Ben Hur

Ben Hur

Ben Hur Timur Bekmambetov, dir. Keith Clarke & John Ridley, script based on the novel by Lew Wallace Starring: Jack Huston (Judah Ben-Hur), Tony Kebbel (Messala), Morgan Freeman (Sheik Ilderim), Rodrigo Santoro (Jesus), Nazanin Boniadi (Esther), Sofia Black D’Elia (Tirzah), Ayelet Zurer (Naomi) I took my daughter to see Ben Hur. Rachael and I love going to movies together and she’s just recently returned from two years in England. But Rachael is a way tougher critic than me. When we got out of the screening of Ben Hur, Rachael’s first comment was, “They couldn’t even get the chariot race right.” And it’s true. The 1959 Ben Hur will forever be acclaimed for the race with its masterful cutting and clear, linear action direction. In the new version, the effect is chaotic, which would be fine if a sense of spectacular anarchy was being played out in the scene. Instead, everything feels confusing until the last couple of minutes when all the chariots have been eliminated save two: the one being ridden by Judah Ben-Hur and the other by his boyhood friend-turned-enemy Messala. But even in what should be a fatal confrontation, there is no sense of personal drama between the two. Suffice it to say, no one will be comparing the 2016 Ben Hur race to anything brilliant in the future. Despite having a $100 million dollar budget, the film seems cheap and cheesy. Everything feels like it was made with CGI including most of the main characters except for Jack Huston, who does a creditable job as Ben-Hur and the inimitable Morgan Freeman, who does his best as...
Equity

Equity

Equity Meera Menon, director Alysia Reiner & Sarah Megan Thomas, producers Amy Fox, script Starring: Anna Gunn (Naomi Bishop), James Purefoy (Michael Connor), Alysia Reiner (Samantha), Sarah Megan Thomas (Erin Manning), Sophie Von Haselberg (Marin), Craig Bierko (Benji Akers) There’s been a lot of hype around Equity and rightly so. In an age when women are fighting harder than ever to direct, write and produce their own movies, it’s heartening to see a film that is a genuinely female created work. Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas not only produced the film, they also take two of the major acting roles. Second time feature film director Meera Menon, scriptwriter Amy Fox and lead actor Anna Gunn complete a quintet of talents, who have made a noteworthy film—slick but thoughtful and exceedingly well paced. Gunn plays Naomi Bishop, an investment banker, who is recovering from one badly handled IPO (initial public offering) in an otherwise impeccable portfolio. Denied advancement by her male boss, Naomi, in turn, has her way-more-than-capable assistant Erin (Thomas) hold off on a well-deserved pay increase. The frustrated duo fling themselves into their next potential IPO, a privacy company called Cachet. At the same time, Naomi realises that Samantha (Alysia Reiner), an old college friend, who is now working in the U.S. legal office, is investigating her. Talk about cachet: Naomi may have too much of it after working as an insider in the financial sector for years. Naomi’s occasional male companion, Michael, a hedge fund operator at her firm, also looms, like Samantha, as a potential threat. Does he simply want to have an affair with...
Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins Stephen Frears, director Nicholas Martin, script Starring: Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), Hugh Grant (St. Clair Bayfield), Simon Helberg (Cosmé McMoon), Rebecca Ferguson (Kathleen Weatherley), Nina Arianda (Agnes Stark) The story of Florence Foster Jenkins is legendary in music circles. A rich society dame, she was a supporter of the arts and the financer and producer of the Ball of the Silver Skylarks, an annual production she put on at Manhattan’s Verdi Club. But Mme. Jenkins, as she used to call herself, was not an ordinary patroness of the arts. She was a singer, a soprano, who possessed, according to her accompanist Cosmé McMoon, an “excruciating quality” to her voice. Florence Foster Jenkins was beyond awful: she couldn’t carry a tune, had an awful rhythmic sense and couldn’t hit high registers if her life depended on it. The lady was so delusional that she persisted in presenting private concerts throughout her long life in high society venues in Newport, Rhode Island, Washington and, of course, Manhattan. Jenkins also recorded nine arias, which immediately became cult hits, beloved for their sheer ineptitude. In 1941, Time magazine reviewed her astonishing performance of the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute, pointing out that its “nightqueenly swoops and hoots, her wild wallowings in descending trills, her repeated staccato notes like a cuckoo in its cups, are innocently uproarious to hear.” In a gesture that seems beyond hubristic, Florence Foster Jenkins rented Carnegie Hall and sold it out to such notables as Cole Porter and Lily Pons in her final concert in 1944. Lately, the Florence Jenkins story has...
Dangerous Liaisons: The Films of Eric Rohmer

Dangerous Liaisons: The Films of Eric Rohmer

Dangerous Liaisons: The Films of Eric Rohmer When I was a teenager, I went on a date to an arthouse cinema in Manhattan to see Eric Rohmer’s first international hit, My Night at Maud’s. I left the theatre stunned by all of the philosophical chatter that took place over an evening in a sophisticated French woman’s apartment—and the high degree of eroticism that could be expressed without what I, and most of the audience wanted: physical passion. I didn’t feel cheated but was puzzled. Who was Eric Rohmer, I wanted to know, and what was he trying to tell us? TIFF’s Cinematheque is in the midst of answering those questions for a new generation of cineastes this summer at Bell Lightbox. Dangerous Liaisons: The Films of Eric Rohmer is a six-week series, which shows all of the director’s major works, and runs to the end of August. The programme celebrates the work of a filmmaker who believed in the power of words and enjoyed showing the day-to-day life of bourgeois French society in the latter part of the 20th century. His films are elegant, beautifully acted and display a nuanced appreciation of how people fell in and out of love in France in the era after the defeat of the old colonial empire and before recent acts of terrorism disrupted the status quo, perhaps permanently. Ma nuit chez Maud (as my Quebecois friends called it) was part of a series that Rohmer was making in the ‘60s and ‘70s called Six Moral Tales. Thanks to a racy title and star-making performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant, Francoise Fabian and Marie-Christine Barrault,...
Shaw Festival Review: A Woman of No Importance

Shaw Festival Review: A Woman of No Importance

A Woman of No Importance A play by Oscar Wilde Directed by Eda Holmes Designed by Michael Gianfrancesco Starring: Martin Happer (Lord Illingworth), Wade Bogart-O’Brien (Gerald Arbuthnot), Fiona Byrne (Mrs. Aruthnot), Fiona Reid (Lady Hunstanton), Diana Donnelly (Mrs. Allonby), Julia Course (Hester Worsley), Mary Haney (Lady Pontefract), Jim Mezon (Sir John Pontefract) Oscar Wilde only wrote four comedies in the late Victorian era and they’re all worth reviving today. Clearly in agreement with that assessment, Jackie Maxwell, the artistic director of the Shaw festival, has already included Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere’s Fan and An Ideal Husband in her programme over the years. Now, with A Woman of No Importance, the quartet is complete, just as Ms. Maxwell is finishing off her final season at the festival. Maxwell’s long-time associate Shaw director Eda Holmes has helmed this production, which features a fine ensemble performance led by the inimitable Fiona Reid (though she doesn’t have the major role), elegant design by Michael Gianfrancesco and an interesting temporal concept, moving the tale from late Victoriana to England in the early 1950s. A Woman of No Importance is an odd play for Wilde. Much of it takes place at a dinner party thrown by Lady Hunstanton (Fiona Reid) in which people drink, eat, play pool and flirt outrageously. Like all of his works, it features great aphorisms but when a plot eventually emerges about half way through the proceedings, it suddenly shifts to melodrama. Before getting into that most un-Wilde-like of all genres, let’s relish some of the aphorisms. During the very funny parts of the play, the elegant...
Weiner

Weiner

Weiner Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg, directors Starring: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, Laurence O’ Donnell, Sydney Leathers  Documentary Feature Anthony Weiner is a great subject for a documentary. The former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives and New York City Councilor had apparently thrown away a brilliant political career when he was caught sexting with multiple women in 2011. Two years later, with the full-hearted support of his wife Huma Abedin, Weiner decided to revive his career by running for mayor of New York. At that point, Josh Kriegman, a former Weiner political aide, his filmmaking partner Elyse Steinberg, were allowed unprecedented access by Weiner to make a doc about his home life and campaign. At first, all went well. Audiences in New York took to Weiner, accepting his apology and embracing his opinions about how to better the city. Huma, a quiet but brilliantly effective woman, who is one of Hilary Clinton’s main political insiders, made rare public statements endorsing her man. At one point, in the Democratic mayoral primary Weiner was neck and neck with Bill de Blasio, who eventually was the winning candidate in the ensuing election. What happened to Weiner was extraordinary. He was caught in yet another sexting scandal, this time involving a part-time porn actress named Sydney Leathers. Rather than resigning from the campaign, Weiner insisted on fighting on, bringing his marriage and integrity into microscopic scrutiny and huge media attention. Weiner became the subject, once again, of jokes on all the late night shows from Colbert to Leno. He was harassed everywhere he went, including—memorably—a Brooklyn deli where he engaged...