Gifted: a family drama. At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Mary Adler (McKenna Grace), a seven year old living with Frank (Chris Evans), her uncle, in Tampa. As the story unfolds, we learn that Mary’s mother, a math genius, committed suicide and left instructions that her brother, Frank, was to raise Mary. At the time of Mary’s suicide, Frank was a college professor; his current profession is boat repairman. We only know Mary’s mother through photographs and comments by Frank and others. Her biological father makes a single brief appearance more than halfway through this 101 minute film. We learn that Mary has been home schooled by Frank, but now, over her objections, is to start attending public school. It is during the public school sequence that we learn Mary has inherited her mother’s gift for mathematics. Her teacher (Jenny Slate) and the school’s principal recognize Mary’s brilliance and recommend to Frank that Mary attend an elite private school. When Frank says no the principal contacts Mary’s maternal grandmother (Lindsay Duncan), who also happens to have the math genius gene. The tone of the film changes dramatically once the grandmother comes on board. Appearing at various times throughout the movie is Frank’s neighbor (Octavia Spencer). The neighbor might be Frank’s landlord but, at a minimum, she is the property manager for the bungalow complex where Frank and Mary reside. Octavia Spencer’s character is underutilized in this film and seeing more of Octavia and her character would have resulted in a better film. The chemistry between Mary’s teacher and Frank does not come across as realistic. All the actors, however, rise above Tom Flynn’s script. This film may be Evans’ best performance. The director, Marc Webb, presents a very enjoyable family drama. The primary key to the success of this film is the performance of McKenna Grace as Mary and her interactions with Frank. I also liked their one eye cat. The grandmother character is too one dimensional. Nevertheless, this is a pleasurable film with an excellent cast.
Monday, April 17, 2017
After the Storm: a family drama. This Japanese film was written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. We are introduced to Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) shortly after his father’s death and several years after the publication of his award winning novel. The film is contemporary but its exact time frame is not specified. Ryota is divorced and delinquent on his child support payments. Despite his talent as a writer, Ryota works as a private detective. Like his father, Ryota has a gambling addiction. He is also still in love with his ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki), who has a boyfriend. Ryota’s visitation rights with his son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), are limited to once a month. A significant portion of the film takes place over one long weekend, which includes Shingo’s visit with Ryota. The other principal characters are Ryota’s mother, Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki), and his sister, Chinatsu (Satomi Kobayashi). When the mother is on screen, she frequently dominates the screen and provides the only comic lines. Chinatsu is employed and has a daughter. She is protective of the mother and her actions frustrate Ryota. He interprets Chinatsu’s action as taking advantage of their mother but, in reality, it is Ryota who’s the sponge. As the story unfolds, we hear radio reports about the imminent arrival of a typhoon. By the time the typhoon hits, most of this 117-minute movie has played out. A less philosophical writer might have dubbed the film “Before the Storm”. Hiroshi Abe’s excellent acting carries parts of the film. This film does not offer any major dramatic scenes; it simply focuses on the reality of human dynamics within a family structure and how some people cope with life. There are no special effects. Instead, the drama and action are subtle, but for days afterwards, individual scenes will emerge and linger among your thoughts. Superb acting by all the characters. Subtitled
Saturday, April 8, 2017
The Zookeeper’s Wife: based upon Diane Ackerman’s superb non-fiction book bearing the same title. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the film is true to the tale told in the book. The film opens in Warsaw in 1939. It starts shortly before Nazi Germany’s invasion of the city. The Zookeeper is Dr. Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife is Antonina (Jessica Chastain). In an otherwise excellent performance, the accent adopted by Chastain is an odd Polish/Russian blend. Although you become accustomed to her accent, it remains a slight distraction. The opening scenes present an overly idealistic relationship between Antonina and the Zoo’s animals, but they serve to set the stage for the Zabinskis’ story after Warsaw is overrun by the Nazis. During the initial invasion, the Zoo is heavily bombed and many of the animals are lost. We are introduced to Hitler’s zoologist, Dr. Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), initially at a pre-invasion cocktail party. Dr. Heck is central to the storyline. Unwittingly, he becomes the key in the Zabinskis’ scheme to rescue Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto: Dr. Heck’s approval is needed to keep the Zoo operating. To maintain a viable escape route, the Zabinskis offer Dr. Heck the Zoo’s facilities to use as a hog farm to provide meat for the Nazi soldiers; to feed the hogs, garbage from the Warsaw Ghetto is needed. When the waste is transported from the Ghetto to the Zoo, escaping Jews are hidden in the garbage. Later, the Zookeeper obtains additional access to the Ghetto resulting in additional Jews leaving the Ghetto. The film does an excellent job of showing how these two schemes operated and Antonina’s involvement in the process. A total of 300 Jews were able to leave the Ghetto and only 2 were subsequently found by the Nazis. Dr. Zabinski also becomes very involved in the fight against the Nazis but his story is not the focal point. The focus of this 126 minute film is the Zookeeper’s wife, Antonina. The screenplay is written by Angela Workman and the director is Niki Caro. They keep the film’s focus on showing how two individuals worked to save lives and use Hitler’s zoologist to illustrate the idiocy and sickness of Nazi ideology. I think most of you are fully aware of the Holocaust and do not need further film education on the horrors inflicted by Hitler. I make this comment because after writing the first draft of this commentary, I read a number of reviews which attacked the film for being too light on depicting what was occurring outside the gates of the Zoo. I don’t think this film is light on the Holocaust nor do I think it reflects a particularly feminist perspective of the Holocaust. Rather, the film and the book depict the righteous acts of two individuals by keeping the focus on these individuals, particularly the wife. The book is superb and this film is worth seeing. Jan and Antonina were amazing people and this film gives them the just praise they deserve.