Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sweet and Sour "Wonders" and "Legend"

"The Wonders" (above) "Legend" top

Two Wildly Different Thanksgiving Imports

By Skip Sheffield
In this busy Thanksgiving Weekend for new movies we have two wildly different imports.
“The Wonders” is a lovely, wistful Italian film set in beautiful Tuscany. Winner of the 2014 Cannes Festival Grand Prix, “The Wonders” tells the story, written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher, of a family of beekeepers trying to make a living on a small remote farm, living in a crumbling old house with a husband and wife, four daughters, a babysitter and later a houseguest; a sullen young teenage German boy the family is being paid to care for.
Caring for bees and collecting honey is not easy work, and the whole enterprise is being threatened by neighboring farmers who put toxic weedkiller on their fields, which poisons bees when they collect pollen. Father Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck) is not a native Italian, but he clings to the idea of a pure, simple life in once remote Tuscany. The world is rapidly intruding. Some of the neighbors are selling out by creating bed-and-breakfasts and catering to tourists. A further intrusion comes with the cast and crew of a reality TV show called “Countryside Wonders,” hosted by a star named Milly Catena (real-life Italian movie star Monica Bellucci). The producers have created a contest to motivate residents with a large cash prize and starring role in the show. Though dad is dead set against the idea, eldest daughter Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra) contacts the producer anyway, with the tacit permission of her discontented mother Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher).
Martin (Luis Huilca), the 15-year-old German boy the family has agreed to take in, is there on a trial basis. He has been in trouble with the law and if he doesn’t straighten out he will go to reform school.
Everything comes to a head with the live taping of the “Countryside Wonders” show. It is not a happily-ever-after fairy tale but a reflection of the reality of changing life in rural Italy.

A Violent, Nasty “Legend”

“Legend” is a violent, nasty, at times repellent movie about the real-life 1960s London gangsters, the Kray twins.
In a bit of trick casting, British actor Tom Hardy plays both identical yet distinctively different twins under the direction of American writer-director Brian Helgeland. Helgeland, who directed the rough-and-tumble “L.A. Confidential” and “Mystic River,” adapted his script from Jon Pearson’s book “The Profession of Violence.”
Ronald and Reggie Kray were born in 1933 and bred in the mean streets of cockney East London. They rose to fame first as boxers, and their fisticuffs came in handy when they entered a life of crime. There are two fundamental differences in the brothers that help us tell them apart. Ronald wears glasses, and more important is a “poof,” or homosexual. Reggie does not wear glasses and prefers women. In fact he falls in love and eventually marries a lovely lass named Frances (Australian actress Emily Browning).
Though we see alarming examples of the brothers’ hair-trigger tempers and extreme violence, they insist they are not gangsters but club owners. In fact the Krays did own a London club called Esmeralda Barn, which became a hangout for celebrities and slumming aristocrats. “Legend” reveals the hypocrisy beneath the “swinging 60s” tailored fashions and polite manners, noting that aristocrats and politicians had a lot in common with gangsters.
As the Krays fame and wealth grew, so did their arrogance and recklessness. We see key murders in gruesome detail, and the increasingly deranged behavior of the brothers, particularly Ronald. It became inevitable that they would be taken down, and they are by dogged Superintendent “Nipper” Read (Christopher Eccleston).
As much as I admire the bravura and virtuosity of actor Tom Hardy, “Legend” is a repellent, hard-to-take movie. If violence is you cup of tea, this is your hemlock.

Two and a half stars

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