|In the Heart of the Sea|
Quick capsules from a relatively slow (and mostly middling) December:
Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth” is the most visually surprising and delighting movie of the year. It’s not just that the images are gorgeous (they are) but that Sorrentino chooses such offbeat perspectives from which to shoot them. The effect is to make special each person or object upon which cinematographer Luca Bigazzi trains his camera, and we our eyes. As Fred Ballinger, a widowed composer resting at a Swiss spa with his best friend Mick (Harvey Keitel), Michael Caine delivers his first fully invested performance in too long. As his daughter Lena, Rachel Weisz in one blistering speech (on a massage table, no less) unburdens a lifetime of resentment at always coming second to his music. It’s a “whoa” moment… A mild recommendation for the amusing if repetitive “The Lady in the Van,” with solid perfs by Maggie Smith as a malodorous itinerant and Alex Jennings as the writer who allows her to keep her van/home in his carpark for what turns out to be fifteen years. Best British-ism: Jennings’ neighbor, who hopefully offers that perhaps at some point Miss Shepherd “will just sort of…slip away…” A late turn to face her fundamental human dignity surprisingly works… A generous two stars for Ron Howard’s cornpone “In the Heart of the Sea,” in which the director brings his customary stock characters and Screenwriting 101 conflicts to the story behind Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.” A fleeting moment of eye contact and mutual respect between Chris Hemsworth and the whale is the movie’s best; most of two hours is spent waiting for familiar situations to play themselves out. For a smarter and more exciting seaborne saga, check out the 2012 remake of “Kon-Tiki.”
Documentaries: Amy Berg’s “Janis: Little Girl Blue” is the rare biodoc to accord the various phases of its subject’s life the right amount of relative screen time. The contrast between Joplin’s long-range planning – her letters reveal a savvy, self-aware thinker – and the impulses that cut her short achieves poignancy. Generous two-star ratings for both “Hitchcock/Truffaut” and “Ingrid Bergman – In Her Own Words”: fitfully involving, often sleepy.