Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room. Directed by Vera Iwerebor. This sweet documentary chronicles the entire life story of Diana Serra Cary, who was a child movie star named “Baby Peggy” in the early-to-mid-1920s. The film packs a lot of material into its brief 58 minutes, detailing the rise and fall of Peggy’s career, her family’s struggles during the Great Depression and finally her marriage, family and renaming (she chose “Diana” for actress Diana Wynyard and “Serra” for the Spanish missionary Junipero Serra; “Cary” was her husband Bob’s name). One of the best elements of the film is seeing Diana’s relationship with her young granddaughter, who listens to her grandmother’s stories, looks with wide-eyed wonder at photo albums and goes with her grandmother to film-related events. I had the lovely experience of seeing Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room back in September at the Museum of Modern Art, where the screening was attended by Diana herself. At nearly 94 years old, she graciously took part in a lengthy Q&A and signed autographs both before and after the film. It was certainly a great evening.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Directed by Stephen Daldry. The popular thing to do is to bash this movie, but it’s actually quite moving. Not perfect by any means, but certainly worth a watch. Thomas Horn did an extraordinary job of portraying Oskar, a young boy who does not necessarily understand how to connect with his own feelings and experiences. Sandra Bullock, whom I have been a fan of for years, gives an excellent performance as Oskar’s widowed mother. Tom Hanks, in the pivotal role of Oskar’s father, conveys a lot with very little screen time. The other talented actors in the cast include Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, Zoe Caldwell and John Goodman. Best of all is Max von Sydow, deservedly Academy Award-nominated for playing Oskar’s mute companion with secrets in his past. There were better movies in 2011, but overall I thought Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was good. If the amount of tears I cried are any indication… well, to be fair, I cry easily over everything. I teared up more times than I care to admit during the Golden Globes.
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. I’m embarrassed to admit that I knew nothing about the West Memphis Three prior to seeing this film in a college sociology class a few months ago. (I remembered seeing something about Peter Jackson supporting the three… but I only read the headline, not the article.) The film was definitely deserving of its Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature. Even without seeing the first two Paradise Lost films, I found the film to be an engrossing tale of injustice and it made a strong case for its story. This conclusion to the series ends on a highly emotional note, showing the release via Alford plea of the WM3 to the strains of the Metallica song “The Day That Never Comes.” I do wonder what Amy Berg’s new film West of Memphis is like since I think it covers more of the post-jail lives of the three men.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Directed by Lasse Hallström. Unless you’re a Hallström/Ewan McGregor/Emily Blunt/Kristin Scott Thomas/Amr Waked completist, I suggest skipping this movie. It’s a waste of your time. It fails as a drama, as a comedy, as a romance, etc., ending up as a rather forgettable way to spend an hour and three-quarters. Waked easily gives the best performance, although Scott Thomas has some nice moments amongst all her scenery-chewing. McGregor is unfortunately very boring, while Blunt is OK but nothing special. The film’s tone is uneven, so Blunt’s veering between silly and depressed is too sudden. I find it beyond weird that the film was nominated for three Golden Globes (Best Musical or Comedy, Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy), not simply because the film is more a drama than a comedy but really because the film doesn’t seem like something that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would normally bother with. For a low-key film that had limited release in the US back in March, I would have expected the HFPA to have forgotten it by the time of the nominations. It knew it was too much to hope for, but I wished that whoever presented the Salmon Fishing categories at the Globes would point out that the film is not actually a comedy, in the vein of Seth Rogen at last year’s awards.
Win Win. Directed by Thomas McCarthy. This fantastic comedy with hints of drama stars Paul Giamatti as a struggling small-town New Jersey lawyer whose side job is as a high school wrestling coach. The film has a lot of heart, making you root for Giamatti despite his shortcomings and ethical dilemmas. My favorite performances are from Jeffrey Tambor as Giamatti’s coaching partner and Bobby Cannavale as Giamatti’s kind of goofy buddy also helping to coach the team. Acting newcomer Alex Shaffer, who has had a teenage wrestling career in real life, is natural and likeable as loner Kyle, who ends up with Giamatti’s ragtag wrestling group. Shaffer has a real career ahead of him if he wants to take that path. The cast also features Amy Ryan as Giamatti’s wife, Burt Young as Shaffer’s grandfather and one of Giamatti’s clients, Melanie Lynskey as Shaffer’s mother, Margo Martindale as another lawyer and Nina Arianda as Giamatti’s secretary. Do check this film out!