Archive for the ‘Romance’ Category

love and friendship

The recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckensale) has gone to live with her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) and his wife Catherine, (Emma Greenwell) in their palatial home Churchill.  Susan has her eye on the much younger Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel) who is also Catherine’s brother.  The age difference is shocking to Reginald’s father, Reginald Sr. (James Fleet) who is determined to stop the courtship. Quite suddenly, Susan’s daughter, Fredrica (Morfydd Clark) shows up at Churchill , and she is panicked at the thought of marrying Sir James Martin (Tom Bennet) a wealthy dolt, who wants very much to marry Fredrica, but Fredrica has fallen for young Reginald at first sight.  Nothing seems to be standing in the of Susan and young Reginald getting married, but then Lucy Manwaring  (Jenn Murray) confronts Reginald with some shocking news about Susan.  What is this news?  Does it make Reginald rethink his upcoming nuptials?  Who does Susan marry?  Who does Fredrica marry?

This is a period piece, set in 1790 based on a Jane Austen novella.  It’s a comedy of manners filled with polite titters and not large guffaws.  Most of the laughs come from Susan manipulating her daughter, her best friend and the men in her life to get her desired result. The James Martin character provides more laughs with his absurdist, buffoonish character.  If one digs deeper, there is a bit of social commentary about why women married in the late 18th century, but it’s subtle like the rest of this movie.  I’ve seen better Jane Austen adaptations, Emma and Sense and Sensibility, but this is pretty good.

The acting is good.  Beckensale seems very comfortable with the Jane Austen turn of phrase, and she probably feels good being able to act in a role that doesn’t involve vampires or werewolves.  This is the kind of role she should be playing. Tom Bennett is extremely funny as the clueless suitor of Morfydd Clark, I wish he had a bigger role.  The rest of the actors play their character roles well, but no one really stands out, other than Beckinsale and Bennett.

There’s not much that stands out about the direction, the pacing is very slow, dull Victorian England looks appropriately dull, there’s nothing visual to spice thing up.  The director does something rather amateurish, in my opinion.  He puts the character’s names in the opening scenes, so instead of explaining who they are through exposition, the viewer reads who they are, which is an immature way to tell a story.

Love and Friendship:  Beckinsale is no plain Jane, in this Austen adaptation.

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Beguiled

John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is a Colonel in the Union army.  He’s been shot and is losing a lot of blood.  McB is found by 12 year old Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin) who takes him to a Confederate Girls’ School, run by a woman named Martha.  (Geraldine Page)  Martha plans to make him well and turn him over to the Confederate troops patrolling the area immediately, but McBurney has a plan, he starts to ingratiate himself to all the women in the house, including Amy, a house slave named Hallie, (Mae Mercer) a teacher in the school, Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman) a 17 year old “hussy” named Carol, (JoAnn Harris) and Martha.  Martha has been deserted by her brother, Hallie responds to McBurney’s promise to find her boyfriend, Edwina has never been with a man, Amy is just starting to notice men, and Carol just wants another man to sleep with.  McBurney seems to know what button to push with each woman, but he overindulges his cravings, and Carol sees him seducing Edwina, and gets angry, how does she plan to get revenge on McBurney?  Can he keep fooling these needy women?

This is a strange movie, and a far cry from Eastwood’s Dirty Harry persona, or maybe it isn’t.  This is a revenge fantasy, but who’s getting the revenge and who gets the last laugh?  It seems to me that this story is told from the man’s point of view, and the man seems to be a chauvinist.  His first objective is survival, then McBurney wants pleasure and he doesn’t really care who gives it to him.  The women all seem to have man issues, there’s not one self-actualized one in the bunch.  The storyline is a bit redundant after a while, and the strangeness, including a very strange dream sequence,  threatens to derail the plot, but it’s still fun to see who is left standing at the end.  Call it a guilty pleasure. It’s like a Tarantino movie, with a lot less violence.

This is a departure for Clint Eastwood, he doesn’t always play the love ‘em and leave ‘em type, in fact his films are known for their lack of female roles.  But since he can’t fight his way out of this situation or shoot his way out, he has to try to charm his way out.  It’s a macho role, just a different kind of macho role.  Geraldine Page is good as Martha, the founder of the school, with a lot of baggage, and some mighty strange baggage it is.  Page still plays the role as a prim and proper Southern schoolmarm, who keeps her desires locked away.  The rest of the women are stereotypes. Mae Mercer is the “sassy” slave.  Edwina is the virginal ideal woman of that era, Carol is jaded despite her young age, and Amy is the little girl, just starting to experience womanhood.  None of the women in these roles are good enough to make their badly written roles convincing, except for perhaps Elizabeth Hartman as Edwina.  The acting from the supporting cast is not great, the script reads like a Southern soap opera, and that ultimately leads to the downfall of the film.

Not to be outdone, Don Sigel, who directed Dirty Harry overdoes the visuals, the camera spins and reels, like a dizzy schoolgirl, and the effect is claustrophobic and nauseating.  Siegel directs this movie as if it was some kind of Victorian Gothic novel, like Jane Eyre, but this is a trashy low rent Jane Eyre, complete with creepy music from Lalo Schiffrin who’s done some good stuff like Cool Hand Luke and Bullitt, but this music seemed to intrude on the movie and not enhance it. The pacing of the film is slow, the performances are not that great, and it limps to an ending.

The Beguiled:  Eastwood goes South, in more ways than one.

L_06889.NEF

In 1957, Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) told her boyfriend, Richard Loving  (Joel Edgerton) that she was pregnant.  Mildred was black and Native American, and Richard was white.  In 1958, they went to Washington DC to get married.  When they came back home to Virginia to live together as man and wife, they were arrested, because of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws.  The couple moves to DC, but decides to have their child in Virginia, again facing jail time for coming to Virginia together.  So, they move back to DC, and live there.  Mildred becomes more aware of the Civil Rights movement while living in DC, and writes a letter to Robert Kennedy to ask him to look into her case.  Kennedy passes the letter to an ACLU lawyer, named Bernie Cohen  (Nick Kroll) who along with Phil Hirschkop  (Jon Bass) take the case to the Supreme Court.  Do they win?

Loving V. Virginia is one of the most important civil rights cases in legal history. But the movie Loving lacks the intensity or gravity to make the story compelling.  I find it amazing that nobody on either side of the racial divide seemed to raise any objection to the nuptials. This story takes place in Virginia, home of the capital of the Confederacy, the couple marries in 1958, before the Civil Rights movement starts in earnest, and the only people that seem to object are members of the state government.  Loving’s mother raises the slightest objection, but it’s so politely stated, that the viewer might miss it. There is one scene where Richard senses a threat to himself, but nothing comes of it. This movie covers the high points of the story, but does it so blithely, and unemotionally, that all historical and legal import is lost.  The writer seems to soft-peddle the virulent racism of the time period in order to appeal to a 2016 audience’s sensibilities.  By doing so, the movie does a disservice to all who fought and died for Civil Rights and equal rights. The Supreme Court case, which is historic, is treated almost as an afterthought.  This could have been a great movie, but it’s not even a good movie.

Joel Edgerton plays Richard Loving as a laconic guy, maybe he didn’t speak a lot, but the quiet performance doesn’t make the movie any more interesting to watch.  Ruth Negga gives Mildred a little more of an edge, even though she is soft-spoken, and her cadence is slow, she clearly sees an injustice in her life and wants to correct it.  These two performances were central to the film, so it was vital that Negga and Edgerton have chemistry onscreen and they do.

Jeff Nichols wrote and directed the movie and while his script treads lightly on racism, the visual aspect of his direction seems to concentrate on the rural landscape of Virginia, there is even a closeup of a grasshopper at one point.  The pacing is too slow, 2 hours seems like 4 hours, and the portrait of the Lovings is too intimate, the story never broadens to address the larger implications of the case or even the threats they faced for bringing the case.  By keeping the scope narrow, director and writer Nicolls misses the point.  He does get good performances from Negga and Edgerton, that is the saving grace of this film.

June 12th was Loving Day, I hope you spent it with someone you love, watching another movie.

Loving.  Not much to love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

beauty and the beast live

A headstrong, well-read French village girl named Belle (Emma Watson) is tired of life in her small village and can’t help but think that life has more to offer than her small town gives her.  She is relentlessly pursued by town hunk and resident harasser, Gaston, (Luke Evans) who she cleverly avoids. Belle is very close to her father, Maurice, (Kevin Kline) who raised her after Belle’s mom passed away.  When she visits Maurice, Belle asks her dad for a rose, and he promises to get her one. On a snowy night, Maurice loses his way and gets captured by a Beast (Dan Stevens) who has been cursed  by an Enchantress (Hattie Morahan) for his superficiality.  Belle hears that his father has been captured and rides off to save him.  She switches places with Maurice, and traps herself with the Beast.

Gaston sees an opportunity to be the hero, and rides off to save Belle with Maurice.  But Maurice refuses to let him marry Belle, and Gaston accuses Maurice of being crazy and wants to send him to an asylum.  In the castle, Belle and the Beast are becoming closer.  Lumiere, (Ewan McGregor) the candelabra Cogsworth ( Ian McKellan) the clock, Mrs. Potts, the teapot, and Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) the wardrobe, are doing all they can to make the mood as romantic as possible.  They hope Bellle professes her love for the beast, because that will break the Enchantress’ spell on them too.  Things are going swimmingly until Belle checks on her father in a magic mirror, and sees that he is being taken away.  What does she do?  What happens to the Beast and his enchanted staff?

I was disappointed by Beauty and The Beast.  How could I not like a delightful movie such as this, you ask?  Easy, it was too much like its animated namesake, the live action movie followed the story of the animated movie, line for line shot for shot and scene for scene.  When Disney made a live action Jungle Book movie, they created a whole new story that was in every way better than the animated film.  That made me want to watch The Jungle Book, because I didn’t know what was coming with the next scene.  Since I had seen the animated Beauty before, not only did I know the scenes, I knew the songs, I knew the ending, I knew everything.  The few jokes that were added  for Josh Gad’s character weren’t that funny, and didn’t add much to the film.  Why is almost every actor speaking in a British accent, if the film is set in France?  Why does the Beast have blue eyes, is that important? The writers could have done a flashback and embellished the Beast’s character before the curse, and what made him such a superficial person, in the first place something to make it distinctive, anything.

The acting was good.  Emma Watson does the best she can with quite a limiting role, she is supposed to be an independent woman, headstrong, yet falling in love with a cursed Prince.  There is an inherent  contradiction in the role, but Watson is pleasant enough, and sings well enough to make Belle somewhat interesting.  Dan Stevens is pretty dull as the Beast, he doesn’t really bring much to the role.  Kevin Kline plays his role as comedy relief. Luke Evans is actually very good as Gaston, funny and evil at the same time, he put some real life into his role.  Of the Best’s household staff, only Ewan McGregor s Lumiere stands out, he infuses the role with humor and joy and a little sadness, he is truly a great actor.  Audra McDonald has a great operatic voice, I wish they gave her more songs to sing.

The direction is a mixed bag.  The visuals on some of the exteriors are visually appealing.  One of the opening scenes reminded  me very much of The Sound of Music, it was unintentionally humorous.  While the visuals were intriguing, the pacing is extremely slow, two hours seemed  more like four, and the performances were somewhat mixed.  The songs were great, just like the animated film,  but the CGI was overdone.

Beauty and The Beast:  It didn’t ring my Belle.

Band Wagon (1953) 24

Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) is a washed-up Hollywood song and dance man.  He comes to New York by train and is met by the only two remaining members of his fan club, Lester Martin (Oscar Levant) and his wife Lilly. (Nanette Fabray) Lester and Lilly are also screenwriters and Lester has a script for a Broadway play all set for Tony to star in.  Tony’s not sure, but Lester has a meeting set up for Tony with the hottest Broadway producer/director Jeffrey Cordova. (Jack Buchanan)  Jeffrey hears the pitch for the script, and has ideas of his own, he wants to do the play as an adaptation of Faust, the literary character who wants to make a deal with the devil to achieve success. Jeffrey also wants ballerina, Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) to be the leading lady, and after some reverse psychology on Gabrielle’s boyfriend, Paul Byrd (James Mitchell) Jeffrey gets Gabrielle to be the leading lady and Paul to be the play’s chorographer.

But as soon as the cast starts rehearsals for the play, tensions start to mount.  Tony feels like he’s being marginalized by Jeffrey.  Tony also fights with Gabrielle, he feels Gabrielle is arrogant and trying to make things more difficult for him. Even Lilly and Lester, the original writers and members of Tony’s fan club, are not even speaking to one another.  Will this play even make it to previews off Broadway or will internal dissension kill this play before people even see it?

Since I saw La La Land, which was a tribute to Hollywood musicals, I wanted to see a classic Hollywood movie to see if the authentic movie musical was worth the tribute.  The Band Wagon is definitely worth watching and definitely is a classic.  Whereas Singin’ In The Rain is a satire of Hollywood in the silent movie era, the Band Wagon is a satire of Broadway, much like Mel Brooks’ The Producers.  The pompous pretentious producer Jeffrey reminds me of the Horace Hardwick character from Top Hat, pompous, pretentious, and perpetually confused.  Part of this movie reminds me of Damn Yankees, a movie that was really based on Faust, with Gwen Verdon as the temptress, instead of Cyd Charisse The only kink in the armor of The Band Wagon is that they try to push a romantic storyline, where it was really not necessary. But I’m a sucker for Fred Astaire, and even an older version of Astaire has wit, charm, and dance steps to spare.

Fred Astaire plays what he always plays, a song and dance man.  But this time, he’s an aging song and dance man who’s staring the end of his career straight in the face.  Actor Astaire conveys the frustration of being an aging Hollywood star well, in a town that tosses out older stars like most people toss their garbage.  Dancer Astaire proves that he’s still got magic in those feet, doing some of the more masculine styles popularized by Gene Kelly in his movie musicals.  Similarly, Cyd Charisse plays her role with a dual purpose as well.  Actress Charisse plays the role of a shy ballerina, while dancer Charisse plays her role with a smoky seductiveness.  Jack Buchanan plays the haughty producer to perfection, and Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray add even more comedic value to the movie.

The director is Vincente Minelli, father of Broadway star Liza.  Minelli’s film, like many other movies in that golden age of film, pops with bright almost incandescent colors.  This was a visual style aped by Darren Chazier in La La Land.   The musical numbers are expertly staged, and the choreography is excellent.  Minelli also gets very good performances from a talented cast.

The Band Wagon Jump on!

wonder woman

Diana, (Lilly Aspell, Emily Carey, Gal Gadot) is princess of the Amazons, a band of fierce female warriors, who live on an island, with no men.  She wants to train to be a warrior, but her mother Queen Hippolyta  (Connie Nielson) forbids it.  So Diana gets training from General Antiope (Robin Wright) behind her mother’s back.  One day, American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes through the barrier that keeps the island from being visible to others and into the ocean.  Diana saves Steve and learns that Steve is an American spy on a mission to end a secret German chemical weapons program, spearheaded by General  Ludendorf (Danny Huston) and Dr. Maru, (Elena Anaya)  and end World War I.  Steve has Dr. Maru’s formula for the mustard gas, and has to deliver the book to British intelligence.  Diana believes that someone on the German side is really the Greek God of War Aries, who is trying to prolong the war and kill as many humans as possible.  Diana’s mission is to find and kill Aries. Does Hippolyta allow Diana to leave the Amazon’s island and travel with Steve to the front?  Does Steve accomplish his mission to stop the chemical weapons from being used?

This could have been a classic movie, but it sends all kinds of mixed messages.  One is a message of a woman imbued with great powers to stop the human race from annihilating itself, which is a wonderful message.  But if Wonder Woman is so powerful, why does she need help from a man?  Then, the writers want to superimpose some kind of messy love story within the superhero genre.  This kind of genre mixing rarely ever works. It’s been tried in Superman with Lois Lane, and Spiderman with Maryjane, with varying degrees of success.  In the context of this movie, the love story actually undercuts the female empowerment story.  There are also silly scenes that overemphasize Diana’s femininity.  Other than the lead character being a woman, this is a pretty generic superhero film, and the ending is pretty generic as well.  And if anyone thinks that being a woman makes Diana a pacifist, you haven’t watched a Hollywood superhero movie lately, this movie is very violent.

There is one redeeming aspect to Wonder Woman, and it is the performance of Gal Gadot as Diana Prince.  Her earnest, sincere, heartfelt, and serious (that’s a compliment) performance make this movie worth watching.  While most superhero actors are looking for a tagline, Gadot conveys the genuine feeling to the audience that Diana only wants to help people.  Her naiveté is refreshing as well.  If this movie stands out, it is because of her.  Chris Pine is not so lucky, he gives the standard hero performance, but he’s supposed to be an American spy who infiltrates the German military not once but twice.  He doesn’t even try a British accent to blend in to British society, and his German accent is weak.  His ham handed performance almost steals the movie from Gadot, Chris Pine, this wasn’t your movie.  He seems to have forgotten that Gadot is the focus of the film.  Robin Wright has a small role as the woman who trains Diana, but the role is too small to make an impression.

A big deal was made that Wonder Woman was directed by a woman.  The fact is Patty Jenkins added very little to this movie that is different from a man directing the same film.  There’s a backstory, an over reliance on special effects, and a long, long running time.  What exactly is the difference between this movie and Captain America’s origin story?  Not much and so why should Patty Jenkins deserve credit for directing a standard issue superhero movie?  She shouldn’t.  The only outstanding performance is by Gadot, and the pacing is slow at times.

Wonder Woman:  Wondering Why It Wasn’t Better.

la la land

An out of work actress named Mia (Emma Stone) keeps bumping into a soon to be out of work jazz pianist named Sebastian. (Ryan Gosling)  The first time they meet they give each other “the bird” in a traffic jam.  The next time they meet is shortly after Sebastian gets fired during Christmas.  The two meet again at a party when Mia requests a cheesy 80’s song and asks Sebastian to play the keyboard portion of it.  They meet again looking for their cars during a lovely sunset.  Later, Sebastian finds out that Mia has never seen Rebel Without A Cause and asks her to come see it, but she’s got a boyfriend, and she hates jazz, and he doesn’t want a girlfriend, especially one who doesn’t like jazz.  And they’ve both got big dreams.  She wants to be an actress, he wants to open a jazz club.  Does she go to the movie?  Or are their meetings just coincidental?

There are many good things about La La Land, but the writing is for most of the film is trite.  It follows all the conventions of every romantic comedy ever made including the man and woman hating each other at first sight.  Why does this always happen in the movies?  Nobody hates someone in real life and then, poof magic.  Nothing works that way.    There is a twist near the end, and the ending itself evolves into somewhat of a mystery, which belies the happy mood of the first hour, but is still better than a conventional Hollywood ending.

Ryan Gosling has made a living playing brooding, taciturn, characters, like in Driver, or Blue Valentine, so it was anyone’s guess how he would handle the lead in a musical romantic comedy.  He handles  the comedic part of the role well, but when the script turns more dramatic, his delivery is surprisingly flat. The same can be said for Emma Stone, she couldn’t really handle the more dramatic scenes, and even the comedic scenes, she would sometimes make a  silly face.  The two didn’t seem to have any chemistry, maybe it was the age difference.  Gosling is 8 years older than Stone, maybe that’s why they didn’t seem to have any sparks.   J.K. Simmons had a small role, I wish it was bigger, he is a heck of an actor.

There is a lot of good in this film, and most of it comes from  the director’s chair.  Damien Chazelle is a very talented director, and he realizes that film is a visual medium. This film pops with color, even the scenes filmed at night are brightly lit and look as if they were painted with a brush.  This is also a love letter to classic film, movie posters are strewn all over Mia’s apartment and the cameras catch all of it.  Even when the colors don’t pop, the camera is shooting from some interesting angle or other.  This is not Top Hat or Singin in The Rain, but that it aspires to be and tries to bring back the movie musical is a laudable aspiration.   The choreography is great, the songs are great, those two elements by  themselves make the movie worth watching. There are  portions of this this movie that are told without a word being spoken, that is an incredible achievement.

La La Land:  Mostly music to my  ears.