Movie Review ~ Seymour: An Introduction

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Meet Seymour Bernstein: a beloved pianist, teacher and true inspiration who shares eye-opening insights from an amazing life. Ethan Hawke helms this poignant guide to life.

Stars: Seymour Bernstein, Ethan Hawke

Director: Ethan Hawke

Rated: PG

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  This sensitive doc from Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) is a good example of how to treat your elders…listen, learn, let them talk.

Famed pianist Seymour Bernstein may not be a household name to most because he hasn’t performed in public for decades, but after a chance encounter with Bernstein at a dinner party the actor became interested in learning more about the life-long New Yorker that imparts his wisdom to his students, his friends, and his contemporaries.

At a trim 84 minutes it’s less a biopic and more of a discussion with biographical context. We hear about Bernstein’s first encounter with music when a piano is brought into his house, which up until that point didn’t even have a radio to listen to.  Over the years his talent became evident, with only his mother fully supporting the musical prodigy her son was becoming.  Growing stage fright kept Bernstein out of the public eye for years, only occasionally playing for anyone outside his small one room apartment just big enough for a piano and pull out bed.

Hawke clearly found a kinship is Bernstein as the actor relays his own burgeoning stage fright these past years.  Perhaps making a film on Bernstein’s life and capturing on film his sage words was a way to exorcise some of those demons that plague many a creative individual.  No matter what the reason, Hawke’s portrait of Bernstein is as delicate as Bernstein’s technique, a technique Hawke shows in several working sessions Bernstein has with his students.  Quick to correct his pupils but just as quick to praise them, his attention to the smallest detail provides great insight into what it takes to achieve his level of musical sophistication.

A treat of a film, if there’s one drawback it’s that there’s no true momentum to be had.  Yes, Bernstein’s an interesting character and I think I could have sat through his entire master class, but the final result is an abridged autobiography conveyed on film.  Still, it’s so short that you can’t help but pay rapt attention and think about the Seymour Bernsteins in your own life.

Movie Review ~ Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Sandra, a young Belgian mother, discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal. She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job.

Stars: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: The morning that the Oscar nominations were announced, between the throngs of people crying their eyes out over The LEGO Movie being subbed for Best Animated Feature and conspiracy theorists writing manifestos over Selma’s exclusion in several key categories there was a small din over Marion Cotillard scoring her second Oscar nomination for this French language film that hardly anyone had seen.  Going into the day, the wise money was on Jennifer Aniston’s worthy turn in Cake to wind up as one of the four women that will lose to Julianne Moore come Oscar night but it just wasn’t Aniston’s year to be called up.

While Two Days, One Night may appear on the surface to be a rather mundane slice of life piece following a central character over a weekend of broken pride and humility, it’s Cotillard’s performance that adds tremendous weight to an otherwise ho-hum viewing experience.

Sandra (Cotillard, The Dark Knight Rises) is a wife and mother coming back from a leave of absence at her blue collar job.  Though it’s never clearly stated, depression or another mental illness has sidelined Sandra and right as she’s coming back to work she’s dealt a terrible blow – her employer has given the other members of the workforce a choice: take a pay bonus and Sandra loses her job, or allow Sandra to come back and forfeit the extra money.  While this offer sets off so many moral/ethical red flags in the eyes of the viewer, writer/directors Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne’s screenplay interestingly stays away from asking that outright question to the employer himself.

What we have here is a film that has Cotillard going from co-worker to co-worker reciting nearly the same plea to each one of her colleagues…some who are receptive and some who have already spent the money in their heads and can’t fathom turning that kind of money down.  Cotillard’s character, already in a fragile emotional state, has to endure not only gobbling down numerous slices of humble pie but has to appear sympathetic to the rationales of her workmates as to why they won’t vote to keep her.

As has been the case for most of her screen performances (including her devastating Oscar winning turn in La Vie En Rose), Cotillard delivers an unfussy yet deeply complicated character.  We don’t necessarily root for Sandra but I found myself waiting for the moment when she breaks apart and loses it on certain individuals who would fancy a new patio instead of letting her keep her job.

In a rather simple conclusion there’s a bevy of complexities, yet it’s a film that leaves you with most questions answered. Is her performance worthy to stand alongside her fellow Oscar nominees?  I’d say yes, there’s a lot of work going on here and Cotillard is able to let a wellspring of emotion rumble under the surface in ways few can.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adèle)

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Synopsis: Fifteen year old Adèle has no doubt: a girl must date boys. Her life is turned upside down when she meets Emma, a blue-haired young woman, who allows her to discover desire and to assert herself as a woman and an adult.

Release Date:  October 25, 2013

Thoughts: Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Blue is the Warmest Color is a coming of age tale charting the relationship between two lesbian teens in France.  Based on a graphic novel, the film is garnering buzz not only for its powerhouse lead performances but also because of the decision to release the film with its NC-17 rating intact.   Many mainstream movie houses won’t show films with this rating…but it’s hard to imagine the film playing in these types of stadium seating cineplexes to begin with.  No matter the rating, the winners of the top award at Cannes are always worth a look…especially when you consider that Steven Spielberg was the head of the jury that awarded this film the prize.

The Silver Bullet ~ Central Park Five

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Synopsis: A documentary that examines the 1989 case of five black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park. After having spent between 6 and 13 years each in prison, a serial rapist confessed to the crime.

Release Date:  TBD

Thoughts: Top-tier documentarian Ken Burns has teamed up with his daughter and David McMahon to bring to light the shameful case of The Central Park Five…which saw the criminal justice system fail five men who spent years in jail for a crime they didn’t commit.  2012 has been a great year for documentaries and this searing look at a mishandling of justice and the heinous crime at the center of it all is one film I won’t miss.

The Silver Bullet ~ On the Road

Synopsis: Dean and Sal are the portrait of the Beat Generation. Their search for “It” results in a fast paced, energetic roller coaster ride with highs and lows throughout the U.S.

Release Date:  December 21, 2012

Thoughts: It may be hard to believe, but I’ve made it nearly 33 years without picking up a copy of Jack Kerouac’s timeless novel on which this is based.  I know it’s a staple of many an AP English program and the frequent item in backpacks across this great country – but I’ve yet to be taken in by it.  I’m trying to fit in a read before this long in gestation adaptation comes out but then again I don’t want to be one of the people that suffers through a disappointing big screen version of a book many are inspired by.  Life is full of decisions, indeed.  Packed with Hollywood up-and-comers and directed by Walter Salles I’d expect this one to be a popular choice in the art-house cinemas this holiday season.