The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"AT ETERNITY'S GATE" and "CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?"

At Eternity's Gate

Julian Schnabel directed 2007's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a film that greatly benefited from daring stylistic and storytelling choices. He tries to achieve something similar with At Eternity's Gate, but the effect is nowhere near as powerful. Willem Dafoe plays Vincent Van Gogh, despite literally being twenty-five years too old for the role. Van Gogh painted in a Post-Impressionist fashion, so Schnabel attempts to mimic the approach cinematically. Highlights from the artist's life are presented in a manner that's more abstract than overt. We see his friendship with Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), the development of his style, and the descent into madness that drove him to cut off his own ear.

In the movie, Van Gogh expresses a belief that paintings should be accomplished quickly. Schabel takes the same approach. His handheld camera moves furiously through the scenes, often feeling as though it's going to bump into the actors as they perform. Although certainly ambitious, At Eternity's Gate has much more technique than substance, making it virtually impossible to form any emotional connection to it. By the final third, the movie devolves into long conversations between Van Gogh and a priest (Mads Mikkelsen) and a doctor (Mathieu Amalric) that go on long after we've gotten the point. Dafoe is typically good, but the refusal to develop any sort of traditional dramatic thrust ultimately causes At Eternity's Gate to become tedious.

( 1/2 out of four)

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Most actors will tell you that comedy is harder than drama, so it really shouldn't come as a surprise when talented comedians effectively tackle dramatic roles. Melissa McCarthy is the latest to do so with Can You Ever Forgive Me? In this true story, she plays Lee Isreal, a professional biographer whose career has gone downhill thanks to an alcohol problem, a bad attitude, and a taste in subject matter that no longer matches the public's. Desperate for cash, she begins forging personal letters from the Great Authors and selling them on the collectibles market. Richard E. Grant is Jack Hock, a fellow alcoholic who helps her as the authorities close in.

The forgery plot is compelling all on its own. What makes Can You Ever Forgive Me? really sing, though, is McCarthy's refusal to pander in her performance. Lee is not a likable person, which the actress doesn't shy away from. At the same time, we come to care about her because McCarthy locks in on one central quality -- Lee gets a much-needed self-esteem boost from the fact that people are excitedly responding to her writing, even if she's pretending the words belong to someone else. The film ends with an awkward speech in which the character verbalizes all the movie's themes, which any attentive viewer will already have picked up on. That aside, this is a fascinating portrait of a flawed person driven to do a bad thing, and kind of not feeling sorry about it.

( 1/2 out of four)


At Eternity's Gate is rated PG-13 for some thematic content. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.


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