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Reviews for August 8th, 2012

Hope Springs

Directed by David Frankel

      Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have been husband and wife for 31 years, but their married life has gone stale both in and out of the bedroom. They even sleep in separate bedrooms. After futile attempts to reignite the spark with Arnold, she seeks the help of a marriage therapist, Dr.Feld (Steve Carell), to try to rejuvinate her marriage. Arnold reluctantly agrees to travel with her to the small town of Great Hope Springs, Maine to meet with the therapist.

      Hope Springs boasts strong performances from the always-reliable Meryl Streep who's quite radiant and charming, Tommy Lee Jones who's quite convincing as a stubborn, frigid husband, and Steve Carell who plays against type. Radiance and charm can even be found in the small roles, such as a bartender (Elisabeth Shue), a waitress (Becky Ann Baker), an innkeeper (Damian Young) and a clerk (Daniel Flaherty). Streep deserves to at least be nominated for Best Actress because, once again, she sinks her teeth into a meaty character with utter conviction and even excels during the few moments that require physical comedy, i.e. a memorable scene in a movie theater where Kay and Arnold watch the French comedy The Dinner Game. From start to finish, Streep sizzles and has, much like the film itself, a certain "je ne sais quoi."

      What makes a truly great romantic comedy? It should not only have great acting and a sweet, smart and funny screenplay, but it should also be grounded in truth or realism that makes it, at least to some degree, relatable and universal. Hope Springs has all of that to offer and more which means that it will go down as a classic. Director David Frankel moves the film at just the right pace and includes a very well-chosen soundtrack that compliments the film's different tones. Moreover, there's the hilarious, bold and witty screenplay by Vanessa Taylor. Just listen to the many exchanges between Kay, Arnold and Dr.Feld during their sessions, and you'll notice how successfully the film manages to tickle your funny bone, touch your heart and make you think at the same time. Those scenes feel so true-to-life that you'll feel like a voyeur into the private lives of Kay and Arnold. If you're not able to relate to them, perhaps you will one day if you choose to get married in the future or perhaps you know someone (i.e. your own parents) who would be able to relate.

      How often do you get to watch any kind of American comedy that deals with topics like sex, happiness, sadness, loneliness and love so frankly, warmly and wisely without appealing to the lowest common denominator? Usually, those kind of high brow comedies are found in European cinema lately, not in American cinema, which makes Hope Springs all the more rare and refreshing, and one of the smartest romcom in years.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Columbia Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Meet the Fokkens

Directed by Gabrielle Provaas and Rob Schroder

      How often do you get the chance to watch a documentary about elderly prostitutes? Meet the Fokkens provides you with that rare opportunity because it centers around Louise and Martine Fokkens, identical twins who have been living in the Red Light district of Amsterdam for the past 50 years and whose age at the time of filming happens to be 69, no pun intended. They're both funny, warm and honest which can be easily observed in the interviews with them. Louise has retired from the prostitution business because of arthritis, and now she spends her time painting. Martine, though, still works as a full time prostitute.

      Co-directors Gabrielle Provaas and Rob Schroder show the twins going about their daily lives and doesn't include their background info until later on in the film. Sure, it's interesting to learn how and why they became prostitutes, but the co-directors fail to ask them meatier questions that dig deeper into what's going on inside their heads. You do get a chance to watch Martine performing some sexual acts with clients, though.

      By the 1-hour mark, you'll get used to the fact that these elderly women are so sexual, so the surprise element wanes, and you'll be left yearning for more insight or revelations about them. How do they feel about prostitution being illegal in America, for instance? Why are Europeans more comfortable about sex than Americans? How did they manage to overcome shyness of being naked, especially given that they’re approaching the age of 70? Watching them trying to seduce local passersby or frolicking in the snow is amusing, but up to a certain point. Nonetheless, there are only a few dull and tedious moments to be found because, when it comes down do it, Louise and Martine are quite diverting and even liberating to watch.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Kino Lorber.
Opens at the Film Forum.

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