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Recent Movies: Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem; Interstellar; Wild Tales; Old Movies: There’s Always Tomorrow

April 12, 2015

Recent Movies

Gett:  The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

The title character is a secular Israeli Jew trying to get a divorce from her devoutly religious Orthodox husband who refuses to comply.  As the Israeli court system cannot grant a divorce without the husband’s consent, Viviane has a very uphill struggle.

With the exception of a minute or so, all of this film takes place in a small courtroom with occasional scenes in an adjoining waiting room.  As the courtroom looks bland and ordinary, this film deliberately takes on the challenge of maintaining viewers’ interest within such constraints.  In doing so, it succeeds with flying colours.

This is due to a detailed script with various surprises and a superb cast especially Ronit Elkabitz in the title role.  (She is also the co-director and co-writer with Shlomi Elkabitz, her brother.)  She has a couple of explosive scenes that are riveting especially one in which she cathartically expresses the views of many of us in the audience.

The various accounts of the plaintiff, defendant, witnesses, and lawyers provide all the detail in what could have been a solid movie about a disintegrating marriage, Ingmar Bergman-style.  Incidentally, some of the witness accounts from relatives and neighbours are the most revealing aspects of the story and of the culture of a religious community.

In the end, it is the audience who are the true witnesses and judges of a legal system that is absurd and harshly unfair to women.

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

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Interstellar

In the near future, the planet Earth is disintegrating environmentally.  A team of astronauts explore outer space to check if there is another planet where Earth’s remaining inhabitants can be transported in order to survive.

The first half of the film is fascinating.  It has great ideas about what the future might be like considering the current levels of greed and over-population.  There is also much adventure  in the space mission and the right amount of sentiment of a family being separated.  Matthew McConaughey shows brilliance and depth in a scene where he quietly shows how much he misses his loved ones.  Playing his school-age daughter, Mackenzie Foy is no slouch either.

The second half is interesting at best;  muddled, too busy and overlong at worst.  There is also a major characters whose fate is left unknown to the point of almost being trivialized.

The movie is good in many ways but had the potential to be more.

RATING:   * * 1/2

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Wild Tales

In various parts of Argentina, six short films all have a theme of revenge.  In all cases, “wild” is definitely the operative word of the title.

In the first segment, a massive revenge is played out – one which might appeal to many of us at least in fantasy.  Its conclusion is frighteningly prophetic considering a similar event that occurred after the film was made.

In the second segment, a young waitress recognizes a rude customer who badly mistreated her family many years ago.  She has a striking conversation with the cook who seems to have no issue about serving ‘just desserts’.  This conversation (which includes the speculation that prison life would be better than living a life of underpaid work) is sinister in an oddly appealing way.  We might not agree with the cook at first but she sounds strangely convincing.

The third sequence is the ultimate road-rage show as it pits a city boy against a country boy.  This is one that goes over-the-top at times including a scene that is truly gross (don’t eat while watching it).  Despite the high antics, the solid directing by Damian Szifron still keeps us on edge eager to know what could possibly happen next.

In segment # 4, an engineer with a willful personality is at odds with his city’s procedures on towing vehicles.  He is so stubborn at times, that it is challenging whether or not to side with him even if most viewers would share his anger at government bureaucracy and civil servants who are snotty.  The conclusion is rather shocking in a way that leaves one smiling.

The fifth segment is the only serious one of the lot.  A rich family and its lawyer work to buy justice to avoid having one of its members persecuted in a crime.  It’s very spine-tingling with lapses of morality being the main source of the tension.  The shocking conclusion leaves one wishing that this story had been extended to a full feature-length film.

The sixth and final segment follows a wedding party that goes to hell in a hand-basket.  While all performers in all segments are great, it is fair to say that Erica Rivas, as the unhinged bride, gives the movie’s standout performance.  Like the third segment, the revenge/punishment seems to exceed the original harmful deed.  The conclusion might seem unbelievable but the path of reaching it is so wonderfully chaotic, it seems to have credibility after all.

Szifron directed all segments with great skill.  He potentially leaves viewers enjoying the revenge vicariously while maybe getting in touch with some of our own worst human instincts.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

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Great Old Movies Seen for the First Time

There’s Always Tomorrow  (1956- U.S.)

In Southern California, Cliff (Fred MacMurray) is a successful toy manufacturer but at home, he feels neglected and taken for granted by his wife (Joan Bennett) and three children – two of whom are teenagers.  Norma (Barbara Stanwyck) is a former colleague and friend who pays a visit after many years away.  The two lonely souls strike a solid companionship but the film asks the question:  will there be more than just friendship?

While watching this film, it’s often tempting to expect a formulaic story and guess where it will go next.  But, as written by Bernard Schoenfeld (based on a story by Ursula Parrott), it often goes in a different direction.  When it does veer in predictable territory, it still does so with some unexpected surprises.

It helps to have the solid direction of Douglas Sirk (“All That Heaven Allows” (1955), “Written on the Wind” (1956) and “Imitation of Life” (1959)) as well as a solid cast.  MacMurray is superb in a role rarely shown on screen – a neglected patriarch who feels the hurt.  But Stanwyck is truly at her best (which is saying a lot) in a multi-layered role.

At the beginning, she shows true charm, class, and charisma as someone so well-mannered and entertaining, one would want to be in her presence at any gathering.  As a successful fashion designer, she’s almost comical in a scene of being in such demand for time at her office that she ends up snapping at everyone.  In the later dramatic scenes, she shows her true power especially during a conversation with Cliff’s teenage children.  This performance matches what is likely her best – in “Stella Dallas” (1937).

It makes one yearn for the times in Hollywood when experienced actresses over forty got roles that showed their best.  Those days may be gone for now but at least films like this are great reminders of a great era.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT:   Acting by Barbara Stanwyck

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Dennis Bowman

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