REVIEW: Love & Friendship

28 05 2016

Love & FriendshipPeriod pieces, particularly ones set in Victorian-era England, are a well-documented displeasure of mine. Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship,” however, represents one such film that did not entirely rub me the wrong way. And for once in my fraught relationship with costume films, the pleasure derived scarcely at all from historicizing present issues.

Rather, the joys of watching “Love & Friendship” come from Stillman vividly placing his characters on spectrums which we still recognize. The throughline of acerbic verbal barbs from Kate Beckinsale’s Lady Susan to vicious celebrity subtweets seems quite prevalent, as does her constant scheming and manipulation follow logically to someone like a Regina George. The characters of Jane Austen, the author from whose novella the film derives, are not some kind of mummified specimens. Stillman finds them quite alive and relevant.

The majority of the action (of which there is copious amounts for a film lasting only 90 minutes) centers around the recently widowed Lady Susan as she plays virtually everyone in sight off of each other. The purpose, of course, is to maintain her own status and perpetuate it by finding a suitable match for her daughter. Many are aware that she is up to something, though few fully realize the extent to which she plays catty games in high society realms.

It can be a little taxing to keep up with the entire cast of characters, especially given that Stillman introduces them briskly with cut-aways to them standing motionless with a brief description of their role. Eventually, we can figure out who’s who, just as we can translate some of the old English vernacular. The work is mostly worth the hassle, although I find it somewhat ironic that such effort is required to access the pleasures of “Love & Friendship” which are mostly rather simple – the cutting remark, the wry observation, the genius social maneuver. B-2stars

REVIEW: Total Recall

2 08 2012

I was fully strapped into the 2012 remake of “Total Recall” – which, by the way, is probably the first of many frightening remakes of ’90s films that will make me feel old and nostalgic – for the first two acts.  It was working a bullet-riddled “Inception” or “Shutter Island” angle, and I was preparing for a climax that had a cerebral twist on the average adrenaline rush.

Well, I waited in vain.  While people tend to blame Christopher Nolan for the sorry state of action films that are not in the “Batman” franchise, he’s hardly the most influential figure in the genre these days.  Few try to emulate his dark twist on the familiar because even an ambitious failure requires some ambition and effort.  The Nolan-inspired blockbusters are still few and far between.

“Total Recall” winds up in the Michael Bay category of action flick, adhering to his “there’s nothing like a good destruction scene” principle.  Every time Len Wiseman’s movie seems to be taking a turn towards the intelligent or the thoughtful, someone starts getting chased, someone fires a gun, or something just gets blown towards the heavens.  It’s not quite as bad in the beginning as you attempt to puzzle out whether Colin Farrell’s Douglas Quaid is just a normal man thrown into extraordinary circumstances like a Hitchcock hero … or a cold-blooded mercenary brainwashed into believing he’s average like Liam Neeson in last year’s dull thriller “Unknown.”

But in the end, Wiseman decides that it’s better to just blow people up rather than provide answers or catharsis.  Who needs to tie up storylines when you can just sever their heads instead?  Moreover, who needs to blow our minds with a statement on the subjectivity of reality when you can blow our minds and some buildings with pyrotechnics? As such, “Total Recall” makes for an intellectually unfulfilled experience.  Though on the bright side, he does give us the ridiculously awesome Kate Beckinsale as the best female gunslinger since Chloe Moretz’s Hit Girl in “Kick-Ass.”  Her unstoppable ruthlessness is as hilarious as it awesome … well, probably more on the hilarious side since her hair manages to stay so perfect even as she gets the snot kicked out of her.  B-


22 10 2009

PREFACE: I mentioned back in Random Factoid #42 that I had gone through a stint of reviewing movies when I was 13. After rummaging through my old home computer, I managed to find some of these reviews. In a special five day mini-series, I will reveal these reviews in their unadulterated form. I leave it up to you to comment, see how my style has changed (or maybe hasn’t). The third part in the series concerns Adam Sandler’s “Click.”

All great comedians have a style of humor.  Adam Sandler’s involves having every character curse at one time or another (kids included), overly long gags, and half-hearted attempts at having a heart.  Although Click still fits the Adam Sandler stereotype, you walk out of the theater feeling something…a first for the marvelous comedian.  Sandler plays architect Michael Newman who is torn between being with his family and working hard to give his family everything. Kate Beckinsale plays his wife, who looks gorgeous but does not show enough emotion to be convincing.  One day, he is fed up with his frustrating and seemingly mediocre life.  To make matters worse, he can’t find the remote for the TV.  He goes to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to look for a universal remote, where Morty (hint: there’s something in the name) gives him the top of the line.  Soon, Michael figures out how to control his universe using the remote.  He can turn down the volume on his dog, mute his sister-in-law, and do picture in picture.  Life is all good for Michael.  He can finally give his scumbucket boss (marvelously played by David Hasselhoff) a piece of his fist.  However, the remote has a mind of its own.  It begins to program itself by things that Michael has been doing a lot.  While he fast-forwards, Michael is on auto-pilot where he is there but doesn’t talk.  As he fast-forwards to his next promotion, he discovers a year has passed by and that his marriage is on the rocks.  The remote fast-forwards ten years to which he is CEO of the company.  His wife ran off with the swimming instructor who sports a Speedo at all times, he is incredibly obese from bad eating habits, and things are out of control.  Click is hysterical, but isn’t afraid to be melancholy to get across the message.  This is the best Adam Sandler movie yet, and without a doubt the only one with a relevant theme.  There is incredibly mindless humor at times, but it made the audience think…something new for this genre.  3halfstars

What To Look Forward to in … September 2009

17 08 2009

I guess this sort of serves as a “fall movie preview.” With this, I want to present what I’m looking forward to in September, what other might be looking forward to, and hopefully introduce you to some movies that you might not have heard of yet.

September 4

The movie that I’m most excited for opening this week is “Extract,” the latest comedy from Mike Judge, creator of “Office Space” and TV’s “King of the Hill.”  The movie stars Jason Bateman, who has been in nearly every comedy and yet I still have not tired of him, as the owner of an extract factory who is a bit down on his luck.  Also featuring a great supporting cast which includes J.K. Simmons (“Spider-Man,” “Juno”), Mila Kunis (TV’s “That ’70s Show”), Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), and Ben Affleck, the movie looks to be truly hilarious entertainment.

Other releases this week include “All About Steve,” a comedy with Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and “Gamer,” a non-stop action film with Gerard Butler (“The Ugly Truth”).

September 9 & 11

Opening on 9/9/09, “9” uses a clever marketing ploy to hopefully drive audiences its way.  But I’m not sold.  The ever creepy and quirky Tim Burton is behind it, and I have never really been into his type of movies.  The story revolves around nine CGI animated rag dolls living in a post-apocalyptic world.  Maybe this will be some sort of a breakout hit, but until I hear buzz from friends or other bloggers I trust, I’m not throwing my money at it.

“9” is the big attraction of the week.  Also opening is Tyler Perry’s latest movie “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” starring Taraji P. Henson of “Benjamin Button” fame, the thriller “Whiteout” starring the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale, and the horror flick “Sorority Row.”

September 18

There are several movies to get excited about that open this weekend.  First and foremost is “The Informant,” starring Matt Damon.  It takes your usual FBI rat story and flips it on its head, turning it into a comedy.  I have always thought Damon has a great knack for subtle comedy, perfectly illustrated in the “Ocean’s” movies.  The director is Steven Soderbergh, Oscar winner for “Traffic,” but has also helmed “Erin Brockovich” and all three “Ocean’s” films.  And the good news is that this is only Matt Damon’s first role of the year with Oscar potential (see the December preview later).

Also opening is “Jennifer’s Body,” which is the first film written by Diablo Cody since winning the Oscar for “Juno.”  It stars Hollywood’s beauty queen Megan Fox as a vampire who eats guys at her high school.  Her presence alone will drive every young guy in America to this movie.  It also features Amanda Seyfried, one of the bright spots in the otherwise disastrous film adaptation of “Mamma Mia!”  I love the quick-witted humor of “Juno,” and although this doesn’t appear to offer similar antics, curiosity (and Megan Fox) will probably get me.

In limited release, “Bright Star” opens, a movie consider by many to be a major Oscar player.  It isn’t the kind of movie that excites me just from watching the trailer, but the buzz surrounding it coming out of the Cannes Film Festival can’t be discarded.  The movie follows the life of the poet John Keats in the early 1800s.  It is directed by Jane Campion, writer/director of “The Piano,” and features a cast of nearly no recognizable names.  I feel obliged to tell you about it because many are sure that you will be hearing about it during awards season and also because so many people love movies set in the beautiful English country with tons of beautiful costumes and people.

Also opening is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” an animated adaptation of one of my favorite books growing up. Unfortunately, their idea of adapting it is taking the basic premise of food raining from the sky and destroying the rest of the original story. Maybe I will check it out for old time’s sake, but I’m not expecting anything special. The week also puts forth a romantic drama “Love Happens” starring Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) and Jennifer Aniston. And technically, the writer/director of “Babel,” Guillermo Ariaga, releases his latest movie, “The Burning Plain,” to theaters this weekend, but you can watch it on demand starting August 21 if you are that curious.

September 25

Being a musical theater junkie, I feel that it is my duty to push “Fame.”  The movie is a musical that follows a group of talented artists throughout their four years in high school in New York.  At a time in their lives where they don’t know if they have what it takes it to make it big, all the emotions appear to run high.  The movie features no stars. so hopefully this will launch some very promising careers.

For action fans, Bruce Willis is at it again in a high concept sci-fi called “Surrogates,” in which everyone in the world controls a robotic version of themselves from home called a surrogate. Willis plays a detective who investigates the possibility of the surrogates killing the user who operates it.  For sci-fi fans, a screamfest called “Pandorum” with Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster (“3:10 To Yuma”) looks to deliver.  For all those craving a raunchy comedy, a little studio will try to pack you into “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell,” adapted from the tales of drinking and its consequences in the book of the same name.  In limited release, those who like the costumes of “Bright Star” get “Coco Before Chanel,” the story of the legendary fashion designer.  (NOTE: “The Invention of Lying” was pushed back to October 2.)

So, readers, what is your most anticipated in September?  Anything I left off?  Take the poll and let me know.

Until the next reel,