There’s a reason that the aphorism “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” is called the golden rule, and that is because the statement is the gold standard, representing the most basic rule of civilized conduct among people. If you put yourself into another person’s shoes, and thereby really get to know what makes the other human being tick, this should give you pause before doing something that you would never want done to you. Probably no filmmaker believes that more than Belgians Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne. They started their careers by making videos of the rough lives of blue collar people in the Wallonie, a mostly French speaking region of southern Belgium, parlaying into ROSETTA, about a blue collar working with an alcoholic mother who tries to better himself in a small town.
THE DONOVAN AFFAIR has two distinctions. It was the first all talking picture directed by Frank Capra. And, it’s a semi lost film. There are complete prints of the film. It has been transferred to safety film and there are preservation copies in existence. However, it was made in the earliest talking picture era (1929) using the Vitaphone process that meant it was shown in theaters using the sound on disk method, where the sound track was synchronized to the film. Unfortunately, no copies of the soundtrack disks have been found. Furthermore, no copies of the script have ever been found. There was a censor’s dialogue guide that proved to be inaccurate. This means that beyond its original release it was impossible to show it.
THE DECENT ONE took first prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival for Best Documentary, deservedly so. If any organization offered a gold medal for the film with the most ironic title of the year, this one would win hands down. “Der Anstandige,” as it’s called in German, is about Heinrich Himmler, a man who should inspire loathing in the minds and hearts of all who know anything about history. One of the greatest mass murderers of the 20th Century, Himmler nonetheless went to his suicidal death thinking that he was doing God’s work, and that “decency,” to him, would be the year’s understatement.
Fionnula Flanagan is cinema’s gift from Ireland, that country’s most engaging actress of a certain age, perhaps the equivalent here in the U.S. of Blythe Danner. But her presence in LIFE’S A BREEZE, presumably an ironic title, cannot save the movie from being little more than a sitcom that you might find on commercial tv or, to be magnanimous, on a cable station like HBO. LIFE’S A BREEZE, taken from a sign on the wall of the Dublin-area house presided over by Nan (Fionnula Flanagan), is the location of an extended family of the unemployed, the slackers, and of high-spirited citizens who despite their financial hardships find warmth, comfort, and a lot of laughs in their togetherness.
If you were fortunate enough to have seen the director’s 2011 movie YOU’RE NEXT, you’ll say THE GUEST is right up Adam Wingard’s alley. YOU’RE NEXT features a group of toughs, ax murderers in fact, who invade a family reunion, and whose victims are ready to say their prayers when one of their number proves equally adept at killing. The title guest of Wingard’s latest—scripted by Simon Barrett who was on Wingard’s team for YOU’RE NEXT and took a hand at writing V/H/S—is as charming as Ted Bundy and just as psychopathic. He oozes his way into an upscale family’s beautifully decorated house in the fictional town of Moriarty, New Mexico, getting their sympathies by identifying himself as the best friend of one Caleb, who died in Iraq. He is so polite, throwing out “Sir” and “Ma’am” and “I-don’t-want-to-impose” that of course he is asked to stay for a few days. Calling himself David (Dan Stevens—from “Downtown Abbey”), the guest wins the trust of Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelley), her husband Spencer (Leland Orser), 20-year-old daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) and especially high-school student Luke Peterson (Brendan Meyer). In the last case, David makes mincemeat of four bullies who had regularly taunted the dorky Luke by provoking them in a bar and taking revenge. How can we in the audience not sympathize with a fellow who wants only to protect the clan?
It probably happens more often than we think, and not just in the movies. A wedding reception is paid for, the couple walk down the aisle, then one of them gets cold feet and bolts. In at least one case I know, a bride and groom are at the airport getting ready for their honeymoon in Hawaii. The bride goes to the women’s room and disappears, never to be seen again by her husband—no foul play, just cold feet again. Leigh Janiak’s HONEYMOON similarly asks by implication: are all honeymoons happy occasions that you think about for years to come? Even better: do you really know the person you married, and do you learn as early as the honeymoon that the beautiful wife and handsome husband are not the persons you thought them to be?
Ari Folman, who directed THE CONGRESS, states in the production notes that he hopes his new film will make the audience appreciate good, old-fashioned movie-making, with live actors rather than digitally scanned persons that can be manipulated by animators to play any role desired. Yet given the eye candy, THE CONGRESS could have the opposite effect, at least on those people in the theater seats who are open to experimentation in cinema. While the first segment is down-to-earth, dealing with the efforts of a producer and an agent to convince an actress (Robin Wright) to sell her soul and allow herself to be digitalized, most of the remainder, fifty-five minutes’ worth (taking two and one-half years to animate), is psychedelic, resembling an acid trip with stunning imagery. Yet despite all the beauty, the color, the fine acting by Robin Wright, you could not be blamed if you fidget in your seat as the movie is overlong, the dialogue often pretentious, the narrative on the loose side.
A bumper sticker that has made its presence felt on New York City cars features an American flag with the slogan, “These colors don’t run.” Would that this were true. Let’s forget about Iraq (I guess the slogan was printed some years ago) and look to the most humiliating escape the world’s strongest power had to make in a hurry, and that, of course, was from Vietnam. Rory Kennedy, who has made a stunning documentary of the event, was seven years old at the time that President Gerald Ford ordered a full-scale withdrawal of all U.S. forces and civilians in April 1975. The prolific resume of this youngest of Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s eleven children, includes such documentaries as GHOSTS OF ABU GHRAIB, about the scandal involving the behavior of U.S. guardians at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison’ and ETHEL, an insider’s view of the wife and later widow of Robert Kennedy. She was scheduled to marry on July 17, 1999 but postponed the event because of the death in an airplane crash of her cousin, John F. Kennedy, Jr.
In his 1954 dystopian novel “Lord of the Flies,” William Golding creates a world of British boys as sole inhabitants of an island without adult authorities. They try to govern themselves but end up with disaster. Simply put, the youngsters become barbarians. In THE NOTEBOOK, we discover that adult authorities do nothing to civilize a pair of twin boys. To the contrary, the youngsters, copying what they see around them, imitate the adults. They become barbarians. In short, given the right circumstances, kids without adults can turn savage, and kids with adults can become unemotional, unfeeling, and violent.
ARE YOU HERE is a buddy movie not unlike those of the 1980s. This one finds a friendship between Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson), a TV weatherman and serial dater, and Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis), a person judged emotionally unstable who is being helped through his long-term friendship with Dallas.