreau
Genres: biography and drama
Synopsis: Set in 1960’s California, Hawke plays American jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. The story comes in where he is at the pinnacle of celebrity while also being a heroin junkie when his bad drug debts catch up with him and he gets beaten badly for it. They are also making a movie about his life story when the injury happens. The filmmakers aren’t interested in the project anymore as he’s been told he’ll never play again. One good thing coming out of all of that is he and his movie co-star, Jane (played by Ejogo,) fall in love and end up staying together. The rest of the film focuses on his battle to become and remain clean and to try to pick up the pieces of his broken career.
Impressions: The movie is infused with really good jazz music that has had me listening to Chet since watching the film. The performances of everyone, from leads to support cast, are quality. It’s not your typical junkie, wallowing in self-pity, film. The scenes between Chet and Jane have good chemistry to them. I particularly like how Ejogo plays Jane, unflinchingly supportive while never being an enabler. The scenes between Chet and his Oklahoma farmer dad are sharply poignant.
Etc.: imdb trivia: Stephen McHattie, who portrays the father of Chet Baker in this movie, also starred in Robert Budreau’s short film The Deaths of Chet Baker (2009) as Baker.
Awards: 3 wins and 7 nominations
Starring: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine, Chris Messina, Skylar Gasper, Brian Mays, Herc Trevino, Angela Woods, and many more.
Director: David Gordon Green
Synopsis: Pacino plays Manglehorn, the eccentric and often brusque main character. He’s a locksmith, lives in a dumpy little house with his ailing fluffy cat, and is prone to busting up his house in bursts of rage. He has a son that he shares a strained relationship with, an ex-wife we never see, and a long-lost great love that ruminates on. There is a room that has become a shrine of returned letters and other memorabilia to keep her as a presence. There is one bright spot in Manglehorn’s world – the smiling bank teller he flirts back and forth with every Friday when he drops off his deposit.
Impressions: It was tough not to feel a little down while watching “Manglehorn” as his life and his moods are relentless in their purposelessness. Maybe because they feel more than a little familiar at the moment, the feeling trapped in an unsatisfying circumstance but being helpless in figuring out how to make it better. They do a good job of showing the world from his perspective. By the end of the film I appreciated the curmudgeon. Hunter as the bank teller is a charming lady that doesn’t put up with much of his nonsense.
Awards: 1 nomination
Closer to the Moon (2014)
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Mark Strong, Harry Lloyd, Anton Lesser, Joe Armstrong, Christian McKay, Tim Plester, Darrell D’Silva, David de Keyser, Frances Cuka, Marcin Walewski, and many more.
Director: Nae Caranfil
Synopsis: during WWII, Jewish resistance fighters allied with the Russians in Romania, but what they didn’t know is that the Russians would stay and control the country. The resistance fighters were appointed to high positions in government at first. The story comes in when their status is being degraded. They are being phased out. A group of these high-powered Jewish individuals decide to commit a political act that causes public embarrassment to their oppressors. They are caught and the oppressors force them to make a propaganda film of the act but showing them as dangerous criminals. Pulled into the whole drama is a young man who saw what really happened and gets pulled into the making of the propaganda film.
Impressions: This is designated as a comedy but I didn’t see much humor in it. There is a “Hogan’s Heroes” flavor to it which can be seen as funny. I saw “The Rosenberg Gang” more as heroes that refused to allow an oppressive government to crush their spirit. I liked the ensemble, especially the two leads, Farmiga and Strong.
Etc.: filmed in 4 locations in Romania; meticulous research went into getting facts correct for the story; based on The Ioanid Gang; this film was one of the most expensive films ever made in Romanian cinema.
Awards: 9 wins and 4 nominations
Snow Cake (2006)
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Carrie-Ann Moss, Emily Hampshire, Jackie Brown, Callum Keith Rennie, Scott Wickware, Johnny Goltz, Janet van de Graaf, Charlie (the dog), and many more.
Director: Marc Evans
Genres: drama, romance
Synopsis: Alan Rickman plays Alex, a man who is driving across Canada after just getting out of prison. He finds himself in a small town, knocking on the door of Linda, played Sigourney Weaver, a high-functioning Autistic woman. Soon he meets Maggie, played by Moss, the neighbor over the back fence. Death, grief, and processing both permeate the story, but the relationships and support make this anything but a dark film. In fact, there is a healthy dose of humor held within it.
Impressions: Excellent storyline, excellent acting, does an excellent job of showing an autistic person who is highly intelligent with debilitating barriers of quirks, phobias, etc. that interfere with her interacting with the rest of the world; yet at the same time there is an appreciation that she is able to live on her own and find enjoyment in her world. Rickman’s character would be easy for many to just write off as “no good,” but he is sensitively portrayed as well. Deeper philosophical questions are asked and answered in “Snow Cake” that delighted in a deep way.
Etc.: filmed in several locations in Ontario, Canada
Awards: 3 wins and 7 nominations
Alan Rickman read the script and actually suggested Sigourney Weaver for the role of Linda. He even telephoned Weaver, and told her she had to read the script, as there was a role he felt she could play perfectly in it. Rickman and Weaver had previously worked together in the film Galaxy Quest (1999), where Rickman’s character was also named Alex.