Category Archives: Period Drama Films

Downton Abbey-2019

Downton Abbey-2019

Director-Michael Engler

Starring-Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith

Scott’s Review #947

Reviewed October 16, 2019

Grade: B+

Capitalizing on the tremendous success of the television series which went off the air in 2015, Downton Abbey (2019) is a British historical period drama film written by Julian Fellowes, creator and writer of the series. Beloved fans will eat the film up as the familiar formula and characters are brought to the big screen giving it an even grander feel. The film plays more like a two-hour episode arc over reinventing the wheel, but the result is a resounding crowd-pleasing affair with drama, scandals and a good dose of nostalgia.

The Crawleys and their servants reside in the lavish fictional estate of Downton Abbey during the year of 1927, a year and a half after the series ended. Little has changed and most of the characters are in similar situations, enjoying their daily lives. Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), the Earl and Countess of Grantham, are notified that King George V and Queen Mary will visit their home as part of a royal tour throughout the country. The family and staff are excited yet skittish as they prepare to ensure the lavish event goes off without a hitch.

Situations arise such as the Downton Abbey servants feuding with the Buckingham Palace staff, Violet Crawley’s (Maggie Smith) dismay at Robert’s cousin Maud (Imelda Staunton) being in attendance, an attempted plot to kill the King which is thwarted by Tom (Allen Leach), a new job offer for Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) husband, Mary’s (Michelle Dockery) frustration with keeping the vast estate up and running, and potential romances for several of the characters, including a scandalous same sex relationship.

A few contemporary issues are created – among them women’s rights and the plight of gay men. And though welcome, neither changes the overall blueprint of what the series is about. Which is just what the series fans ordered. Smith is the main attraction as she chews up the scenery with her insults, sarcasm and blunt honesty. But the best scene, coming late in the film, gives Smith a chance to burst with sentimentality and limit the hammy for at least one treasured scene.

The costumes and art direction are lovely with luscious gowns, tuxedos, suits, jackets, hats and shoes found in every scene. The sprawling grounds of Downton Abbey and the ravishing interiors are front and center. The film takes a foray to the neighboring city of York to offer a more progressive and metropolitan vibe, but each scene looks perfect, which is what fans have come to expect.

Not every character is front and center, but with an unwieldy cast of close to thirty principles, some are destined to accept back-burner status. Surprising, yet agreeable, is the toned-down story for “super-couple” Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggatt), having enjoyed their share of trials and tribulations during the original run. Wonderful moments feature supporting characters like Carson (Jim Carter), Thomas (Robert James-Collier) and Molesley (Kevin Doyle), who nearly steals the show with his hysterical fascination with royalty.

The balance and pace of the film is nearly perfect, and every character has at least something to do. This characteristic has always helped huge ensemble casts succeed and Fellowes wisely balances humor with drama but avoids tragedy or dark situations, hoping for mainstream success with his movement to the big screen, opting to play it safe. The attempt succeeds as the film takes the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix” approach.

Downton Abbey (2019) is a splendid winner based solely on production values and costumes. For fans of the television series the film is a must see and offers no more or no less than expected, more than enough to please those wanting what the popular stories originally offered. Despite the drama, the film does not feel “soapy” nor contrived and the tender moments may cause the need for a hankie. If the writing can remain fresh I see no reason for another offering not to be green-lit especially due to the large box-office returns.

The Aftermath-2019

The Aftermath-2019

Director-James Kent

Starring-Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard, Jason Clarke

Scott’s Review #940

Reviewed September 13, 2019

Grade: B-

The Aftermath (2019) is a heavily melodramatic post World War II period film riddled with cliches and proper plot set ups but is nonetheless a moderately enjoyable experience. With a marginal romantic triangle in play and good-looking stars, this can only go so far as predictability soon sets in. Exquisite to look at with a bright and lush European ambiance, the picture is easy on the eyes but lacks in good story or surprises. The film will be forgotten before long.

The time-period is 1945 and the murderous war is still fresh on the minds of all effected and animosity remains between the English and the German. Rachael Morgan (Knightley) arrives in Hamburg during the bitter winter season to reunite with her British husband, Lewis (Clarke), who is tasked with helping to rebuild the decimated city. The Morgan’s reside with handsome German architect, Stefan, (Skarsgard) and his teenage daughter, Freda. Resentment exists between the four since the Morgan’s son was killed by a German caused explosion.

Both positives and negatives are contained within the film. The casting of Knightley, Skarsgard and Clarke bring a professionalism and A-list sensibility, so that the viewer is keen to be watching a glossy Hollywood affair. The offering of a robust romantic triangle is not fair to say since from the moment Rachael and Stefan meet they can barely take their eyes from one another. As if this is not enough, the largely absent Lewis leaves plenty of alone time for Stefan and Rachael to lustfully watch each other. Nonetheless, Knightley and Skarsgard share great chemistry.

The time and setting are also well done. The gorgeous German house in which Stefan and daughter reside feels both grand and cozy complete with a piano and enough open space to go along perfectly with the snowy and crisp exterior shots. The coldness mixes with the fresh effects of those ravaged by war. Music is played frequently, and a female servant dutifully waits on all principles during dinners and desserts adding a classic sophistication to the film. So, the look of it all is quite lovely.

Despite the elements outlined above the story is a real weak point of The Aftermath. It is riddled with cliche after cliche and seems to want to take a page out of every war romance imaginable. Rachael at first loathes Stefan simply for being German despite clearly being in lust with him. Her constant gazes into the distance (thoughtfully pondering what, we wonder?) grow stale and the product is just not very interesting.

A silly side story involving Freda’s boyfriend being involved in Werwolf, a Nazi resistance movement, seems unnecessary and merely a way to momentarily cast suspicion on Stefan. The film is plot driven rather than character driven, and this makes the characters less than compelling.

During the final sequence, set on a train platform as Rachael, Stefan and Freda eagerly decide to steal away into the sunset and begin a new life together, is standard fare. Lewis, the odd man out, is a bit too okay with the circumstances of Rachael and Stefan’s passion to be believed. The farewell scene is stolen from the superb 2002 classic Far from Heaven and nearly identical in every way.

Marvelous to look at and nurturing a slight historical lesson within its bright veneer, The Aftermath (2019) is soap opera story-telling of a romance between two individuals who are not supposed to fall in love. The film has pros and cons and is an okay watch, mainly because the talented cast rises it slightly above mediocrity, adding some measure of realism and avoiding it from being a disaster. Recommended for anyone who adores melodrama mixed with a classic period piece.

Colette-2018

Colette-2018

Director-Wash Westmoreland

Starring-Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Scott’s Review #888

Reviewed April 20, 2019

Grade: B+

Colette (2018) is a French period piece and biography based on the life and times of novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. The film is directed by Wash Westmoreland who also directed Still Alice (2014), so the man is successful at creating a film from a strong female point of view. With a prominent and cultured French style and sophistication the film pairs well with and ultimately belongs to star Keira Knightley. The glaring British accents rather than French and the formulaic approach bring the experience down a notch from grandeur in a film likely to be forgotten.

Knightley plays the title character whose upbringing in a rural area of France is pleasant but hardly sophisticated and utterly country. When Colette meets a handsome literary genius named Willy (Dominic West), successful but employing ghostwriters to fill his creative void, the pair marry and combine forces to create popular novels based on Colette’s naughty schoolgirl experiences. The duo embarks on frequent dalliances with feminine and masculine women (Colette is bisexual) and face the trials and tribulations of seesawing finances and competitiveness until their ultimate divorce. Along the way Willy and Colette enjoy the excesses of late nineteenth century Paris.

Besides a few quick exterior shots of the Seine River and fabulous Parisian landmarks such as Notre Dame, the filming likely did not take place in France at all though you’d never know it. Both cozy and flamboyant scenes of Parisian eateries and lavish nightclubs like the Moulin Rouge and one rich socialite’s love nest are featured giving the film an authentic French flair. The costumes are decadent, and stage shows with Colette and her partner crackle with daring artistic merit.

Knightley, a household name but still teetering on the brink of one definitive great role comes close with her portrayal of Colette. Westmoreland is wise to climax the film with photos and summary of the real-life writer and her husband. If only the film exceeded marginally good reviews and achieved great reviews, then perhaps the actress may have secured an Oscar nomination but alas the proverbial boat was missed. Nonetheless, Knightley plays the role with delicious and naughty delight sinking her teeth into a character who wants to live and have fun.

Despite the rich French flavor Colette is plagued by a jarring fault as the actors all possess English accents rather than French. All in favor of occasional suspensions of disbelief to elicit the desired effect or manipulation, assumptions are that Westmoreland decided since most of the actors are British to let the detail slide in favor of comfort in tongues. Perhaps this misfire is why the sets and locations are overcompensated and decorated in such lovely French style.

The story is formulaic and silly if truth be told while Knightley and West share grand chemistry. As Willy and Colette paint the town they also have repeated misunderstandings or outbursts of rage and jealousy (mostly on her part) before deciding to accept and enjoy each other as they are. Unfortunate is how through the affairs and celebratory nights Colette accepts her role as ghostwriter to his name recognition only to divorce and never see Willy again based on his sale of the treasured Claudine series. Hopeful was I for a happily ever after result.

A crisp and polished offering of the life and times of a complex and peculiar French figure Colette (2018) has its share of ups and downs. Unknown how true to real life the story is, the acting compels and accomplishes a high point while the cultured flavor is zestful and spicy. The film may not be well remembered but is ultimately a success for a few above par qualities that supersede the negatives.

Mary Queen of Scots-2018

Mary Queen of Scots-2018

Director-Josie Rourke

Starring-Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie

Scott’s Review #851

Reviewed January 2, 2019

Grade: B+

A period piece that has all the trimmings for brilliance (on paper anyway) Mary Queen of Scots (2018) is a very good film but misses the mark in the pacing department preventing it from being a truly great film. Fantastic acting and wonderful photography are the high points of an otherwise uneven experience even if most of the components are intact. This is not so much a total knock as much as a light criticism as the film is ultimately quite good and just missing the big oomph to take it over-the-top.

Saoirse Ronan stars as Mary Stuart, the likable Queen of France, who has returned to her native Scotland to reclaim the throne after her husband dies. Only eighteen years of age she initially refuses pressure to remarry, but conflict ultimately ensues with Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie), who rules neighboring England and Ireland. The women admire each other from afar but develop a rivalry in power and love. To complicate matters, religious conflict, scandals, and deceit are enveloped within the story.

The feminist theme is inspiring and makes the film better than merely a soap opera of two rival females sparring over men. In the mid-sixteenth century women in control was hardly commonplace and quite resented by the men forced to serve the “whims of women” as one male character puts it. Constantly showcased are male’s attempts at wooing the women in hopes of gaining power and ultimately the throne. Still, director Josie Rourke (a woman) keeps the power firmly among the women showing they can be as tough as they are sympathetic.

Furthermore, Mary Queen of Scots continues its progressive agenda with a startling LGBT sub-plot, which largely enriches the image of Mary. One young androgynous male friend, presumably a bodyguard, frolics with Mary and other maids and confesses that he feels more like a sister than a brother to her. She accepts him wholeheartedly with an added message of “being your true nature”. Later, the character suffers a terrible fate which devastates Mary. Regardless of the accuracy, what a nice addition to include with an inspiring message.

The acting, particularly among leads Ronan and Robbie is fantastic. Both young “it” women in Hollywood, the roles of Mary and Elizabeth showcase their acting talents and chops for handling period piece roles. Ronan, with flawless pale skin and authentic red locks is beyond believable as Mary exuding strength yet kindness in the role she tackles. She can be stubborn, but also fun and light and Ronan has no trouble making the role her own.

Robbie, hot on the heels of playing the trailer trash character of Tonya Harding in I, Tonya (2017) hits it out of the park and does a one eighty with the role of Elizabeth. Insecure and barren, afflicted with a skin disorder and a balding head of hair, the actress infuses the character with sensitivity and composure. As she wears bawdy wigs and pancake makeup to hide her affliction, Robbie portrays her insecurity and yearning for unconditional love.

A mistake that Rourke makes is not including more scenes of Ronan and Robbie together save for one treasured scene at the very end of the film. This makes for wasted opportunity as the treasured actresses could have played off of each other’s talents in innumerable ways. A knock-down, drag out fight scene would have been a treasure to view.

The male characters do not leave much impact other than perhaps Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden), Mary’s bisexual second husband. As he betrays her on her wedding night with another man, Mary sees little use for him other than to produce a child. The handsome blonde actor adds some pizzazz but is ultimately unlikable as are the other similarly written men. Mary’s half-brother and Elizabeth’s advisor (Guy Pearce) are fine, but ultimately underdeveloped.

Mary Queen of Scots (2018) is an effort to be commended for the female driven and pro-LGBT stances it features. Perhaps unrealistic given the time-period and questions of historical accuracy looming over the entire film, problems with the production do exist. The film ebbs and flows will some high moments and some looming blandness, but overall is to be respected and thereby recommended.

The Favourite-2018

The Favourite-2018

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

Scott’s Review #843 

Reviewed December 17, 2018

Grade: A

The Favourite (2018) is a deliciously wicked comedy about greed, jealousy, and rage during early eighteenth century England. The primary rivalry consists between two feuding cousins, each jockeying for position and “favor” with the Queen, both resorting to dire methods to achieve these goals. With splendid acting and grand designs, director Yorgos Lanthimos adds to his growing collection of odd and compelling works with the dark comedy offering.

The film takes place amid the British and French war of 1708 as a physically and mentally ill Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) rules the country by way of her confidante and secret lover, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz). Though deals and modifications must be made with the ruling Parliament Anne has final say in all decisions including doubling the state tax to pay for the war. When Abigail (Emma Stone), a distant cousin of the Duchess, and of former royalty herself, arrives seeking work as a servant, she quickly plots her way to the bedside of the Queen at all costs.

Lanthimos, known for such bizarre treats like Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015), and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), is not afraid to get down and dirty and wrestle with macabre subject matter. The Favourite is the director’s most mainstream affair yet and is quickly becoming one of my favorite modern-day film makers. As he now charters into royal territory the possibilities are endless in a world of politics and scheming. Some morose highlights include an abused bunny, naked tomato throwing, and pheasant shooting. The film is not kind to animals.

Despite being a mainstream affair in the world of Lanthimos, The Favourite is a bizarre and brazen experience. The heaps of award nominations are quite remarkable given the film will not be enjoyed by all audiences. Despite categorized as a comedy (see more below) the film is not an easy watch and none of the characters are likable. Abigail is sympathetic at first and quite humorous but as the plot develops her true colors and motivations are exposed. Conversely, Anne and Sarah are initially despicable, but garner support as the story evolves.

The comic elements are the best elements and clever lines come at a deliciously rapid pace. The best dialogue is the sparring between Sarah and Abigail as the women realize they are bitter enemies and each attempt to one-up the other in a chess game for Anne’s attentions. Anne, known for fits of emotion, stuffing her face with cake and vomiting, and berating the servants, offers her own comic wit. The language is salty bordering on vulgar, but that is what makes the experience so stellar and morosely enjoyable.

The musical score adds muscle and the diabolical string arrangements give The Favourite a gruesome, morbid atmosphere. The feeling of dread is prevalent and downright haunting at times as the audience, knowing that some sort of shenanigans will soon occur, does not know when or how. This quality enhances the overall product and gives ambiance to an already superior piece.

Finally, the acting in The Favourite is brilliant and worth the price of admission. With heavyweights like Colman, Stone, and Weisz this is unsurprising, but the gravy is in the individual moments. The chemistry the women share together is what works best as every scene sparkles with exceptional deliver and a sly sense of humor. When the three women appear together-these are the best scenes.

Deserving of all the accolades lauded upon it The Favourite (2018) is an experience that contains all elements of a fine film though one that is quite the unconventional work. With glistening art direction, set pieces that shine with authenticity, and costumes that would make Scarlett O’Hara drool with envy, The Favourite takes all of its parts and spins a crafty tale that encompasses the entire film.

Vanity Fair-2004

Vanity Fair-2004

Director-Mira Nair

Starring-Reese Witherspoon, James Purefoy

Scott’s Review #772

Reviewed June 12, 2018

Grade: B

An adaptation of the classic 1848 novel written by William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (2004) softens the traditionally unlikable and roguish character of Becky Thatcher quite a bit. This proves not to be the smartest move as the character, now more of a heroine, is watered down and forever changed, as is this film adaptation. Reese Witherspoon (Becky) drew harsh criticism for her starring turn, but I personally do not think she is so bad; and the costumes and set designs are wonderful and quite the highlight of the resulting period piece.

In 1802 England, we meet Becky Sharp, a young woman who has just graduated from a School for Girls and been sent to work as a governess. Because her father, a talented painter, is impoverished, Becky is cast aside as lower class and deemed undesirable to anybody upper class- the men she is most interested in. Despite her reputation as a tart, Becky aspires to marry rich and frequently gets into trouble with her shenanigans and smart tongue while romance blooms with the handsome Rawdon Crawley (Purefoy).

The story is supposed to encompass Becky’s life from approximately age eighteen through her mid-thirties (though Witherspoon never appears to age), and displays her trials and tribulations, her loves and losses through the years. We follow her from rural England to London and to Belgium, eventually residing in Germany, reduced to working in a casino, where the film concludes. In this way the film is a treat as the various countries as they appeared in the nineteenth century, and the wars and battles occurring during this time period are featured making for an interesting history lesson.

The main appeal should be Becky Thatcher since the film revolves around her, and numerous criticisms were thrown around accusing the film for casting Reese Witherspoon in the important and demanding role based on her star power at the time.  In 2004 Witherspoon was experiencing enormous film success after 2001’s Legally Blonde and 2002’s Sweet Home Alabama- admittedly fluff films- but securing her box office power nonetheless. These films undoubtedly led to her being cast in the pivotal role, but I thought the star was perfectly adequate and gave Becky appropriate humor and zest.

Based on Witherspoon’s “girl next door” persona and the fact that she just looks like a good character- perplexing is the decision to cast her if film makers wanted to be true to the character.  Admittedly though, Witherspoon was delicious in 1999’s Election as villainous Tracy Flick, a role of a lifetime. But that is the exception and not the standard. But I digress- the bottom line is that while she is a capable actress, she does not give the gritty performance that many were expecting to be true to the character in the novel.

The rest of Vanity Fair is really just mediocre as far as story goes. While the antics of Becky are both humorous and dramatic, her rooting value in the romance department does not come across in the 2004 film offering- not enough chemistry exists between the leads to warrant much support. Rumors abound that other incarnations of Vanity Fair are far more superior and compelling than this film is, but I have yet to have seen any.

Compliments must be reaped on the costume department and the art direction- both are superior. Such a treat are the lavish and colorful costumes and gowns that mark the time period. From the classic style hats and highfalutin dresses featured in ball after ball, this aspect is nearly enough to recommend a watch over the dull story and immeasurably the highlight of the entire film.

Apparently, Vanity Fair (2004) is considered a messy travesty to those well-read enough to have turned the pages of the classic novel. Since I have not yet read the book, perhaps I enjoyed the film slightly more than I should have, but alas, I did not find the casting of Witherspoon as Becky nor the overall product to be drivel as many did. I recommend the film for the gorgeous visual treats if nothing else.

Mudbound-2017

Mudbound-2017

Director-Dee Rees

Starring-Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund

Scott’s Review #724

Reviewed February 12, 2018

Grade: B+

Mudbound is a 2017 Netflix period drama offering that transports the viewer to a time of racism and struggle as World War II ravaged through Europe. The piece is largely set in rural Mississippi, however, during the 1940’s as a vastly different way of life existed for most- especially black folks. The film depicts the hardships and struggles of two families living on the same land- one white and one black, and how their lives intersect with one another’s in dramatic fashion.

The film received several Oscar nominations including Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actress, Song, and Cinematography. I will suffice it to say I support the latter two mentions in the group, but not the former. While the final act kicks the film into much needed high gear, and the filming detail of the rural southern terrain is quite apt, I kept waiting for a stunning scene involving the usually wonderful Mary J. Blige to erupt, but sadly nothing ever came. The writing, while inspired, would not get my vote in the screenplay category either, especially when other, more worthy films (think Mother!) were bypassed.

The mood of Mudbound is immediately impressive as we are introduced to the grizzled and muddy town of Marietta, Mississippi, a sort of farm wasteland, where brothers Henry and Jamie McAllan struggle to bury their recently deceased “Pappy” as the lands are ravaged by a driving storm. When Henry briefly leaves Jamie in the watery grave the pair has dug, Jamie is panic stricken that Henry will not return. In this way, director Dee Rees reveals a major clue to tension between the brothers as the film rewinds to some time earlier when times were happier for the brothers.

Mixed in with the trials and tribulations of brothers McAllan, is Henry’s wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), who shares a loveless marriage with him, while secretly lusting after Jamie. A poor black family resides and works on the McAllan farm, and must endure hardship and racism from the white residents of Marietta, especially when their son Ronsel returns from World War II, a celebrated hero. Old habits die hard as the Ku Klux Klan rears its ugly head- targeting the young soldier for daring to bed with a German woman abroad.

As most of the film meanders during the first hour or so with odd edits and pacing, I did not easily connect with many of the characters, though I wanted desperately to. There seemed to be not enough buildup to the ultimate drama. The film is shot in a way that you know you are watching something of substance, but it takes a long, long time to reach a crescendo. The aforementioned criticism of Mary J. Blige, who portrays long suffering matriarch Florence Jackson, is not of the part itself or her acting, but rather, I expected a gritty, meat and potatoes style performance from the talented lady. I disagree with her Oscar nomination, and instead would have chosen the brilliant Michelle Pfeiffer from Mother!

Praise must be written for Mulligan’s performance, shamefully overlooked, as the haggard, intellectually unfulfilled housewife, Laura. As she wistfully buries her nose in a novel to escape her dull life , or longingly looks at Jamie, disappointed with her loneliness, we feel every emotion that Mulligan plays. A consistent problem with Mudbound was there lacked a grand emotional scene from either Blige or Mulligan.

The film’s racist subject matter can be utterly difficult to watch as a major character sees their tongue removed and another character forced to make a difficult choice. This action leads to a deadly turn of events and the murder of another character, resulting in a lifetime of secrets. The final thirty minutes is the best part of Mudbound.

A must mention, and historical feat, is the nomination of Rachel Morrison in the cinematography category. She is the very first female to ever receive this honor and it is certainly about time. Morrison successfully fills Mudbound with the perfect mood- both picturesque greenery and a depressing, downtrodden aura. This is not as easy as one might imagine, but the creative talent achieves this effortlessly.

Mudbound is a film that has received lots of attention, but is not the masterpiece some are touting is as. Taking way too long to hit its stride, the film has good aspects and also some missed opportunities. Perhaps a better put together film might have  resulted in a brilliant experience instead of “only” a very good watch. I recommend Mudbound, but I expected and hoped for much more than I was given.

Howards End-1992

Howards End-1992

Director-James Ivory

Starring-Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter

Scott’s Review #702

Reviewed December 1, 2017

Grade: A-

Howards End is my favorite film in the collection of E.M. Forster adapted novels turned into films during the 1980’s and 1990’s (1985’s A Room with a View and 1987’s Maurice are the other two quality works). The novels were written during the early 1900’s and set during the same period, focusing on class relations  during 20th-century England. The film is lovely, picturesque, and carves an interesting story about romance and drama between the haves and the have-nots during this time period. The film was a success and received heaps of Academy Award nominations in 1993.

Margaret Schlegel (Emma Thompson), an upper-middle class intellectual , part of London’s bourgeoisie, befriends wealthy and sophisticated, yet shockingly conservative Ruth Wilcox (Vanessa Redgrave). The two women strike up a powerful friendship, which results in her beloved country home being left to Margaret when an ailing Mrs. Wilcox dies. To complicate matters, Margaret falls in love with businessman (and husband of Ruth), Henry (Anthony Hopkins), while Margaret’s sister Helen, briefly becomes engaged to Paul Wilcox, Henry’s son. The two families lives further intersect when they wind up as neighbors in London and the true ownership of the beloved “Howards End” is questioned. Added in the mix are several other characters of various social backgrounds, having connections to the families.

The writing in Howards End is rich and emotional as each character is perfectly fleshed out- and this includes the supporting as well as the lead characters. Thompson and Hopkins, both sensational actors, have tremendous chemistry together, and unsurprising was Thompson’s win for Best Actress during this competitive year. She carries the film seamlessly with her upper middle class ideals- not conservative rich, but far from working class- she epitomizes poise and grace and empathy for those less fortunate than she. Hopkins, on the other hand, is calculating and confident, yet charismatic and sexy as a old-school, controlling businessman. Somehow, these two characters compliment each other exceptionally well despite their varied backgrounds

The role of Helen may very well be Helena Bonham Carter’s finest. Not being an enormous fan of the actress-overrated and too brooding in my opinion-she enjoys portraying an interesting character in Helen. Lovelorn and earnest, yet somewhat oblivious, she develops a delicious romance with young clerk, Leonard Bast, my favorite character in the film. Living with Jacky, a woman of dubious origins, he is the ultimate nice guy, and sadly winds up down on his luck after heeding terrible business advice. Bast, thanks in large part to actor Samuel West, who instills an innocent, good guy quality to his character, deserves major props.

The cinematography featured in Howards End is just beautiful with extravagant outdoor scenes- the lavish gardens of Howards End- just ravishing and wonderful. Kudos too to the art direction, set design, and costume department for making the film look so enchanting. There is something so appealing about the look of this film and director, James Ivory, undoubtedly deserves praise for pulling it all together into a suave picture. Whether the scene call for sun or rain, tranquil or bustling, each and every scene looks great.

If I were to knock any points from this fine film it would be at two hours and twenty two minutes, Howards End does drag ever so slightly, and many scenes involve the characters merely having chats with each other, without much action, but this criticism is small potatoes when compared to the exceptional writing and well-nuanced character development displayed throughout the piece.

Admittedly, and perhaps shamefully, I have not read any of the Forster novels, but Howards End appears to be the film that is most successfully adapted, gleaming with textured finesse, grace, and style. With films finest actors along for the experience, and intricate, fine story-telling, Howards End is a film well worth watching.

A Room with a View-1986

A Room with a View-1986

Director-James Ivory

Starring-Helena Bonham Carter, Julian Sands

Scott’s Review #695

Reviewed November 3, 2017

Grade: B+

A Room with a View (1986) is one of four major films to be based on famed British author E.M. Forster novels- Howards End (1992) and A Passage to India (1986), and Maurice (1987) being the other three. The foursome contain common elements such as vast English countrysides and class distinctions, leading to heartaches and passion. In the case of A Room with a View, the film traverses from artistic Florence, Italy to a cozy village in England.

The film is a period drama mixed with lots of authentic, unforced, good humor and at its core is a solid romantic drama, though if comparing with the aforementioned other films, is not quite on par, though is still an entertaining watch- given the dismal year of cinema circa 1986. The film was considered one of the best releases that particular year and was awarded a handful of Oscar nominations- winning Costume Design, Adapted Screenplay, and Art Direction.

Cultured and often times brooding, Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter), goes on holiday to Florence with her rigid and conventional older cousin Charlotte (Maggie Smith), who also serves as her chaperone. While enjoying the artistry of the European city, Lucy meets and falls madly in love with free-spirited George Emerson (Julian Sands), who is also visiting Florence with his easy going father, Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliott). The men seem oblivious to Lucy’s (and Charlotte’s) Victorian era upbringing, which attracts Lucy and appalls Charlotte. Months later, the would-be lovers reunite in England and spend time averting obstacles thwarting their love, while admitting to themselves that their love is blossoming.

As Lucy has become engaged to snobbish Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis), a sophisticate deemed suitable by her family to marry Lucy, the pair lack the romantic connection that she shares with George. Day-Lewis, on the cusp of becoming a breakout star and brilliant talent (think Maurice a year later), gives Cecil a somewhat comical, yet endearing persona, that makes him the main foil, but also breathes sympathy into the character. This is especially evident during the Lucy/Cecil break-up scene.

The standout performance in A Room with a View is the comic brilliance of Smith as the manipulative and witty, Charlotte Bartlett, and this is evident throughout. Smith injects vigor and comic wit into her character, as Charlotte seemingly makes one blunder after the other in the self deprecating way she manages to use to her advantage to humorously manipulate other characters into doing things her way.

A risqué and quite hysterical all male frontal nudity scene occurs mid-way through the film and, while not advancing the plot in any way, steals the entire film in its homoerotic and free-spirited way. As the Reverend, young George, and Lucy’s energetic brother, Freddy, walk along a beautiful path, they decide to skinny dip in a pond where they horseplay and wrestle with each other completely in the buff. As they chase each other around the pond, grab each other, and lightly smack bottoms, one cannot help but wonder if this scene set the tone for 1987’s gay themed period piece based on another E.M. Forster novel, called Maurice. A coincidence? I think not. As the trio of rascals come upon the properly dressed girls on the path, hilarity takes over the scene.

The art direction and costumes are of major excellence to A Room with a View as the film “looks” like a 1910 time period rather than it seeming like it is 1986 with the actors donning early twentieth century styles. In fact, each and every scene is a treat from this perspective as we wonder who will wear what attire in the next scene.

As with the other aforementioned E.M. Forster films, class distinctions and expectations are a major element to A Room with a View and makes Lucy and George all the more likable as a couple. Still, from an overall standpoint there is something slightly amiss in the story department. I did not find Helena Bonham Carter, an actor I like, overall very compelling as Lucy, and I think this leads to the story being slightly less than it might have with another in the role. We may root for Lucy and George, but if the pair do not wind up together it is more of a pity rather than a travesty.

To summarize A Room with a View, the story is good, not great, and other key components to the film are much better than the central love story of Lucy and George, but are therefore secondary to the main action. Given a Charlotte romance, the films best character, now that would have catapulted this film to the exceptional grade. Imagine the possibilities? Or more of the two Miss Alan’s and their gossipy nature, or even a story to the rugged nude horseplay among men. Many of the aspects that could have made A Room with a View great, were too often on the sidelines.

My Cousin Rachel-2017

My Cousin Rachel-2017

Director-Roger Michell

Starring-Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin

Scott’s Review #685

Reviewed September 25, 2017

Grade: B-

My Cousin Rachel has the advantage of providing wonderful, scenic locales of Florence, Italy and lovely scenes filmed around England that makes the film a joy to watch from a cinematic perspective. The acting, especially by seasoned veteran Rachel Weisz,  is also stellar and noteworthy. The plot, however, is a big negative to the film as My Cousin Rachel suffers from weak dramatic storytelling, an anti-climactic conclusion, and missed opportunities with the plot.

The film is based on the 1951 novel of the same name, written by Daphne du Maurier. I have yet to read the book, but I am certain the film does it no justice. The overall tone of the film contains little mystique to say nothing of lacking any sort of haunting elements as one might expect to receive with titillating anticipation.

The story begins well enough as, through narration, we learn that a young man named Philip, having been orphaned as a child and raised by his older cousin, Ambrose, returns home from school to his childhood home in lavish Cornwall. He learns, through a letter, that Ambrose has married his widowed cousin, Rachel, and has moved to Florence. He also cryptically writes that he is in fear for his life and suspects Rachel of poisoning him. The main plot kicks off after Philip finally meets Rachel and astonishingly begins to fall madly in love with her.

To be fair, the film is shot beautifully and glimmers with interesting camera angles and in a few hallucination scenes, uses a blurry, almost magical film-making style. The aforementioned locales give My Cousin Rachel a sophisticated, graceful look. On the negative side of this filming evaluation, the lighting is much too bright, appearing more like an episode of the PBS series Downton Abbey, rather than the mysterious, cryptic film that My Cousin Rachel is promoted as.

The best thing about the film, though, is the wonderful acting performance by Rachel Weisz as the title character, Rachel. While not played quite as mysterious, Weisz envelopes her character with a passionate, earnest quality that sells the character as enchanting. With a winning smile, and a polite, dutiful manner, Rachel is tough to imagine as a murderess, which helps the lackluster plot just a bit. She happily goes about making a “special” tea, or performing other household tasks in cheerful, uniform pizzazz. Without Weisz in the role, I shudder to think how bleak the end result might have been.

It is mentioned early on in the story how Philip’s wealthy family, the Kendalls, are surprised that Ambrose married, as he was never known to be in, or enjoy, the company of women. It also must be noted that in flashbacks, Ambrose is portrayed as somewhat effeminate, or at most, less than manly. This seems a blatant attempt to question the character’s sexuality, yet the film chooses never to pursue this topic again. I am unaware of how the novel handled this plot item, but it seems rather a wasted opportunity.

Chemistry, or lack there of, is also an issue with My Cousin Rachel, as no connection between Weisz and Claflin exists throughout, nor is there any between either character and Philip’s intended love interest, Louise Kendall, played by Holliday Graingier. The actress herself is fine in a role that is given little meat or substance.

Uneven at best, My Cousin Rachel is a beautiful looking period piece, but mostly is just a mediocre piece of film-making. The ending is quite sudden and answers definitively none of the main plot questions. Released in 2017, the film will likely be forgotten by 2018.

The Beguiled-2017

The Beguiled-2017

Director-Sofia Coppola

Starring-Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell

Scott’s Review #659

Reviewed July 4, 2017

Grade: A-

A remake of the 1971 film (also adapted from an earlier novel) starring Clint Eastwood, The Beguiled is a 2017 release directed by Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), a director ready to burst onto the front lines. Coppola carefully chooses her films, but each one is different from the others and The Beguiled is no different. A piece fraught with atmosphere and tension, Coppola does a wonder from a directing standpoint. The story has tons of unchartered potential and drags at times, but overall The Beguiled is a hit, if nothing more than to look at in wonderment.

The film gets off to a moody start as we follow a young girl, eerily humming as she picks mushrooms, along a deserted southern road. It is Civil War times (1864), and the setting is a mostly deserted all-girls boarding school in southern Virginia. The girl (Amy) is startled when she discovers an injured, handsome Union Army soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Farrell). Sympathetic, Amy helps the soldier back to the school, led by headmistress, Martha Farnsworth (Kidman). Slowly, the females in the school become enamored with John as they develop rivalries with each other in order to gain the upper hand for his affections.

There is something so sinister and wickedly foreboding about almost every scene as we shrink at the thought that something bad will happen at any moment- sometimes it does and sometimes it does not. Almost like a horror film would, the camera angles are such that something or someone is bound to suddenly leap out and grab a character.

The colors are muted and almost pastel and there is commonly fog floating through the exterior scenes. Coppola does a fantastic job of portraying a deserted southern landscape. The lighting of the film is also intriguing as lit candles serve to enhance the dimness and the final dinner scene (poison mushrooms anyone?) is gloomy and Shakespearean.

Beyond the look of the film, The Beguiled is well-acted. With heavyweights like Farrell, Kidman, and frequent Coppola star, Kirsten Dunst, as the vulnerable and unhappy teacher, Miss Morrow, the acting is stellar and believable. The audience is unsure if John is manipulating the women for his own gain or if he has developed feelings for any (or all) of them. The lovesick teen, Alicia (Elle Fanning), with hormones clearly raging, sets her sights on John almost from the beginning, sneaking out of musical lessons, to kiss an unconscious John goodnight.

The story, while compelling, is quite slow moving and left with oodles of possibilities when the conclusion finally happens. Other than the tart, Alicia, endless romantic potential could have been reached with both Miss Morrow and Miss Farnsworth. I was left wondering throughout the film when a romance would develop between Martha and John, but only towards the end of the film was this ever addressed and barely skirted over, as the take charge and stoic Martha slowly began to let her guard down. In this way, the film could have added some further romantic complications and beefed up the very short running time of ninety three minutes.

As Nicole Kidman is one of my favorite film stars of all time (she can tell a story by facial expressions alone), she has wisely begun to choose fantastic supporting roles as she ages in Hollywood (2016’s Lion immediately comes to mind). Dunst has aged gracefully into a middle-aged actress chomping at the bit for meaty roles, and Colin Farrell is as ruggedly handsome as ever sprouting a dark and bushy beard for most of the role. The acting in The Beguiled is fantastic.

The Beguiled is a film to watch if only to escape to the joys of great, atmospheric, film-making, and to appreciate the wonderful talents of one of the few prominent female director’s of today (hopefully the mega success of 2017’s female directed Wonder Woman will begin to change this). The story has a few issues, but overall The Beguiled is worth the money spent.

Lincoln-2012

Lincoln-2012

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones

Scott’s Review #476

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Reviewed September 10, 2016

Grade: A

Lincoln is a 2012 film, which received a slew of Academy award nominations. There appear to be differing opinions about the film itself, however Lincoln has audiences divided over whether it’s a brilliant film or a snore-fest. My opinion leans decisively toward the former.

I recognize that (especially the first half) the film is slow moving, but I found it engrossing and well made. Even the subtle aspects (costumes, art direction, lighting) are masterfully done. I found Daniel Day Lewis’s (Abraham Lincoln) lengthy stories intriguing, not dull, and found it to be a wonderful history lesson.

Steven Spielberg does what he does best- he creates a clearly Hollywood film done well. He does do controversial, shocking, or experimental, but mainstream fare is his forte.

Apparently, this film is not for everyone, but if you can find the patience it will be an enlightening experience- if nothing else, a thing or two may be learned.

Daisy Miller-1974

Daisy Miller-1974

Director-Peter Bogdanovich

Starring-Cybill Shepard, Cloris Leachman 

Scott’s Review #383

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Reviewed March 6, 2016

Grade: B

Daisy Miller is a largely forgotten 1974 film based on a Henry James novella of the same name, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring then-girlfriend Cybil Sheperd in the title role. I admire the film in certain aspects, but ultimately rank the film as good, but not spectacular. I pondered the film afterwards and had a feeling that there was something missing from it.

The story, set in the late 1800’s, tells of a wealthy upstate New York family, led by the naïve Daisy Miller (Sheperd), visiting Europe in the hopes of becoming more cultured and worldly, but instead, are largely met with defiance and snobbery from European sophisticates. Daisy attempts to find love with her numerous potential suitors. The film is largely shot in Switzerland and Italy.

The romantic story between Daisy and upper class Frederick Winterbourne is the focal point. Daisy, a chatterbox and flirtatious, captures Winterbourne’s fancy and he gradually woos her, but is conflicted by social norms and her innocent involvement with other men, most notably dashing Italian Giovanelli. This leads to conflict. I noticed some chemistry between Daisy and Winterbourne.

Bogdanovich, who only directed a handful of films, including the masterpiece The Last Picture Show, uses a number of great actors in both films. In addition to Sheperd, Cloris Leachman and Eileen Brennan appear in supporting roles. Leachman as Daisy’s equally chatty and naïve mother, and Brennan as the vicious socialite Mrs. Parker. Brennan, in particular shines. Outstanding at playing snobs and unique character roles, this was right up Brennan’s alley and she almost steals the show.

I adored the cinematography and the costumes featured in the production and thought both the films main strengths. The clothing that the characters were dressed in are both gorgeous and believable for the time period. The backdrop during the hotel garden scene is exquisite and picturesque as the lake, sky, and mountain are all in full view adding a unique viewing experience.

I also found the subject of cultural class distinctions quite interesting. The Millers are rich, but uneducated and unlikable- they live in Schenectady, and are considered far beneath the clever, intelligent figures of Europe. They clearly do not measure up and they lack the same breeding and class as many of the characters. Adding to this is the fact that the Millers never really seem all that interested in being in Europe, almost taking the opportunity for granted, so I was never completely captured by the Millers or found them particularly sympathetic as a group.

Given that she is the focus, I found the character of Daisy Miller a bit unlikable and this could be due to the casting of Sheperd. Daisy’s endless rants, largely about herself, teetered on annoying to say nothing of her irritant little brother. Sure, Daisy is sweet and is kindhearted, but there is something that did not compel me about me. She was a less charismatic, northern version of Scarlett O’Hara. I kept wondering if another actresses might have brought more to the character and given her more muscle. Was this role a showcase for Sheperd because of her relationship with Bogdanovich?

The conclusion of the film surprised me and features a downcast ending that I did not expect given the sunny mood of the rest of the film, and this is to Bogdanovich’s credit. He certainly did not make a mainstream film and I admire that. Daisy Miller is a mixed bag for me. I give my admiration for some aspects, but the story and the casting could have used a bit of altering.

Gosford Park-2001

Gosford Park-2001

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillippe

Top 100 Films-#68

Scott’s Review #350

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Reviewed January 9,2016

Grade: A

Somewhere between the brilliant PBS series of the 1970’s and the ultra modern cool of Downton Abbey (also PBS) lies the masterpiece that is Robert Altman’s 2001 gem, Gosford Park. Ironic, is that the creator, writer, and executive producer of Downtown Abbey, Julian Fellowes, wrote the screenplay of Gosford Park. No wonder, combined with Altman’s direction, they created genius.

The time period is 1932 and the wealthy, along with their servants, flock to the magnificent estate of Gosford Park, a grand English country home. The guests include both Americans and Brits and everyone is gathered for a shooting weekend- foreshadowing if ever there was. Following a dinner party, a murder occurs and the remainder of the film follows the subsequent police investigation, and the perspectives of the guests and the servants as a whodunit ensues. Many of the characters lives unravel as secrets are exposed.

Sir William, the murder victim, is a powerful industrialist. After he announces he will withdraw an investment, the ramifications effect many of the guests so that the set-up is spelled out for the audience. At the risk of seemingly nothing more than a plot device- it is so much more than that. During a pheasant shoot, Sir William receives a minor wound thanks to a stray birdshot- is this intentional or merely an accident? When Sir William meets his fate that evening, the potential suspects pile up.

If there are two compelling aspects to a great film, they are a good old fashioned whodunit and an enormous cast, all potential suspects. What makes Gosford Park exceptional is that every character is interesting in some way and all are written well. Secrets abound for miles in this film and are revealed in a delicious way. Torrid affairs, sexuality secrets, and blackmail abound as revelations make their way to the surface and Altman knows exactly how to cast doubt or suspicion on many of his characters.

The compelling relationship between American film producer Morris Weissman and his valet, Henry Denton (Ryan Phillipe), along with the domineering head housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) are my favorite characters and dynamics. How clever that Maggie Smith would play similar roles as stuffy aristocrats in both Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. Rich in texture are the balancing between the haves and the have nots and how those characters mix with each other (sometimes in secret rendezvous!)

Typical of Altman films, the character dialogue commonly overlaps and the actors largely improvise the script. In addition to being an actors dream, this quality gives a realism to his films and Gosford Park is no exception. Since there are so many characters and so many plots and sub-plots going on at once, my recommendation is to watch the film at least twice to fully comprehend the layers of goings-ons. The film will become more and more appreciated.

Far from the Madding Crowd-1967

Far from the Madding Crowd-1967

Director-John Schlesinger

Starring-Julie Christie, Terence Stamp

Scott’s Review #315

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Reviewed January 1, 2016

Grade: A-

A sweeping, gorgeous epic from 1967, Far from the Madding Crowd is pure soap opera (this is not a negative), done very well, which features a woman with three male suitors and contains many similarities to another brilliant epic, Gone with the Wind. The cinematography, score, and writing is excellent, and, at close to three hours, is a lengthy experience. The film is based on the popular novel, written by Thomas Hardy.

The setting is lovely, rural England, the landscape green and lush- mostly farmland, where Bathsheba resides having recently inherited her Uncle’s enormous estate and is, frankly, overwhelmed with the heavy responsibility required to successfully run it. Three men appear in one form or another to lend a hand and each falls madly in love with her- she having her choice of any of them. Throughout the film each is given a chance to win her heart and the trials and tribulations of each occur. The wealthy neighbor, William Boldwood, is older and insecure. Frank Troy is a bad boy who is a cavalry sergeant, and Gabriel, a former farmer, who has lost all of his sheep.

Having only seen this film twice (so far), I notice more and more the similarities to Gone with the Wind. Both are set around the same time period (1860’s) and both films feature very strong, independent, gorgeous female characters with multiple male suitors. Unlike Gone with the Wind, though, Bathsheba is not self centered, but wholesome and honest.

Julie Christie was certainly the “it” girl during the time period in which the film was made, having recently starred in Darling, Doctor Zhivago, among others, and Far from the Madding Crowd is a perfect film for her, focusing on her beauty and earnestness. She is exceptionally cast.

What I enjoy most about the film is we do not know which of the men Bathsheba will wind up with….if any of them. Gabriel Alan Bates) is my personal favorite, but in the beginning of the film she rebuffs his marriage proposal. In a heartbreaking scene, one of his dogs goes mad and leads his entire flock of sheep to their death. He then is forced to work as her shepherd, a job beneath him. He is the most likable of the three men and it is fun to root for their ultimate union. But is he prone to bad luck?

Frank Troy is dashing- a clear ladies man, yet I did not root for him. A character, which I found to have strange motivations, having impregnated, and almost married a young lady named Fanny, only to turn her away based on a misunderstanding, then ultimately change his mind about Bathsheba. In one scene he manipulates his way into getting the townsmen drunk on brandy, which leads to a crisis. He is charismatic and used to getting his way.

Finally, Boldwood is wealthy and sophisticated and appealing to Bathsheba in a certain way (mainly stability), but there is also something I find “off” about the character throughout the film- unstable maybe, needy? I did not find his character likable either.

The overlap and the relationships between the men are also an interesting aspect to Far from the Madding Crowd. Will they become friends? Would they kill each other for Bathsheba’s affections? There are many emotions that run through all four characters, which makes the film rich in character development.

Grand, sweeping, and beautiful are words to describe Far from the Madding Crowd, a film that I enjoy exploring and evaluating upon each viewing.

Brooklyn-2015

Brooklyn-2015

Director-Jon Crowley

Starring-Saoirse Ronan

Scott’s Review #298

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Reviewed December 12, 2015

Grade: A

Brooklyn is a classic style Hollywood film that I adored watching. It has a genuine innocence to it with wonderful, powerful acting and perfect cinematography/art direction. The film is conventional and mainstream, but never sappy. Based on Colm Toubin’s popular novel of the same name, Brooklyn takes place in the early 1950’s and is set in both Ireland and New York City.

Eilis Lacey, played by Saoirse Ronan, is a young Irish girl with good morals and traditional values. She is faithful and Catholic, with a good upbringing. Not rich by any means, she is very intelligent and uses good sense, working hard on weekends in a grocery run by an unkind woman, in order to save money. Thankfully, her older sister Rose, whom Eilis adores, has scrimped and saved enough for her to go the United States and study, via a church program. Rose does not want Eilis to be trapped in the small Irish town in which they live an adequate, but not extraordinary life. While in New York City, an event occurs that necessitates Eilis’s return to Ireland. While home she develops a romantic dilemma that causes her to ponder whether to return to her new life in New York City or stay in Ireland. Eilis is conflicted, which is the main focus of the story.

On paper one might assume that Brooklyn is sappy, “chick flick” or a trite romance with predictability for miles- it isn’t. Everything about the film is perfect and it is very detail oriented.  All of the pieces somehow fit together- good direction, good camerawork, good acting, and good story-telling.

Throughout the film I found myself teetering in an emotional state. When Eilis meets the young and charming Tony, a working class Italian American, who becomes infatuated with her, I worried how their different backgrounds would be handled. Their courtship is sweet and tender and I found myself cheering  for them as their slow romance builds. From different worlds, she is taught to eat pasta correctly to impress his traditional parents. He walks her home every night. Tony and Eilis have a sweetness and purity that is tough not to fall in love with as an onlooker.

On the other hand, when dramatic events unfold, the excellent acting makes Brooklyn a delight and quite emotionally powerful. One might find themselves a flood of tears by the end of the film. Thanks to Ronan, an impressive talent to me since my discovery of her work in 2007’s Atonement, she elicits in Eilis a strength and stoicism that is tested when she breaks down at one point in the film. Important to mention are the awe-inspiring performances by Fiona Glascott as Eilis’s sister Rose, and Jane Brennan as Eilis’s mother. Unknown actresses (to me), both give highly dramatic and dynamic performances in their respective roles.

Always wonderful to see are veteran character actors Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters as Father Flood and Madge, respectively.

What a visual treat Brooklyn is! As the title reveals, most of the action does take place in this New York City borough, and the influx of Irish and Italian immigrants during this period of history is apparent with the clothing and the cinematography. In Ireland, the lush green and the vast landscape makes this simply divine to view.

A story of bravery, romance, and kindness, Brooklyn is a wholesome and feel good film, yes, but, I was immersed in the story and the look of the film from the very first shot.

The Immigrant-2013

The Immigrant-2013

Director-James Gray

Starring-Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix

Scott’s Review #293

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Reviewed December 5, 2015

Grade: A-

The Immigrant is a lovely, classic, old-style Hollywood film set in early 1920’s New York City. The film is a classic tale of a poor Polish immigrant who travels to America in hopes of a better life, only to be met with hardship, manipulation, and conflict. However, The Immigrant is not a downer. Rather, a powerful and intriguing story of life and the clichéd pursuit of happiness with a compelling love story mixed in. Nominated for Best Actress for Two Days, One Night, eligible the same year as The Immigrant, this is a good example of the Academy getting it wrong as Marion Cotillard really should have been nominated for this performance instead of the former.  The actress was, however, recognized with an Independent Spirit award nomination for Best Actress for this role. A true talent, she gives a wonderful performance.

Little is known about Ewa’s (Cotillard) life before she arrives on Ellis island with her sister Magda in tow. We meet them as they disembark a ship and wait on line on the immigration line, weary from their escape from war torn Poland. Obviously, they have escaped their native country in hopes of a better life in the United States. Unfortunately, Magda is ill and cannot hide a cough and is sent to the infirmary most likely before being sent back to Poland. Ewa desperately needs money and is told that her Aunt and Uncle have not shown up to collect her as she had originally thought. Ewa is now on her own and desperate in a land where she knows not a soul.

As the plot unfolds, Ewa encounters two men who enter her life- Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) and Emil (Jeremy Renner)- brothers with a rivalry, both professionally and in regards to Ewa. They both fall in love with her- she is gorgeous and innocent after all. But can the men be trusted? Are their feelings true? We begin to get to know the men better and all may not be exactly as it seems or originally appeared to be.

The Immigrant perfectly captures the 1920’s era cinematically with gorgeous cinematography and camera work. Directed by James Gray, a director with a tendency to direct films set in New York City and feature a romantic element (Two Lovers comes to mind- also starring Joaquin Phoenix as a Jew pursuing a blonde girl). In The Immigrant, I felt like I was transported to the 1920’s with Bruno’s dark coat and bowler and the characters costumes in general. The Lower East Side, from the automobiles to the theaters, seems like that’s how it was back then- charming, artistic, and yet combustible too.

Marion Cotillard gives a soft yet tough performance as the long-suffering, heart of gold Ewa. The character’s yearning to keep her traditional catholic values while transported into a new and dangerous world filed with corruption and the need to survive is heartbreaking and Cotillard wears her heart on her sleeve. She is also tougher and more stubborn than we first think she is- she will not be taken advantage of and these aspects give the character complexity. I did not see her as a victim.

Let’s not forget the men in the film and while it borders on turning into a “woman’s movie” towards the climax, and Cotillard is certainly front and center, Phoenix and Renner are flawless. Phoenix, with the larger role, is extremely complex and it takes the audience until the final scene to entirely figure Bruno out.

I wish The Immigrant would have found a wider audience, but for fans of a traditional, classic, romantic Hollywood experience, this film is a treat. It will take you back to an earlier time in the world- in a completely authentic way.

A Little Chaos-2014

A Little Chaos-2014

Director-Alan Rickman

Starring-Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts

Scott’s Review #269

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Reviewed August 22, 2015

Grade: B-

A Little Chaos is a difficult film for me to review. The film does not kick into high gear, or much of a gear at all, until the final thirty minutes or so as the drama hits a crescendo and past events are suddenly explained. At this point it becomes a very entertaining film. Until then, it is largely a bore and slow paced. Starring Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman, who also directs the film, A Little Chaos is a good film with beautiful period piece costumes to marvel over, and looks and feels great, but misses the mark with a lack of balancing the momentum throughout the length of the film. It is also largely fictionalized, which makes viewing it a bit less enjoyable.

A period drama set at the gorgeous Versailles in France, the time period is the late 1600’s when King Louis XIV of France is in power and lives on the illustrious estate. Landscaper, Andre Le Notre, hires unconventional gardener Sabine (Winslet) to create one of the gardens. Sabine is progressive and does not live in the past. Rather, she has ideas of creating a unique pattern. Sabine is instructed to incorporate a wonderful fountain within the garden. She faces hostility from staff members for simply being a woman and they refuse to work for her. Others admire her creativity. As the plot unfolds, Sabine has romantic feelings for Andre, a man trapped in a loveless marriage with Francoise, and they begin a tender courtship. Sabine is haunted by past events and frequently hears a little girl’s cries in her dreams. The audience does not know what her past life was, only that she is widowed. The final act of the film brings everything together nicely. We learn Sabine’s past and her suggested dalliance with Andre comes to fruition. At the conclusion of the film I was left thinking how exceptional the film was, but then remembered the majority of it had dragged.

The theme of A Little Chaos are class systems, feminism, and societal views. At first snubbed by some for being a commoner, Sabine slowly is accepted by the royal figures, including the King himself, who Sabrine humorously mistakes for the gardener at one point. Ideally, it would have been lovely if a woman had actually been hired at the time to create the garden. Sadly, events did not happen this way, but rather, it is someone’s fantasy.

A Little Chaos has great potential and looks beautiful- my main complaint is for most of the film nothing much really happens. Also disappointing is that the film was not filmed at the historical Versailles, nor was it even shot in France. Every exterior scene was filmed in England. This is not a deal breaker, but some genuineness would have been nice. Another major detraction is that Sabine De Barra is not even a real life figure, but rather is fictionalized- sort of how the past should have been, but wasn’t really. Having been a real person would have made the film more interesting. What is the investment?

From an acting standpoint the film succeeds. Winslet, clearly a highly talented actress, is well cast and the chemistry between she and Matthias Schoenaerts is palpable. Both actors are believable in their roles. Stanley Tucci, typically great in whatever he appears in, plays Phillippe, a silly, slightly effeminate Duke that does more to annoy than to amuse and is a trivial character.

Throughout my viewing of the film I kept thinking of it as the type of film that ought be liked because it looks great, but something was definitely missing. The royal drama, sexual dalliances, and antics were fun, but I felt like the film could have been much more than it ended up being.