Fine acting by Salma Hayek and John Lithgow overcame a shaky plot premise to let us enjoy a roundelay of cleverly caricatured dinner guests. It is easy to read the movie as a parable of Democratic versus Republican values with an unfortunate ending, but the pleasures along the way were smaller, like hearing what cocktails were ordered.
Silly fun, marred for me by a climactic battle that was befuddling, overlong and beyond absurd. Until then I could enjoy the comic-book characters, especially Chris Pine, and the cinematically familiar settings of World War I trenches, British cabinet meetings and German evil. Gal Gadot got better-looking as the movie progressed, which was good because we saw a lot of her.
A feminine thriller in full Southern Gothic mode, Sofia Coppola turns the cinematic tables with an almost all-female cast lusting in their separate ways for the hunky Union soldier dropped into their laps. Calling it a period piece is an understatement, as Coppola pulls out the beautiful dresses, the dripping Spanish moss, the candlelit chandeliers and the etiquette and French lessons of Miss Farnsworth’s Academy to full effect. Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning have convincing, and contrasting, Southern personalities, and Colin Farrell is best when lying supine. The story is at best an excuse for the acting and the scenery. I can see why this won a Cannes award for Best Director, not Best Picture.
In the end, Norman the fixer’s dealmaking pays off for all his friends through his ultimate self-sacrifice, and he ironically achieves the goal of his nemesis, the Israeli Justice Department official, by doing something that makes the world a better place. Or, more likely, all the good things shown on screen are happening in Norman’s imagination, as he says goodbye to the world. Whatever, we have come to identify with this lovable loser, skillfully portrayed by Richard Gere: he’s not exactly admirable, living, as he does, in a land of hopes and half-truths, but he’s not a bad guy, either. The Jewishness of the movie and its Israeli politics made me uncomfortable at first, but they were deftly handled and I came around. Maybe Steve Buscemi’s Italian rabbi was the needed balance.
Totally satisfactory as a tribute to the Grateful Dead, four hours of archival footage and talking heads from the band and fans. Of course, the soundtrack was one happy thrill after another. Seeing it in a full house of Deadheads in Greenwich Village, with director Amir Bar-Lev present, made it more a pilgrimage than a mere movie experience. There was an underlying story, too, beyond the Dead’s musical innovation and excellence: their communal spirit informed and epitomized the ’60s flower-power era but couldn’t deal with the success that turned their concerts into near riots and perversely locked Jerry Garcia into an isolation that produced his drug-induced death. Oh, and Phil Lesh looks a lot better now than he did in the ’60s.
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