What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael

The new documentary about film critic Pauline Kael is a pile of contradictions that paint an intriguing portrait of the world’s most famous movie critic. What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael is a beautifully crafted look at the smart woman who wrote twelve books along with columns for The New Yorker. Did a given movie work? Movie lovers heard her answers to that one as she scorched or loved the plots, filming, and acting of movies during the 1960s and 70s.

The word “controversial” is nearly always part of any description of this writer who sped to the heart of her praise or anger in her writing. Writer/director Rob Garver’s portrait of her takes audiences to a state of delight. His film becomes a story of the strengths and difficulties of a critic who explored her field with a bunch of verbal arrows. If you love movies, she said get rid of the cheap stuff.

The cast includes shots of her interaction with the strongest actors, writers and filmmakers of her time. Sarah Jessica Parker brings Kael to us through the writing and letters that made her famous. She had no patience for bad quality in anything. Though many were angered by her outspoken views, Kael was immersed in a lifelong search for what made the good movies that she loved. She often savaged the weak ones.

As her reputation grew Kael offered this: “The main thing is fighting off the successes that trap you.” She embraced popular cinema by writing as part of the audience. She loved many kinds of beauty in art, music, theater, and movies but was a demanding viewer of everything.

By 1967, she was known by moviegoers in Japan, India, Sweden, Italy, and France. As a lover of the excitement of anything both new and good, she was stunned by Bonnie and Clyde and her review changed everything in movie criticism. For her, the violence of that movie put the sting back into death. Her review became more important than the film. “Seeing trash liberates the spectator” with the proviso that the trash must be well done. She made heroes of some bad people, loved the violence and blood of the Godfather films. Don’t soften terror or cruelty. This was a woman who loved movies that scorched her. She wanted to go to a theater to sink into “hypnotic excitement.”

The movie tells us all about her intelligence, her love of film and her impatience, but as good as that portrait is, it doesn’t tell us enough about who she was as a woman. How did she become the driving force she was? That question drove me immediately to a list of those who made this movie, and yes, of course, they were men. Perhaps a woman will see it and decide to explore the qualities that powered this brave woman to shake the world of movie lovers and makers for two decades.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael
Word Count : 495
Running Time : 1:38
Date : December 15, 2019

Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell

Think 1996. The explosion at the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta has killed innocents. The press has made Richard Jewell a hero throughout the country. Suddenly, the press labels Jewell the bomber and we watch him turn from hero to criminal in seconds on the front pages.

Two things stamp the movie – Richard Jewell – with quality. Nothing is spared in creating both the explosion and the aftermath. Drawing on the always increasing new techniques of cinematic creation, the filmmakers drop us into the hideous reality of what happened in Atlanta two decades ago. An explosion turns the merry festival into chaos. We are drawn in by the noisy fun of the spectators who had chosen to spend their day at the Games. They have come with pride that their city had been chosen and our time spent with them during their pre-blast fun has deepened our dread of the explosion we know is about to come.

Casting is the second positive. Walter Hauser creates security guard Richard Jewell with such consistency that we are in his pocket as he moves from being hero to bomber in the headlines. After that, his certainty of his own innocence allows him to remain just who he is. His naivety is never compromised. He is a blend of truth and ordinariness. He may be dull but he is decent, honest, and often self-defeating.

In the movie’s top performance, actor Kathy Bates becomes Jewell’s mother. As she creates Bobi Jewell, she never overacts and we understand on a deep level both her love of her son and the certainty that this love won’t be tarnished even if he is guilty. She would be hurt, but still full of love. The movie lifts each time she appears, even when she is silent.

Actor Sam Rockwell creates Watson Bryant, the understated quiet lawyer acquaintance of Richard Jewell who stands by his friend. Lawyer Bryant is a quiet fellow who rises to the demands when his friend Jewell is under attack. The movie is strengthened by the truth that we are watching two men who remain genuine, each in his own character.

Nadya Light becomes Nina Arianda, manager of Bryant’s low key office life. She enriches the movie with each of her infrequent appearances until we find ourselves looking forward to each appearance of her character. She creates a woman who wins us entirely.

The weakness here lies in the FBI characters whose approach to the case seems ridiculous and whose characters are not the least bit smart. Nearly on a par with the greedy, angry, competitive press, they make us hope the FBI can’t be quite as bad as they are here.

A city proud to be hosting the Olympics, citizens loving their own participation in the pre-explosion holiday, a handful of good actors creating the tragedy of a man and those who stand by him – that’s the good part. Weak acting here and there leaves us stuck in reality.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Richard Jewell
Word Count : 501
Running Time : 2:26
Rating : R
Date : 22 December 2019

This review was posted on December 15, 2019, in Drama.