FINAL PORTRAIT – movie review


Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Stanley Tucci
Screenwriter: Stanley Tucci
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Tony Shalhoub, Sylvie Testud, Clémence Poésy
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 2/26/18
Opens: March 23, 2018

Final Portrait Poster

If you visit one of the hundreds of artists’ colonies throughout the world, perhaps Res Artis in Amsterdam, the Alliance of Artists’ Communities in Providence, even the Intra Asian Network in Taiwan, you might expect that the community houses people of like minds albeit all with temperamental personalities. “Final Portrait” will open your eyes to your mistake. The movie is directed by Stanley Tucci, whose busy professional life encompasses principally his acting as in “Submission” (as a professor accused of sexual harassment). Yet he is far from a slouch in the directing department. Consider his hit film “Big Night,” doubling as a actor playing a restaurateur trying to save his business. He does well with “Final Portrait,” though he states in production notes he does not care for biopics. By this he may mean those studies which are plot-directed such as “The Young Karl Marx,” which takes the intellectual founder of modern communism from his job in a magazine through his friendship with Engels and his founding of a troupe determined to restore equity to oppressed workers in all countries.

“Final Portrait” does not have a plot in the usual sense. All scenes take place in an around an artist’s Paris studio, the City of Lights during the year 1964, filmed in a London studio. As a showcase for the remarkable talents of Geoffrey Rush in the role of sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti, the picture’s thematic focus is on the vast personality differences that Giacometti had with a noted writer, James Lord (Armie Hammer), known today for his voluminous biography of the man he befriended.

“Final Portrait” begins in black-and-white, gradually morphing into color as the characters become better drawn together with the women in the sculptor’s life, namely his masochistic wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) and a vivacious hooker, Caroline (Clémence Poésy). Both men wear jackets and ties throughout, but Alberto’s is of the well-worn tweedy type worn by professors while James spends the movie in a fine suit. For both men no changes of outfit take place throughout since Lord is forced to wear the same suit for eighteen days because of the demands of the sculptor who, this time, concentrates on his painting and uses his friend to sit.

The comedy relies in large part on the way that Giacometti first tells the writer that he would be needed for two days, but that drags on to eighteen, requiring Lord to change his reservations to New York several times. Not that the painting should have required such delays: the volatile Giacometti in frustration twice smeared gray paint across the canvas and redid the face, frustrated for reasons not entirely clear. Nor is it true that he was in want of female company. His wife Annette whines that Giacometti will not spend money on her; that she needs a new coat “not mink” only to hear her husband’s rebuttal, “Who needs more than one coat?” A good deal of money is spent on his mistress Caroline who is with him on a long term basis, the most lively woman in the biopic, even irritating in her extraversion but not a problem at all for Giacometti.

Lord somehow is willing to put up with the painter’s delays, despite advice from the artist’s brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub), not the kind of patience one should expect of a man who is famous in his own right. Then again so far as we know the story is true, though maybe Lord, who is promised the painting which is to be shipped to New York for him may have realized that it would sell in 1990 for $20,000,000.

The two principals play their core personalities against each other, making the characterizations a delight, together with Evan Lucie’s joyful score of French pop from the sixties.

Rated R. 90 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

MAUDIE – movie review


    Sony Pictures Classics
    Director:  Aisling Walsh
    Screenwriter:  Sherry White
    Cast:  Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett, Gabrielle Rose, Zachary Bennett
    Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/25/17
    Opens: June 16, 2017.  Streaming October 10, 2017
    Maudie Movie Poster
    One might at first wonder why a biopic about a folk artist from a tiny town in Nova Scotia could be made into an involving drama.  Granted: the life of Maud Lewis might make for engaging documentaries, and sure enough the Film Board of Canada did release “Maud Lewis—A World Without Shadows,” “The Illuminated Life of Maud Lewis, and “I Can Make Art.”  If any other performer were chosen for a full-scale dramatic work on Maud Lewis, the film could be raising dust.  Consider that Aisling Walsh lucked out by putting Sally Hawkins in the lead with a performance that will be remembered well during awards season.  And pair her up with Ethan Hawke as her abusive husband, and you have a Hawke-Hawkins treat which serves to illuminate the life of a folk artist who is doubtless better known in her native Canada than here in New York.

    “Maudie” opens during the 1930s in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, a town so small that it probably could not support a store for selling fish.  No problem for Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), who peddles his fish door to door to people who earn so little money that he would be regularly owed.  His solitary life is about to change when he advertises for a maid, someone to clean and perhaps to cook, since he is out plying his trade fourteen hours a day.  Everett is a perennial grump who, after telling applicant Maude to “get out” later takes her on.  As for her part, she has had enough of living with a stern maiden aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose), having managed to get stuck with her when her parents died, her cruel brother Charles Cowley (Zachary Bennett) inherits the house, and believes that his sister, afflicted with a serious case of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, needs to be taken care of.

    Not only is Maud the independent sort but she chafes under Aunt Ida’s treatment of her, believing that her charge is feeble-minded.  Nor is Everett much better; he complains that his shack is not clean, regularly threatens to dismiss her, but begins to change when Maud takes up painting and brings money into the household.  That she and Everett would marry seems a long shot as she is considered a cripple, but stranger things go on in this remote corner of Canada.  Who would believe that Sandra (Kari Matchett),a sophisticated woman from New York who is spending time in the town, would take notice of the paintings, buy some, and allow Maud to begin the journey from a hunched over, wisp-talking and complaisant woman to a national celebrity.

    The film strips Maud’s life to essentials: she believes that her baby was deformed and buried; she chafes under the stern rule of her aunt; she meets a fish peddler who hires her as a housekeeper; she paints on the sly, at first, then is encouraged by Everett to continue as money is coming in.  Because of Sally Hawkins’s tour-de-force performance and her chemistry with Ethan Hawke, and against a background of  Nova Scotia winters and hardscrabble life, “Maudie” becomes a movie that could prompt its audience to take out the Kleenex while at the same time being engrossed in one of the year’s most powerful, though understated, performances.

    The film was shot in Newfoundland because the Stephen McNeil government eliminated the Nova Scotia’s film credit program.

    Rated PG-13.  115 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

    Grade – A-