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.
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 (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 (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. 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.
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.”