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This page contains reviews of films seen during the months of January to March 2018

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“Everest” - The lure of mountain climbing is beyond me. It seems rather suicidal and this dynamic true life and harrowing film about the 1996 Everest disaster confirms that feeling. Back then, not long after going on the Internet, I followed this story online, and later read Jon Krakauer’s excellent book on the subject, “Into Thin Air.” Through the magic of film-making “Everest” seems incredibly realistic although there isn't much of what we might call a plot. It centers on mountaineer Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), a New Zealander whose wife Jan (Keira Knightley) was pregnant at the time of Hall’s Everest expedition that turned deadly. But it’s also about Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) who was in charge of a similar expedition on the same day as well as a slew of mountain-obsessed characters, including Hall’s base camp operator, Helen Wilton (Emily Watson); a Texas doctor bent on making it to the top, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin); and Krakauer himself (played by Michael Kelly) who asks the other climbers (and I would too): “Why?” The cinematography is gorgeous, although the scenes in which the storm hits Everest during the climb down are dark and difficult to see. The cast includes Sam Worthington (“Avatar,”); Elizabeth Debicki (“The Night Manager”); John Hawkes; and Robin Wright. One of the characters blamed in Krakauer’s book for delays on the mountain, Sandy Hill Pittman (Vanessa Kirby of “The Crown”), is barely shown in the film. Suffice it to say that eight people died on Everest on that fateful day in May 1996. What’s fascinating with regard to the lure of mountain climbing is that since then (according to Wikipedia) another 150 people have died attempting to climb Everest. B (1/23/18)

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“A Quiet Passion” - Terence Davies (“The Deep Blue Sea” and “The House of Mirth”) wrote and directed this insightful film into the life of the somewhat mysterious poet, Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon). Beautifully filmed, with a simple script spoken by the characters in virtually a poetic pace, “A Quiet Passion” tells the story of the reclusive and unusual poet from her school days (played as a young girl by Emma Bell) through her death. Cynthia Nixon demonstrates why she is an acclaimed actress (her readings of Dickinson’s poems are lovely), and she is supported by one of my favorite actresses, Jennifer Ehle, as her sister Lavinia (known as “Vinnie.”) Growing up in Amherst, Massachusetts, with a somewhat domineering father (Keith Carradine), Emily and her sister are attached to the household, Emily more so than Vinnie. In fact, both women never married and died at the family home. “A Quiet Passion” demonstrates how Emily worked in private writing ultimately memorable poetry, with little recognition outside the home, and her gradual change into a person who avoided others to the point of obsession. B+ (1/12/18)

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Victoria & Abdul” - It just seems natural to have the great Judi Dench as the great Queen Victoria. And it’s not the first time. Back in 1997, she played Victoria in “Mrs. Brown,” and just to complete the picture of her versions of royalty, she was Queen Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love” (1998). Dame Judi’s incredible talent is present early in this film as she makes herself look haggard when she falls asleep at a royal dinner table only to revive with life in her eyes when she meets the unusual (for her) Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). Karim is an Indian Muslim chosen by Raj authorities to travel from Agra (site of the Taj Mahal) to England to present the Queen with a special coin. Carefully instructed by the pompous palace authorities not to look directly into the Queen’s eyes, Abdul does so anyway and a long and close friendship begins. From servant to munshi (teacher), Abdul progresses in his relationship with Victoria to the consternation and anger of those officials close to the Queen. Although it’s never clear exactly why Victoria favored Abdul (all the written communications between Victoria and Abdul were burned by Victoria’s son Bertie--King Edward VII--upon her death) the film, directed by Stephen Frears (“Filomena” and “The Queen”) seems to imply a growing awareness of the outside world by Victoria (Empress of India) and her repugnance at the racism rampant in her family and administration. Abdul himself is not portrayed in a completely favorable manner as he seems rather self-absorbed, especially when it comes to his compatriot, Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), who wishes to return to India but never makes it. The film has a cast of the usual outstanding British performers, including the late Tim Pigott-Smith as Sir Henry Ponsonby, Olivia Williams as Lady Churchill, Michael Gambon as Lord Salisbury, and Simon Callow in an unusual scene as the composer Puccini vocally performing some of his own work. But most memorable is the British comedian, Eddie Izzard, as the nasty Bertie. Ultimately “Victoria & Abdul” is a satisfactory portrait of a little-known bit of British royal history. B+ (1/8/18)

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