Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Tag: Ralph Fiennes

Two Rentable New Films: “The Forgiven” & “Abandoned” (Rent or Pass?)

 

We checked out two new films recently, I’ll give you an idea about them to save you the time.

After checking out the trailers on my Guide movie-for rent list, I narrowed the choices to “The Forgiven” or “Abandoned.”

“The Forgiven” starred Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain, a big plus. It was on Amazon Prime and the price of each was $7.95 to rent. The rating by the audience on IMDB was only 5.8 out of 10, but these two are Oscar caliber actors. Plus, I liked another co-star, Christopher Abbott, who dallies with the married Jo Henninger in the film while her husband is away.

“Abandoned” is a horror thriller starring Emma Roberts, John Gallagher, Jr. (“Network News”) and one of my all-time favorites, Michael Shannon.

We watched “The Forgiven” first, and that ended up being the better choice. It is a well-crafted film with a plot set in Morocco and examining what happens when a couple on their way to a wedding accidentally hits and kills a young man on the dark highway who is selling fossils. (Apparently, selling fossils is a big industry for the locals. Who knew?) It also had an appearance by Christopher Abbott, who I knew from “James White,” where he played Cynthia Nixon’s son, and “It Comes At Night” in 2017—a horror movie that never quite delivered on the successful atmospheric brooding cinematography of Director Trey Edward Shults.

IMDB describes the plot this way: “The Forgiven takes place over a weekend in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of both the local Muslims, and Western visitors to a house party in a grand villa.: Director James Michael McDonagh filmed on location; we get an inside look at the Arabic culture in what appears to be one of those countries that our former president described as “a s***ole country,” The folks flocking to the villa in the middle of nowhere appear to be either Euro-trash or, as one is identified, the style editor from a famous women’s magazine, which shall be nameless for the intention of this review.

Jessica (Chastain) and Ralph (Fiennes) are an unhappily married couple, Jo and David Henninger, on the verge of divorce. After David hits and kills the young native boy, the authorities are contacted. The boy’s father comes to the villa and demands that Ralph accompany him back to the desolate village from whence he came. We learn that the young man (Driss) might have been planning to rob some of the rich party-goers with another youth.

Should Ralph Fiennes’ character of David Henninger accompany the dead boy’s father back to Driss’ village? If he does, what will happen? Fiennes does accompany Driss’ dad, but what happens after that, while a satisfactory surprise ending, is still one that I am processing.

“Abandoned,” on the other hand, held the promise of a young woman (Emma Roberts) suffering from post-partum depression who has recently given birth and moves, with her husband (John Gallagher, Jr.) to a remote haunted house (which, the end-of-film credits tell us, was located in Smithfield, North Carolina.)

The house had a history, but the price was right. The previous family had a psychotic father who impregnated his underage daughter three times; it is hinted that he had a way with an axe. An old wardrobe in the house seems to be the entryway to a portion of the house where some of the offspring of the underage daughter of the house live on as ghosts, [as in “American Horror Story.”]

Most of the film consists of the vulnerable Emma (Roberts) trying to work through her depression and deal with her infant son, who has a bad case of colic. Michael Shannon enters for roughly 20 minutes of film time, which is a crime in and of itself. Shannon plays the brother of the poor underage sister and he shares the couch with Emma Roberts discussing his life in the house before its occupants met untimely ends.

The movie is a total waste of the talents of an actor as talented as Michael Shannon. For that matter, the script did no favors to the young couple, both of whom are good actors.

I am glad we began our viewing with “The Forgiven,” which at least had a structure that merited sticking with it to the end, but I cannot give a thumbs-up to “Abandoned.” The films rented for $7.95. In one case it was money well spent. In the other it was a waste of time and money.

“No Time to Die” Is Worth the 18-Month Wait

Daniel Craig makes his final outing as Bond memorable. The log-line says: “James Bond has left active service.  His peace is short-lived when Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), an old friend from the CIA, turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.” During a pandemic, a weapon that is a microscopic bio-rocket that can enter your bloodstream via the slightest contact with your skin is certainly timely. No wonder the studio pulled the $250 million-dollar film for 18 months. The ploy seems to have worked, as it grossed $56 million in 4,407 North American theaters this past weekend and was the fourth-best opening in the 25-film series history.

I’m not a particularly avid Bond fan—(although I am the target demographic, as the audience is primarily older)—but I really liked almost everything about this Bond epic. The cinematography and score (Hans Zimmer), including a Billie Eilish song that opens the film, are Top-Notch.

ACTING

Daniel Craig is great as Bond. He really seems to be doing all the fighting in the many fight sequences. The stunts are spectacular and, again, special mention should be made of the contribution to the mood and tone from Hans Zimmer’s score. Of course, there is also the Billie Eilish song at the beginning of the film, which will, no doubt, be remembered come Oscar-time.

The female lead, Lea Seydoux, while not as glamorous in appearance as previous “Bond girls,” was a good actress.

Lashana Lynch as a Black female 007 could have been omitted to shorten the film, and Ana De Armas’ appearance seemed sort of gratuitous, to me. If you added up the screentime of these two and remove them from the 2 hour and 43 minute run-time, the film would come down closer to what it should have been. This is a movie that should be seen on a big screen, as the cinematography in Norway and England and Jamaica and elsewhere is breathtaking, but the long run-time and other factors may well cause otherwise dedicated theater-goers to stream it at home when it is available. More’s the pity.

Rami Malek is weak as the villain and Christoph Waltz’s Hannibal-Lecter-like appearance was simply weird, but the main love story between Bond and the Bond girl makes up for a lot.

WRITING

Writers never get the credit they deserve. This film’s script is credited to Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, Director Cary  Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”). Here are some memorable lines:

(1) “There’s something I need to tell you.” (Lea Seydoux)

“I’ll bet there is.” (Daniel Craig)

(2)  “We all have our secrets. We just didn’t get to yours yet.” (Daniel Craig)

(3)  “Seems intelligence isn’t central any more” (re the blonde aide, Ashe, of Felix Leighter’s)

(4)  “I gave up trusting pretty faces a long time ago.” (Daniel Craig)

(5)  “You seem like a man who only has time to kill—nothing to live for.” (of Bond)

(6)  (Felix Leighter after being shot by Ashe)  “I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a feeling in my gut that Ashe may not be on our side.”

(7)  (Bond to “M”)  “Either the desk is getting bigger or you’re getting smaller.” (Followed by “Definitely not the desk.”)

(8)  “I wanted to give you an empty world like the one you gave me.” (Rami Malek to Daniel Craig)

(9)  “I wanted everything with you.  I have loved you, and I will love you, and I do not regret a single moment of my life except putting you on that train.” (Bond to Madeleine).

(10)  “Life is all about leaving something behind.  We want to be told how to live and then die when we are not looking.  We are built for oblivion.” (Bond)

(11)  “We both eradicate people to make the world a better place.” (Rami Malek to Daniel Craig as Bond.)

(12)  “I just showed someone your watch.  It really blew their mind.” (Bond about the Cyclops device)

(13)  “We are two heroes in a tragedy of our own making.” (Bond to Madeleine)

(14)  “You made me do this.  This was your choice.” (Rami Malek to Bond)

(15)  “Our function is to live, not to exist.  I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” (Bond)

 

As of Sunday, global grosses for “No Time to Die” were estimated to be over $313.3 million. The film cost $250 million to make and another $100 milliion to advertise, but it is on target. Said Head of Distribution for United Artists Releasing Erik Lomis, “It’s right where we thought it would be and right where tracking predicted it would be.”

One factor in the improvement at the box office is that 25% of movie-goers returned to theaters for the first time in 18 months this past weekend. Many audiences erupted in spontaneous applause at the end of the film; it’s definitely a crowd-pleaser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of “The Reader,” One of the Best Films of 2008

thereader

“The whole idea of literature is about people holding information that, for reasons of their own—sometimes noble, sometimes not—they are determined not to disclose.” So begins the wonderfully complex plot of Stephen Daldry’s film “The Reader,” adapted from Bernard Schlink’s book by Oscar-nominated David Hare.

Michael Berg, a 15-year-old student (David Kross) gets off a tram and becomes ill in the damp narrow Berlin alley outside Hanna Schmitz’s (Kate Winslet’s) cramped upper-floor apartment. The much older woman takes pity on the poor, drenched wretching teen-ager and, after drawing a bath for him so that he can clean up from his bout of vomiting, gives him a ride home where he is ordered to bed for months for Scarlet Fever.

Michael even tells his mother about this act of compassion on the part of the strange woman and, when he recovers, he decides to thank Hanna by taking her flowers. One thing leads to another and the repressed, spooked woman—who persists in addressing Michael as “Kid”—does more than just give the handsome young man a ride home. She gives him a new passion in his life, a sexual liaison with an older women, which, he later says, lasted only for four weeks over one summer.

One day, Michael goes to see Hanna to discover that she has simply vanished. He does not see her again until  1966, when he is a law school student in Heidelberg Law School.

The Professor in the law seminar tells Michael and the 4 others in his seminar, “Societies think they operate by something called morality, but they don’t.” The professor goes on to say, “The question was never ‘Was it wrong?’ but ‘Was it legal by the laws at the time?'” He then takes his quintet of students to watch the hearings dealing with the question of German guilt in the persecution of the Jews. Michael (David Kross) is stunned to discover that one of the six defendants is his former lover, Hanna Schmitz, and, furthermore, that the other five women are  lying outright and trying to pin the blame on Hanna, in an attempt to save themselves.

There are clues throughout the film that Hanna is illiterate. She likes to have Michael read to her. (hence the film’s title).  It is reported during the trial that she used to select certain prisoners from amongst the women she was guarding and have them read to her. She cannot read a menu when she and young Michael take a bicycling holiday. She is upset when her superiors on the tram praise her stern work ethic and promote her to office work. We suspect that Hanna cannot read or write, but this becomes a sticking point during the trial, when the five other defendants say that Hanna wrote the report of a fire in a church that killed all 300 women prisoners locked within when none of the female guards, of whom Hanna was one, would unlock the doors and release the prisoners. All but one of the prisoners burned to death. The other female defendants claim that Hanna “wrote the report.” We, the audience, know that Hanna could not have written the report, and Michael Berg, sitting in the gallery, knows it, as well. However, Hanna is so intent on keeping the secret of her illiteracy that she would rather suffer a much more severe sentence than endure the shame of having the world at large know her truth. And she does. While the other 5 defendants receive only 5 years apiece, Hanna takes the fall and is sentenced to life in prison.

There are many questions along the way, questions that the main character wrestles with  that we, the audience, debate later. Did Michael remain silent to save his own skin? After all, he is an aspiring law student at this point in time, and consorting with a known Nazi might not be the best path to success in his chosen field. How would Michael explain his relationship with Hanna to others, if he reveals the knowledge that only he possesses? And is it Michael’s choice as to whether Hanna is “outed” as an illiterate or whether her secret remains hers  to keep, despite the price she may pay? How much should one woman endure simply to avoid public embarrassment at her lack of formal education?

One of the most poignant lines in the film, as Hanna is bullied and badgered into submission, is her question to the Chief Prosecutor, “What would you have done? Should I never have taken the job at Seaman’s?” It was simply wanting to work hard that turned Hanna from a normal German fraulein into a German guard who literally held the power of life and death in her hands.

Michael Berg’s law professor sums up one of the themes of the film, which is, “If people like you don’t learn from people like me, then what-the-hell is the point of anything?”

Ralph Fiennes plays the adult Michael with his usual sensitivity and intensity.  He makes a decision to honor Hanna’s desire to conceal the truth of her situation, but he begins sending her tapes, books he reads onto tapes and sends her, along with a tape recorder, to lighten her burden while incarcerated. We see Hanna begin to teach herself to read, from listening to the tapes over and over.

When Michael (Ralph Fiennes) finally sees Hanna, in prison, for the first and last time, she tells him, “It doesn’t matter what I feel. It doesn’t matter what I think. The dead are still dead.” He says to her, “I wasn’t sure what you had learned?” And Hanna replies, “I’ve learned to read.”

The rest of what happens at the film’s climax I am still mulling over in my mind. Did Hanna—who is now quite elderly and no longer sexually desirable to the adult Michael—feel so rejected by him during their visit  that it brought about the finale? Did Hanna always plan for things to end the way they do, or was it a last-minute decision that occurred only after Michael’s visit, as they discuss her plans for a job and an apartment as she is paroled ?

The David Hare screenplay, based on the Bernard Schlink novel, is wonderful, filled with complex layer upon layer of meaning and with profound intellectual decisions that resonate. Hare is Oscar-nominated for Best Screenplay adapted from a novel.

Another thing that resonated for me was seeing the names of  the two people to whom the film was dedicated,  co-producers Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack,  who are both now deceased. They were two professionals who will be sorely missed.

This is a wonderful film, a thought-provoking film, a tour-de-force performance from Kate Winslet, who is nominated for Best Actress and should win. The film also has a brief cameo by Lena Olin, who portrays the sole survivor of the church fire, who is now an adult living in New York City.

If you like your films character-driven and thought-provoking, as I do,  put this one on your Must See list. If you only take your films “light,” maybe not.

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