LOVING VINCENT – AN ANIMATED BIOGRAPHY IN VAN GOGH’S PAINTINGS

SHORT TAKE: Astonishing and beautiful, one of a kind film in which a reluctant messenger plays detective in an attempt to parse out the circumstances of Van Gogh's death, animated in the style of Van Gogh's paintings!

WHO SHOULD WATCH:  Anyone interested in classic art, though younger audience members might get bored. Adult themes of mental illness, prostitution, alcoholism and, of course, the death of Vincent Van Gogh – the main topic of the film – are points of discussion, though there is no graphic content of either a sexual or violent nature, and little or no prafane language.

UNFORTUNATELY, SCREENIT.COM HAS NO DETAILED CONTENT STATISTICS ON LOVING VINCENT YET.

LONG TAKE:

The word "unique" is too often blithely thrown around. If you go online you'll find "unique" hair styles and "unique" ice cream stores. "Unique," in fact means "being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else". And there are really only so many ways you can manipulate your hair before redundancy becomes an issue and I'm afraid a truly "unique" ice cream might not be edible. Even so, there are still a few things that genuinely qualify as "unique": Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, each and every individual human soul, Shakespeare's Hamlet, the Mona Lisa and….Loving Vincent.

Loving Vincent is a movie of which there is only one of its kind. Not just different or unusual, though it is that, but actually unique. Loving Vincent was animated by over 100 professional artists using 853 backdrops and over 66,000 paintings which, if laid out like a carpet would cover both the entire United Kingdom and the Island of Manhattan. 80 of the artists were chosen for their professional technique, facility with computers and ability to accurately recreate Van Gogh's style.

This technique has never before been used. The effect is mesmerizing, like watching one of Van Gogh's paintings come to life before your eyes.

The plot follows Armand Roulin, the son of Joseph Roulin, a postmaster who had been a friend of Vincent's. Armand is portrayed and captured as a facile youth who matures during the course of the movie by Douglas Booth who was Romeo in the 2013 Shakespeare film, Shem in Noah and Titus in Jupiter Rising. Booth carries the water of the narrative beautifully as we see the story unfold through his eyes like the petals of the irises featured in one of Van Gogh's paintings.

Joseph is captured using  Chris O'Dowd, a charming and gentle British comedian who has appeared in roles as varied as Thor: Dark World, the dark and theologically intriguing murder mystery Calvary, the most recent space oriented sci fi installment of the Cloverfield franchise called Cloverfield Paradox, and was in a quirky British comedy about time travel called FAQ About Time Travel.

Joseph tasks his drunken aimless son with transporting the last letter Vincent wrote to his brother Theo. This begins a journey for Armand which will change his perception of the world and himself for the better. Vincent has been dead for two years by the time Armand starts out and during the course of his travels Armand's adventures transform from a simple delivery to an inquiry into the master painter's life and mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. Armand finds out as much about himself as about those who knew Vincent well as he tries to uncover what truths he can concerning the premature demise of this, at that time, unappreciated genius.

This film would have been an achievement in storytelling had it been done live action and would have rivaled Immortal Beloved whose main protagonist sought the identity of the Immortal Beloved to whom he wished to deliver Beethoven's remaining post mortem letter. Or even the curiosity piquing Citizen Kane as one journalist interviews everyone who knew Kane to try to determine the identity of Rosebud. The script is written with sensitivity and three dimensional prose to tweak out the tangles of conflicting evidence amidst the testimonies of those whose only connection was their acquaintance with or love for Vincent. This, as a tale, would have been a great story by itself.  But to use the UNIQUE and brilliantly appropriate, though massively ambitious, technique of animating it with Van Gogh style paintings was itself, if you will excuse the intentional pun, a masterstroke by the writers/directors Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Jacek Dehnel. This is as different in its own way as the one take-one unbroken shot that Russian Ark was (see a previuos blog).

Armand seeks out and questions a number of others. Pere Tanguy (John Sessions) was a friend of Vincent's.   Dr. Gachet (played by Jerome Flynn), who appears in Portrait of Dr. Gachet, had cared for Vincent in his last few months and during the gunshot and subsequent infection that killed Vincent. Louise Chevalier, housekeeper to Dr. Gachet (Helen "Narcissa Malfoy" McCrory), who had no use for Vincent and his odd ways. Adeline Ravoux (played by Eleanor Tomlinson) was an innkeeper's daughter who ran the hotel Vincent last stayed in. Adeline was featured in Van Gogh's Portrait of Adeline Ravoux. Saoirse Ronan (Ladybird) portrays Marguerite. Marguerite Gachet was the daughter of Dr. Gachet, and is the girl in Van Gogh's painting Margueite Gachet at Piano. And Robert Gulaczyk, a Polish theater actor, plays Vincent himself and bears a more than passing resemblance to the shy, kind, sensitive and tormented painter. All the actors were chosen, not just for their acting (for the capture) and voice talents but for their resemblance to characters in the actual paintings by Van Gogh.

Even the title is creative, evocative and chosen with care. Your "Loving Vincent" is the way Vincent would sign his letters to his brother, Theo. Loving Vincent could refer to the way the painters are expressing their respect and affection for this great artist, as in – this is how we are "loving Vincent", by creating this beautiful movie about him. Or it could be a command to the audience as a demonstration of the way we could appreciate the man and his work – as in, if you watch this movie with the appreciation it deserves you will be "loving Vincent". Or it could simply be a description of the man himself. Loving –  as an adjective to describe the great, generous and open heartedness of the man who was the genius master craftsman of the easel – as in – he was a great, a creative, a brilliant but also a loving Vincent.

It is unfortunate and shortsighted by the Oscar committee that Loving Vincent has been selected to compete in the Oscars as "only" in the animated feature film category. There is precedent to allow animated features to compete in the "Best Picture" category – Beauty and the Beast, Up and Toy Story 3 all were accorded that respect. Loving Vincent MORE than deserves the acknowledgement to be included in the Best Picture category.   This is a serious film about the creative life and mysterious death of one of the world's most beloved master painters. It also only HAPPENS to also be an animated movie. We learn not just about the circumstances of his death but of the complex man whose life was cut far too short from those who knew him best and in conversations that appear deceptive or misleading at first, as in the style of an Agatha Christie novel, and all come together like some lovingly sculpted three dimensional puzzle.

Not only is this movie made WITH beautiful paintings, it IS one big gorgeous animated painting. This is a remarkable work of startlingly pure love – a love letter from these hundreds of artists and actors and seamstresses and animators, caterers and drivers, electricians and sound technicians, not to mention the writers and directors …… to Vincent Van Gogh

Watching this movie gave me a new appreciation for Van Gogh's paintings and has inspired me to seek out and learn more about this great man's work.

It also couldn't help but remind me of two other lovingly created items which focused on Vincent Van Gogh. The first is one of the most moving three and a half minutes of cinema I have ever seen.

It is near the end of the Dr. Who episode – Vincent. Dr Who and his companion Amy have traveled back in time to meet Vincent Van Gogh. They befriend him and come face to face with the mental and personal struggles of this gentle soul and decide to bring him forward in time to show him the Van Gogh exhibit at the Musee d'Orsay. Tony Curran, as Vincent, does a magnificent job as Van Gogh and the scene is touching, funny and deeply moving. .  Dr Who excerpt – Vincent at the Musee d'Orsay.

The other bit of Van Gogh fandom which occurred to me was Don McLean's song Vincent. McLean is probably best known for American Pie. The song Vincent came out in the same year, 1971, when I was twelve: "Starry Starry Night, paint your palette blue and gray…how you suffered for your sanity…flaming flowers that brightly blaze, swirling clouds in violet haze…and when no hope was left in sight on that starry starry night you took your life as lovers often do…." The melancholic and beautiful tune sums up the feel of this visually, emotionally, narratively and lyrically moving film. LISTEN TO VINCENT HERE: VINCENT by Don McLean

WARNING: I really have none except that the topic of suicide may upset the very young.

This film is a gorgeous masterpiece which I like to think that Van Gogh, himself, would have appreciated.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS AMAZING MOVIE AND ITS CREATION HERE: LOVING VINCENT WEBSITE

SEE IT ON AMAZON HERE: LOVING VINCENT

WINCHESTER – VERY SCARY MOVIE WITH A SURPRISINGLY THOUGHTFUL THEME

SHORT TAKE:

Extremely effective ghost story about the real life Winchester House, well told with a class cast and a pleasantly unexpected underlying thesis.

LONG TAKE:

SOME SPOILERS!

I truly believe that God puts people in your life that you need when you need them. It can be as small as a smile from a stranger when you are feeling blue or directions from a police officer when you are lost in a bad neighborhood or as significant as a chance encounter with someone who will become your lifelong friend.

In my case it was two obnoxious fellow moviegoers during Winchester. You see, it so happened that the night that worked best for my schedule for one of the scariest movies I have seen in a while, was the one night when NO one, because of either opportunity or preference, could go with me.

Winchester’s story is based upon the real house in San Jose which was built and rebuilt during a 38 year construction marathon by the heiress to 50% of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune. Sarah Winchester inherited the today equivalent of a half billion dollars with a continuous income of $25,000 per day. She put this vast wealth to use in moving from New Haven, Connecticut to San Jose, California where she purchased and remodeled an unfinished farm house into a seven story mansion with 161 rooms, 2 ballrooms, 47 fireplaces, three cutting edge elevators and rare indoor conveniences for the era like forced air heating and indoor plumbing. An innovative floating foundation preserved the house from collapse after the devastating 1906 earthquake. In addition to these far thinking aspects to the house, and working without an architect, Sarah Winchester designed the home to     very peculiar specifications, sporting staircases which go nowhere    , rooms with windows which open into other rooms or  into the floor, labrynthian hallways which double back on themselves, a door which open to the outside from the third floor (think Roger Rabbit),  spiderweb motiffs,   groups of 13 items wherever possible and other bizarre features which seem to make no sense. Discount Hogwarts without benefit of movement in the staircases or animated portraits.

However, there are house ghosts.

The premise strives to explain the reason for the unique construction – that Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren) built rooms to replicate those in which the "victims" of the Winchester rifle died, attract them to their room, then help them move on. She acts as sort of an afterlife psychotherapist – thnk the little lady in Poltergeist. After which, Sarah tears down the room and builds anew with a new tenant in mind. In this way she hopes to appease the angry dead and protect her niece and great-nephew Henry from their wrath.  Into this odd scenario comes Eric Price, a traumatized and opium addicted LIVING human psychotherapist (Jason "War for the Planet of the Apes" Clarke), a doctor who is unable to heal himself, hired by the Board of the Winchester Company to prove Sarah Winchester unfit to control her half of the Winchester stock. Although a wackier plot would be hard to find, the inimitable Dame Helen Mirren sells it with gusto and the director/scriptwriters, twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, do a good job of creating convincing back stories and atmosphere which make this all fit.

At this point I'm going to make a shameless fangirl plug for Dame Helen.

I have been following her career since I first saw her as Morgana in Excalibur and have loved everything I have seen her in since. (Please note the knight Mirren is holding hands with is an equally young Liam Neeson.) Some beautiful young women, if they are lucky, become handsome older women. Dame Helen stayed, simply, beautiful. I have seen her in really great movies and some truly tatty ones, but she always brings style, grace and skill to every transfigurative role she chooses.  (2010) (Fate of the Furious)(Gosford Park(Hitchcock) (The Madness of King George(National Treasure 2(The Queen(Raising Helen(Red) (as Prospera, in a female version of The Tempest

She is even teaching a Master Class in acting which is publically available online. AND a friend of mine once sought her out early in her career for an interview for the paper at which he was working. While refused, the refusal was in person…so he did get to meet her….. so that gives me only two degrees of separation, RIGHT????

One of the things I especially liked about the movie, Winchester, was the way the writers-Spierig kept us up in the air as to what is really going on. Is Eric having opium and withdrawal induce hallucinations or is he really in commune with the dead? Is Sarah just a batty old lady or is she really constructing half-way homes for the unquiet deceased? Is the boy truly possessed by an angry ghost or is he traumatized from having seen his abusive alcoholic father die? Was the mansion damaged by the fury of a thwarted poltergeist or did the 1906 earthquake wreck the havoc?

  The Winchester Mansion does exist and it really was severely damaged in 1906 – rending it from its pinnacle of seven stories down to its current four. Construction stopped the day Sarah Winchester died in 1922, afterwhich it was leased in 1923 and eventually purchased from her niece and heir by John and Mayme Brown, who opened it to public display. Dubbed the Winchester Mystery House by Harry Houdini during a tour in 1924, it is still an attraction to this day.

With set designs featuring beautifully period detail, effectively claustrophobic sets, and enough jump scares to unnerve even Beetlejuice, this movie is quite effective for the task to which it applied itself – namely scaring the living snot out of anyone who sees it.

But at the heart of the movie I found another far gentler theme. That God will send you those you need at just the right time. Without giving away too much, Eric, despite his addiction, self doubt and brokenness, heros up for Sarah’s family. And Sarah, despite her looniness, extreme eccentricities and decidedly peculiar guests, is just the friend Eric needs at this bottomed out moment of his life. In many ways, both save each other from fates arguably worse than death.

And this is when I realized….

You see, when I say I went to the movie by myself, I mean not only did I go with no one, but that the theater I was in was completely empty but for me. Row upon row of vacant seats greeted me and sat staring at my back while I endured half a dozen previews fitting for the main attraction, about demonic possession and murderous games. I was tempted to watch the intro credits with laced fingers. So when two people who failed to understand they were not watching the movie in their living room sat nearby, proceeded to make occasionally loud comments to each other, and texted throughout the movie, neglecting to even turn off the slight pinging sound announcing an incoming response, I was actually quite grateful. Every now and again one NEEDS to have their suspension of disbelief interrupted.

And if the oblivious persons in question just happen to read this blog – thank you – BUT – while your intrusiveness was quite helpful in this one instance……..for the next movie – keep it down and at least turn off the danged chime!!!

WARNINGS:

There is a lot of violence and, as I have mentioned, jump scares. Though no bad language, there is use of opiates and the presence of prostitutes though no nakedness or activities. So, obviously, I do not recommend this for young teens.

I also recommend AGAINST the movie for anyone theologically unformed or immature. On the one hand, there are no seances and an atheist does come to understand there is an afterlife. On the other, there is no mention of or appeal to God. But there is a lot of vague talk about spirituality and the ability, without reference to Divine assistance, to command and control unclean spirits, which could be very misleading, disquieting, and even dangerously influential to the vulnerable in mind or soul.