Film Review of The Gathering Storm

Movie: The Gathering StormI remember seeing the TV ads in 2002 for The Gathering Storm and thinking it looked compelling; however, I did not have HBO at the time. The film had been in my Netflix queue for ages until I recently moved it to the top, desiring something besides the reality garbage doled out nightly on network and cable TV. Really, why does anyone give a flip about Jon and Kate Gosselin?

I was not disappointed in this film! It’s terrific. It is a two-pronged love story. Winston Churchill (Albert Finney) had two loves, that for his country and that for his wife. He loved his country beyond patriotism, and he had truly deep affection for his wife, Clementine (Vanessa Redgrave). While Mr. Churchill was wrong about some things (e.g., India’s quest for independence), his notions about Hitler’s thirst for power and world domination were right on track. This point was made clear in the film. Thankfully for us, Churchill and key others were paying attention to Germany’s rearmament. Some even took great risks to bring the truth to light – Ralph Wigram (Linus Roache).

Churchill came to his realization about Hitler when his own career was waning. At age sixty he was no longer viewed as an astute politician and keen orator. He was plagued by depression (coined “the black dog”), and his family stood on the brink of financial ruin. Much of his money had been lost in the stock market crash. Additionally, the political establishment were reluctant to make any decisions that might lead to another Great War. It also didn’t help that there were government contracts which supplied aircraft parts to Germany. (Often we’re our own worst enemies!) Despite all of these obstacles, Churchill persevered and was finally able to convince his peers and the nation of the danger Hitler and his Nazi party posed. He was a man possessed by the idea that it was his destiny to lead his country out of chaos.

At a point of intrigue in the film, “Clemmie” leaves Winston and their brood for a trip abroad. She is accompanied by an attractive bachelor whom Winston is certain has stolen his wife’s affection. Jealousy is yet another demon to plague the man.

I can’t speak highly enough of the cast. Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave were magnificent. I felt like a voyeur of the Churchill’s lives. Only great acting can give you a true sense of reality. The supporting cast are all sublime actors. The director, Richard Longcraine, captured the drama of Britian’s politics, and his actors skillfully projected the frustration, fear, and courage it took to win a battle for hearts and minds. The chemistry between Finney and Redgrave was believable. Their tender moments tugged at the heart.

This is one drama you should see, especially if you appreciate this momentous period in history and the work of accomplished actors.

Film Review of Fur

Film Review FurThis weekend I watched the movie Fur, a strange film, but strange in a magnificent way. Firstly, it’s one of the few films for which I can say, “Nicole Kidman is fabulous!” Secondly, it costars Robert Downey Jr., one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. Downey is a wonderful character actor, and what a character he portrays in this film! You’ll love him as much as Diane Arbus (Kidman) did. Thirdly, it’s visually exciting. There are so many layers of visual interest – the colors, the staging, the 1950s fashion, the carnival costumes, the makeup, the physical attributes of the various characters, etc.

The film is an imaginary biopic of Diane Arbus, a photographer known for her documentary style and her fantastic subject matter – anyone and anything considered not normal (e.g., giants, dwarfs, the insane…). Honestly, I knew little of Arbus until I watched this film. What I know of Arbus today is a result of learning from Internet resources. As I stated, the film is an IMAGINARY biopic. I advise anyone who wants to watch the film to go in with no knowledge of the artist or her work. It’s after the film that you should learn about her life and her photography. Reading her biography and viewing her photos will help you appreciate the film in a new way. You’ll understand what director Steven Shainberg and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson were after. You’ll appreciate the genius, Arbus!

I recommend this film to all who feel inhibited and desire to break loose. You’ll relate to Arbus’ (Kidman’s) need to be more than the daughter of a wealthy man and the wife of a successful photographer. You’ll appreciate her intellectual and emotional identification with individuals considered abnormal. She herself felt abnormal. Kidman is very believable in this role; she is Diane Arbus.

Also, if you liked Steven Shainberg’s Secretary, another film about “abnormal” characters, you’ll love this. Shainberg has a way of making atypical behavior unobjectionable. What is common to both films is love. Underneath the fantastic story is a beautiful love story, an unforgettable love story.

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Are you interested in other film reviews? If so, read the film review for Stage Beauty.

Book and Film Review 84, Charing Cross Road

The Book

84, Charing Cross Road is a collection of letters, the real life correspondence (1949-1969) between Helene Hanff, a scriptwriter living in New York City, and Frank Doel and his staff at Marks & Co, an antiquarian bookseller in London. Read the 90-something pages to learn how a love for books can create remarkable friendships. This book is worth the investment if you have little time to read. It can be read in 1.5-2 hours. I read it over lunch on Tuesday.

Helene’s antiquarian tastes for essays, poetry, speeches, sermons, and philosophy led her to discover Marks & Co.

Gentlemen:
Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase “antiquarian booksellers” scares me somewhat, as I equate “antique” with expensive. I am a poor writer with antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or in Barnes & Noble’s grimy, marked-up schoolboy copies.
I enclose a list of my most pressing problems. If you have clean secondhand copies of any of the books on the list, for no more than $5.00 each, will you consider this a purchase order and send them to me?
Very truly yours,
Helene Hanff
(Miss) Helene Hanff

Her first letter to the bookseller gives you some idea about the types of books she preferred, but by her third letter you know more about her personality. She was brash, intelligent, and funny. At the half-way point, you also understand that she was compassionate and warm. Her sensitivity to the needs of others is what led her to send parcels of hard to acquire foodstuffs to Frank Doel and his staff. Shortages of eggs, meat, fruit, and vegetables existed for several years after the war (WWII). It was her provision of such items that induced Frank’s associates to begin their own exchange of letters with Helene.

Frank Doel was an honest, earnest, and proper man who thoroughly enjoyed the lively exchange with Helene. He looked forward to finding the books she requested, and he was always eager to meet the woman behind the letters.

*Her reading choices were influenced by what she gleaned from the documented lectures of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Professor of English Literature at the University of Cambridge. His On the Art of Writing inspired her to read John Donne, Plato, Chaucer, etc.

The Film

The movie was a complete and pleasant surprise. Rarely do I like the transition of book to movie. This movie – 84, Charing Cross Road – exceptional! Anne Bancroft was Helene Hanff herself! Also perfect were Anthony Hopkins as Frank Doel and Judi Dench as Mrs. Doel. This film couldn’t have been cast better. Get this! Mel Brooks was the executive producer. This makes me wonder if perhaps Bancroft and Brooks (married to each other until Bancroft’s relatively recent death) knew Helene.

I have to give a high five to the scriptwriter. Turning letters into conversation and action required some clever thinking and writing. The set designer also gets a high five. At the time the movie was made the bookshop was a record store; therefore, the bookshop had to be rebuilt at Shepperton Studios. I don’t think Frank Doel would have noticed a difference. It seemed to capture the true essence of the original.

After you read the book, add the movie to your Netflix list. Enjoy both!