Archives for posts with tag: gwyneth paltrow

There was a time, in movies, when Gwyneth Paltrow would make out with John Hannah and audiences would go, “Okay, sure,” and not be sarcastic. It’s hard to imagine. But we don’t have to imagine it, because Sliding Doors is on Netflix and we can just watch that.

The premise is simple: either Helen (Ms. Paltrow) makes a train or she doesn’t. If she makes the train, she meets James (Mr. Hannah) on it. She also catches her boyfriend, Gerry (John Lynch), cheating on her with Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn). If she doesn’t, she doesn’t. We watch both options play out.

Helen is that rare thing in films: a woman who has more than one thing going on. She cares about her career, she cares about her boyfriend, and she cares about her friends. She gets drunk and is sad, she worries that he hasn’t called, she sometimes doesn’t know what to do. It’s great, and Ms. Paltrow is good in both parts: the Helen that catches Gerry and makes immediate major life changes (you might remember that adorable pixie cut) with the help of her friend Anna (Zara Turner), and the Helen who…doesn’t. You’re initially disappointed in Helen for ever falling for Gerry’s particular brand of nonsense–he’s a writer, and she supports him, plus of course he’s a spineless cheating jerk–but then she mostly starts making much better decisions, so it’s not irritatingly hard to watch.

James is charming, and maybe slightly too quirky, but it’s also nice to see how he likewise has a family and a life and doesn’t spend all his time creepily following Helen around, as he would if this were a normal romantic comedy. He just notices that she’s sad and buys her a milkshake, and then things develop. Perhaps one of the things I look for in films is a plot that doesn’t demand weird dramatic gestures or fairy tales. It’s much better to see characters make a connection through reasonable common ground and plausible physical attraction. You know, like people.

On the other hand, Lydia is kind of a caricature, and she intermittently draws Gerry into her absurd orbit. These are the weakest bits of the film. Fortunately you have Helen and James to pull your focus back.

Oh, yeah, the clothes are awful. Even Ms. Paltrow almost drowns in some of the horrible boxy garbage. And only she can wear those slips people wore as dresses for outside back then.

Stray observations:

  • “Shagging” used as an explicit gerund is maybe the worst example of awkward bowdlerizing I’ve ever seen, and if people actually used it habitually in London in the late 90s, then London in the late 90s was a sad place.
  • John Hannah has infinite goodwill with me, but I guess your mileage may vary.

Director: Peter Howitt
Rating: R
Length: 99 minutes
Score: 4/5

I remember kind of wanting to see Mortdecai when it came out, because I figured there was no chance it was as bad as everyone seemed to think. But, while I’m not sure it’s as bad as everyone thinks, it is pretty bad.

Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is a dopey upper-class art thief, probably. But he’s in debt, so he and his valet/bodyguard (Paul Bettany) end up being strong-armed into recovering a lost Goya painting to thwart terrorism. That doesn’t make sense, no, but nevertheless this is what we are given. Mortdecai’s wife Joanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) hates his new mustache, his MI-5 contact (Ewan McGregor) loves Joanna, an American (Jeff Goldblum) wants to buy Mortdecai’s Rolls-Royce, and his nymphomaniac daughter (Olivia Munn) is in cahoots with the painting-stealing terrorist. Also there are Russians. And schemes.

It’s really not very good. The plot doesn’t hang together (in a careless way, not a humorously madcap way), Johnny Depp is exhausted- and exhaustingly mincing, and the movie relies far too heavily on your finding him charming. Joanna’s fine (her clothes are delightful; few people can wear jodhpurs as well as Gwyneth Paltrow), and Ewan McGregor is actually engagingly uptight and useless, but he isn’t given enough to do. The only real enjoyment is Paul Bettany playing completely against type as a scarred, womanizing tough guy with a staunchly working-class accent. He’s surprisingly good at it, and his doglike devotion to Mortdecai gets a bigger laugh every time he declares it a pleasure to be wounded in his master’s service.

That’s it, though.

Director: David Koepp
Rating: R
Length: 107 minutes
Score: 2/5

There are a million adaptations of Great Expectations, and Alfonso Cuarón’s is not the worst. It is, however, suuuuuuper 90s.

None of the essentials of the story are changed; Pip is now called Finn, and he grows up on the Gulf Coast. The part of London is played by New York, and Finn (Ethan Hawke) is an artist, because I suppose that’s how we update aimless Victorian young men. Estella is still called Estella, and she is still raised to be evil by the delightfully over-the-top Miss Havisham (Anne Bancroft as Miss for some reason Dinsmoor). Gwyneth Paltrow is an excellent choice for the grown-up Estella’s cold beauty.

As an adaptation it’s fine. Ethan Hawke is pretty good at hapless, and Chris Cooper is as usual great as Joe Gargery/Coleman. Robert DeNiro plays…Robert DeNiro, and incidentally also Abel Magwitch, whose adapted name I never caught and doesn’t matter. The Florida visuals are gorgeous, particularly, of course, Miss Dinsmoor’s grand tomb of a mansion. Soho is always rainy, Central Park is always beautiful; these are almost true. The rich ciphers of Finn’s artistic life are appalling. We are meant to be appalled.

So how is it super 90s? Well, Florida seems stuck in the late 80s and early 90s generally, so there’s that. And there is Ethan Hawke’s intermittent (terrible) sensitive facial hair. People still smoke, in buildings, in New York. Everyone (men and women) dresses like a high-powered lesbian. But mostly there is Estella. Gwyneth Paltrow wears every horrible knit outfit, every pair of atrocious mules, every ghastly hairstyle. She looks great (of course). But not only were the 90s a weird, bad time for fashion, they were also a weird, inexplicable time for feminism. Estella’s power, then, is more frankly sexual than we usually see, and she seems more in control, both of which are interesting and probably good. She does not, however, make sense. So…there’s that.

Stray observations:

  • Medium-aged Pip is played by Ethan Hawke in just the worst blond wig, and I’m not sure why.
  • The child actors are phenomenally well chosen, though. Both are eminently believable, and also not irritating as actors.
  • I think I liked the soundtrack. I’m not sure I knew a single song, and the lyrics seemed heavy-handed, often, but, well, Dickens isn’t subtle, and there was no reason for this movie to be so either.
  • Hank Azaria is Estella’s mark. It’s strange not to like or to laugh at him.

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Rating: R
Length: 111 min.
Score: 3/5. Too close yet too far? If you’re doing Great Expectations, you have to do better, or at least differently.