Photo: Aidan Monaghan, Bleecker Street Media
The Lost City of Z
What would you trade for the chance at glory, honor and prestige? That’s the very question British Col. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) answers in the historical drama “The Lost City of Z.”
Based on a true story told in David Grann’s 2009 nonfiction bestseller of the same name, the film, directed by James Gray, details Fawcett’s quest to discover and document an Amazonian city and culture that predates any yet discovered in South America in 1906.
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The reputation of Fawcett’s father as a drinker and gambler creates social and career hurdles that Fawcett and his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) are unable to navigate despite his admirable but undecorated military service.
Given the opportunity to head a military surveying expedition along the Amazon River, and knowing that a success could elevate his career and social standing, the strong-jawed Fawcett leaps at the chance, despite having to leave his young family for his progressive wife Nina to tend alone.
On the multi-year expedition, Fawcett finds pottery and other evidence of civilization beyond what British nobles had conceived. However, lacking proof other than his word, the British Scientific community questions his findings and conclusions.
Fawcett’s taste for adventure, duty and glory continues to tug him away from his family, first with another near fruitless, multi-year trip to the Amazon and then service in the trenches of World War I.
When Fawcett returns wounded from the war, Nina is exhausted with raising the family and exasperated for having to put her dreams aside for his. His eldest son Jack (Tom Holland) resents Fawcett for his absence, and his youngest son and daughter hardly know him.
The film meanders with a leisurely pace despite multiple attacks from indigenous Amazonians, rain-forest wildlife, and German soldiers. Matter-of-fact in presentation yet beautifully shot by cinematographer Darius Khondji, the film strives for epic proportions, but like its protagonist as the head of his family, the film comes up hauntingly short of the glory to which it aspires.
(PG-13) 2 hr. 21 min.
“Gifted” / Courtesy
“Gifted” is a film with a Lifetime-channel plot executed by an “A”-list cast that is touchingly entertaining, but not really anything special.
I think that those who take the time to watch the film will like it, but then again, the movie is no “Kramer vs. Kramer,” the 1979 Oscar winner starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep that centered around a more traditional custody battle.
The circumstances are a bit different in “Gifted.” The film revolves around a custody battle for a mathematically gifted child, but the two parties seeking custody are the child’s uncle and grandmother.
Chris Evans, of Captain America fame, plays Frank Adler, the uncle, who has raised his niece Mary from a very young age after her mother, Diane, committed suicide.
The maternal grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) only comes into the picture when she finds out that that 7-year-old Mary (Mckenna Grace) is a mathematics genius just like her mother.
Frank is raising Mary in a somewhat normal lifestyle; while Evelyn believes the child’s mathematic aptitude should be cultivated for all that it is worth no matter the social or familial cost.
The wonderful Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures” and “The Help”) plays Roberta, Frank’s landlady and part-time caregiver to Mary. Jenny Slate also lends support as Bonnie Stevenson, Mary’s teacher.
Grace is believable as genius child and pulls off her role naturally. The chemistry between her and Evans is perhaps the movie’s strongest point behind Spencer’s performance, which tends to be the best part of every film she’s in.
It’s a small movie with a small story that would work as well on the small screen as it does the big. While I enjoyed the movie, the film just doesn’t merit a winning endorsement, considering today’s ticket prices.
(PG-13) 1 hr. 41 min.
The Silence of the Lambs
The death of director Jonathan Demme, 73, earlier this week brings to mind his signature film “The Silence of the Lambs.”
The movie 1991 adaptation of the Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel is one of the best popcorn movies of the last three decades, and I rank it among my personal top 15 favorite movies. Obviously, that’s a very subjective and meaningless list to anyone but me; however, I back up my opinion with the fact that the film is one of three in history to win Oscars in the top five categories: Best Picture, Director (Demme), Actress (Jodie Foster), Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Adapted Screenplay (Ted Tally).
Some feel it holds the distinction of being the only horror movie to ever win an Academy Award for Best Picture. The Academy only nominated two other horror flicks, “The Exorcist” from 1973 and “Jaws” from 1975 in its history. While the movie definitely contains horrific elements, I’d label it as more of a psychological thriller than out-and-out horror movie. But why quibble? The film truly is a masterpiece however it’s defined.
FBI boss Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) pulls Clarice Starling (Foster) from agent training to interview an incarcerated psychiatrist/serial killer Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lector in hopes of gaining his insights on an at-large serial killer dubbed Buffalo Bill.
Crawford has an inkling that Lector might like Starling’s spunk and intelligence and cooperate with her. He also believes Starling is tough enough to survive dancing with the devil that is Lector.
The bond developed between Lector and Starling is haunting, and upon reflection it’s difficult to tell exactly which character was manipulating the other more.
Hopkins is simply unforgettable as Lector. He gives an iconic performance that remains just as chilling today as it was 26 years ago. Hopkins’ Lector is icy and reptilian, yet his voice is soothing and hypnotic as he profiles Starling. He truly seems to be a caged animal while stalking the confines of his cell.
Coupled with Tally’s enthralling screenplay and Demme’s deft direction, Hopkins convinces the you that he is evil incarnate, and yet his charisma and sardonic charm made me chuckle and others in the theater cheer at the end of the film when he says he is “going to have an old friend for dinner” and you know he means it literally.
Hopkins gets as good as he gives from Foster, who is masterful in the more understated role. If she weren’t as strong in her own way as Starling, Hopkins wouldn’t have shined as darkly as Lector.
Demme also directed the moving “Philadelphia,” which earned Tom Hanks his first Oscar in 1993; “Something Wild” in 1986, “Married to the Mob” in 1998, and several other notable films. In recent years, his work as a TV producer stood out but “The Silence of the Lambs” is the film cemented his Hollywood legacy.