Tag Archives: movie review

Starter for Ten

Starter-For-Ten-1-D25UKS4LJM-1024x768This movie was recommended to me months ago, and I just got around to seeing it.  I could not believe the amount of recognizable British actors that are in this one movie.  James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, Alice Eve, Mark Gatiss, James Corden, Dominic Cooper, Catherine Tate, Guy Henry, the list goes on.  Well, no, that’s about it, but it’s a pretty long list!

The movie is about James McAvoy, a working-class Essex boy obsessed with gaining knowledge, knowing the answers.  I can relate to that. Not the Essex boy part, the knowledge part.  He is accepted to university at Bristol to ‘read’ English literature.

He is leaving behind his 2 non-intellectual friends, played by James Corden and Dominic Cooper.

dominic cooperCooper is doing his best impression of Ralph Macchio in this movie. Or, if Ralph Macchio was a T bird:

Brian (McAvoy) has barely arrived in Bristol before he spots a poster for tryouts for the ‘University Challenge’ team. I think I remember watching a few episodes of University Challenge when I was in London.  I didn’t have a TV, so I was limited to whatever the BBC iplayer was willing to show me.  QI and University Challenge are about the only British TV I managed to see while I lived there.  Ironic.  But I digress…

If you don’t know University Challenge, it’s exactly what you would expect. Teams from a specific college go and compete in a sort of academic decathlon. Apparently it used to be hosted by someone named Bamber Gascoigne.  If that’s not a name from Middle Earth, I don’t know what is. Anyway, this movie takes place in the ’80s, when Bamber was the host. Mark Gatiss, almost unrecognizable, plays Bamber.

Brian immediately wants to audition for the team. He used to watch the show with his (now deceased) dad, who always encouraged his thirst for knowledge.

But Brian wanders off his course really quickly.  As soon as he sees Alice (played by Alice Eve) at the audition, he is smitten to the point of being pathetic.  He helps her cheat, and then she ends up on the team instead of him, because of the 2 answers he gives her.  Why are men so dumb? Luckily, the Pete Best of the team ends up injured or sick or something, and is never seen again. Brian, as first reserve, is now on the team:

starterforten1

The leader of the team is Patrick Watts (Cumberbatch) and oh my god he is annoying and so unattractive. It doesn’t help that it’s the ’80s and all the men have hideous outfits (except Dominic Cooper, because he looks like he’s in the ’50s).  No one looks good in high-waisted acid wash jordache jeans, okay? It was just a terrible time to be a human being. He wears awful sweaters and awful pants, and slicks his hair off to the side and it’s just all bad.  Worse, he’s got a really intolerable personality!

Brian falls for Alice pretty quickly, but he also meets Rebecca, played by Rebecca Hall–why do all the women in this movie have characters with the same first name? Anyway, Rebecca Hall is clearly doing her best Molly Ringwald impression.

imagesAnd she does look and act a lot like Molly Ringwald…or maybe I am just associating the two because it takes place in the ’80s, but I think if Andie Walsh had gone off to university, she probably would have been protesting nuclear power or nuclear weapons or sexual harassment, etc., etc.  That’s what Rebecca Hall’s character does.  Brian makes a joke that ‘the lady doth protest too much’.  It’s funny if you’re very familiar with Hamlet…

The movie is a bit predictable, and I did find myself relating all of it to a John Hughes movie.  By the way, if anyone reading this is not familiar with the John Hughes oeuvre, go, now.  Watch at least The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Uncle Buck, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. You’re an incomplete human person if you don’t know these movies.  Go on, get out.

Starter for 10 falls into that predictable trope of someone falls in love with the wrong person, and finally realizes at the very end that they really belong with the person that was next to them the whole time.  A bit tired, and, quite frankly, not done quite as well as John Hughes could do it.

But it was still an interesting movie, and an excellent place to spot people who are much more famous now than when they made this movie.  So I enjoyed watching it, even if it was a bit overly-simplified. If you’re not sold, you should look at this picture:

starterforten2

So many questions must be occurring to you…  Is that really Mark Gatiss???  Why has Benedict Cumberbatch been punched in the face? Did James McAvoy have a nosebleed? No, but seriously, what is up with Mark Gatiss and that wig? For all these answers, and more, just watch the movie.

Still not sold?? The movie features an amazing selection of ’80s music, including Kate Bush, the Cure, the Psychedelic Furs, Buzzcocks, Motörhead, The Smiths, Tears for Fears…come on.  What more do you need than early Morrissey?!

Movie Review: The Hobbit

THE-HOBBIT-AN-UNEXPECTED-JOURNEY-PosterCan I start this post by saying how much I love Martin Freeman and how perfect he is for Bilbo Baggins? He’s the reason I’m reviewing this movie for this blog. Technically, it’s not a British film.  It was shot in New Zealand with Kiwi director, producer, and writer(s).  The cast, like the Lord of the Rings films, is multinational. But, Martin Freeman is such a feature on this blog, and my ever-growing adoration of him requires that I comment on this film.

I actually prefer The Hobbit to all of the Lord of the Rings books.  So perhaps my expectations were slightly too high, because I was disappointed by the movie.

First, a word about some technical aspects involved in the film.  Normally, I couldn’t care less about frame rate or resolution, and don’t think it affects my viewing of most movies.  I bring all of this up because The Hobbit was shot in a faster frame rate than a normal movie, and it is very noticeable. Normally, movies are shot at 24 frames per second. The Hobbit was shot at twice that, 48 frames per second.  This is noticeable in a few key ways.

1-There is no blur.  When characters are doing fast paced action scenes, the normal blur isn’t seen.  This is kind of cool, but on the other hand the human eye can only move so fast and take in so much.  Some people find it dizzying.

2-Everything is in focus.  It is almost like an HD nature film. The depth of field is really large.  Some scenes make this really interesting, and some scenes make it bothersome. The experience also seems to vary depending on whether you see the movie in 2 or 3-D, in IMAX or on a regular screen.

3-Some motions seem too fast.  Small things, like the actors making motions with their eyes or standing up, can seem overly dramatic and fast. This isn’t anything against the actors–they’ve honed their craft for a specific medium, and this isn’t the same one.  If this frame rate was adopted by everyone, I think actors would learn to act in a way that works for it, but they haven’t had that chance yet.  Sometimes it affects your enjoyment of the film, takes you out of the action.

4-The CGI technology that we’ve developed thus far isn’t very good at this frame rate.  Since twice the amount of frames are being presented to the human eye, twice the amount of computer information would have to be presented for it to look as real as it would at a normal frame rate–if I understand this correctly.  So, the bottom line is that the CGI in the Lord of the Rings was great  and the CGI in this movie didn’t look as good, or as real.

It’s important for directors to take chances and innovate, but I can’t say I thought this was successful or particularly necessary.  But, I imagine that Peter Jackson will get better with each movie and I may be a huge fan by the third in the Hobbit franchise.

Which brings me to a minor gripe.  The Hobbit is a fairly short book, compared to, say, Return of the King.  Since there is nowhere near enough plot to make three movies out of this one story, they seem to have taken all the information from Tolkien’s appendices and the Silmarillion.  Example: Radagast the Brown (a wizard friend of Gandalf’s) is mentioned in passing during The Hobbit (book), but in the movies he is a major character and introduces a separate plot with the Necromancer.  This is just sort of touched upon in The Hobbit (An Unexpected Journey), but it will be (I think) a major part of the second Hobbit film. Also, bonus for me–Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the Necromancer.  I like having the extra movies, but I don’t like the feeling that New Line and Peter Jackson are just trying to bleed my wallet dry.

Okay, so now that I’ve rambled about the technology and the differences between book and movie.  What about the movie itself?

I didn’t care for it as much as the Lord of the Rings films.  I found it more childish.  There are two or three songs, and unlike the songs in the LotR, these seem to have been written professionally and planned ahead of time. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.  They didn’t have the soul and the folksy character of the hobbit songs in LotR–those seemed to be truly born from a time when people composed poetry and songs to pass the time. These were too slick and overproduced.  One accompanies a scene of the dwarves invading Bag End and eating all of Bilbo’s food, and then doing his dishes.

The dwarves are hard to keep straight, mostly because they all have beards and wear similar outfits.  The most memorable are:

Thorin:

ThorinA prince among dwarves, on a journey to reclaim the riches that belong to his family.  He is played admirably (but unrecognizably) by Richard Armitage.

Kili:

FiliThe only eye candy you’ll find in the movie.  I love you Martin Freeman, but big hairy feet and a mop of hair are not a good look for you.  Kili and Fili (his brother) are the youngest and fittest of the company, so they get some of the more action-oriented scenes.

Bombur:

bombur

Whatever the opposite of ‘youngest and fittest’ is, it applies to this guy.  There’s a lot of waffle in this movie about Bilbo not being able to keep up with this company of dwarves, being a hindrance, etc.  Are they kidding? Have they seen this guy?  I found him really repugnant. I mean, for one thing, is that braid made of beard hair or head hair?  Or…some other hair I don’t want to know about?

The dwarves are barely given enough screen time to figure out who half of them are. Most of the time is devoted to Thorin, Bilbo and Gandalf.  I can only hope some more time will be set aside in the next movie to make them distinguishable.  In Fellowship of the Ring, we meet four hobbits, a dwarf, an elf, a wizard, and two men within the space of a few minutes, but their characters are very well developed by the end of just that first movie. I’m disappointed that they weren’t able to distinguish the dwarves as well in the Hobbit. But I hold out hope for the future.

So, do I have anything good to say about the film after ranting about the frame rate and the childishness of the plot?  Well…despite the fact that it’s too long, it does pick up speed in the second half.  The first half an hour is quite dull, but by the end of the piece I didn’t mind the length.

Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen are great in this movie.  But I love everything they do, so perhaps I’m not the best judge.

As much as I rather hated Tolkien’s books, no one can deny that he created a wonderful world and wonderful characters in it.  After I saw the LotR movies I was struck by how much Peter Jackson had changed and had improved on the cannon.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say the same for this movie.  But we are still in that same world, and there is still the same sense of fate, of bravery, and of small beings accomplishing great feats.  We see the scene with Gollum, when Bilbo first gets the ring. We see Bilbo, like Frodo, pushed out of sedentary agrarian life and into adventure and danger.  We see Bilbo alone being brave enough to defend Thorin in desperate times.  As someone of relatively small stature and absolutely no importance, I can always appreciate the underdog.  Even though I found the movie experience disappointing, it was enough for me to be back in this world.  Like the Star Wars fans that will keep going to whatever tripe-infested rubbish George Lucas puts on screen, I will keep going to see whichever of Tolkien’s tales Peter Jackson chooses to tell. Let’s just hope things don’t get as bad as Attack of the Clones.

Movie Review: Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina movie poster

I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina a few years ago, mostly out of a feeling of obligation.  No English major should make it through university without reading one of the huge Russian novels.  This seemed more my speed than War and Peace or Crime and Punishment. I tried unsuccessfully to read The Idiot, but I did at least make it through AK.  Unfortunately, despite liking Tolstoy’s short stories, I did not enjoy the book.  It was just too hard to read, if I’m honest.  Too much work to keep the characters straight (names always end in -sky, -vich, or similar, and several characters have the same first name), and such a long book.  I remember one chapter that–this is not a joke–was just Vronsky balancing his checkbook.  I mean, it had deeper meaning, of course.  But who can stay awake through a whole chapter of a guy just sitting there thinking about money and about his life and doing absolutely nothing.  It was very hard to finish the book.

I thought I might really enjoy this film, though.  For one thing, the character name problem is totally solved in film form. There is no way one can confuse the dowdy (for the first time in his life) Jude Law as Karenin, and the young, mustachio’d Vronsky.  In the book, they are both named Alexei, and there are middle names they sometimes go by, and it’s all confusion.  In the movie, though, one is repugnant and the other…well…not attractive to me, but certainly more young and passionate.  I did glean far more meaning from the film than I ever had from the book.  When you’re bored and frustrated with a book, it’s very hard to follow the nuance.

The film borrows from others such as Chicago and The Artist, in that it is both a live-action movie and a depiction of a play.  I imagine this illustrates the idea of society life all being a performance, and of society people always being watched and on display.  Scenes in AK take place on and backstage, and they use this method to float through time and space and skip over large swaths of the action to hone in on pertinent scenes.  This is immensely helpful when you’re trying to adapt a book that is approximately 5 million pages long, into a movie that is a reasonable length.  I didn’t mind the surrealistic style that allows an office scene to transform into a restaurant scene by following the office clerks as they leave their desks and walk straight into the restaurant with waiters’ aprons under their suits–but it took a minute to figure out what was going on.  I think the movie hopes you’re really paying attention, and probably also hopes you’ve read the book.

The best thing about this film was the visual interest in each scene.  Not only did the changing locations (defying the laws of space and time) keep you interested and alert, but the sets and wardrobe were breathtaking.  It was a really beautiful film, and the whole thing had the air of those pompous Charlize Theron Dior commercials.  Very beautiful and untouchable and people walking around on marble floors in immaculate gowns that cost more than I make in a year.  That sort of thing.  Which works, because that is exactly the society the movie is depicting.  Unfathomably wealthy and focused on aesthetic pleasures. The movie did a great job at keeping visual interest and making each scene, whether an intimate moment between Anna and her son, or a big ballroom scene, really beautiful.  Here are a few stills to prove my point:

new-stills-anna-karenina-by-joe-wright-32058838-460-287 Still from Anna Karenina keira-knightley-anna-karenina anna-karenina-picture02

It was an incredible film to watch, visually.  And for anyone who enjoys Russian culture, Imperial European culture, or 19th-century costumes, it’s a must-see.

For those of you unfamiliar with the storyline, I will give it to you.  For those of you who actually don’t know how it ends, be warned that this will not be spoiler-free.  Since the book has been out for over 100 years I feel okay giving away the ending. Anna is married to a dull bureaucrat (Jude Law) who is a good person, but lacks all passion or romantic feeling.  He is also (in the book) about 10-15 years older than Anna.  They have a son together, who is around 10-ish.

Anna’s brother, Oblonsky, is caught cheating on his wife.  Anna visits to try to convince the wife not to divorce her brother. In the film, Oblonsky is played by Matthew Macfayden. While in Moscow, another group of characters is introduced to Anna and to the audience.  They include Oblonsky’s wife and her sister, Kitty, who is ‘out’ in society, and Levin, a land-owning aristocrat who is in love with Kitty.  He proposes to her, but she is making eyes with Count Vronsky.  Confused yet?  There’s no easy way to explain it…  Anna and Vronsky make eyes at a ball, and the attraction is strong and immediate.

The rest of the novel follows two stories.  One is that of Anna and Vronsky, and certainly this is the most prevalent and memorable of the two plotlines.  They’ve got forbidden love, sex, and tragedy on their side.  The other plotline is that of Levin, who attempts to get over Kitty and throws himself into the life of a day-laborer.  Levin is simultaneously a Christ figure (made very obvious in the movie during the foot washing scene) and a foreshadowing of the communist ideals that would sweep the country during the next 50 years.  In the end, he is perhaps the only character who ends up truly happy, when Kitty agrees to marry him.

Anna and Vronsky’s affair is made public when she becomes pregnant with his child. Anna is stuck. She loves Vronsky with all her heart.  Her husband, Karenin, won’t give her custody of their son in a divorce. Anna refuses to leave her little boy. She is forced to live a life where society will not recognize her, she is openly mocked and judged as a fallen woman. She becomes more and more unstable, unable to live a good life with either man.  Vronsky begins to fall out of love with her, naturally, since she’s gone quite crazy and is taking morphine to dull the pain. The thing I remember most about the book is how ridiculously in love she is with her son, how much he means to her and how she will not leave him–meanwhile her daughter with Vronsky is barely mentioned.  In the end, Anna throws herself under a train in perhaps the most dramatic literary suicide ever.

The film manages to get all this across pretty well, except that it skates over some of the legal and monetary issues and the reasons why Vronsky begins to fade away from her.  The film seemed to be trying to bill itself as a great romance, especially in the marketing but also in its editing choices.  It focused on the story as a love story.  I don’t think that’s what it is.  People who think this story is romantic must be those same idiots that think Romeo and Juliet is romantic.

Consider the scene with the horse race. Vronsky is admiring his brand new horse (after declaring his love for his previous horse a few scenes back) which will lead him to victory in the race.  Going around the track, he beats and whips the horse to spur it on.  The horse falls (I had my eyes closed at this point, so I don’t remember why) and breaks its back.  Vronsky is thrown off, but stands up and tries to beat and pull the horse to its feet.  The horse is broken and in pain, but he considers it an insult that he was thrown and embarrassed.  He shoots the horse–hopefully out of mercy, but it seemed to be more from anger than empathy.  Then again, my eyes were closed so I may be wrong.

This scene is very clearly a metaphor for Vronsky and women.  Kitty is the first horse, thrown away when a better model comes into view. Anna is the second horse, abused and beaten until she breaks, then cast off without much regret.  Vronsky cares only about himself.

And is Anna a good person? Most assuredly not.  Even if one doesn’t consider adultery a terrible sin (it’s certainly not nice, but I don’t think of it as a sin the way they did back then), she is neurotic, selfish, obsessive, and cares very little for anyone other than herself or her son.  She steals Kitty’s admirer away from her, cheats on her husband, favors her son over her daughter unashamedly, and then commits suicide to avoid the consequences of her actions.  There is nothing heroic or good about her.  There is something very real about her, from her self-loathing to her lack of control for her emotions, but nothing heroic.

My boyfriend claims he spent most of the film feeling sorry for Karenin (Jude Law).  I do think the movie made Karenin far more sympathetic than he was in the book.  He does allow Anna to see Vronsky when he thinks she is dying after childbirth.  He allows them to run off together, to be together.  In the book, he does these things, but… There is a much longer period of time that he forces Anna to stay in the marriage and pretend the affair didn’t happen. She wants nothing more than to get out of the marriage, but he is committed to keeping up appearances.  He is using morality to keep them both imprisoned in the relationship.  And when they do split, he is determined not to let her anywhere near their son.  He makes her feel unfit to be a mother, won’t even let her give him a birthday gift or see him ever again.  Cuts her off completely from the thing she loves the most (even more than Vronsky).  All because she had the gall to not be content with a loveless, passionless existence when confronted with an alternative to it.

I could ramble endlessly about this book, but I’ll stop myself.  Back to the movie!  It made the Levin plotline less important and the Anna plotline more glamorous.  Other than that, it stuck to the book fairly well.

The acting was superb from all quarters.  I’m not a great fan of Keira Knightley, but she is good in this, and it seems a role that works for her.  Matthew Macfayden was great, and it was interesting to see Jude Law play someone unattractive.

Jude Law as KareninHe did an interview recently where he talked about how he’s grown old enough to play someone other than the romantic lead, that he can now play less attractive men.  I had no idea what he was talking about, because he’s still Jude Law, but now that I’ve seen this movie I know this was what he was talking about.  And he is good in it. Subtle, quiet, maddening.  Not at all your typical Jude Law role.

My only real complaint with the film is that it is a little heavy-handed.  There is a real sense of trying to make it seem as if the train imagery is following Anna through the entire movie.  It is her destiny, I guess, so we see the train imagery not only in scenes where she is on a train, but also with toy trains, or her just dreaming about trains or train tracks.  If you didn’t know the plot, you might wonder wtf is up with all the train stuff?  I think they could have been more subtle.  In the book, it is clear that she is doomed from the beginning, and the train scenes are all very potent because of that.  But not every scene has her dreaming of train tracks. It was just too much.  A few nods to the train would have been very effective, but the constant appearances of train imagery just takes away from what should be a build-up to an inevitably tragic end.

Movie review: Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of ArabiaUsually, I am not the type of person very interested in ‘epic’ films.  I like classic movies, but they tend to be the sort of film that is very intimate in scale (Twelve Angry Men, Rear Window). The big epics that were popular in the ’50s and ’60s (The Ten Commandments, Spartacus) have never particularly interested me. Maybe this is partially because the action usually revolves around war or religion, two topics I prefer to ignore in life.

I decided to watch Lawrence of Arabia, despite it being set in war, because its a very interesting look at the British in a different context than you usually see.  A British officer who embraces a different culture and sees them (especially a culture that would have been called uncivilized at the time) as equals, and understands their interests.  A look at WWI not from the trenches in France, but from the periphery of the Middle East.  A look at the history of a region still obviously in conflict.  I saw T.E. Lawrence’s portrait when I visited Oxford, and I was fascinated by the legend.

This is definitely an epic film, with multiple battle scenes, a huge cast, and tons of footage shot in amazing and exotic places.  I find that the more ‘epic’ characteristics were irksome to me, but the film had enough human interaction to sate my need for character-driven action.  I think that it actually reminded me a lot of Bridge Over the River Kwai. It dealt with a foreign culture and its relations to the British, and the lunacy that war can create in any man.

So, who was T.E. Lawrence?  A British officer, educated but insolent, stationed in Cairo during World War I. That much is verified by historical accounts. The film takes license with other areas of the history, so I won’t presume to know much about T.E. Lawrence, the man. The character, however, is a very interesting man.  Very interesting and very human.  He’s showy, arrogant, but also very smart and very capable.  I’d wager he’s a great chess player.

Lawrence is given an assignment to meet with a Prince Faisal, a leader of some of the nomadic tribes in Arabia.  He impresses the prince by seeing the conflict and the decisions from the perspective of the Arabs as an independent nation, not just from the perspective of the British as needing their support.  He doesn’t just pay perfunctory respect to the prince, but actually respects and comprehends his difficult position.  The British are offering to supply arms and training to fight the Turks, against which the Arabs are getting completely slaughtered. How do you fight planes with a horse and a sword?  But, in exchange for the weapons and training, the Arabs would become more or less a garrison under the British Army’s control, and cease to be an independent state.

A little note for the sake of political correctness–I realize that Arab is not a term I should be using to describe all of the people in the movie, who were not in any way united, and were from diverse tribes and cultures.  On the other hand, the movie refers to them that way partially because Lawrence’s biggest challenge and biggest hope is to achieve a unified nation that can defend and regulate itself outside of British control.  So, I’m using the term to reflect that and, honestly, to make my life simpler in writing this.  No offense intended.

Carrying on.  Lawrence suggests that the Arabs try to take control of the city of Aqaba from the Turks, and use this as a point from which to defend themselves without falling under British rule.  Consider how amazing this idea is coming from a product of a culture that had literally spent the last 150 years trying to turn the entire map red.  The culture that said ‘The sun never sets on the English Empire’.  It’s an amazingly incongruous idea from a Brit of that era.  But nonetheless.

Lawrence sets across the desert to try to accomplish his goal.  I won’t recount the entire rest of the plot, but here are a few general themes.  As Lawrence sees it, the main problem the Arabs have is infighting–the different tribes kill each other over rivalries, over access to water, over eye-for-an-eye justice systems.  While they fight one another, it is far simpler for them to be ruled by someone else, or to be defeated by the Turks.  Lawrence seeks to unite them in the fight.  In order to do so, he has a few strategies–he (knowingly or naively) becomes a symbol of power and courage, and attracts what are essentially disciples in his war, he offers the spoils of war in the form of the pillaging of supplies (from horses and food to fine clocks and guns), and he does whatever he can to avoid the flare-ups of tribal hostilities.  A pivotal scene is when a man from tribe A kills the man from tribe B.  Under law, the murderer must be killed. But if someone from tribe B kills the man, then that man must be killed. Etc.  Lawrence has no choice.  He kills the man. Justice is served and no further deaths need occur.  But that is the form of justice he must embrace in order to achieve his ends. Eventually, the Arabs and Lawrence do gain control of several key cities (but not without incredible loss and bloodshed of a gut-wrenching variety) and they set up their own government instead of allowing British rule.  But it cannot last, no matter how desperately Lawrence hopes for compromise and peace and something resembling democracy/a parliamentary republic.  It’s a failure in the end, and the British swoop in to gain control over the area.

What this process, this fruitless journey does to Lawrence is very depressing.  He is fairly likeable at the beginning, perhaps because he is a non-conformist who dares challenge authority even while surrounded by feckless bureaucrats with no sense of responsibility for what they are doing in that region. Once he begins to ‘go native’, adopting cultural mores of the Arabs (the wearing of robes) and abandoning those of the British (shaving daily), he becomes almost saint-like.  This is personified by his flowing white robes, shining in the desert sun.  His image begins to tarnish when his guerrilla warfare becomes more dirty and brutal (validating the British sense of fair play). He begins to have blood soaked into his robes. First, by a bullet that grazes his arm.  Then by the blood of others in his brutal assaults on the Turks.  When he is caught in Turkey and whipped repeatedly, blood soaks through his robes for days afterward.  After this incident, even when he returns to his British army uniform, the blood soaks through.  Like Lady Macbeth, it won’t wash clean.  This is a fairly obvious allegory for how his soul is becoming tainted and dirty from his actions. The blood soaking through his uniform is clearly saying that even when he goes home to England, he won’t be able to brush off the blood on his hands.  By the end of the film, when he has bribed and cajoled thousands to their deaths and to participate in the deaths of others, he’s useless to the Brits and the Arabs, and is more damaged than can be described.

So is the message of the movie that this is an uncivilized area of the world unable to govern itself?  I hope not.  Considering what this journey does to Lawrence, I think it means that anyone from outside the culture, no matter how much they know about it or feel they can understand or adopt it, they cannot control or change it. Change, if it should come, must come from within.  It has to be in the minds of the people themselves, and not something which they are steered toward by an outsider.  I think that’s a good message.

People that don’t like Shakespeare might point to the difficulty they have understanding it, but no one can deny that reading/watching Shakespeare can provide endless different interpretations of the same play.  I’m not a fan of the epic movie, and this movie wasn’t really an exception in that arena.  On the other hand, it has given me a lot to think about, and in that way, I think it was a really excellent film.  Very thought-provoking.

A note, though.  IT’S FUCKING LONG.  It’s nearly FOUR hours long.  And bleak.  Just a warning, if you’re thinking about watching it.  Make sure you don’t have anything else to do that day.

There are a million other things I could say about this movie. The locations they chose are amazing and give you an incredible sense of the scale of these massive deserts, and what sort of culture might be able to endure such a harsh climate.  The acting is superb–Peter O’Toole as Lawrence, Alec Guinness as Faisel, Omar Sharif as Sheriff Ali. Some of the best acting I think I’ve ever seen.  I could also talk for an extended period about the utter nonsense of having Alec Guinness play the King of Syria/Iraq. In brown face.  It doesn’t sit well with a modern sensibility.  Not quite as terrible as John Wayne playing Genghis Khan, but pretty bad.  I’ll spare you my ruminations, however. The bottom line: despite its faults, it’s a movie worth seeing.

Movie Review: Four Weddings and a Funeral

Amazingly, I had never seen this movie until last week. I do remember the fervor for it when it first opened in the US, which was a ludicrous 18 years ago, but I believe it actually predates my anglophilia, which is (approximately) circa 2001. I remember not wanting to see it because I really dislike Andie MacDowell (still do) and Hugh Grant wasn’t famous yet. Also, I was about 13 when this came out, so it was not on my top ten list. I remember the Lion King being more my speed at the time. Forrest Gump, if I was feeling philosophical, or not in the mood to weep over Mufasa’s terrible death scene.

I digress! The point is, I just missed out on this movie, and finally decided to get my shit together and watch it.  Even despite Andie MacDowell, I really enjoyed it!

The plot mostly follows Charles (Hugh Grant), who is your typical Hugh Grant character, X 1000. He bumbles, he mumbles, he charms.  He meets Carrie (Andie MacDowell) at the first wedding, and is smitten immediately.

In a way very reminiscent of Love Actually or Notting Hill, the film also focuses on Grant’s group of close and quirky friends. These include:

Kristin Scott Thomas as Fiona, a bit of an ice queen,

gay couple Gareth and Matthew,

the oddball female character, Scarlett (see Penny from Notting Hill)

and a few others on the fringe of the action.  It’s a sense of an ensemble cast, which the British seem to do so well in film (and TV) without anyone feeling 1-dimensional or flat.

The plot is sort of the typical romantic comedy fare in the beginning–boy and girl meet, girl is taken, boy declares his love too late, girl changes her mind and they end up together.  But it’s also very different.

Take Carrie, the female lead.  At one point in the action she lists her thoughts on her 30+ sexual partners.  Can you see Reese Witherspoon doing that in a  modern RomCom and not being considered a slut? My favorite part of this is that she is not in any way ashamed or embarrassed of her list, and treats every one of the men as a learning experience, even if it wasn’t a pleasant sexual experience. Carrie is somewhat lacking in depth, as we usually only see her through Charles’ interactions with her.  What we do see, though, is someone really confident, independent, and lacking regret.  So I really like that, because fuck the typical women in these movies. They are terrible.

Also, how often does a RomCom focus on a male lead over the female? After all, if you live by the Sex and the City idea of life, women feel incomplete without a man, but men feel just fine regardless.

Two of the eponymous weddings are those of Charles and Carrie–to other people.  That is a bit of a surprise; definitely not in the typical RomCom formula.  Even more shocking, and perhaps my favorite part of the movie, is that the two declare their love at the end of the movie and then decide not to get married.  Ever.  In a movie so clearly focused on matrimony, the two couples who don’t get married–Charles and Carrie and Gareth and Matthew–are the most compelling in many ways.

These little moments and touches make me like this movie a lot more than I would if it was a typical RomCom. There’s something really refreshing about a love story that subverts your expectations, especially in a genre that so rigidly follows a very specific blueprint.

In fact, it’s almost like they are playing with those genre specifics, having multiple weddings and chances to enact the famous ‘If any person knows of any reason why these two should not be wed’ trope that happens in all of those movies. Having the female lead actually go through with marrying another man.

The movie takes place during big life events–weddings and funerals–but everything about the story relies on subtlety.  Charles slowly makes the change from a ‘serial monogamist’ to ready to commit (in part because he loses hope in the idea of true love) to, by the end, a self-awareness that allows him to pursue a path that will truly make him happy.

In addition to what is a very adult version of a RomCom, the film is also moving (funeral scene made me weep) and alternately extremely funny.  Highlights include Rowan Atkinson playing a bumbling Anglican priest, Hugh Grant’s speech as best man, the repeated scenes of Charles and flatmate Scarlett waking up very late for each of the four ceremonies, and Carrie going through her recount of bedfellows.

Another reason to watch is the ’90s fashion and the ludicrous hats the English wear to church. Why do they do this? Why do they still do this? I may have to do a future post about this millinery tradition.

Movie Review: Skyfall

I have to say that Bond is not my favorite franchise.  It’s obviously quite different from Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice, which is the sort of stuff I love.  But, I have now seen four James Bond movies, so I feel okay reviewing this one. I am, by no means, a James Bond aficionado considering I’ve never seen one of the Sean Connery films, so please don’t write me angry emails if I make some mistake about the franchise as a whole.

In case you’re wondering, the four Bond films I have seen are the latest three with Daniel Craig–Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and now Skyfall, plus one Pierce Brosnan film, for which I would like my two hours back.

And now, in looking up the name of that terrible movie, I realize I have seen five Bond films.  I saw both Die Another Day and The World is Not Enough. So, I would like my 4 hours back. Those were some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Junior.

I saw the three Daniel Craig movies mostly due to my boyfriend–I suspect this accounts for approximately 80% of female Bond movie-going.  Correct me if I’m wrong about that.  Anyway, I was actually pleasantly surprised because no one was jumping out of a plane and onto a motorcycle and then onto a different plane that then blew up an aircraft carrier before becoming a submarine.  Now, there were still moments of ridiculousness in each of the movies, and they are, none of them, my cup of tea.  But, the Daniel Craig versions are much more realistic, gritty, believable, and have a modicum of character behind all the explosions. To combat this, they seem to be making the explosions bigger, but whatever you have to do to sell tickets, I guess.

Skyfall is a really unusual Bond film, in my limited experience.  It starts out with your typical Bond fare. There are car/motorcycle chase scenes, a should-be-fatal injury, several exotic locales, some sex with a nameless woman (who actually has no dialogue). There is flirting on the job, a casino, villains with eccentric pets.  Everything Mike Myers mocked in Austin Powers.

But then it saves itself from the pattern. How?

First of all, there are some actual characters that reveal themselves to have true complexity. Bond is seen as old and out of shape (as out of shape as Daniel Craig can believably portray) in parts of this film, and there is the general sense that the MI-6 program is coming under attack in a world that sees it as outdated.  M (Judi Dench) is particularly great at portraying a commanding woman of the old order, struggling to maintain control in a world that doesn’t understand the need for her.

Second of all, the villain! Javier Bardem is truly terrifying in this. He is sort of your typical Bond villain in that he is unhinged, very smart and capable, and eccentric bordering on crazy.  And he wears crazy outfits and has ridiculous hair.

He subverts villain expectations by being attracted to Bond.  And, to Bond’s credit, he does not fall into the typical alpha male response of being horrified and grossed out, as an American action hero might be.  Picture this scene with Bruce Willis in Craig’s place and you get a very different outcome.

His motivations are comprehensible, without a ridiculous ‘I’m going to kill you so I will now explain my big plans to you’ moment.  He uses computers to accomplish most of his evil tasks, and his criminal enterprise is a really well-oiled machine.

He toes the line between functionally evil and psychologically unstable, which is just about the most terrifying combination of personality types.

We also see aspects of Bond that make him more believable and more human. I suspect some purists wont like this, and I’ve already seen internet mutterings about the movie veering away from Ian Fleming’s books. Like it or not, making Bond more of a person made the movie better.  We see his family home, we see him tired, we see him drunk.  We see him struggle, and we see him break down with emotion.

I think it was a huge step up for a Bond film, and miles away from the shite of the Brosnan era. I must ask, though, was I the only one who was having Home Alone flashbacks in the scenes at Skyfall? All the booby traps to get the invaders? Significantly more violent booby traps, but I started to see the baddies as Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci, bumbling in and around the house until they were all injured or dead.  But the ending brought me around again, and I find I was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed the film!

Movie Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

This is another movie that I saw on the way home from London, on a plane. Yet again, it has a lot of visual appeal that probably would have been more effective on a screen larger than 7 inches. But I really enjoyed it regardless.

The plot is pretty simple: Emily Blunt works for a sheikh from Yemen, who wants to bring salmon fishing…well you get that part from the title. He has nearly unlimited funds, and wants to make fly fishing possible in his home country (as well as having a dam, etc. for agricultural development). Emily Blunt approaches Ewan MacGregor, a fisheries expert, to work on the project.

Ewan MacGregor’s part could easily have been played by a 60-year-old man, with no real differences in the script. He is not an old man, but he seems to be one inside. He wears argyle sweaters, he makes his own flies, he feeds his fish when he is upset.  He does have a sarcastic and cutting sense of humor, but other than that one aspect of his personality, he is almost emotionless. Emily Blunt’s character accuses him of having asperger’s at one point, because he doesn’t seem to respond to other people’s emotional states.  I think he’s just sort of stuck in a rut, letting life pass him by, before this opportunity comes in to shove him out of it. To say he is reluctant is an understatement. He thinks the project is impossible and even if it were possible, he thinks it shouldn’t be done. It’s ludicrous and a waste of time to even have a meeting about it.
Searching for a positive story from the Middle East to allay bad press over the Afghan war, the PMs Press Secretary (Kristin Scott Thomas) pressures Ewan MacGregor and his boss into working on the project and getting it done, whatever it takes–that is when she isn’t swearing, threatening employees, chain-smoking, being a general despot, or playing video games with her son.  Her character is simultaneously incredibly un-likable and quite amusing.  So Ewan is forced to work on the project, to worth with Emily Blunt, to find creative solutions for problems like the fact that Yemen is hot and dry, and thoroughly unwelcoming to the salmon they’re hoping to introduce.

It’s a really beautiful and interesting movie about faith, hope, being a dreamer, going against the current, etc. etc. It can tend toward the cheesy of overly philosophical at times, but it’s not too detrimental. Ewan MacGregor’s character is really, truly adorable. I also think he has a lot of chemistry with Emily Blunt, so their relationship and friendship as it progresses is great to watch. The film has a great mix of serious, contemplative and funny, goofy without ever losing the point, the theme, the feeling of the movie overall.

My only complaint about it is the ending! I…I don’t want to give it away, but it made me sad. It picked up in the last moments, but the darkness sort of overwhelms the light.  I suppose that’s pretty realistic, in terms of our experiences in life.  But that doesn’t make it less upsetting.