Archives for the month of: August, 2016

If you want to watch this for Benedict Cumberbatch, he’s great in it, but be warned: to play Christopher Tietjens properly, he abandons almost all of his vanity and makes his face as unattractive as he is able, and attempts to make his body appear hulking and clumsy.

Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy Parade’s End, as is usual with Ford Madox Ford, has an unbelievably acute sense of how humanity operates, and is not hopeful about it. People cheat, and then manage to be worse to each other when they are not cheating. Totally inaccurate gossip ruins lives because of malice and laziness, not necessarily in that order. And despite the monumental efforts of many, the Great War was unfairly, desperately, but also bureaucratically, horrible. Somehow, Tom Stoppard’s screenplay manages to capture almost all of the novels’ uncomfortable perspicacity without stumbling into clumsy exposition. But that is perhaps unsurprising, because Tom Stoppard is a genius.

Christopher Tietjens (Cumberbatch) holds a minor but important position in the Department of Imperial Statistics. He is a large blond man from Yorkshire, scrupulously, even maddeningly exact, and unwisely generous. His wife, Sylvia (Rebecca Hall), is a perfect portrait of the type of woman who can get away with everything from general obnoxiousness up because she is so exceedingly lovely. She runs away with a poor sap called Potty Perowne (Tom Mison, with a fussy mustache). Christopher always thinks ahead and is unfailingly decent to and about her; that, in combination with her beauty, means that everyone thinks that she is a saint. The same people immediately believe that Christopher has any number of mistresses, including a young suffragist called Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens).

He of course does not. He would like to, but he is too much of the Tory, and nothing at all of the hypocrite. Instead, he does his job, lends money to his friend McMaster (Stephen Graham), helps everyone he can, and finally becomes a reluctant but capable officer. He sounds perfect, perhaps, but there is an excessive rigidity about him that is troubling–in Ford’s perfect description, he is the type of Tory who would never lift a finger except to say “I told you so.”

The production is near-perfect. Time passes in the shapes of skirts and hats; Morris wallpapers cede to muddy trenches; a glitzy party in what I believe is Lord Leighton’s house gives way to a sad billet near the Front. One might find the pacing slightly slow, but it is in the service of actual drama rather than the manufactured kind. As with Brideshead Revisited, a feature film of this would be heavy-handed and dreadful.

Cumberbatch gamely wears a uniform two sizes too large and screws up his face so that it is not ludicrous when Miss Wannop tells him he is not so terribly ugly after all. Hall’s glorious halo of hair makes her believable as the spiteful femme fatale who is never so recognized. Graham and Anne-Marie Duff (as his wife), are by turns arrogantly social-climbing and cringingly pusillanimous. Not grateful parts, but well-acted. The rest of the large cast also performs admirably; a few are in parts that, even in the novel, are slightly two-dimensional to throw the three main figures into sharper relief.

It’s terrific.

Stray observations:

  • Every single thing Rebecca Hall wears is beautiful.
  • Rufus Sewell is perfectly cast as the gorgeous but deranged and oversensual Fr. Duchemin.
  • Denis Lawson has a small part!

Director: Susanna White
Rating: equivalent to TV-MA, I’d definitely say
Length: 287 minutes
Score: 5/5

Undrafted is a feel-good movie about a rag-tag bunch of losers who care too much about something that doesn’t matter. In this case: baseball. Baseball in adult amateur leagues on Long Island.

Maz (Aaron Tveit) is the titular undrafted ballplayer, and the plot consists of his realizing over the course of seven innings that he loves baseball after all, and doesn’t want to stew in bitterness for the rest of his life. That’s not really much of a plot, and given the rest of the ingredients it shouldn’t be much of a movie. And, to be fair, The Natural this ain’t. It’s not even Bull Durham.

This movie, however, suffers from very few of the usual problems of similar, small productions–the writing isn’t painful, and the pacing is surprisingly good. The boys on the team have compelling chemistry, perhaps because the team is made up of Aaron Tveit and dudes who have been in TV shows with Aaron Tveit (Chace Crawford as Barone, Manny Montana as Zapata). And, either because or although it is based on a true story, which is often the kiss of death, the quirks of the various players are both specific and touching. Attempted verisimilitude about human foibles is generally dreadful, but not here. Vinnie (Jay Hayden) bugs the living hell out of me, but I know guys like that, so I let it go.

It gets a little heavy-handed and cheesy, of course. I mean, the guy who wrote it about his brother is in the movie. Maz has an at-bat that lasts about half an hour because it has to rehearse his entire life and devotion to the game. Almost everyone gets a little speech about how great baseball is. Somehow, though, it mostly comes off as genuine.

Oh, but if you don’t like baseball…I hope you have a really big crush on Nate Archibald, because there’s not much else here for you.

Stray observations:

  • Cute baseball socks.
  • They sing the League of Their Own song. It is mesmerizing.
  • Full disclosure: I had to turn off the trailer in the middle out of embarrassment (it doesn’t matter why I was watching it). And then I mentioned to a friend that Tony Romo was an executive producer, and she made me buy it. Ten minutes later I was going to demand the price of it in reparations, but eighty minutes after that I decided that wouldn’t be necessary.

Director: Joseph Mazzello
Rating: ? Quite sweary.
Length: 90 minutes
Score: bats awful, but has an OBP of .379

If you were to tell me that a movie in which Ricky Gervais learned to be a better person both existed and was not terrible, I would laugh in your face. But apparently I am not always right.

Frank (Greg Kinnear) is cheating on his wife, Gwen (Téa Leoni), but then gets hit by a bus and killed. Dr. Pincus (Gervais) is a dentist, and he is awful. Being a dentist insulates him from human contact, because people hate dentists and dentists get to stuff cotton in people’s mouths when people become irritating. Dr. Pincus has to go into the hospital for an operation, and a comically young Aaron Tveit as the anaesthesiologist (which is a completely awful word but apparently the correct one for status reasons) manages to kill him for seven minutes.

Now Pincus can see a bunch of dead people, and they want his help. Frank in particular wants help in keeping Gwen from marrying again. Naturally, Pincus has no desire to help anyone at all, at least until he meets Gwen.

The rest of the film is largely predictable, if appealing. It is not one of cinema’s great triumphs, but it manages to harness Gervais’s bedrock ghastliness while also having you root for him. Which, I think we can all agree, is a major achievement.

Stray observations:

  • Gwen works at the Met, and apparently the Met has big, open, brightly-lit storerooms full of random, picturesque antiquities where anyone can go and poke around. And mummies just lie around for passing dentists to inspect.
  • Pincus’s dental colleague, Dr. Prashar (Aasif Mandvi) is exactly the kind of generous eye-roller I love.

Director: David Koepp
Rating: PG-13
Length: 102 minutes
Score: 3/5