Film for a Friday: Sweet Charity

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I just needed some Fosse to get me motivated on finishing grading. Some great stuff but no time to enjoy it all — but I have some really sharp students (of course!). Once all this is done and graduation over, I’ll be updating more frequently. And having a little fun, laughs, and good times.

Review: Love & Friendship

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What absolute joy this film is. The sense of fun and delight in being bad is not what one usually associates with Austen but it is exactly the reason her best observations cut so deeply. I may have to reconsider Whit Stillman.

First I should admit to being a hoarder. I had not read Lady Susan which is the text for this adaptation despite the title. With so few Austen novels in existence, I had always kept this early epistolary novel in reserve for a day so terrible that only some ‘new’ Austen could cheer me. I suppose I ought to be happy that day has not yet arrived, but having seen the film of course I hoard it no more.

Kate Beckinsale is flawless in the title role, which is a challenge: she is so awful that everyone hates her and yet she is such a genius that they cannot help admiring her. How wonderful it is to see a woman on screen called genius with genuine admiration. Her confidence is unflagging and no set back cannot be out-maneuvered. Her pleasure in manipulating others is too great to be kept to herself, so she needs a confidant in Mrs. Johnson, married to respectability though it is not to her liking. Indeed she finds her husband, ‘too old to be agreeable, and too young to die’.

Chloë Sevigny is certainly not the obvious choice for the role and I found her American tones a bit discordant at first (cf. Sarah Polley as ‘Selma the Witch Woman’ in Beowulf & Grendel) but they did a smart thing in making her nationality the point. Her husband’s only real weapon against her is the ever-present threat of moving to the US. I laughed out loud at her shuddering in the face of the horrifying prospect of being sent to –gasp! — Hartford.

The cast is terrific. Small roles are made vivid: Jenn Murray as the wailing Lady Manwaring, who conveys incredible frustration and fury. Jemma Redgrave and James Fleet as the DeCourceys convey effortlessly the rich complications of a long relationship. Morfydd Clark, in addition to having a wonderful voice, brought to life the transformation of Lady Susan’s daughter Frederica from a timid and frankly abused child to a young woman who blossoms under her first experiences with kindness.

Tom Bennett’s comic turn as Sir James Martin verges on going too far but stops just short of it. His misunderstanding about the name of the Vernon estate had me guffawing. Not an idiot, just ‘a bit of a rattle’ is an Austenian phrase we really need to bring back.

But this is Lady Susan’s story and it is so much fun. It has all the brashness of youth: Austen’s mature work is both kinder and more sharply observed, but this is spirited and reckless, a tone the film captures precisely. Watching Lady Susan turn the prejudice of the smug Reginald DeCourcey (Xavier Samuel) into admiration offers a showcase of both Lady Susan’s skill and Beckinsale’s. Fabulous.

The trailer has some of the really good lines, so watch it at your peril.

TOA/V: Anna Karenina

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The eternal struggle in Belle Ombre: agreeing on something to watch with my brother. One of the places our largely divergent tastes overlap is in the realm of costume drama, so the other night after one or the other of us voting down this or that film we finally agreed on the 2012 version of Anna Karenina.

I had vague memories of when it came out: Knightly and Law seemed an odd pairing, perhaps I had assumed he was playing Vronsky. He’s Karenin and I thought that was even more odd, but no. I should give him more credit. He was terrific. And of course Aaron Taylor-Johnson made a Vronsky you could imagine any number of people swooning for. Knightly was very good, Matthew McFayden should do more comedy —

— and that reminds me: the big thing I forgot that I ought to have realised at once when I was captivated and amused and immediately won over by the dialogue and the conceit that the whole story was unfolding in the world of a play. Tolstoy, but Tolstoy through the means of Tom Stoppard.

Well.

If that doesn’t already make you realise what a gem you also probably missed, let me also say a fantastic cast including Olivia Williams, Kelly McDonald, Domhnall Gleeson, and new to me but amazing Alicia Vikander as Kitty. The whole production design by Sarah Greenwood is superb. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui who also choreographed for the NT Live Hamlet created such beautiful dance scenes — and the costumes by Jacqueline Durran! Absolutely sumptuous: if Tolstoy wanted to show the evils of uptight nobles, at least this film shows how they luxuriated in their wealth.

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As usual, check out all the overlooked works at Todd’s blog. Celebrate Peter Cook on his birthday. I’m off to Trinity to talk to a college class about White Rabbit.

TOA/V — Tea: The Dark Side of the Cup

“Billions of cups are sunk a day for centuries and nobody says a word – until now.”

A mockumentary exploring the silent epidemic of tea dependence. A plight, engulfing our society for a millennia – undocumented.

Click here to watch on Vimeo

I supported their kickstarter and received a lovely tea coaster like the image above. I will admit to a tea addiction but I see no harm in it. It fuels my whimsical imagination — how dull I would be without it!

Check out all the overlooked A/V gems at Todd’s blog.

TOA/V: Straight to Hell Returns

So I got to meet Alex Cox at the Hudson Basilica run by former Hole member Melissa Auf der Mauer (who introduced him) and see the rejiggered STRAIGHT TO HELL RETURNS so how big was my smile? Very! I love this film. I felt for years as if I were the only person crazy enough to do so (though Bertie is too if only by osmosis), but it was so great to see it with new colouring, cleaned up and with some of the missing bits restored as well as the final song from Strummer. How was it Awesome. I won’t pretend to have any critical distance about this film. It only improves upon reacquaintance. I was laughing my head off.

We don’t half live in hipsterville, eh? Many of the local varieties in attendance. We should write a guidebook to the varieties.

The basilica is an amazing space. I was imagining all the things that might be done with it. I have to read up a little more on their plans. Hudson really is chock full of — yes, hispters — but also people who are trying to do cool things with the space here. I’m all for it.

Cox talked about the making of the film — how a planned tour in support of the Sandinistas fell through and he had bands with time on their hands, film crew and Joe Strummer’s love of Almeria. Three days to script and boom. They were on their way. He spoke graciously of Tarantino ripping off paying homage to Sy Richardson’s role (the man does not get the respect he deserves) with Samuel L. Jackson’s take on the role in Pulp Fiction. You cannot see this film and have any doubt about that debt. Cox is teaching in UC Boulder and seems to enjoy working with the students and is ambivalent about working in Hollywood. He characterised it as getting rid of all the people with talent and filling up the studios with not very smart admin — just like academia.

No argument here.

I got to ask him a couple questions including whether the cameos were planned or just whoever happened to be in Spain at the time. A combination: Grace Jones was filming Siesta and stopped by. Dennis Hopper had just got clean and his manager was keen to keep him far from temptations so he was available. Cox spoke about how impressive Hopper’s work was, his ability to be natural that he tries to convince young actors to hold onto: “Every reaction is a gift” which captured it perfectly. In contrast to Shane MacGowan who couldn’t repeat a take no matter what but was always entertaining. The Pogues on the whole were very good — and I’m not just saying that because they looked so good in their bandito outfits especially Jimmy Fearnley and Spider Stacey (rowr). I also asked about how he got to work with Kathy Burke who is such a phenomenal woman; again it was sort of coincidences but he went on at length to talk about how amazing she is (hope the hipsters were taking notes).

As we were leaving I told him how obsessed I was with the film when it came out. Nice to have the opportunity. And be sure to check out Cox’s books on films including his Spaghetti Western book, 10,000 Ways to Die.

Be sure to check out all of Tuesday’s Overlooked Audio/Visuals at Todd’s blog.

Tuesday’s Overlooked A/V: Härmä

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In the plainlands of Ostrobothnia, Western Finland, a tradition prevails, according to which the first-born son inherits everything and the remaining offspring must fend for themselves. The law has been cast aside in many areas and groups of men, knife-wielding thugs, nicknamed ‘toughs’, control the fields. The blade rules the land. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE NORTH, directed by Jukka-Pekka Siili, had its international market premiere in Cannes 2012.

When I saw there was a Finnish ‘Western’ you know I had to have it. Ignore the attempts to market it as Once Upon a Time in the NorthIt’s based on a very real phenomenon of the knife-gangs who strong-armed folks in the sparsely inhabited west in the late 19th century. When you’re accustomed to the hail of bullets in modern Westerns, it’s a bit disconcerting to see someone whip out a knife with menace (and impossible not to think of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid). But the knife fights are well done — in fact all the action is nicely done.

It’s weird seeing a western that’s all green rolling hills and birch forests. We’re accustomed to the plume of dust rising behind a rattling wagon. The folks mostly drive small two wheelers that look like the chariots Brigit or Cuchulain would have driven. There’s nothing remarkably new about the story told, but it’s told well. Older brother Esko Välitalo (Mikko Leppilampi) gets passed over for his younger brother Matti (Lauri Tilkanen) when their father makes his will. Matti is happy because it will allow him to ask for the hand of Aino Kantola (Pamela Tola).

But Esko is not a man to take this lying down; in fact, he’s the terror of the district with his gang of knife thugs. Things unfold more or less as you would expect, though Siili wrings every bit of drama out of the constant reversals for the two lovers. Esko wreaks havoc among just about everyone in the district in order to get everything his brother wants and Leppilampi fills the role with glee without ever becoming a caricature. Tilkanen keeps Matti from just being a cow-eyed sap and delightedly, Tola gets to do a lot as Aino despite keeping within historical restrictions because Finnish women have always been tough. I’d also say a word about Aku Hirviniemi who plays Kalle, Matti’s loyal friend. He manages to bring subtlety to the cajoling sidekick role, giving hims humour, as expected but also a kind of wounded vulnerability.

It’s not Sergio Leone, but it’s not really trying to be. See some beautiful countryside, enjoy traditional clothing (you know you want the wedding crown!) and keep your puukko close to hand.

See the roundup of overlooked gems over at Todd’s blog.

TOA/V: Adèle Blanc-Sec

We watched The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec the other night: I had been looking forward to it coming out but when it did, life was chaotic and so I’ve not seen it until now. I was intrigued when I heard a couple papers on the film at the comics conference in Glasgow. I’m happy to say it was great fun and I enjoyed it immensely. No, it doesn’t quite capture the unsmiling drily funny investigating journalist, but filmmakers can’t seem to accept a woman who is plain and unsmiling — no she must be gorgeous and flashing those pearly whites all the time.

adelebsNonetheless, Luc Besson does a good job with translating Tardi’s iconic heroine to the screen. Louise Bourgoin may be lovely, but she also embodies Adèle with a fearless disregard for other people’s opinions and actions that the original would approve of for certain. The plight of her sister is meant to feminise her, but I *love* the tennis match between them!

The rendering of the characters is terrific. Fans of the BD will instantly recognise them and they manage to be at once cartoonish and yet within the realm of believability. I loved Caponi. The wild flights from Egypt to Paris and on suited the madcap adventure. I hope there are more adventures. We need an irrepressible tough gal in Edwardian flounces. Here’s to adventure in big hats!

See the rest of the overlooked A/V at Todd’s blog.