Archives for the month of: November, 2015

This movie is definitely shading into “old favorite” territory, but I’m not sure it’s there yet. And I’m quite aware that the 4/5 rating is going to be controversial, because even I can’t really allege in good faith that this movie is actually a fine piece of cinematic art. It is probably, however, the best existing movie about Roman Britain (compare Centurion, or The Eagle, or The Last Legion, all of which are…desperate). And it might have been better if it had just been a movie about Roman Britain, instead of trying to shoe-horn it into an Arthurian mold. But again, it does that wayyy better than The Last Legion did.

It is around 450 CE. The Empire, in the west, is teetering or has teetered its last, depending on whom you ask. Christianity is doing some weird stuff. It still gets super cold in the British Isles. Arthur (Clive Owen) is a battle-hardened Roman soldier, who grew up in Britain and has served there all his life; his mother was a Briton. He leads a band of famous knights from Sarmatia on the Black Sea: Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen), Gawain (Joel Edgerton), Galahad (Hugh Dancy), Bors (Ray Winstone), and Dagonet (Ray Stevenson). They spend most of their time keeping blue-painted, trousered people firmly on the other side of Hadrian’s Wall. They want to go home.

But they can’t go home, until they go on One Last Mission. Beyond The Wall.

Complicating matters is an army of invading Saxons, led with hilarious menace by Stellan Skarsgård and Til Schweiger (I have no idea what their characters’ names are). Also then Guinevere (Keira Knightley) shows up with a bow and a shirt made of a surprisingly small amount of string. She lectures Arthur about his loyalties and makes Lancelot feel things. It’s not really clear what, though, because what Lancelot mostly does is stare awkwardly.

And here’s my biggest problem with the movie. If you name people “Arthur,” “Guinevere,” and “Lancelot,” you have to commit to the love triangle. Especially if they’re all stupid hot. That’s one of the key things about Arthur. If you don’t want to do that, name them something else. You had to explain how this dude was Arthur anyway; why not just spend that time telling us about someone entirely new?

Stray observations:

  • Clive Owen was 40 when this came out and Keira Knightley was 19, which is surprising and possibly weird.
  • Lancelot’s two knives are just as hot as Legolas’s two knives, which is very.
  • For some reason this movie commits to caring about the Pelagian heresy, which seems like a weird thing to care about.

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Rating: R
Length: 126 minutes
Score: 4/5

Well, this movie is obviously garbage. I mean, it’s a made-for-TV Christmas movie, and it actually has the word “princess” in the title. You are definitely only watching it if you loved “Outlander” and are confused and saddened by the comparative dearth of stuff that has Sam Heughan in it.

That said (and no, I’m not going to turn around and tell you this is, you know, good), this has some charming bits. Briefly, Jules (Katie McGrath) is stuck raising her orphaned niece and nephew in Buffalo. The tricky thing is that her deceased brother-in-law was a fictional nobleman from fictional European duchy or other implausible kind of state, disowned by his father upon marrying Jules’s sister. Jules loses her job (in an antique store), but fortunately the father’s butler arrives to invite the three strays for Christmas, to (I am not making this up) Castlebury Hall. This father, of course, is played by Roger Moore, who looks rough. His other son, Ashton (Sam Heughan), is around and engaged to a horrible woman and just begging to be stolen away by a down-to-earth American. I don’t need to tell you what happens.

Both the writing and the acting are godawful. Roger Moore skates by because his face hardly moves any more, and Sam Heughan is passable because he gives it the old college try and is extremely handsome, but poor Katie McGrath is kind of bad at American accents and looks distractingly almost like Keira Knightley, which ends up being all you can see. Also she is saddled with truly catastrophic dialogue and the disadvantage of acting opposite terrible child actors.  Only the staff at Castle*snort*bury Hall are at all charming, if also slightly caricaturish.

It is dire.

Stray observations:

  • It may be worth it to watch Roger Moore nonsensically accuse the awful fiancée of being “all fur coat and no knickers.”
  • Why Buffalo?
  • It claims to be a comedy, but…it’s not.

Director: Michael Damian
Rating: TV-G
Length: 91 minutes
Score: 1/5

Am I the only person who checked out when…. [spoilers after the jump, obviously] Read the rest of this entry »

Boy howdy. When Galsworthy calls something a saga, he is not funning. I know this, because the miniseries takes many, many hours, and also because I read the immense book. It tells the story of a rich London family of solicitors (unsurprisingly, the Forsytes) from the late Victorian era through the early 1920s.

Broadly, there are three intertwining strands of this story. Strand 1 concerns Soames Forsyte (Damian Lewis), solicitor and control freak. Strand 2 is composed of his uncle, Old Jolyon Forsyte (Corin Redgrave), and his cousin, Young Jolyon Forsyte (Rupert Graves, in perhaps the only sympathetic part he has played since he hit 30), who are less conventional–Young Jolyon paints and leaves his wife and small daughter June (eventually Gillian Kearney) for the French governess. Strand 3 belongs to Irene Heron (Gina McKee), a very beautiful and serene and impoverished but also shockingly destructive woman, whom Soames marries. The marriage emphatically does not work out, and the circumstances of their separation drive forward the remainder of the main plot, which works itself out (very eventually) in the lives of their children from second marriages.

Galsworthy was careful to flesh out the Forsytes with both particular and family idiosyncrasies, and the series admirably follows his lead: Winifred (Amanda Root), Soames’s sister, impetuously marries the penniless but charming Montague Dartie (Ben Miles, in a really great part for him); their son Val (Julian Ovenden, very young and dashing) is an interesting study in the son who is always vaguely and sometimes acutely embarrassed by his father (their daughter Imogen is a non-entity); George Forsyte (Alistair Petrie), everybody’s cousin, is engagingly detached but somewhat spiderlike in the enjoyment he takes from observing everybody’s insecurities; Philip Bosinney (Ioan Gruffudd), an architect and June’s fiancé, wreaks truly astounding havoc, for entirely plausible reasons; a dozen others round out the splendid tableau.

Perhaps because most of the actions taken are those that human beings might take, it’s sometimes (though very much not always) hard to take sides. One is never bored. Everyone is well-cast, and, while some of the younger actors sometimes seem a bit tedious and melodramatic, that might really be how they’re supposed be.

The production is gorgeous throughout, in interiors particularly, and most especially with the house that Soames has built, designed by Bosinney. It is a triumph of Arts and Crafts: light, airy, and eminently livable. But the real visual interest of the series is in the clothes. We begin in frock coats and huge skirts, meander through bustles and Edwardian suits, and end in drapey post-war dresses with ankle-skimming hems. Irene wears the most beautiful red dress; all the artistic men wear colored shirts with soft neckties. Soames’s daughter gets him into a blazer, boater, and flannels! It is glorious.

Stray observations:

  • I lied: the real visual interest is the amazing proliferation of good-looking dudes. It’s a pity that Christian Coulson isn’t around for longer.
  • This has to be the only thing written in Britain in the first half of the 20th century that hardly deals with the Great War. No Forsyte serves (all too young or too old), though two went out as soldiers and two as nurses to South Africa in the Boer War. We do encounter a Belgian arms dealer and one young ex-officer.

Directors: Christopher Menaul, David Moore, Andy Wilson
Rating: TV, but PG-13ish
Length: 700 minutes
Score: 5/5

This is now my least favorite Wes Anderson film, replacing Rushmore. As I am sure you know, it’s about two “troubled” pre-teens who run away from home/camp because they’re so in love. Everything about their lives, from knee socks to calculatedly adorable book collection to deadpan speech patterns, is art-directed within an inch of its life. And past.

And that’s the problem with Moonrise Kingdom. Instead of stylish and mannered (like most other Wes Anderson work), it’s clunky and unreal. The children are desperately unrelatable and stabby, and no other character, with the possible, intermittent example of Edward Norton’s scoutmaster, is drawn even slightly in the round.

Look, we all want to believe that we were the troubled but gifted kid who just needed to be understood. But we weren’t. We were ordinary. And that’s fine. Because we probably didn’t stab anyone. Which is good.

I legitimately don’t get why everyone loved this movie and thought it was adorable. Not even a little bit. It’s gorgeous, sure, it was always going to be that. And everything is careful, too. But aside from a few amusing sight gags and scout jokes, it makes its stars unsuccessfully walk a line between twee and unexpectedly mature. You don’t want anything bad to happen to the kids, but that’s because you’re a human being and they’re kids, not because they’re charming or special.

Stray observations:

  • I am not a hater; I loved 2014’s Grand Budapest Hotel, I think Darjeeling Limited is terrific, and I’m the only person in the world who liked Life Aquatic.
  • Tilda Swinton is so good at being scary without even trying.

Director: Wes Anderson
Rating: PG-13
Length: 94 minutes
Score: 2/5

Clive Owen is a writer. Clive Owen wears a black fedora while he writes. Clive Owen is broke. Clive Owen becomes a croupier. Clive Owen narrates his life in the third person. In his own words, he is addicted to watching people lose. Clive Owen, you are beginning to suspect, is kind of a jackass.

Croupier is narrated by the main character Jack (Mr. Owen), and the conceit is that he is writing a semi-autobiographical novel as events transpire. As conceits go, it’s not maddening. But Jack himself is maddening. He’s one of those chaps who is smug about his own iron moral compass (he does not, of course, gamble), but doesn’t really seem to notice when it hurts other people. He’s living with Marion (Gina McKee), but is mostly awful to her. He is of course annoyed by and spiteful to the publisher who will probably pass on his book, because he’s the only person who’s ever not been published. He’s very punch-happy, of course in the dead-eyed, casually violent manner we all remember from his turn in 2001’s Gosford Park. And, as in that wonderful film, he hates his dad. Maybe Croupier is what got him that part.

Oh, and then Alex Kingston arrives with a sob story, a criminal scheme, and a South African accent. Events transpire. They more or less make sense, but Jack is hard to root for, even when people are manipulating him. Everyone else is perhaps still more unpleasant, but that doesn’t really help. It’s extremely trying to watch someone think he’s better than everyone else, even if it’s true.

Stray observations:

  • Clothes for women in the 90s were so terrible and ill-tailored.
  • Clive Owen looks ridiculous with blond hair.
  • I’m not gambling-savvy enough to spot a lot of casino by-play. I’m okay with this.
  • I can’t stand Alex Kingston, because my first exposure to her was in terrible seasons of “Doctor Who.” This is not really her fault, but it’s also not going away.

Director: Mike Hodges
Rating: unrated, but about R
Length: 94 minutes
Score: 3/5

This is one of these movies that apparently everyone has seen, but has not deeply spread through the general consciousness. I, in fact, did not know that a) it took place in Australia, and b) it starred Toni Collette. That’s weird, because those are both the sort of thing I generally do know.

Early 90s Australia–as evidenced by this movie and by Strictly Ballroom–is a place that is brightly colored but rather dirty, and badly stuck in the 80s. Muriel (Ms. Collette) is out of work, out of favor with friends and family, and generally out of countenance. She lives in a town evocatively called “Porpoise Spit,” and listens to way too much ABBA. Her “friends” are shallow, over-tanned, and deeply cruel, uninviting her from a vacation. Of course, she goes anyway, runs into a friend with whom she has lost touch (Rhonda, played by Rachel Griffiths), and takes off from there on a voyage of touching self-discovery in Sydney.

Muriel’s Wedding is unlike the usual movie along these lines, because the path is smooth for neither Muriel nor Rhonda. Their flaws are believable, unlike the run of the mill rom-com women with exaggerated lunacies. Ms. Collette, Lord love her, is actually plausible as a woman with low self-esteem, and she brings her trademark slightly-mad vulnerability to this rôle. Ms. Griffiths is not as subtle, but nevertheless an effective foil. The Sydney sequences are episodic, and it would perhaps improve with more attention paid to shape and continuity.

All of this said, this is one of the best movies about women friends. Men are neither idolized nor demonized, but instead play rôles which they might in real life, which is a nice change. Some people are lousy, some people come through unexpectedly. It’s not exactly a feel-good movie, but that, I think, is a point in its favor.

Stray observations:

  • ABBA’s “Waterloo” is such a great song.
  • Man, wedding dresses used to be ridiculous.

Director: P. J. Hogan
Rating: R
Length: 106 minutes
Score: 3/5

I really liked the novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, and Hilary Mantel (their author) was one of the writers for the show, so it is perhaps unsurprising that I enjoyed the show a great deal. It is told (as the book also) from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, whose meteoric rise from vomiting on a Putney street to the court of Henry is the backdrop against which all this happens. We manage to follow events with which we are familiar (Katherine of Aragon will be divorced, Anne Boleyn will be be beheaded) with a certain amount of suspense.

So I’ve also seen all of “The Tudors,” which was rollicking good fun, if also absurd and superfluous. As I have said a million times: Henry VIII was a man who married six women AND had a world-changing fight with the Pope. It’s not strictly necessary to add ludicrous extraneous shagging.

And maybe “Wolf Hall” errs in the other direction, a little bit. Everything is dark, things are only intermittently explained (usually using Thomas Brodie Sangster as Cromwell’s slightly backward ward Rafe), and nothing is overstated. Still, that was most of the charm of the novels, so it’s unfair to complain about it in the series.

It is beautifully produced. Costumes are gorgeous and careful, artificial light is limited, meals are archaically choreographed. Mark Rylance (Cromwell) is excellent, though perhaps slightly too calm. Damian Lewis (Henry) seems to revel in an uncharacteristically petulant and unattractive part, and Anton Lesser also seems to enjoy playing Thomas More as a snake. Claire Foy (Anne) is slightly weak–just hateful, with no touch of humanity, even just before her execution.

This series is a capable adaptation of a pair of excellent novels. It’ll be a little slow for some, and the pacing is unpredictable, but this is in aid of mimicking the chaotic, uncertain nature of Cromwell’s real life. He himself is implausibly humane, but it’s important to have a rooting interest, and it doesn’t really bother you. I actually kept rooting for him to get laid, and was very cross at Mary Boleyn (Charity Wakefield, apparently condemned to flighty parts forever) for toying with him.

Director: Peter Kosminsky
Rating: R-ish?  Only for the swearing.
Length: 360 minutes
Score: 4/5

Twitter blurb: Tudor moodiness, but with way less sex and violence than usual. Thomas More is your villain, Henry still isn’t fat. Anne Boleyn? The worst.

If the spirit–or the internet–moves you to investigate Benedict Cumberbatch’s back catalogue, I don’t recommend this entry. [NB I was investigating Shaun Evans’s back catalogue, and so I’m not embarrassed.] This is the sort of movie in which everything is shot in poor lighting and nothing makes sense, in the name of verisimilitude. Probably in the name of realness, actually; verisimilitude isn’t a verisimilitudinous word. At any rate, prepare yourself for shots of wedding rings and stained glass in close up. This is deep.

Dawn (Claire Foy) and David (Mr. Cumberbatch) are married, have recently moved back to his childhood home in the country, and are trying unsuccessfully to have a baby. His brother Nick (Mr. Evans) arrives unannounced, with a penchant for petty larceny and an untreated case of PTSD. You will be shocked to learn that Dawn and David’s marriage starts to fall apart, but it’s not really for the reasons you’d expect or believe. People have kept secrets, people do rotten things, yadda yadda yadda.

But here’s the thing: you don’t care. You feel sorry for Nick, but his PTSD is played exclusively and reductively for pity. He’s just a wounded animal, and everyone treats him like an incontinent child. Dawn and David are ostensibly very much in love, but they mostly just mope and look bitter; David particularly is a cipher with occasional flashes of unlikely, exaggerated emotion. Motivations in general are barely sketched in, which is not what I’d call good story-telling. Dawn is the main character, I suppose, but things just happen to her, for no particular reason, and her own actions have no rationale. We cannot see into her head; still less into anyone else’s. It’s profoundly unsatisfying.

This is exactly the sort of semi-verité that everyone makes all the time now, and it’s slightly worse than all the rest. If you want your life to be made a misery, with a blue filter over the camera, inexplicable shouting, and unpleasant squalid love scenes, go ahead and watch this, but otherwise…

Director: D R Hood
Rating: R?
Length: 85 minutes
Score: 2/5. And probably only 1/5 if I hadn’t got to watch Claire Foy chuck an egg at somebody.

Twitter blurb: Wreckers: Baby-crazy pair lives in country; man’s brother shows up with PTSD and all explodes. Don’t keep hens or secrets, or sing in choirs.

It’s hard to remember how great this movie is, because the sequels were so catastrophic. I’m completist when it comes to DVD collections, but I own only Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man’s Chest. Likewise I will never ever own The Phantom Menace. If I ever get it as a gift I will use it as a coaster.

The only thing about this movie that doesn’t hold up is the animation. The zombie-pirates look a little goofy now, in a way that they didn’t when it came out.

What do I love about it?

  • It never stops. Even when you think you’re going have a slow, serious moment, right after the Interceptor explodes, Orlando Bloom immediately swims across to disabuse you of your misapprehension. This is a movie written by hummingbirds on speed, and it is fantastic.
  • We’re sick of Johnny Depp’s mincing weirdness now, but it’s new in this, and it’s well-deployed and hilarious. If you don’t still cry with laughter about the whole “why is the rum gone?” sequence, you have no joy in your soul. There’ll be no living with her after this, indeed.
  • Orlando Bloom is still super hot, and his air of bewildered self-righteousness is, as always, his best asset. He even gives some good side-eye a few times. And that hat!
  • Norrington really comes into his own in the third movie, with his drunkenness, his hopeless but blameless love of Elizabeth, and his badassery in the face of Davy Jones’s crew. That said, Jack Davenport puts a surprising amount of exasperated verve into a pretty one-note character, and Norrington’s tedium is itself a lesson in drollery. [Side note: I was trying to explain who Jack Davenport is, and began with “He plays Commodore Norrington.” At that point I was cut off by my interlocutor, who started shouting at me that he did not watch as many movies about old boats as I do, because he is a normal human being, and I had to finish, somewhat lamely, “…in Pirates of the Caribbean.” At which point my friend subsided in embarrassment.]
  • Almost all the jokes land. Pintel and Ragetti are amazing (Mackenzie Crook never fails), Royal Navy officers are convincingly stuffy for comic effect, and Geoffrey Rush perfectly walks the tightrope between menace and hilarity. The corset line crashes and burns every time, but, for nearly two and a half hours, the laughs keep coming.

Director: Gore Verbinski
Rating: PG-13
Length: 143 minutes
Score: 4/5