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:

 


THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY (2016)

April 30, 2016

USA Film Festival 2016

man who knew infinity Greetings again from the darkness. When one imagines the most exciting topics for movies, mathematics tends to fall pretty far down the list. Heck, most students only take math classes because they have no choice, so why should anyone be interested in the story of a young Indian man who revolutionized the mathematics world at Trinity College in Cambridge in the early 20th century?  The reason is that Srinivasa Ramanujan’s personal story is about more than numbers … it’s about faith and passion and overcoming life’s obstacles.

The story also has an intriguing by-product of demonstrating the difference between intelligence and genius. Trinity College at Cambridge was staffed by some of the smartest, best-educated professors on the planet when this self-taught odd young man appeared with ideas and notebooks filled with equations and concepts that most couldn’t even fathom, much less accept.

Dev Patel plays Ramanujan, the spirited man from Madras India who accepted his remarkable talent as a gift from God. His initially difficult relationship with Trinity Professor GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons) was a clash of two men whose passion for math far eclipsed their comfort in the real world. Hardy was a bit of an outcast at the university, while Ramanujan struggled to provide for his new wife, and had little patience for those who doubted his work.

Writer/director Matt Brown doesn’t seem to believe that the relationship between these two gentlemen is strong enough to hold a mainstream audience, so he commits what comes across as an excessive amount of time to the long-distance battles of the wife and mother of this genius. On the math side, Mr. Brown doesn’t allow us to get lost in minutiae of math equations, but also misses the mark on just how groundbreaking and extraordinary Ramanujan’s work was. There is little doubt that the story of genius, when combined with the abrasive mentorship, racism, elitism and health challenges provides more than enough material to keep us glued to the screen. The rest is merely distracting.

Strong support work is provided by Toby Jones (as Littlewood), Stephen Fry, and Jeremy Northam (as Bertrand Russell), but it’s Patel and Irons who carry the weight here. It’s especially rewarding to see Irons as a co-lead again. There have been other popular math movies like A Beautiful Mind, Good Will Hunting, and Proof, but it’s The Theory of Everything that seems to have the most in common with the story of Ramanujan and Hardy. So give it a shot … and remember to show your work!

watch the trailer:

 


THAT SUGAR FILM (2015, doc)

July 29, 2015

that sugar film Greetings again from the darkness. Ever since Morgan Spurlock provided us with a gut check on the evils of McDonalds with his 2004 documentary Super Size Me, movie goers have shown a real appetite for information on food and nutrition. We have since had informative and entertaining documentaries on wheat, corn, fat, organics and gardening. This latest sweet film comes from Australian director Damon Gameau. He takes the Spurlock approach and personally becomes a lab rat to expose the effects of too much sugar. His mission is 60 days of eating “typical” sugar intake through what would ordinarily be considered “healthy” foods. In other words: no ice cream, candy or soda.

Mr. Gameau introduces himself as a healthy guy who exercises regularly and eats a diet of mostly fruits and vegetables. His girlfriend is 6 months pregnant as he begins this 60 day experiment into the world of sugar. There is a quick history lesson on how sugar became a food staple, and fellow Australian Hugh Jackman explains the pivotal event that occurred in 1955 – a Dwight Eisenhauer heart attack. This spurred debate between US doctors who blamed it on high fat, while the British doctors attributed it to an excess of sugar. The low-fat revolution began, and was actually responsible for the increased amount of sugar in our processed foods. We learn that a full 80% of the standard products on grocery store shelves contain added sugar.

A panel of medical experts provides the necessary tests upfront that set the baseline for blood work, enzyme levels, liver function, weight, etc. The comparison 60 days later is frightening, but it’s Gameau’s daily journey that provides the real insight and biggest eye-openers. He doesn’t spend much time focusing on any particular brands, though Pepsi (Mountain Dew), Coca-Cola and Jamba Juice each takes some serious jabs. Instead we witness his mood swings and lack of motivation for exercise.

British actor Stephen Fry explains the Glucose/Fructose make-up of Sucrose and we are given an overview of how our bodies process this – including a briefing on the role of insulin. As the days go on, we witness Gameau’s weight gain and he explains his lethargy and most surprisingly, his mental inconsistencies. He has bouts of cloudiness in a mind that was once clear. It’s this and the dramatic change in his liver that delivers the real scare.

It seems clear that all calories are not created equally (a calorie from an apple is not processed the same as a calorie from a Snickers), and that food companies have put much effort into hiding, or at least disguising, the amount of sugars added to the massive amount of processed food consumed each year by the average person. Perhaps Diabetes and Obesity and tooth decay are not thought to be immediate enough threats to cause a shift away from the convenience of processed food. Mr. Gameau shows just how dramatic and severe the changes can be in only 60 days. So imagine 5 years. 25 years. Just how much warning do we need?

watch the trailer:

 


SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS

December 17, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Normally if a sequel shows up a mere two years after the original, we would have good reason for low expectations (ie, The Hangover). However, director Guy Ritchie is back and just as importantly, Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law reprise their roles as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Adding a few twists to the successful template provided by the original, the team delivers one that is sure to keep fans happy.

The reason so many Sir Arthur Conan Doyle loyalists dismissed the first film is that the frenetic pace and towering action sequences seem to go against what made the original stories so great. So what does Mr. Ritchie do? He goes BIGGER and FASTER! There are three extended action sequences that are mind-boggling to watch. They work because the plot is so elementary, my dear. Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) is out to cause a war from which he can personally profit. His plan involves guns, bombs and assassinations. Only our heroes can possibly stop him.

 Much of the odd-ball bromance from the first movie has been toned down here, and we get not only the return of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) and Watson’s new wife (Kelly Reilly), but also the introduction of a third female character – a gypsy fortune teller, Madame Simza (the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace). Of course, McAdams character doesn’t last long, Reilly gets tossed from a moving train, and Rapace is given a few lines and a couple of sprinting scenes. There may be more women, but this is still a man’s world.

 The vision for this franchise is an updated version that encourages discovery of Holmes by a new generation. And while Downey is excellent, it’s difficult not to notice the similarities to Captain Jack Sparrow. Also, Professor Moriarty is very much a Bond-type villain. None of that matters too much as the rapid-fire dialogue between Holmes and Watson, and the crackling chemistry between Downey and Law, make this a fun time at a huge holiday movie. An added plus this time is a brilliantly written and executed chess match between Moriarty and Holmes. That scene fed my need for the more brainiac Holmes that I so adore.

It seems odd that the release date for this one is so close to that of the new Mission:Impossible, but they both deliver what the fans want and hopefully find their audience. Even if you aren’t a fan, the fabulous sets and various world filming locations will keep you interested, even as you dodge giant explosions.

note: this is the first English-speaking role for Noomi Rapace

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: while watching the first one, you thought to yourself “too bad there aren’t more explosions and fight scenes” OR you enjoy the test-pilot speed at which Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr so excel

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer the traditional, methodical pace of the Doyle books OR watching a wife get thrown out of a moving train might motivate you to action

watch the trailer: