Monday, November 28, 2016

Nosh 42: 'Aquarius,' 'Fantastic Beasts' & More

By David Elliott

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

APPETIZER: Reviews of Aquarius and Fantastic Beasts …
I’ve never seen a Brazilian movie that didn’t hold my interest, at least sensually. It’s true even in lesser films, and Aquarius is not lesser. Sonia Braga, 40 years after achieving sex-bomb fame in Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, dominates beautifully. She plays her age (65 during filming), her face drawn, her body spare, but she still has the Brazilian sizzle, the erotically charged voltage of life.

Braga is Clara, retired music critic, widow, survivor of breast cancer, yet still basking in her great LP collection, still ready to dance among the young. She adores not only her family but her old (1940s era?) apartment on Avenida Boa Viagem (Good Voyage), which faces the sea in Recife. Brazil’s national motto is Ordem e Progresso (Order and Progress), and “progress” nails a cruel order on Clara’s door – a kind of spiritual eviction notice.

A big-bucks developer is buying out residents, to erect another generic, high-rise condo phallus. Clara refuses the offer, wants to keep her beloved nest of memories, and soon hates the young, U.S.-trained real estate heir with his “shit-eating grin.” His money is insulting, and Clara won’t budge. Her tactics are agile, almost a Balanchine ballet of controlled rage.

Early this year I relished Kleber Mendonca Jr.’s Neighboring Sounds, a more meditative view of urban change (see Nosh 3, by scrolling below). Aquarius is a splendid confirmation that he is a top-deck talent. Remember how the intimate talks of Sally Field and Ron Leibman put a smart heart into the protest drama Norma Rae? Mendonca, a former journalist with a great eye, can do that. And also achieve terrific family scenes, subtle politics and suspense chills. He makes Clara’s mostly emptied structure as richly present as Hitchcock’s set-built, urban hive in Rear Window. He does this without laying on much rhetoric, and never makes Clara into a saint. She’s too humanly complicated for that.

Old Hitch, though daring, could never show feces, or mastectomy scars, or explicit sex (Clara’s retaliation to an invasive orgy by party animals is memorable). Aquarius is a spiced, bubbling soup of a movie, yet with some very subtle flavors. Braga’s career-capper role is supported by aces: Zoraida Coleto as a housekeeper, Irandhir Santos as a lifeguard, Thala Perez as an inspiring aunt. “We” have just elected our first landlord President, who might try to condo the Constitution. In the long, worried months ahead, a lot of us will need to find our inner Clara.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
My kids grew in close sync with the remarkable Harry Potter books and movies, and so I have a nostalgia both critical and personal. But commercial theme-parking started long ago, and the latest, gaudy symptom is Fantastic Beasts … In it, a piece of J.K. Rowling’s very English, creative mind lands like a meteor in 1920s New York. The meteor’s face is boyish little Eddie Redmayne, who always seems like a Dickens orphan and will, some day, make a great old character actor. He comes with a magical suitcase, to save the Apple from an evil master (finally revealed in a Johnny Depp cameo). Colin Farrell is the main villain, in a routine way, and a pudgy baker (Dan Fogler) represents ordinary people, cutely. Jon Voight is boring as a Kane-like publisher. Magical critters are many, yet not especially original, and the CGI effects are more effective than exciting. What’s gone is the intimate, living spine of the Potter heritage, those wonderful Hogwarts students, their great teachers and lovely British lands. This hectic, colorful show will surely do well. But this is franchising, a money empire spawning a profitable offspring. 

SALAD (A List)
Here are my Ten Favorite Brazilian Movies: Black Orpheus (Camus, 1959), Me You Them (Waddington, 2000), Aquarius (Mendonca, 2016), Pixote (Babenco, 1981), Waste Land (Walker and Jardim, 2010), Central Station (Salles, 1978), Neighboring Sounds (Mendonca, 2012), City of God (Mereilles and Lund, 2005), O Cangaceiro (Barreto, 1953), It's All True (Welles, 1942).                                                                    

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Citizen Welles was working in Rio on his docu-vision It’s All True when he got a fretful letter from his pal, actor Joseph Cotten. About RKO chopping The Magnificent Ambersons in L.A.; the studio couldn’t understand his tough, dark, poetic movie. Welles: “Yes, exactly. That’s just exactly what I was making! (Cotten) had become, with the best will in the world, an active collaborator with (editor Robert) Wise and the janitor of RKO and whoever else was busy screwing it up.” Tragic, and his Brazilian film also felt the chopper. (From Barbara Leaming’s Orson Welles: A Biography).

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
Playing the AIDS-afflicted Texas horndog Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club was a huge step for Matthew McConaughey, who in recent years had flaunted a genial, man-candy image in romantic comedies: “Mysterious AIDS was ‘the gay disease,’ and in Ron’s homophobic circle of chaw-and-guffaw studs it was the worst stigma. In summer 2012, the actor joined the New Orleans set, most excited to explore ‘the subject told from the point of view of a heterosexual man.’ He met Woodroof’s family, and Ron’s diary revealed a swaggering but insecure fantasist who lacked purpose before his illness and was self-destructive without it.” (From the McConaughey/Dallas Buyers Club chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, from Amazon, Nook or Kindle).

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Marlon Brando and Karl Malden face a hard choice in One-Eyed Jacks (Paramount, 1961; director Marlon Brando, cinematographer Charles Lang).     

For previous Flix Nosh meals, scroll below.

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