26 September 2016

The Long Kiss Goodnight

The Long Kiss Goodnight 1996
  • Director: Renny Harlin
  • Based on book: no
  • Cast: Geena Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Yvonne Zima, Craig Bierko, Patrick Malahide, David Morse
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Geena Davis – Hero, A League of Their Own, Thelma and Louise, The Accidental Tourist, Tootsie
    • Samuel L. Jackson – Jumper, Inglourious Basterds, 1408, Extras, Kill Bill 2, Star Wars Attack of the Clones, Changing Lanes, Star Wars the Phantom Menace, The Red Violin, The Negotiator, Jackie Brown, A Time to Kill, Die Hard, Pulp Fiction, True Romance, Jurassic Park, Lethal Weapon, Jungle Fever, Mo’ Better Blues, Sea of Love, Do the Right Thing, Coming to America, Ragtime
    • Craig Bierko – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
    • Patrick Malahide – Endeavour, Brideshead Revisited, Extras, Billy Elliot, The World Is Not Enough, Middlemarch, Morse, Black Adder
    • David Morse – Dancer in the Dark, The Green Mile, The Negotiator, Contact, Twelve Monkeys, The Indian Runner
  • Why? A favourite of its kind
  • Seen:  Two or three times before. Now 25 September 2016      

       One of the wildest movies we’ve seen. We were surprised the first time by how much we enjoyed it. Now that we know what’s coming we’re just going to enjoy it again.
       Samantha Caine (Davis) leads a quiet family life as a schoolteacher and a member of the PTA in a small New England town but she has a lot of scars and no memory from before eight years ago. She has a daughter but no memory of the father.
       Switch to foul-mouthed tough guy sleazy private detective blackmailer Mitch Hennessy (Jackson) who’s divorced with a son.
       Needless to say their paths cross and very bad very violent men are after Samantha, who goes off with Mitch to find out who she was in her past. It seems her name was Charley and they’re out to get her.
       And so the wild ride starts. She discovers a very lethal automatic weapon in the suitcase Mitch has recovered from her former landlady. She also discovers some very lethal skills with knives. She learns that Mitch is an ex-cop, an ex-con and lifetime loser. Not a match made in heaven.
       But together they survive one violent attack after another. She is told by a friend – or is he an enemy? – that she was a trained assassin for the US government. But whose side was she really on? How much can she trust the bits of memory that come back to her?
       It’s mad and funny and outlandish and ridiculous and exciting. Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson are terrific. This won’t be the last time we watch this film

3 ½ * of 5.  

PS Let this be a lesson – schoolteachers can be much more dangerous than they look.

The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone

The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone 2002
  • Director: Robert Allan Ackerman
  • Based on book by Tennessee Williams
  • Cast: Helen Mirren, Olivier Martinez, Anne Bancroft, Rodrigo Santoro, Roger Allam, Brian Dennehy, Suzanne Bertie
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Helen Mirren – The Hundred Foot Journey, Brighton Rock, The Tempest, The Queen, Calendar Girls, Gosford Park, The Pledge, Some Mother’s Son, Prime Suspect, The Madness of King George, Mosquito Coast, Cymbeline, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ex Calibre, As You Like It, O Lucky Man
    • Anne Bancroft – 84 Charing Cross Road, To Be or Not to Be, The Elephant Man, The Graduate, The Miracle Worker
    • Brian Dennehy - The Exonerated, Romeo & Juliet, The Stars Fell on Henrietta, Presumed Innocent, Silverado, Foul Play, Looking for Mister Goodbar
    • Roger Allam  Endeavour, The Tempest (on stage and DVD), The Book Thief, The Woman in Black, Shakespeare and the Brits, Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides, Henry IV Parts One and Two, The Queen, V for Vendetta
    • Suzanne Bertie – The Comedy of Errors
  • Why? Helen Mirren
  • Seen: 24 September 2016      

       Tennessee Williams’ works usually film well. I’m not familiar with this novel but the cast is promising.
       Roger Allam as a gay playwright with a heavy Southern accent? Tennessee Williams himself, no doubt. Helen Mirren with an American accent as well. Hm.
       Karen Stone is a celebrated but aging and mediocre Broadway actor doing an ill-advised Juliet. It’s a fiasco and she cancels the tour. She and her ailing husband go to Rome. Her husband dies leaving her a rich retired widow with nothing to do.
       She starts lunching with the Contessa (Bancroft) who introduces her to a series of beautiful young men who beg tearfully for loans for their sick mother etc. She knows they’re lying but gives them the money, which ends up in the Contessa’s hands.
       Mrs Stone falls for one of these beautiful young gigolos and wines and dines him publicly, making a fool of herself. Throughout all this she is followed by a ragged young beggar who looks remarkably like the gigolos.
       It is very hard to care about a rich American widow and a sleazy aristocratic gigolo, their tedious affair and their loss of dignity, of which Mrs Stone is keenly aware. No explanation is ever given for the young beggar.
       It’s an unpleasant film, definitely not Tennessee Williams’ best, nor Helen Mirren’s. And Roger Allam comes nowhere close to his excellent Prospero or DI Thursday. But they do well with the sorry material they’re given.

2 ½ * of 5.  

Huntsman Winter's War

Huntsman: Winter’s War 2016
  • Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
  • Based on book, no, but a fairy tale or two
  • Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach, Sope Dirisu, Colin Morgan
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Chris Hemsworth - Thor
    • Charlize Theron – Mad Max Fury Road, Prometheus, The Road, Battle in Seattle, In the Valley of Elah, North Country, Monster, Sweet November, Men of Honor, The Cider House Rules, The Astronaut’s Wife
    • Emily Blunt – Edge of Tomorrow, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Young Victoria, Sunshine Cleaning, Dan in Real Life, The Jane Austin Book Club, My Summer of Love
    • Jessica Chastain – Interstellar, The Help, The Tree of Life, Coriolanus, Veronica Mars
    • Nick Frost – The World’s End, The Boat that Rocked, Hot Fuzz, Kinky Boots, Shaun of the Dead
    • Rob Brydon – Extras, Little Britain, 24 Hour Party People, Cold Lazarus
    • Sheridan Smith – The Quartet
    • Alexandra Roach – Testament of Youth
    • Sope Dirisu – Humans
    • Colin Morgan – The Living and the Dead, The Laughing King, The Fall, Humans, Testament of Youth, Quirk, The Tempest (on film and on stage), Merlin, Island, Parked, The Catherine Tate Show, Doctor Who
  • Why? Colin Morgan
  • Seen: 23 September, 2016       

       It may seem foolish to buy a film for the sake of a small role played by Colin Morgan, a film that got very poor reviews, but Morgan in his bit parts is often more worth seeing than Oscar winners in their winning films. Besides, the whole cast is good so maybe it’s better than its reputation.
       It’s not.
       It’s the story of the wicked queen Ravenna (Theron) before Snow White. Ravenna has a sister Freya (Blunt) who has a lover, a nobleman (Morgan) who is betrothed to another, though Freya is carrying his child. He betrays her (we later see he was forced to under enchantment). Freya leaves to found her own violent frozen realm where she rules as the Ice Queen. She has one law. No love.
       Two of her captured children warriors, Erik and Sarah, grow up and fall in love.
       Snow White’s kingdom arises, the narrator tells us. The magic mirror makes its appearance.
       It’s amusing at times but it’s awfully long. It picks up a bit at the end but the cast deserves a better film. And what a criminal waste – Colin Morgan gets one tiny line in three tiny scenes of no more than two seconds each. Why did he bother?

2* of 5.  

19 September 2016


eXistenZ 1999
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Based on book: no
  • Cast: Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar, Christopher Eccleston, Sarah Polley
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Jude Law - Sherlock Holmes the Game of Shadows, Hugo, Contagion, Repo Men, Sherlock Holmes, Sleuth, The Holiday, Breaking and Entering, The Aviator, Sleuth, Alfie, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Cold Mountain, Road to Perdition, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Gattaca, Wilde
    • Jennifer Jason Leigh - Margo at the Wedding, Road to Perdition, A Thousand Acres, Kansas City, Georgia, Dolores Claiborne, Fast Times at Ridgemont High
    • Ian Holm - The Hobbit etc., The Aviator, Day after Tomorrow, From Hell, The Fifth Element, A Life Less Ordinary, The Madness of King George, Frankenstein, Kafka, Hamlet, Henry V, Dance with a Stranger, Brazil, Alien, Holocaust, O What a Lovely War
    • Willem Dafoe – Paris je t’aime, American Dreamz, Manderlay, The Aviator, Once upon a Time in Mexico, Finding Nemo, Spiderman, American Psycho, Lulu on the Bridge, The English Patient, Wild at Heart, Cry-Baby, Born on the Fourth of July, Mississippi is Burning, The Last Temptation of Christ, Platoon, Streets of Fire
    • Don McKellar – Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Slings and Arrows, The Red Violin
    • Christopher Eccleston – Fortitude, Doctor Who, 28 Days Later, The Others, Elizabeth, Shallow Grave
    • Sarah Polley – Slings and Arrows
  • Why? Curious to see why I wanted to see it again.
  • Seen:  Once before. Now 17 September 2016      

       My computer games are limited to Yahtzee, Patience and Candy Crush, so I’m really out of my league here. I seem to remember not understanding what was going on the first time we saw this but I remember that it was quite exciting. And Jude Law is always worth watching.
       Oh, he’s so young! Is this movie so old? For game geeks it’s probably hopelessly old-fashioned.
       Never mind.
       Game goddess Allegra (Jason-Leigh) is almost assassinated – shot by a weird pistol that shoots human teeth – at a trial of a new game she designed called eXistenz. Marketing trainee nerd Law has to hide and protect her.
       They start by hiding out in the real world but end up hiding and running in a bio-ported virtual world.
       It’s very weird. Jason-Leigh isn’t convincing as a sexy game goddess, Law is a wimp (talk about playing against character!) Eccleston is pre-Doctor Who with an American accent (Law has one too), Willem Dafoe is his usual sinister creepy self, Ian Holm does his jovial mad scientist. It’s pretentious with existential illusions of grandeur. Sci-fi aspects aside, it seems unlikely to me. For a gang of top actors, it has the feel of B-film amateurism with a bad script.
       And then it gets, well, intriguing. It’s one of the oddest films I’ve seen but there’s something about it in all its grossness. It has a cool surprise ending (I’m easily surprised). Spoiler alert: both Eccleston and Law get to revert back to their native British accents.
       It’s not a film to love and I’m still puzzled about why I like it but it was worth seeing this second time.

3 * of 5.  

5 September 2016

The many faces of Gertrude

The Queen of Denmark

     ‘Gertrude. The Queen of Denmark. It is important to remember that. She’s not only a mother and a wife but a head of state’ (Jand, page 349).
     I’m quoting myself here. This is what I wrote in my text ‘Who’s There?’ after reading Hamlet last time. I noted further that Gertrude is troubled by the paradox she must live as sexless widow and sexy wife. ‘She is well aware of the Christian view of women’s sexuality as evil and sinful contrasting with society’s bawdy acceptance of lust…Her ‘heart is cleft in twain’ as indeed is unavoidable in a society (like our own) that demands that a woman be sexy and sexless at the same time’ (Jand, page 350). As for Gertrude’s questions, ‘What shall I do?’ I write that ‘she is asking herself, what do I do now with this cruel mad hurtful son?’ (Jand, page 350).
     Shakespeare’s characters, as we know, can be and are interpreted in many different ways but I think Gertrude is one of his most interesting characters most often and so badly acted.
     We didn’t watch all of our Hamlet films this time and what we have is but a fraction of those that exist. While watching, though, I paid special attention to Gertrude.
     What did I see? Film by film I saw this:
  • First a Swedish version from 1984 with Stellan Skarsgård as Hamlet. The renowned (in Sweden) Mona Malm plays Gertrude and things start out badly when both she and her Claudius are aging jolly sexpots. Wrong! But she’s quite good in the bedroom scene as a haughty queen and then a puzzled unhappy mother. Let’s say 2 * of 5.
  • Next Peter Brook’s version with Adrian Lester as Hamlet. Natasha Parry does Gertrude and oddly I didn’t like her performance at all when we watched it the first time, finding it dull and emotionless. This time I saw her as low-key, earnest and uneasy although too smiley with Claudius. In the bedroom scene she is puzzled, impatient, despairing over her son’s madness. It is that which has cleft her heart in twain, not guilt. 4 * of 5.
  • In Laurence Olivier’s version Eileen Herlie is simply dreadful. For a start she’s younger than Olivier and her Gertrude is incestuous, seductive and cajoling from the beginning. In the bedroom scene she is weepy, shrill and pathetic. Her monolog about the drowning of Ophelia is flat and without emotion. 0* of 5.
  • In the BBC production from 1980, with Derek Jacobi as Hamlet, Claire Bloom is a mixed Gertrude. She starts out admirably with an aloof, gracious and regal air and in the beginning of the bedroom scene she is angry but calm and firm. She is appropriately aghast at the murder of Polonius but then, after a moment of reawakened grief when confronted by the two portraits, Bloom loses control of her character and allows her to become weepy and clinging. When she whimpers, ‘What shall I do?’ she is appealing to her son, having given in to wild accusations and accepted the guilt he throws at her. She rallies and does a deeply moving ‘there is a willow’ monolog. Claire Bloom is a great actor and some of her Gertrude is finely done. 3* of 5.
  • Ethan Hawke is the best sullen teen-aged Hamlet I’ve seen but Diane Venora is a disappointment in Almereyda’s film. She did the best Ophelia I’ve ever seen in the Kevin Kline production but as a chic and brassy Gertrude, well, it could have been all right if she hadn’t smiled so much, been so lovey-dovey with Claudius, so happy and clinging and flirtatious. She is not the regal queen she should be, she is a celebrity who glories in the glitzy spotlight. She is vampy and sexy. In the bedroom scene she weeps and kisses Hamlet and submits to his accusations and demands. She plays the role well. It’s just that it’s the wrong role for Gertrude. 2* of 5.
  • It is no secret that I think Branagh’s is the best Hamlet film made yet but also one of the best films made…ever. Julie Christie is one of the reasons. From her solemn sad tremulous smiles in her first scene she is the perfect Gertrude. She speaks earnestly to Hamlet, dances frantically at the Wassail ball, receives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern graciously and performs her responsibilities as a ruling monarch with dignity. In the bedroom scene she starts by being just indignant enough. She is strong in her remorse and grief. She is never frightened by Hamlet but sorrowful and worried. Her heart is cleft in twain by his madness and the murder. Pitch perfect in this scene, she’s uneasy and distressed throughout the play.  Exactly as a recently widowed monarch with heavy responsibilities, a new marriage and a mad son should be. 10 * of 10.
  • Nothing can top Christie as Gertrude or Branagh’s film as a whole but Gregory Doran’s version with David Tennant comes close at times and Penny Downie has some very strong moments. Though too smiley and adoring at times she is also regal and concerned. In the bedroom before Hamlet arrives she is smoking and drinking whiskey and removing her sumptuous wig (this Hamlet is set in modern times). She’s too accepting of the guilt Hamlet dumps on her but she is also concerned and powerless before his madness. Her ‘What shall I do?’ is spoken to herself as it should be and her almost harsh and unexpected laugh is startling and very effective. With Ophelia she is haughty and repelled but also kind. Downie is not completely successful as Gertrude but she is very strong and her portrayal of a complex and at times inscrutable Gertrude is intriguing. 4 ½ * of 5.

     Playing the role of Gertrude is no easy task. Rebecca Smith, in the anthology of essays in Hamlet, contemporary Critical Essays, has given her essay the title ‘The Dilemma of Shakespeare’s Gertrude.’ A dilemma she is.  Tina Parker in her Women of Will reminds us that old Hamlet has kept Gertrude on a pedestal while Claudius not only loves her but respects and needs her ability as a co-ruler.
     Dilemma, complexity, authority in one woman. To do Gertrude justice all this and more must be done by any actor playing her. Shakespeare’s women have throughout the ages been mistreated by the societies in which gender roles have forced women into the Madonna-whore dichotomy.  It’s high time that she be treated with respect. It gladdens me that some productions are now doing that.

Works cited:
  • Jand, Ruby. Shakespeare Calling – the book. Vulkan. 2015.
  • Packer, Tina. Women of Will. Alfred A. Knopf. 2015.
  • Smith, Rebecca. ‘A Heart Cleft in Twain – The Dilemma of Shakespeare’s Gertrude’ in Hamlet Case Studies. Palgrave Macmillan. 1992.
  • William Shakespeare, the Complete Works, the RSC edition, 2007. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen.

Feeling Minnesota

Feeling Minnesota 1996
  • Director: Steven Baigelman
  • Based on book: no
  • Cast: Keanu Reeves, Cameron Diaz, Vincent D’Onofrio, Delroy Lindo, Dan Ackroyd, Courtney Love, Tuesday Weld
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Keanu Reeves – The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Lake House, A Scanner Darkly, Something’s Gotta Give, Matrix Revolutions, Matrix Reloaded, Sweet November, The Gift, Matrix, The Devil’s Advocate, A Walk in the Clouds, Johnny Mnenomic, Speed, Much Ado about Nothing, Dracula, My Own Private Idaho, Tune in Tomorrow, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Dangerous Liaisons
    • Cameron Diaz – In Her Shoes, Gangs of New York, Being John Malkovich, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, A Life Less Ordinary, My Best Friend’s Wedding
    • Vincent D’Onofrio – Men in Black, Strange Days, Ed Wood, JFK
    • Delroy Lindo – The Exonerated, The Cider House Rules, A Life Less Ordinary, Ransom, Get Shorty, Clockers, Malcolm X
    • Dan Ackroyd – Bright Young Things, Grosse Pointe Blank, Chaplin, Driving Miss Daisy, Trading Places, Blues Brothers
    • Courtney Love – Sid and Nancy
    • Tuesday Weld – Author Author, Looking for Mr Goodbar, The Five Pennies
  • Why? Like it. Cool title
  • Seen:  Twice before. Now 2 September 2016      

       It’s Keanu Reeves’ birthday today. Reason enough to watch a Keanu Reeves movie. We were going to start the Matrix trilogy but we’re very intensely into David Tennant’s Dr Who so thought Matrix would be a sci-fi overload. Speed would be too much extra excitement and his Shakespeare films we save for our Shakespeare sessions. So.
       Oooh, violent beginning. Forced wedding. Nasty people. Brothers, one of them the groom, Sam, the other the returning abandoned younger brother, Jjaks, for the moment out of prison. There’s no love lost between the brothers. The bride, Freddie, hates her new husband and at the wedding reception she and Jjaks end up, well, you know.
       What a bunch of losers.
       Freddie and Jjaks escape, sort of. Chased by brother and other bad guys. Freddie and Jjaks have their dreams but Hal just said: ‘I don’t think things are going to go well.’
       Oh they so aren’t.
       It’s sad, absurd and sometimes funny. I quite like this film. And I always like Keanu Reeves. Happy birthday.

3 * of 5.