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Timothy Spall

Review: The Party

Reviewed by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

As we applaud the wave of women making (still far from equitable) inroads into film directing, let’s pause to appreciate a veteran in the field. Primarily a choreographer, songwriter, and performance artist in the early part of her career, Sally Potter began making experimental films in the 1960s. Her cinematic breakthrough was the surprise 1992 arthouse hit Orlando, an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel, with Tilda Swinton as the gender-hopping protagonist. Since then Potter has sometimes hit the mark, as with her hothouse coming-of-age picture Ginger & Rosa, but more often I’ve found her work insufferable. If you’ve seen the relentlessly politically correct Yes, in which all the dialogue is rhyming iambic pentameter, you know the desperate wish for large wads of ear-stuffable cotton.

It’s a pleasure to report that Potter’s newest, The Party, is a nasty little gem.

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Rachel Weisz in 'Denial'

Review: Denial

“Not all opinions are equal.” How good it is, in this our time of cultural lunacy, to have these words definitively spoken. The fact that the phrase is uttered in a not-especially-great film is perhaps disappointing, but you gotta start somewhere, and movies have been known to lead the cultural conversation. Even when they’re not great.

Denial is written by the esteemed David Hare and directed by the journeyman Mick Jackson, so you might be able to guess where it soars and where it staggers. Hare, the unsparing author of Plenty and Skylight, based the script on Deborah Lipstadt’s experience in the world of Holocaust deniers. Lipstadt is a New York-raised academic (she once taught at the University of Washington) who was sued for libel in British court in 1996 over her book Denying the Holocaust, which named English author David Irving as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. The UK legal system mandated that Lipstadt had to establish that what she said was true—a situation that essentially put her legal team in the strange position of proving the Holocaust happened.

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Videophiled: Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr. Turner’

Mr. Turner (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) – “When I look in a mirror, I see a gargoyle.” J.M.W. Turner, as created in the Mike Leigh’s film Mr. Turner and incarnated by Timothy Spall, is not what we imagine for a grand British artist. Burly, rough-hewn, with speech punctuated by grunts and snorts, he’s a man from working class stock who has acquired the necessary social decorum to interact in professional society but reverts to an almost primitive state back home. He’s abandoned his wife and daughters with little more than an allowance and turns to his maid for sexual release, but he also adores his father (Paul Jesson), is fascinated by natural science, has an almost spiritual connection to the landscapes he paints, and finds solace living in anonymity in a rented room overlooking the sea in a port town.

This is only Leigh’s third film based on historical events and set in the past—everything else in his career has been contemporary—but like his other films it is built with his cast’s commitment to research and investment in their characters. The screenplay, which follows 25 years of Turner’s life, doesn’t follow any familiar storytelling structure. It’s episodic and Leigh never worries about identifying time or place as it moves through his life. You have to work to follow the narrative but Leigh’s interest isn’t on what he did when. It’s all about how and why he paints. Not that the answers are readily forthcoming; Turner is a fascinating conundrum right to the end. Leigh is more concerned with his nature, the details of his labor (and there is a true work ethic and complete commitment to his painting), the social culture around him, even the business of painting in 19th century England. It’s an immersion into his life and it is rich.

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