The Morning After: Sep. 17, 2012

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

In America

A poignant look at Irish immigrants trying to carve out their own niche in America. Jim Sheridan and his daughters Naomi and Kirsten have crafted a loving tribute to the millions of foreign citizens who’ve come to America to pursue a dream. It explores how love can allow desperate people to endure in even the most hostile environments.

Five fantastic performances highlight Sheridan’s warm, semi-autobiographical story of the Sullivans and their struggles in the Big Apple. Sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger play the two Sullivan children with confidence and experience, investing their young counterparts with honesty and endearing self-awareness. Finer youth performances will you seldom see. Djimon Hounsou has a brief, but pivotal role as the artist who lives downstairs who sees in the young Sullivan girls a carefree spirit that helps lift him out of his spiraling depression. Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine epitomize the loving couple, giving Johnny and Sarah Sullivan a touching, honest relationship.

Sheridan’s film never strives for maudlin sentimentality, instead dancing ever so gently on the edge of immaculate reverence. His film is filled with warm, unwavering compassion and refuses to pass judgment on the many flaws featured in its lovely frames. And even when you can pick out moments from the film that will foreshadow later events, when they arrive, they feel completely natural, never eliciting a groan from a frustrated audience. This is the kind of movie that in the 1980’s, interestingly when the film is set, that would have been a box office blockbuster. It’s a moving portrait that deserved far more attendance than it ultimately received.

Broadcast News

You might not know it from How Do You Know and Spanglish, but there was a point in film history when James L. Brook was among the greatest writer-directors of comic fiction working. Creating some of the most indelible television programs in history (Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda and The Simpsons to name a few), Brooks also made quite the name for himself on the big screen. After his auspicious debut with Best Picture winner Terms of Endearment, he took time to create another ’80’s classic releasing Broadcast News four years later.

The story of two journalist and a new personality, Broadcast News delivers witty dialogue, touching portraits and keeps the audience engaged for more than two hours in a film that could easily have tested the viewer’s patience. Holly Hunter takes the lead as Jane Craig, a bull-headed news producer disgusted with the landscape of television news where fluff pieces dominated the airwaves and real, hard-hitting news was relegated to short clips. Brooks’ film took a growing epidemic in journalism and exposed it with hilarious tenacity. Hunter’s performance stands out mightily among a talented group of actors. Hot off his Oscar win for The Kiss of the Spider Woman, William Hurt plays the sports reporter turned news anchor whose limited knowledge of events and inability to retain figures become symbolic of the film’s very themes. Hurt’s performance fits perfectly with Hunter helping to create an interesting, believable love-hate dynamic between the two.

Albert Brooks does excellent work as Aaron Altman, an ace reporter whose ability to quickly analyze and recite newsworthy segments of the various pieces he does, stands a stark contrast with Hurt’s Tom Grunick’s simple-minded sluggishness. The three actors form a quirky triangle of frustration, admiration and support, defining the film’s very essence. Robert Prosky, Lois Chiles, Joan Cusack and Peter Hackes ably lend their support. In a film with so many great one-liners, it’s hard to choose a favorite and even if you think a movie about the slow destruction of American television journalism would seem like an intense bore, this isn’t the movie you would expect and if you didn’t laugh out loud at least a dozen times, then you’re not paying attention.

Sophie’s Choice

Often cited as one of the key moments in Meryl Streep’s illustrious career, Sophie’s Choice gives the gifted actress a chance to do two things she does well: adopt credible accents and use her undeniably gifted visage an opportunity to tell vast stories of untold emotion with ease.

The story centers around a writer whose decision to move to the North to live life and understand the greater world around him leads him into the company of two unusual tenants in a pink boarding house. Sophie, a Polish immigrant whose post holds secrets she seems unwilling to relinquish and Nathan (Kevin Kline), an eccentric scientific research assistant whose violent mood swings threaten everyone’s safety. Peter MacNicol plays the writer named Stingo who seems more world wise than his journey might suggest. MacNicol blends the wide-eyed innocence of a North-bound Southerner with the latent curiosity of an author. MacNicol’s frequently subdued performance acts as a nice counterpoint to those of Streep and Kline.

Kline digs into the role of Nathan with such ferocity that it’s little surprise he would later pick up an Oscar for a slight romantic comedy (A Fish Called Wanda). There’s little humorous about Kline’s adroit performance, his hidden past and temperamental flare-ups are handled with such aplomb it causes one to regret that he got stuck in so many silly comedies in his later career even if many of those performances outshone the films in which they were housed. The film, thought, belongs to Streep. Her power and passion is undeniable. In one scene late in the film, your heart breaks with her titular choice, the utter lack of music and simple wailing of a child sending shivers through your spine and emotion down your cheek. That scene, as poignant as it is, would be nothing without her expressive countenance sharing with the audience the terror and sorrow Sophie felt at that unforgivable moment.

One of the film’s biggest flaws is its uneven tone. We spend so much time in the present that when we finally get the glimpses of the past, they feel tonally off. Here we have a character narrating his own life and the influence it will have on his future career and then we shift back a few decades to events that seem unnecessarily grand for such a slight production. Were it not for Streep and Kline, I don’t think the film would have fit together so beautifully. Director Alan J. Pakula knows how to compose specific scenes, but they don’t fit together perfectly, which is unfortunate for a story that feels so important.

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