The Beguiled (B-). Director Sofia Coppola is back with another quiet, moody little flick (see, e.g., Lost in Translation, Somewhere). The divine Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm) stars as Miss Martha, the headmistress of a girls’ boarding school in 1864 Virginia. (For all my Millennial readers out there, 1864 was during the Civil War.) Most of her students are gone, but a few are still stranded there, along with one lonely teacher, Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst, Wimbledon). The ladies are getting by, but everything changes when one of the younger students goes out to gather mushrooms and returns with Corporal McBurney, a handsome Union soldier (Colin Farrell, The Lobster) with a nasty leg wound. The ladies’ fascination with the Irishman easily overrides their initial impulse to alert the Confederate authorities, and soon they are all vying for his attention—especially the oldest student, Alicia (Elle Fanning, Super 8). And McBurney quickly figures out the school could be a nice refuge from the rest of the war if he plays his cards right. But can he manage the ladies’ rivalries and his own building passion?
The movie held my interest, thanks mainly to nice performances from all involved—even the younger actresses get a few scenes in which to shine. But the plot is rather slight, there are maybe a few too many languid shots of the stately plantation house and the surrounding forest, and I wasn’t convinced by one of the character’s behavior at the end. Still, it was nice to see the luminous Ms. Kidman in a movie that wasn’t terrible. And at 93 minutes, the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. Finally, I learned in some long ago trivia game that Elvis Presley’s hit song “Love Me Tender” is written to the melody of a Civil War era song called “Aura Lee.” I had never heard “Aura Lee” before, but I’ll be danged if one of the characters in this movie doesn’t sing a bit of it. Nice.
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.
Ondine (C). This Irish movie is about a fisherman named Syracuse (Colin Farrell, Crazy Heart). He’s a sad sort of guy — he’s a recovered alcoholic, his marriage is busted up, and his precious little girl Annie is in a wheelchair and has serious kidney disease. But his luck seems to change when his fishing net pulls in a seriously waterlogged woman with a strange accent. She calls herself Ondine and at first begs Syracuse not to let anybody else see her. He lets her stay as the seaside cottage his ma used to live in, but Annie sniffs out his secret soon enough and becomes convinced that Ondine is really a selkie — a sort of water fairy that can change shape from a seal to a human, or something like that. Is she really? And if so, will her selkie husband come try to take her away from Syracuse and Annie? I can go along with this kind of fairy-tale stuff, but as my grade shows this movie didn’t really work for me. I will add that I thought Ondine was only moderately pretty, but she has a great figure, and the director doesn’t neglect to show it off….
Crazy Heart (B-). Jeff Bridges (Starman) stars in the Oscar-bait role of Bad Blake, a washed-up country singer-songwriter who supports his alcoholism by playing tiny concerts in bowling alleys and bars across the Southwest. During his travels, he meets the proverbial Good Woman — a reporter and single mother named Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Dark Knight), who interviews him for a local newspaper. We also encounter the Young Upstart (Colin Farrell, Minority Report) and the Sage Old-Timer (Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies) as Bad begins a tentative quest for redemption. It’s not a bad movie, and Bridges is probably not capable of a bad performance, but it’s all so familiar and predictable it’s hard to get too excited about it.