Archives for posts with tag: 5 out of 5

The current trend of biography is lengthy and complicated (see “The Crown,” or “Victoria”), which is possibly admirable. If, however, you are looking for the film biography equivalent of a chocolate soufflé, look no further than The Young Victoria.

As the title suggests, this film deals only with the early, Cinderella-type years of Victoria’s life, when she falls in love and is kind of bad at being the queen, and before she gets jowly and depressing. Helpfully, Victoria’s life was peopled with engagingly cartoonish heroes and villains, and they find excellent avatars here. Victoria (Emily Blunt) is so young, and slightly too pretty, and she is liable to listen to Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) because he is handsome and she is frighteningly sheltered. Her mother (Miranda Richardson) and Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) would like to control her, and have made a decent go of it for the first 17 years of her life. Sir John is so evil, and so delightful. He wears amazing trousers.

mv5bmtm4mjexmdk3nv5bml5banbnxkftztcwmtu3otmwmw-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Enter Albert (Rupert Friend), who is also unbelievably young, and unbelievably Romantically German. His hair! His shirtsleeves! His awkward love of Schubert! His hilariously tolerant brother Ernest (Michiel Huisman)! Apparently Ernest was awful in real life, but here he just rolls his eyes when Albert is adorably dumb about Sir Walter Scott.

To be sure, the most interesting thing about Victoria was not her romantic life, but it makes a good feature film. She and Albert are so young, and so silly, and so in love, and so well dressed. They care just enough about the poor and about progress that you aren’t grossed out by their fake problems. You’re sad when they fight and pleased when they make up, and why can’t some dreamy moron come visit me with a pair of giant dogs?

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Rating: PG
Length: 105 minutes
Score: 5/5

mv5bmtc5otk4mtm3m15bml5banbnxkftztgwodcxnjg3mde-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_In the near-ish future, aliens invade. They seem to be octopus-whirlwinds of metal and energy, and they are unstoppable. It turns out that part of why they are unstoppable is that they can manipulate time, and therefore can restart battles every time they lose. In an unsubtle touch, they landed first in Hamburg, and we see their shadow spread across Europe.

As the film begins, the united armed forces of the rest of the world are preparing for an all-out assault, a landing on the Normandy beaches from flying troop-carriers. A single victory, at Verdun (of course), has given them new confidence. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the Angel of Verdun, is their new hero. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) arrives in London, thinking he will continue his job in military PR. And he will, but while embedded in a unit that storms the beaches. He is…not sold on this.

This is the glory of the film. Cage is handsome, smooth, amoral, and needs a swift kick in the ass. When he wakes up in Dover and Bill Paxton yells at him to join his comrades and not wimp out of something for the first time in his life, you are on Bill Paxton’s side. You’re a little bit sorry for him as he lands in the shallows and struggles onto land, because no one even bothered to tell him how to take the safety off. And then he dies! Both he and Rita have managed to acquire the aliens’ time-shifting ability, and so Cage must figure out how to use this to win the war. Progress is incremental, and painful. Rita trains him painstakingly–his pains. Since time resets when he dies, it makes sense to put him out of his misery any time he is even slightly injured. You get to watch Tom Cruise bite it so many times.

And a lot of those times, Emily Blunt shoots him in the goddamn face. She, too, is amazing in this movie. Rita’s absolutely tough as nails, but there’s never the feeling that the rôle was written for a man, as is often the case in such situations. Since they do not share memories (time-jumping will do that), they both get hideously frustrated and sad about their inability, sometimes, to communicate. It’s surprisingly affecting.

This movie is funny, clever, different, and unexpectedly deep. You should watch it.

(Also, it has a billion minor British actors–Jonas Armstrong, Lara Pulver, Charlotte Riley, Noah Taylor–who are a delight.)

Director: Doug Liman
Rating: PG-13
Length: 113 minutes
Score: 5/5

It’s that time of year, when it’s too cold to go out and it’s dark all the time, and people like me find favorite movies as comforting as soup or cocoa. And Moonstruck is funny, clever, and hopeful.

Loretta Castorini (Cher) is 37, and a bookkeeper. She was once married, but he got hit by a bus, so now she lives with her parents and accepts the proposal of a total schlemiel, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). He has to go to Sicily to look after his mother, so he asks Loretta to repair the bad blood with his brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), a one-handed baker, opera buff, and lunatic. Meanwhile, Loretta’s father Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) is running around on her mother Rose (Olympia Dukakis) with some trash.mv5bmjiwmdy0nzyymf5bml5banbnxkftztcwote5ndk0na-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_ But then Rose gets to tell Frasier’s dad (as an NYU prof) what he’s doing wrong with his life, and she is masterful.

So Loretta ends up going to the opera with Ronny, and she gets a makeover, a really fabulous dress, and the last word in the excellent exchange: “You waited for the right man the first time, why didn’t you wait for the right man again?”/”He didn’t come.”/”I’m here!”/”You’re late!” And in fact that’s why you watch the movie. Sure, everything Olympia Dukakis says is pure gold, but the conversational sparks between Ronny and Loretta flash amazingly. There’s some implausible 80s nonsense, but you laugh and you feel, and that’s really all you can ask.

Also, this is probably Nicolas Cage’s greatest rôle. (Yes, I’ve seen Raising ArizonaLeaving Las Vegas, and Adaptation. I have seen The Rock and National Treasure as well, which are solid candidates, too, even if they’re not serious.) He’s young and thin and intense–borderline crazy, but it’s on purpose and it works. His hair is terrible but plausible, and he really works some black jeans.

Stray observations:

  • Yes, of course I’m listening to La Bohème now.
  • Loretta has the greatest walk of shame: she’s not ashamed, she looks glorious, and both the soundtrack and the view are tops.
  • I ain’t no freaking monument to justice!

Director: Norman Jewison
Rating: PG
Length: 102 minutes
Score: 5/5

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

You know the drill on this one: Steve Rogers is a 90 pound asthmatic, but loves America. So he becomes Captain America in order to beat up Nazis. It’s great.

My one quibble (and this a quibble with the comics rather than the movie, really): you don’t need to have a weird occult freak villain. The SS is evil enough. X-Men handles this marginally better.

So does it rate a 5/5? I think so. It’s the most tonally consistent of any of the Marvel films, period. It’s clever without trying too hard, the humorous beats are pleasing but not overdone, and everything has a slightly stylized olive-drab vibe that is extremely successful. Plus, I’m sick of the eternally flawed superhero, because I really don’t watch comic book movies for angst. Sure, Superman’s one-note admirability is boring, but that’s because Superman is a stupid alien. Steve Rogers’s one-note admirability is adorably charming. Which you can tell because Peggy Carter, Number One Awesome Badass, falls in love with him. [Watch “Agent Carter” before it’s gone, idiots.]

And the kid that Richard Armitage throws in the harbor! He can swim and Cap doesn’t have to rescue him and that is terrific. Maybe my favorite moment.

Stray observations:

  • I love the end titles. I think they’re meant to be send-ups of wartime propaganda posters, but they’re great anyway.
  • I’ll watch JJ Feild in anything and I kind of love that they don’t even really spend any time on the Howling Commandos. It’s just all, “Oh, hey, Union Jack’s here and so is everyone else. Sweet.”
  • Tommy Lee Jones is completely phoning it in, and is still tremendous.
  • It is endlessly hilarious to me that Chris Evans is having a second career as a different Marvel superhero (yeah, I saw both of those Fantastic Four piles of garbage and own one of them). I guess it helps to be a definitional dreamboat.

Director: Joe Johnston
Rating: PG-13
Length: 124 minutes
Score: 5/5

This movie is a mock-documentary about vampires in New Zealand made by half of the team from “Flight of the Conchords.” That’s probably all the information you need to go and get your grubby mitts on it, but if not:

Viago (Taika Waititi) is our main point of contact with the documentary crew. He’s a vampire of the 18th century dandy type, and we encounter him as he’s trying to roust all of his flatmates out of their respective vampire sleeping situations for a flat meeting. First we meet Deacon (Jonny Brugh) hanging in a closet; he’s the newest of the vampires and vaguely rebellious. Next up is Vladislav the Poker (Jemaine Clement), who is having some sort of red satin orgy; he is obviously your bog-standard central European mediaeval-type vampire. Finally there is Petyr (Ben Fransham), an ancient Nosferatu-type who resides in the basement, doesn’t speak, and is surrounded by the remains of his victims, which Viago thinks is gross.

As the movie goes on, you see them do standard flatmate things: argue about whose turn it is to do the dishes, try to go to nightclubs (tricky if you need to be invited in), and have fraught encounters with the local werewolves (led by our old friend Rhys Darby). Deacon’s familiar Jackie (Jackie van Beek) lies to the dry cleaner about bloodstains, irons frilly shirts, and generally shows us (hilariously) how difficult it would actually be, day-to-day, to be a vampire’s familiar. The practicalities indeed often come into play–what if you hit a main artery by accident? what kind of prey would child vampires prefer? how do you learn about technology?–as the gang wanders around Wellington, and it’s perfectly composed and thought through.

The acting is over the top, of course, but consistently hits exactly the right humorous note. There’s some body horror, again of course, but the context makes it less jarring, and it could be a lot less tasteful. And, for all that it is straightforwardly a comedy about, you know, blood-sucking monsters, it gets surprisingly deep and rather touching. The genre is one of my favorites, and this is a terrific example.

Stray observations:

  • Rhys Darby wants his crew to watch their language: “Werewolves, not swearwolves!”
  • Viago is amazingly charming and sympathetic, even when he is in the process of murdering someone.

Directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Rating: R
Length: 86 minutes
Score: 5/5

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

I saw Jerry Maguire in cinemas, which is pretty amazing because I was way too young to see it. But I think I like it more for that precise reason. See, if you’re way too young to see Jerry Maguire, you have no idea what’s going on with Kelly Preston (on any level) or Renée Zellweger (again, on any level). But, if you’re way too young to see Jerry Maguire AND you love sports, you still know exactly what is going on with Cuba Gooding, Jr., and the film is just a great sports movie with vestigial romantic drama. Also the little kid is amazing.

As a grown-up, different things come to the fore–Ms. Zellweger’s sadly bygone charm, the amazing Regina King, and Bonnie Hunt as the superbly judgemental older sister. You understand about medical insurance and also about what a sports agent is (sort of). You notice that the logo and uniform transition in Philadelphia was not seamless–the Eagles stuff has the new logo but they’re still wearing the (infinitely better) kelly greens (as far as I can tell/remember, this is accurate, and was happening precisely when this movie was being made). Real Al Michaels!

But, all that said: I still think this is a great movie. It’s funny, it’s touching, it has peak Cuba Gooding, Jr. as well as near-peak Tom Cruise and very-near-peak Renée Zellweger. There’s a reason that “You complete me” and “You had me at hello” have entered our consciousness–they work.

Also, for all that this movie is nearly twenty years old… The clothes have aged horribly, but the football stuff is either oddly prescient or has a sad air of plus ça change. Concussions, squirrelly deals, the general treatment of athletes like so many pieces of meat, it’s all there. Not sure how I feel about this.

Stray notes:

  • If given the pair Jay Mohr/Tom Cruise, is Jay Mohr really going to be the asshole?
  • Donal Logue and Eric Stoltz both have tiny parts in this movie. Oh, the 90s.
  • Relatedly, Mel Kiper has not aged; still terrifying.

Director: Cameron Crowe
Rating: R
Length: 139 min.
Score: 5/5.  REVISED: Because on consideration, with the exception of Dorothy’s inexplicable shoelessness en route to her big date, this movie is basically perfect. Solid sports movie, solid romance, solidly humorous, solid performances, all adding up to more than the sum of its parts.