Category Archives: 1996 Movie reviews

Beautiful Thing-1996

Beautiful Thing-1996

Director-Hettie MacDonald

Starring-Glen Berry, Scott Neal

Reviewed August 20, 2017

Grade: B

Based on the play of the same name, Beautiful Thing is a heartwarming 1996 British LGBT film written by Jonathan Harvey and directed by Hettie MacDonald. Incorporating music from the Mamas and the Papas, and specifically Mama Cass, the film undoubtedly was groundbreaking upon release in the 1990’s due to its taboo (at that time) gay romance, but in the year 2017, this film suffers a bit from both a dated feeling and a play it safe vibe.

The action, just like a play would be, takes place almost entirely within a working class London apartment building-present times. The lead character is Jamie (Glen Berry), a high school student, intrigued by his male classmate and neighbor, Ste (Scott Neal). He also must keep an eye on his flighty mother, Sandra, who changes boyfriends like the weather, and aspires to open her own pub- she is currently dating neighbor and understanding hippie, Tony.

Ste is the other central character. Shyer than Jamie, he has a difficult upbringing, living next door to Jamie with an abusive father and brother. Ste and Jamie eventually bond and a secret love story begins as the young men conceal their relationship from everyone else. In the mix is a vivacious black teenage neighbor girl, Leah, who is obsessed with Mama Cass records, which her grandmother owns and frequently plays. Leah and Sandra are engaged in a lightweight feud, in large part because Sandra believes Leah is a bad influence on Jamie.

Keeping in close mind when Beautiful Thing (1996) was made, the film deserves an enormous amount of praise for, at the time, simply existing during a time when LGBT films were hardly the norm. Watching in 2017, though, the film loses a bit when compared with subsequent LGBT releases that broke more barriers with their mainstream viewership and much darker themes (LGBT masterpieces like 2006’s Brokeback Mountain and 2016’s Moonlight immediately come to mind).

Beautiful Thing also contains a safer, lightweight touch than the aforementioned films, making it now seem too much like fluff. Director, MacDonald, mixes in humor so that while the message of a same sex relationship is important, it is softened a bit by the comedy. Specifically, the sidekick character of Leah, lightens the message. In fact, the supporting characters may get a bit too much screen time. Sandra’s giggle-worthy job interview attempting to do “respectable work” in an office environment, or her man-hungry escapades, take away from the main story.

I also never felt any real threats or danger to the same sex relationship. Sure, there is some brief disapproval, and a quick mention of Jamie not liking football (a negative gay stereotype that is unnecessary) combined with Ste’s abuse at the hands of his family, but even that is not perceived as a major obstacle to their, at that time anyway, shocking relationship.

On the other hand, the chemistry between the two leads (Berry and Neal) is wonderful and the best aspect of the film. Both actors convey the characters emotions perfectly- both coming into their own individual sexuality, Berry’s Jamie is the more confident one, asking Neal’s Ste, in a sweet scene, whether he has ever been kissed. This leads to a sleep-over scene that is innocent and tender rather than steamy or sexual. I completely buy the characters as young lovers, coming to terms with their own identities while supporting the others needs, becoming a good team.

The final scene, naturally accompanied by a Cass Elliot song “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”, is a touching, wonderful scene. Jamie and Ste dance together in broad daylight, for their entire complex to see, and subsequently are circled by both supporters and the curious. As their own show of support Sandra and Leah join the boys and end their dispute. It is a heartwarming conclusion to a fine, yet lightweight by modern standards, LGBT romantic film.

Fargo-1996

Fargo-1996

Director-Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Starring-Frances McDormand, William H. Macy

Top 100 Films-#79

493387

Reviewed January 12, 2017

Grade: A

Fargo, the film, is a treasure as far as I am concerned and the role that deservedly propelled Frances McDormand to the forefront of film audience’s minds- not to mention a gold statue for Best Actress. The film epitomizes dark humor, zany freshness, during a time in film when originality was emerging, and independent films were growing in popularity. Fargo led the pack.

The film suffers from some derision by locals in and around the upper mid-west for its depiction of accents- perhaps overdone, but hysterical all the same. Mixed with the snowy and icy locales, the film perfectly presents a harsh and small-town feeling. The introduction of a crime- initially done in an innocent manner, escalates out of control. Fargo is part caper, part thriller, and part adventure and is a layered, cool film. The fact that the time period is 1987 is great. The cars, the Oldsmobile dealership, all work in a fantastic way.

McDormand plays a local Police Chief- Marge Gunderson, very pregnant, who stumbles upon the crime and slowly unravels the mystery. All the while, the character keeps her cool, cracks jokes, and emits witty one-liner after another, presenting a slightly dim-witted image, but really brilliantly deducing the aspects of the crime.

William H. Macy, in 1996 largely unknown, is perfectly cast as car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard. Nervous, shaky, yet with a down home respectability, he hatches a plot to have his wife kidnapped, the ransom to be paid by her wealthy father, enabling Jerry to pay off an enormous embezzling debt, and splitting the money with the kidnappers. Predictably, things go awry and spiral out of control.

I love how this film crosses genres and is tough to label- is it a crime drama, a thriller, a comedy? A bit of each which is the brilliance of it. Fargo is an odd, little piece of art, and remembered as one of the best films of the 1990’s, making a star out of Frances McDormand.

Big Night-1996

Big Night-1996

Director-Stanley Tucci, Campbell Scott

Starring-Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub

305300

Reviewed December 16, 2015

Grade: B+

Big Night is a sweet, whimsical little film that is a food lovers dream come true as that is the focal point of the story with more than one dish actually being prepared on-screen giving it a realism. It centers on the restaurant business and, specifically, how two brothers struggle to keep their failing restaurant afloat through the love and passion of food.

The story tells of two Italian immigrant brothers, Primo and Secondo, played by Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci, respectively. The time period is the 1950’s and they reside in blue-collar New Jersey. Times are tough for them as they try to succeed in the difficult restaurant business- they specialize in Italian food of course. Secondo is a playboy of sorts- suave and handsome, he  dates Phyllis (Minnie Driver) while galavanting with a sophisticated older woman named Gabriela, the wife of a competitor. Primo, on the other hand, is quiet, serious, yet an all-star chef. The food he prepares is wonderful and his talent is evident. But how can they market themselves to be successful? At this point their restaurant is dying and they risk being reduced to returning to Italy, or eek out a meager existence working for someone else. An idea is announced  to have celebrity singer (Louis Prima) perform  for a one-night extravaganza at their restaurant, where they will make the meal of their lives and impress the town, thus achieving success.

The film is charming and my favorite parts are on the “big night”. As the duo prepare the liquor order and shop for flowers and other decorations in preparation, the mood and spirit left me with a warm feeling. What a sense of togetherness Primo and Secondo, along with friends, felt to achieve this challenging goal. Inevitably, there is tension between the brothers, and between Secondo and Phyllis, but truthfully, these are merely sub-plots, and the heart of the film is in the food.

The scenes that take place in the kitchen left my mouth watering. As Secondo prepares a baked pasta dish (Timpano), the meal oozes with love and tastiness.  The entire story arc is grand and magnificent. The group of diners revel in the dining room of the restaurant enjoying spirits and dancing the night away. By morning everyone is full and drunk, both with love and alcohol, but most are happy. They get merry as they eat the night away. I could almost taste the main course!

A sub-plot that really works for me is the burgeoning romance between reserved Primo and equally reserved flower shop owner, Ann. Both very timid, they finally muster the courage to admit their feelings for each other while enjoying (what else?) wine and food- what better way to begin a romance? The tenderness and chemistry between these two is very innocent and captivated me while watching the film.

The final scene of the brothers making an omelette is also wonderful and a fitting way to stress togetherness and perseverance, which is what the small film is really about. For lovers of food Big Night is definitely a shining moment.