Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (B). Happy MLK Day! As a government employee, I had the day off, so I thought I’d check out this new documentary. I presumed I would have the theater virtually to myself, but surprise! There were probably 60 or 70 other moviegoers there for the 1:15 show. Who’d have thunk it? Anyhoo, I knew nothing about Peggy Guggenheim going in, so this documentary–biopic was very educational for me. PG was born in 1898 and lived until 1979, and in between she became one of the most influential people in the art world, despite having no formal training. Instead she had some money (being an heiress), a good eye, and some excellent advisers, as well as a personality that allowed her to meet and befriend (ahem) many of the artists who came to define the 20th century. Jackson Pollock was apparently one of her discoveries. Anyway, she lived an unconventional and seemingly pretty sad life, but it made for an interesting movie. Among many other things, I learned that both parents of actor Robert De Niro (Stardust) were artists whose work was shown by Guggenheim back in the day. Worth seeing, if you like this sort of thing.
I saw Joy recently and would give it a solid B. The third movie directed by David O. Russell starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro has much the same feel as Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. This movie is loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano, inventor of the miracle mop (among other items) that sold like hotcakes on QVC and later HSN (Home Shopping Network). Ms. Mangano had consulting credits and apparently approved of the film but the story deviates quite a bit from her life. Joy (Lawrence) pitched her mop to a QVC exec (Cooper) after a cash infusion to make parts for the mop by her father’s (De Niro) girlfriend played by Isabella Rossellini. Russell throws out every imaginable obstacle to thwart Joy’s success but Lawrence’s Joy isn’t down for long before she overcomes. I found the movie a little long and slow in parts but it made me curious enough to Google Joy Mangano–and learn enough to wonder if the movie would have been better if it had stuck closer to her story.
Silver Linings Playbook (B+). Beneath all the stuff about mental illness, Silver Linings Playbook is a very conventional movie–much more conventional than I would have expected from director David O. Russell (The Fighter, I Heart Huckabees). As the film opens, a guy in his mid-30s named Patrick (Bradley Cooper, Limitless) is getting released into his parents’ custody after spending eight months in a mental institution. We quickly learn that he suffers from bipolar disorder, that he got locked up after nearly killing a man that he caught having sex with his wife Nikki, and that he is deeply obsessed with getting Nikki back (despite a restraining order that forbids him to contact her). Soon after his release, Patrick meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone), a young widow who has plenty of mental-health issues of her own. Tiffany says she’ll deliver a letter from Patrick to Nikki, but he has to pay her back by being her partner in a dance contest. (Seriously? A dance contest?) There’s also a subplot involving Patrick’s somewhat OCD father (Robert De Niro, Stardust), who is risking his life savings doing some illegal bookmaking. Anyhoo, the movie did not feel very honest to me, especially the part about mentally ill people being as put-together looking and attractive as Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. But, in my humble opinion, romantic movies don’t have to be too honest if the romance works, and this one does. Cooper is good, but I thought Lawrence was phenomenal, dominating every scene she was in as the vulnerable-but-kind-of-scary Tiffany. In sum, I didn’t believe it, but I did enjoy it.
Everybody’s Fine (C). This dawdlin’ and maudlin affair stars Robert De Niro (Stardust) as Frank Goode, a widower with four grown children scattered across the USA. When all four of his kids cancel a visit home, he decides to surprise them with visits (despite his doctor’s warning that he really shouldn’t try anything so strenuous). As he makes his slow way by train and bus, he and we soon realize that Frank is none too close to his children–he doesn’t really know what’s going on in their lives, and they have pretty much concealed all their sorrows, difficulties, and disappointments from him over the years. Somewhat similar to About Schmidt, which I think I liked much better, this is apparently a remake of an Italian movie almost 20 years old. Anyway, it didn’t really draw me in. Oh, I still got a little misty over it, but that’s no great feat.
Brazil (C+). This, I gather, is a pretty well-known film from Terry Gilliam, who also directed Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It is a tale of a dystopian future in the vein of Brave New World and 1984. In the world of Brazil, the government maintains control of a docile population chiefly by the crushing weight of its bureaucracy and the insane paperwork required to get anything done. It’s like having the whole world run by the DMV. When necessary, however, the bureaucrats are backed up by frightening police forces dispatched by the Ministry of Information. Our protagonist is Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce, Evita), a low-level bureaucrat and generally decent guy who is superficially content with the status quo but whose dreams are filled with visions of freedom–and of a mysterious woman. Naturally she turns out to have a counterpart in real life that Sam sees from afar and becomes obsessed with. Robert de Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) has a surprising role as Harry Tuttle, a freelance air-conditioning repairman and perhaps terrorist who inspires Sam to start bucking the system. It’s a rather bleak movie, but certainly a visually interesting one.
Stardust(B+). This is a very enjoyable fairy tale starring Claire Danes (Shopgirl), Michelle Pfeiffer (Dark Shadows), Robert de Niro (Everybody’s Fine), and some fellow I’ve never heard of named Charlie Cox (Casanova). In 19th century England there is an old stone wall with a breach in it, and on the other side is the magical kingdom of Stormhold. Tristan (Cox) is an amiable young man from the real world who crosses over in search of a fallen star. Unbeknownst to him, in Stronghold, a fallen star is not a lump of space-going rock but a living, breathing person—in this case a woman named Yvaine (Danes). An evil witch (Pfeiffer) is also looking for Yvaine in order to cut out her heart and gain immortality, while several potential heirs to the throne of Stormhold are after the royal jewel Yvain wears around her neck. And so the three separate but converging quests niftily wend their way to a satisfying conclusion. Parents should take the PG-13 rating seriously, however, because of some adult humor and some violent images.
P.S. Looking back at this movie on IMDB in 2016, I see that it has a lot more famous people in its cast, including Peter O’Toole, Sienna Miller, Mark Strong, Henry Cavill, Rupert Everett, and Ricky Gervais. I didn’t notice it at the time!