This past weekend I ventured out to the Writers Guild Theater three times to basically watch three great actors bounce around from movie to movie. It was almost as if they were part of some magical ensemble actors group making terrific films back to back. I started on Friday night with Woody Allen‘s new film VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. Once again, I’m thrilled the European muse is still working its magic on Mr. Allen (see my review of CASSANDRA’S DREAM below). VICKY CRISTINA is one of Allen’s more charming films, funny and beautiful with just the right amount of poignancy thrown in. The international cast is made up of Allen’s current favorite, Scarlett Johansson, along with the enticingly beautiful Rebecca Hall who captures Allen’s dialogue as if she were Allen himself, and Javier Bardem, easily shedding his popular psychopathic introduction to a large percentage of Americans who somehow missed his earlier powerhouse performances in THE SEA INSIDE and BEFORE NIGHT FALLS. Add to that the stunning and extremely talented Penélope Cruz and the extraordinary, versatile and also beautiful Patricia Clarkson. Both these actresses reappeared for me in the same theater just two days later. But I’ll get to that in a moment. First, Saturday.
Saturday we switched genres from romantic comedy to thriller. Or should I say “train” thriller. TRANSSIBERIAN belongs to that particular sub-genre that I admittedly have a weakness for. I love a good thriller, but set it on a train and I can’t stay away.
TRANSSIBERIAN was financed through various different European financing institutions and is easily the best film Writer/Director Brad Anderson (SESSION 9, THE MACHINIST) has made to date. It’s a great ride with well-developed characters and a stunning, ominous setting. The film hosts a multi-national cast that includes one of my favorite actresses, Emily Mortimer (finally getting some broader recognition) as well as Woody Harrelson, Kate Mara and Spanish heartthrob Eduardo Noriega. It also stars one of the greatest, most diverse actors working in the field, Sir Ben Kingsley. Out of this wonderful lineup, Kingsley was the one who had more in store for me as he also starred in Sunday’s film, ELEGY, along with the aforementioned Penelope Cruz and Patricia Clarkson.
ELEGY is easily one of the most powerful films I’ve seen so far this year. All three performances are absolutely stunning, as is Peter Sarsgaard’s contribution as Kingsley’s son, and Dennis Hopper’s as Kingsley’s closest friend. The film is beautifully paced, lilting and somber under the graceful hand of Canadian director Isabel Coixet (MY LIFE WITHOUT ME, THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS, the “Bastille” segment of PARIS, JE T’AIME). Based on the Philip Roth novel “Elegy: Dying Animal”, this intimate and deeply touching journey was meticulously and sensuously adapted by veteran writer Nicholas Meyer, a talented director in his own right. ELEGY is a film that captures both beauty and pain simultaneously and this delicate blending of the two is attributed to everyone involved. One weak link and it may all have come apart. Kudos to all involved for creating such a wonderful, emotional, cinematic journey.
And thanks to the Writers Guild for their Cruz, Kingsley, Clarkson tour de force. Even if wasn’t planned as such.