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Films I Neglected To Review: It's Not Worthy!
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "The Farewell Party," "Live from New York" and "Madame Bovary

Unless you are just emerging from a screening of "Entourage," it is hard to imagine any situation in which the concept of assisted suicide could possibly serve as the basis of a feel-good comedy-drama. And yet, that is exactly what transpires in the quirky and relatively endearing Israeli import "The Farewell Party." In it, a group of friends living in a nursing home in Jerusalem are aghast at the thought of watching one of their own slowly fade away from a terminal disease and endeavor to build a suicide machine to help him pass over to the other side with as much dignity and as little pain as possible. That is meant to be that but when rumors of their creation begin to spread and others begin to ask for their assistance as well, they are faced with any number of emotional and ethical dilemmas. On the surface, it doesn't sound especially amusing but co-writers/directors Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon manage to transform the macabre material into something that is oftentimes quite witty (the opening sequence is especially funny) without ever losing sight of the more emotional truths as well. There are some parts where it does veer towards being a little too glib and eager-to-please for its own good-it practically seems to be screaming out to the viewers that flocked to "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" at these moments-but it never quite slips over into complete silliness or mawkishness. You may have a little trouble trying to convince your friends and loved ones to go see "The Farewell Party"-even the title has a touch of the bleak to it, but when all is said and done, it should prove to be worth the effort.

Over the years, "Saturday Night Live" has inspired so many documentaries, anniversary specials, books and other retrospective pieces that most ordinary people are probably as we--versed in the minutiae of the show's long history as the people who actually participated in it-possibly even more so depending on the drug intake of said participant. Therefore, anyone attempting to do yet another one needs to have a brand-new angle from which to work from or run the risk of having the entire enterprise come across as being more than a little pointless. That is exactly the problem that befalls "Live from New York," a new documentary that offers viewers little that they did not already know and precious few insights into the show or its legacy. Basically, it is a combination of classic clips and the usual array of familiar faces offering up platitudes about why it was such a groundbreaking television event when it debuted in 1975 and why it continues to soldier on after four decades. The trouble is that this is the kind of stuff that we have heard many times before-though maybe not in such an overtly fawning manner-and whenever the occasion comes to dip into some of the less savory aspects of the show's history, such as the criticisms regarding the lack of diversity that has dogged it since the very beginning, it either brings them up only to quickly change the subject (as when it goes from Julia Louis-Dreyfus briefly discussing sexism during her run with the show to a long celebration of the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler era) or ignores them completely (don't look for anything about the disastrous season following the departure of Lorne Michaels and the original cast that brought the show to the brink of cancellation or the equally disastrous year when Michaels returned following an absence of several years). There is an interesting narrative arc that shows how a show that originally was designed to rebel against the establishment eventually became the establishment itself but director Bao Ngyuen doesn't seem particularly interested in exploring it except to suggest towards the end that its taming was a good thing in the long run because the trade-off to those gradual sell-outs was its continued existence-that may be great if you are Lorne Michaels but not so much if you are one of those people watching the show and wondering why it seems so toothless these days despite the talents involved. Hardcore "SNL" fanatics will no doubt want to check it out but I can assure them that anything that this film has to offer, they have already seen done many times before and oftentimes better to boot.

Likewise, if you are going to do yet another screen adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's literary warhorse "Madame Bovary," you need to have some burning reason to tell the story once again-some new take that allows viewers to see the familiar in a new and revelatory light. Having made a striking directorial debut a few years ago with the head-spinning sci-fi comedy "Cold Souls,: one might have expected that Sophie Barthes might have had just such an approach up her sleeve but her screen version, adapted by Felipe Marino, is just another pass through the familiar that has all the flaws of previous adaptations (such as the inevitable streamlining of Flaubert's sprawling narrative to get it to fit within the confines of a feature-length film) but otherwise neglects to bring anything new to the table, unless you count the oddball casting of Ezra Miller as Dupuis and Paul Giamatti as Hornais and trust me, you won't The one thing that does work is the performance by Mia Wasikowska as the central character, a convent-raised woman trapped in a lifeless marriage who turns to extramarital flings as a way of enhancing her social status that ends badly for virtually all involved. Of course, Wasikowska is great in just about everything that she does but she manages to find just the right notes-alternately sympathetic and irritating-to play the part that previously eluded even the likes of Isabelle Huppert when she did her own failed take on the tale in 1991. However, even her efforts are not able to do much to save this well-meaning but ultimately unnecessary take on a story that has once again failed to score a movie version truly worth of it.

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originally posted: 06/13/15 08:14:51
last updated: 06/16/15 22:49:15
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