Monday, August 01, 2011

Movie and Television Reviews for July 2011

Wide Sargasso Sea

I chose to watch this film after reading the novel with the Banned Books Club on goodreads.  The dvd comes with two options:  to watch is as an R rated movie or as an NC-17.  The decision was easy to make.  It is, after all, Antoinette’s sexuality that disrupts her husband’s equilibrium and precipitates the tragic events of the novelDescription: Far from being gratuitous, the sex is essential to fully express the truth of the text.  After watching it, however, I don’t know that the R rated version would have been much more graphic, with maybe a bit less nudity or perhaps one less hand shoved between fully clothed legs.  All in all, the movie is pretty close to the text, incorporating the symbols in non-obtrusive ways. Visually, of course, it is pretty but I feel that in the hands of a different director (Ang LeeDescription: comes to mind), there would have been a more haunting and dreamlike quality evoked. This is missing although there are a few moments that are gothic in tone, as they should be.  Some changes are made, with Antoinette discovering her mother’s horse with its neck slit open (not poisoned as in the novel) and the story of her childhood somewhat truncated as well as her brother’s presence diminished to the point of being nearly dismissed.  The actors are lovely but the only passion that seems to be expressed is lust and there should be much more, a layering of emotions.  But where the movie fails, and it fails so utterly, is in the final scene of the novel where Antoinette’s destiny is not fulfilled, not fully.  The brutality of Rhys’s conclusion, the moment of clarity, of awakening, or realization, is never manifest on the screen and I was curious to see how the director and actor would manifest this.  Someone made the decision to remove this altogether and, like Rhys’s decision not to explore Antoinette’s story more slowly on the page, an opportunity is missed that would have made for something far more powerful and provocative.

Jane Eyre

Naturally, after reading Wide Sargasso SeaDescription: and watching the movie, I wanted to watch the movie of Jane Eyre.  This is not a brilliant version of the story. It’s good but I think the story is too complex to be limited to two hours.  The actresses who play Jane Eyre, both as a young girl and as a woman, are both wonderful.  And William Hurt as Rochester is always good although he doesn’t suit the role, in my opinion, lacking a certain quality of arrogance and darkness.  I just can’t recommend this version.  There are other versions and no doubt better ones. 

Iron Man 2

I love Robert Downey Jr and I enjoyed the first movie for what it was—mindless, escapist, fluff.  This movie doesn’t break new ground or explore superhero territory that remains to be discovered; however, it does live up to expectations.  Tony Stark’s self-destructive narcissism is nearly out of control and there is the addition of Scarlett Johanssen who, for the record, looks better as an auburn brunette than she does as a blonde.  Nobody’s acting skills is really put to the test.  I’d like to think everyone is having as much fun making these movies as the audience has watching them. 

My Bodyguard

This is an adorable film that doesn’t strive to be more than what it is and succeeds for all that.  Ruth Gordon plays the cliché over-sexed older woman, a bit of a lush and an insatiable flirt.  I love when she plays a quirky character because she does it so well.  Adam Baldwin in an early role that is not far removed from his roles for Joss Whedon.  There are a lot of familiar faces from Matt Dillon to Joan Cusack, from Martin Mull to (whatever happened to) Chris Makepeace.  And it is Makepeace who truly makes this film because he is so natural you believe every moment he is on the screen, every word and expression as genuine.  Truly gifted.  I’m sorry he has chosen to stop doing films.  I hope he’s happy doing whatever it is he is doing.


The play version, on dvd.  Woot.  A few new musical numbers seem to slow down the first act a bit but not so much that it isn’t still a great start.  In the second act, the new numbers are actually a plus, definitely helpful to the story over all.  Great acting.  Great music.  Great story.  And so well staged.  I am glad that this has been capture for posterity.  I’ll still stick with the movieDescription:  Tony Roberts is great as Toddy but Robert Preston is so brilliant that I am willing to lose the few extra songs and such for the original.  I’d like my daughter to see this since she’s the one who generously gave me the movie on dvd as a birthday or Christmas gift.  I forget which.  It doesn’t matter.  I do so love this movie and I would have loved to see it on stage.   Seeing the stage version on dvd is the next best thing.


I was eager to see this film after learning that it was praised by many, hoping to find another film I enjoyed as much as I did Bent.  Both films, after all, take place in the early days of Nazi Germany and star actors whom I admire.  Both films are further inspired by successful plays.  The connections were obvious and yet this movie disappointed me, perhaps because my expectations were entirely too high.  I do not know.  Given how much I liked the other movie, I suppose I wanted to love this one and could not settle for less.

Chris and Don:  A Love Story

Is a documentary about Christopher Isherwood and his relationship with a much younger man, actually a boy, Don Bachardy.  Although I was familiar with the writings of the former, I was not aware of this relationship and learned a lot about Isherwood's years in Hollywood.  The relationship between the older man and younger one is honestly told, withholding none of the complications one would assume they would have to face.  The less experienced younger man would naturally want the opportunity to live through some of life's experiences, especially when the older one has shared his own so publicly in writing.  

28 Days Later

My son Joe hates horror movies and yet he recommended this one to me, saying he was certain I’d like it.  And he was right.  It’s not brilliant film-making but it is far more intelligent than most zombie movies ever hope to be.  There are some interesting cinematic choices made with camera angles and the use of reflections that add meaning to moments.  (One time when two men are talking, the camera is askew when it is focused on one person and then straight when focused on the other, implying that one of them is not quite right—upright.  Very interesting.)  Naturally, as soon as I finished this movie I had to watch . . .

Slumdog Millionaires

I know.  It probably surprises that I haven’t seen this movie already but I tried to watch it.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t read the very tiny subtitles on the screen and I had to watch it on a larger screen than we had in the house.  Then a friend gave us his monstrosity of a television and I borrowed the dvd from my friend and . . . excuse me but I wasn’t expecting this “feel good” movie to be so damn brutal.  I loved it but that’s because I am perverse enough to believe that feeling good about life shouldn’t be contingent upon circumstances.  So here is a movie that is intelligently written and filmed in a way that practically dumps you en media res.  I kept thinking that the young actor in it looked familiar and he did, from the first two seasons of Skins.  I liked it very much.  Rob didn’t watch it with me.  I think he would have liked it too. 

(Aside:  I watched this movie around the same time I was reading Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and then I picked up her book War Talk.  Very interesting to mesh these together.  And for the record, as much as I think I like James Franco, I have no desire to nor intention of watching  127 Hours because that would just be too intense for me.  I know this especially now, after having watched the director’s other films.)


I think I saw the remake of this with my mother when I was quite young in some revival theater. Or perhaps I am mistaken and we saw some other “initial” movie.  I can’t say I remembered anything of the plot of this one but I definitely enjoyed it.  A very early film, there is no mood music or anything like that so much relies upon angles and lighting.  However, the fact that there is no background music adds a chilling quality to Peter Lorre’s whistling, a sort of signature trope that lets the viewer know the killer is nearby and getting ready to strike again.

Hellraiser III:  Hell on Earth

So in spite of myself, I ended up watching this because now I think it’s just some perverse attempt on my part to work my way through them all.  I have to say that so far the first is by far the most psychologically interesting of the group, which is not saying much.  But for those geeky enough to care, I was pleasantly surprised to see Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) as the lead actress.  That still doesn’t leave it much to commend it. 


Shame shame shame on the screenwriters and the director for making such a tedious and predictable movie.  But yay to the choreographer who was clearly influenced by Bob Fosse.  But a great big boo and hiss for wasting the truly dazzling talent of Alan Cumming.  But a big huzzah for letting Christina Aguilera do what she does best and that is, obviously, sing.  She has such an amazing talent and listening to her is worth . . . well, it’s worth watching this movie for free whatever it costs to have Netflix or to wait for it to come on television because, frankly, this movie is one of those pathetic back stage rehashes that never fully inspire and only shine when the singers or dancers do their thing.  Which brings me back to how they could not let Cumming do his thing more?  I’ll never grok that.  (I think Rob liked this more than I.  Perhaps not.)

Love and Other Drugs

Believe it or not, this was a mutual choice.  I wanted to see it because I like Jake Gyllenhall and Anne Hathaway.  I trusted them both to choose something that wouldn’t be too trite or nauseating.  In other words, I hoped for an intelligent chick-flick, along the lines of High Fidelity or The Princess Bride .  Halfway through the movie we realized that this was a rehash of Sweet November but with a little more humor.  In other words, we laughed.  But Rob never saw the original Sweet November so his comparison was with the horrid remake.  Still, we did guffaw a couple of times and we watched it to the end even though it was ridiculously predictable.  Insultingly so, even. 

Nick of Time

Rob is a huge Johnny Depp fan and I’d never watched this movie before.  Didn’t really have much interest in doing so but I was doing something else and figured it would be good to have this as background noise.  I sometimes forget how pretty Depp was when he was younger.  He’s been very intelligent with his choices in acting roles.  I’m glad he didn’t play it safe forever and that directors were willing to let him stretch himself.  I may not like everything he does, but I like most of what he does.  So how did I feel about this movie?  Meh.  He’s come a long way, baby.

This month, I’m dumping all of the television reviews in one cluster of reviews. 

Thirtysomething, Season 2

The show improved for me during this season, especially because of how the writers handled the relationship between Nancy and Elliot.  The difficulty of going through a divorce after so many years of marriage is well done.  The hostility they express towards one another is clearly motivated by a need to protect the ego, to shield the heart from more pain.  The actors inhabit the characters so well it is almost impossible to separate them from their roles.  Hope and Michael continue to be idealized and Melissa charmingly quirky.  I liked Ellyn a bit more and Gary no more and maybe even a little less.  I can’t say why I didn’t watch this when it originally aired but it may be that I was too distracted with my life or it came on when my husband wanted to watch something else.

The Kennedys

I wanted to see this because I figure that if I love Michelle Williams as much as I do (and I really do) then I also might love other actors from Dawson’s CreekDescription:  I have to say that Katie Holmes didn’t do a bad job playing Jacqueline Kennedy. I didn’t learn anything new about the Kennedy family although one would think that in eight episodes they could have covered a little more, maybe given Ted Kennedy a moment to have his story told.  Truth is, there’s enough scandal and such in this family’s history that it wouldn’t be impossible to film 18 or even more episodes and still not cover it all.  But I should pause to point out that I hardly think this show tells a true story and it is as inclined to speculative storytelling as not.  But with this family, the reality blurs so smoothly with the speculative, it does make for some interesting stuff.  It also reminded me of how horrible it must have been for the First Lady.  I think I intentionally block what I know happens because it is simply too horrifying.  She was a remarkable woman and as deserving of peace as any of us. 

Beauty and the Beast, Season 1

I cannot believe I ever loved this show.  I mean, really it’s dreadful.  It has some pretty moments.  Beethoven playing in the background, poetry and Shakespeare quoted, and the costumes for the people who live underground are interesting.  But what with Catherine and Vincent gasping out their lines in desperate whispers and the diffused focus meant to romanticize an obviously tedious format is boring beyond reason.  Nearly every episode has Catherine threatened in some way—by some thug or other abusive man or beast and Vincent must save her by running desperately through tunnels, clinging to the top of a subway, or some other ridiculously miraculous manner that allows him to reach her in the nick of time.  Seriously.  If not for the too view brief moments when Vincent recites some beautiful verse, there would be no reason to watch this dreck.  I am horrified that it ever existed.  After all, you could hear great poetry quoted on Star TrekDescription:  

Frankenstein:  The True Story

Kinda playing it free and loose with “true” on this one.  The screenplay was written by Christopher Isherwood and his partner.  It is an interesting reinterpretation with Victor Frankenstein not creating a monster but a man who is, initially, beautiful.  Unfortunately, there is a problem with the process and his creation begins to deteriorate and it is this rejection that facilitates the later actions of the story.  Frankenstein is played by the same actor who played Romeo in Zefferelli’s gorgeous Romeo and Juliet and Jane Seymour makes an appearance in the second part in a role where she once again plays a less than innocent person.

Ethan Frome

After reading the novel, I watched this BBC production starring Liam Neeson, Patricia Arquette.  I think they did an excellent job of translating this sparse novel into film.  Unfortunately, there were some changes made that I feel took away from the deeper meaning of the frustration and loss Frome experiences.  To say more would be a spoiler, which is a shame, because it is worth discussing.  I may put a “spoiler” link in the review I wrote for the novel to discuss it there.  I may be alone in my feeling it was a poor choice on the screenwriter’s choice.

The Tudors, Seasons 3 and 4

Finally these last two seasons were available on Netflix streaming so I enjoyed a few days of watching episodes, sometimes two in one day.  What can I say?  I guess I can forgive the liberties taken with historical fact when it all looks as pretty as this show is.  I am very disappointed not to see the young actress who played Mary given a chance to grow into Mary, Queen of England.  I’m certain she’d have done a wonderful job of it.   Perhaps someday there will be another attempt at really telling the story of all the Tudors, and not just the one notorious king.

Pride and Prejudice

For the longest time, I refused to watch any film adaptation of this book because I knew it would be more frustrating than fulfilling.  Then I broke down and I watched one and fell in love.  Then I watched another and fell in love all over again. So I thought I would give this BBC production a shot because obviously it had been done well before and surely it could be done well again.  Shame on Faye Weldon for a ponderous and clumsy script that leaves little of the lightness of the novel, using ridiculous voice overs to express internal thoughts and putting front and center moments that are merely alluded to.  The actor who plays Mr Darcy, David Rintout, did a very good job and I liked the actress who played Elizabeth Bennet, Elizabeth Garvie, but not as much as I’ve loved others.  The actor who plays her father, however, especially missed the mark and made him sound more foolishly sincere than humorously sarcastic.  I might have liked it more had I not recently reread the novel.  Might but I don’t necessarily think I would have.

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