I don't know how I managed to miss this film first time round. It is a rare, elegiac and utterly beautiful thing. Jack Nicholson is great. Arguably sentimental, but no worse for having that quality.
A life seen through the eyes of a man who has already nearly finished his - "I might die tomorrow or I might die in 20 years. It doesn't matter" - is in equal measure achingly sad and achingly funny. When his wife of 42 years dies suddenly and his only daughter is on the brink of matrimony with the unsuitable progeny of Bohemian trailer trash, Warren Schmidt blunders and crashes his way to some kind of realisation through his letters to an adopted [for $22 per month] African boy.
The American Dream has turned into a nightmare and Nicholson's performance accords it all the bewilderment and sense of disenfranchisement that rates Schmidt the cinematographic equal of Willy Loman - only much, much funnier and much, much more sad.
There are beautifully intelligent performances and articulate and sensitive direction throughout its entirety.
Perhaps it's my age, but I was utterly moved by nearly all of the film. Get it and see it.
A variable evening of platform performances of contemporary dance from emerging choreographers.
Taira Foo's company HINGED offered a high-octane, narratively driven piece based on RAINMAN. The instantly recognisable Charlie and Raymond Babbitt translates perfectly into the medium and the piece is a real highlight of the evening. Foo's energy is infectious, humorous and is set into fine relief by her deft handling of the pathos inherent in the story of the relationship between the two mismatched brothers. 11 dancers fill the stage with vibrancy and the twenty five minutes of the piece leave the impression that a fully realised version would certainly be worth seeing.
The evening's other highlight was ACCOMPLICES performed and choreographed by Camila Gutierrez and Ffionn Cox-Davies. Inspired by contact improvisation, the piece is a five minute wonder of ever-increasingly dynamic, complicated and breathless lifts and turns. The dexterity and intensity with which the performers imbue the piece with an urgency and passion which communicate directly to the seat of the audience's emotion. That the two of them are still students is almost unbelievable.
Cesilie Kvernland's (parentheses) described in the programme as not confirming to assumptions, expectations and patters. An outsider. () - as such I felt excluded and did not understand.
Darren Royston's Nonsuch Dancers gave REXESEXUS: TUDOR DIRTY DANCING. A sly, witty look at the unspoken messages offered in formal dance. Royston himself, an accomplished speaker and dancer, leads his company as they explore the seamier side of the dance with varying degrees of indulgence
This book is so full of meticulously researched detail that if it were not for its central sense of fun and more than a whiff of scandal it might challenge the staying power of all but the most devoted student of 18th Century theatre.
Fortunately Ian Kelly, appropriating his subject's wittiest and most articulate style, has delivered a riveting page turner with an atmosphere so thick that you can see wig powder wafting in the air and smell the gorged street drains of London.
Samuel Foote is not a well known name. Kelly makes a very convincing case that not only is this an error but, indeed, a travesty. One of the earliest celebrity satirists, intimate of Garrick, Woffington, the aristocracy and even the Crown, the one legged cross dressing playwright, manager and, by all accounts, sublime mimic was buried in ignominy far from the spotlight he craved.
His story from the most celebrated to the most reviled is a truly fascinating and highly informative read.
The discovery that the screenplay of this film is written by a playwright of some repute should come as no surprise. Tony Kushner has penned a literate and provocative piece of work. This makes for a challenging film and perhaps not what one would immediately expect from Steven Spielberg’s locker. The film-going public is more used to the spectacular, the epic and [whisper it quietly] the downright sentimental from this doyen of film-makers. Lincoln is a step in a different direction.
What we have here is a forensic examination of the events and leading characters involved in the key vote on the 13th Amendment of the US constitution which has it that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction". It is painstakingly constructed and complex, as would befit an issue of such significance.
Apart from a short, brutal opening outdoor sequence depicting the horror of the American Civil War, most of the film’s locations are dark, brooding places which set the tone for an equally brutal but more opaque series of battles being played out in the nation’s political centre. The battlefield metaphor is carried through the film with most of the locations being laced with drifting smoke. The focus is placed almost exclusively on the words spoken and thus the drama of the film is an intellectual one.
Virtually every opportunity for sensationalism is rejected in favour of the study of a nation, lead by an extraordinary politician, in pursuit of democracy. This is multi-faceted material and Kushner and Spielberg accord it the respect and the time it needs for the film to transcend the banality to which it could so easily have fallen prey. That they have succeeded in this is enormously to their credit. Detractors will point at the length of the film and say that at 150 minutes it is exhausting as well as being exhaustive. They will point, too, at its lack of any really dynamic action. But that is the point. Freedom is long time coming and is hard won, practically, politically and conceptually.
There are several marvellous performances and universally competent ones within a huge cast. Sally Field adds a much needed domestic humanity amongst the politics and is touchingly real and sad. Tommy Lee Jones offers a skillfully stolid performance as the redoubtable Republican Thaddeus Stevens and there is some entertaining light relief from the all too recognizable political fixers of James Spader, John Hawkes and Tim Blake Nelson.
Presiding over all of them is Abraham Lincoln himself. Daniel Day Lewis is a masterful actor and his casting is a master stroke. The part never allows him to use thespian pyrotechnics. Lincoln was a deeply thoughtful and a very measured man. Day Lewis offers the truth inherent in the man. Though grieving for his war-torn people as well as for the effects it has wrought on his nearest and dearest, the statesman retains his dispassionate persona. That we can see through this to the rawness is a deft demonstration of the film actor’s craft. There is a very brave calmness about the performance.
John Williams’ score, alone in thinking it needs to over-emphasize the drama of the film’s conflicts, disappoints.
In theory it was a very good idea. Take a cast of some of the best ageing British acting talent and put them in a film written by a consummate wordsmith and directed by a man who knows film inside out. Throw in some of the most sumptuous English countryside and world class music played and sung by world class musicians and, surely, you have Oscar written all over the end product.
Yet, what could have been a stunningly elegiac film about the descent, both tragic and comic, into old age, with its attendant disappointments and disasters, misses on too many levels for it to be considered successful. It doesn’t have the sincerity, nor the just-beneath-the-surface tragedy, of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – a film which deals with many of the same issues of expended lives, triumphs and tribulations.
The storyline is predictable, inoffensively so, but predictable nonetheless. An old age home is populated exclusively by old musicians who are living out the remainder of their days gently sniping, bitching, supporting and even loving each other. They are preparing for the annual Gala to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. It is never explained why Verdi alone is accorded this dubious honour. They worry about their failing faculties and general elderliness in an endearing but not particularly profound or even interestingly engaging way. They are just musical, old people pottering about in various stages of decrepitude.
The central dramatic conceit of the film is the appearance of the new old kid on the block. Dame Maggie Smith as soprano diva and one time bitch Jean Horton is the spanner that Ronald Harwood, who has adapted the screenplay from his own play of the same name, introduces to provide, as it were, the grit of sand in the oyster from which the pearl will develop. Her arrival throws the home into something of a tumult as the renewal of her past acquaintanceships, both professional and personal, upsets the home’s quasi-equilibrium. She has vowed never to sing again, age having deteriorated her ability beyond her liking. The rest of the film focuses on the efforts of the other members of the quartet that once had sung Verdi’s Rigoletto to massive public acclaim, to persuade her to join them in one final performance at the home’s Gala performance. I should not want to give the ending away. However it is a romantically fitting end to a romantically glossy film. Suffice it to say that there is not a surprising turn of events to keep us guessing.
There are some very good things in the film however. It is beautifully shot and the locations are indeed stunning. Hedsor House in Buckinghamshire looks ravishing as the main location.
In amongst the performances there are a handful which really shine through with great integrity. Whilst one has seen both Billy Connolly and Maggie Smith give similar performances before, Pauline Collins’ study of failing faculties and early onset dementia was surprising and really beautifully observed. A masterclass in understatement from an actor who we haven’t seen a huge amount of in recent years, more’s the pity. Andrew Sachs, yes Manuel of Fawlty Towers fame, though not having much to do, hinted affectingly at the depths of bewilderment that the elderly do sometimes feel. And Tom Courtenay does what he does so well. He has made something hugely dignified out of a character which, on the face of it, is just as banal as some of the others.
There are some bad things, but perhaps best not to dwell to long on them, except to say that Dustin Hoffman, the director, really should have had a quiet word with Michael Gambon. The performance is as crass and overblown as some of his other performances have been nuanced and brilliant.
It’s a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. But no more than that.