The Leisure Seeker

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Leisure Seeker

Watching Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland create a movie called The Leisure Seeker was a positive prospect. Advance word promised they would travel from their home in Wellesley, MA to Key West on her promise to bring her husband at last to see the home of his hero, Ernest Hemingway.

Mirren and Sutherland. Each is known for making roles jump alive and they try hard here. Why then, does it fall flat? That’s not an easy question because it’s wholesome fun watching them drive south in their old-fashioned Winnebago motor home that bears the name Leisure Seeker. This American road trip is done well – campgrounds, casual conversations with strangers, small bonfires, and finally the stretch across the magnificent highway that soars over the water from Florida to Key West. That suspended road carries drivers not just across the multiple miles of water but through another emotional world that belongs only to the driver at the wheel. With no distractions, we have left the earth and travel mile after mile as if suspended from any world we know.

So, what’s the problem? Think of how ignorant we Americans often look when we root our stories in a foreign culture. The Italian director has done that here. Just before the couple heads south, we watch a Trump rally in Wellesley, one of the most liberal towns in America and one of the least likely to celebrate Trumpian beliefs. Later on, we watch Ella storm into an old age home armed with a shot gun as she demands to see an old boyfriend from years ago. Those scenes aren’t just out of place; they’re just plain silly.

But then we return to watching two fine actors chat with both affection and annoyance as they travel the country one last time. We watch Ella (Hellen Mirren) and John (Donald Sutherland) interact with love and loyalty sprinkled with bouts of impatience on Ella’s part. She’s not well either, but tells no one, and husband John is thoroughly absorbed with his literary heroes. Best of all, when things are going well we watch their appreciation of being free on the road together on a beautiful adventure.

They do this while refusing to tell their two adult children where they are, knowing those grown kids would have refused to let them board the Winnebago. One more negative is the casting of these two. Their son (Christian McKay) is a gay man who comes across as an incompetent nutcase without our ever understanding why. Although their daughter (Janel Moloney) seems slightly more sane, we are happy they don’t have bigger parts. Another minor reservation: can anyone identify for me the roots of Helen Mirren’s accent?

It’s a shame the final road trip given us by two of today’s finest actors isn’t better. If you go, just enjoy their efforts and plant yourself emotionally in the Winnebago as it makes its way to that superb highway to Key West.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Leisure Seeker
Word Count : 501
Running Time : 1:52
Rating : R
Date : 15 April 2018


Final Portrait

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Final Portrait

Final Portrait is one slice of the life of renowned artist Alberto Giacometti. It is a compelling look at the inner life of a man possessed a study not of his art but of the man himself that lingers long after we leave the theater.

James Lord (Armie Hammer) is the American author who will write a book about the few days he spent with Giacometti (Geoffry Rush) at the end of his own trip to Paris. When he arrives at the painter’s studio, Lord announces he has a short time before his flight home to America and wanted to say goodbye. Giacometti announces that he wants to paint his friend’s portrait, an undertaking he promises will take only a few hours.

The hours turn into two weeks for Lord who calls home frequently to report his delay. During the prolonged and frustrating work sessions, we absorb the details of Giacometti’s studio, his unfinished paintings, his personality, and the possible truth that everything about Giacometti is unfinished. Is that the cause of his deep frustration?

The studio is in an unassuming, quite rundown part of the city, no fancy address for this famous man. As we are brought inside, we see a large room cluttered with the tools of his trade. Scattered on tables and counters, unfinished sculptures and paintings wait for his hand. Or are they finished? That’s the thought that comes to mind as we watch the painful passage of time as Giacometti paints his portrait of James Lord. He starts, covers his beginning with a light gray paint – it’s not right – and starts again. It’s the primary message of the film – Does this brilliant artist ever know exactly what he wants to produce and is he ever satisfied?

As we follow Giacometti’s tortured process of creating a painting or a sculpture, we realize he is surrounded by unfinished work. Director Stanley Tucci wisely assumes that he can’t read the artist’s mind. He just shows us the unfinished result. As Giacometti paints, thinks, and erases repeatedly, we in the audience try to imagine what inner turmoil is causing all the changes. When that question falls short of any answer, we accept that this is what sets his work apart. His mental process is his alone. We have learned that his work springs from his mind to the canvas as if it were uninvited and suffers his own rejection nearly every time.

Clemence Poesy plays Giacometti’s resident prostitute/lover. Tony Shalhoub is the artist’s brother, Diego. Armie Hammer is wisely restrained as the understanding friend, and Geoffrey Rush becomes the focus for everyone in the audience as well as in the movie. His Giacometti is astonishing in a state of silent frustration with his own work. He seems to be daring himself to fail by not knowing his own goal. Director Stanley Tucci gives us not a finished portrait of the famous artist, but a portrait of the chaotic mind and surroundings of a brilliant man.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Final Portrait
Word Count: 495
Running Time: 2:07
Rating: R
Date: March 18, 2018