An unassuming little British film turns into a power-house of emotion and impact with one of the most powerful performances on film in years. Mostly know for her stage work in her native England, Imelda Staunton delivers a tour-de-force turn as a 1950 London abortionist. Vera Drake’s transition, from a contented lower-middle-class housewife/mother/domestic to a wanted felon is seamless. In the beginning, we see someone who does not have a lot but is always happy…always upbeat about all of the trials of her life…a good-hearted, good-natured person who does way more for others (including strangers) than she would ever think of doing for herself. Then, the little secret she’s kept from everyone in her life comes out with a vengeance and her whole demeanor/persona changes. She’s no longer Vera, whistling while she cleans up after others…she’s Vera, lawbreaker with years of hidden secrets. A less skilled actress might have taken this role and relied more on clichéd shifts in emotions. Staunton brilliantly transforms Vera from a strong-willed woman to a helpless victim of an unjust system. Yet, the sparkle in Vera’s eyes never dies, no matter how hard the fight. It’s a depressing story but the performance of Staunton gives the audience something to hope for…
Posts Tagged: London
A charming tale about legal issues in the Edwardian Era of London…but also a fascinating look at the social graces of the day. How prim and proper everyone is…and restrained — it’s almost sinful (in a VERY reserved say, of course). Based on a true early 20th Century case in London, a young man gets accused of a small crime and consequently expelled from his private school for the alleged deed. Director David Mamet (normally more known for American crime dramas) takes the story (which was first turned into a play by author Terence Rattigan) and brings it and early 1900s London to life. Mamet uses some real locations that the actual case might have taken place in (the Horse Guards, House of Lords, and in Inns of Court) and fills the story with true passion and sincerity. There is tension, humor and romance, but all done with the appropriate levels of Edwardian propriety. Nigel Hawthorne is never better as the family patriarch, who puts everything into his son’s legal batter…even his health. Mamet’s real-life wife Rebecca Pidgeon plays the Winslow sister and the always spot-on Jeremy Northam plays the lawyer who takes the case. Both of these performances are played on the right level…passionate about their causes but perfectly undemonstrative. Edwardians would be proud!
Unlike Goldfinger which makes a valid attempt at solid, strong filmmaking, You Only Live Twice is just plain fun. It is not to best in the series, nor is it the best of the Connery Bond’s. It’s just a truly guilty pleasure…gadgets, action, romance and super spies…what could be better! The pretty inconsequential plot revolves around Blofeld (again) and his continued drive for world domination. This time, Blofeld is capturing spaceships…in space! First, a Russian one, then a British one…so who is doing this. The Russians, of course, think it is the British. And the British, of course, this it is the Russians. Enter James Bond to save the day and clear everything up for everyone (not!). Along the way he fakes being Japanese (don’t ask!), fakes getting married, and fakes being dead. Too bad he spends all of that time faking and doesn’t get around to taking care of Blofeld for good. Instead, the one-eyed villain comes back for two of the next films…plus a great intro in For Your Eyes Only. Basically, this is not the finest piece of filmmaking ever but, after all, do you watch a Bond movie for purely aesthetic reasons? Probably not. So, this one will satisfy your spy thriller craving.
An above-average James Bond film with enough explosions and chases to spill into the next film. This time, 007 goes up again an “un-killable” foe who is slowly dying from a bullet another MI-6 agent shot into his head. The plot involves stealing a nuclear bomb that’s needed to destroy an oil pipeline. The un-believability level is high here, but regardless of that, the script is strong. Bond is very human in this film…he shows all sides of his persona and even a little weakness. The third of Pierce Brosnan’s four Bond films, he really seems to shine here as the British spy. Maybe it’s because he’s used to the role after two other pictures. Or maybe because he’s just getting better. Regardless, this is a film that will satisfy your thirst for action and adventure…while tossing in a good deal of romance in between.
This is by far my favorite Roger Moore “Bond” outing. And, even one of the best in the entire Bond series. The Spy Who Loved Me begins very similar to another one of my favorite Bond films…You Only Live Twice with Sean Connery. Both films start with the capturing of crafts…in You Only Live Twice it is a space rocket and in The Spy Who Loved Me it is a submarine. Obviously, we know that these “stolen” crafts are not to work of a sane person or entity. But, who is it? Is it Russia? Is it China? Basically once the craft is captured, it is up to 007 to save the day, as usual. Where both films differ is in the villain. You Only Live Twice has the ever-popular Blofeld, who by the time You Only Live Twice came out, was getting a little passé. But, in The Spy Who Loved Me, Curd Jürgens plays Stromberg…one of the best Bond villains. His evilness is intense and not prolonged…if he wants to kill someone, he just does it (unlike the other Bond baddies who talk and talk and talk about killing before they actually get around to it). Moore also has excellent chemistry with his Russian counterpart…played by Barbara Bach. They play well off of each other, even though Bach is a little stiff at times. Moore’s quips usually get to be too much after a while but Bach does a good job of countering his jibes with some of her own.
Did you ever see a car accident on your way home from work and think…could that have been me if I had caught that elevator I missed? Well, this film asks a question like that…how does a split second in the life of a London woman alter her existence forever? The movie then plays out two scenarios…one with her making a train and one with her just missing it. From that moment in time and the story splits in two, this film becomes an excellent example of how life, love, happiness, etc. can all change on a dime. Gwyneth Paltrow plays the woman here…and she’s never been better…she captures the perfect combination of innocence and naïve that is required to play the role of a woman whose life hinges a moment in time. Not as metaphysical as it sounds…this one is a good film for all romantics, as well as people who’ve ever thought…”if only I’d made that train…”
This is a film that honestly brings Shakespeare to life…literally and figuratively. A brilliant movie that utilizes many of the Bard’s plays for dialogue and antidotes, but most notably Romeo and Juliet, the ever-tragic saga of Italian star-crossed lovers. The tragic lover story is key to this film…the movie follow Romeo’s plot, in a lot of ways, and even takes quite a few scenes directly from the play. But, then again, that is the gimmick here. Will Shakespeare, in the film, is supposed to be suffering writer’s block…longing for a muse to get him back in the creative spirit. Just when all hope is lost, he meets Viola, the well-to-do daughter of a wealthy family. As she becomes his muse, their story, verse for verse, scene for scene, mimics what Shakespeare is writing. So, Viola’s and Will’s love is really Romeo’s and Juliet’s as well. So, when I say that this film TAKES scenes from Romeo, that is how it’s supposed to work…since the story of the film inspired the play. And, boy, does it all come together with passion. It might sound confusing, but worry not, it’s just a bit hard to explain. All will make sense. Even if you are not a fan of the Bard, or you are not familiar with Romeo (how could you not be?), the story still plays well and is ever-entertaining. Though, it does help some if you are able to catch the nuances between the film story and the play. How art not seen the play? For shame, for shame. A plague on your house.
For a moment, I forgot I was watching a movie. It’s more like a captivating documentary. The film takes place (with the exception of a small series of scenes at the beginning when Prime Minister Tony Blair first takes power) all within the span of one week in 1997…from the day Princess Diana died to the day she was buried. This film transported me back to this time and I felt as if I was watching the inner goings-on of the Royal Family and the Prime Minister…on CNN. Maybe one of the reasons for this docudrama feel is that Helen Mirren looks SO MUCH like Queen Elizabeth II in this movie. And, I imagine, the Queen acts pretty much like Mirren does…reserved, official, composed. But, the film itself is an intense piece of work…never dull or slow. I thought it would be tough to fill a whole film based on just one week’s events but director Stephen Frears does a great job of keeping up the level of drama through fast-paced editing and through creating tenuous chemistry between the Queen and Blair. Their political relationship defines the film and keeps things moving. The Queen is a must-see! Hail, Elizabeth!
Scoop is no Match Point. Woody Allen’s VERY serious and VERY Allen-less film Match Point was a favorite of mine in 2006 (it was released the end of 2005). So, when Scoop came along, I was excited…I mean it has a couple of the Match Point similarities. 1. It is set in London…of which Match Point was Allen’s first film set outside of the New York area. 2. It stars Match Point’s Scarlet Johansson. And, it also has Hugh Jackman, who I love as a actor. So, three pluses. Now, the minuses. 1. Allen goes back to his COMEDY roots…I think all of his gags have been treaded over one too many times. 2. Allen puts himself in the film. His neurotic New Yorker bit was funny in the beginning but now it’s just annoying. That’s it. So, three pros and two cons. Not exactly a ringing endorsement but enough for a good night in front of the DVD player. The story is the one that really sold this one for me…I was able to over look the neurotic Allen and the bad jokes since the story was pretty fresh and original. It revolves around a dead reporter who gets the “scoop” of a lifetime after he’s dead. He escapes the Grim Reaper just so he can try and get the story in the press through another reporter. He picks naïve Johansson as the person to give to “scoop” to and she tries her best to run with it, even though she falls in love with the person the “scoop” implicates. Complicated? No, it’s just hard to explain…but it is fun to watch. If only Allen would stay behind the camera…and try his hand at a little less humor…his genius for storytelling would continue to shine for years to come.
A classic love story, based on the award-winning novel by A.S. Byatt. Told in both the present time and Victorian times, Byatt’s story and characters leap off of the pages and director Neil LaBute captures that same vividness in the film. Aaron Eckhart and Gwyneth Paltrow play academics in modern-day England and while they research the relationship between two historical lovers, they fall in love themselves. LaBute does a great job of combining the past and present elements throughout the movie—scenes go seamlessly from historical times to the present day. LaBute lends equal time to both eras, allowing each love story to evolve in its own way…at its own pace. Beautiful scenery and lush dialogue enhance the emotions of this timeless love story.