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Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.  Courtesy of HBO..jpg

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman.




It’s hard not to take a basic look at the lives and careers of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and paint an instinctively rosy picture. Their marriage, which began in 1958, lasted a staggering 50 years; Along the way, they built wildly successful, often overlapping film careers while also using their fame and finances as tools to bring the progressive political causes they believed in to life, accumulating impressive roles for trustworthy portrayals of the people behind them. But not only did Woodward and Newman seem hot and talented, they also seemed really good-hearted people.

You won’t finish The Last Movie Stars, Ethan Hawke’s extraordinary – and extraordinarily comprehensive – new documentary series on Newman and Woodward, and have fundamentally changed those conclusions. What’s different now is that there’s a new dimension to how we see it – a new sense of humanity. Hawke uses a lifelong admiration, which he happily professes in the first episode, as an engine to stop flattering her and paint a complete picture of a couple, which, as one of their daughters interviewed notes in the finale, is often bereft of nuanced framing will and appreciation because the all-encompassing too-to-be-true of their shared history is so intoxicating.

Hawke could not be blamed for that mistake. For example, he delves deeply into Newman’s lifelong, sometimes relationship-threatening, alcoholism; the residual pain from his first marriage (he and Woodward had an affair for five years before finally leaving his wife Jackie Witte – whose heartbreaking perspective is detailed in the film – and their three children); the tragic death of Newman’s only son, with whom he had a relationship that never lost its suspense; and other insecurities and sores that are progressively shrinking the larger-than-life quality these issues once held in our minds.

Commissioned by one of Newman and Woodward’s daughters, The Last Movie Stars was a quarantine project for Hawke. Unusually, he makes these circumstances part of the film’s plot. He draws largely from interviews with loved ones and collaborators that Newman and co-writer Stewart Stern conducted for a doomed memoir (Newman, bored with all the chatter around him, ended up destroying the recordings, although Stern happily kept the transcripts) . Hawke appoints a star cast – with Laura Linney replacing former mentor Woodward and George Clooney for Newman – to recreate the conversations once thought lost and incorporate the revived words and train of thought into the documentary’s narrative. Visually, The Last Movie Stars consists mainly of archive material; Hawke has a knack for finding excerpts from either Woodward or Newman’s extensive filmography that perfectly fit what is currently being investigated.

Hawke doesn’t just use the starry ensemble trick as an expensive voiceover, however. He also incorporates into the documentary the virtual conversations he had with his actors between recording sessions, sometimes as a way to reflect on his own wavering conceptualizations of his subjects, sometimes to have a partner with whom to explore the meaning of a specific milestone, sometimes so we can hear a good story from a voice that knew the couple firsthand.

I initially worried that Hawke’s decision to upload making-of details typically kept off-camera would be a nuisance. But it quickly becomes enriching, movingly emphasizing filmmaking’s typically veiled personal seriousness, and providing a worthwhile analysis that adds valuable insights that wouldn’t be here if the film unfolded simply as a considered summary of facts. towards the end The Last Movie Stars, Zoe Kazan, who provides the voice for Witte on the series, asks Hawke what he learned about himself during filming. The cameras cut off before he can answer; we sit with the ambiguity. Perhaps, like me, he’s gained a new perspective on – and appreciation for – life and love, and a reminder that nothing we ever idealize is as rewarding to engage with as reality.







Rebecca Hall in “Resurrection”.




IF MARGARET (REBECCA HALL)a senior biotech executive and single mother, sees David (Tim Roth) a few rows ahead at a conference keynote just before the entrance resurrection, it’s like she saw a ghost. She practically causes a scene where she storms out of the room and sprints all the way home; In a matter of hours, she goes from being a career woman in control to a bunch of twitching nerves. In a way, Margaret Has seen a ghost: It has been 22 years since she last saw this man with whom it is becoming increasingly clear that she was in an extremely traumatic relationship. Its details remain hidden for so long that you’re nervous even in scenes that play with daylight in public places – David has a way of appearing just when Margaret has lost her guard. But even when those details are finally revealed in Hall’s uninterrupted, breathtakingly delivered seven-minute monologue, I wouldn’t say there’s any relief coming.

resurrection only gets more terrifying. It also gets down to increasingly absurd points that can become blunt where the film is sharper: how it charts the increasingly fractious dynamic between Margaret and her 17-year-old daughter (Grace Kaufman), who is alienated and frightened from her once sane mother very scary flown in a helicopter with no real explanation as to why; how it enhances the sense of omniscience that an abuser can evoke; how it presents the harmful effects of untreated trauma individually and secondary, physical and psychological. You can also never be entirely sure whether what you see is reality or a long-drawn-out delusion. Writer-director Andrew Semans maintains that pesky uncertainty without beating it.

resurrection is anchored by Hall, which is similarly uneven along with 2020, but still worthwhile The night houseShe seems to be enjoying the acting challenge of getting lost on screen lately. The constant comparisons to the great French actress Isabelle Adjani – who gave her career-defining performance in the wacky domestic horror film possession (1981), which is actually quite spiritually similar resurrection – are appropriate: Like Adjani, Hall casts her face and body in a role like victims. Hall gives such a tremendously good performance that she can make Roth appear like he isn’t trying to do much with his performance at all, which can spoil the tension of their scenes together. Only one person seems to be performing here at 4-D. But few actors working today work at Hall’s edgy, intensely sensitive level anyway. Seeing a master at work is what makes the most difference resurrection rewarding.

movie love is 425‘s weekly movie column. For more film recommendations from Blake Peterson, subscribe to his newsletter.

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