Tag Archives: movie reviews


quartet soundtrackLet me start by saying I like the fact that UK filmmakers (and audiences) are unafraid of the aged population.  There are a number of incredibly brilliant English actors and actresses that still work regularly, that are older than three Hollywood actresses combined.  Similar to films like Calendar Girls and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet celebrates and examines the lives of people (gasp!) over 50.  Compare this to US movies with older people (titles like RED and The Bucket List) and it becomes obvious that the UK versions of these movies are smaller, and spend far more time dealing with the everyday lives of everyday pensioners.  They have less glitz and more heart, and I find them far more relatable. I really look to them to gain perspective as I age.

That being said, I didn’t love Quartet. Sometimes these films are so small, so simple that I feel let down by a lack of more dramatic change amongst the characters assembled. I felt that way about this film at the end.

The story follows the lives of several retired opera singers and musicians, all of whom live in a private retirement home for ex-professional musicians.  First, I thought, what an immaculate place to spend your retirement years.  Surrounded by music and talented people.  On the other hand, several of the characters are (literally) divas, making life difficult for those around them.

Three best friends, all opera singers, have been living happily in this home for years. Billy Connolly (Brave) plays the lascivious, flirtatious, Wilf; Tom Courtenay (Little Dorritt) plays the Felix to his Oscar. Reginald is a bit uptight, but kind.

wilf and reginald



Their girl Friday is Cissy, the scatter-brained, good-natured, slightly bland friend.


The three have a fairly nice life.  The home is a good place to live, and they are surrounded by music.  The place is aflutter, preparing for an annual fundraising performance in honor of Verdi’s birthday. Everyone is being bossed around by Dumbledore Michael Gambon, a music director who embodies every bossy self-centered stereotype you can imagine. I mean, look at the man’s outfit.




Still, they are living a nice life and relatively peaceful.  Enter Jean Horton, played by the incomparable Maggie Smith.

Quartet SmithNot only is Jean a diva, but she is Reginald’s ex-wife.  They are incredibly awkward around each other, a situation made worse by Dumbledore’s insistence that this quartet perform their greatest song together at the fundraiser.

The film has a lot of good and interesting things to say about getting older, about letting go of the pressures of performance and the expectations of others.  Jean is nervous to sing again, convinced she won’t be able to sing as well as she did in her youth.  She worries that her fans will be disappointed.  Wilf informs her immediately that all of her fans are dead.

I liked the characters and I liked the story, but there was just a little too little action for the movie to hold my attention.  The acting was wonderful, the music gorgeous, but it was just a wee bit boring.  And having four brilliant actors is great, but they don’t actually do a lot of singing on camera.  They certainly do not sing the great opera song they supposedly perform at the end.  I understand why (not everyone is an opera singer; it’s not like learning to play the kazoo), but it feels like a bit of a cheat.  It feels like when you can clearly see that the stunt double is twice the height of the actor/actress they’re playing.

There was one strange bonus in this movie: Sheridan Smith, aka Rudi (Smithy’s sister) from Gavin and Stacey has shed her chavvy costume and looks like a proper professional woman in this movie?!

Sheridan+SmithI know she’s an actress, and not apparently an actual chav, but I did expect her to zoom off in her heelys at least once in the movie.  That didn’t happen, alas.

Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

muchadoaboutnothingintlposterOn this blog, I don’t get to talk much about my love for Joss Whedon.  He’s not British, and he generally hires Americans to play Brits in his shows (Spike, Wesley).  But, finally, I get a chance to write about a Joss project.  Okay, this adaptation of the Shakespeare play is made with American actors and was filmed in America, but Joss kept the original Shakespearean dialect.  And a Shakespeare remake without the writing is…well, let me use an SAT analogy.  Shakespeare : all other dialogue  as  bacon : veggie bacon.  And I say that as a vegetarian.

The film came out with limited release a few weeks ago, and I have been patiently waiting for it to arrive somewhere within 100 miles of me.  I went to see it at an independent theater in a small town near me. A good portion of the crowd looked like they were alive when the original play was performed in the late 16th century, but they were lively, entertained, and very emotive during the show.  A lot of them seemed unfamiliar with the plot, judging by their gasps of shock at certain parts. This surprised me, but if you need an easy breakdown of the story, look no further.

Don Pedro, a prince, goes to stay at the home of his friend Leonato, the governor of ‘Messina’ at his castle (in this case, Whedon’s actual home was used for filming over a paltry 1-2 weeks).  Leonato brings his friends, Claudio and Benedick, and his villainous brother Don John. As in all Shakespearean Dramatis Personae, there are a number of servants and each nobleman/woman has an entourage.

They are greeted and welcomed by Leonato, his daughter Hero, and his niece Beatrice.


Beatrice and Benedick go way back, and ‘there is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her; they never meet but there is a skirmish of wit between them’.

Claudio and Hero fall swiftly in love and are soon betrothed.  Everyone plans to trick Beatrice and Benedick into loving each other through several rounds of deception.  It all goes awry with Don John’s help, as one should probably expect when bringing a villainous brother along to a party.  But, since it is a Shakespearean comedy, we know it ends with a wedding. I won’t give anything more away.

Whedon did a few things to change the play to make the movie.  Obvious changes are making the setting thoroughly modern, with cell phones and guns instead of messengers and swords.  Every Shakespeare company has done an anachronistic retelling of one of the plays, so this isn’t new, but I think it’s remarkable how well and how easily it’s believable.  I also think the black and white helps to deal with the cognitive dissonance; like we’re in another world that lacks color, has princes, values chastity, and where everyone speaks in iambic pentameter.

The actors all do an amazing job. Ah-mazing.  Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, who I loved together in Angel, are perfect for this pair.  Their wit and banter is fast, but spot on.  They both make the Shakespearean dialogue so easy to understand, so emotive.  Every time I see Shakespeare performed, I remember that this is its true home.  Why on earth do we start out reading it, rather than watching it?

Seriously, they are spectacular.  They are comedic, both in wit and physical comedy, and they handle the serious and difficult middle section of the play with real emotion and anger and resolve.  A++

Fran Kranz, from Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods, makes a very good Claudio.  He is naively loving at first, and then turns on a dime into a truly scary being. Leonato, played by Clark Gregg (the Avengers), is similar.  A loving father one minute, a vengeful, despicable patriarch the next.

The other actors had less to work with; less rounded dramatic characters.  But there were notables.  Hero is a notoriously boring character, a stand-in for pure female virtue with almost zero personality, but Jillian Morgese does what she can to make her believable and real and she is certainly pitiable.  Nathan Fillian makes a brief but pitch perfect appearance as Dogberry, the single dumbest constable to ever grace the night watch.

1ADOMUCH-ADO-Tom-Lenk-and-Nathan-Fillion-CREDIT-Elsa-Guillet-Chapuis-2MBHe spends all of scenes smirking and making funny slips of the tongue.  He is clearly giving an homage to David Caruso (and his sunglasses) in CSI: Miami.  It’s very funny; a woman in my theater was laughing so loudly I’m afraid I missed half his lines.  Bonus: his second in command is Tom Lenk, of Buffy fame.

I’m not an expert on acting, so I don’t have anything technical or brilliant to say about what they did or how they did it. I try not to comment most of the time because I just don’t have the vocabulary to describe good acting. Still, everyone can tell when the acting is bad, even with the easiest material in the world.  This was difficult material in a short time span on a small budget, and they all did a wonderful job.  It makes it obvious to me how much people love to work for Joss, and I envy them a bit in being around and involved in such a pure creative process.  With such excellent results!

I really enjoyed the movie.  I just have one bone to pick.  Joss does one thing to alter the movie from the play that irks me.  The movie begins with a (wordless) scene of Benedick leaving Beatrice’s bed after a one-night stand. She pretends to be asleep; he hesitates, but leaves without a word or note.  This is presumed to be the start of hostilities between them.  Now, the play implies a history and maybe a brief infatuation, but no sex.  Beatrice is a virtuous woman, and therefore a ‘maid’.  At first, I thought it was just an effort to modernize the text.  After all, I don’t know a lot of virtuous maids in the 21st century.  Times have changed, etc., etc.

But this logic only works until the middle of the movie, when Hero’s virginity is called into question.  The horrendous, painful, awful response of absolutely everyone (her father included) to the mere idea that she may not be ‘chaste’ completely contradicts what Joss added with B & B.  After all, if Beatrice is not chaste, is she worthless to men? Should she die, as Leonato suggests his own daughter do?  Beatrice is horrified by what is being done to her cousin, but she does not in any way acknowledge that she is actually guilty of the sin Hero is accused of.  And she can’t, because Shakespeare didn’t write that.  It creates a schism in my head when I think on it too long, and it bothered me more and more.  It’s so uncomfortable and awful to think of women being treated this way; but it still happens in so many places.  The UN estimates that there are 5000 honor killings per year.  This play, and this movie, are absolutely talking about the same issues, and maybe Joss could have used the movie to make a bit of a statement about it. At least to shine a mirror on it.  To add that frivolous one-night stand in there is…it makes no sense to me.  It changes who Beatrice’s character is, from a virtuous woman to (by her society’s rules) to a non-virtuous one.  It doesn’t mesh with who she is, and it bothers me a lot.

That being said, I enjoyed the movie immensely.  Shakespearean comedies make you feel so much emotion.  It’s sometimes hard to see and experience the horrors of the middle and then celebrate the joys of the end.  It’s hard to forgive some of the characters their wrongs, even though you’re meant to.  I can’t forgive Claudio, or the Prince, or Leonato for what they did.  I can’t celebrate their happiness at the end.  But Beatrice and Benedick are lovely throughout, and Joss’ adaptation makes them as lovely and charming and funny as I’ve ever seen them.

The Best British Holiday Films

I was sick a few weeks ago, just a 24-hour thing. I took the day off from work and spent it watching British holiday films, of which there are a surprising amount.  I seem to own most of them, despite not liking holiday movies most of the time.  So I thought this would be a great Christmas post.  Here are my favorites:

Love Actually

Love Actually posterI’m hoping you knew this one would be on the list.  How could it not?  First of all, let’s consider the cast.  Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, and Rowan Atkinson. Also, not even listed on their little poster is Martin Freeman and Joanna Page.  Yes please! I love so many of these actors. Not to mention that I love them together.  Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman were together in Sense and Sensibility; Hugh Grant and Colin Firth were in both Bridget Jones films.  They work well together and its lovely to see them in the same film.  This movie isn’t perfect. All of the interrelated characters are sort of vaguely coexisting, but the bonds and relationships between them are too tenuous and unimportant to make a really cohesive whole.  And the part I really dislike is when Colin goes to America–to Wisconsin of all places–and encounters some sort of mythical America that does not and has never existed.  American women do, undoubtedly, enjoy British accents. I know this first-hand. But Denise Richards, January Jones, Eliza Cuthbert, and Shannon Elizabeth don’t all share a bed in a house in Wisconsin.  Sorry, men.  That is not reality. But, leaving that bit alone, everything else is wonderful. Hugh Grant dancing around No 10 Downing Street? priceless.


Colin Firth speaking broken Portuguese and receiving broken English answers to his proposal? Adorable.  Martin Freeman doing anything at all? Yes.  Love this movie.  Makes me feel all happy and warm inside, like a great pair of fuzzy socks.


Bridget Jones’ Diary


I loved this book and I love the movie too.  It takes place over the course of an entire year, so it is not a Christmas movie in the traditional sense. More of a Rom-Com with Christmas at its beginning and end.  But there is something delightfully Christmas-y about the entire thing. The book is based roughly on Pride and Prejudice, so the fact that they got Colin Firth (the definitive Mr. Darcy) to play Mark Darcy is fabulous.  Especially because we get to see him like this:

Mark Darcy sweaterThis is a very goofy film, and Bridget is no match for Lizzy Bennet.  Still, she is endearing and real, and that is always reassuring around Christmas time, when your pants are a little tighter and all of the food is so inviting.


The Holiday

The Holiday poster

Here’s the problem with the Holiday: When people ask me if I like it (as happens constantly in my life) I don’t know what to say.  It’s clear to me that the movie was written by and for people who have never had a single real problem in their lives.  The two main characters, played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, are desperately unhappy with their lives.  Kate is stuck in one of those drawn-out unrequited love stories where you just can’t get over the person who broke your heart.  Cameron Diaz is a workaholic who acts like her parents getting divorced is the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being.  These aren’t fun things, but considering the tragedies that can come up within one human life, they are not bad.  And Cameron Diaz sits there talking about her parents’ divorce and how terrible it was, to a man whose wife has died and who is raising two daughters on his own. I just didn’t have much sympathy for their ‘plight’ because their problems were so negligent in the grand scheme of things.  Not to belittle anyone’s experiences with divorce or a bad breakup, but I think we can all agree there are worse things that can happen in the world.  So the movie bothers me every time I watch it.

On the other hand, I watch it at least three times a year.  There must be something I like about it.  Kate Winslet is adorable, and Jude Law is fabulous in it.  I love Jack Black, but I know he is a very polarizing actor, so some may hate him.  I find Cameron Diaz is a pretty good actress, but the fact that she is a 5’10” size 4 makes it very hard to accept her as an everyday woman.  If they had made her intensely neurotic or something, I would have been more capable of accepting it. I’ve seen her do convincing performances before (In Her Shoes is a great example) but this isn’t one of them.  But with Jude Law in almost all of her scenes, it’s easy to get through her parts of the movie.  It’s an easy movie to sit through and to imagine what a change of location could do to your life.  Plus, Kate Winslet’s cottage is possibly the most adorable thing in the history of the world:

Rosehill Cottage


Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppet Christmas Carol 2

Small confession–I haven’t actually seen this one.  How did I make it through my childhood with so little exposure to Muppets? I watched a lot of Sesame Street, but never made the jump to the Muppets.  Why?  Possibly something to do with the absence of Oscar the Grouch from the Muppet gang.  I dunno.  At any rate, I’m putting this on the list because I’ve heard such good things from so many different sources that I’m confident that when I finally do see this movie, I will love it.  Also, it makes me happy to think of it because I once had a conversation with my boyfriend about A Christmas Carol and the ghost of Marley. My boyfriend claimed there were two Marleys.  I immediately asked if this was due to the Muppets Christmas Carol, because that’s the only version of A Christmas Carol he was likely to be familiar with.  He confirmed this movie as the source of his knowledge, and that ‘Marley and Marley’ were played by Statler and Waldorf, the two old men.  Brilliant bit of casting.


At any rate, whenever I think of this movie now, I chuckle because of that conversation.


Obviously, I haven’t seen all of the Christmas movies or even all of the British Christmas movies in the world.  Let me know which ones you recommend!