It was in 1985 that the German film director Wim Wenders first saw the Pina Bausch dance company. He later admitted that he had had to be dragged to the event by a girlfriend. Though a lover of many types of music, Wenders was one of those who believed he simply didn’t get ballet or modern dance. But after a few moments of the performance, he was on the edge of his seat, so moved he was crying. He felt his life had been altered. Pina Bausch had been born in Dusseldorf in 1940 (that made her five years older than Wenders).
In The Iron Lady, a figure named Margaret Thatcher orders the sinking of the Argentinean battleship, the Belgrano. She “wins” the war of the Falkland Islands, just as she had won leadership of the Conservative party in Great Britain and had become the nation’s first female prime minister. As such, she imposed austerity cuts; she beat down the trade union movement; she gutted many parts of her country, especially the manufacturing north; and she restored a version of prosperity in the financial services industry that was lifted on the wave of the Internet.
On Thursday January 5th, I was trying to read the Seth Schiesel column on the front of the Arts section of the New York Times. After a few paragraphs, it said, “Continued on Page 5,” and my fingers made the natural leafing gestures to get me to five (no matter that I am used to Schiesel having large and merited front-page display). But “page 5” turned out to be “C3B” and a full-page ad for The Descendants.
“The Artist is a silent film!” … until the end, when tap dance and a few words give way to our applause. The whole thing is so damn clever and charming, it might just sneak off with Best Picture. Something will, and this film is unexpected, a crowd-pleaser, and promoted by the Weinstein brothers—a pattern that has worked before. Never mind if it’s not exactly a “best film.” Though The Artist borrows its storyline from A Star is Born, it drops that film’s sad ending.
A Dangerous Method is crammed with alarm and peril at the outset. A young, dark-featured woman in white is barely contained in a moving carriage in 1904—she is screaming, heaving, sighing—and she is being taken to a clinic just outside Zurich where she will become the patient of Dr Carl Jung. Outside the smart establishment, on what seems a fine day, she is carried inside still writhing like an eel on a cutting board. She turns out to be Sabina Spielrein, and she is played by Keira Knightley, not an actress who has carried me away in the past.
“Homeland” ended its first series on December 18 in a ninety-minute episode, as if it had so many loose ends to tie up, and so much to deliver before “the event of the TV season” closed. A couple of months ago, I welcomed the suspense, the plotting, and the human interest of “Homeland,” but I wondered even then if the series would go crazy with its own narrative.
There are advertisements and reviews out there that tell you to expect comedy in Young Adult. You deserve a sterner warning. Yes, the picture is written by Diablo Cody* (of Juno and TV's “United States of Tara”) and it is directed by Jason Reitman (of Juno and Up in the Air). But, if you recall, Up in the Air had George Clooney as a cool, amiable flake whose job it is to tell people they are fired, and who is set back (to zero?) when Vera Farmiga’s colder character tells him that their love affair of convenience and intricate travel schedules is going nowhere.
What do you expect from a film called Shame with an NC-17 rating? Right at the start we see Brandon awake in the pale blue sheets of his bed. He gets up, goes to the bathroom, and turns around. He has a penis, and I suppose it is Michael Fassbender’s. So many of the things an actor brings to a picture are his parts, and it is up to us and the whole project to decide whether they also belong to a credible and interesting fictional character. Brandon exists alone in a Manhattan apartment with those bed sheets and his situation.
Some time towards the end of this delightful entertainment, the realization dawns of how much courage Michelle Williams needed in accepting the offer to play Marilyn Monroe. Yet an hour earlier, I had been asking, “Oh, why do it? Why take on this child monster yet again, in the year before we will be inundated with memories and garbage at the fiftieth anniversary of her death?” The more familiar the icon or celebrity in a movie biopic, the more hazardous it is to attempt impersonation, a process that can look stilted or unnecessary on screen.
At the public screening of The Descendants I saw, there was gentle but earnest applause as the film ended. It’s merited, and I suspect it came from a middle-aged audience that is weary of noise and violence in our films, and respectful of anyone prepared to deal candidly with family material. That doesn’t mean this is softer than PG. It’s an R film, with a lot of rough language, most of it coming from a ten-year-old and a seventeen-year-old.