Archives for the month of: January, 2018

Northanger Abbey is perhaps Jane Austen’s least appreciated book, at least by me, for much of my life. I thought it would be like the others, but it’s not. It’s even spoofier, and it’s a spoof of Gothic novels. Now, Gothic novels are kind of bad. The Mysteries of Udolpho is remarkable chiefly because absolutely nothing (and nothing shocking) happens in it.

Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) has read too many novels, and she thinks life resembles them. When she ends up in an old country house, she nearly ruins her life by treating it and its inhabitants as if it were a castle in a Gothic novel.

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This TV adaptation is near-perfect. The younger son of the Tilney house, Henry (JJ Feild), likes her, and is tolerant of her many faults. He calls her on them, but not insultingly. His sister, Eleanor (Catherine Walker), is gentle and mature. If they were the only three people in the novel, you might observe, it would be very boring. But Catherine also encounters less virtuous and much dumber people: Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan), who is an insincere fortune-hunter who tries to entrap both Catherine’s brother and Henry’s; John Thorpe (William Beck), Isabella’s brother, who is a blowhard and wants to marry Catherine for her (nonexistent) money; Captain Tilney (Mark Dymond) and General Tilney (Liam Cunningham), who are cold-hearted and generally unpleasant.

My only real quibble with it is that John Thorpe is not good-looking enough to be a plausible alternative to Henry. He’s unbearable and he looks like the back end of a cab. It’s not charming for Catherine to be taken in. But everyone else is great–JJ Feild is exactly handsome enough for Henry, Felicity Jones is adorably but not irritatingly naïve, and all the adults are hilariously one-dimensional dramatic types. Carey Mulligan is hateful.

Of this run of made-for-TV Austens, this is the most pleasant. It’s like a small gelato of period cuteness.

Director: Jon Jones
Rating: so delightfully light
Length: 84 minutes
Score: 4/5

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Spoilers, obviously.

As a pretty severe Star Wars nerd, I disliked this movie. I resent the toxic combination of fan service to the original series and spiteful defiance of the existing Extended Universe. This was a crappy riff on The Empire Strikes Back and I wish it had been Dark Force Rising. You could even cast Oscar Isaac as Grand Admiral Thrawn. He’s been painted blue before.

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As a person who has seen a film before, I hated this movie. Somehow, at two and a half hours long, it managed to be both frenetic and boring. Even the laughs were telegraphed and rather joyless. Most of the emotional beats relied on the real death of Carrie Fisher, which is cheap and lazy.

Look. A Star Wars movie does not require six acts, especially if nothing really happens in most of them, and it would be easier to care about some of these people if they weren’t stupid. If a single errant TIE fighter will destroy your entire squadron of bombers, perhaps your formation needs reconsidering. If you’re infiltrating a fancy casino, don’t break everything, and don’t trust the first guy you meet in jail. You met him in jail. If your mutiny only lasts for thirty seconds because you didn’t do some very basic forward planning, maybe every insulting thing Laura Dern has said to you is true.

Oscar Isaac is still ludicrously handsome (and in case you were forgetting, both Carrie Fisher and Laura Dern are there, slightly creepily, to remind you). The lightsaber battle of Kylo Ren and Rey against the red people was visually striking and the final battle on the mineral planet was visually stunning, with its trails of blood-red salts. Porgs are cute. But this patchwork preachy nonsense is not a movie.

Stray observations (VERY SPOILERY):

  • Astral projection is asinine and if Luke was just going to die anyway he could have just shown up. And the bait-and-switch with Leia’s death was not only cheap but actually offensive.
  • Laura Dern is cool and all, but why do women in the military command structure of the Resistance wear drapey and impractical clothes? Mon Mothma wasn’t a general, and Carlist Rieekan never showed up anywhere in his goddamn pajamas.
  • Hey, Poe? I know you love your droid, but a lot of people just died. Read the room.
  • “I’m with the Resistance.” Cool, Rose. He’s eight, and doesn’t look especially politically aware.

Director: Rian Johnson
Rating: PG-13
Length: a way, way too long 152 minutes
Score: 2/5

MV5BMTcyNzk5NDg1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTM5MDQxNDM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Not your mother’s buddy-cop comedy,” we are told. I wish it had been. I would have liked it a lot more. Instead it was tonally inconsistent and gory.

LA, some time, some universe. Lots of different species live there: the Elves are all rich, the Orcs get the crap beaten out of them by the LAPD in front of their wives, the humans seem pretty standard. Ward (Will Smith) is a human cop, and he’s been shot in the chest by an Orc robber. Now his new partner, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), is an Orc. No one is thrilled about this, and Ward’s police friends (Margaret Cho, Ike Barinholtz, some others) are impressively gross about it.

I expected this to be a parable about racial difference, and if the jokes had been as good as the first ten minutes promised, that would have been a solid film. But no, there’s a bunch of supernatural nonsense instead. There are (gasp!) evil Elves, led by Noomi Rapace, and a crazy Elf lady with a magic wand that drips glowing blue goo and kills people (Lucy Fry), and gangs of mean Orcs and gangs of mean humans, and a lot of not making sense. Oh, and a prophecy!

It may have been better as a series, à la “Almost Human.” Then the world-building would have been less rushed, and the magical Feds (Edgar Ramírez and Happy Anderson) might have been more than vestigial, which probably I would have enjoyed. Or at least understood.

Director: David Ayer
Rating: TV-MA
Length: 117 minutes
Score: 2/5

Ugh. Ugh.

Iris (Kate Winslet) works in publishing in England and is in love with a fancy author, Jasper (Rufus Sewell, and no, the names don’t get less precious). He is not in love with her but he does enjoy keeping her around. She needs a change.

MV5BMTI1MDk4MzA2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjQ3NDc3._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Amanda (Cameron Diaz) makes movie trailers in Los Angeles, and her live-in boyfriend (Edward Burns) both is running around on her and thinks she’s bad at sex. She is unable to cry. She also needs a change.

They swap houses over Christmas, back in a time when the internet was fairly new and this seemed interesting and strange. Amanda goes to stay in Iris’s ludicrously adorable country cottage, where she is (not) hilariously bad at driving on the left. She nearly runs down several people. It is contemptible. Iris goes to stay in Amanda’s enormous automated house, where she is amazed by the pool and cannot figure out how to work the gate. So, yes. Both of these women are literally stupid.

Fortunately, of course, there are men. Graham (Jude Law) is Iris’s brother, and stumbles drunkenly to the cottage. He is mostly delightful, and for some reason falls heavily for Amanda. He is a widower with small children, wears sensible spectacles, and cries a lot. Miles (Miles! seriously!) (Jack Black) is around Amanda’s old house and he helps Iris out of her sad repressed self. He has some help from a bunch of elderly Jewish screenwriters (principally Eli Wallach), who teach Iris about having feelings and also Chanukah.

It’s Nancy Meyers, so the interiors are gorgeous. They are the best thing about this movie. Seriously, you have to watch Kate Winslet jump in the air and shout “yippee!” or something. She seems no more convinced than you are.

Director: Nancy Meyers
Rating: PG-13
Length: 138 minutes
Score: 2/5