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The King's Speech (2010)
What a wonderful performance! Compassion and clarity of vision, side by side. Colin Firth has been a favourite of mine since the extraordinary "Apartment Zero' (1989) His maturity as an actor reflects his maturity as a person and how many times are we able to say that? Very few I'm afraid. What I thought I saw in him as an actor playing the zero of the title in "Apartment Zero" is here in spades. Wow! How rewarding! Here he's not alone. Goeffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce are all standouts and the stutter is just a device to show a whole picture. How strange we knew so little about this man. I guess Hitler got all the headlines. So from a historical perspective is also a feast of sorts. Bravo indeed!
Let me say off the bat that seeing Sophia Loren and Sophia Loren singing gave me a chill. That is quite a bit to get from a film. Chills. I knew I had to forget this was a musical adaptation of 81/2, but I couldn't forget the way I forgot that "Sweet Charity" was a musical remake of "The Nights Of Cabiria". Here the score is iffy and scarce and the story, translated into musical numbers is kind of shallow and, quite honestly, not enough. There are, however, moments to enjoy. The look of it is great, and Marion Cotillard makes something enormous from the little she was given. Penelope Cruz dances an erotic dance and Kate Hudson, well I don't quite know what she was doing. Nicole Kidman is starting to look like a wax work, what a pity! And Judi Dench is always fun. I was reminded she was a sublime Sally Bowles in the first London production of "Cabaret" - Daniel Day Lewis has been one of my favourites for a long time now but here he is far too pale, inside and out. I want to repeat that the whole thing is worth it just to have a glimpse of Sophia Loren singing. So, 6.
I was taken by the melancholy and the beauty of the film and if this wasn't enough, Colin Firth's performance! His best since "Apartment Zero" and that is saying something. Not a single false move in a film that could very easily become a simple tearjerker. Colin as a dad who takes care of his young daughters after the tragic death of his wife is simply extraordinary. The humanity of his character, flaws and all, is immediately recognisable. The film is filled with an emotional form of suspense that makes the experience utterly unnerving at times. Genova, the city, is photographed with real gusto. The narrow "vicoli" create a sense of dislocation that underlines in the most poetic way the new roads that Colin and his daughters are, not merely finding, but forging for themselves. A delightful surprise.
Seven Pounds (2008)
The Will To Be Meaningful
Will Smith is a sensational presence on the screen, no question about that. I'm longing to see him in dramatic parts worthy of his talents. "Ali" and most of all "Six Degrees Of Separation" showed what he is capable of. Elegant, ironic, Cary Grantish. Even here in this maudlin "message" movie he manages to inject some kind of truth. But the film is a manipulative, opportunistic (it opens just in time for Oscar consideration)tasteless, silly and confused tale about redemption. If I didn't leave the theatre in the two or three occasions I was about to, is all due to the magnetic power of Will Smith, so much so that I teared up because the sincerity about his sincerity was so amazingly, overwhelmingly sincere. However Oscar is not going to fall for this one, as he did last year with a similar enterprise conducted by the same Italian director. I understand Will Smith's need to be meaningful but somebody should explain clearly the meaning of the word.
Blake Morrison's memories are served for public consumption in a respectful but slightly confused rendition. Jim Broadbent delight us, once more, with his overgrown child of a father that seems a figment of her son's imagination. His childishness seems to be his only flaw. I couldn't help but being reminded of Tim Burton's "Big Fish" this time, with radically different flights of fancy. Colin Firth plays the writer/son as a crashing bore. Was that on purpose? I've been longing to see Firth again in parts like the ones he so amazingly captured - "Apartment Zero" comes to mind. Here earnest or not earnest, loving, selfish and so forth I didn't quite get myself interested enough to care as much as I feel I should have. Matthew Beard, the younger Blake and Juliet Stevens as the mother, manage to create more intriguing characters. The film, however, belongs to Jim Broadbent - His character is a loving mix of assorted British loving eccentrics. The fact that this is the way her son Blakes remembers him, makes the experience worth while.
The Brave One (2007)
Jodie Foster Alone
A genre movie directed by an artist, Neil Jordan in this particular case. That is a formula that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. This time does, big time and I suspect it has to do with the artist behind the camera leaving the artist in front of the camera to her own devices and we all know that Jodie Foster's devices can be miraculous sometimes. The anguishing feel of solitude permeates Jodie's performance that's why I imagine Neil Jordan leaving her alone. Her decisions, I mean the character's and the actress's, seem to have been taken without consulting anyone. They are as pure as they are insane. I predict Miss Foster will be up for her third Oscar unless a miracle happens in the next three months. Well done!
Where the Truth Lies (2005)
A Question Of Casting
I was engrossed by the premise. Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth and a dead girl in a bathtub. To see Firth and Bacon go through the steps of a sort of Jerry Lewis Dean Martin routine was, in itself, reason enough to see the movie. On top of that, a director like Egoyan. I was hooked but immediately, regrettably unhooked every time Alison Lohman opened her mouth. Who could possibly believe it? That character should exude intelligence other than sensual vibes. Miss Lohman doesn't exude either and makes the whole premise collapse. Imagine a young Jodie Foster or now Natalie Portman or even Rachel McAdams in those shoes. That was a pivotal part The whole believability of the premise depended on her. Because of her performance I saw the cracks in everyone else's performance. So the experience, for me, was a series of exhilarating rushes and disappointing stops. Who said that casting was 90% responsible for the success of a film?. Whoever said it was right. Here the truth lies at the feet of a casting director and of a director for casting.
The Colin Farrell Mystery Is Revealed
What a stunning surprise! A family saga without familiar places or I should say that there are all familiar places but they feel completely new. I'm not one who likes to give away plot points so I won't I just want to say that I loved the loving involved in the unfolding of this realistic fairy tale. Personally, I've been questioning the apparent success of Colin Farrell. In very short years he worked with everybody from Stone to Spielberg, co starred with Pacino, Cruise and Willis but other than a winning pout and a clear willingness to take risks, his appeal eluded me - until last night that is. "A Home At The End Of The World" made me fall in love with him, with his power with his utter fearlessness. He creates a character with his heart in his sleeve and an innocence that it's compelling, aggressively on your face. Sweet and tough, wise and naive. Robin Wright Penn is also a standout. Her truth, unusual as it is, is unmistakable. Sissi Spaceck's suburban mom is an extraordinary creation. Subversive without meaning to, lovingly subversive, that's what she is. The opening with a startling Ryan Donowho grabs you by your heart and your throat and doesn't let you go. Wondering why this film didn't become an instant classic I arrived to the uncomfortable conclusion that it has to do with the casting of Colin's life long friend, Dallas Roberts, a good actor but not charismatic enough to give us a compelling pairing. I agree that he should be awkward and different but there is an element of petulance and physicality who didn't allow me to care for him as much as I wanted, as much as I needed. Sorry I had to mention that. But the experience that this little big film provides is unforgettable and the revelation of Colin Farrell mystique as an actor is nothing short of breathtaking.
Rumor Has It... (2005)
Thank You Shirley
I walked out of "Fun With Dick and Jane" fuming. I went into this other "comedy" and I stayed. I even laughed a couple of times and smiled a great deal, thanks , mostly, to Shirley MacLaine. The idea was fun, to meet the real characters that inspired "The Graduate" and, in fact, the best moment is the confrontation between Mrs. Robinson (Shirley MacLaine) and Benjamin (Kevin Costner) There is a lavish party and some spectacular travelogues of Northern California but Jennifer Aniston, my dear, take a sabbatical. She was so good in "The Good Girl" But here, a sub Rachel infuriating thing. What's with her mouth? She twitches and bites her lips and represses her smiles and it's dizzying and annoying and anti-comedy. Look at Shirley MacLaine for goodness sake! Has Jennifer Aniston seen "The Apartment"? I know I'm not making much sense but it's not my fault. I blame Rob Reiner really and his scriptwriters and his producers. How many jokes can you make about Pasadena? Please guys, listen to Shirley.
The New World (2005)
Something Old, Something New
A breathtaking landscape populated by looks of discovery. Very few words, just the sensation that something is changing. Terrence Malick is one of my heroes but I had the feeling that, this time, he was expecting too much from me. Within the lushness of the surroundings there is something static, unapproachable, inaccessible. Q'Orianks Kilcher as Pocahontas is, quite simply, sublime but her emotions, and therefore mine, were kept so far removed that it was hard for me to get involved. Slowly, very slowly but surely her story started to creep in under my skin. I floated out of the theatre transported by the visual feast I had been served but frustrated by the numbness it provoked. A Terrence Malick film is a Terrence Malik film and you take it the way it was intended. I will, but I fear I'll be in the minority.
Match Point (2005)
The Turning Point Of Woody Allen
A Noir with English accents. A modern, ancient tale with super stars of the future and a score of crackling vinyl original recordings of timeless arias. A sixtysomething filmmaker with the flair of an impertinent newcomer. A masterpiece. Engrossing, entertaining, elegant, wicked. The meeting between the splendorous Scarlett Johanssen and the breathtaking Jonathan Rhys-Meyers at the ping pong table is right out "A Place In The Sun" - Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift at the pool table - the feeling is James Cain and Patricia Highsmith but the result is unique, bold, enthralling. Allen's British dialogues are refreshingly startling and I don't intend to spoil the pleasure of its perverse surprises by hinting at any of them. Just let me say that if you love cinema, rush to see it.
Breakfast on Pluto (2005)
The Smiling Game
There's never been a character like "Kitten" on the screen before or an actor like Cillian Murphy for that matter. What a feast of a film! What a joyful race through a desolate existence dressed in smiles and hope and gratefulness. Neil Jordan's introduce us to this extraordinary real life character with the magical slant of a fairy tale. A lesson for all seasons. A unique portrait of a victim that behaves like a hero. The idea of victim doesn't even enter the orbit of his reality. How beautiful! I hope this marvellous film find its way to a large audience. I want everyone to feel what I felt. I was enthralled by the positiveness at the heart of its message. And if all this wasn't enough. Liam Neeson! Giving the best performance of his career as the most human of the imperfect humans that populate the planet. Do yourself a favour, put aside preconceptions and run to have breakfast on Pluto.
Meryl Streep is the closest actress we've got to the great old stars of yesteryear. Bette Davis comes to mind. Meryl was trim and sexy a couple of years a ago in "Adaptation" now in "Prime" she's a matronly Jewish mom filled with sense and sensibility. She is also very funny and the main reason to see this Jewish American farce. When she's on, we're on. I believed and enjoyed her predicament. I only wish the script, dealing with the relationship of Uma Thurman and Bryan Greenberg had been a bit smarter and more engaging. I bought that the sex was great and that Uma was discovering herself through this younger lover but their intimacy is clumsy and their dialogue very slight. It is as if the two Kauffman's of "Adaptation" were at work here and that the scenes involving Meryl were written by one and the scenes with the lovers by the other. The former ones however makes the evening a very pleasant one.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Ang Lee's Cowboys
What an extraordinary accomplishment! Ang Lee presents us with something we've known about but we've never seen. Profoundly honest, stunning to look at, superbly acted. I could go on with the superlatives because I feel lifted by the experience. You've all heard the ins and outs of the subject treated here. Well, forget it, the words used are used words and do not apply here. "Brokeback Mountain" introduce us to something utterly new, daring you and me to be indifferent. The film is about us, really. Love as an unexpected blow that makes you find and confront yourself. Jake Gylenhaal gives a performance that you'll never forget. Michelle Williams and Ann Hathaway are incredibly good but the film belongs to Heath Ledger. I'm not going to talk about revelations or Oscar buzz, I'm just going to let you know that what he does in this film is so courageously beautiful, so truthful and so transcendental that his Ennis del Mar is bound to become a point of reference not just for us but for generations to come.
Sin City (2005)
Something, but I don't know what.
Yes, okay, computer generated images. A bold visual feast. I remember things here and there. Mickey Rourke, wow, welcome back. But I don't remember anything else really. I felt something but what I felt was a sense of dislocation. I was in a movie theatre, watching the latest from the guy who directed "El Mariachi" You know the guy with the hat. This is his movie. Everything can be a movie now more than ever. A few years back, watching the exodus from Bosnia on CNN, there were shots there that, I thought, were pure Kierostami, Kusturica, Menzel even William Wellman, Abel Gance, Stanley Kubrick. What made me think that was that there were compelling images that provoked something in me. An avalanche of conflicting emotions. Sin City made me feel absolutely nothing other than the afore mentioned sense of dislocation. Listen, it may just be me. I've been reading the other comments and lots of people seem to think i's a "totlly badass piece of brilliant cinematic prowess" so I just simply remove myself from the equation. Will look for my kind of cinematic thrill elsewhere. In my own selfish way I hope that this is just a fashion attracting a bunch of superb fashionable actors but the movies, cinema in general won't dwell on it. I hope we'll go back to movies, all kind of movies even comic book movies but with a soul.
Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
John Guare's Children
A writer at the centre of one of the most elegant, entertaining, thoughtful and soulful tales to come out of Hollywood in a long, long time. John Guare's children are based , it seems, on real life people. How lucky for Guare to have found the great Fred Schepsi as their perfect foster father. Will Smith plays a man without identity, choosing one for himself, with such care, with such gusto that everyone remains enthralled, first of all us, the audience. Stockard Channing's Ouisa discovers a new side to her own self in front of our eyes. It is a performance of guts and beauty. Donald Sutherland's Flan is a first for the movies, we've never met a character like him on the screen. The scene in which he listens to Will Smith's Paul explain his thesis is a triumph. We see Flan falling in love. It is chillingly beautiful. Then, of course, the aforementioned Will Smith, he moves with a borrowed self confidence, like his character and it's impossible not to love him. He has the elegance of a Cary Grant and the charisma that we all now associate with Will Smith. I only regret that he didn't go for the kiss. That would have completed the shocking sum of all his parts. I love this film. I love John Guare for writing it. I love Schepsi (he's an old love of mine "Cry in Dark" "Plenty") The superb editing, the wonderful tangoish score and the work of the production and costume designers makes "Six Degrees of Separation" one of the most rewarding movie experiences. On this terrible summer of World at Wars, New Batmans and some other horrors, do yourself a favour. Rent the DVD and stay for dinner at home with the Kittredges.
Ship of Fools (1965)
What kind of fool am I?
Vivien Leigh sits opposite redneck Lee Marvin in the ship's upper deck restaurant, Marvin confesses to Leigh he never new what a Jew was until he was 15, "You were too busy lynching blacks" is her replay. I thought to mention it just to give you a hint of the sort of cruise ship we're travelling on. We sail through a sea that goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. Abby Mann is a master at drawing characters with long shadows and Kramer a master at capturing them. Think "Judgement at Neuremberg" Here you'll feel sea sick sometimes but the trip is worth taking. I mean. Vivien Leigh and Lee Marvin in a sad comedy of errors. Simone Signoret as a drug addicted countess and Oskar Werner her kindly, tragic, doctor, pusher. Highly charged, beautifully written moments. The lower decks for the down trodden is full of extras. George Segal and Elizabeth Ashley try both decks and and a deck all their own with melodramatic regularity. Jose Ferrer and Heinz Rhumman have one of my favourite exchanges. Ferrer, the German military tells Rhumman, the German Jew, that he should admit that the Jews are great part of the German problem. Rhumman calmly agrees and ads "true, but not only the Jews, also men who smoke the pipe are great part of the German problem" "Why men who smoke the pipe?" Shouts Ferrer. To what Rhumman replies "Why the Jews?" Michael Dunn addresses us directly, asking us to find ourselves among the passengers. Okay.
The Birds (1963)
Tippi Feathers With Mother
Seems silly to give a 10 to "The Birds" what can I give to "Notorius" then? Or "Rear Window"? A 20? It doesn't matter, a 10 shouldn't mean the best but one of the best. Best as in degrees of enjoyment, best as in time of enjoyment, 10 for the kind of enjoyment. "The Birds" is a ten for all of the above. Hitchcock's world varied consistently, it depended very much on his travelling companions. Writers first and foremost then composers. There is no music in "The Birds" so most of my questions are directed to the eclectic Evan Hunter who dissected Daphne de Maurier's original story and transformed it into something that not even Hitchcock had attempted before. A lyrically surreal horror soap opera kind of thing. It visits many of Hitchcock's obsession's of course, an icy blond and a castrating mother. Tippi Hedren follows a long line of Hitchcock blonds, from Madeline Carroll and Ingrid Bergman to Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Eva Marie Saint and Doris Day as Jessica Tandy follows Madame Constantin, Jesse Royce Landis and Louise Latham not to mention Mrs. Bates. Evan Hunter was behind films like Richard Brooks's "Blackboard Jungle" and a semi forgotten gem Frank Perry's "Last Summer" As well as having Akira Kurosawa based his film noir "The Ransom" on one of his novels. Here, he follows Hitchcock's needs with religious reverence and at the same time comes out with something quite unique. I love the light weightiness of the heaviness. I've always loved the daringness of the pacing. The car trip to to Bodega Bay or the long shots of Jessica Tandy's truck driving away in horror from the farm. This movie is also a reminder to the filmmakers, depending in special effects, that effects tend to age a movie far too fast. The effects should be at the service of the characters and not the other way round. Rod Taylor, a charming, versatile matinée idol with a brain and the scrumptious Suzanne Pleshette ad to the many pleasures this 10 of a film will keep in store for generations to come.
Moonglow and Rosalind Russell
William Inge had his finger on the pulse of small town America. He wasn't checking the heartbeats of its inhabitants but his own. I've just said that as if I knew all about it and I don't, but I sense it. I mean, "Splendor In The Grass", "The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs", "Come Back Little Sheeba" That's all the evidence we need to know that he was a male writer with a woman's heart. "Picnic" epitomises that theory. Director Joshua Logan and writer Daniel Taradash trusted Inge's world without questioning it. Everything flows with the irrational sanity of a woman's heart. William Holden was a bit too old for the part but who cares! He is William Holden, capable to provoke passions of Mediterranean intensity at any age. He seems a bit self conscious at times and that helps the character's foibles no end. Kim Novak is breathtaking. Susan Strasberg milks her tomboy with a longing for all its worth. Betty Field, Daisy Buchanan in the original "Great Gatsby", gives a masterful performance without uttering a word that may reveal what she's actually feeling, until the end of course. That scene in which she tries to stop her daughter from going away, is as much Field's as it is Inge's. Rosalind Russell didn't get the Oscar for her superb, time bomb disguised in a school teacher's dress, performance. Her craving for sex and romance and sex and marriage and sex is as bold as anything she had ever done and Rosalind Russell new how to be bold from "His Girl Friday" to "Auntie Mame". The Moonglow sequence has become a classic moment in pictures. Deservedly so. I would suggest, if you haven't done it yet, take a trip through William Inge's territory. Familiar faces, familiar landscapes, familiar feelings, all completely new.
The Innocent (1993)
John Schlesinger is innocent.
There was here a phenomenal film but something got into its system and destroyed it. Not completely, whoever perpetrated the crime wasn't talented enough to go all the way and some beautiful pieces of evidence, showing the masterful hand of John Schlesinger, survived the massacre. The atmosphere of the first hour for starters. Isabella Rosellini's performance. Her best. Campbell Scott an actor incapable of being boring, not even when he plays bores. Trevor Howard before him was a master at that. The truth is that the reviews had been so bad that the only two reason I actually bough a ticket were 1. John Schlesinger, one of my heroes 2.Hart Bochner, yep, after "Apartment Zero" I was desperate to see him again, in anything. Well he was hardly in it, at least not on this, obviously, mutilated, butchered version I saw. I did spend quite a few bucks in therapy to have my therapist say that my obsession with "Apartment Zero" was quite harmless. No, according to him my real problem was a huge monstrous woman. I must confess it disturbed me a little bit. But that night I had a dream. I dreamed that the film had been taken away from John Schlesinger by a huge monstrous woman. Go figure.
A Chorus Line (1985)
I wonder who, how and more importantly why the decision to call Richard Attenborough to direct the most singular sensation to hit Broadway in many many years? He's an Academy Award winning director. Yes, he won for Ghandi you moron! Jeremy Irons is an Academy winning actor do you want to see him play Rocky Balboa? He has experience with musicals. Really? "Oh what a lovely war" have you forgotten? To answer your question, yes! The film is a disappointment, clear and simple. Not an ounce of the live energy survived the heavy handedness of the proceedings. Every character danced beautifully they were charming but their projection was theatrical. I felt nothing. But when I saw it on stage I felt everything. The film should have been cast with stars, unknown, newcomers but stars with compelling unforgettable faces even the most invisible of the group. Great actors who could dance beautifully. Well Michael Douglas was in it. True I forgot I'm absolutely wrong and you are absolutely right. Nothing like a Richard Attenborough Michael Douglas musical.
A Hormonal Epic
To confess having fantasies about Brad Pitt is a pretty tough admission for an heterosexual to make. But what can I tell you? Maybe is that famous extra something that everybody talks about and makes a star a star. It crosses that barrier. It pulls you into unknown sensual and emotional territory. Brando had it in spades, Montgomery Clift, Gary Cooper, James Dean of course and in more recent times, Tom Cruise, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor and Billy Crudup. Women fell in love with Garbo, Dietrich, Katharine and Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Julie Christie, Charlotte Rampling, Meryl Streep, Vanessa Redgrave, Julia Roberts and very very recently Natalie Portman. But Brad Pitt has, singlehandedly, redefined the concept. He is the only reason to go out, get in the car, find parking, buy a ticket, popcorn and get into a theatre to see "Troy" If you liked epics in the "Jupiter's Darling" style you may enjoy this. But if you don't, go all the same, we want to keep Brad Pitt in business.
I saw Jude Law for the first time on Broadway on an adaptation of a Jean Cocteau play. He was a stunner. You could see his future even from where I was sitting, one of the cheapest sits at the back of the theatre. Then "Gattaca" a poor film that Jude Law's presence alone awarded some sort of cult status. Other films with the likes of Jeanne Moreau, David Cronnenberg, Jenifer Jason Leigh. All good stuff, all seem to confirm my original impression. Then, "Wilde" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and I thought -- Amazing, we haven't had an actor like this, ever. Forget about his beauty, if you can, and concentrate in his mind boggling range. In Mr. Ripley the film never recovers from his death and in "Wilde" you understand, you actually understand Oscar Wilde, losing absolutely everything for him. He introduced the only entertaining moments in "Artificial Intelligence" and then, something happened, too many films and not too much judgement. In "Cold Mountain" he didn't have the epic scope that, in my modest opinion, the character required. In "Road to Perdition" he indulges in a shallow show off performance overshadowed by a theatrical costume and rotten teeth. But "Alfie" is, quite simply, unforgivable. Not a moment of truth, not a moment of charm, not a moment of beauty. The three elements that brought Jude Law up this moment. I left the theatre more than disappointed, I left angry because I recognised the symptoms of a potentially, mythological career, in real danger. I hope Jude Law sees the light, unless he is satisfied with the Troy Donohue award. If that's the case, well, he already got it. "Alfie" got it for him.
A Sodebergh Binge
Yep, I'm on a full Sodebergh binge. I've been crazy about him ever since "King of The Hill" and he, very rarely, lets me down. I couldn't say that about many people including siblings and lovers. "Traffic" is not a departure for Sodebergh, all of his films are. He is an artist with a golden touch. He can travel through opposing universes with amazing ease. In "Traffic" the universe is uncomfortable, muddy, almost ugly and yet, it fascinates and attracts with the power of a magic magnet. Benicio del Toro and Erika Christensen are the two inhabitants of this peculiar universe that get under your skin and carry with you as if they were part of a personal experience. No, not if. They do, they are, they become part of a personal experience. The film allows you that. It makes you learn without preaching. How many films today manage that?
King of the Hill (1993)
Every Little Bit
Over the years this little gem of a film has become a personal favourite. I revisit it continuously, I enjoy showing it to someone who never heard of it and it never fails. The emotions are renewed and reinvigorated with each viewing. Jesse Bradford is simply phenomenal and so is Adrian Brody, yes him, "the kissing pianist" in a remarkable early performance. The face of Karen Allen, as the teacher, listening to Jesse Bradford read his tall tale, profoundly aware that she has someone truly special in her class, is so beautiful that goes in an out of my memory bank more often than the names of some of my closest relatives. Spalding Gray and Elizabeth McGovern's characters deserve a full movie of their own. Lisa Eichhorn's tender fear of having to leave her children behind is just another of the ravishing notes of this stunning film. If you haven't seen it. Give yourself the pleasure. You are going to love every little bit of it.