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Reviews for December 30th, 2022

Documentary Round-Up

      Turn Every Page is a provocative, moving and very well-edited documentary about author Robert Caro and his editor, Robert Gottlieb. Director Lizzie Gottlieb, the daughter of Robert Gottlieb, does a great job of introducing the audience to these 2 legends in the literary world. The docu isn't just about these two men; it's about their relationship over the span of 50 years. Caro wrote the biographies of Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Moses. You'll learn how Gottlieb ended up as his editor, what his childhood was like and what it was like for him to work with Robert Caro. Turn Every Page covers a lot of ground in a way that's never confusing, exhausting or dull. That feat alone takes great editing to accomplish. If you're not familiar with the books that Caro wrote, you'll learn a little about those as well. There's also some humorous moments that provide some levity like when Caro, Gottlieb and others talk about what they think is the correct way to use a semicolon; they don't agree on one clear-cut way to use it. Most importantly, though, director Lizzie Gotlieb humanizes her father and Caro through the candid talking-head interviews with both of them. Robert Gottlieb even has a brief moment when he nearly tears up in front of the camera. He comes across as warm, charismatic and very, very intelligent as well as articulate. The same can be said about the equally-brilliant Robert Caro. At a running time of 1 hour and 52 minutes, which flies by like 90 minutes, Turn Every Page is captivating, illuminating and heartfelt. It opens at Film Forum via Sony Pictures Classics.

A Man Called Otto

Directed by Marc Forster

      Otto (Tom Hanks) lives alone and still grieves over the death of his wife. On a cold, wintry day, just as he's about to hang himself from the ceiling, his new neighbors, Marisol (Mariana Treviño) and her husband, Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), arrive at his door with home-cooked food to show their kindness. They gradually become friends the more they spend time together.

      Based on the novel A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and on the Swedish film by Hannes Holm, A Man Called Ove is a genuinely heartwarming, tender and inspirational story about a man who rekindles passion for life. The screenplay by David Magee does a wonderful job of turning Otto into a fascinating, complex human being. At first, Otto seems like nothing more than a grumpy, impertinent curmudgeon who hates nearly everyone he meets. The way that he treats his neighbors with such hostility makes him very unlikable. He's just as toxic and rude as Melvin Udall from As Good as it Gets. However, like Melvin, there's so much more to him than meets the eye. Screenwriter David Magee doesn't shy away from peeling the layers beneath Otto's anger and bullying to reveal a very sad, depressed, lonely and emotionally immature man. Similarly, beneath Marisol's upbeat, bubbly personality, there are other layers revealed there, too, which humanize her. Magee handles exposition in a very organic way because you don't learn about the backstory of Otto and his wife right away. There are some flashbacks which help you to get inside Otto's mind as he recalls his memories of how he met her. Despite the heavy subject matter, there's just the right amount of comic relief and wit to counterbalance the darker moments to make them more palatable. To be fair, at times, it's a little bit saccharine, but like the Mary Poppins song says, it takes "just spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down."

      The best way to describe the emerging friendship between Otto and his new neighbors is to compare it to Harold and Maude---Otto is Harold while his new neighbors are Maude, essentially. Otto comes of age and experiences epiphanies as much as Harold does while he learns to embrace life. Ultimately, he learns how to befriend and love himself while getting rid of the hatred. As poet Pablo Neruda once wrote, "They can cut all of the flowers, but they can't stop the spring from coming." That's a life lesson worth learning and appreciating.

      Tom Hanks gives one of the best performances of his career as he grounds the character of Otto with pure, unadulterated poignancy. The screenplay designs a large window into Otto's heart, mind and soul, so it's a testament to Hanks' acting skills that he manages to open that window fully. Both the sensitive screenplay and Hanks' moving, emotionally generous performance help to make Otto's character arc feel natural, believable and inspirational. Mariana Treviño gives a breakthrough performance. She's a revelation, and exudes plenty of warmth, charisma and terrific comedic timing that invigorate the film while she finds the emotional truth of her role. At a running time of 2 hours and 6 minutes, A Man Called Otto is one of the best films of the year. It would make for a great double feature with Living, Harold & Maude, As Good as it Gets, Scrooge and Joe Versus the Volcano.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Columbia Pictures.
Opens in select theaters. Expands nationwide on January 13th, 2023.