J. Edgar

Warner Brothers

Rated R for brief profanity.

Biopic Uncovers Skeletons In Closet Of Legendary FBI Director

J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) served as director of the FBI from its founding in 1935 until his death in 1972. Over the course of that tenure, he singlehandedly built the agency into an intimidating espionage and crime-fighting operation feared by gangsters and law-abiding citizens alike.

For, as his powers and spheres of influence expanded, he began directing his agents to spy not only on crooks and racketeers but on anyone he considered un-American, such as members of civil rights and anti-war organizations. And armed with the fruit of a variety of arguably unconstitutional surveillance techniques, he proceeded to stockpile a mammoth database of personal dirt to employ for purposes of blackmail, embarrassment and the leveling of veiled threats.

But while he had no problem exposing skeletons in other people’s closets, Hoover apparently went to great lengths to hide his own clandestine relationship with his constant companion of over 40 years, his Deputy Director, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Successfully suppressing the occasional rumors that they might be lovers, the couple was only outed posthumously by New York City socialite Susan Rosenstiel.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar is a deliberately paced biopic, which gradually finds support for the basic contention that Hoover was, indeed, a sexually-repressed drag queen. The picture blames his latent tendencies on an overbearing mother (Dame Judi Dench) who cruelly discouraged him as a youngster from exploring his curiosity about cross-dressing by issuing dire warnings like, “I’d rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son.”

This overambitious flashback flick unfolds against the backdrop of some of the FBI’s most-celebrated cases, from the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby to the bloody showdown with mobster John Dillinger to the monitoring of the movements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, of far more consequence here than any of these touchstones in Hoover’s career is the shadowy specter of him and his life mate secretly sharing stolen moments, whether holding hands in the back of a limo, whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears, or enjoying makeup sex after a heated argument.

Appropriately narrated in an almost confessional tone by the title character, J. Edgar stands in sharp contrast to the dozens of previous screen portrayals of Hoover, which had studiously avoided the sexual preference question. Credit iconoclastic Clint Eastwood for belatedly bringing a more balanced treatment to the screen, even if the shocking truth about such a tortured soul is apt to make audiences squirm in their seats.

Between the cross-dressing and pleas of “Please don’t leave me, Clyde!” brace yourself to see the vulnerable underbelly, literally and figuratively, of an anguished icon knocked off his pedestal.

Very Good (3 stars).

Running time: 137 minutes

 

Charlotte Rampling: The Look

Kino Lorber

Unrated

Legendary Actress Reflects On Life And Career In Revealing Biopic

The legendary Charlotte Rampling has been making movies since the mid-‘60s when she first stole scenes as the late Lynn Redgrave’s sidekick in Georgy Girl. Over the intervening years, she’s enjoyed high-profile roles opposite leading men like Woody Allen in Stardust Memories, Paul Newman in The Verdict and Robert De Niro in Angel Heart.

But the bilingual Brit has probably delivered her most memorable performances in such French classics as Swimming Pool and Under The Sand, and other productions which have similarly captured her compelling combination of sophistication and sex appeal. Given her remarkable ability to generate screen chemistry, it only makes sense that her biopic would be subtitled “The Look.”

Directed by Angelina Maccarone, this thought-provoking documentary offers an unusually unguarded cinematic portrait of a humble Hollywood icon, given the way that its 65-year-old subject was shot without any concern about finding flattering camera angles. For, you quickly see that this isn’t a superficial diva given to hiding behind costumes, makeup and cosmetic surgery, but a modest, down-to-earth soul who proudly wears her wrinkles and other indicia of her advancing age.

Consequently, of far more import here are her myriad insights shared on topics ranging from the invasive nature of fame (“Exposure is a beast, quite devouring.”) to exhibiting vulnerability (“You have to feel completely exposed to give anything worthwhile of yourself.”) to her definition of true love (“Feeling safe with someone, a shared solitude.”).

As for “The Look,” Charlotte playfully credits her heavy eyelids for her endearing sensual appeal. However, she is also quick to concede that she allows her ”animal instincts” to take over because “the camera has to be your most intimate friend” in order for each performance “to look as if it just happened, and was not thought of.”

Yet, she remains at a bit of a loss as to why she’s often been labeled “mysterious, distant, secretive and difficult to access,” but guesses that it’s likely a reflection both of what’s going on inside of her and inside of her audience, since “in cinema, you are the projection of inner things.” Regardless, whatever “it” is, this “it” girl has matured into a much-revered grand dame who’s still got it in spades.

A far more revealing look at the real Rampling than any of her nude scenes.

Excellent (4 stars).

In English, French and German with subtitles.

Running time: 98 minutes.

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

 

For movies opening November 18, 2011

 

Happy Feet Two (PG for rude humor and mild scenes of peril). Animated 3D sequel revolving around Mumbles’ (Elijah Wood) uncoordinated son (Elizabeth Daily) who runs away from home only to be befriended by a mighty flying penguin (Hank Azaria). Voice cast includes Robin Williams, Common, Pink, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Hugo Weaving.

 

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (PG-13 for violence, sexuality, disturbing images, mature themes and partial nudity). Fourth installment in the fantasy franchise finds Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) marrying and anticipating the birth of a mixed-species baby, which poses a threat both to the vampire coven and riival Jacob’s (Taylor Lautner) wolf pack. With Billy Burke, Nikki Reed and Kellan Lutz.

Another Happy Day (R for pervasive profanity, sexual references, brief graphic nudity and teen drug and alcohol abuse). Dysfunctional family drama chronicling the trials and tribulations of a distraught divorcee (Ellen Barkin) when she ventures to her parents’ (George Kennedy and Ellen Burstyn) estate in Annapolis for the marriage of her estranged son (Michael Nardelli). With Kate Bosworth, Demi Moore and Thomas Haden Church.

 

Buried Prayers (Unrated). Holocaust documentary recounting the horrors of Maidanek, a concentration camp where ill-fated internees began burying their gold and other valuables prior to extermination to hide them from the Nazis. (In Polish and English with subtitles).

 

The Descendants (R for profanity and sexual references). Screen adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ bittersweet novel of the same name about a Hawaii land baron (George Clooney) forced to take custody of his daughters (Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley) after his estranged wife (Patricia Hastie) is left in a vegetative state by a tragic boating accident. Supporting cast includes Beau Bridges, Robert Forster and Judy Greer.

 

Eames: The Architect & The Painter (Unrated). James Franco narrates this benevolent biopic chronicling the life and times of Charles (1907-1978) and Ray Eames (1912-1988), the husband-and-wife team who were among America’s most influential industrial designers.

 

The Greater Good (Unrated). Vaccines are the subject of this incendiary documentary examining the hype and fear surrounding the polarizing question of whether childhood inoculations are safe.

 

In Heaven, Underground (Unrated). Holocaust documentary about the recent restoration of Berlin’s Weissensee Jewish Cemetery, created in 1880, which fell into disrepair in the wake of World War II. (In German, Hebrew, English and Russian with subtitles.)

 

King Of Devil’s Island (Unrated). Historical drama, set on a fjord near Oslo in the early 20th Century, recounting the real-life ordeal of incarcerated juvenile delinquents who plotted a violent revolt against the sadistic warden (Stellan Skarsgard) responsible for their inhumane living conditions. With Trond Nilssen, Daniel Berg and Benjamin Helstad. (In Norwegian with subtitles.)

 

The Lie (R for profanity and drug use). Diminished dreams drama about an aspiring musician (Joshua Leonard) who reluctantly takes a 9-5 job to support the family after the birth of an unplanned baby (Violet Long) while his wife (Jess Weixler) is in law school. With Kelli Garner, Alia Shawkat and Jane Adams.

 

Rid Of Me (Unrated). Katie O’Grady stars in this dark comedy charting the emotional breakdown and rebirth of a woman on the road to self-discovery. With John Keyser, Storm Large and Betty Moyer.

 

Tomboy (Unrated). Genderbending drama about a 10-year-old girl (Zoe Heran) who decides to pass herself off as male to a new friend (Jeanne Disson) when her family moves to suburban Paris. With Malonn Levana, Sophie Cattani and Mathieu Demy. (In French with subtitles.)

 

Tyrannosaur (Unrated). Redemption drama about an unemployed, alcoholic widower (Peter Mullan) with a short temper who attempts to turn his life around with the help of a devout Christian (Olivia Colman) with her own checkered past. With Eddie Marsan, Paul Popplewell and Julia Mallam.

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