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Sylvia

Life at Cambridge University in 1956 is all about words and writers … aspiring American poet Sylvia Plath (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) has come to Cambridge to soak up the atmosphere and study literature. She meets fellow poet Edward [Ted] Hughes (by Daniel Craig), already very well known for his writing around campus and beyond. He is so different from men she’s known before – he exudes bad habits, risk and danger and she is drawn to him. He falls heavily in love with her too and romance blossoms amongst endless recitals of their much adored prose of Shakespeare and Chaucer. As can be the case with a literary genius, these two are both tortured souls, each in their own way. They marry and are blissfully happy, but the path of true love becomes unstable once Ted and Sylvia move to America to be nearer to her mother, Aurelia (by Blythe Danner). Ted charms everyone around him – he continues to write and Sylvia gets a job to support him, but her own writing isthwarted through her intellectual exhaustion and frustration at his apparent natural ease at producing endless marvellous poetry. He’s constantly distracted by other women and this starts to tell on Sylvia – already emotionally delicate. Things go from bad to worse for the couple and their marriage falters. They move back to England to focus on their writing and try to save their marriage. As things deteriorate, Sylvia finds a well of inspiration for her writing in her trauma, but it is slowly eating her away inside.The couple watch helplessly as their relationship disintegrates … leading to a tragic end.

This movie is very good. Clearly, the early lives of both Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were punctuated by trauma, which shaped them into the writers they became. Throughout the story, Sylvia admits to several attempts at suicide and her emotional fragility is clear. The scenes that depict her crumbling emotional state are done very well. As Ted Hughes, Daniel Craig does well too – he has the capability to portray emotions without having to say anything, which works well here. Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance is excellent in this difficult role and to my mind she should have received her Academy Award (Oscar) for this, rather than the award she somehow received for “Shakespeare in Love”. She resembles Plath very much too. The support roles by Blythe Danner and Michaell Gambon, who plays Professor Thomas, are strong. The movie features excerpts from Plath’s poems in appropriate places and the supporting soundtrack adds to the drama and desolation of the story. I thought it was a well put together piece, but I understand that Sylvia’s daughter, Frieda Hughes, has been critical of the film as in her view it sentimentalizes her mother’s death. The movie notes that Ted Hughes never spoke of his marriage to Sylvia until he published his own memoir, “Birthday Letters” a few weeks before he died in 1998. The audience is left with a lot of respect for Sylvia and after her death her writing became some of the most celebrated of the 20th century.

 Made in 2003. Directed by Christine Jeffs

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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Movies

 

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The Insider

Lowell Bergman (played by Al Pacino) is a long experienced producer on the US “60 Minutes” television show. One day he receives some heavy research on the health effects of nicotine and contacts industrial chemist Jeffrey Wigand (by Russell Crowe) to interpret it for him. Wigand has recently been fired from his job at a tobacco company and Bergman sees that he has deep resentment about it. He follows his instinct and when Wigand is reluctant to talk to him for fear he will break his severance agreement with the company, Bergman senses a big story. Wigand gets more company pressure not to talk, which exposes him to rising tension and risks the safety of his wife Liane (by Diane Venora) and family. He agrees to a high-risk interview with Mike Wallace (by Christopher Plummer), then CBS must navigate all the legal and business ramifications to decide how best to present the story, for the benefit of everyone involved – Wigand, the tobacco companies, the public and themselves. Jeffrey Wigand finds out how it feels have the courage to “blow the whistle” and tell the truth for the greater good, but to go up against the might of big business at the same time.

This is a good drama. It’s a long movie, but that’s important to develop the story appropriately. I was not aware of this incident at the time, so I thought the movie would be primarily focused on Jeffrey Wigand, – it is, but the real star is Lowell Bergman. Al Pacino shines here – he’s just a natural talent. He portrays Bergman with authenticity and his performance balances very well with both Russell Crowe’s work and the performance of Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace – all three are excellent. The production is dark, literally, and there is little in the way of enhancement with music or visuals – which puts the focus squarely on the story – again, quite appropriately. This is not a story to be played with. Russell Crowe was nominated in several forums as Best Actor for this role (including the Academy Award [Oscar]). He was awarded by several Film Critics Societies, but he was not awarded an Oscar, yet again. Christopher Plummer received an award from the Boston Society of Film Critics in 2000 for his marvellous work. The production itself was severally nominated for Best Cinematography, Film Editing, Best Picture, Sound and Screenplay. It is based on the 1999 article “The Man Who Knew Too Much” by Marie Brenner. It’s good.

Made in 1999. Directed by Michael Mann.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2013 in Movies

 

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Quartet

In country England, the Beecham Home for Retired Musicians is in a quandary. The residents are all very happy and settled there, but the business isn’t going so well and without additional support funding it may need to close down. Of course, this is unthinkable for its occupants and they are treading the boards one more time to help raise some much needed funds to keep their home open. Reggie (played by Tom Courtenay) is a former opera star and he, along with his fellow ex-performers Wilf (by Billy Connolly) and Cissy (by Pauline Collins) hope to recapture the magic of their salad days together in the theatre. Rehearsals are progressing slowly but somehow they haven’t quite got it together … then a new resident arrives. Jean (by Maggie Smith), herself an accomplished opera diva, is reluctant to part from her independent life, but she moves into Beecham to try it out. In her heyday, she was a regular performer with Reggie (and also briefly married to him). These days, she has long recovered from the broken marriage, but he has not and her surprise arrival so unsettles him that it threatens to derail their entire performance.

What do do? … should the group press on with the critical concert even with Reggie being so upset? …. or should they give up on the show to support their friend, but wave farewell to their happy lives at Beecham?

This is a lovely and entertaining movie. With such a strong and experienced cast, it could scarcely go wrong. Remarkably, it is the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman and he has made a great job of it. The residents are all unique individuals and for once, Maggie Smith’s character is not nearly as curmudgeonly as she is usually cast. Billy Connolly is as mischievous as ever as the wily Wilf, but for me the best in show is Pauline Collins who beautifully and sensitively plays Cissy who is gently succumbing to dementia and senility. Reggie has some wonderful interactions and in general all the relationships are portrayed beautifully – particularly those where the elderly and young are both involved. It is the adaptation of a play by Ronald Harwood called “Quartet” – and is very well done, Mr Hoffman.

Made in 2012. Directed by Dustin Hoffman

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in Movies

 

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