The Pretty One
Runtime 90 minutes.
OK for children.
This small indie comes close to perfection. It’s a sweet story of a young girl, Laurel, who feels unappreciated by the world and how she deals with it and gets to really know herself, which is to assume the identity of her twin sister, Audrey (who has left home to live in another city), when she dies in an automobile accident.
Zoe Kazan, who made such a big hit starring in Ruby Sparks (2012), which she wrote, gives a touching performance as the surviving twin (well, she’s both twins but Audrey dies in the first 20 minutes). If you’ve ever felt unappreciated this movie will strike home and it does so because of Kazan’s performance.
It’s not that easy to portray twins, but Kazan did it admirably. Explains writer/director Jenée LaMarque, making her feature film debut, explains, “During the scenes where the twins are having a conversation, Zoe would always act with (her body double) Katherine Macanufo. We had about a week of rehearsal before shooting where they worked together, so that the audience could feel that connection across the split screen. Zoe would act as one character first, then come back and replicate what Katherine had done, and vice-versa.”
For the shots in which they spoke with each other, LaMarque used a technique first tried at the dawn of the film age by Georges Melies, locking off the camera and shooting plates, so half of the camera lens is blocked the first time and the other half is blocked the second time. According to Lamarque, it takes three times as much time to accomplish this than if there were two actors involved.
Kazan’s performance pretending to be someone she is not and fooling those who knew Audrey well is not the only one that stands out here. John Carroll Lynch gives a touching performance as Laurel’s widower father who finds it difficult to let her know how much he appreciates, relies upon, and misses her. Jake Johnson winningly plays Basel, Audrey’s next door neighbor and tenant. Audrey can’t abide him, but Laurel falls for him and his unique humor.
This is an intuitive, sometimes funny and sometimes poignant, movie that is thoroughly rewarding.
The Monuments Men
Runtime 118 minutes.
OK for children.
In December I saw one of the best war movies, if not the best, ever made, Lone Survivor. So it’s poetic justice that the new year starts with me sitting through one of the worst war movies, if not the worst, ever made, The Monuments Men.
This is the true story, based on a book by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter, of seven men who became G.I.’s and were given the responsibility at the end of World War II of saving the huge treasure trove of great art that had been plundered by the Nazis.
This could have been a terrific, exciting story. Unfortunately, the script by George Clooney (who also directed) and Grant Heslov is so plodding, so unfocused, so full of trite lines, that it is nothing but a huge bore.
Clooney/Heslov pepper their script with lines like the following between a priest who has been hiding some of the art and one of the seven who is helping to take it from him to preserve it:
Are you Catholic my son?
I am tonight, Father.
Wow! That was a terrific, original line when it was first used, back around 1929 when they were still advertising films as “all singing, all dancing, all talkie.” How many times in succeeding years has this line, or an offshoot of it, been used? Didn’t it outlive its usefulness sometime well before Louis B. Mayer was sacked by MGM in 1950? But Clooney is so bereft of originality that he sticks it, and many more hackneyed lines like it, into the mouths of these A-list actors and they actually say them. Wouldn’t you think that one would say, “Wait a minute. Unless this is a satire, I’m not going to say this line. Surely you can think of something better and if you tell me to stop calling you Shirley, I’m outa here!”
When a story has a high concept premise, one that is easily understood like this one (seven men try to save the great art of Europe from plunder and destruction), it can pull an audience based on the premise alone, as this film might. It sucked me in. I was actually looking forward to it. But as it progressed, it just kept getting worse and worse and worse.
So this film stands as a stark example that a film cannot survive on a high premise alone. It still has to be executed with quality. Clooney’s direction is worse than his script, plodding and with incidents so contrived they boggle the imagination, like one scene near the end of the film that finds two of the G.I.’s in a field between two areas of forest containing Wehrmacht on one side and G.I.’s on the other that is beyond clumsy.
As we were exiting the screening my friend and I were discussing how bad the movie was when another critic was walking near us with her friend. She looked at us and asked, “Was that horrible?” When we agreed, she said, “It was just horrible!” I couldn’t put it better.