LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (2016)

May 23, 2016

love & friendship Greetings again from the darkness. Jane Austen ROCKS! Sure, that might be a slightly exaggerated description of the writer who passed away almost two hundred years ago, and is known for such subtle and nuanced work as “Sense and Sensibility” and “Emma”. But it’s difficult to argue the fact that Ms. Austen’s 2016 is off to an impressive start. First came Burr Steers’ highly creative and entertaining Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and now Whit Stillman delivers a cracking version of her (apparently) unfinished novella “Lady Susan”.

Thanks to the standout performance from Kate Beckinsale, and the manner in which words from Austen and Stillman go zipping by (sometimes honestly, sometimes not), this is one fun and briskly-paced romp … more descriptions not typically associated with the prim Ms. Austen. Ms. Beckinsale as Lady Susan Vernon flashes spunk and comedic timing that we have not previously seen from her. She fits marvelously in the dress of the late 1700’s, while packing a diabolical and manipulative nature more often displayed in contemporary settings.

The supporting cast seems to be having a marvelous time. Chloe Sevigny is Alicia, Lady Susan’s confidant and gossip buddy … and one whose husband (Stephen Fry) continually threatens to ship back to Connecticut (as if it were the coal mines or outback). Emma Greenwell is Catherine DeCourcy Vernon, adversary and sister-in-law to Lady Susan, and Mofryd Clark plays Frederica, Susan’s somewhat mousy and inconvenient daughter.

Though the women are standouts here, the men hold their own. Xavier Samuel is Reginald DeCourcy, the somewhat naïve and susceptible-to-advances-from-Susan young man, and Tom Bennett manages to steal most every scene as the quite silly and funny (and wealthy) Sir James Martin. Adding their own special touches are James Fleet and Jemma Redgrave as Sir Reginald DeCourcy and Lady DeCourcy, respectively; and Jenn Murray as Lord Manwaring … one of three suitors to Lady Susan.

This spoof/parody will strike a chord for anyone accustomed to the uptight nature of most period pieces, as well as the importance of status, decorum and the corresponding insecurities (a weakness the cunning Lady Susan will most certainly seize upon). Mr. Stillman (Damsels in Distress, The Last Days of Disco) is an immensely talented writer, and certainly a welcome complement Ms. Austen’s posthumously published work.  It’s a deliciously funny and intricate story that features such quips of gold as “Facts are horrible things.” Welcome to the zany verbal barrages of Lady Susan, Whit Stillman and Jane Austen. Yep … zany and Jane Austen in the same sentence.  I told you she ROCKS!

watch the trailer:

 

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PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (2016)

February 4, 2016

PPZ Greetings again from the darkness. For those high school Literature teachers struggling to get their students to embrace the classics from writers like Jane Austen, this movie won’t help much. However, chances are good that those same students will enjoy this blending of 19th century British class warfare with “The Walking Dead” – likely one of their favorite shows.  The zombie apocalypse has landed in the middle of Austen’s prim and proper story, including the repressed attraction between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy.

Anyone expecting the serious undertones of Ms. Austen’s1813 novel will be disappointed … but the title should have provided a pretty solid hint. While her characters and general story line act as a structure here, it’s really based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s YA hit novel … delivering zombie battles and often zany humor. Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) directs his own adapted screenplay and seems to really be having a great time – right along with his talented cast. The sets, costumes, dialogue and fight scenes work together to create an unusual movie experience that will generate plenty of laughs while not dwelling on the zombies or violence (it is PG-13). Expect most critics to destroy this one because it’s made simply for fun, not for art.

Of course, any Pride and Prejudice spin-off (even one with zombies) must pay particular attention to Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. It turns out that Elizabeth and her four sisters are highly trained warriors raised to survive against the undead. It’s even clearer for Mr. Darcy as he is billed as a zombie hunter and protector of Mr. Bingley, the rich bachelor hooked on Jane Bennett. Things get muddled by the devious Mr. Wickham, a focused Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and especially the flamboyant fop Parson Collins. The interactions between these characters bounce between loyalty, romantic attraction, emotional turmoil and hand-to-hand combat … with enough comedic elements that most viewers will find plenty of opportunities to laugh.

The talented cast is all in. They play it mostly straight (with one major exception) to achieve the balance between somber and silly. Lily James (“Downton Abbey”) and Sam Riley (On the Road, 2012) are both fun to watch as Elizabeth and Darcy. They are the film’s best fighters … both with swords and words. Bella Heathcoate (Dark Shadows, 2012) is “the pretty one” Jane, who is wooed by Douglas Booth (Noah, 2014) as Mr. Bingley. Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”) makes an impression in her limited screen time as an eye-patched Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Jack Huston (“Boardwalk Empire”) is well cast as Wickham. Screen veterans Charles Dance and Sally Phillips take on the role of parents to the five Bennett daughters, but it’s Matt Smith (“Dr Who”), who turns the film on its ear with his unconventional twist on the oddball Parson Collins, who pretty much steals each of his scenes. He had those in the theatre laughing out loud more than a few times.

Pity is the word that comes to mind for any young man who takes these Bennett girls to the prom … or more likely to one of the societal balls. The weapons hidden under their formal gowns offer fair warning to zombies and handsy suitors alike. It’s this element of strong women (physically and emotionally) that might even allow Ms. Austen to appreciate what’s happened to her characters … were she alive to see it.

Even though the film offers plenty of fun with laughs and action and romance, let’s hope it doesn’t kick off a new zombie-adaptation trend. Here are a few titles that we hope never see the big screen: Sense and Sensibilities and Zombies, War and Peace and Zombies, Crime and Punishment and Zombies, The Old Zombie and the Sea, Wuthering Zombies, Romeo and Juliet and Zombies, and Alice’s Adventure in Zombieland.

watch the trailer: