Ginger & Rosa

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all_rating

Ginger & Rosa
swan_very_good
Runtime 90 minutes.
Not for children.

From l, Alice Englert and Elle Fanning in “Ginger & Rosa.”

From l, Alice Englert and Elle Fanning in “Ginger & Rosa.”

I thought that existentialism became passé upon the death of John Paul Sartre in 1980. You don’t hear much about it these days, but along comes this film whose prime mover is Roland (Alessandro Nivola) whose daughter is the titular Ginger (Elle Fanning). We’re shown that Ginger is inseparable from her friend Rosa (Alice Englert, who is presently being seen on the screen as the star of Beautiful Creatures. This, however was her first film). Englert, although not stunningly beautiful, exhibits a unique steamy sexuality that marks her as a star in the making.

We meet Ginger and Rosa at their birth in the same hospital on the same day in 1945 and get to know them in 1962 at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, which Ginger takes very seriously. Ginger’s mother, Natalie (Christina Hendricks) is in a terrible relationship with her husband, Ginger’s father, Roland. Like most existentialists, the things that Roland says sound wonderfully intuitive. When disdaining religion, Roland tells Ginger, “The only life we have is the one we have now which is why we must seize it.” That sounds like such a wonderful, self-evident truth. Roland lives that. He seizes it in a way that maximizes his pleasure, regardless of responsibilities to family or to other people. As the film progresses Roland is shown to be especially hatefully selfish. It is a wonderful indictment of existentialism’s self-absorption.

The cast is fantastic. Nivola is charming and attractive. The way he expresses his existential beliefs is captivating until one sees how he actually lives his philosophy in the way he treats his wife and daughter.

I was impressed with Englert in Beautiful Creatures and she is even better in this role. Fanning gives a fine performance as the naïve young girl getting to know her own mind, torn between parents and the actions of her best friend.

Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall play the openly gay couple. Could there be a film about existentialism in the 1960s without one such couple? Rounding out the cast is Annette Bening, kind of a British answer to Gertrude Stein, a liberal single woman writer with a butch haircut in this group of effete Bloomsbury Group replicas.

As good as the cast is, the film is buttressed by wonderful cinematography (Robbie Ryan) and period music (Amy Ashworth, Music Supervisor and Alan Lewens, Music Consultant).

Written and directed by confirmed feminist Sally Potter (“I came from an atheist background and an anarchist background, which meant that I grew up in an environment that was full of questions, where nothing could be taken for granted”), this is a surprising indictment, at least to me, of the type of person normally associated with people like Virginia Woolf (the author of the book upon which Potter’s 1992 film, Orlando, was based) and her Bloomsbury Group.

Regardless of (or maybe because of) the ideological slant, this is a fascinating film.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
swan_bottom_of_the_barrel
Runtime 107 minutes.
Not for children.

From l, Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, and Jim Carrey in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.”

From l, Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, and Jim Carrey in “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.”

This film was a real disappointment to me because it was written by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who were responsible for 2011’s Horrible Bosses which was one of the surprise delights of that year. They have strayed far off the comedic road here, however, despite the presence of the brilliant Alan Arkin in the cast.

Directed by Don Scardino, who is better known as a TV director of shows like 30 Rock, The West Wing, and Law & Order, and also directed Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men on Broadway, it’s about two magicians, the titular Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and his partner, Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) who have apparently reigned as the kings of the Las Vegas Strip in a hotel owned by Doug Munny (James Gandolfini). As you can see, this film has a wonderful cast which also includes Olivia Wilde and Jim Carrey. Alas, it is a film that leaves one asking how anyone could make a movie more annoying than this.

Carrey plays a guerrilla street magician named Steve Gray whose stunts get continually more disgusting as the movie progresses, so bad that people in my screening were averting their eyes rather than watch. But these aren’t stunts. This movie really isn’t about “magic,” the definition of which is “the seeming manipulation and control of the natural world for the amusement and entertainment of the audience.” The problem with this film is that the stunts that Gray performs are not “seeming manipulation” at all, but disgusting things that he really does and survives like, for example, spending all night sleeping on burning coals, which is probably the least disgusting thing he does in the film. All the things Gray does are just stupidities that actually happen as shown, not manipulation of the audiences. In fact, one of the few stunts in the movie that is really presented as a magic “stunt” is the last one and it is explained in the last scenes of the movie. The explanation is worse than ridiculous, nothing short of irresponsible, in fact.

There is nothing in this movie that is funny. Burt Wonderstone is a stupid, egotistical jackass who is so over-the-top unrealistic that his arrogance is just silly. This is probably intended as satire. But satire to be effective must be clever. This nonsensical tomfoolery just punches you in the nose.

This movie is such an insult to magicians that it is astonishing to discover that David Copperfield, who is described in the production notes as “the world’s most successful magician,” served as a special consultant and even appears in the film as himself. Why would a magician contribute to a film that demeans his profession? Well, I guess the answers to that are pretty simple: money and exposure. Copperfield exhibits a lack of integrity by participating in this thing.

Don’t go to this film thinking that you’re going to see some fantastic magic tricks because you don’t. Most of what they do, they do as shown; there is virtually no trickery involved. The only magic in this movie is that it actually got made and distributed.

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