Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: by the MPAA. Brief nudity and drug references.
Hedy Lamarr was a brilliant woman whose intellectual achievements were overshadowed by her breathtaking looks. She is remembered by movie buffs as a 1930s and ’40s starlet, an MGM leading lady with the likes of Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. But it takes a deeply committed World War II enthusiast to know that the glamour queen invented a wireless military communication system that helped bring about Hitler’s downfall. She also was the mother of Wi-Fi.
Director Alexandra Dean’s documentary, which notes Lamarr’s comment, “My beauty was my curse,” follows her from childhood in a well-to-do Austrian Jewish family, through her escape from the Nazis while dressed as a maid, through her Hollywood celebrity, six marriages and struggles with drug addiction. It includes previously unheard tapes of Lamarr telling her own story on her own terms for a 1990s profile in Forbes magazine.
It is a faults-and-all portrait. A victim of the misogyny of her era and her own impulsive decisions, she emerges as a complex self-mythologizer who invented her own reality as skillfully as she rebuilt a toy music box when she was 5. As her son says in the film, “Even I couldn’t understand who Hedy Lamarr was.”
A Fantastic Woman
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for language, sexual content, nudity and a disturbing assault. In subtitled Spanish.
What a fascinating movie Chilean writer/director Sebastián Lelio has made. This Oscar nominee begins with death and evolves into a touching statement about one’s right to live the life one chooses.
Transgender performer Daniela Vega delivers remarkable work as Marina, a man in his mid-20s who is partway to a new trans identity. Marina’s day job is waitressing, but, with a wonderful voice and a commanding stage presence, she seems headed for a career as a lyrical songstress in nightclubs and opera halls. But then her 30-years-older, wealthy lover is hospitalized after an aneurysm and a bruising tumble down their apartment stairs. Grief-stricken Marina faces mistrust and indignities from the police, who suspect physical abuse, and from her lover’s bitter ex-wife and family. The resilient Marina encounters mundane unkindnesses that almost never stop.
Vega has a sublimely thoughtful face, giving us a sense of Marina’s polite composure and hints of the impatience just below the surface. Lelio grants the straightforward story several symbolic moments, each with a message that’s unexpressed but easily understood. Although the 21st-century issue of transphobia is the context of the story, it’s one that anyone who has felt unwelcomed for any reason can watch with understanding and sympathy.
In the Fade
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for some disturbing images, drug use and language, including sexual references. In subtitled German and Greek and English.
An extremely contrived saga with a strong central performance, this German political-courtroom-revenge thriller features powerhouse work by Diane Kruger in a flawed package.
The first act gets off to a promising start. Kruger introduces Katja with a black-sheep vibe, making it feel plausible that, over her family’s strenuous objections, she has a good marriage and adorable preteen son with the ex-con who sold her hashish in college. Having straightened out in prison, he’s an upstanding citizen running a storefront tax and translation service in Hamburg.
In a heart-stopping, viscerally jarring sequence, Katja finds the office ripped apart by a terrorist nail bomb attack, her husband and son dead. The tragedy transforms her into a vengeful Valkyrie against the racist neo-Nazis who murdered them. Katja’s quest for justice in the legal system becomes a Kafkaesque maze, which drives her into a fixation on making a brutal reprisal of her own.
Kruger, best remembered by Americans for her top-notch work in “Inglourious Basterds,” maintains a raw edge of pain throughout her performance. But writer/director Fatih Akin steers the story into boilerplate about the maverick avenger living inside every fundamentally decent woman. Even though the finale, neither surprising nor satisfying, can be seen long before it arrives, it earns a disbelieving, “Oh, come on, really?”