Archives for the month of: March, 2015

Three (and a half) points:

1. Disney has so much money.

2. I’m not sure what the point of this film is in a universe that already holds Ever After.

2a. Especially since you just picked another large-jawed rando (sorry, Dougray Scott) as the prince.

3. I deeply resent being shanghaied into watching a Frozen short.

Director: Kenneth Branagh, of course
Rating: PG
Length: 105 min.
Score: 3/5.

This movie is so David Lean-y. All striking vistas and cast of thousands and mannered, brutal conversation. That is not a complaint; Lawrence of Arabia is my favorite film.

As E. M. Forster novels go, A Passage to India is one of the good ones. That is: you don’t want to hit everyone in the face, and even those you do sometimes make good. (In Howards End, everyone needs to be hit in the face constantly, though in Where Angels Fear to Tread it’s just most of them most of the time.)

Miss Adela Quested (Judy Davis) goes to India with her prospective mother-in-law Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft) in order to find out if she actually wants to marry Ronny Heaslop (Nigel Havers), a fairly senior civil servant. Both women are disconcerted by the machinery of empire, and in an attempt to correct what they see as a lack of feeling on the part of the British presence in India, they arrange to go on an expedition to some remarkable caves with an English professor, Mr. Fielding (James Fox), a Muslim medical man, Dr. Aziz (Victor Banerjee), and a Hindu man of letters, Professor Godbole (Alec Guinness). There is then an incident, and the remainder of the film is an object lesson in how the mills of empire grind.

The adaptation is close, careful, and admirable. Some of Forster’s incisive awareness of how people work is lost, of course, as you can’t see into their heads. Otherwise, as you expect from David Lean, the movie, particularly in exteriors, looks splendid. The costumer managed to make Miss Davis, a lovely woman, appear plausibly plain and awkward. Of the cast, Dame Peggy is particularly excellent as Mrs. Moore, who is too old to have any patience with the pettiness of youth or of imperialism. There is a hint of over-acting from Mr. Banerjee, but his rôle involves the most acute drama, so perhaps this is to be expected.

I think, in a way, this was perhaps not the right film for David Lean to make. He treats it in the same way he treated T. E. Lawrence or a foolish Russian doctor a single camp on the Burma railway–a vast disaster through the lens of a few unhappy men. And that is not a wrong way to read A Passage to India. It easily becomes the tragedy of the Raj, because of course it is the tragedy of the Raj, but Forster, as always, is doing something both less and more universal than that. So I’ll dock a point.

Stray notes:

  • Roshan Seth was young once–did you know? And Art Malik is positively adolescent in this film.
  • Nigel Havers, though a classic funny-but-posh-looking Englishman, is too thin and too good-looking for Ronny.
  • I think they changed Fielding’s Christian name from “Cyril” to “Richard,” and I wonder why.

Director: David Lean
Rating: PG
Length: 164 min.
Score: 4/5.

You know who was pretty interesting? Wallis Simpson, and also the Duke of Windsor. I’d watch a movie about them. I thought this was a movie about them. I question the choice of putting out a movie about the Duke of Windsor just after The King’s Speech, but, well, whatever, Madonna.

This movie was, however, only sort of about the titular W. and E. Instead, there was an asinine framing device: Wally (Abbie Cornish, and so named because her mother was obsessed with Mrs. Simpson, and also apparently cruel and deranged) desperately wants to have a baby; her husband William (Jeff from “Coupling”) does not. Wally’s coping mechanism is to haunt the sale of the Windsors’ estate at Sotheby’s and flirt with Evgeni (Oscar Isaac), a security guard. Intermittently Mrs. Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) will appear in Wally’s imagination to give her advice.

I submit, my dear, that if you need advice on your life plans, that Wallis Simpson may not be the place to turn.

In and around all this garbage is an abbreviated account of the romance between Mrs. Simpson and the Prince of Wales &c. (James D’Arcy). The angle, though, is purported to be new: everyone knows what Edward VIII gave up to marry an American divorcée, but what, the film asks, did Wallis give up to marry Edward? The film doesn’t answer this question satisfactorily, and even if it did, the answer is still “not a kingdom” and “who cares?”

Riseborough and D’Arcy show fairly well, but the convoluted drama of Wally-William-Evgeni just embarrasses the actors involved. Bertie (to become George VI) is relegated back to the role of a clumsy stutterer whose wife speaks for him in all things, presumably in the interests of making his brother look more dashing. It sort of works, but you feel manipulated. This is the problem with the whole movie, in fact: you get what it’s doing, but it’s so heavy-handed that you lose interest.

Stray notes:

  • In case you were wondering, ladies, this movie clears up any doubts: if you can get pregnant, you are a worthwhile human being.

Director: Madonna
Rating: R
Length: 119 min.
Score: 2/5.

I love Turner’s paintings. And Timothy Spall is a fine actor. It turns out, however, that two-and-a-half hours of the combination is not quite necessary.

Very little actually happens in Mr. Turner, evidently because very little happened in Turner’s later life. Instead, we are given impressions: of a gruff, ugly man who communicates chiefly in grunts, of the bright, light-drenched world in which he lives, of his unconventional but ultimately dull family situation. This is well executed, and, particularly, the scene that heralds the painting of “The Fighting Temeraire” is breathtakingly beautiful. Additionally, the scenes of painters in the Royal Academy, bickering and jostling, are perfectly gripping and undignified. There is a moment between Turner and John Constable that is still convulsing me. There is also, unfortunately, about two hours more of movie. And that is too much. Way too much.

Stray notes:

  • This film is so Victorian it hurts. And it went unflinchingly with a plain Queen Victoria and non-Rupert-Friend Prince Albert, which is laudable if disappointing.
  • Turner’s father, a barber, is so charming and lovable.
  • Seriously, the “Fighting Temeraire.”

Director: Mike Leigh
Rating: R
Length: 150 min., and easily 30 min. too long
Score: 3/5.

Wow, this movie. It is bad and it does not make sense. Because it was so stupid and so carelessly made that I did not learn the characters’ names, I will not use them. It grieves me to bring the names of proper actors into this mess, but I assume they’ve all gotten over it by now.

Pete Postlethwaite and Greta Scacchi live in the country in England in the 17th century. They have a troubled daughter who is obsessed with Andrew Marvell. She’s supposed to be sexually repressed and too artistic for her surroundings but she is in fact alarmingly insane. Into this mix come Ewan McGregor, who is a Dutch garden designer, and Richard E. Grant, who is running some kind of long con. Also the daughter has weird sex dreams about one of the peasant reapers. And some kind of unexplained foreign accent.

This is probably one of those movies where nothing is explained because subtlety is so artistic. At least, that will be the justification for how it is utter nonsensical bilge. Ewan McGregor romps through brambles tearing off his clothes–why? Greta Scacchi is vaguely trampy but not really–why? Pete Postlethwaite is completely brainless–why? Richard E. Grant is overtly Mephistophelean but nobody notices–why? And then there’s a storm, which is deeply, deeply ridiculous.

That’s it. Don’t ever watch this. It is garbage.

Stray notes:

  • We are supposed to feel bad for the daughter because of her frankly mediaeval treatment at the hands of a pietistic quack. And, to be fair, what passed for medicine in the 1600s was terrible, especially when dealing with mental issues. But–she is not just a misunderstood aesthete. She is crazy. It is not cute or sexy.
  • Ewan McGregor wears a terrible wig, and then he takes it off and wears what I desperately hope is another terrible wig, because the 90s were a time when we put truly awful things on Ewan McGregor’s head.
  • Yes, this movie is an object lesson in the perils of Amazon Prime instant streaming.

Director: Philippe Rousselot
Rating: R
Length: 104 min.
Score: 1/5.

Two things about this film:

1. Eddie Redmayne definitely deserved that Oscar.

2. I direct you to The Economist, which observes–rightly–that there was far too little science in this movie. Many people have Motor Neurone Disease and wives; only one man is Stephen Hawking.

Director: James Marsh
Rating: PG-13
Length: 123 min.
Score: 4/5.

Le Week-End put me very much in mind of Richard Linklater’s Before Insert-Time-of-Day films, except it was worse. But otherwise it’s like the next installment, when Jesse and Celine are old and actively hate each other. A couple go to Paris, talk a lot to no real purpose, the woman is even more irritatingly irrational than the man, and then there’s some resolution but not really. So I’m afraid Linklater is the yardstick I use, and it’s not a flattering one.

Here, we have Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) Burroughs, a recently-sacked professor and a still-employed-but-dissatisfied teacher. They go to Paris for their anniversary. Nick is clingy, about which Meg is hateful, but when he goes outside unexpectedly she goes insane, because…I dunno, because these movies always have crazy women in them. Then they run into an old schoolmate of Nick’s: Jeff Goldblum as Morgan, in the usual aging Lothario part Goldblum now gets. He invites them to a party, which of course results in further rudeness and insanity.

This sort of movie is supposed to appeal to us because it’s so “real.” Older “real” people worry about money (although they tend not to dine and dash with quite the breezy regularity of these Burroughses), they often have drifted apart and disagree about their children, and they regret that they never gave it all up to live in a draughty garret in Montmartre to write and paint and die of tuberculosis. These are “real” things about which people have “real” conversations in which they are deeply, cruelly unpleasant to each other. Often in public. Even, God save the mark, when they are English. Only bourgeois stooges, you see, repress their feelings and come to terms with the world as it is.

And, as this sort of movie, Le Week-End is fairly good. It has humorous moments, it is well-acted, and Paris is lovely. Le Week-End is worse than Before Elevenses, though, because those movies, though talky and slow, showed interactions that actual people might have. Celine and Jesse were nuts, but their conversations progressed in some human language, with traceable logic. Nick and Meg jag from accusations of infidelity to giggling over a large restaurant bill with jarring suddenness. And Meg is confused and insulted when Nick worries that she no longer loves him–though she has called him a pathetic idiot (not in loving banter) and said she wants to leave. So there’s that.

If you want to see two well-known actors exercise their craft in a script that is beneath them, and to be made fun of for your sad middle-class blindness, feel free to watch this movie. Otherwise, find another talky film in which Paris looks lovely; there are plenty.

Stray notes:

  • I hated both main characters. And I know that people are lousy and unkind, but it helps, when making a film, to create a modicum of sympathy for at least one of the people who is on the screen for 93 minutes.
  • Morgan has an unhappy teenage stoner son (of course) who is simultaneously attracted and repulsed by Nick’s despairing frankness. He rings almost true.

Director: Roger Michell
Rating: R
Length: 93 min.
Score: 3/5.