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AT ETERNITY’S GATE (2018) – My rating: 7.5/10

At Eternity’s Gate is a biographical drama about the final years of painter, Vincent van Gogh’s life. The film is directed by Julian Schnabel, from a screenplay by Schnabel, Louise Kugelberg and Jean-Claude Carrière. Last year an animated, fully hand oil painted version of the last years of Vincent Van Gogh, was nominated for Best Animated Feature and told a very similar story – This movie, made with true life actors, was brilliantly done and I find the film indescribably touching. I’ve decided to deal more with Willem Dafoe’s performance and feelings about the movie, via a series of quotes taken from various places and the direction taken by Schnabel rather than the story content, which is already pretty well known.

At Eternity’s Gate focuses on Vincent van Gogh’s (Willem Dafoe) final years, which were spent in the South of France. The opening scene shows van Gogh chanting, “I just want to be one of them,” in a mournful voice. For painting is like breathing, eating or like drinking water for Vincent. The only person who had a clue about what it was like to be van Gogh was his brother, Theodorus “Theo” van Gogh (Rupert Friend) who also supported him financially as well as emotionally, despite his illness and heavy drinking. Vincent, the son of a Dutch Reformed minister, felt he was chosen to paint, despite the constant criticisms by other painters that determined his paintings to be sub-par.

Since van Gogh died at the early age of 37, DaFoe had his work cut out for him, as he had to shed more than a quarter of a century in age to portray van Gogh with such childlike faith and innocence. From the tugging off of his old boots to sketching them or lying prone in a French field, happily dribbling dirt onto his face, Vincent’s world was simple and full of beauty. In one scene, Vincent tells a credulous priest (Mads Mikkelsen), “Maybe God made me a painter for people who weren’t born yet.” Still, the world largely ignored van Gogh, putting him away in a series of asylums.

Director, Schnabel, captures van Gogh’s madness mostly from the inside: His shots are shaky and chaotic or slowed down to long, contemplative pauses; panicked when Vincent doesn’t know what he’s done, and blissful when he’s in the throes of painting or being held by his brother.

To portray Vincent van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate, Willem Dafoe needed to learn to paint in a way that would allow him to see the world through van Gogh’s eyes. “The beautiful thing is you become van Gogh”. Dafoe had only a cursory knowledge of the artist before signing on to the film. “What I know about Vincent van Gogh is probably what most people know,” he says. “I had seen his paintings. I can’t say I fully appreciated him before this. I do now.” That understanding came from painting lessons, under the tutelage of director Julian Schnabel. “That was the key to everything,” Dafoe says. “It gave me very concrete examples to exercise different ways of seeing, and I loved that. This movie may have changed me for all time — not only in how I look at painting, but how I look at things.”

**** SPOILER ****

After van Gogh discharged himself from Saint-Rémy and moved to the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, he came under the care of the homeopathic doctor Paul Gachet (Mathieu Amalric) . His depression continued and on July 27th 1890, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver and died from his injuries two days later.

I enjoyed At Eternity’s Gate immensely. Willem Dafoe outdid himself as the mad, depressed, alcoholic painter.  I don’t think Dafoe has ever portrayed any role in the same light as he portrayed van Gogh.  This movie is definitely not for everyone — as the scenes get pretty graphic as Gogh’s madness is displayed.  At Eternity’s Gate is more of a literary piece that might prove boring to some.  If you know the story of Vincent van Gogh and believe it to be a classic piece you can embrace, then go for it — Check It Out!

[At Eternity’s Gate is Oscar nominated for Best Actor]

 

A SIMPLE FAVOR (2018) – My rating 8.5/10

A Simple Favor is a mystery thriller film,  directed by Paul Feig from a screenplay by Jessica Sharzer and based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Darcey Bell.  The film follows a small town vlogger who tries to solve the disappearance of her mysterious and rich best friend.  A very twisted plot that is a pleasant change from the all the aliens and super heroes we’ve been bombarded with lately.

Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is a widowed single mother who runs a mom vlog featuring crafts and recipes. During one of her sessions, she discusses an investigation, along with her feelings surrounding the disappearance of her best friend, Emily Nelson (Blake Lively). In a flashback, Emily is a busy working mother, as a PR director for a fashion company.  Emily’s son, Nicky Townsend-Nelson (Ian Ho) attends the same elementary school as Stephanie’s son, Miles Smothers (Joshua Satine).  As a result of their new, fast growing friendship, which includes having play dates for the boys, and martinis for themselves the two women became inseparable.

They traded confidential and personal information about each other, at Emily’s request.  Emily learned of a secret Stephanie held about her half brother, Chris (Dustin Milligan), which she would playfully tease Stephanie about. Emily reveals a secret about  her husband, Sean Townsend (Henry Golding), an English professor who is also pursuing a writing career that has lead to their financial detriment. One day, Emily has a work crisis and asks Stephanie to babysit Nicky after school, which she happily obliges because Sean is in London.

This is the most I can reveal about A Simple Favor because the plot is so twisted I don’t want to give anything away.  This movie is intense and exciting.  The characters are intriguing yet shallow.  The relationships between the two women was started fast and never got beyond 2 weeks.  Sometimes we find ourselves drawn into a new relationship that is going so fast, we can’t seem to control it.  We even find ourselves saying and doing things we don’t ordinarily do in order to satisfy the friendship.  At some point we make a decision as to weather the relationship is a good one or a bad one, then we either get out of it or stay in.  In the cast of Emily and Stephanie, we see that something is really stinking in Denmark.  I liked the movie but found it somewhat unbelievable.  However, you will be fully entertained as well as surprised at the final outcome.  I recommend A Simple Favor to all — Check it out!

 

HITMAN: AGENT 47 (2015) – My rating: 7.8/10

Hitman_Agent47Hollywood is making these summer action films better than ever.  I couldn’t find anything wrong with Hitman: Agent 47.  I was prepared to dislike the whole Hitman sequel concept, then write a mediocre review about it.  Instead, I only have good things to say.  Yes it did have much of the familiar precise, robotic fighting we’ve seen before but this plot has a very different twist that I found down right brilliant.  Also, I particularly liked that Hitman: Agent 47 was unpredictable.  I actually didn’t know what was going to happen every step of the way.  For me, this was cause for excitement and mystery.  The movie opens up with agents looking for a girl named Katia van Dees, (Hannah Ware) at any cost.  We don’t know why this girl is so important but we realize that she is the focus of most of the movie and we spend a great deal of time trying to figure out why.  She is befriended by ICA, John Smith (Zachary Quinto) who convinces her to let him help her get away from the deadly forces trying to hunt her down.  Her most deadly hunter is Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) who is an elite assassin who was genetically engineered from conception to be the perfect killing machine, and is known only by the last two digits on the bar code tattooed on the back of his neck.  As her journey gets more daunting and friends more scarce, we realize we don’t know anything about her or the people chasing her and we also don’t know who to trust.  As we become more entwined, we are taken on a strange but exciting thrill ride that unwinds with  lots of special effects, good lines and good action.  There’s a lot of content to this story and I think it’s a good one.

I will speak on Hannah Ware’s inexperience at this kind of action movie.  Known for Betrayal (a TV series), Boss (HBO series) and OldBoy (Spike Lee movie) she hasn’t really played this kind of character.  It was noticeable during some of the action sequences when she didn’t seem to know what to do next.  It reminded me of the choreography try outs on “So You Think You Can Dance” when a contestant bombed out because they didn’t know the steps.  I suppose she’ll get better with time.  I really like her as an actress.   At any rate, I smell another sequel judging from clues given at end of the film.  Check it out!