Thursday, April 28, 2016 4:11 PM
Movie Review: “Nina”
I watched “Nina” on VOD yesterday—a film about Nina Simone, the legendary blues singer (incredibly played (and sung!) by Zoe Saldana) at the end of her career, facing instability, alcoholism, and illness, with the help of a male nurse, Clifton Henderson (as played by David Oyelowo) and marking a triumphant return to the United States with a live free concert in Central Park. Oddly, historical records indicate that she performed at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre in Newark upon her return to the US—and that it wasn’t ‘free’—but Nina Simone did perform in Central Park several times in her earlier career.
Other reviewers and critics take issue with lighter-skinned Ms. Saldana playing the very much darker High Priestess of Soul—but while I can understand a rejection of ‘blackface’ white performers playing black people—I think it’s going a bit far to complain of one African-American woman playing another. It makes more sense to complain that Zoe Saldana is too young and too thin—but this is a biopic, not a documentary, and her performance is often riveting, even if the historical accuracy of both her depiction and the story-line goes a bit by the boards. As with Jamie Foxx’s “Ray” (2004), “Nina” is as remarkable for the star’s vocal efforts as it is for the purported subject—though I wouldn’t have minded hearing the actual, recorded voice of the late Nina Simone sing a few bars at some point in the movie.
But you can just do what I did—go to YouTube afterwards and check out the real Nina Simone singing all the songs from the movie and more—that’s as much of a treat as the movie—and since the movie got me there, hooray for the movie. But see the movie first or you’ll never get over the very real difference in both appearance and vocals.
Movie Review: “The Lady In The Van” (2016Apr28)
I was eager to see “The Lady In The Van” because Maggie Smith gives good ‘crabby old lady’—and she certainly doesn’t disappoint in this movie that could have been written for her, if it wasn’t based on an actual woman. Still the film is based on the 1999 play—and takes place even earlier, in the seventies—so perhaps the film was only made to showcase Ms. Smith.
She plays a poor and confused woman who lives out of a van, which she parks in various places in the neighborhood until stricter parking regulations (and perhaps complaining residents) make it necessary for her to park in a driveway—that of the playwright, Allen Bennett, who forms a limited friendship with this loner who has reached the age when being a loner becomes problematic. The film is as much about the man as the lady—and both are seen by the Gloucester Crescent inhabitants as odd ducks. As with many stories about fragile, vulnerable people, the common run of humanity is portrayed as coarse and unsympathetic—from the whispering neighbors to the van-rocking toughs.
One striking element is the conflict between the personal care of Alan Bennett and the more ‘public’ care offered by the periodic appearance of a social worker—to be nice by nature is far different from being nice by the rulebook. It is especially telling when dealing with the mentally unstable, where a little patience and understanding can do so much more than the brusque attentions of a civil servant.
A few movies, like “The Lady In The Van”, are remarkable also in showing us Yankees how very different the British can be—it is so easy to assume that they are just ‘differently-American’, when they are really quite another thing altogether. This film, in showing both the similarities of such situations and their differences, informs us just how foreign England can be.
While Alex Jennings’ and Maggie Smith’s performances contain a lot of humorous touches, the overall plot is insurmountably bleak, so I wouldn’t watch it unless you’re in the mood for something good and serious.
Movie Review: Infinitely Polar Bear (2015)
I just watched “Infinitely Polar Bear” (it just showed up on cable this weekend) written and directed by Maya Forbes, starring Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, and Ashley Aufderheide. I’m a long-time fan of both principles—I could go on all day about Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana—neither one has been in a movie I didn’t like. Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide did a great job being directed by Imogene’s mom, Maya.
It was my favorite kind of movie—it was so engrossing that I immediately stopped being aware of watching a movie, got sucked completely into the story, and got that heartbroken/furious-combo feeling when it ended because I wanted it to keep going so badly. Mark Ruffalo plays a bi-polar father who makes you worry for his kids—in spite of his generally appearing to be a better father than most. But the best part of the movie is when it shows the madness of sanity against the relief of his specific bi-polar symptoms—his grandmother is crazy, his neighbors are crazy, the waiter in the restaurant is crazy—but all in ‘sane’ ways that society finds acceptable. At the same time, his madness makes him a better person in many ways—even while it cripples his ability to relate to the sanely-crazy.
It also shows that sometimes the only one hurt by insanity is the person himself—or herself—that being different is its own punishment in a world full of people busily trying to fit in. We tend to have more sympathy for a hero that resists peer-pressure than for a hero who isn’t aware of it—but in both cases, the reactions of others are the others’ problems, not the hero’s. The film shows the girls being educated by their father’s disability—rather uncomfortably, but in the end, to good purpose. I found it all very uplifting—maybe I relate a little too strongly to a crazy father.