Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Mozart's Sister," "Margin Call" and "Take Shelter"

History, Music and Romance Blend in “Mozart’s Sister”

By Skip Sheffield

Did you know Wolfgang Mozart had a sister? Did you know she may have been a musical genius too?
That is the premise of “Mozart’s Sister,” a beautiful and melancholy film by French writer-director Rene Feret, starring his daughter, Marie Feret, now playing at FAU’s Living Room Theaters.
I did not know about Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart (Nallerl for short), born in 1751, four and a half years ahead of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, her gifted, certifiably genius younger brother.
The film begins in 1763 during the rule of King Louis XV of France. The Mozart family is plodding along in their carriage when father Leopold (Marc Barbe) discovers an axle has cracked and must be repaired to continue the tour that will ultimately take them to the Palace of Versailles and an audience with the King and his court,
The main attraction is 7-year-old Wolfgang (David Moreau), who is not only a virtuoso violinist, but composer of the music he plays. Sister Nannerl accompanies on harpsichord and piano and sings. She used to be the star violinist, but stern, chauvinistic Leopold insists violin is not for a woman. Furthermore he refuses to let her compose music or teach her how to write it down.
The family makes a detour to a convent that just so happens to have some very special guests. They are the illegitimate daughters of Louis XV, infamous for his debauchery. The eldest, Louise de France (Lida Feret, another of the directors daughters), takes an instant shine to Nannerl. The girls begin confiding, and Louise gives a letter to Nannerl to deliver to the boyfriend of her dreams at Versailles.
It is through this boyfriend the Nannerl, disguised as a boy, meets the Dauphin (Clovis Foulin), the only surviving son of Louis XV.
The Dauphin, shy and insecure, finds himself attracted to the messenger “boy.” When Nannerl confesses her true identity, the Dauphin is even more intrigued and asks her to compose something that can be played at his court.
“Mozart’s Daughter” is a frothy mix of history, romance and feminism. It is sumptuously beautiful, as much of it was filmed at Versailles. Music lovers will adore its soundtrack. It is highly doubtful how historically accurate it is, but it is a delicious “what if?”

A Tough "Margin Call" About the Financial Mess

“Margin Call” is a tough film about tough, deceitful characters much like the people who got us into our current financial mess.
An impressive debut by writer-director J.C. Chandor, “Margin Call” boasts a high-powered cast to match its manipulative, treacherous characters.
It is the eve of the 2008 financial meltdown at a financial firm a lot like Lehman Brothers. Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), a risk management specialist, is being rudely shown the door after 19 years of service. So are some 80 percent of the staff, without explanation.
On his way out Dale passes a flash drive to his young assistant, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto of “Stak Trek”), and warns, “Be careful.”
While his friends go out to carouse, Peter goes back to work on his own. Peter is a very bright guy; brighter than his boss, and it doesn’t take him long to have a “Eureka!” moment. It is bad, very bad. According to the projected losses of high-risk home loans, the whole company will soon be “upside down,” or owe more than it is worth.
“Margin Call” becomes a 24-hour race to make the best of the inevitable disaster at any cost.
Company man Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) feels anguish even as he instructs his staff to dump loans that will surely burn the buyer. CEO John Tuld (a steely Jeremy Irons) feels no such qualms, and coolly goes about his business as if it were another day at the office.
Another Briton, Paul Bettany, plays Dale’s amoral boss, Will Emerson like the villain he is.
Demi Moore pops up somewhat out of place as Sarah Robertson, a risk officer playing as tough as the boys.
This movie is filmed and presented, without musical soundtrack, as starkly as its subject. It provides no answers but it graphically depicts the nest of vipers that is Wall Street.

Acting Phenomenal in Troubling "Take Shelter"

The title “Take Shelter” does not give a clue as to its real subject, so I will cut to the chase. It’s about the onset of mental illness.
I am very interested in the subject myself, as I deal on a daily basis with mental health professionals. They do not have an easy job.
Michael Shannon is a powerhouse of an actor who has taken on a complex, conflicted character: Curtis, a manager at a sand mining company in Ohio. Curtis is a good husband to his lovely wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and a devoted father to his deaf young daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart).
“You’ve got a good life” says Curtis’ best friend and co-worker Dewart (Shea Whigham) admiringly.
Unexpected storms brew in even the best of lives. The fierce, terrifying storms that begin to menace this tornado-prone part of the country are symbolic of Curtis’ inner life, which is teetering on the brink of sanity. Curtis becomes obsessed with building out his house’s storm shelter. He is convinced a storm of apocalyptic proportions is on its way.
Writer-director Jeff Nichols uses some of the tricks of horror-thrillers to depict the turmoil of Curtis’ mind represented in terrifying nightmares as he descends deeper into fear and paranoia.
“Take Shelter” is a bit long at two and a half hours, but Shannon and Chastain are fascinatingly emotive as the embattled father and the devoted wife struggling mightily to understand and sympathize him. Even the little girl is convincing without a word of dialogue.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with the sorrow of mental illness, this is a good film to help laymen understand the very real terrors, hallucinations and delusions that plague the paranoid-schizophrenic.

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