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Reviews of Danny Collins, Clouds of Sil Maria, Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet and more

Age and other issues confront Al Pacino, Juliette Binoche and Kyle Catlett as T.S. Spivet in three of the many new movies this week

 

You’ve got a wide choice of weighty subjects at the movies this week. Getting off the grid. Fighting poverty. Documenting injustice. Even the fun stories have serious componants: redemption, fading careers or childhood guilt. No fluff, but a lot of quality, among them.

Here’s the list:

 Danny Collins:  3 ½ stars

Clouds of Sil Maria:  3

The Salt of the Earth:  4 ½ 

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet:   2 ½

All the Time in the World:  4

The Backward Class:  3 ½

The Longest Ride:  --

 

DANNY COLLINS: “The following is based on a kind of true story a little bit.” That refreshingly modest notice starts the film and yet is a bit misleading too. What happened was a letter that John Lennon wrote to a young singer got to him only decades later. Too late to inspire. In the film, Al Pacino plays an aging pop star still belting out the same old hits for his fans. He hasn’t written a new song in 30 years. But he’s rich; has a fiancé half his age and a long-time manager (Christopher Plummer) who has tracked down a special birthday present: a letter John Lennon had written 40 years ago to encourage him.  It didn’t get to him back then and now makes him think about what might have been and to do something about it.  

 

He’s off to New Jersey, to hole up in a hotel, write new songs and visit a family nearby. Mom (Jennifer Garner) and her 7-year-old daughter are friendly but dad (Bobby Cannavale) is not. He wants him out of his house. Bobby is his son, conceived in a backstage quickie and neglected ever since. Danny Collins is after redemption as both an artist and a father and grandfather. Pacino forgoes his usual “hoo-hah”  mannerism and gives us a touching performance as a narcissist trying to reform. He’s also got several warm scenes with Annette Benning as a courteous hotel manager who won’t accept a dinner date. The film is a nice mix of comedy and sentiment with several Lennon songs underlining the emotions. Very entertaining. (The Park and suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA: There are two stories in parallel in this winning study of women’s friendship. They’re really the same. Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, an actor facing a career decline as she ages. She’s been asked to play in a re-staging of her first theatrical hit, a story about two women which made her a star 20 years ago. She was the young one back then; now she’s to play the old one. Quite a shock to her vanity. At the same time, she’s in just such a relationship with her assistant, played by Kristen Stewart. They discuss and argue as they read through the play, in effect becoming the characters in it.

 

The interchanges between them are a delight to watch. The film, from France and directed by Olivier Assayas, is largely in English. Binoche is equally resolute and vulnerable. Stewart’s performance is supremely natural and she won a major acting award for it at the Cesars, the French Oscars. For fun there are a couple of allusions to celebrity and scandal in her own life and for talking points there are thoughts on stardom now and in the past. They come up through a pop tart movie star, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, who is well-known in gossip sites and paparazzi encounters and has the young woman’s part in the play. A clip from a sci fi film she stars in is a hoot. It leads to a rather unlikely debate about romantic visions then and now, a rare weakness in this film. The title refers to a small Swiss village where a daily cloud creeps in a like a snake. The film is generally lighter than that metaphor. (International Village) 3  out of 4   

THE SALT OF THE EARTH: Wim Wenders has pulled off a wonder here. He’s made this almost two-hour slide show of photographs intensely involving. The photos are by the Brazilian lenser  Sebastião Salgado who been travelling the world for 40 years documenting horrors and history in sharp black and white. Working with Wenders was his son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. Together they chart the evolution of his life and his art.

                                         © Sebastião SALGADO / Amazonas images

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