Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sunday Double Feature: Dom Hemingway, Finding Vivian Maier

I've made some comments in recent posts about trying to get caught up on stuff before IFFBoston, and that's what Sunday was about - seeing what might or might not make it to next week, but which might not make it to the one after that. Dom Hemingway was already down to half-days, and since I wanted to watch the Red Sox game that night, it was the 11:20am show, which wound up getting out just in time to get me into Finding Vivian Maier. It was that or Under the Skin, which I opted to save for Monday night.

Two pretty good movies, although I kind of wish Dom Hemingway had managed to keep the crazy stuff going on a bit longer. I did get a chance to confirm that I can get through a large soda per movie, but a small popcorn can get me through two.

Dom Hemingway

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 April 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #8 (first-run, DCP)

Dom Hemingway feels like he's the sort of character Jude Law could settle into and play for a while, so perhaps it's only fitting that the movie itself plays like a couple episodes of a TV show that have been edited together and released as a feature. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but it also feels like the producers were given notes between the first and second episodes of this hypothetical program to tone things down and make it more grounded and relatable, even though the madness was what made it fun.

It starts out plenty larger-than-life, with safecracker Dom the cock of the walk in prison before getting the call that he is being released after twelve years. After a quick detour to deliver a beating to the man who took up with his late wife while he was inside, he heads to the pub with another old mate, Dickie Black (Richard E. Grant), who delivers him to the south of France so that Dom can get what he's owed for not ratting. After that adventure, it's back to London to look for more work and hopefully reconnect with his daughter Evelyn (Emilia Clarke).

If Dom Hemingway is an actively good person in any way, it's buried rather deeply; in fact, he's actively malicious at times. The audience is going to want to spend time with him anyway, though, because he's one of those characters who is made almost entirely out of self-confidence, from his sartorial choices to the way he bellows. While a good portion of the movie's humor comes from how he smashes his way into trouble like with his dumb thick skull, he's never so stupid that any good fortune that comes his way seems like pure luck, and there is some small but of humanity under the ego. But most importantly, he's played by Jude Law, who seems to be having a grand time playing to the rafters even while making sure that he's actually only being as grandiose as Dom would be to that character at that time. Sure, we know that eventually he's going to show some sign off not being a complete jackass where Evelyn is concerned, but in the meantime, Law is going to hit every joke he's given, injecting a surprising amount of average-Joe disbelief at the world around Dom into the character's own peculiarity to make him a surprisingly enjoyable presence in just about every scene.

Full review at EFC

Finding Vivian Maier

* * * 1/2 (out of four)
Seen 20 April 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run, DCP)

The recently-discovered photography of Vivian Maier is striking, impressive enough that even those of us with no particular expertise in what makes a good picture can look at one and recognize something special without some sort of hook. They've got one, though, and Finding Vivian Maier is an intriguing look at the photographer's story.

Maier did not work as a photographer; she spent most of her life as a nanny, although she always carried her Rolleiflex camera with her. She took thousands of rolls of black-and-white and color film (as well as 8mm and 16mm home movies) over the course of her life, and John Maloof bought a tub's worth after she died, needing pictures for another project. Once he realizes that he's stumbled onto something special, he seeks to learn more about Maier. That's easier in some ways than others; she was a hoarder where physical things were concerned, but just as obsessively anonymous and private in her personal life.

That tendency of Maier to hide herself behind locked doors in other people's houses presents a challenge for Maloof and his co-director Charlie Siskel: They must, inevitably, deal with not being able to answer some of the questions they present to the audience. I suspect that many projects of this sort are either abandoned our delayed a long time as the filmmakers try to find the interview, document, or other missing piece that will fit in perfectly at the end of the movie, pulling everything together. Where some parts of the story are concerned, they just don't have that, and it strikes me that it is probably much more difficult to make a movie that doesn't let the audience down as it teases blind alleys that it can't fully explore than one that builds to a startling revelation while the later will be much more appreciated. Maloof & Siskel (and editor Aaron Wickenden) seldom put the movie together in a way that leaves the audience feeling disappointed, and deserve a fair amount of credit for that accomplishment.

Full review at EFC

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