Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mr. Turner, The Captive, The Circle

Mr. Turner
The Circle

The Captive

Capsule reviews on the week's other releases:

Timothy Spall's performance as the preёminent British painter J.M.W. Turner is like none you've seen before. He communicates with others not so much through the spoken word as through wheeze, rale, eructation and porcine grunt. Porcine, too, the graceless rutting to which he subjects his all-too-eager housemaid (Dorothy Atkinson, a marvel of need and self-abnegation). Having disavowed his two daughters, Turner takes up with a widowed innkeeper (Marion Bailey as the apotheosis of sweet solicitude) in whose bed he utters his famous last words: "The sun is God!" "Mr. Turner" isn't director Mike Leigh's masterpiece - for that, the biting wit of "High Hopes" or the honesty and insight of "Another Year" - and my two friends walked out less than an hour into its 149-minute runtime, but Spall's work (which won him Best Actor at Cannes) and some breathtakingly beautiful nature scenes make it worth the effort.

Played-out Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan strains to recapture the snowed-in melancholy of his best film, 1997's "The Sweet Hereafter," in a time-jumping new genre picture called "The Captive," starring Ryan Reynolds and Mireille Enos as Matthew and Tina, Toronto parents still mourning the nine-years-earlier abduction of their daughter Cass. (He picked Cass up from ice skating practice, stopped at a bakery to buy pies, and came outside to find her gone.) We see the creep who's kept her holed up all this time, so there's no mystery, just a series of coincidences (everyone has some connection to everyone else) and heaps of stilted dialogue. Enos comes off best, conveying Tina's mental and emotional withdrawal from life, though Egoyan has her say (and repeat) some unspeakably cruel things to Matthew. Rosario Dawson and especially Scott Speedman, as detectives still investigating the case, fare less well. And by the time the abductor kidnaps Dawson and encages her in an abandoned van, I just wanted out and into the light of day.

Finally, a recommendation for Switzerland's Oscar submission, Stefan Haupt's "The Circle," a collage of contemporary interviews, reёnactments and primary source materials documenting The Circle, a pioneering members-only gay social group in Zurich from the mid-50's through the mid-60's. We mostly follow girls' school teacher Ernst Ostertag and his boyfriend, the singer and female impersonator Röbi Rapp, who in the mid-2000's became the first same-sex couple to marry in Switzerland. The Swiss did not have an equivalent of Germany's Paragraph 175 expressly criminalizing homosexuality, allowing certain limited freedoms that made some feel as though they had "one foot in New York." But a string of "rent boy" murders caused the cops to turn up the heat, infiltrating dances and threatening closeted members (such as Ostertag's principal) with career-ending exposure. The interviews with Ernst and Röbi, who've lived the entirety of the gay-rights movement, are more compelling than the re-created scenes, though it's always nice to see Marianne Sägebrecht (here, as Rapp's supportive mom).

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