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'Mr. Turner': Masterpiece film

Published March 25. 2015 03:21PM

"Mr. Turner" is a film of stunning beauty.

At times, viewing director Mike Leigh's lovely film is like seeing a landscape painting put into motion.

Some scenes depicting British landscape painter, Joseph Mallord William "J.M.W." Turner (1775-1851) are outlined as a solitary stroll against the ocean, cliffs or fields. The movie-goer is given the point of view of what the painter might be seeing.

The play of sunlight in Leigh's leisurely film (at two and one-half hours, it is enjoyable, if about one hour too long) is a character of its own: the glowing morning light, the soft mist and bobbing sailboats against the sky.

Leigh, who wrote the screenplay, no doubt chose this emphasis because Turner is dubbed "the painter of light." In person apparently and as depicted late in his life in the film, Turner is anything but "light." To describe the painter as "gruff" and a "curmudgeon" would be an understatement.

The dialogue of Turner (Timothy Spall) is spare to the point of being nonexistent, consisting mostly of the occasional one word. The limited dialogue may be one reason why Spall was not nominated for an actor Oscar. "Mr. Turner" received four Oscar nominations (cinematography, costume, original score, production design).

Spall (Winston Churchill, "The King's Speech" (2010); Beadle, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street" (2007), Wormtail, aka Peter Pettigrew, "Harry Potter" films) is exceptional. He walks with the determination of a beetle. His body resembles the shape of a garden gnome. His cold eyes give silent answers. He responds to questions and comments with a bovinelike snort.

The film is not so much a biopic of Turner, but rather a perspective on a portion of his life. It seems to fairly well convey the tenor of Turner's times, down to the rivalries among members of the Royal Academy of Arts, and the personalities of those in Turner's life, including his father, William (Paul Jeeson); his housekeeper, Dorothy (Dorothy Atkinson); a widow, Sarah Danby (Ruth Sheen), with whom Turner is said to have had two daughters, and a widow in Chelsea, Mrs. Booth (Marion Bailey), whom he befriended.

Leigh ("Happy-Go-Lucky," 2008; "Vera Drake," 2004; "Topsy-Turvy," 1999; "Secrets & Lies," 1996) pays great attention to the settings in Chelsea, the interiors of the residences and the Royal Academy gallery, where paintings are hung frame against frame.

One quibble I have with "Mr. Turner" is the recording and-or enunciation of the dialogue in the first portion of the film, especially that between Turner and his father. The phlegmatic intonation and slurred words would've benefited from subtitles.

And there's the film's length. At times, you might say, it's like watching paint dry.

That said, "Mr. Turner" is exquisite. Like its namesake, the film is a masterpiece.

"Mr. Turner" is a must-see for art aficionados, fans of the films of director Mike Leigh, as well as fans of the estimable actor Timothy Spall.

"Mr. Turner," MPAA rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for some sexual content; Genre: Biography, Drama, History; Run time: 2 hrs., 30 mins.; Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "Mr. Turner" was filmed on location in London, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Cornwall, Bedfordshire, South Yorkshire, West Sussex, England, and Wales, United Kingdom.

Box Office, March 20: "Insurgent" proved to be divergent, opening at No. 1, with a solid $54 million, knocking "Cinderella" from her No. 1 perch, with a still impressive $34.4 million, $122 million, two weeks;

3. "Run All Night," $5.1 million, $19.7 million, two weeks; 4. "The Gunman," $5 million; 5. "Kingsman: The Secret Service," $4.6 million. $114.5 million, six weeks; 6. "Do You Believe?" $4 million; 7. "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," $3.4 million, $24.1 million, three weeks; 8. "Focus," $3.3 million, $49.4 million, four weeks; 9. "Chappie," $2.6 million, $28.3 million, three weeks; 10. "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water," $2.3 million; $158.7 million, seven weeks;

Unreel, March 27:

"Get Hard," R: Etan Cohen directs Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart in a comedy about a millionaire who must do time in San Quentin and the man who prepares him for life behind bars.

"Home," PG: An alien lands on earth in the animated film that features the voices of Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Steve Martin and Jennifer Lopez.

"While We're Young," R: A middle-aged couple's life is disrupted by a young couple. Noah Baumbach directs Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried and Adam Driver in the comedy-drama.

"Serena," R: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook," 2012) reunite, this time for a period piece set during the Great Depression about the splintering of a North Carolina timber empire.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press website, thelehighvalley-press.com; the Times News website, tnonline.com; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6-6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, wdiy.org, where the movie reviews are archived. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@tnonline. com. Follow Paul Willistein on Twitter @ PaulWillistein and friend Paul Willistein on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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