Dilettante's Diary

Mar 21/17

Home
Who Do I Think I Am?
Index: Movies
Index: Writing
Index: Theatre
Index: Music
Index: Exhibitions
Artists' Blogs
Index: TV, Radio and Misc
Restaurants
JUNE 16, 2017
Mar 21/17
Feb 26/17
Feb 9/17
Jan 30/17
Dec 19/16
Dec 11/16
Nov 20/16
Sept 17/2016
Aug 21/16
July 17/16
June 29/16
June 2/16
Apr 23/16
Feb 28/16
Feb 1/16
Jan 27/16
Winter Reading 2016
Dec 15/15
Nov 19/15
Fall Reading 2015
Oct 29/15
Sept 16/15
Sept 4/15
July 29, 2015
July 1, 2015
June 7/15
Summer Reading 2015
May 19/15
Apr 30/15
Apr 19/15
Spring Reading 2015
March 23/15
March 11/15
Winter Reading 2015
Feb 20/15
Feb 8/15
Jan 29/15
Jan 20/15
Highs 'N Lows of 2014
Dec 19/14
Dec 2/14
Nov 10/14
Oct 29/14
Fall Reading 2014
Sept 17/14
Summer Reading 2014
Aug 22/14
Aug 8/14
July 11/14
June 16/14
May 28/14
Apr 30/14
Apr 16/14
Apr 2/14
March 21, 2014
March 13/14
Feb 11/14
Sept 23/13
Favourite Works: 2004-2013
Two Novels by BARBARA PYM
Sabbath's Theater by PHILIP ROTH
July 18/13
Summer Reading 2013
June 19/13
May 30/13
Spring Reading 2013
May 10/13
Apr 18/13
Mar 29/13
March 14, 2013
The Artist Project 2013
Feb 25/13
Winter Reading 2013
Feb 7/13
Jan 22/13
Jan 12/13
A Toast to 2012
Dec 19/12
Dec 16/12
Dec 4/12
Fall Reading 2012
Nov 17/12
Nov 6/12
Art Toronto 2012
Oct 23/12
Oct 4/12
Sept 28/12
Summer Reading 2012
Aug 26/12
Aug 8/12
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2012
July 14/12
June 28/12
MIMC
May 27/12
May 20/12
May 4/12
La Traviata: Met's Live HD Version
Apr 21/12
Apr 6/12
Mar 22/12
Mar 9/12
The Artist Project 2012
Academy Awards Show 2012
Feb 26/12
Feb 11/12
Jan 23/12
Jan 15/12
Jan 7/12
Dec 20/11
Dec 12/11
Nov 27/11
Nov 18/11
Nov 7/11
Art Toronto 2011
Oct 22/11
Oct 17/11
Sept 30, 2011
Summer Reading 2011
Aug 11/11
July 28, 2011
July 19/11
TOAE 2011
June 25/11
June 20/11
June 2/11
May 14/11
Apr 29/11
Toronto Art Expo 2011
Apr 11/11
March 24/11
The Artist Project 2011
March 11/11
Feb 23/11
Feb 7/11
Jan 21/11
HIGHS 'N LOWS OF 2010
Jan 17/11
Dec 21/10
Dec 6/10
Nov 11/10
Fall Reading 2010
Oct 22/10
Summer Reading 2010
Aug 9/10
Aug 2/10
TOAE 2010
July 16/10
The Shack
June 27/10
June 3/10
May 5/10
April 17/10
Mar 28/10
Mar 17/10
The Artist Project 2010
Toronto Art Expo 2010
Feb 22/10
Feb 3/10
Notables of '09
Jan 11/10
Dec 31/09
Dec 17/09
How Fiction Works
Nov 24/09
Sex for Saints
Nov 11/09
Housekeeping
Oct 22/09
Oct 6/09
Sept 18/09
Aug 23/09
July 31/09
July 17/09
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2009
Toronto Fringe 2009
Zen Wrapped In Karma Dipped In Chocolate
June 28/09
June 6/09
Myriad Mysteries 2009
May 10/09
CBC Radio -- "The New Two"
April 14/09
March 24/09
Toronto Art Expo '09
March 1/09
The Jesus Sayings
Feb 8/09
Jan 26/09
Jan 10/09
Stand-outs of 2008
Dec 24/08
Dec 4/08
Nov 16/08
Oct 27/08
Oct 16/08
Sept 26/08
Sept 5/08
July 21/08
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 08
July 5/08
June 23/08
June 4/08
May 18/08
May 4/08
April 16/08
March 26/08
Head to Head
Feb 26/08
Feb 13/08
Jan 30/08
Jan 17/08
Notables of 2007
Dec 30/07
Dec 8/07
Nov 22/07
Oct 25/07
Oct 4/07
Sept 18/07
Aug 29/07
Aug 8/07
Summer Mysteries '07
July 20/07
June 28/07
June 8/07
May 21/07
May 2/07
April 14/07
March 23/07
Toronto Art Expo 2007
March 8/07
Feb 16/07
Feb 2/07
Jan 24/07
Notables of 2006
Dec 27/06
December 11/06
November 28/06
Nov 8/06
October 14/06
Sept 22/06
Ring Psycho (Wagner on CBC Radio)
Sept 6/06
August 12/06
July 18/06
June 27/06
June 9/06
May 23/06
Me In Manhattan
May 2/06
April 12/06
March 17/06
March 9/06
Feb 16/06
Feb 1/06
Jan 11/06
Dec 31/05
Dec 12/05
Nov 25/05
Nov 4/05
Oct 24/05
Sept 7/05
Sept 16/05
Sept 1/05
Aug 10/05
July 21/05
Me and the Jays
July 10/05
June 15/05
May 18/05
April 27/05
April 18/05
April 8/05
March 21/05
Feb 28/05
Feb 21/05
Feb 4/05
Jan 28/05
Jan 19/05
Jan 5/05
About Me
Dec 20/04
Dec 5/04
MOVIES
BOOKS
RE-READINGS
MYSTERIES/CRIME books
VIDEOS and DVDs
PLAYS
OTHER STUFF: Art Exhibitions, Concerts, etc.

The date that appears above is the date of the most recent reviews. As new reviews are added, the date will change accordingly. The new reviews will appear towards the top of the page and the older ones will move further down. When the page is closed, the items will be archived according to the final date on the page.

Reviewed here: A Man Called Ove, Chevalier and All the Way (Movies)

A Man Called Ove (Movie) written by Hannes Holm (screenplay) and Fredrick Backman (novel); directed by Hannes Holm; starring Rolph Lassgrd, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Brje Lundberg, Viktor Baage, Stefan Gdicke

This is one of those movies that raises an important question, not for the characters on the screen, but for the one watching in his seat: will I cut my losses and go home, or will I endure to the bitter end?

My staying, in this case, was a matter of  sheer curiosity: could there possibly be anything worthwhile about this movie?

We start with Ove (Rolph Lassgrd), a Swedish widower, who’s just been fired from his lifelong job in a factory or a plant of some kind. That setback, contrary to what you might think, does not cause a downturn in Ove’s character. That’s because we’ve discovered, in the first ten minutes of the movie, that Ove is already as ornery as any person could be. One thing is presumably meant to make us like him: he takes flowers to his wife's grave and talks to her. For me, that wasn't enough to redeem the curmudgeon in him. The sulk on Mr.Lassgrd’s face wore out its welcome in the first few scenes. He did eventually show that, as an actor, he was capable of other facial expressions but, for most of the movie, his acting was about as interesting as a squeaky door.

When you open a movie with such a curmudgeonly misanthropist, you know there’s only one way for things to go. And, without giving away too much plot, I can assure you that this one goes there with a vengeance. Every problem, from small to large, that has cropped up in terms of Ove’s warped social development – and there are lots of them – is solved beautifully and tied up in a bow.

And how does that happen? Because people are so nice to Ove, of course! But why they are, I do not know. A young Iranian mother (Bahar Pars) who moves in next door to Ove with her husband and two kids, is particularly – one might say relentlessly – sweet to Ove. Has she taken on Ove as a Lenten penance? (Do Iranian women observe Lent?) Never mind, her kindness accomplishes exactly what the saccharine script intends it to.

I do not, in principle, have any objection to a heart-warming movie that shows us that human beings can be kind to one another. However, I would like that to be shown in a way that is not trite, predictable or completely out of synch with reality. The only thing, then, that kept me watching this was that we got some interesting flashbacks to Ove’s childhood and youth. The actor who played Ove as a young man (Filip Berg) turned out to be as fascinating as Rolph Lassgrd was not. A gangly, tongue-tied beanpole, the younger Ove was completely flummoxed by the advances of a beguiling – if far too upbeat – female (Ida Engvoll) who had her sights set on him. He had shown himself capable of heroic, selfless action but, on taking a woman out for a romantic dinner, all he could think of to talk about was the internal working of automobiles.

Entertaining as it was to watch this man’s fumbling attempts at becoming a husband and a father, the script wanted us to believe that multiple tragedies had turned him into the ogre that was the senior Ove. Even if you’re an addict for melodrama, I don’t see how you can accept that a fine, admirable man could become such a creep. And what’s with the senior Ove's five or six suicide attempts? (I lost count.) We know they’re not going to succeed; otherwise, there’d be no movie. So why are the filmmakers wasting my time with this tiresome shtick?

The one joke running through the piece – the male assessment of another person’s worth on the basis of whether he drives a Saab or a Volvo – did provide some slight amusement. Apart from that, and the character played by Filip Berg, I’m at a loss to see what people like so much about this movie. Unless they’re finding some satisfaction – in addition to Mr. Berg – in the realistic cameos by several people and in the accurate depiction of the nitty-gritty of their lives. But any such appreciation was ruined for me by the music that was ponderously Mahlerian when it wasn’t insufferably sprightly, much like Felix Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Apparently, the echoes of those giants were meant to make us feel we were experiencing a great work of art. Too ironic for words!

 

Chevalier (DVD) written by Efthymis Filippou and Athina Rachel Tsangari; directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari; starring Yiorgos Kendros, Panos Koronis, Vangelis Mourikis, Makis Papadimitriou, Yorgos Pirpassapoulos, Sakis Rouvas

The hype around this movie hails it as a comedy on the competitiveness of men. If there’s any humour in it, however, it’s too dry for me.

That could be partly due to my having to read the subtitled translations of the dialogue. Maybe if you had an ear for Greek, you could pick up more of the flavour of the piece. Perhaps a familiarity with the language would also help a person to understand what’s going on. Otherwise, a viewer is left in a fog much of the time.

What’s clear from the outset is that we’re with a group of six or eight men on a yacht of some kind. But what is the point of this voyage? And where are we? There are references to Athens, which seems to be home to some of the men. At times, we seem to be far from land on the open sea; at other times, there are glimpses of city life. Although I don’t generally love road stories – and by extension, I guess, voyage stories – you can usually count on them to tell you where you’re headed. Not so in this case. We have no idea where we’re headed, if anywhere, or why.

And whose yacht is this? We keep hearing announcements over the loud speakers about procedural and navigational matters. Who’s making those announcements? Are there crew members behind the scenes whom we never see? Eventually, we surmise that maybe this is a chartered boat and that these men are on a holiday. But an older man (Yiorgos Kondros) who turns out to be a doctor acts as if he may be the host. Is he, in fact? Is he rich enough to stand everybody to such a holiday? One man appears to be his son, another his son-in-law. What’s the connection with the others? Two men, who at first appear to be included in his group of friends, turn out to be working in the boat’s kitchen. Ah, so there is a crew!

And why would any of this matter? Because most of us find character development, and the inter-action of characters we have come to know, as some of the most satisfying rewards of film, theatre and books. It’s rather hard to get any such reward from a movie when you barely know who any of the characters are. The problem is exacerbated by casting that includes actors who look so much alike: lean, swarthy, saturnine. Only one character stands out as an individual: a young man who appears to be somewhat timid and perhaps a little less aggressive than the others (Makis Papadimitriou, I think). Which, of course, is why he’s memorable.

As for the putative theme of the movie – the male competitiveness – we see the men assigning scores to each other for things like skills, truthfulness, strength, and blood counts (with the doctor’s help, obviously). At one point, somebody’s talking to his wife, who’s on the screen of his smart phone, and then we see that everybody else is sitting back, ready to score him – and all the others who are waiting to undertake a similar call – on the subject of rapport with one’s spouse.

So, yes, we can say that the movie does show, eventually, that men are competitive. But it’s hard to get the message because we’re too busy trying to follow the inexplicable shifts from scene to scene. There’s a sly knowingness to the movie. There’s no narrative to help you. You have to be in on the joke. The movie strikes me, yet again, as one of these recent works where the artists don’t bother with coherent story-telling. You’re supposed to have read up on the movie beforehand. It's aimed at the sophisticated movie-goer who devours all the hype, not an ordinary person who arrives at a theatre hoping that a movie will offer  something that’s self-explanatory.

 

All the Way (DVD) written by Robert Schenkkan; directed by Jay Roach; starring Bryan Cranston, Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, Frank Langella, Bradley Whitford

This made-for-tv movie vividly recreates the turbulence of the first years of Lyndon Johnson’s tenure in the White House. Three major problems facing him constitute the major issues in the movie: the passing of the civil rights bill, the murder of three social justice workers in Mississippi, and the controversy over whether or not to allow black representatives to vote in the Democrats' convention for the nomination of the party’s candidate for the presidency.

That last issue, perhaps more than the others, shows just how tumultuous those times were. It comes as a shock to be reminded that, as recently as the early 1960s, there could have been any question as to whether black party members would be officially recognized. Through all the negotiations and scheming, LBJ is shown to be every bit the schmoozer, finagler, contriver and fighter – i.e. consummate politician – that he has come to be known as. He could lie, put up a front, pull strings, talk out of the side of his mouth, make iffy promises, do anything that it took to get results. But dammit, the guy could get things done! And history would seem to show that, for the most part, regardless of his tactics, his heart was in the right place. And that wasn’t just a late-in-life conversion. Some people – like me – might be surprised to learn that, in his first job, as a teacher in a rural elementary school, he was fighting for a better life for impoverished black kids.

Bryan Cranston, with the help of some facial prosthetics, looks enough like LBJ that you don’t feel any misalignment that would interfere with your belief in the guy. Mr. Cranston captures all the crafty, wily energy, the bonhomie, the bad temper, the intelligence, the crude humour. Due to certain physical realities, though, he can’t quite convey the enormity of LBJ, the dominance of his presence, the weight of him, to put it bluntly. However, he comes close enough in all other respects to make us feel we’re getting a true picture of LBJ.

Among the other actors, I particularly admired Bradley Whitford, as Hubert Humphrey, the long-suffering vice presidential candidate, whose quiet dignity – and more importantly his loyalty – are never undermined by the considerable harassment from his boss. Melissa Leo, in a small role, has some good moments as Lady Bird Johnson, especially one scene where she’s allowed to show the private pain that comes with being the big man’s wife. Frank Langella, in the role of Senator Richard Russell, provides a sobering note as the elder statesman who worries that LBJ is behaving reckessly in his push forward on the civil rights bill. The only actor who disappoints is Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King, Jr. Mind you, it’s probably a thankless task to try to reincarnate a legend. Mr. Mackie has the nobility, the serious purpose of Mr. King, but he’s completely lacking in charisma. If you don’t have that, what do you have? An admirable person, but a dull fellow who doesn’t spark the electric response that the real man did.

While the movie rushes forward at breakneck speed, creating a convincing picture of the excitement of that era, a few flaws perhaps reveal its made-for-tv nature. I’m thinking mostly of crowded scenes where people are responding to something. Instead of the actors seeming to move in independent, spontaneous ways, you get everybody acting all at once, as if on cue. The movie doesn’t seem to have benefitted from the meticulous directing that takes time to make those incidents more realistic. And I found some of the discussion meetings – particularly the ones among the black strategists – a bit stagey and stilted.

Because of recent political developments in the US, the movie casts a rather ominous shadow that probably wasn’t part of the filmmakers’ intentions. The message that comes through most strongly is that, no matter how noble your goals, politics is all about winning and doing whatever it takes to be the victor. Ruthless ambition seems to be the main thing. Even more scarifying is the revelation that, in the Johnson years, business in the White House was pretty much helter-skelter. Policy was made on the fly. While pontificating to his aides on some crucial issue, LBJ walks into the bathroom, pulls down his pants, sits down on the toilet and keeps spewing directives without missing a beat. If things could be so chaotic in an administration that performed well on the whole, one shudders to think what might be going on in the White House now.

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com