Friday, May 20, 2016

Nosh 16: 'The Man Who Knew Infinity,' 'The Clan' & More

By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, served fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER (reviews of The Man Who Knew Infinity and The Clan)
The tale of a devout Hindu genius in theoretical math, and his numbers-driven English mentor, The Man Who Saw Infinity will not pack the plexes as a buddy comedy or bromance. But the core is male friendship, cemented by excited talk about Newton, prime numbers and infinite series. While scratching your puzzled head, please do so with admiration. The goal is truth, and despite some clumsy touches Matt Brown’s film is engagingly truth-based (even some small talk has a little math zing: “Are you Ramanujan, by chance?” is followed by “Very much by chance”).

Srivanasa Ramanujan, a poor Brahmin from South India with a genius for abstract numbers, came to Britain’s Cambridge University to learn from G.H. Hardy, a superb  mathematician who would soon learn much more from him. Their timing was terrible. World War I was breaking out, many university snobs were stocked with race prejudice, and cold rooms, loneliness and lack of Indian food undermined the visitor’s health. But the new bond held, as if one plus one equals infinity. Dev Patel has a touchingly exposed humanity as the wizard far from home. Jeremy Irons is very fine as Hardy, increasingly caring though at times clueless in his stuffy, bachelor-prof way (if Irons’s magnificent voice could have been made viceroy, India might have stuck with the Empire a while longer).

The lovely, pining wife back in Madras is like a Bollywood soap flake, with the sounds of sitar and tabla gracing almost every Indian scene. What matters are the brainy Cambridge exchanges of the Indian marvel, who sees his intuitive propositions as gifts from God, and the British atheist who rose to a kind of Platonic awe. Can Ramanujan provide convincing proofs? Will Hardy get his new friend into the Royal Society? Well, the human cost of this is made clear, but even we math simpletons hear some of the music of the numerical spheres. (A footnote kudo for Jeremy Northam, who was singer Ivor Novello in Gosford Park, and here plays the great writer, logician and pacifist Bertrand Russell – that’s like an American actor playing both Cole Porter and Noam Chomsky.)

The Argentine Oscar nominee The Clan wedges neatly into the long line of good crime-family movies, from White Heat to The Godfather to The Newton Boys to Kill the Irishman. The planner and patriarch of the Puccio kidnapping racket in Buenos Aires is Arquimedes Puccio, who owns an upscale sports store. He looks like a silver fox, cool and contained, but is really a spider pulling everyone on his web, including his beloved son, a rugby star. The man kidnaps actual friends, destroying their families, though sincerely declaring “I will never put my family at risk.” He is suavely horrible, and star Guillermo Francella dominates even in stillness or silence. If not at Brando’s Don Corleone level, he is very close to Toni Servillo’s corrupt master of Italian politics in Il Divo.

Pablo Trapero, drawing upon an actual family history, directed a very fine cast with brisk efficiency, and does some Scorsese mining of the musical vault (old American pop and rock standards). The Puccios are small criminal players as we glimpse the country in the ’80s, the Malvinas (Falklands) disaster, the inept and cruel military regimes, the anarchic terror created by “disappearance” squads. The Argentine national family had become insanely dysfunctional. You can’t pin that on the Puccios, or even the Perons (too far back), but you can cry for Argentina.

SALAD (A List)
In Ramanujan’s honor, 12 Good Portrayals of Scientific Brains: Russell Crowe as Nash, A Beautiful Mind; Matt Damon as Watney, The Martian; Robert Donat as Friese-Greene, The Magic Box; Alec Guinness as Stratton, The Man in the White Suit; Curt Jurgens as Von Braun, I Aim at the Stars; Raymond Massey as Cabal, Things to Come; Walter Pidgeon as Dr. Mobius, Forbidden Planet; Eddie Redmayne as Hawking, The Theory of Everything; Edward G. Robinson as Ehrlich, Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet; Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove; Rachel Weisz as Hypatia, Agora; Kate Winslet as Wallace, Enigma.

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Long after Citizen Kane’s release, Citizen Welles persisted in maintaining his stance of defensive denial that publisher Kane was based essentially, at times brazenly, on William Randolph Hearst: “Hearst was raised by his mother and had a very happy childhood. My man Kane was raised by a bank … They were different types of men. For example, Kane would never have fought me the way Hearst did. Instead, he would probably have offered me a job.” (From Charles Higham’s The Films of Orson Welles)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
“Zero Mostel was political. Finding it ‘against my religion’ to give names to the Red-hunters, he was blacklisted for a decade after Jerome Robbins named him. After the blacklist grayed, he greeted Robbins with ‘Hiya, Loose Lips!’ This was not an amiable reprimand.” (From the Zero Mostel/The Producers chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, now available via Amazon, Kindle and Nook.)
DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Roger Livesey in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, 1943 (The Archers; director Michael Powell, cinematographer Georges Perinal)

For previous Flix Nosh meals, scroll below.

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