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A Room with a View (2007)
Completely Unnecessary Ending Ruined It
I'd like to say how much I enjoyed this ITV remake. I'd like to, and I had been prepared to until the final five minutes of the film, but I can't.
In the interest of full disclosure, I've always been a huge fan of the 1985 Merchant Ivory adaptation, so I was prepared not to like this. I was pleasantly surprised as the story unwound. To its credit, this version makes much more of the class difference between George and Lucy which wasn't as obvious in the other one, with the aristocratic-looking Helena Bonham Carter and Julian Sands in the leads.
In retrospect, HBC and Sands both come off as too remote and stiff -- unfortunate in a film that is supposed to be about a young woman's sexual awakening and young man who feels truly alive. Rafe Spall and Elaine Cassidy suit the parts admirably, giving their characters a warm sexiness that their predecessors never could.
SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER -- My HUGE problem with this adaptation is the completely unnecessary ending tacked on in a rare misstep by Andrew Davies, which takes place 10 years after the events we have just seen. Lucy has returned for a bittersweet visit to Florence, where we learn that her beloved husband George was killed in WWI. She takes a nostalgic trip to the meadow where she and George first kissed, and the film ends with the completely bizarre suggestion that she will end up with the carriage driver Paolo who led her to George on that fateful day! I don't have a problem, in general, with adapters taking liberties with their source material, but this ending feels utterly ridiculous. If Davies wanted to suggest the looming war or play up more of the class struggle, surely there were other ways to do it. The film up to that point had been about truly being alive. Showing us that George has died undoes the joy that has preceded and feels like nothing so much as superfluous, self-indulgent twaddle.
Disappointing, Mr. Davies.
Is it Christie? Who Cares!?
Let's get one thing straight: I couldn't possibly care less that these ITV mysteries don't bear any resemblance to the Christie novel. I've never read more than a couple of chapters of an Agatha Christie mystery, and I never intend to. I don't read *any* mysteries, for that matter, and so the reviewers' constant harping that these adaptations aren't true to the writer's "vision" carries little weight.
What I *do* enjoy are these English murder mysteries adapted for the stage and screen, and I think these ITV mysteries are good fun. Geraldine McEwen is a delight. I have never liked previous interpretations of Miss Marple, where she has come off as nothing but a dried-up, prunish, humourless busybody, but McEwen plays her with an amused twinkle in her eye.
That could characterize the entire production. They're witty and tongue-in-cheek, complete with bad "special effects" and cheesy music and title credits. The actors appear to be having the time of their lives, and it makes for a fun and fizzy mystery. There are worse ways to spend two hours on a Sunday night.
Faithful Shmaithful. Who cares? If you want Christie, read the book. If you want a fun evening, you could do far worse than these Marple mysteries.
Love's Labour's Lost (2000)
Not One of His Best Efforts
Sure, I had fun. I had fun at my four year old's dance recital, too. That doesn't mean it could be compared favorably to the Bolshoi. When a movie is adapted and directed by someone of Kenneth Branagh's talent and training, we deserve more than some musically unskilled actors trying desperately to stay on key while attempting to negotiate the choreographed dance steps. Surely Branagh could have found a group of actors who were more skilled dancers and singers. Branagh's voice is pleasant and Adrian Lester has a rousing dance solo, but I've seen better community theatre musical productions.
It is not as if the cast's comic flair or dramatic abilities can compensate for their clumsy dancing and bland warbling. Natascha McElhone is unremarkable as Rosaline and made me miss Emma Thompson's chemistry with her ex-husband. Matthew Lillard's performance was so bizarre, his every appearance evoked titters from the audience. All performances were generally unmemorable and one-dimensional. Nathan Lane is his usual self. Take from that what you will.
It's not as if Branagh has given his cast much to work with. He has chopped most of the text, including the famous "Muscovite" scene, and the narrative suffers from it. He has replaced the text with the admittedly wonderful songs of Gershwin and Porter and others. Despite their amateurish execution, they are always enjoyable. The movie is lovely to look at, too, with costumes and sets evoking pre-WWII Europe.
The movie ends with a Branagh-created coda, depicting the characters' wartime plights and the requisite happy ending. These are movie's most touching scenes, revealing the cartoonish characters' human sides that Branagh had not before allowed.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
The Emperor isn't wearing any clothes. And his name is Terrence Malick.
This is a three hour movie that seems as if two more movies have been edited out of it. The result is a mishmash of a film with big name stars wandering in and out (mostly out) of the meandering narrative, while new faces contribute artsy-fartsy philsophical voice-overs of which their characters hardly seem capable. There is much to like, especially visually, but some stunning cinematography and beautiful nature shots strung together do not a film make.
Sean Penn gives a dignified performance as a war-weary sarge, and Nick Nolte is impressive as a gruff colonel. Other than that, the big name performances seem oddly truncated (George Clooney literally has about 30 seconds screen time.) And the newcomers, all with dark hair, dirty faces, and twangy accents, are undistinguishable.
Malick's films never seem to be about what they're really *about.* _Days of Heaven_, for example, seems to be less about a tragic love triangle than the loss of innocence and the destruction of an idyllic world. Great, but the depiction of the brutality and insanity of war is strong enough without beating us over the head with symbolism.
There are some beautiful visuals in the film that are pure poetry: heavenly light filters in through the lush jungle canopy onto a dying soldier, a brilliant, blue butterfly flits across the battlefield carnage. They are stunning moments, to be sure, but how many of these juxtapositions do we really need to see? Yeah, we get it, Terrence.
I found myself far more involved with the less "brilliant" _Saving Private Ryan_. Malick's film is often more stunning and poetic than Spielberg's, but for a film about war to be uninvolving is unforgivable.
Photographing Fairies (1997)
Lovely and haunting
What a shame that this movie came out around the same time as the *other* fairy movie. This is decidedly NOT for children. It's a lovely, dreamy, haunting, and sometimes erotic story about love and loss. The performances are fine, and the cinematography is often stunning. A high concept action flick, it isn't. It's often slow with lingering, seemingly meaningless static shots. And don't go in expecting anything cute or cuddly. Even the requisite children are a bit off-putting. But it's well worth sitting through, especially for the last few minutes of the movies, which had me in tears.
The Negotiator (1998)
Samuel L. Jackson + Kevin Spacey + Paul Giamatti + intelligent script = fun, enjoyable movie. You cannot go wrong with that equation.
Return to Paradise (1998)
My favorite movie of 1998
I've seen a lot of movies this year, both in the theatre and on video, and nothing affected me the way "Return to Paradise" did. To me, it was just as wrenching as "Saving Private Ryan" in spite of the fact, or perhaps *because* of the fact that it's on a smaller human scale. It also has interesting ethical issues that you'll be pondering for days. It's wrenching, unsentimental, and honest, and the prison scenes are almost unwatchable for their brutality. There's not a lot of the usual Hollywood whitewash here other than a not too annoying love story. Good performances all around. Loved it loved it loved it.
The Land Girls (1998)
worth a rent if the video store shelves are bare
We've seen this kind of story countless times in BBC imports or Danielle Steel novels. There's nothing new about the plot or the characters: saucy working class girl, sensible"head girl" type, and sensitive British lass with eyes for the equally sensitive farmhand. The plot isn't executed in a novel fashion, either, and we can see the rather abrupt ending coming miles away. Still, the leads are quite attractive, with Anna Friel, Catherine McCormack, and Rachel Weisz as the three main land girls of the title and Stephen Mackintosh as the sensitive Dorset lad. Enough so to make it worth a rent on a weekend when all the new releases are checked out!
The Locusts (1997)
Vince Vaughn is a Star
A cliche-ridden movie with a lusty widow and a mysterious drifter. And oh yeah, they have secrets. And we know it takes place in the quasi-South since everyone drinks iced tea out of Mason jars. Despite the cliches and sloppy film-making, it's completely enjoyable. Cheesy, corny, fun, sexy and often touching thanks to lovely performances by Vince Vaughn and Jeremy Davies. And someone PLEASE remake Streetcar Named Desire quickly. Vince Vaughn is a star in the making, and he and Ashley Judd sizzle. Stanley and Stella, anyone?
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Not as good as I had heard
I guess I had been prepared to adore this movie from the reviews, but I didn't. Make no mistake, it's a real treat for the eyes with sumptuous costumes and art direction. The cast is uniformly terrific--and extra kudos to Ben Affleck, who plays a self-important 16th c. "matinee idol" complete with flawless English accent. That Affleck is able to more than hold his own with present and future knights and dames (Geoffrey Rush, Judi Dench, Anthony Sher) is admirable. The lovers played by the pretty but petulant Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow are attractive and convincing enough, and their love story is surprisingly moving. I just felt that the jokes were often a little broad for the delicate little story of love and inspiration, especially a hokey scene with Fiennes and his "therapist" played by Sher. Still, it's an enjoyable romp with the most gorgeously written dialogue of the year--a nice change from the abyssmal treacle of You've Got Mail.