⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for coarse language, some sexual references and nudity.
One of the finest bits of filmmaking in the 20th century came late in Stanley Tucci’s “Big Night,” a raucous comedy that ended with a quiet masterpiece of staging and acting. Tucci brings similar restraint and taste for subtlety to his latest directorial effort, “Final Portrait,” which even includes a similar wordless sequence. This time, the setting is the Paris studio of the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) as he and his brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub) move amid the easels, rags and creative detritus with the reflexive, instinctive ease of ballet dancers.
Such moments are among the most pleasing in “Final Portrait,” which focuses on the end of Giacometti’s career, when in 1964 he invited author and arts-scene gadfly James Lord (Armie Hammer) to sit for a painting. Considered by many critics to be Giacometti’s last great picture, the artwork emerges slowly through the course of a film that depicts the creative process not as the fully formed expression of genius but as a slow-going daily grind of false starts and bouts of self-doubt.
Most of the credit for the film’s sense of authenticity goes to Rush, who portrays Giacometti in a performance that is both ferocious and abashed. “Final Portrait” is at its best simply watching the artist work — the “artist,” in this case, meaning both Giacometti and Rush. It’s nice to see the actor get the palette and canvas he deserves.
ANN HORNADAY, Washington Post
The Miracle Season
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: PG for sad thematic material.
The arc of high school history bends toward victory in “The Miracle Season.” But you already knew that from the title of this tear-drenched sports melodrama.
The movie fictionalizes the aftermath of the 2011 death of Caroline “Line” Found (Danika Yarosh), a brash and beloved girls volleyball star in an Iowa depicted here as idyllic. She departs from the story early, leaving the team weaker physically and emotionally. Yet losing Line motivates the three other major characters to step up their games.
Line’s lifelong best friend, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), must replace her pal on the court while keeping her in her heart. Line’s kindly dad (William Hurt) must reconcile himself to the loss of both his daughter and his wife in the same week. And icy, inarticulate coach Kathy “Brez” Bresnahan (Helen Hunt) must locate her voice — and her humanity.
Her friend showed her “how to live,” Kelly explains in the sappy voice-over introduction. By movie’s end, the whole cheering section is wearing “Live Like Line” shirts.
Director Sean McNamara, who has made a score of unmemorable movies, stages the volleyball showdowns effectively, even if the outcome is never in doubt. The rest of the film has a cozy TV-commercial vibe, pumped by tunes from Katy Perry and the inevitable Neil Diamond. It’s no champion, but it’s still a reasonably good cry.
MARK JENKINS, Washington Post
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated; suitable for all ages.
“When I hear that playing, it’s like breathing. It’s like being alive.” That’s Toby Perlman, the wife of Itzhak Perlman, describing the music of her husband in this documentary.
Director Alison Chernick profiles the violin virtuoso through performance, of course, but she also reveals a personality as expressive as his musicianship. Perlman’s passion for storytelling comes through his instrument, even if he’s just playing exercises to try out a new (Jewish-made) violin. “It plays Jewish automatically,” he says.
Born in Israel in 1945, Perlman was a prodigy, but the polio that struck at a young age impeded his ambition to go to Juilliard. Still, he got his first big break at 13 on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” (Perlman’s wife suspects that the offer was made partly out of pity for “the poor crippled boy.”)
A shelf full of Grammys and Emmys shows how far Perlman has come, but neither accolades nor disability seems to have left him jaded. “Itzhak” captures more than notes on a scale; it reveals a vibrant spirit behind the music.
PAT PADUA, Washington Post