Archives for posts with tag: rewatch

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony.” So begins Rafael Sabatini’s best-known (though not best) novel, Scaramouche. It is the tale of the young lawyer André-Louis Moreau in the early days of France’s (first) revolution, who inadvertently becomes, in order: a firebrand, an actor, and a fencing-master-cum-politician. It is a rollicking tale told with verve and humor.

mv5bmtyxody4mzczov5bml5banbnxkftztgwmjayotyymje-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_This movie is great, and when I first saw it at the age of ten or so at fencing camp, I loved it. Tons of swashbuckling, Mel Ferrer at his most gloriously supercilious, French revolutionary nonsense, Eleanor Parker….

Unfortunately, as with Howl’s Moving Castle, this movie is only great if you have either never read the book or are capable of keeping the book and the movie in different compartments in your brain. It’s not so much that Stewart Granger is a bad André-Louis Moreau as that the script makes no attempt to make him be any kind of André-Louis Moreau. To be sure, it would be bad casting regardless, but he was all right as Rudolf Rassendyll in The Prisoner of Zenda. (Or at least the most abominable miscasting in that film was James Mason as the villainous Rupert of Hentzau.)

In turning André into a middle-aged womanizer, the film misses most of the point of him. It is the touching naïveté underlying the pose of ironic detachment that is his charm, not the pose itself. The real André is both too high-minded and too incompetent to get himself involved in a love triangle, even if presented with the temptations of Eleanor Parker and Janet Leigh, which are many and mighty. The politics–and thus André’s principles–get short shrift as well, but, to be fair, they are complicated, and this movie is not the first to shirk their involvements.

So…a 3 for nostalgia’s sake, and also: who could play André, then or now?

Director: George Sidney
Rating: tame
Length: 115 minutes
Score: 3/5

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It is mesmerizing to me that someone once looked at roughly twelve pounds of Victor Hugo’s nonsense and thought, “I bet that would make a great musical.” I resisted the musical for a long time, because I had read the book and success seemed unlikely, and also because little girls are taught “Castle on a Cloud” in music class, and Cosette was rather a wet blanket. But Pandora had other ideas, and the rest of the show is mostly better, and there we were in 2012 and I went to the cinema and was not greatly disappointed.

Most people, when they saw Les Mis the film, were disappointed because the singing wasn’t that good, or that Samantha Barks was thrown to Broadway diehards like a pacifier to a fussy infant. And they hated both Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe. I’m not particularly interested in those factors, and neither are you, three and a half years later.

My problems stem from twin causes: changes the musical had to make because it wasn’t three years long and Marius had to be likable, and choices the movie made from the musical that exacerbated those flaws.

Marius Pontmercy, in the book, is extremely handsome. So far, so good. He’s dark where Eddie Redmayne is incipiently ginger, but that’s all right. The other thing about Marius, though, is that he’s a drip. He has cards printed calling himself a baron (his father was vaguely entitled to do so), has stupid fights with his rich relatives, is too lazy to do the very undemanding work that his school friends find him when he needs money, decides that the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen is named Ursule (I mean, come on), and after talking to her once decides that he’d rather die than lose her, so he belatedly cares about the revolution in which his friends ardently believe. They, unlike him, are interesting and varied.

This is my main problem with the show. I love everything to do with these lads. They’re not viciously useless, like Fantine’s lover’s crowd. They’re not venal, like the Thénardiers. They’re not hopelessly boring, like Cosette. They’re crazy, and probably wrong, and criminally naïve, but they’re more like people than anyone else Victor Hugo limned. Hugo’s Enjolras is a glorious lunatic Adonis. The musical’s Enjolras is a mildly nuts co-firebrand. Tom Hooper’s Enjolras is a handsome, scarlet-clad, interchangeable sidekick until the moment of his death (not Aaron Tveit’s fault). Except for one sublime second of mad joy when he first scrambles behind the barricade, Enjolras is just like all the others, aside from the jacket. Now, I get it. Marius has to believe in the cause, because otherwise Marius is an unappealing moral tourist, so he takes half of Enjolras’s revolutionary vim, and Enjolras just gets to be a moderately self-righteous scold.

And this is why you shouldn’t cut any of “Drink with Me.” Because then it’s not just about Marius, and you give the boys a little more time to be different from each other. A little more time for Enjolras to have crazier eyes, or for Grantaire to be noticeably drunker than everyone else, or for us to learn which one Courfeyrac actually is. A little more time for you to see that they do care, and not just because they have a crush on some blonde they’ve hardly met. Maybe a little time to see why Grantaire claws himself out of a hangover to die next to Enjolras. Too much to ask?

Still, though. I am at home for ruffly shirts and barricades, and this movie is gorgeous.

Stray observations:

  • We do not need to see Javert’s back break. No, thank you.
  • The early 1830s had bad sleeves, huh.
  • I hate the Thénardiers so much, but since you’re supposed to, I’m not sure I can dock points for it.
  • Grantaire is my spirit animal. There is no chance I won’t be hungover when the revolution comes.

Director: Tom Hooper
Rating: PG-13
Length: 158 minutes
Score: 4/5

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

Do you remember the strange several years when everyone was convinced that Russell Crowe was both good-looking and a good actor? Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary on both fronts? We gave this man an Academy Award!

Just…wow.

Anyway, Master and Commander is probably my favorite Russell Crowe movie, and that’s mostly in spite of him, and in spite of its…not really being all that good. When I saw it the first time, I hadn’t read any of the Aubrey-Maturin novels on which it is ostensibly based, and I rather liked it. Now I have read fourteen of the Aubrey-Maturin novels on which it is ostensibly based, and I like it no less.  This movie follows the plot of no single O’Brian novel, neither the one called Master and Commander nor the one called The Far Side of the World. Nor of any other. Which is fine, really; those novels succeed better at atmosphere than at plot. I have heard on good authority that this is a fairly verisimilitudinous reflection of naval life. The film also aims for atmosphere, sketching your favorite characters from the books in a pastiche of more or less plausible events that take place near the Galapagos and involve fighting the French navy.

Jack Aubrey (Crowe), the titular master and commander, is blond, sanguine, and incipiently fat. He’s smirkingly terrible and his accent is worse. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) is as unattractive as they can make him as the doctor and naturalist who spends most of his time kvetching that a warship is not his private exploratory vessel. He has no Irish accent and is not a spy, so devotés of the books may resent it; I enjoy that he can walk in a straight line and probably add. James D’Arcy plays the good-looking lieutenant Tom Pullings, and I love him. That’s all Tom Pullings ever does–be good-looking and lieutenant as well as he bloody can. Billy Boyd is awful as the boatswain Bonden, but they don’t give Bonden a damn thing to do, so that’s the real problem.

Max Pirkis is an amalgam of various tiny midshipmen, including one named Reade and one named Blakeney, and he, as also playing Octavian in HBO’s Rome, is a revelatory, heartbreaking gem. Early on he loses an arm, and Aubrey gives him a biography of Lord Nelson, and I cry. So much. Later on, he squeakingly collects beetles for Maturin, still later he squeakingly helps decide the course of a battle with the French vessel Acheron. He’s wonderful.

This film’s chief failure is that it captures neither the unremitting navy-ness of the books nor the rather charming blink-and-you-missed-it humor. In addition it’s scattershot, trying to cobble together one full plot from a dozen loosely connected episodes. But, if you like movies about old boats and aren’t terrifically particular, you’ll love this. If not, you’ll be annoyed by the winking in-jokes, the borderline incoherence, and Russell Crowe.

Stray observations:

  • This film makes heavy, heavy use of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” and, while I deeply love that piece of music in all its forms, the anachronism makes me insane.
  • I really wish there had been more of these movies, as it clearly looked like they were planned, and I would eat them up like candy. However, I also see why there weren’t more–the movie strikes a bad balance between pleasing lovers of the books and pleasing neophytes, and ends up pleasing no-one. Also it made $50 million less than it cost.

Director: Peter Weir
Rating: PG-13
Length: 138 minutes
Score: 4/5

Sorry, after the new Avengers I had movie ennui and also “Friends” on Netflix happened. Now I’m back!

And I have to say: this movie is under-rated. As I’m sure you know, it’s a Cinderella story. Marisa Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) is a hotel maid, Chris Marshall (Ralph Fiennes) is a Senate hopeful. In a hilarious mix-up Chris thinks Marisa is actually staying in the hotel, whereas in fact the woman staying in the suite in question is Caroline Lane (Natasha Richardson), who is only slightly cartoonishly hoity-toity. The cast is rounded out by Chris’s constantly jazzed campaign guy (Stanley Tucci) and Marisa’s adorably politically-aware son Ty (Tyler Posey).

Sure, a lot of the class stuff is a little too pat. Chris goes to benefit dinners that are supposed to raise awareness about the projects, and zooms up to the Bronx in a limo to give a speech about it. Marisa, for her part, grew up in the projects and has some views about his “big-hearted” policies and his evident personal disconnect from them. Meanwhile, she has management ambitions and a deadbeat ex who continuously bails on plans with their son. Her colleagues are supportive (including Bob Hoskins[!!!] as the hotel butler, Lionel); her mother has realistic doubts.

Chris, of course, is one of these career politicians who is only ever cynical because the people around him force him to be so, and has a big dog and pre-speech jitters. He’s good with kids (especially Ty), has a checkered (but, you can be sure, decent) romantic past, and looks good in a dinner suit. He has no patience with social-climbing blondes, which is appealing if improbable. His accent is a shade careful, and hearing Ralph Fiennes say “taking a leak,” however scrupulous the dialect coach, is ridiculous.

There are a few moments that strain credulity, naturally. Ty never points out, for instance, that Chris routinely refers to Marisa as “Caroline,” even though Ty is in general preternaturally observant. Marisa’s stand-ins for mice and birds rally ’round very quickly–and not just with bows and sewing, but with vintage Harry Winston necklaces, for which they use a grade-schooler as courier. It is not, however, improbable that Marisa would be the only woman at a benefit at the Met wearing a pink dress.

But all in all, it’s appealing. Ralph Fiennes, for once, is not tragic or evil or set on fire or otherwise destroyed, which I think is nice. The movie is not unaware of social and economic disparities, but neither does it beat you up about them. The kid is cute but not cloying; Marisa’s friends on the hotel staff are slight caricatures but warm-hearted. Next time it comes on TV, you should give this a chance.

Stray notes:

  • John Hughes was partly responsible for the story?
  • Chris Marshall is a sympathetic Republican! This brings the number in films to…two (Bill Pullman in Independence Day is the other).
  • Yeah, I miss Jennifer Lopez in silly but charming movies. She was really good at them (and, yes, The Wedding Planner is also secretly great).

Director: Wayne Wang
Rating: PG-13
Length: 105 min.
Score: 3/5.

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.

Haters gonna hate, I know, but I love this movie. I love that it shows a teenage girl who is good at some things and bad at others, and, because of the vagaries of the adolescent mind, thinks that she’s bad at everything. I love that her validation comes chiefly from the women in her life, but that she has the courage to stand up even to them when necessary (as we know from Dumbledore, this is one of the hardest things to do). I love that she has a stupid crush on the stupid cute boy (and, boy, is the casting spot on for a boy you’d be mad for at fifteen, and hate yourself about forever after), and knows that it’s stupid, but falls for it anyway. I love the car, I love the quiet but great love interest, I love Joe the security guy, I love the wonderfully supportive gym teacher, and I even love Sandra Oh’s sycophantic but ultimately worthwhile Principal Gupta.

You can bitch and moan about the centrality of the makeover, if you are joyless and naïve. People, even deep people, care about how they look, and learning to do the best you can with what you have (even if you are not beautiful like Anne Hathaway) is an excellent first step on the way to confidence. Blame the patriarchy if you like, but that won’t necessarily make you feel better.

Stray notes:

  • I do not love the M&M pizza. That ruins two amazing things.
  • The second movie is funnier but less touching, perhaps because more exaggerated and silly. By the time you graduate from Princeton, you should stop falling in fountains at fancy parties, even if Chris Pine is involved.
  • In the Princess Diaries books, the grandmother is amazing and mean and has tattooed-on eyebrows and a general air of capable evil, and, if it didn’t mean giving up the joy of Julie Andrews, I wish she were that way in the movies, too.

Director: Garry Marshall
Rating: G
Length: 115 min.
Score: 4/5.