“Leonie”–The Lioness and the Sculptor

“Don’t bore me by being ordinary” –These are words Leonie Gilmour (exquisitely acted by Emily Mortimer) admonishes her college friend, Catherine (Christina Hendricks) at Bryn Mawr. After graduation, she departs on an astonishingly unconventional life at the turn of the 20th century.

Based on the true story of an American intellectual, “Leonie” introduces the story of Leonie Gilmour, mother of the renowned American sculptor Isamu Noguchi.  Filmed in lush period detail in the US and Japan, “Leonie” is a biopic of a woman who straddles two morally rigid cultures with no room for an independent woman.  She defies convention and law:  interracial marriage, premarital sex, and unwed mother. As the lover of the Japanese poet Yone Noguchi (Shido Nakamura, one of the stars of  “Letters from Iwo Jima”), Leonie is employed as Noguchi’s editor for a novel for the American market.  With implied racism on the part of the US editor, Gilmour cleverly pitches the novel for the editor’s acceptance.  Noguchi responds to her pregnancy by abandoning her to marry according to Japanese customs, but Leonie defiantly moves to Japan to raise their son without the father’s support.

She is a pioneer, a  feminist who loves whom she chooses and lives as she wants. Her best friend, Catherine (Hendricks) illustrates the conventional role forced upon an upper class college woman: a conventional marriage of boredom in a gilded cage.  The film narrative hints at the source for Leonie’s heroic defiance of her generation’s moral code: her single mother (Mary Kay Place), a hippie before the 60’s,  homesteads a dusty patch of Pasadena ranchland.

Understanding nothing of the language or culture, Leonie tenaciously supports her young child by teaching English to young soldiers. The stoicism in her own daily routine, however,  never overcomes her joy in her son’s awakening to the art and culture of life in Japan.

With no formal schooling, her son Isamu designs and builds their first home at the age of 10, learning on the job from skilled artisans and craftsmen.  After the birth of his baby sister (father unknown), Isamu discovers his passion for art.  Encouraged by his mother, Isamu moves to New York  to eventually become one of the world’s most famous sculptors and architects.

The reedited version opened its American theatrical run in New York on March 22 this year after having been first released for the Japanese market in 2011.  Under very limited distribution, it is a shame that more potential viewers will not know of this extraordinary movie about a remarkable and eccentric woman.  Make sure you watch the credits to understand the range of sculpture and architecture Isamu Noguchi created!



“The Newsroom”–A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Cable TV News

In the opening episode, veteran news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is asked by a fresh-faced journalism student what makes America the greatest country on earth.  Cajoled into giving a substantive response by the moderator, Will McAvoy throws caution aside and proceeds in a blistering monologue filled with statistics to explain why America isn’t.  The collateral damage becomes significant. His boss (Sam Waterston) considers the episode a meltdown.

The meltdown forces him to reassess his former self–a time when news reporting was about defending the ideals of a culture and truth telling. Then Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer), a heroic war correspondent and McAvoy’s former lover, becomes the executive producer to monitor his erratic behavior. For Will this is a nightmare, since their romantic relationship ended in heartbreak. Nonetheless, Mackenzie is the one person who can jolt him out of his apathy.

Aaron Sorkin (the writer of “A Few Good Men”, “American President”, “West Wing” and “Social Network”) commands the viewer’s attention with biting dialogue, a gifted cast, and a flinch-inducing, provocative exploration of American politics. This is not to say that the piercing, no-holds-barred monologues will unite audiences of all political persuasions. If you share Sorkin’s politics, you will watch “The Newsroom” every week in amazement at the tenacity of the script.

Incredibly high stakes are involved:  Who tells us what the truth is?  Who sloppily forgets to get a second verification of facts?  What exactly is involved in news reporting with integrity– under tight deadlines?

The portrayal of personal relationships, however, is a disappointment. Will and MacKenzie as squabbling former lovers are dreary and cringe producing, diminishing their intelligence and professionalism.  The young intern Maggie (Alison Pill) is the love interest for two jealous staff reporters (Thomas Sadoski and John Gallagher Jr.) who should just move on and forget about her. However, Jane Fonda, as the female Ted Turner who owns the network, could prove a wonderfully ruthless foil to electrify the business side of competitive broadcasting in a declining market.  However, Sorkin has yet to exploit Fonda’s potential in this role.

I only hope Aaron Sorkin can keep the monologues at such an intellectually vibrant level, setting the bar so high.  I’d rather watch an edgy show that aims high and sometimes falls short, than one that doesn’t. And I’d rather watch a great screenwriter in action than a run-of-the-mill one.