Genius (B). This movie isn’t doing too well with the critics (current score of 56 over at metacritic.com) but I think they are somehow overlooking the fact that Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm) is in the movie. Just kidding! Anyhoo, perhaps my low expectations led me to enjoy it more than I otherwise would have. It’s a biopic about editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth, The King’s Speech) and novelist Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). Back around the year 1929, Wolfe was a manic would-be writer out of North Carolina with a married mistress (played by Kidman), and Perkins was a buttoned-down family man with five daughters. The movie basically just tells the story of their sometimes-difficult relationship as Perkins shaped Wolfe’s thousands of pages into manageable novels that met mainstream and critical success. Other authors that Perkins edited also pop up, like a washed-up F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce, Memento) and a macho Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West, 300). And the always-welcome Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes) has a small part as Mrs. Perkins. I thought it wasn’t a bad movie. It may have helped that I had actually read one of Wolfe’s novels, Look Homeward, Angel; you can read my review here and see if it sounds like your cup of tea.
Bonnie and Clyde (B+). I recently got to see a special screening of this 1967 release, directed by Arthur Penn (The Miracle Worker) and starring Warren Beatty (Dick Tracy) and Faye Dunaway (Chinatown). It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was still very interesting and entertaining. Beatty and Dunaway play Depression-era outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The fellow who hosted the screening said the movie should be considered “historical fiction,” but, if wikipedia is any guide, one thing this film gets right is that the Barrow Gang didn’t hesitate to shoot people, even (or especially) police officers, who got in their way. It was considered an unusually violent and graphic movie back in the day, and I thought it was still a little shocking at times. I was also shocked to see Denver Pyle in a small supporting role. I knew him only from TV’s Life and Times of Grizzly Adams and especially The Dukes of Hazzard; I didn’t know that he had ever been an actor. It also co-stars Gene Hackman (Heartbreakers), Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) in his film debut, and a kid named Michael J. Pollard who had recently appeared in the original Star Trek episode “Miri.” It’s one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies.” Definitely worth seeing, unless you really don’t like shoot-em-ups.
Captain America: Civil War (B+). Wouldn’t you know: every time I start to wonder if the superhero genre is played out, the next superhero movie I see turns out to be entertaining and enjoyable. The plot of CACW was reasonably clear, and the fight scenes were exciting without being too ridiculous. Most of the Avengers seemed to show up for this one, including Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, Ant-Man), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Vicky Cristina Barcelona). There were also a couple of people I didn’t recognize: Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Liberal Arts) and Vision (Paul Bettany, Dogville). They must have joined the club in a movie I missed. Vision was a little troubling to me; he seemed so powerful as to kind of upset the balance of power. I mean, he can shoot lasers and dematerialize at will? But I still enjoyed it, and it didn’t really feel like two and half hours. Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) and Marisa Tomei (The Big Short) pop up in small parts, which was kind of fun. The same directors (Anthony and Joe Russo, of Community fame) also directed Captain America: Winter Soldier, which left me cold, so I’m glad to see they’ve upped their game.
X-Men: Apocalypse (C-). Well, here we go again. It’s the 1980s. Telepath Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, Becoming Jane) still thinks humans and mutants can learn to get along. Magneto (Michael Fassbender, Frank) learns the hard way–yet again–that they can’t. And now some super-old, super-powerful mutant pops up in Egypt with dreams of world domination, which is bad for all the humans and also any mutants who oppose him. It’s loud and long and just a little tiresome. There’s a fun interlude when the super-duper-ultra-fast mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters, X-Men: Days of Future Past) does his thing, but I think we saw the exact same thing a couple of movies back. I was annoyed when this one mutant took an absurd amount of punishment and seemed completely unfazed (and unscarred). And the filmmakers make the villain just too over-the-top superpowerful, to the point it’s just not believable that a handful of X-Men could last 5 minutes in the ring with him. So, not a great movie, on the whole.
Maggie’s Plan (B). I rather liked this little independent comedy, even though it chronicles the ongoing destruction (deconstruction? displacement?) of traditional marriage as the customary and assumed center of family life. Indie queen Greta Gerwig (Damsels in Distress) stars as Maggie, an unattached thirtysomething New Yorker who is on the verge of attempting to become a mother via sperm donation (but not from an anonymous donor; she picks a smart guy she knew in college who’s on the verge of great success as a pickle entrepreneur).
ARGUABLE SPOILERS FOLLOW.
But this whole plan gets derailed when she meets and falls in love with John (Ethan Hawke, Before Sunset), an anthropologist and would-be novelist. The feeling is mutual, but John’s married to Georgette (Julianne Moore, in full-out Teutonic The Big Lebowski mode) and has two kids. But then, lickety-split, John and Georgette are divorced, John and Maggie are married and have a little girl—and Maggie starts falling out of love with John and hatches a plan to get Georgette and John back together. As Maggie’s pal Tony (Bill Hader, Trainwreck) asks, why can’t she just leave John like a normal person? I guess it’s because Maggie is played by Greta Gerwig, and that’s not how a Greta Gerwig character rolls. Anyway, Greta Gerwig brings her usual charm to the proceedings, and I pretty much enjoyed it.
Love & Friendship (B). I cannot find anything to criticize in Mom Under Cover’s fine review, so I will simply register my agreement. I expect Whit Stillman will get an Oscar™ nomination for his screenplay, adapted from the work of the divine Jane Austen, and I won’t be surprised if Kate Beckinsale (Whiteout) scores a nomination for her entertaining turn as the hilariously self-interested Lady Susan. Still, I don’t think this movie is quite up to the same level as Stillman’s amazing trilogy of movies Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994) (co-starring Mira Sorvino), and The Last Days of Disco (1998) (starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny, just like Love & Friendship does). If you like Love & Friendship, by all means look up Stillman’s earlier work. (Damsels in Distress (2011) is not quite in the same league as his trilogy.)
Incidentally, Stillman had also published a novelization of Love & Friendship that sounds very interesting. From what I have read, this novel is written as though it were the work of one of Lady Susan’s relatives, and he attempts throughout to defend her utterly indefensible behavior as described by Jane Austen. (The full title of the book is Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Fully Vindicated.) It sounds pretty funny. He also published a novelization of The Last Days of Disco, with the expanded title The Last Days of Disco, With Cocktails at Petrossian Afterward, which I have also never read.
Another movie that feels like a play is Amazon’s first feature film adapted from Jane Austen’s unfinished epistolary novella, Lady Susan. Whit Stillman (Metropolitan 1990, Barcelona 1994) kept the dialog sounding true to period, witty with barbs. Kate Beckinsale, as Lady Susan Vernon, delivers beautifully. The plot is much like a Shakespearean comedy. Lady Susan is a widow without means whose attempts to score a new hubby (Xavier Samuel as Reginald De Courcy) are almost undone when the intended becomes interested in Lady Susan’s daughter, Fredica (Morfydd Clark), who is much closer to his age. Solid performances by Stephen Fry, Justin Edwards, and Chloë Sevigny.
I don’t remember this film in 2014, but it’s worth watching. Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, and Kristen Scott Thomas star in respected playwright Israel Horowitz’s directorial debut. Horowitz adapted his own play for the screen and it feels like a play. Kline arrives in Paris to check out the apartment he inherited upon his estranged father’s death to find that Smith has a sort of life estate in the apartment due to a quirk of French real estate law. Smith delivers the acerbic and witty lines we’ve come to expect from the Dowager Countess. Kline is a perfect scoundrel whose glib confidence gives way to a darker side. Scott Thomas, Smith’s dutiful daughter, is rightfully skeptical of Kline’s motives. As you might guess, these three have more in common than the apartment.
[For The Movie Snob’s rather different opinion about this movie, click here.]
A Bigger Splash (C-). Or perhaps more aptly, Lifestyles of the Rich and Decadent. Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive) stars as Marianne Lane, a big rock-n-roll star who is vacationing on a remote Italian island with her lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts, Black Book) after surgery on her vocal cords. Their quiet interlude is shattered by the unexpected arrival of Marianne’s former lover, manic record producer Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes, Hail, Caesar!) and his 22-year-old daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson, How to Be Single). Sexual tension runs in all sorts of directions as the quartet drink in the Mediterranean sunshine and, of course, large amounts of alcohol. Watchable, but it didn’t really seem to add up to much.
The Lobster (C-). This movie has too much critical buzz–and sounded just too weird–for me to miss. It’s an allegory or satire or something about the pressure society puts on people to pair off romantically. In the alternative universe of The Lobster, everyone has to pair off. If your partner leaves you for another person, you get shipped off to a hotel where you can mingle with loads of other single people. And if you don’t find a partner within 45 days, you get turned into the animal of your choice and set free. Remember, I said it was weird. Anyhoo, Colin Ferrell (Total Recall) is our guide to this insane asylum. He lands in the hotel at the very beginning of the movie, where he sort-of befriends a guy with a limp (Ben Whishaw, Spectre) and a guy with a lisp (John C. Reilly, Chicago). Some hotel residents desperately want to find someone, while others seem more or less resigned to their fate. Oh, and there’s a band of “Loners” (including Léa Seydoux, Spectre, and Rachel Weisz, Agora) running around out in the woods around the hotel–defiantly (and illegally) single people who have their own weird code of conduct about relationships. What will Ferrell do? Seek love, join the Loners, or settle for becoming a lobster? It’s all very weird and artificial and sort of interesting, but I really can’t say I really enjoyed it all that much.