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Reviews for November 27th, 2009

Me & Orson Welles

Directed by Richard Linklater.

Based on the novel by Robert Kaplow. In 1937, 17-year-old Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) bumps into theater director Orson Welles (Christian McKay) on the streets of New York City and gets cast as Lucius in his upcoming production of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” at the Mercury Theatre. Richard has only one week of rehearsals left before opening night. During that week, he meets and falls in love with Sonja (Claire Danes), the theater’s manager and sex symbol who others, namely, Cotten (James Tupper), have been trying unsuccessfully to woo. When Welles isn’t behaving stubbornly, giving orders and making harsh, brutally honest criticisms during rehearsals, he’s arguing with his collaborator, John Houseman (Eddie Marsan). Zoe Kazan (Elia Kazan’s granddaughter) plays Gretta Adler, an aspiring writing and good friend of Richard’s, while Ben Chaplin shows up as an actor cast in the role of Mark Antony in the “Julius Caesar” production. Out of all of the performances, the most radiant and captivating one happens Christian McKay’s in the complex role of Orson Welles. McKay nails all of Welles’ nuances, frustrations, charisma and moments of genius with utter conviction in such a way that’s never goes over-the-top. You might actually forget that you’re watching an actor playing Orson Welles and think that you’re watching the Orson Welles. Zac Efron shows a modicum of charisma onscreen, but his character, Richard, remains not quite as interesting and well-written as Welles’s. His relationship with Gretta feels quite corny and contrived. However, when it comes to him and Sonja, it's easy to grasp what Sonja sees in him that would make her feel so comfortable to be around him, other than the fact that he doesn’t try to get in her pants right away like others have tried. Director Richard Linklater includes a very authentic, impressive set design, costume design and a well-chosen, lively soundtrack that don’t seem out of place given the specific time period that the film takes place in. It’s also worth mentioning that co-screenwriters Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo smoothly balance the dramatic and romantic moments with just the right sprinkle of humor and wit. At a running time of 1 hour and 54 minutes, Me and Orson Welles manages to be thoroughly engaging, witty, charming and delightful. Christian McKay delivers a brilliant, utterly captivating and Oscar-worthy performance as Orson Welles.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Freestyle Releasing.
Opens at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

Directed by Rebecca Miller.

Based on the novel by Rebecca Miller. Pippa Lee (Robin Wright Penn), a middle-aged housewife, lives with her much older husband, Herb (Alan Arkin), in suburban Connecticut. She goes through a midlife crisis as she recalls her painful childhood growing up as a teen and meeting Herb for the first time. At age 7, Pippa (now played by Madeline McNulty) lived with her pill-popping mother, Suky (Maria Bello), before running away at age 16 (now played by Blake Lively) to live with her lesbian aunt, Trish (Robin Weigert), who involves her in an S&M photo shoot with her lover, Kat (Julianne Moore). That’s around the time she met and gradually fell in love with Herb who had a wife, Gigi (Monica Bellucci), back then. Back in the present day, Pippa’s marriage to Herb gets colder and, soon enough, she flirts with her next-door neighbor’s son, Chris (Keanu Reeves). Zoe Kazan and Ryan McDonald play Pippa’s adult children, Grace, a photojournalist, and Ben, a lawyer, while Winona Ryder plays her friend, Sandra, who has serious issues of her own. Writer/director Rebecca Miller includes beautiful cinematography and a terrific, lively soundtrack. However, she spends so much time moving back and forth between moments from Pippa’s youth and adulthood that you never get a chance to stop and care about Pippa Lee while grasping her thoughts and feelings beyond her mask, so-to-speak. There’s certainly more to her than meets the eye, but she nonetheless remains too emotionally distant from the audience during her midlife crisis scenes. Admittedly, Robin Wright Penn does add some poignancy with her radiant and heartfelt performance. Blake Lively also gives a terrific, engaging performance as does the reliable-as-always Maria Bello. Pippa’s relationship with the much younger Chris leads to either cringe-worthy scenes or ones that will cause you to roll your eyes given how inorganically their relationship unfolds. Similarly, Pippa’s transformation, spiritual journey toward true happiness/liberation and her epiphanies aren’t fleshed out believably enough so that, by the third act, you’re still waiting to get to know the real Pippa Lee. At a running time of 1 hour and 33 minutes, The Private Lives of Pippa, manages to be unfocused, emotionally hollow and just mildly engaging despite exquisite cinematography and radiant performances by Robin Wright Penn, Blake Lively and Maria Bello.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Screen Media Films.
Opens at the Angelika Film Center and The Beekman Theater.

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