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Recent Movies: Mr. Turner; Unbroken; Two Days, One Night

January 30, 2015

Recent Movies

Mr. Turner

The subject of the film is J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851), a renowned British landscape artist.  The film covers the last twenty-five years of his life and begins at the point when he is already a successful artist.  “Mr. Turner” is written and directed by Mike Leigh and Timothy Spall plays the lead role.

Within the first forty minutes or so, the film successfully recalls a time and place where the manners and language are very unique and different.  The costumes, set design, and photography add beautifully to this other universe especially the stunning landscape scenery.

I’m a great fan of Mike Leigh especially for the films “Secrets and Lies” (1995) and “Another Year” (2010) among a few others.  Sadly, I believe “Mr. Turner” does not meet the bar met by these other films.

Spall has done great work for Leigh in the past especially in “Secrets and Lies”.  He does a fine job as Turner using very odd but believable characteristics.  While he portrays the frailty of aging well, he didn’t seem to evolve or change emotionally throughout the story, particularly in a scene near the end when he hears very disturbing news.  This causes the two and a half hours to pass rather slowly especially considering that some other scenes seem odd and out of place.

In some smaller roles, there were some character actors who did very well with limited time on-screen including Marion Bailey as a landlady on a seaside resort;  Dorothy Atkinson as a quiet housekeeper who conveys her misery with her facial and body language;  Lesley Manville (superb in “Another Year”) as a scientist who helps Turner with his art; Joshua McGuire as a young art critic from a privileged family whose enthusiastic commentaries are amusingly pompous; and Ruth Sheen, also amusing as a bitter ex-lover who speaks congenial words in a tone that is the opposite of congenial.

RATING  (out of four stars):   * * 1/2

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Unbroken

This film is based on the life of Louis Zamperini who was a U.S. runner in the 1936 Summer Olympics and later served in World War II in the battle against Japan.

There are many scenes well filmed by director Angelina Jolie and the film serves well as one person’s difficult story during the war.

The main trouble overall is that the film spends too much time prolonging torture, torment, and humiliation scenes in a prison camp.  Indeed, such information is important but the film could have reduced some of these difficult scenes and spent more of the film portraying [SPOILER ALERT] how Zamperini managed to deal with the experiences after the worst times were over and how he managed to reconcile such torment.  [SPOILER COMPLETE]

A brief review of this film at Now Magazine finished with the phrase “Strictly for Sadists”.  While, I don’t completely agree with the comment, I fully understand it.

RATING:   * *

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Two Days, One Night

In an industrial town in Belgium, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is a factory worker recovering from depression.  Her situation is worsened when she discovers that she is likely to lose her job unless she can convince a majority of her co-workers (sixteen in total) to give up their annual bonuses.  She has the time period of the film’s title to do this.  The film is written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

This film is made on a small budget and is minimalist.  Despite this, it has the same impact of a big-budget thriller as Sandra’s situation (the fear of losing a badly needed job) could be a situation in most people’s lives: perhaps ourselves or someone we know and care for – whether this situation be in the past, present, or in a projected and worrisome future.

The nastiness of the modern economy is well reflected in higher management making a decision that turns co-workers against each other as they face moral dilemmas.

Cotillard, who was superb in “La Vie en Rose” (2007), does a wonderful job in the lead role.  In her many scenes of knocking on doors and ringing buzzers, she perfectly displays apprehension and humiliation as she waits in fear and uncertainty for the reply she might get.  It is easy for the viewer to get inside her head as she conveys difficult feelings even in a quiet way.

The best achievement in this film is in its screenplay.  We see most, though not all, of Sandra’s meetings with her co-workers.  Within each of those encounters, we see small stories that are all unique and rich in their own way even if they take place only in a few minutes.  This is also due to great actors playing the roles.

“Two Days, One Night” is very humanistic.  There is much lingering after the conclusion wondering the fate of the characters as well as the true motives of Sandra’s supportive husband who pushed her into the pursuit.  One of the best movies of the 2014.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT:   Screenplay by Jean-Paul and Luc Dardenne

 

 

Dennis Bowman

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