Film Review

'The Reader' and 'Last Chance Harvey'

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On the Aisle

 by Tony Macklin

‘The Reader’ Undeserving

“The Reader” is the most undeserving of the five Academy Award nominees for Best Picture.
A nice quality for a movie to have is if it has one or more characters to whom one can relate. In “The Reader” the two main characters are clods.
One is a callow youth, and the other is a one-dimensional, yearning woman. She’s yearning but cold. Neither has a whit of wit. If you can relate to them, less power to you.
Set in post-World War II Germany, “The Reader” is the tepid tale of a young man, Michael Berg (David Kross), who meets an illiterate, older woman, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). They have an affair, and he reads to her.
I’ve made the plot sound more interesting than it is.
When the big, big “surprise” is introduced, it’s a “c’mon” moment. And it’s poorly executed. Contrivance contrived.
As director Danny Boyle did in “Slumdog Millionaire,” director Daltry amps up the style in “The Reader.” Daltry uses strings galore. He has excited, ceaseless music to try to enhance dull characters. You can bounce music off stones, but they’re still stones.
Screenwriter David Hare, who collaborated more successfully with Stephen Daldry on “The Hours,” adapts Bernhard Schlink’s book to little avail. Daldry also previously directed “Billy Elliott,” which had vibrant life, which his present film sorely lacks. “The Reader” is like pages stuck together.
And then there’s the cast. Ralph Fiennes plays the adult Michael, as though he’s an English actor trying to make sense out of a German dictionary. He looks blankly a lot.
High schooler David Kross performs in his first major role as the stolid reader. Stay in high school, David. Hit the high school theatre circuit. Kross and Fiennes don’t look at all alike even though they are supposed to be the same character.
And then there’s the divine Kate. Kate Winslet keeps winning awards, the Golden Globe, the SAG. What’s she got on these institutions?
Michael reads to Hanna in bed and in the tub. I wouldn’t take a bath with Kate Winslet, even if it were an aromatic bubble bath, or even one in vodka. The tub would be full of her sycophants.
When the ad for “The Reader” trumpets Rex Reed’s adulation, you assume the movie is fatuous. And you know it won’t work out heterosexually. Reed has never liked a movie that does. He adores relationships that fall apart.
Kate Winslet is the Sarah Palin of actresses. A lot of posturing. Palin is another one I wouldn’t take a bath with, although she could provide the ice cubes for the vodka.
I assume Leonardo DiCaprio wasn’t available for “The Reader.” But Kross has even less range than DiCaprio, so Winslet was happy. Kross, like Leonardo, in comparison makes it seem as though she has range.
Can someone please tell me the appeal of Winslet? She was out-acted by a ship, for god’s sake.

Last Chance Harvey
“Last Chance Harvey” is an easygoing trip abroad. It features two relaxed pros playing acting tennis … hitting graceful lobs to each other, and then artful returns.
The two acting aces are Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, who previously both appeared in “Stranger than Fiction” (2006) starring Will Ferrell. This time they are the leads.
In “Last Chance Harvey,” set in London, Thompson plays Kate Walker, who is stuck in a thankless job trying to interview tourists at the airport for Britain’s Office of National Statistics. She lives with her intrusive mother and has no romantic prospects. Her life is wearily passive.
Also stuck in an unpromising existence is Harvey Shine (Hoffman), who is in London for the wedding of his daughter (Liane Balaban), with whom he has little relationship, since he is divorced from her mother (Kathy Baker) and hasn’t kept in touch. Harvey also is in the process of losing his job writing advertising jingles in America.
Kate and Harvey meet in a bar and reluctantly she gets in a conversation with him. From there the chemistry of the two actors makes Old England merry again.
It’s difficult to imagine two actors getting more from these roles and simple plot than Thompson and Hoffman do. Joel Hopkins wrote and directed and stays out of his stars’ way. Their timing is terrific.
Thompson was a member of the comedy troupe Footlight Players while at Cambridge University. She did comedy with and had a romance at the time with Hugh Laurie (“House”). Hoffman starred in “The Graduate” (1967) directed by comic master Mike Nichols. Both Thompson and Hoffman learned witty delivery early. In “Last Chance Harvey,” they have remembered it beautifully.

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