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Recent Movies: Clouds of Sils Maria; The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; Woman in Gold

June 14, 2015

Recent Movies

Clouds of Sils Maria

A famous middle-aged European actress (Juliette Binoche) is aided by her loyal personal assistant (Kirsten Stewart) to prepare for a London remount of a Swiss play that made the actress a star when she was very young.  In the remount, she is to play the role of a middle-aged woman in relationship with a younger woman.  As she had played the younger woman in the play’s debut, her insecurities rise to the surface now that she must now play the older role.  The younger woman is to be played by a rising Hollywood star (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is often controversial.

This film is mostly in English and is a Swiss-French-German co-production.  It ably shows the differences of European vs. Hollywood values but without ever being condescending.  As directed by Olivier Assayas (also the writer), there is an enjoyable European elegance and charm that make the film quite engaging.  This is not surprising consider that Assayas has done such previous great works as “Irma Vep” (1996), “Summer Hours” (2008), and “Carlos” (2010).

The “Sils Maria” of the title refers to a Swiss town where the two women retreat in preparation for the play.  Binoche shows her usual fine talents in a rare role of someone who is insecure.  Stewart does more than hold her own with Binoche.

The middle section works well for the most part as the two women have deep discussions on the play and its characters while tension of their own connection is raised to the surface.  The Swiss mountain scenery is also breathtaking in this segment.  The trouble is that this segment lasts too long and begins to lessen film’s overall impact due to its excessive length.

Luckily, the final segment of the film restores it to its earlier glory, making it enjoyable overall.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *

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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The sequel to “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2012) continues with the various stories of British seniors living in the titular hotel in Jaipur, India .  The story also focuses on Sonny (Dev Patel), the proprietor who has ambitions to expand the hotel as he is also preparing to get married.

Like the earlier film, this one is blessed with a seasoned cast particularly “the great dames”, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench.

Dench does well with her role as expected but one is left with a desire to have seen her in a better role with more time on screen.  Luckily, Smith fits the bill on both of those fronts.  She and Patel are the main highlights of the film especially as an unlikely pair on a business venture at the film’s beginning.  Patel is quite funny as someone whose ambitions are so high that he seems to have been born with caffeine in his blood.

There is much humour in the beginning with sharp lines delivered with flair.  The film spends too much time, however, with romance in too many sub-plots.  It seems that Cupid is the invisible character in this movie shooting his arrows left, right and centre – sometimes with an attached note that reads, “Hey, you’re not getting any younger.”  The romantic conclusions often seem trite with little depth.

There is a genuine feeling of joy that accompanies a celebration in the second half but the film’s main strength is Smith – not only because of who she is but her character has the good fortune of deflecting Cupid’s storm of arrows and showing that there is more to life than just romance.

RATING:   * * 1/2

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Woman in Gold

Based on a true story which begins in 1998 in Los Angeles, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren) was born an Austrian Jew and escaped the Holocaust to live in the U.S.   After learning more of her family history, she enlists the help of young lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to retrieve works of art that were looted from her family by the Nazis.  One such work is a painting of her beloved aunt (the “woman in gold” of the title) which Austrian authorities want desperately to keep.

The modern story is told with a parallel past story of Maria’s family before and during the Nazi occupation.  These scenes are very intense and suspenseful despite the fact that the audience knows most of the outcome.  The final scene in this segment is rather a disappointment.  It could have drawn more emotion but it tries too hard in its sentiment that it seems to backfire.

Mirren brings her usual magic to the role and Reynolds is a fine match.  Their kinship reminds one of Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in “Philomena” whose characters also bonded while fighting against a past injustice.

Mirren shows the right sensitivity and subtlety of someone in an inner conflict: wanting a long-delayed justice but also wanting to flee and avoid a brutal past and a country that she once loved but which eventually betrayed her.  Her later scenes of reconciling with the past are quite touching.

The style of the film is sometimes conventional but the story itself and its lead performances make for a fine film.

RATING:   * * *

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Dennis Bowman

 

 

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