On DVD: The Special Relationship

The Special Relationship, written by Peter Morgan and directed by Richard Loncraine, concludes Morgan's "Blair Trilogy" of films, and expands HBO's string of historical films that zoom in on pivotal periods in the lives of world leaders. Morgan's loose trilogy began with two films directed by Stephen Frears: The Deal, for British Television, and The Queen, which was released theatrically and for which Helen Mirren won the Oscar (among several other awards and nominations for the film). In all three movies, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was portrayed by Michael Sheen, who effectively captures Blair's charm, energy, and chilly, C-3PO-like precision.

The Special Relationship
takes its title from the longstanding friendly diplomacy between the United States and Great Britain. The title takes on additional significance in terms of the personal and professional friendship between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton (played here by Dennis Quaid). Morgan and Loncraine's film selects particular passages from the mid-to-late 1990s, when Blair and Clinton served in the highest offices of their respective nations. Beginning with a visit by Blair to the US to gain campaign insights from Clinton's advisers, the story is told mostly from Blair's perspective, following the new PM through his first face-to-face meeting with Clinton, and on through a variety of crises - notably, the Lewinsky scandal and the decision to invade Kosovo.

There is an interesting transition that occurs in
The Special Relationship that makes the film work as a character-driven story, and allows for a discomfitingly ironic coda. First we see the eager Blair, swallowing Clinton's political advice with admiring credulity. As the Lewinsky scandal erupts, and after Blair is mildly slighted once or twice by the president, the PM gains the courage to stand up to Clinton on the subject of Kosovo, eventually forcing the president to support an invasion. The Lewinsky and Kosovo crises gave Blair extremely high public approval ratings - on both sides of the Atlantic - and infused the PM with confidence and even a feeling of superiority. The irony of the film's coda, of course, lies in our knowledge of the extremely low approval ratings Blair faced after developing another presidential relationship - with Clinton's successor.

The film - and Sheen in particular - handles this transition with skillful aplomb, especially in the way it infuses historical incident into carefully-shaped scene-by-scene character dynamics that chart the parallel progress of both the people involved and the events being portrayed. This is done with extreme economy without feeling too much like a pile of dramatic shortcuts. Sheen's expert portrayal tracks Blair's gradual increase in savvy and tactical ability. As Clinton, Quaid is equally effective. The actor proves surprisingly capacious, adopting Clinton's moodiness and physicality in a way that goes well beyond impersonation.

Loncraine's strength is the way he steadily tells this complex story with such speed. In just 90 minutes, several years and a handful of major historical events have been effectively glossed, while keeping Blair's point of view at the forefront of the narrative. Loncraine evokes recognizable but sensitive performances out of a small, focused cast that includes Hope Davis (as Hillary Clinton), Helen McCrory (reprising her role as Cherie Blair from
The Queen), and Mark Bazeley (as Alastair Campbell). This tight direction, Morgan's bullet of a script, and careful but naturalistic performances place The Special Relationship well above the average film released anywhere this past year. 

Read the full review here


On DVD: The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story

The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story is an unusually frank Disney production, and it wisely avoids simplifying the strained relationship suggested by the evasive words of the Sherman brothers themselves. Bob and Dick Sherman were Disney's house songwriters beginning with Mary Poppins and continuing through The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and The Tigger Movie. As prolific as their working relationship was - including such non-Disney work as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Charlotte's Web, and Snoopy Come Home - the brothers were never exactly friends, having entirely different personalities and an intense rivalry that bubbled just far enough below the surface to allow them to continue working together.

Bob, senior to Dick by 2 ½ years, began his adult life with aspirations to be a writer of fiction and plays. Upon returning home, injured, following service in World War II, Bob entered college at the same time as Dick, who was beginning to show an aptitude for music and songwriting. The Shermans' parents were both entertainers themselves; their father was a successful Los Angeles-based songwriter, and their mother had been a movie actress during the silent era. Their father posed a direct challenge to his sons that they write a song together; that challenge successfully met, they went on to start a music publishing company that gained a high profile thanks in part to a relationship with Disney's music publishing business. That led to the Shermans writing a hit single for Annette Funicello, followed by another song for a Disney movie starring Funicello.

Shortly thereafter began the Shermans' very long and productive heyday, working full-time on the Disney lot for movies both animated and live-action, for the Disney television unit, and for the Disney parks (including "It's a Small World"). Their work for Disney in this capacity earned them Oscars, Grammies, and, recently, the National Medal of Arts.

The brothers' story is of interest for a number of reasons. First, their prodigious output of songs that virtually everyone knows is staggering. They wrote "You're Sixteen," "Chim Chim Cheree," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Let's Get Together," "I Wan'na be Like You," and "Hushabye Mountain," among countless others. Then there's the fact that their story allows a glimpse behind the scenes at the Walt Disney Studios during the 1960s, when the studio was responsible for an increasingly varied output of motion pictures and television programming. The story of the Shermans' strained relationship adds yet another layer of interest to this documentary, which was produced and directed by their sons, Jeff (Bob) and Greg (Dick). The younger cousins would like to see their fathers reconcile, but it seems increasingly clear as we listen to the elder Shermans' words that this is unlikely, although Bob appears to be the one carrying the burden of bitterness, with Dick appearing more or less as the admiring younger brother.

The film doesn't conclude with reconciliation, and would have appeared suspicious if it had. The brothers' largely unspoken animosity is mingled with a mutual respect and obvious love, and the film works better and is more respectful of its audience without attempting too smooth over these rough edges in their relationship with facile "explanations" of the tension between them. The Boys is a heartfelt portrayal of show business, a peek into Walt Disney's managerial style, and a moving look at brotherly love and rivalry. 

Read the full review here


On DVD: A Dog Year

Jeff Bridges is often cast as characters who are gregarious, physically expressive, and energetic. In A Dog Year, he plays an inward-looking version of the real writer Jon Katz, who authored a book of the same name. HBO's film version of that story (written and directed by George LaVoo) traces a difficult period in Katz's life when he was separated from his wife, took on a new dog, and experienced a heavy dose of writer's block. The movie belongs to Bridges and the Border Collie his character adopts, Devon. At a brisk but focused 80 minutes, A Dog Year is never cutesy nor does it strive to be "family friendly." It's a character-focused story about a man who was almost impossible to get along with, whose isolation brought him face-to-face with a dog who was almost as difficult as he was.

Katz lives in a big house in New York with two Labrador retrievers. His daughter is away at college, and his wife is, well,
away. Katz lumbers around the house wearing the same thing day after day, eating crappy processed foodstuffs, and primarily engaged in the activity of not writing. He decides to spice things up by acquiring a third dog - this time through a dog rescue organization. Black-and-white Devon arrives by air, in a crate, filthy, malnourished, injured, and psychotic. Katz treats Devon with a combination of unconditional love and total bafflement. He is unable to deal with the reasons for the dog's behavior, which mirrors his block as a writer - he either refuses or is unable to look past the surface of things and grapple with the real and obvious problems.

Although the film is eminently enjoyable, there are a couple of things that bothered me. Number one is Katz's ignorance about Border Collie anxiety and behavior. As working dogs, urban and suburban Border Collies' genetic instincts make them behave fundamentally differently from almost every other breed. The fact that Katz never grasps the disconnect that a previously-abused Border Collie might experience in a new environment is beyond me.

Also problematic is the abrupt ending, which shows Katz finally getting a handle on Devon after retreating to the countryside and seeking the help of a farmer familiar with working dogs. Devon finally begins to learn something about obedience, but the film ends before we see any sustained change thro
ugh the training process, which surely must have taken some time.

But I don't want to harp on negatives, because
A Dog Year is a charming movie. Bridges is excellent, as usual, in an understated, quiet role as the grouchy, misanthropic Katz. He pinches his mouth in a frog-like frown throughout the picture, and wears the same costume almost nonstop. Bridges is always unafraid to look like shit, and this serves him particularly well here. The dog(s) playing Devon are ideal, and Devon is quite a meaty role, too, going through marked changes in behavior. Of course, more than one dog was used, but this had to have been a major challenge for writer-director LaVoo, who had to capture the right behavior from the dog-actors. Still, the total performance of "Devon" is seamless. It's an especially impressive achievement given the fact that he had to maintain the film's ultimate focus on Katz's evolution while corralling all this dog action.

A Dog Year
is a small film, but an engrossing and believable one. Films that pair animals with stars are not kindly looked upon by the film-going public, because they have endured Our Gang shorts and Oh, Heavenly Dog! and the Beethoven franchise. But A Dog Year is an adult story, told maturely, that avoids bleeding over into mere animal "hijinx" for the sake of easy laughs. Devon is as real a character as Katz, and that is an accomplishment.


On DVD: Trouble in Mind

Alan Rudolph's Trouble in Mind is one of those unclassifiable messes that are almost as charming as they are mystifying, but not quite - and therein lies the rub. A deluge of atmosphere that incorporates references to everything from The Maltese Falcon to Blade Runner, this neo-noir never develops its own character - which is also to say that its characters themselves are too much concerned with their respective "type" to bother with being individuals. Rudolph crafts a story that adopts plot elements from Depression-era crime pictures and high noir into a pastiche tale that never narrows its focus, choosing instead to survey a landscape that is bizarre, entertaining, and colorful, but never enthralling.

Kris Kristofferson, wearing black noir formals (suit, trench coat, fedora), emerges from prison after being locked up for several years. He plays John Hawkins, who was once a detective for the Rain City PD, but he shot a man - someone who apparently deserved it. (We don't know much more than that.) Upon his release, Hawk returns to the semi-futuristic Rain City (a wholly recognizable turn by Seattle), just as Coop and Georgia (Keith Carradine and Lori Singer), a down-on-their-luck couple from the mountains, arrive in the city as well, having decided to try their luck in a new environment. 

Carradine's character immediately slips into a life of crime, pairing up with the sleazy Solo (Joe Morton) to pull off robberies of goods that they hope to sell to a local crime lord, Hilly Blue (Divine, out of drag, channeling Sydney Greenstreet). Hawk also starts to circle Hilly, in the hope of drumming up some "extra-legal" side work. But Hawk, whose main interest appears to be getting legitimately laid after essentially raping Wanda his first night out of stir, gets caught up in the drama between Coop and Georgia, who have split. Coop, who adopts a bizarre new look, spends all his time with his gang, and Georgia has taken their infant son and moved in with Wanda. Hawk keeps an eye on her, making his intentions with regard to Georgia explicitly clear.

This is far more plot detail than I usually like to get into when writing a review, but that's really what Trouble in Mind has going for it. It's packed with story, which keeps one engaged thanks to all of the incident and oddity. Unfortunately, the characters themselves aren't what keep us interested, nor is there any sort of coherent thematic through-line. The film is a hodgepodge of goings-on and style, an agglomeration of references, moods, and jokes. Kristofferson has the right dark quality for his role, and Bujold is appropriately shadowy as the woman with "a past." In fact, everyone does well in their respective parts, particularly Divine, whose entourage includes a grotesque mute henchman straight out of a Brian De Palma movie. But the actors aren't given enough to really flex their muscles, as Rudolph is more interested in their surroundings and situations. The production design owes much to Blade Runner, which was released three years earlier; the film's look is all rain-slicked asphalt reflecting neon lights. The photography is good, but nowadays, despite an effort to restore the image for this DVD release, Trouble in Mind is hampered by degradation of the low-quality film stock prevalent at the time of its production.

Rudolph has some of the whimsy of his mentor, Robert Altman, but at least in this case he has an insufficient grasp on his characters. They are flat and do not drive the story; instead, there is a sense that the script drives the story, and it is a mannered, self-conscious script that relies on pastiche instead of emotion or even technique. 

Read the full review here

On DVD: The Other Guys

The Other Guys has a terrific cast and a promising concept, but most of the film falls flat despite much effort on the part of everyone involved. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay have made a couple of very funny movies together (Anchorman and Step Brothers), both of which always seemed on the verge of not being funny. This duo's comic sensibilities court a sense of impending failure and string audiences along on riffs that can become uncomfortably extended, but which often succeed on the basis of that very discomfort. For The Other Guys, McKay assembles a typically strong cast for a head-first dive into genre territory: action pictures. Whereas McKay and Ferrell's other films together seem to stem from character-based concepts, The Other Guys wants to embrace and enjoy specific genre conventions. As a jumping off point, the action genre hurts the film's comedy, which is forced to struggle against the tighter production demands of action sequences and a more plot-driven environment. McKay and Ferrell's usually loose, improvisational style seems burdened and curtailed by the need to cut faster and move the story forward.

Ferrell plays Det. Allen Gamble of the New York Police Department. He and his partner, Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), are desk-bound losers derided by just about everyone they work with. When the city's hero cops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) are killed in the line of duty, Gamble and Hoitz are given an opportunity to shine - an opportunity that they bungle at just about every turn, to the chagrin of their beleaguered captain (Michael Keaton). But they also build an incremental case against Sir David Ershon (Steve Coogan), a Bernard Madoff-style investment manager. The plot becomes a bit too twisty at this point, proceeding uncertainly and elliptically to include an appearance by Eva Mendes as Gamble's unlikely wife, and a focus on Gamble and Hoitz's strained partnership.

The film's cast list is staggering, and each performer works very, very hard, to mixed results. Keaton has some particularly good moments, but Coogan is wasted in a role that utilizes virtually none of his enormous talent. The key problem here is a sense that the cast is hemmed in by a script that relies too heavily on a standard action film structure. Based on those involved,
The Other Guys should have been a lot more inventive in terms of stretching and subverting action clichés; instead, it sticks too closely to the demands of action movie pacing, wrecking the ability of these great comic performers to create something new within those boundaries. The Other Guys wants to get through scenes quickly, establish plot points, and build to action scenes.

This is unfortunate because the raw material and comic instincts are here - they just aren't allowed to develop and play out the way they should have. McKay is too concerned about getting to the next scene in trying to manage a script over-laden with plot points. Some jokes work extremely well, including the demise of the Jackson and Johnson characters, and several other bits.
The Other Guys doesn't fall flat, it's just not the success that it should have been. 


On DVD: Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love is a movie for idiots, about an idiot. It is about a woman with no tangible complaints in life who creates a best-selling mid-life crisis for herself. But Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Roberts can't fool me. Despite their obvious effort, they cannot create a character worth spending 140 minutes with. The reason they fail on a credible artistic level is the same reason that the book upon which the film was based was so successful: the Elizabeth Gilbert depicted in the film is a brainless invertebrate with no consideration for anyone but herself. Her lack of qualities is, I'm sure, exactly what droves of self-medicating pseudo-intellectuals found so appealing about her story of unromantic love, gluttonous consumption, and phony spiritual experiences. But my experience was different.

That's probably because I don't identify with a woman who has a rewarding career, a house in New York City, and a vibrant social life - but desperately needs to give it all up. I don't identify with a person whose chief struggle in life is a sudden need to travel around the world, visit exotic places, and grapple with languages and global cuisine. I don't identify with the soulless idiocy that might drive a person to consider this type of situation a "crisis," nor do I empathize with those who make poor life choices and then simply walk away from them. I don't identify with a life of unappreciated privilege or the type of ignorance that romanticizes foreign locales, especially those where the standard of life is significantly lower than ours, as places of unmitigated wonder and mystical possibility. I don't identify with these things because they are all signs of delusion, signs of a personality with no self-knowledge or comprehension of life's endless variety. I don't identify with these ways of looking at things because they comprise some of the chief defects of our society, defects that are coddled by an economy whose foundation rests upon its ability to convince people to use anything and everything including books, pills, sports, religion, entertainment, and even our own friends and family as mere medication. It's impossible to deny the importance of each of these things in a rich, well-rounded life, but people like Gilbert are searching for answers, desperately, in all the wrong places. They seek external "explanations" for things that only happen internally. The unwarranted dependence upon "solutions" that come from outside our own brains and experiences is the ill itself, not a path to happiness.

Eat Pray Love is not just philosophically misguided, but it bears the fervent incuriosity of the recent convert - the unquestioning conviction that it is depicting a genuine revelation-in-progress, when what it actually portrays is a woman who is so self-involved, so utterly unaware of the ways in which her actions affect others, and so deeply deluded by the kind of provincial ignorance that only affects certain New Yorkers, that she actually believes her behavior is selfless instead of selfish. In this way, the film communicates a message that is the exact inverse of what it thinks it's delivering. Director and co-scripter Ryan Murphy takes Gilbert at her word, translating the best-selling book to film as if it were gospel, never once questioning Gilbert's motives for going on this "journey," let alone writing a book about it that just happens to be an agglomeration of several highly trendy best-selling topics in one sugary narrative. Murphy shows a technical facility that goes hand-in-glove with the story's aggressively romanticized search for pleasure: the entire film is suffused with golden light, regardless of location, even in the scenes shot in New York. The photography is pleasing, but it's also manipulative, just like the rest of the movie, which tries so hard to convince us that Gilbert was experiencing a crisis that could only be resolved by grotesque indulgence in luxury.

Julia Roberts doesn't improve matters, displaying her boundless capacity for making sheer lunacy appear attractive, at least for a second. But Roberts has nothing behind her eyes other than an interest in making certain facial expressions over and over again, movie after movie, particularly that smile that says, "I get everything I want. Too bad no one else does!" Her performance in this movie embodies no one other than an over-indulged celebrity - which, perhaps, may be the case with the post-Eat Pray Love Gilbert. She certainly got what she wanted. It's not every day that a journey into self-discovery ends with a huge-selling book and a movie deal. What a lucky coincidence for her. 

Read the full review here


Excerpt: A Portrait of the Successful American Male: Judge Pyncheon

Please welcome today's guest blogger: Nathaniel Hawthorne.  About 160 years ago, in his novel The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne wrote the definitive description of the perilous cost of fiscal and social success in America.  Further commentary would only reduce the impact and beauty of Hawthorne's work:

"The Judge, beyond all question, was a man of eminent respectability. The church acknowledged it; the state acknowledged it. It was denied by nobody. In all the very extensive sphere of those who knew him, whether in his public or private capacities, there was not an individual—except Hepzibah, and some lawless mystic, like the daguerreotypist, and, possibly, a few political opponents—who would have dreamed of seriously disputing his claim to a high and honorable place in the world's regard. Nor (we must do him the further justice to say) did Judge Pyncheon himself, probably, entertain many or very frequent doubts, that his enviable reputation accorded with his deserts. His conscience, therefore, usually considered the surest witness to a man's integrity,—his conscience, unless it might be for the little space of five minutes in the twenty-four hours, or, now and then, some black day in the whole year's circle,—his conscience bore an accordant testimony with the world's laudatory voice. And yet, strong as this evidence may seem to be, we should hesitate to peril our own conscience on the assertion, that the Judge and the consenting world were right, and that poor Hepzibah with her solitary prejudice was wrong. Hidden from mankind,—forgotten by himself, or buried so deeply under a sculptured and ornamented pile of ostentatious deeds that his daily life could take no note of it,—there may have lurked some evil and unsightly thing. Nay, we could almost venture to say, further, that a daily guilt might have been acted by him, continually renewed, and reddening forth afresh, like the miraculous blood-stain of a murder, without his necessarily and at every moment being aware of it. 

"Men of strong minds, great force of character, and a hard texture of the sensibilities, are very capable of falling into mistakes of this kind. They are ordinarily men to whom forms are of paramount importance. Their field of action lies among the external phenomena of life. They possess vast ability in grasping, and arranging, and appropriating to themselves, the big, heavy, solid unrealities, such as gold, landed estate, offices of trust and emolument, and public honors. With these materials, and with deeds of goodly aspect, done in the public eye, an individual of this class builds up, as it were, a tall and stately edifice, which, in the view of other people, and ultimately in his own view, is no other than the man's character, or the man himself. Behold, therefore, a palace! Its splendid halls and suites of spacious apartments are floored with a mosaic-work of costly marbles; its windows, the whole height of each room, admit the sunshine through the most transparent of plate-glass; its high cornices are gilded, and its ceilings gorgeously painted; and a lofty dome—through which, from the central pavement, you may gaze up to the sky, as with no obstructing medium between—surmounts the whole. With what fairer and nobler emblem could any man desire to shadow forth his character? Ah! but in some low and obscure nook,—some narrow closet on the ground-floor, shut, locked and bolted, and the key flung away,—or beneath the marble pavement, in a stagnant water-puddle, with the richest pattern of mosaic-work above,—may lie a corpse, half decayed, and still decaying, and diffusing its death-scent all through the palace! The inhabitant will not be conscious of it, for it has long been his daily breath! Neither will the visitors, for they smell only the rich odors which the master sedulously scatters through the palace, and the incense which they bring, and delight to burn before him! Now and then, perchance, comes in a seer, before whose sadly gifted eye the whole structure melts into thin air, leaving only the hidden nook, the bolted closet, with the cobwebs festooned over its forgotten door, or the deadly hole under the pavement, and the decaying corpse within. Here, then, we are to seek the true emblem of the man's character, and of the deed that gives whatever reality it possesses to his life. And, beneath the show of a marble palace, that pool of stagnant water, foul with many impurities, and, perhaps, tinged with blood,—that secret abomination, above which, possibly, he may say his prayers, without remembering it,—is this man's miserable soul! 

"To apply this train of remark somewhat more closely to Judge Pyncheon. We might say (without in the least imputing crime to a personage of his eminent respectability) that there was enough of splendid rubbish in his life to cover up and paralyze a more active and subtile conscience than the Judge was ever troubled with. The purity of his judicial character, while on the bench; the faithfulness of his public service in subsequent capacities; his devotedness to his party, and the rigid consistency with which he had adhered to its principles, or, at all events, kept pace with its organized movements; his remarkable zeal as president of a Bible society; his unimpeachable integrity as treasurer of a widow's and orphan's fund; his benefits to horticulture, by producing two much esteemed varieties of the pear and to agriculture, through the agency of the famous Pyncheon bull; the cleanliness of his moral deportment, for a great many years past; the severity with which he had frowned upon, and finally cast off, an expensive and dissipated son, delaying forgiveness until within the final quarter of an hour of the young man's life; his prayers at morning and eventide, and graces at meal-time; his efforts in furtherance of the temperance cause; his confining himself, since the last attack of the gout, to five diurnal glasses of old sherry wine; the snowy whiteness of his linen, the polish of his boots, the handsomeness of his gold-headed cane, the square and roomy fashion of his coat, and the fineness of its material, and, in general, the studied propriety of his dress and equipment; the scrupulousness with which he paid public notice, in the street, by a bow, a lifting of the hat, a nod, or a motion of the hand, to all and sundry of his acquaintances, rich or poor; the smile of broad benevolence wherewith he made it a point to gladden the whole world,—what room could possibly be found for darker traits in a portrait made up of lineaments like these? This proper face was what he beheld in the looking-glass. This admirably arranged life was what he was conscious of in the progress of every day. Then might not he claim to be its result and sum, and say to himself and the community, 'Behold Judge Pyncheon there'? 

"And allowing that, many, many years ago, in his early and reckless youth, he had committed some one wrong act,—or that, even now, the inevitable force of circumstances should occasionally make him do one questionable deed among a thousand praiseworthy, or, at least, blameless ones,—would you characterize the Judge by that one necessary deed, and that half-forgotten act, and let it overshadow the fair aspect of a lifetime? What is there so ponderous in evil, that a thumb's bigness of it should outweigh the mass of things not evil which were heaped into the other scale! This scale and balance system is a favorite one with people of Judge Pyncheon's brotherhood. A hard, cold man, thus unfortunately situated, seldom or never looking inward, and resolutely taking his idea of himself from what purports to be his image as reflected in the mirror of public opinion, can scarcely arrive at true self-knowledge, except through loss of property and reputation. Sickness will not always help him do it; not always the death-hour!"

On DVD: Cairo Time

Cairo Time is a thoughtful, understated, well-photographed character piece anchored by a good performance by an appealing actress. In the lead, Patricia Clarkson gives a quiet, lovely performance, as is her tendency. Writer-director Ruba Nadda's script is sensitive and subtly searching, and her direction is elegant without being slick. As a character piece, it requires, more than the average genre picture, that we feel that we know something about the protagonist. At first, it seems as though Nadda is perhaps a touch too aloof in her approach to Clarkson's character. But Cairo Time admirably constructs its two lead characters over time, rather than rushing to etch them too firmly at the outset.

Clarkson plays Juliette, a magazine editor who arrives in Cairo looking to reconnect with her husband, a UN staffer who is delayed in Israel due to fighting in Gaza. She ends up whiling away the days waiting for him in the city, often in the company of her husband's friend, Tareq (Alexander Siddig). Tareq is a gentlemanly bachelor who remains tactfully aloof during their outings, despite his obvious attraction to her - and to her foreign-ness. 

Cairo Time has something in common with David Lean's Summertime from 1954, but it's tone is different, and it's charged with the concerns and politics of our own time. Nadda invests Juliette with a fairly naive grasp of recent global events and cultural tensions; this is clever work, as it forces viewers to test their own assumptions against Juliette's naiveté and weigh whether or not we are too prejudiced. Still, the film has a light touch in this area, never even approaching the brow-beating we commonly receive from movies that wish to prove a point. That light touch is assisted by the gorgeous photography, which is fluid and expressive without being too romantic or fussy. There's no use of soft-focus here. This isn't Eay Pray Love by any means. Cairo Time is shot with confident simple beauty that reflects a classic sensibility in terms of photographing a story.

Juliette is an observer, and there's a Jim Jarmusch quality to her ramblings and wanderings, her exposure to a new way of life, and her quiet growth throughout the course of the story. Clarkson is the Blossom Dearie of actresses. She's blonde, petite, and quiet. Everything she does is deeply felt but gently communicated. She has good taste and poise, and an old-fashioned grace. Here, Clarkson suggests tastefully masked reservoirs of emotion that she and Nadda only hint at during carefully timed moments. For all that, Cairo Time never feels contrived or overworked. The film suggests the hard work that went into it only inasmuch as it all comes off so well. Siddig is also very good, portraying a man similar to Juliette in his sense of dignity and allegiance to good taste and principled behavior. He is a charming, modest old soul who prefers his own concept of rectitude over life's many temptations. 

Read the full review here