Sarah Knight Adamson is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and a voting member for the Critics Choice Awards for Movies.

Sarah Knight Adamson and Jessica Aymond are both Members of the Chicago Film Critics Association

Film Rating Code:

★★★★ Outstanding Film- Run, don’t walk to the nearest movie theater.

★★★½ Excellent Film- Highly recommend seeing the film in a movie theater.

★★★ Very Good Film- Recommend seeing the film in a movie theater.

★★½ Good Film- Wait for the DVD, the film is still worth viewing.

★★ Wait for the DVD and proceed with caution.

★½ Wait for the DVD the film has major problems in most areas.

★ Can’t recommend the film.

Simon Curtis Interview – Director ‘Woman in Gold’

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Simon Curtis director of ‘Woman in Gold’

Simon Curtis turns his focus from Marilyn Monroe to another woman in history: Maria Altmann. In My Week with Marilyn, he showed the world that Monroe really was a good actress – one who wanted to be seen as a serious actor, not just as a beautiful woman. In Woman in Gold, he gives us the story of a much older woman, Maria Altmann, who decides to undo a grave injustice and, in order to do so, she must revisit her painful past.

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Michelle Williams stars as Marilyn Monroe.

British director Simon Curtis made a splash on the Hollywood scene with his film My Week with Marilyn (2011). That film garnered two Academy Award nominations: Best Actress, Michelle Williams, and Best Supporting Actor, Kenneth Branagh. Concurrently, The Chicago Film Critics Association awarded Curtis with Best New Promising Filmmaker and gave their Best Actress Award to Michelle Williams for the same film.

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Helen Mirren stars as Maria Altmann

Curtis presently has a new film opening, Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, a determined survivor of the Nazi invasion into her childhood hometown of Vienna. Nazis seized her family possessions, one of which was a painting commissioned by her uncle (a beautiful portrait of her aunt, titled “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by artist Gustav Klimt). After the war, the painting was handed over to the Belvedere Art Gallery in Vienna. The painting’s name was changed to “Woman in Gold” to avoid former claims. Maria Altmann knew that she was the rightful owner of the painting and waged a personal crusade to reclaim it. Through the help of a lawyer, Randol Schoenberg, played by Ryan Reynolds, and an Austrian investigative journalist, Hubertus Czernin, played by Daniel Bruhl, they were able to reclaim the artwork.

The film itself is stunningly beautiful, particularly in the beginning scenes that recreate the portrait sitting of Adele with painter Gustav Klimt. They set the tone in Vienna not only for the era but also for the backdrop of lives that were lived during this time period in history, all unaware of the plight ahead. Another memorable scene is Adele’s wedding day, complete with a lavish set design, Viennese ballroom dancing, and gorgeous costuming.

My favorite scene is one in which Helen Mirren is simply looking into a mirror and brushing new hair in modern day times. The lighting and makeup are perfect. She looks amazingly natural with a demeanor of apprehension−after all, it really was not an easy choice for Maria Altmann to leave her home in Los Angeles and return to Vienna, a place she was forced to flee for her life.

Woman in Gold spans from 1907 (when the painting was completed) to 2006, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that the painting should be returned to Maria Altmann along with four other Klimt paintings. All were auctioned at Christie’s Auction House in New York and, collectively, the five paintings sold for $327 million.

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Portrait of ‘Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ formerly known as ‘Woman in Gold’ by artist Gustav Klimt

I caught up with Simon Curtis on March 17, 2015 when he was in Chicago promoting the film. It’s the second time I’ve interviewed him (we met in 2011 for his press tour of My Week with Marilyn). It was great to reconnect.

SKA: Woman in Gold stars Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, a woman who decides to reclaim her family possessions, which are seized by Nazis when she was a child in Vienna. What qualities did you feel were important to display on-screen in Maria Altmann?

SC: Well, I come from a Jewish family in the UK and have a lot of women like Maria in my background. And she should be a mixture of warmth and acerbic wit. I think Helen was very keen to do Maria justice, and it was fantastic.

SKA: What steps did Helen Mirren take in order to prepare for her role? I noticed her Viennese accent was just wonderful.

SC: Yes, that’s right. She worked very hard on that, and we studied a lot of videotapes of Maria. We took that very seriously.

SKA: What surprised you most about directing Helen Mirren?

SC: Nothing surprised me because I knew her and I admired her, and she was incredibly focused, incredibly hard working, and great to everyone on the set. She was fantastic.

SKA: Sure. I have to compliment you on one of my favorite scenes with Helen. It’s one in which she is just simply brushing her hair, and she’s looking in a mirror. And I’ll tell you, you captured her so beautifully; her whole look is so natural. Her make-up is so natural. And, honestly, Simon, I don’t think she has looked more beautiful, ever, in a film. Can you tell me about that scene and that shoot a little bit?

SC: Yeah, you know, we wanted to get some sort of private, reflective moments because we were making the point that going back to Vienna came at a cost. In some ways, it was very disturbing to her, and in some ways, it was surprisingly comforting to her. You know?

That moment, Maria had said in a tape I had seen that she had not been that impressed by her future husband when they first met until she heard him sing, and then she fell in love. So, that seemed to be the clue. You know, hearing the music, hearing his voice was what took her back, you know?

SKA: Yes. The film is so complex, and so interesting that I didn’t really think of that, that this would be difficult for her, really, to go back. I thought you displayed that quite well. Ryan Reynolds, he plays the lawyer in the film. He seems to have a really great kind of relaxed demeanor with Helen Mirren. And I enjoyed their humor so much that was sprinkled throughout. How did he prepare for his role?

SC: In contrast to Helen, who was playing Maria as she actually was, we all wanted to change. In real life, Randy is sort of a world expert in all things Viennese and Holocaust. And we wanted this Randy to be an all-American guy who goes on the journey to discovery along with us during the film, if that makes sense.

WOMAN IN GOLD

HELEN MIRREN and RYAN REYNOLDS star in WOMAN IN GOLD Photo: Robert Viglasky

SKA: Sure, yes, it does. I think he actually did capture that. I mean, he seems like he’s, at the beginning, just kind of doing it as a favor. And then he becomes entrenched, which is quite interesting. We see him grow, even, as a person.

I see a lot of films and I know that recreating a period film … it can be really daunting. And I appreciated how you de-saturated the visuals in the history parts. I was wondering if you could tell us how you created that look. Special lenses? Was it done in the editing?

SC: Well, it’s mostly a grading thing, you know. In fact, we had three time periods, because there was sort of the “Adele” period, which is obviously very golden. There was 1938 where, poetically, it was the end of an era, and a time where this wonderful community had its last days. And then there’s sort of what we call the “contemporary story,” both in Vienna and L.A. You want to be as documentary-like as possible. So that was it, really.

SKA: Sure. So, you said there was “grading” done to achieve the look of the desaturation? Could you tell me how that works?

SC: Well, it’s a technical thing with a computer where you can tweak the colors.

SKA: Sure. Well, that was impressive to me. I liked how that all looked.

SKA: And I suppose, as a viewer, when you do go back and forth between these different actual countries and time periods, I think that somehow distinguishes them a little bit more.

SKA: I also saw that you used a technique where you would focus on a family photo of the past, and then you cut to live action of that photo. Can you explain that technique?

SC: Yes, you work backwards. When we did that scene, we started with the stillness.

SKA: Yes, exactly. But it was done so well, it seemed like it was (laughter)—you know what I’m saying? As they say in London, “Brilliant!” (laughter)

SC: Good. Thanks. (Laughing)

SKA: I take art classes myself and I have a huge appreciation for art. And I really valued the information in the film that you presented about Gustav Klimt. Was it your choice to start the movie with him?

SC: I don’t really know if it was my choice, no. I think it was something we all felt we had to do, because he’s such a big influence on the film without the film being about him. So, it seemed the right decision.

SKA: I have two questions about that. How did you feel that those scenes set the tone of the film?

SC: I don’t know. I mean, I like to think the creation of the painting, that becomes the story of the film is very important. And also to remember that there was a real artist and a real subject that started of all this.

SKA: Were there certain qualities of the artist that you hoped to capture, or that you tried to portray in those beginning scenes?

SC: Not really, no. I mean he’s a charismatic artist.

SKA: Yes. Did you know much about him before you started the project?

SC: Not more than most people.

SKA: Yeah, and I actually didn’t know anything about him other than my daughter in college had the poster of “The Kiss” in her college dorm room. And it was very interesting to learn about him. What message do you hope that people will take away from the film?

SC: Well, I hope they’ll take away that the past is important, and to remember and be aware of that past. It’s very important to us all. And I hope they’ll take away that this is a timely reminder of the perils of anti-Semitism, or the perils of picking on anybody because of their race or religion.

WOMAN IN GOLD

MAX IRONS and TATIANA MASLANY star in Woman in Gold

SKA: Yes. I was wondering: When you did film in the gallery scene? I know that the painting is gone now. How did that all work? Were you really there?

SC: We were there, although the interior was shot in London.

SKA: Well, now you’ve have raised my antenna about going to Vienna.

SC: Good. It’s a very beautiful place.

SKA: It really does look amazing. Is there anything else you would like to say about the film?

SC: I’m thrilled with the cast; it’s worth mentioning. Orphan Black with Tatiana Maslany did so well in it. And I don’t know if you’ve watched Game of Thrones with Charles Dance or Downton Abbey; there’s Elizabeth McGovern. [Incidentally, Elizabeth McGovern is Simon Curtis’s wife.]

WOMAN IN GOLD

RYAN REYNOLDS, HELEN MIRREN, and DANIEL BRUHL star in WOMAN IN GOLD

SKA: Yes, oh yes, and Daniel Brühl. I so admire his acting.

SC: He’s an Austrian who we admire very much and, unfortunately, Hubertus Czernin passed away at age fifty, terribly young. We wanted to pay tribute to him.

SKA: That’s great. I believe you did. I want to say thank you and tell you best of luck with the film. I enjoyed it immensely.

SC: I’m really pleased. I’m really grateful for your enthusiasm. Thank you so much.

Photo Credit: Weinstein and FilmFestival.com

Sarah Knight Adamson© March 30, 2015

Posted in Celebrity Interviews, Interview Archives, Interviews

Get Hard (R) ★½

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Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart star in the comedy ‘Get Hard’ Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Listen to Sarah Knight Adamson’s Radio Review Sat. evenings 10:06 CST on Hollywood 360 Radio Network,in Chicago listen to WINDam 560. The podcast will be posted after the film segment has aired.

Posted in Film Review Podcast Archives, Hollywood 360, Movies 2015, Radio Podcasts, Reviews

Danny Collins (PG-13) ★★★½

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‘Danny Collins’ stars Al Pacino Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer. Jennifer Garner and Bobby Cannavale. Photo Credit: Bleecker Street Films

Listen to Sarah Knight Adamson’s Radio Review Sat. evenings 10:06 CST on Hollywood 360 Radio Network,in Chicago listen to WINDam 560. The podcast will be posted after the film segment has aired.

Posted in Film Review Podcast Archives, Hollywood 360, Movies 2015, Radio Podcasts, Reviews

Home (PG) ★★½

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‘Home’ animated film centering on an alien who wants to find a new home. Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation

Listen to Sarah Knight Adamson’s Radio Review Sat. evenings 10:06 CST on Hollywood 360 Radio Network,in Chicago listen to WINDam 560. The podcast will be posted after the film segment has aired.

Posted in Film Review Podcast Archives, Hollywood 360, Movies 2015, Radio Podcasts, Reviews

Dan Fogelman Interview-Writer and Director of ‘Danny Collins’

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Dan Fogelman- Writer and Director of ‘Danny Collins’ Photo Credit: Sarah Knight Adamson

Al Pacino Rocks his New Role as Rock Star ‘Danny Collins’

Dan Fogelman is known primarily for his writing skills in Hollywood. The notches in his belt are impressive: Cars (2006), Fred Claus (2007), Bolt (2008), Tangled (2010), Cars 2 (2011), Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), The Guilt Trip (2012) and Last Vegas (2013). Fogelman is making his directing debut in his latest script, Danny Collins. The film’s star is the legendary Al Pacino as an aging, druggy rock star who’s as miserable in his private life as he is in his career. Although he’s estranged from his son and has an ego that needs downsizing, you can’t help but root for the guy, especially one that John Lennon actually tried to help forty years ago. You see, Danny Collins receives a letter on his birthday from Lennon via his manager, Frank, played by Christopher Plummer (a legend in his own right), that he takes to heart. Lennon offers advice and his phone number to Collins. All of the sudden, the lights go on and Danny Collins decides to clean up his act, write new songs, and reconnect with his long lost son. It does sound a little corny but the film actually works due to Pacino’s heavy grasp of the role and a strong supporting cast, both of which work from a well-written script.

 

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Add the cynical, unimpressed, but sweet, Annette Bening as a hotel manager of the local Hyatt— she’s the love interest of Collins. Bobby Cannavale as the adult son he’s trying to mend fences with, as well as his daughter-in-law and son’s wife (Jennifer Garner), plus a special needs granddaughter (Giselle Eisenberg), and you’ve got an attention-grabbing film.

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The noteworthy fact of the film is that John Lennon really did write such a letter; only it was to a British folk singer-songwriter, Steve Tilston. When Folgelman heard of the situation (the advice given by Lennon, only forty years too late), he envisioned a story with a guy who really could have been helped. What if the letter really did change someone’s life? As it stands, Tilston had a successful career with no real regrets; therefore, Fogelman changed his singer-songwriter character’s life for his script and ran with it.

The icing on the cake for the film is that it contains nine John Lennon songs and surprisingly has Yoko Ono’s blessing. She’s also expected to attend the film’s premiere in New York; Fogelman told me when we met in the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago on March 10.

john-lennon

SKA: First of all, I want to thank you for writing and directing the film, Danny Collins; at the center of your film happens to be one of my favorite musical artists, John Lennon.

DF: Me too.

SKA: I was going to ask you, are you a big fan?

DF: I am. I was a big fan as a novice. I knew more than the average person about him, but then, in doing the film, I actually… I’ve read more biographies on him than any human being, so I really got to learn a lot more.
Just everything, the sheer … the volume of his work, his catalog as a solo artist, opposed to Beatles, is so extensive, and he did such weird, interesting stuff that it was exciting to just sift through all of his material.

SKA: I loved all of the music and the nine songs.

DF: I know, I know. It’s crazy. It’s funny, it blends into the movie in places, and they’re not all … We have Imagine, and we have Beautiful Boy, but they’re not all his most famous songs, so, for the non-aficionado, it sometimes blends into the movie. Then, afterwards, they go, “What was that song?” or “I liked that song that was playing during this scene,” and I go, “No, that’s John Lennon.” They know it is, but they’re not aware of the song as much, so that’s exciting.

SKA: Could you please set up the plot a little bit for our listeners and readers? I know we have Al Pacino, who plays this aging, druggy rocker, Danny Collins, and he’s given a rather life-altering birthday present by another iconic actor, Christopher Plummer.

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DF: Yeah, the basic premise is … It’s based on a real story as well, but back in 1970, a young Danny Collins, played by Pacino, does an interview, and they say, “We think you’re the next big thing in music. We think you’re a Dylan, Lennon,” and he says, “I’m terrified of becoming the next big thing in music and what fame and fortune might do to my art.”

You cut through forty years later, he’s now in his sixties, and he has completely sold out. Everything he was worried about happening to him has happened. On a musical level, he’s unhappy, and on a personal level, he’s unhappy. He is basically hand-delivered a letter that John Lennon had written to him forty years previously in response to the interview.

John Lennon had read the interview he did as a young man in 1970 and wrote to him saying, “You control your destiny. You control your art. I will help guide you through this. You sound like a nice young man. Call me; here’s my phone number.” He didn’t get the letter until he was in his sixties.

SKA: That is an incredible story right there. Read more…

Posted in Celebrity Interviews, Interview Archives, Interviews

Focus (R) ★★½

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Stars Will Smith and Margo Robbie. Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Studios

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Posted in Film Review Podcast Archives, Hollywood 360, Movies 2015, Radio Podcasts, Reviews

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