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“Wonderstruck” is Wonderful! Julianne Moore Triumphs Yet Again in Todd Haynes’ Best Film.

The great, essential New York Film Festival continues to top itself.I can’t stop talking about all the wonderful films I saw there this season.

It was an incredible year that it was having. now reveals their Centerpiece Film to be one of the best of the year, and the one film to emerge that may just end up  not only the most beloved but the most acclaimed. Haynes has had an amazing career to date with his legendary team of producer Christine Vachon and cinematographer Ed Lachman. His films are never quite embraced as they should be by the mainstream. Haynes is Out and Gay and so is Vachon, but here in “Wondersruck” the brilliant Centerpiece film of this amazing festival, they have eschewed gay themes entirely and turned to a serious subject that you would never think their twinkling talents would ever touch – deafness.

Wonderstruck 5

There has never been a film that has addressed this terrible affliction head on, and with such grace and style and heart and heart-break. “The Miracle Worker” comes to mind as the only film to really face this disease. But Helen Keller was both blind as well as deaf and both Patty Duke as Keller and Anne Bancroft as her soul saving teacher both got Oscars. “Wonderstruck” should be showered with awards in every category that it is eligible for. Julianne Moore may be heading towards her second Oscar and her sixth(or is it seventh?) nomination for sure in a duel role that is head-spinning as well as heart-breaking. Her range is tested and she proves more than equal to the daunting task. She is Haynes’ muse, and is more than up to the double challenges these two roles face her with. She is for sure one of our greatest actress. Always amazing, in “Wonderstuck” she astounded me. Julianne Moore 2

Also unforgettable is the wan, fey, first time performer, deaf actress Millicent Simmonds(pictured above). She plays the pivotal role of the non-hearing Rose, who wants to break out of her restrictive home in Hoboken, in the silent film black and white half of Haynes’ stunning cinematic coup du cinema. Just like Soirse Ronan’s “Lady Bird,” she wants to spread her wings and fly as Lady Bird does, to New York City. She is first seen as simply a lost little girl, wandering the streets of 1920s New York all by herself.

She keeps grasping articles and ads about a glamourous stage actress, Lillian Mayhew, who turns out to be her mother. So her seemingly pointless mission leads her to a theater and to Mom, here played by an almost unrecognizable Julianne Moore in the first of her two wildly divergent roles. To reveal her second would be to spoil the movie. So don’t let anyone tell you anything about it.Wonderstruck 2

Her vain diva of a mother is a parent who wants nothing to do with her deaf child. She’s ashamed that her child is deaf.  “Wonderstruck” is the name of a book about museums that brings both halves of this bifurcated film together. The other half is set  50 years later in 1977 New York (and in color, with sound) and involves another runaway child, this time a boy, Oakes Fegley. His mother, the only parent he’s ever known (played beautifully in a cameo appearance by Michelle Williams) is killed at “Wonderstruck”s outset in a car crash.  Ben has nightmares about wolves. And flees his Gunflint, Minnesota home when  lightning strikes him deaf.

So we have two deaf 12 year-old children running from what they see as  unbearable situations, to New York City, to find a new home, one that will hopefully heal them, simultaneously, one in black and white and silent in the ’20s, to one contemporary and in color with sound. This seemingly impossible to connect or reconcile story, Haynes (and cinematographer Lachman) manage to pull off in a grand manner. Culminating with both twelve year olds finding their way to the Museum of Natural History. I will reveal no more.

The sound work by a huge team under the super vision of Drew Kunin is simply astounding. Silence and foley affects and sound mixing and sound editing have never played such an integral part in a feature film. But here the sound department just shines in creating a world where there is no sound whatsoever. The deaf lead a very hard life and “Wonderstuck” reveals its’ woes and complex challenges quite beautifully with a style and grace that is unparalleled.

The dizzying editing between past and present and black and white and silent and color and sound is by the wizardly of Affonso Gonclaves. The impeccable period and modern costumes are by the great Sandy Powell and the production design is by Mark Friedberg.
“Wonderstruck” is based on Brian Selznick’s book, from which he also wrote the moving screenplay.

I hope “Wonderstruck” isn’t too sentimental for our jaded times, but audiences and families can bring their children to this and enjoy it and be educated by it. The Museum of Natural History is really a character in this film and its’ great dioramas of wildlife are shown to full and wonderful effect. “Wonderstruck” is wonderful, that’s all there is to it.

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Luminous, Lucent, Transcendant Kate Winslet Could Win Her 2nd Oscar for “Wonder Wheel”

Wonder Wheel 3

Lustrous, luminous, transcendent Kate Winslet is the wonder of Woody Allen’s new “Wonder Wheel.”
Is there any American filmmaker alive today who writes  such great roles for women? No. There simply isn’t. And as photographed by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Kate Winslet seems to be a cinematic miracle of color and light, majesty and emotion,

You simply can’t take your eyes off her. Storaro and Allen have combined to give her a cinematic beauty that makes you gasp, in a multi-faceted role that makes you applaud. She is playing Ginny, a Brooklyn waitress, who works in a Coney Island Clam House. I have known SOOOO many Ginnys in my lifetime, and British though she is, Winslet absolutely nails her Ginny to the Coney Island boardwalk. And it’s  stirring performance in the grand tradition. She’s every woman. And every woman I’ve known, from Brooklyn, trying to make a better life for herself and her family. And trying to find love at the same time, having given up her dreams of being an actress earlier in her life.

Winslet’s Ginny seems the simplest of creatures.. But Allen’s writing and her bravura performance proves that every woman is as complex as a whirlwind. Or a rollercoaster. Or a Wonder Wheel at  Coney Island, to use this film’s great metaphor. Winslet has never seemed so bedeviled and so bewitching at the same time. She’s a housewife in waitress’ outfit that she wears like a queen, as she goes about her frantic daily work of cooking and cleaning for the whole of Brooklyn it seems.

Allen and Storaro capture the ordinary woman’s extraordinariness. She is married to a lout (James Belushi) and having a torrid affair with Justin Timberlake, the local lifeguard. Timberlake’s string-bean-ness seems out of place as a life guard, but he, too, has movie star charisma in buckets instead of muscles, that make all the women in the film falling for him make sense.Justin Timberlake Wonder Wheel He and Belushi have both never been better.Kate Winslet 1

She is playing Ginny, a common-as-they-come Brooklyn waitress, who is as uncommon, as she is earth-bound. Winslet’s a fiery red-head this time. And in Storaro’s use of orange and amber light, she seems so on fire, she is burning up the screen. It is no surprise then that her red-headed son is an arsonist, setting  a fire every time he’s left alone. The fires remind him of his mother.

And Juno Temple is Belushi’s neglected daughter, who turns up as a “Marked” woman, being chased by the mob, because she married a gansta, and became a “canary” who sang on her husband, making her a woman on the run for her life. She hides  out in Winslet’s and Belushi’s  humble household underneath the ever-present Wonder Wheel. Young, blonde Temple has the role of her career here, too, and is doomed from the first seconds we see her taking her first tentative steps under the Wonder Wheel.

In a simple car ride in a romantic rain storm with Timberlake, she becomes, as he says “as beautiful as the rain light.”Storaro has lit her in golds and blues to emphasize her beauty as well as her melancholy. She, too, is magnificent in this film.

Storaro  and set designer Santo Loquasto make more magic by making Coney Island in the ’50s look like the Riviera.

Winslet’s performance is so heart-breaking and towering it immediately recalls the great screen performances of screen queens past. Joan Crawford in particular. The shop girl who was not a shop girl.  The waitress who was not a waitress. And reminds you that not since the ’40s have actresses consistently seen parts like this. Winslet’s Ginny is the  working class version of Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine in Allen’s recent Oscar winner “Blue Jasmine.” “Wonder Wheel” is his best film since “Midnight in Paris” and is now one of my favorite Woody Allen movies. It’s right up there with the best. It reminds me why I love Brooklyn. And New York City.

“Wonder Wheel” is a movie movie about romance and melodrama and great actresses playing great roles. And it ends this year’s superlative NYFF with a BANG!

Oscar Supporting Actress Possibilties Are Piling Up!

It’s mid-October and although New York has been enjoying an unseasonably mild fall, Mother Nature is trying to deceive us that Oscar season is not fully upon us BUT IT IS! And even the said-to-be-sparse Supporting Actress category is beginning to be piled up with potential nominees. All of them brilliant I’m happy to say.

I know one thing for sure. There are three actresses whose shots are better than others. First I’m going to start off with the least known of them. The beauteous British actress Juno Temple, who is playing full-tilt Brooklyn bombshell, Carolina, in Woody Allen’s new wonderful “Wonder Wheel” which I just saw as the closing night feature at the New York Film Festival.

Always one of honor his actresses of choice with great roles that become them, I say Temple gets in, because of the same thing happened to another little known Britisher Sally Hawkins. When she co-starred in “Blue Jasmine” with the soon-to-be Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, every Academy member WATCHED THAT SCREENER and saw how marvelous Hawkins was as Jasmine’s working class, comforting sister. The same thing will happen to Juno Temple, too.

Whatever they think of the film, Temple is getting Oscar-buzzed praise.

So is recent Tony winner for Best Actress Laurie Metcalf. Super superb as Saoirse Ronan’s put upon Mom in Great Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird.” Metcalf is having a banner year with the Tony win for “Doll’s House, Part Two” on Broadway and now actually having a juicy sympathetic screen role as the frantic nurse practitioner mother of wayward teenage, Lady Bird.

Because Metcalf is such a beloved industry figure, having won multiple Emmys as Roseanne’s sister on “Roseanne,” she really has the edge here. And her role as Lady Bird’s Mom has got Oscar written all over it. The kind of part that Metcalf has never really had before on film. AND she’s never even been nominated before! Believe it or not.

I would say she has the edge. And it’s definitely

Oscar Nominees Begin to Arise at NYFF


Oscar Nominees, potential Oscar Nominees, Begin to Emerge as the New York Film Festival reaches its’ much touted half-way point.

Last Flaf Flying 1
The biggest winner so far seems to me to be Steve Carell, who has two strong possibilities in two films, one in the Festival, one outside it. The hilarious “Battle of the Sexes” and the somber “Last Flag Flying”.Steve Carell

I would say that his hysterical turn as blow-hard Tennis Pro Bobby Riggs is almost sure to be nominated in the Supporting category for Carell. I would’ve said that his MUCH more serious turn as the grieving father in “Last Flag Flying” was also a Supporting performance, but some are saying he’s lead.

It would be just like the mercurial Carell to end up in both categories. He’s well-liked and clearly at a career high, so it’s entirely possible.

I’m SURE they are going to nominate Emma Stone, last year’s winner for “Battle of the Sexes.” That would be in the Best Actress category for her portryal of closeted lesbian Tennis Pro Billy Jean King. Best Actress is now more jammed than ever with potential nominees clamoring to get in. Saoirse Ronan is pitch perfect at the rebellious teen in “Lady Bird.” She’s definitely an “In”. As is Laurie Metcalfe, also on a roll, after winning the Tony this year for “Doll’s House, Part 2.” Her put-upon hard-working mom to Ronan’s rambunctious teen daughter is as maddening as she is sympathetic. She’s “In” in Supporting, never having even been nominated for an Oscar before.

Another surefire “in” is Willem Dafoe in the magnificently original “Florida Project.” He could win in this category, Supporting Actor, but he’ll be up against Carell, or even Bryan Cranston AND Laurence Fishburne for “Last Flag Flying”. Though I would say Cranston and Fishburne are BOTH leading roles.”Florida Project” also has a secret weapon in six-year-old Brooklynn Kimberly Prince. Florida Project 1They nominated another six-year-old and quite recently, too. Quevezhane Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern WIld.” Hey, even in a crowded year for Best Actress , like this one, powerhouse charmer Brooklynn( that’s with two “n”s thank you very much.)could surprise.

A complete unknown still is Kate  Winslet’s performance  in the still unseen “Wonder Wheel” of Woody Allen. It closes the Festival and absolutely no one has seen it yet. But the buzz is deafening and the production photos look awesome.

Someone who is NOT getting in to the crowded Best Actress race is octogenarian Dame Judi Dench, who I’ve admired and loved all my life. But “Victoria and Abdul” is the worst thing she’s ever done. Sad to say. Long, slow, and although she’s her usual great self in the funny first half, in the second more serious half, she had sooooo many death scenes, I couldn’t WAIT for her to die. Which is an awful feeling for a potential Best Actress nominee. She’s been to the Queen Victoria well one too many times now. She’s been there, done that, and quite frankly her failure to carry this film through to the end, just sickened me. Yes, even Judi Dench is human. She just doesn’t know when to stop.

Can’t wait for “Wonder Wheel” this Friday and for “Wonder Struck” by Todd Haynes tonight at the NYFF. Their Opening Night film was “Last Flag Flying” and “Wonder Struck” is their Centerpiece and “Wonder Wheel” closes it.

A superb film that is none of those things but “Call Me By Your Name” is Luca Guadagnino’s masterpiece and a gay love story to end all gay love stories. Timothee Chalament, is the teen in THIS coming of age story. He’s also playing a bad boy rock musician in “Lady Bird. ”

Army Hammer is the other half of this lovely gay love duo, and BOTH performances are so powerful, they could BOTH get nominated. Chalamet in lead and Hammer in Supporting.

As bizarre as it sounds all these films could get nominated for Best Picture. That’s how good the New York Film Festival has been this year.Call Me By your Name 1

Agnes Varda, 89, Is Up, in More Ways than One @ the NYFF!

Everything is so up at the NYFF 55, it makes my heart sing! Not the least of which is their big tribute to the tiniest of French Grande Dames du Cinema, Agnes Varda. My latest review at Awardsdaily.com on the great French icon. I called it “Hot at 89” And it was published within minutes! Beautiful lay-out by Sasha Stone and her gifted editor Ryan Adams! Merci a tous, as Agnes would say.

http://www.awardsdaily.com/2017/10/01/hot-89-agnes-varda-nyff-french-cinema-Agnes Varda truck 1icon-honored/

Louise Penny’s New #13 Gamache ~ “Glass Houses”

I wonder what’s going to happen to Louise Penny’s latest novel, hot off the presses, “Glass Houses”? It’s her 13th in a row Inspector Gamache novel. And USUALLY she hits it out of the ball park every time, but this time…Well, she’s a crime/mystery writer the world has fallen in love with, even though she’s an Anglo-Canadian writing about our beloved Montreal and the province of Quebec, where she lives.

“Glass Houses” was written very fast. It seems like the last one “A Great Reckoning” only came out last week, but actually it was last year. But still, a new book, EVERY year! I mean, that’s an incredible achievement by any definition and she’s been called “the new Agatha Christie”, which is also an incredible accolade. (She’s won Agatha Award six times!) And she sells! She tends to debut at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

And it’s really difficult to write about her Chief Inspector Gamache books, because you don’t want to spoil anything. But I will say this. This is my least favorite novel of hers, so far. And I’ve read them all!

Don’t worry die-hard Gamache fans he’s very much front and center here, and Penny has created a great character in him, her lead detective. He’s retired now and living in Three Pines, the wonderful, mythical Quebec township town she’s created. It’s not real, but it’s setting is continuously beguiling and I really want to eat at the Bistro of Gabri and Olivier, right now!

Food is mentioned often, but not as much in “Glass Houses” but the Bistro Gamache fans NEED to know is where most of the action, and the eating, mais oui, happens. And Kudos to Penny for putting two very original gay Bistro/B&B owners front and center in her books. Gamache has a gaggle of sorts. What’s the French word for “Posse”? Maybe it’s posse, too, and they are all on hand, and there’s so many of them now that the ensemble tends to push the new characters almost out of the book completely.

It must sound divine to Penny fans, but — this time…
“Glass Houses” I found confusing. There. I said it. You need to know that it switches back and forth in time and seasons and locales. It’s hard to follow, until you realize that the trial that takes up half the book, is set in Montreal in the summer. Just WHAT and WHO is on trial for WHAT is also confusing. It’s made clear at the end but by then my patience with Gamache & co. was more than a little frazzled.

Then her masterpiece Ruth Zardo the crazy, foul-mouthed Octogenarian poet whose pet duck Rosa comes on. And then Gamache’s PERFECT wife Reine-Marie starts exerting her charm, and they all dine at the beautiful, homey bistro and you realize that Louise Penny is really above criticism at this point.

Especially, considering she wrote this big 400 page tome as her beloved husband, Michael, in real life, was dying.

Which kind of exemplifies the dark, threatening figure that keeps appearing on the Village Green one cold, rainy November day…Wait! How did we get to be in November? I thought it was July! Well, “Glass Houses” keeps switching back and forth, yes, confusingly.

Penny really returns to form(she really is an exquisite writer) in of all places the Author’s Note, which is at the end of the entire book. She writes feelingly about her husband’s death and ends with the lovely thought “The final thanks is to you, my friend. For your company.The world is brighter for your presence.
All shall be well.”

The Great Barbara Cook Passes at 89

The great, legendary chanteuse Barbara Cook has just passed at 89. The news also came yesterday that “Rhinestone Cowboy” Glen Campbell passed away the same day. And I am equally saddened to report that none of the New York Television News Programs reported on her death, while they sure reported on his. But we, her fans, and they are legion, will never forget Barbara Cook, and her lilting, great coloratura soprano. She brightened many lives…

Coming back in mid-life to a monumental career as a solo singer, Barbara Cook was a symbol of her surviving her
own demons, even her constant battles with the bottle and her weight. In mid-life, she began to live.

Originally known as the Broadway ingénue to end all ingenues in the 1950s, I did not realize for quite a while that she was that same, slim person, who  immortalized Marian in the Librarian in 1957 and won a Tony too.

The Music Man” had a huge impact on my life because it was the first Broadway show I ever saw. And I can remember every single minute of it to this day. It was branded into my mind. It was unforgettable. And Marian’s solos “Til There Was You,” “My White Knight,” “Being in Love” were just the sine qua non of romance. That’s what I thought life was going to be like.

Of course, the great lie of “The Music Man” was that love was nothing like that, but the fantasy of this romance has stayed with me forever.Barbara Cook 2

Barbara Cook’s triumphant return career symbolizes all that. She sang those signature songs in later life, and showed that her heart was broken by them too.

I saw her concertize more times than I can recall, but each performance was a jewel, and very, very touching. Coming back as she did right in the middle of the AIDS epidemic and coming to symbolize to so many who survived it, all their loved ones who were gone, was something I think she was very proud of.She became an icon to the AIDS-ravaged GLBT community.

Barbara Cook and her great beautiful all-encompassing voice and soul will be sorely missed. R.I.P. Barbara.

#Barbara Cook, #The Music Man

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