Posts Tagged ‘Denis O’Hare’

The Cunning Art of Thievery

The Goldfinch

Director: John Crowley

Cast: Oakes Fegley, Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson, Willa Fitzgerald, Anuerin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Luke Kleintank, Denis O’Hare

Irish director John Crowley (Brooklyn) brings to cinematic life Donna Tart’s immersive and poignant Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Goldfinch in a sprawling and beautifully acted film version featuring an international cast including Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours) as Mrs Barbour, a wealthy Park Avenue woman who graciously takes in the young Theo Decker brilliantly played by Oakes Fegley, after his mother is killed in a terrorist attack at New York’s famous Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Theo having survived a thoroughly traumatic event, is introduced to the extremely wealthy Barbour family who he stays with while he awaits to hear from his wayward con-artist father Larry played by Luke Wilson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Concussion, 3:10 to Yuma). Larry eventually swoops in with his hard as nails girlfriend Xandra expertly played by Golden Globe winner Sarah Paulson (American Crime Story) to whisk Theo off to the brilliant shiny desert of Nevada away from the old world charm of New York City.

As The Goldfinch expertly weaves multiple story lines into a dazzling picaresque tale, it is more essentially about Theo’s friendship with the mysterious antique dealer Hobie beautifully played by Jeffrey Wright (Skyfall).

The Goldfinch is gorgeously photographed in all its blinding contrasts by Oscar winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner: 2049) who adds lustre to a fascinating tale of a boy who inadvertently steals a priceless Dutch painting by 17th century portrait painter Carel Fabritius a budding young student of Rembrandt.

As the actions flits between, New York, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, The Goldfinch is a gripping, fascinating tale of art theft, addiction and loss as the film examines the effects of parental loss on a young boy. Utterly superb viewing. Audiences should watch out for a rather energetic performance by Dunkirk star Anuerin Barnard as the older version of Ukrainian Gothic friend Boris who plays an integral part in achieving his destiny which is inevitably entwined with a rare painting by an early Dutch master. The older version of Theo Decker is adequately played by rising star Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver, Billionaire Boys Club).

Elegant and absorbing, with stunning performances, The Goldfinch is a sophisticated drama about the conflicts between the old and new world and the shadows that lie in between. Those that have read Donna Tartt’s brilliant novel will appreciate this gorgeous film adaptation.

Highly recommended viewing, The Goldfinch gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10.

Death of Fire Island

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The Normal Heart

NB: This is a made for TV film

Director: Ryan Murphy

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Stephen Spinella, Alfred Molina, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons

HBO’s The Normal Heart directed by Glee and Eat, Pray, Love director Ryan Murphy is a startling and heart wrenching tale of the outbreak of AIDS in New York’s gay community in the early 1980’s. Mark Ruffalo plays a middle aged openly gay man, Ned Weeks who gives one of the best performances of his career as he becomes the outspoken champion of gay rights and one who urges the American government to do more to fight the stigmatisation of AIDS as it ravaged the homosexual community in the mid 1980’s.

This film is set at a similar time as Jean-Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club, but unlike this Oscar winning film, is a made for Television, bravely done by HBO featuring some exceptional performances besides Ruffalo that includes Matt Bomer as his lover, Felix Turner, a young, handsome New York society journalist dying of AIDS related illnesses along with Julia Roberts as Dr Emma Brockner a wheel-chaired bound no nonsense doctor who is adamant that the American gay community need to be sufficiently educated about this disease. She goes onto advocate that the New York gay community need to immediately curb their promiscuous lifestyle, so lavishly explored in the film’s opening scenes on Fire Island, in upstate New York, the gay resort famous in the 1980’s for White Parties, wild sex and unabashed homosexual hedonism.

Audiences watching The Normal Heart should be warned this is a sad, graphic and dramatic tale of a community ravaged by an illness which they were not equipped to handle, both physically and emotionally. Remember that this is set at least 30 years ago before all the medical advances in ARV treatment globally and when AIDS research was in its infancy. Without the sufficient funding from the American government, those that suffered at the forefront of the epidemic, was an already marginalized community known only for their lascivious and risky sexual behaviour.

What director Ryan Murphy does so brilliantly is remind the audience that despite all the stigma and the prejudice, these were real professional people dying of a yet unquantified illness with a virtually non-existent health care regime and support structure.

At the core of The Normal Heart based upon a play by Larry Kramer is the remarkable performance by Mark Ruffalo who certainly has proved his worth as a serious actor in recent years especially after his recent Oscar nomination for The Kids Are Alright.

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The Normal Heart as a mainstream film, like Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra would have a fairly limited appeal, but it is comforting that HBO takes a bold leading in making these films and even attracting such A list talent like Julia Roberts, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.

Watch out for an unrecognizable Taylor Kitsch (Savages, Lone Survivor) as Bruce Niles a young, arrogant and gorgeous gay man who appears to be immune to all the community activism and terrible threat affecting his friends along with The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parson’s in a brilliant and touching performance as Tommy Boatwright who counts the dead on his Rolladex.

This drama is brutal, heart wrenching and truly inspiring film making even if it only was made as a TV film, but really should be seen by everyone gay or straight especially in the wake of the recent commercialization of gay culture in Western mainstream media along with the associated rights and civil liberties which the gay and lesbian community have been granted in Europe and America recently, viewed within the 21st century progress made in transforming HIV into a manageable disease through a strict regime of medication controls.

The Normal Heart is highly recommended viewing, boosted by superb performances all round which should go a long way in deconstructing the stigma surrounding marginalized communities especially at the outbreak of an initially incomprehensible disease.

 

 

Cowboys in the Rodeo Ring

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Dallas Buyers Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O’Hare, Griffin Dunne, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts

The Young Victoria French Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee tackles the AIDS pandemic in the gritty but superbly told critically acclaimed film Dallas Buyers Club.

The film which opens with reckless rodeo hand and electrician Ron Woodruff having a cocaine fuelled orgy in a rodeo pen on the outskirts of Dallas, showing a glimpse of a hard living reckless Texan drifter. The narrative is firmly placed in the summer of 1985, at the height of the pandemic as audiences see an emaciated Woodruff recovering from a binge in his trailer park with a Budweiser as he reads a newspaper article about Hollywood star Rock Hudson collapsing in a Ritz Hotel room in Paris in July 1985 due to an AIDS related illness, shocking the world with a disease that the famous film star took pains to keep hidden – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_Hudson.

This is a precursor to Woodroof’s own less glamorous story of a far more determined battle with the disease and the monolithic Federal Drug Administration (FDA) of America, which approved the relevant anti-retro virals (ARV’s), namely AZT first used on unsuspecting HIV patients alternating with a placebo in human drug trials.

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Woodroof is  the central character in Dallas Buyers Club, a homophobic, drug addicted hard-partying electrician who bets on the Texas rodeo to maintain a hedonistic lifestyle which abruptly changes after an industrial accident at a Texaco oil field, superbly played by Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer, Magic Mike), who lost 21 kilograms to authenticate the role, which recently earned him the 2014 best actor Oscar. McConaughey is now hot property in the acting stakes after shedding his rom-com image (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days) and taking part in increasingly edgier, morally dubious parts such as in Lee Daniel’s The Paperboy and the recent HBO series True Detective.

In the Dallas Mercy hospital, a severely gaunt looking Woodroof is told that he is HIV positive and only has 30 days to live by Dr Sevard, (Denis O’Hare) and the sympathetic Dr Eve Saks, played by Jennifer Garner. Refusing to accept defeat and not willing to wait for the proposed clinical trials of the newly developed antiretroviral AZT, Woodroof embarks on a mission to source the best possible ARVs to keep him alive. After an initial phase of denial, anger and stigmatisation from fellow co-workers and those he previously cavorted with at the Dallas rodeos, the determined Woodruff embarks on a mission to save his life even if it means illegally.

He embarks on an illicit journey to Mexico where he meets Dr Vass played by Griffin Dunne who supplies him with a regimen of FDA unapproved drugs to sustain his survival. Ever the drifter, Woordoof makes his way back into Texas, ironically dressed as priest with a stash of ARVs which he needs to distribute under the radar to fellow sufferers.

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However his pervasive illness lands him back in hospital where he meets the fabulously tragic transsexual Rayon, an utterly breathtaking transformation by Jared Leto (American Psycho, Requiem for a Dream, Alexander), who also received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at the 2014 Academy Awards. The gorgeous, fatally destructive Rayon is the perfect foil to break down Woodruff’s preconceived notions of homosexuality and homophobia as his biggest clients, the city’s largely excluded homosexual community soon become paying members of the lucrative, yet life saving Dallas Buyers Club.

What director Jean-Marc Vallee does, is never hold these characters in judgement but superbly lifts a mirror up to their desperate and unconventional forms of survival in mid-1980’s America when the knowledge of AIDS and the correct dosage of ARVs was certainly not as advanced as it is today, almost 20 years later.

It is McConaughey and Leto’s staggering transformation with the former losing an incredible amount of weight and really bringing pathos and layers of emotion to a complex role while Leto is simply incredible as the sultry and tragic Rayon who eventually has to forgo the charade and in one touching scene he bravely confronts his sexuality and illness with his conservative Texan father.

Both actors deserved to win these Oscars and while Dallas Buyers Club is heavy on subject matter, it is a supremely balanced account of one man’s incredible and courageous journey of survival both in America and through procuring foreign drugs internationally to prolong his life at a time when advances in medical science were only grappling to come to terms with the scale of a truly worldwide AIDS pandemic.

Powerful, emotional and brilliant, Dallas Buyers Club follows the trials of Woodroof and Rayon as cowboys in the rodeo ring, dodging the inevitability of being thrown off the proverbial bull while the clowns provide a tragic distraction, the film’s poignant central motif.

Activism and Martyrdom

Milk

directed by

Gus van Sant

The article below was prepared for a film workshop and discussion of Milk held at the inaugural Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival November 2011.

“My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you”.

 

Political Activist, Martyr and lover of Opera

These words were used at a speech Milk made on the San Francisco City Hall steps as an elected city supervisor at the Gay Freedom Day Parade on the 25th June 1978 four months before being assassinated. This scene in Gus Van Sant’s film is critical to the viewing of Milk as not just as a film about the Gay rights movement in America, but a film about civil rights and the fight for protection against bigotry and the preservation of individual freedoms which should be enshrined in any democracy.
Milk was an activist for Gay rights and for human rights and he galvanized the communities of Castro Street in the Eureka Valley and also the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco for the protection of civil liberties. Milk was also the first openly gay man to be elected to an official position in a major metropolitan American city. He was a south-African equivalent of an Executive councillor and not merely a ward councillor.

Historically any political movement with a strong base of supporters, martyrdom works. There are examples of martyrs in a range of socio-political movements worldwide from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, to Ruth First. Milk knew of the risks he was taking as an openly gay supervisor who was ready to engage in public debate at a time when the gay rights movement was blossoming along the American West Coast.

Milk was ready to die for his beliefs and was already casting himself in the role of a martyr – he persevered in the face of constant death threats. He challenged opposing viewpoints which were mostly grounded in the form of religious bigotry and parochial conservatism crystallized in the form of Florida religion fanatic Anita Bryant and Californian Republican Senator John Briggs.

Milk stood up for what was right at a particular moment in a historical context which reflected the aftermath of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and followed on from similar social political movements in America most notably the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the anti-war demonstrations of the late 60s and early 70s (notably about the Vietnam war). Harvey Milk was a skilled political activist and knew how to mobilise his supporters effectively.
Milk’s challenge to gay and lesbian people in America was this – We have to let them know who we are. You have to be open about your sexuality. He was the political version of the current crop of Hollywood stars and singers who are breaking through the glass closet Zachary Quinto and Ricky Martin, David Hyde Pearce, Neil Patrick Harris.

As a film, Milk was hugely successful for 3 reasons –
1) Director Gus van Sant is an openly gay director and has touched on homosexuality in his previous films, My Own Private Idaho and his award winning film Elephant.
2)  The screenwriter Dustin Lance Black who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay was openly gay.
3) Milk as a film was researched and had the input of surviving members of the Gay rights movement of the 1970s notably the influential Cleve Jones, played by Emile Hirsch in the film, Milk was shot in all the actual locations in and around San Francisco, notably the City Hall and Castro Street neighbourhood. Van Sant encouraged all the actors to improvise in their characters in the authentic locations they were shooting in. Seasoned actor, Sean Penn’s performance of Harvey Milk is exceptionally brilliant, notably winning him a 2nd Best Actor Award.

There is a moment in Milk when Harvey is delivering the recruitment speech at Gay Freedom Parade that this biopic transcends the boundaries of being just a film about gay rights, but a film about justifiable civil rights. Ironically the call for recruitment sounds very similar to Uncle Sam calling for new army recruits to the US military. Gay people came to San Francisco from small towns across America and the gay community swelled after the end of World War 2 when many closeted military men disembarked at San Francisco after returning from the Pacific theatre of War and remained in the city, not obviously keen to return to conservative mid-Western towns.

Viewing Milk in a South African context

South Africa is an intensely political society and as a new democracy which has enshrined the rights of every individual by having one of the most liberal constitutions, gay people are protected by the constitution but is there an adequate justice system to enforce the civil liberties of gay people in SA. This point is made in Milk in the 70s when gay men are beaten up and victimised by SF police officers in the film. Even though gay rights are enshrined in the South African constitution and discrimination based on sexual orientation is forbidden, does the South African police force adequately uphold these rights in contemporary society? In terms of Gay Pride marches worldwide from Sao Paulo to Warsaw – the role of the police as both protector and persecutor is brilliantly explored in the documentary Beyond Gay: the Politics of Pride.

Best line in the film – “I sound like a homosexual with Power” – from being marginalised to being politicized that was the legacy that Harvey Milk gave to the American and the international gay rights movement.
Harvey Milk was a quintessential Gay politician who only served in office for one year but his impact on social change and his symbol as a martyr for the gay rights movement in America and internationally is huge. Milk was 40 years old when he first came out the closet and started living as an openly gay man.
The character of Dan White played by Josh Brolin in Milk represents a complete dichotomy from Harvey Milk. White was also a fellow city supervisor from a strong Irish Catholic neighbourhood who was concerned more with supporting a family on a municipal salary than supporting any of Harvey Milk or Mayor George Moscone’s liberal city ordinances. Dan White viewed Harvey Milk as a threat and he acted upon that threat, whereas Milk underestimated the danger of Dan White as a potential enemy. The last quarter of the film, there is a sense that Milk had almost become cavalier with his political power despite receiving numerous death threats. Milk was willing to become a martyr and for the cause, often remarking that politics was theatre.

Politics is Theatre

Politics is theatre except the scripts are different, but there remain the stars even they become legends as martyrs.

Van Sant skilfully shows not just the extent of the Milk’s activism but also his passion for the gay rights cause at the immense cost of his personal life and safety. The film beautifully reconstructs the fateful events leading up to Milk’s assassination and the truly poignant ending of Harvey Milk being heralded as a martyr by the community he served and adored. Milk is more about Martyrdom and Activism in a socio-political movement in the 1970s and the call for equal civil rights for gays and all other minorities.

Today in San Francisco there are convention centres, streets and public institutions named after slain City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Corner of Castro and Market Street in Eureka Valley is now called Harvey Milk Plaza.
The immortalization of martyrs for a cause is not new in any political movement and is especially significant in the current SA political context with conference centres, highways and streets being renamed after struggle heroes against Apartheid more appropriately in cities such as Durban and Johannesburg.

Proposition 6 as put forward by Californian Senator Briggs was legislation that allowed the California state to discriminate against employees in this case teachers on the basis of sexual orientation. Milk’s biggest triumph was getting the gay communities and the broader society to vote against the implementation of proposition 6.
Irony is that Gay Marriage in America as a federal law is still banned. Only several US states have passed legislation allowing gay marriage to date including Vermont.
Proposition 8 (ballot title: Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment; called California Marriage Protection Act by proponents) was a ballot proposition and constitutional amendment passed in the November 2008 state elections. The measure added a new provision, Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights, to the California Constitution, which provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” – Wikipedia source.
Innovative film style of Gus Van Sant –Van Sant’s visual style is unique from extreme close-ups highlighting the intimacy of the characters to showcasing the broad political activism that Milk did to galvanize and protect the gay community in San Francisco in the 1970’s. Political activism involved taking over a block then a neighbourhood and gaining support and credence for specific municipal issues.
Suggested Reading and Viewing: ~
Biography: The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life & Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts
Documentary: Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride by Bob Christie

 

Honour Beyond Hadrians Wall

The Eagle

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In the 1st Century AD, the Roman Empire extended into southern Britain and up to the borders of Scotland. The Eagle directed by Kevin Macdonald who brought us the impressively brilliant Oscar winning Last King of Scotland, stars a surprisingly capable Channing Tatum along with Jamie Bell is an engaging period tale about this expansionist phase of the Roman Empire and its stronghold in Britain.

Tatum, who has come a long way as an actor from Step Up to play Marcus Aquila, a Roman lieutenant who goes to the then savage lands of Britain and extend the rule of the Roman Empire and regain the lost standard with the assistance of his all too savvy slave Esca. Twenty years earlier a standard, a gold eagle was lost in the Scottish highlands, by a Roman legion said to be slain by the savage tribes that inhabited the north beyond Hadrian’s Wall, a fortification erected in 122 AD along the North of England, also used as a means of taxation for those caught within the realms of the Roman Empire. Hadrian’s Wall was one of the most heavily fortified border in the entire Empire, separating Roman controlled Britain with the wild Scottish Highlands.

That legion was lead by Marcus Aquila’s father and the tale of the lost gold standard has haunted Marcus Aquila and tainted his family’s honour. Marcus after sustaining a leg injury in a battle with local Druids is sent to recover at his Uncle’s villa in Southern Britain, who is guided by his more cautious relative, a wonderful cameo by the veteran actor Donald Sutherland. Near his uncle’s villa, Marcus saves the life of Esca in a primitive battle with a second rate gladiator and Esca, in a superb and wry performance by Jamie Bell who has also filled out considerably since his debut in the hit ballet film Billy Elliot, becomes Marcus’s slave but also his able-bodied companion.

In a bid to search for the lost Eagle, the gold standard, Marcus and Esca embark on a treacherous journey beyond the boundaries of the known world or the Roman world that is and there the colonizer becomes the colonized by the savage and ruthless seal tribe. In order to survive Esca makes Marcus his slave in the face of the savage tribe who have taken the gold standard as their own, a glorified object to be worship in pagan rituals. Although not entirely historically accurate, The Eagle is very engaging ethnographically recreating a world of Britain centuries before William the Conqueror invaded the island in 1066, displaying a barbaric land inhabited by various druid and Celtic tribes who were adverse to their Roman colonizers seizing their land especially those in ancient Scotland.

The Eagle is about men conquering other men through violence and colonization, about honour lost and dignity regained. It’s a male bonding journey about a master and servant who through their journey beyond Hadrian’s Wall help each other gain both honour, respect and freedom.

While all this sounds vaguely homoerotic, it certainly is. Especially with Channing Tatum as the muscular and brawny Marcus being assisted by the instinct driven and supple Esca, as they battle savage tribes, their own repressed longings for each other and their respective dead fathers is played out in a bitterly cold and vicious but breathtaking landscape of Scotland, a land well beyond the borders of the Roman Empire and beautifully captured by director Kevin Macdonald, showing his passion for his native Scotland.

The Eagle does not fare as well as Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Gladiator, but with all the sword fighting, bloodletting and adventure is well worth watching if not for a peek into a little documented epoch of the Roman conquest of Britain before the realm of monarchy and the equally savage rules of subsequent Kings and Queens from the despotic Richard III to Henry VIII, from the victorious Elizabeth I to Victoria. Like all magnificent and faded empires, both Roman and British alike, have suffered their decline by the infiltration of barbarians and the inability to keep such a vast colonial Empire eternally fortified.

A Fine and Fabulous Portrayal

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The brilliant film Milk is recommended not so much for its excellent coverage of political mobilization but more for Sean Penn’s superb and heartfelt portrayal of Harvey Milk. Of course there are those seventies fashions, James Franco skinny dipping and the wonderfully coy Emile Hirsh. Well worth the viewing.

If viewers loved director Gus Van Sant’s earlier works including My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy and Elephant, then this film is up there with Gus Van Sant’s original masterpieces.

There is a detailed analysis of Milk under the title Activism and Martyrdom http://www.davidrwalker.co.za/2011/11/milk/ in a comprehensive article praising the merits of this film as a biography and a moving portrait of the Gay Rights Movement in America.

Milk also stars James Franco, Diego Luna, Emile Hirsch, Alison Pill and a fine supporting performance by Josh Brolin as supervisor Dan White.

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