Love & Friendship – a concurring opinion

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

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.

Love & Friendship

Mom Under Cover makes it out to the cinema.

Love and Friendship (B)

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.

Cold Comfort Farm (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons.  I read an article that called this British novel one of the funniest novels ever written.  Well, I can’t go that far, but I will say that I enjoyed it, especially as the crazy stuff piled up at the climax of the tale.  The novel was first published in 1932, and the back cover says it is a parody of the “earthy, melodramatic novels of the period.”  I’m not familiar with those novels, which may be why I didn’t find it uproariously funny.  Anyway, the tale is about a Flora Poste, a 20-year-old girl who finds herself suddenly orphaned and has to decide which of her more or less distant relatives to impose upon.  She picks the Starkadder clan of Cold Comfort Farm, and they are indeed a strange bunch of people.  Flora decides to embark on a program to improve the Starkadders and their dilapidated farm, with entertaining results.  Now I kind of want to see the 1995 BBC production starring Kate Beckinsale (The Last Days of Disco) and Ian McKellan (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), of all people!

Whiteout

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Whiteout  (D).  This 2009 turkey stars the lovely Kate Beckinsale, who has been in more bad movies than I can easily shake a stick at.  (The Underworld movies, the recent remake of Total Recall, and Serendipity come readily to mind.)  Early in her career, when she was appearing in films like Much Ado About Nothing and The Last Days of Disco, I thought she was a talented actress, but I possibly could have been deceived by her good looks and British accent.  Anyway, this is another embarrassment to add to her collection, an amateurish murder mystery set in the exotic locale of Antarctica.  Nothing stands out in the memory except the entirely gratuitous scene near the beginning in which Ms. Beckinsale starts out in full Eskimo gear and strips down to her undies in order to take a shower.   Considering she must weigh about 80 pounds, it’s hard to take her too seriously as the U.S. Marshal tasked with solving the murder . . . before becoming a victim herself!  Director Dominic Cera also directed the lame action flick Swordfish, so I can’t say I was really surprised at how bad this one was.  Tom Skerritt (Alien) costars.

Total Recall (2012)

A new hatchet job from The Movie Snob.

Total Recall  (D).  The 1990 Schwarzenegger-starring original was no work of art, but it was head and shoulders above this thuddingly dull remake.  According to the credits, this film is “inspired by” a short story by sci-fi master Philip K. Dick, whose paranoia-laced work has inspired many other (better) movies such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly.  Anyhoo, this movie is not too different from its 1990 predecessor, although I remember the original as being more outlandish and striving for a few moments of humor.  This version is much darker and grimier.  Colin Farrell (Crazy Heart) stars as Doug Quaid, a superspy who has been brainwashed into thinking he’s an ordinary schmoe with an extraordinarily attractive wife (Kate Beckinsale, The Last Days of Disco).  He finds out about the brainwashing about 15 or 20 minutes into the movie, and the rest of the 2-hour run time is pretty much an extended sequence of chases and fights.  Yawn.  Jessica Biel (Easy Virtue) plays a member of the rebel resistance that Quaid teams up with, and Bill Nighy (I Capture the Castle) has little more than a cameo as the rebel leader.  None of it makes much sense, but Beckinsale does get to strut around and look annoyed a lot as her fake husband constantly stays one step ahead of her and her team of goons.  Skip this turkey.

Emma (Masterpiece Theater)

Review from The Movie Snob

Emma. When I tuned in to this PBS Masterpiece Theater presentation, I didn’t realize it was going to be a rebroadcast of a 1996 version of the Austen novel. But I didn’t mind when I found out it was going to star a 22- or 23-year-old Kate Beckinsale (The Last Days of Disco) in the title role. Samantha Morton (Minority Report) played Emma’s friend and “project” Harriet Smith, and I didn’t recognize anybody else. I could not help but enjoy it, but I must say that I liked the Hollywood version (also made in 1996) a little better. Beckinsale and Morton were fine, but Gwyneth Paltrow (Shallow Hal) and Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) were just as good, and Jeremy Northam (The Invasion) played Knightley with much more charm than the guy in the PBS version. Look up the Paltrow version first.

Vacancy

Nick at Nite knows horror.

Vacancy

Luke Wilson (The Skeleton Twins) and that girl from the Underworld movies star in this under-budgeted, boring, low-rent horror film. Honestly, I am not sure that I understand to whom this movie is intended to appeal. It is not a slasher movie. It is not a suspenseful movie. It is not a scary movie. I think it is intended to be one of these, but it ends up being none of them. Basically, our unhappily married couple ends up with car trouble in the middle of the deserted backwoods in some unidentified state. They end up staying at a very creepy, very dirty, uninhabited hotel. Once in their room, weird things happen. Someone knocks on the door, yet when they open the door, no one is there. Someone calls on the phone, yet when the answer the phone, no one is there. They try to go to sleep and decide to pop in a video tape they found in the room “to help them sleep.” Turns out the video is of a murder that happened in the very room they are in. Then, they must escape. Bored? So was I. Don’t watch this movie. If you want something suspenseful, go see a Hitchcock film. If you want something gory, go see a George Romero flick. If you want a slasher flick, try Hellraiser. This just doesn’t cut it. I give it a “C.”

Nick at Nite knows horror

New DVD reviews from Nick at Nite

Silent Hill

I should know better. A movie based on a videogame, and a videogame that is just not very good. Moved by the spirit of Halloween, not to be confused with the friendly, happy spirit of Christmas, I rented this film. Well, the only horror is that I wasted two hours of my life trying to unravel this garbage. The plot, or what I could make of it, is as follows: over-bearing religious types try to burn girl for being a witch, she is sort of saved by a well-meaning police officer, the devil makes some sort of bargain with the very badly burned girl, the devil and girl set fire to whole town, the fire rages for years, girl or girl’s evil twin or devil’s twin is adopted by unsuspecting family, and unsuspecting family is lured back to burned town and bad things happen. Honestly, this is just a bad movie. I was so confused and bored. I give it an “F.”

Underworld: Evolution

Two great things that go great together: leather and vampires. This sequel to the surprising Underworld is low on plot and high on special effects. If you like your vampire movies mixed with science fiction and plenty of gun play, then this is a good movie for you. We start at the end of the last movie with our heroine and her werewolf/vampire boyfriend being hunted by other vampires. Big chase ensures. Our heroine (Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship) discovers how she became a vampire and why her family was killed. Lots of high-flying fisticuffs and goth imitations. I give it a “B” for adventure and a “D” if you are looking for a good Halloween flick.

Click

Movie review from The Movie Snob

Click (B-). I saw this flick at the dollar theater and thought I got more than my money’s worth. Here Adam Sandler (Spanglish) plays yet another reasonably ordinary guy (like in Spanglish), married to a gorgeous wife (Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship), with two cute kids. But he’s under a huge amount of stress at work (he’s an architect), and it is starting affect his home life too. That’s when he comes into possession of a magical “universal remote control” that actually works on the world around him. Dog barking? Just hit mute. Stuck in traffic? Just hit fast-forward. Arguing with your wife, stuck at a boring family dinner, desperate for that promotion at work? Fast forward to the rescue. Be warned that the first half of the movie is really quite bad–lots of profanity and other vulgarity, and simply not funny. But about halfway through the movie morphs into a rather serious and thoughtful meditation about life, with a strong Cat’s in the Cradle message to it. And, I might add, Kate Beckinsale is really extremely attractive. I’m about to switch my allegiance from Nicole Kidman to Ms. Beckinsale. It’s true.

Click

A View From Mars

Click (B). I can’t necessarily say that I’m an Adam Sandler fan, and if I was, you’d be hard pressed to get me to admit such a thing. I will comment that in viewing a Sandler flick, my only standard is that if it doesn’t suck then I’ve succeeded. So with that in mind, I’ll have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. The plot revolves around Sandler acquiring a “universal” remote from Christopher Walken (who I think pokes fun of himself by doing a cheap imitation of, well, himself). Of course, this said remote actually and literally can control the life of the one who possesses it, and as any of us would, Sandler takes full advantage of this capability by fast forwarding, pausing, muting and rewinding his own life. I was surprised at the times that I laughed and even more surprised at how hard I was laughing. However, about three quarters of the way in, the movie takes a dramatic, serious tone and I’m left wondering if I’ll be laughing again or if some theatre employee spliced portions of Punch Drunk Love into the reel. Anyways, I’m not entirely sure when the next time you’ll see a movie featuring Fonzie, Knight Rider and Samwise Gamgee, so that alone was probably enough for me. The movie receives a good solid B grade. Kate Beckinsale dressed as Pocahontas receives an A+ grade.

Zathura; Shopgirl; Laurel Canyon

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

Zathura: A Space Adventure (B). I never saw Jumanji, but I get the idea that there is more than a passing resemblance between these two movies (based on books by the same author, I believe). Here, the protagonists are 10-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson, The Disaster Artist) and his 6-year-old brother Danny (Jonah Bobo, Crazy, Stupid, Love). Their parents are divorced, and they fight incessantly. When their dad leaves them alone in the house for a few minutes, Danny finds a beat-up old board game in the basement called “Zathura: A Space Adventure.” When he and Walter start to play the game, they are more than a little surprised to discover that their house has been ripped from the Earth and has become some sort of spaceship, orbiting a Saturnlike planet. Every time one of them takes his turn in the game, new dangers—or opportunities—arise, and it becomes apparent that they have to successfully finish the game in order to get back home. There are heart-warming (some might say treacly) messages about the importance of family and working together and stuff like that, and on the whole it’s a pretty good family-oriented movie. It is a little too long (113 minutes) and a little too scary for younger kids, and there is a little bad language that should have been excised. But it has some funny moments and generally keeps moving along at a nice adventuresome pace. I say check it out.  P.S. In my original review I didn’t note Kristen Stewart’s performance as the boys’ older sister, but since she’s famous now (in 2019) (see, e.g., New Moon) I guess I will.)

Shopgirl (C). Screenplay-writer Steve Martin (The Muppet Movie) swings and misses with this slight movie about a romance between young Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes, Stardust) and much older man Ray Porter (played by — what do you know? — Steve Martin). Mirabelle spends her days looking forlorn behind the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles, and we are told up front that she is a lost and lonely soul from Vermont, anonymous and adrift in the big city, with a boatload of student debt to boot. She meets a friendly but eccentric (and not very clean-looking) fellow named Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman, The Overnight) in a laundromat, and he is immediately smitten. But then she meets Ray, a computer tycoon who jets back and forth from Seattle, and soon Jeremy is out of the picture. Or is he? All three characters in this romantic triangle have issues, and Ray’s in particular remain opaque throughout. I just never felt invested in any of the characters, which spells doom for a romantic drama like this. Also, the Puritan in me can’t help objecting to how quickly and easily these people jump into bed together. O tempora! O mores!

Laurel Canyon (B-). I saw this movie on DVD and liked it a little better than I liked Shopgirl. Sam (Christian Bale, pre-Batman Begins) and his girlfriend Alex (Kate Beckinsale, Everybody’s Fine) are freshly minted Harvard M.D.’s, and she’s writing a dissertation on fruit flies to get a Ph.D. as well. Sam takes a residency in L.A., and they plan to stay in his mother’s house, which is supposed to be empty. To Sam’s great dismay, it is not. His mother Jane (Frances McDormand, Moonrise Kingdom) is a record producer, and she and the band are in the house, working, drinking, and smoking pot. Nevertheless, Sam and Alex move in, and soon enough the sheltered Alex is forgetting all about her fruit flies and experimenting with all sorts of bad behavior. Meanwhile, Sam is tempted to stray by a second-year resident at the hospital where he is working. The message I took away from the movie is, “Don’t move to L.A.; you’ll go crazy and mess up your life.”

The Aviator

From the desk of The Movie Snob:

The Aviator (B+). The new Martin Scorsese biopic about eccentric tycoon Howard Hughes has been getting good reviews, and I’d say they are deserved. I enjoyed the film for several reasons. First, I really didn’t know much about Hughes’s life, and this almost-three-hour movie covers quite a chunk of it, basically from young manhood to middle age. Second, the movie is visually impressive, especially in the aviation scenes and the scenes of the extravagant nightlife enjoyed by Hughes and his Hollywood cronies. Third, the performances are very good. I thought Leonardo DiCaprio was impressive in the starring role, although his youthful appearance was a little jarring by the end of the movie when Hughes must have been in his forties. Cate Blanchett plays Katharine Hepburn, a pretty odd bird herself, with gusto. Kate Beckinsale is stunningly gorgeous (but has sadly little screen time) as Ava Gardner. It’s a long movie, no doubt, but worth the ride. Hop aboard the Spruce Goose and check it out.

Van Helsing

From Movie Man Mike:

Van Helsing (B-) This is a fun Summertime action movie, but you better be prepared to suspend disbelief. Any movie that has vampires, werewolves and a Frankenstein monster should tell you what to expect in the way of reality. I would have enjoyed this movie so much more if they had not tried to punch it up with some light humor and sap. David Wenham plays Carl, a friar who is a 17th century version of James Bond’s Q. Carl’s Papal laboratory and weaponry are way ahead of its time–although the weaponry does add to the action of the movie. Carl’s character also adds some comic relief to the film, and in my opinion, the film would have been more suspenseful and dramatic without the comic relief. And then there’s the relationship between Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) and Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale). The directors leave you with the clear “Hollywood” impression that there is a romantic spark between these two characters, but I got the distinct impression that the scenes with the romance were left on the cutting room floor. From the standpoint of the story, I had a hard time understanding the history between Van Helsing, Count Dracula and the Valerious family, and how Count Dracula was supposed to have come into being. It doesn’t add up. Otherwise, the story-line was suspenseful, and there was some good action. I enjoyed this movie, but it could have been so much more.

Underworld

From the Movie Snob.

Underworld. (C-) I can say with a great deal of certainty that this is the loudest movie I have ever seen. Not that I expect a movie about the centuries-old war between vampires and werewolves to be quiet and peaceful, mind you, but during the fight scenes the director turns the volume up to 11. By the end, I was covering my ears to avoid discomfort. The heavy-metal soundtrack, or whatever the kids call this non-musical noise these days, added to the painfulness. Anyhoo, the movie itself was pretty lackluster. The movie frequently grinds to a halt to allow various characters to give expository monologues about the origins of the war and the current goings-on in the vampire and werewolf camps. Kate Beckinsale shoots for “tough and ruthless” but comes off mainly as “cute” as the spunky vampire Celine, a professional werewolf-killer who would rather be out pumping the enemy full of silver bullets than dealing with her effete and decadent kin back at Creepy Vampire Mansion. Since she’s only about a third as large as anyone else in the movie, I thought the moviemakers wisely opted to minimize her participation in the frequent bone-crunching fights between blood-suckers and shape-changers. Bottom line: this one’s for hardcore vampire and/or werewolf fans only.