Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Film Round-Up: October 2012: The Oranges, The Other Dream Team, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, Francine

Strap on the feedbag, folks! It's time for another Film Round-Up. These reviews previously appeared in ICON and are reprinted with permission. 

Boy, Melissa Leo terrifies me. But she is wonderful in Francine.


The Oranges (Dir: Julian Farino). Starring: Hugh Laurie, Leighton Meester, Oliver Platt, Allison Janney, Catherine Keener, Adam Brody, Alia Shawkat. Too much rind, not enough fruit. David and Paige (Laurie, Keener) and Terry and Carol (Platt, Janney) have been neighbors and friends for years. Separately, the two couples struggle. David is spending more nights sleeping in his man cave, while Carol ignores the tech-obsessed Terry. The northern Jersey suburban façade starts crumbling when Terry and Carol’s heart- broken daughter, Nina (Meester), returns home for the holidays and bonds with the vulnerable, lonely David. Writers Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss’ script abounds with good storylines: a wacky comedy of keeping up appearances, an ode to midlife renaissance, the woe of being young and in the suburbs (sporadically narrated by Shawkat). It doesn’t mean they had to use all of them. That misguided ambition shortchanges the emotional complications of David and Nina’s tricky relationship while shackling the actors—including the perennially marvelous Keener. Only Janney’s clucking crazed mother hen performance breaks free. [R] ★★

The Other Dream Team (Dir: Marius A. Markevicius). The Dream Team, that collection of American basketball leg- ends headlined by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, eviscerated the competition at the 1992 Summer Olympics en route to a gold medal and international stardom. Among its opponents was a talented team from the newly independent Lithuania, whose presence was a political and social triumph. Interviewing former Lithuanian players and politicians, Markevicius demonstrates how basketball infused Lithuania’s citizens with dignity and pride, rarities in Russia’s oppressive rule. The Olympics showcased Lithuania’s individuality—Grateful Dead-influenced attire aside—to the rest of the world just two years after its bloody standoff with the Russian army. The Other Dream Team springs patriotism and freedom from the confines of history books and parades. They can only occur when the oppressed demand to be treated like human beings. History has rarely felt this personal. And few sports films possess such inspirational purity. One of the year’s best documentaries. [NR] ★★★★

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (Dir: Lisa Immordino Vreeland). As the fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Vreeland (1903-1989) shaped how the world viewed fashion, and not just by discovering iconic faces such as Lauren Bacall and Twiggy or introducing the bikini to the shocked masses. Her forward thinking and story sense transformed fashion magazines from lush catalogues into artistic endeavors. (The movie’s title refers to how Vreeland thought people should ideally read a magazine.) Fashion became a living thing. Clearly made with good intentions and soft corners by Vreeland’s granddaughter-in-law, the documentary is essentially a collection of friends, family members, and colleagues swapping war sto- ries. Joel Schumacher describes Vreeland enthusiastically watching Chinatown in a Harlem movie theater; Ali MacGraw recalls the fear and respect she had working as Vree- land’s assistant, and then disciplines her pet. (We hear Vreeland’s perspective through news footage and interviews with author George Plimpton, who assisted on her memoir.) But for someone who was as brazen and bawdy—really, one of America’s last great dames—a loving approach works just fine. [PG-13] ★★★

Francine (Dirs: Brian M. Cassidy, Melanie Shatzky). Starring: Melissa Leo, Victoria Charkut, Keith Leonard. Refreshingly sparse, concise character study stars Leo as the title character, a stoic middle-aged woman who relocates to a rural small town straight from prison. The new life is a big adjustment. Strangers and new places intimidate Francine into silence. Small talk and eye contact are painful. She finds comfort in the bucolic surroundings and comes alive around animals, a passion that mutates into something bigger and perhaps poisonous. Light on dialogue or obvious conflict, Cassidy and Shatzky string together short scenes to create a portrait of a perpetually defeated woman struggling to find the sliver of light in a bleak life. The haunting, moving film is held together by Academy Award-winner Leo (Frozen River, The Fighter), who manages to convey tender- ness and toughness without swallowing the scenery whole. Really, it’s a miraculous performance, providing heart and soul to complement the credible, working-class grittiness. [NR] ★★★

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