Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Four Weddings and a Funeral (dir by Mike Newell)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1994 best picture nominee, Four Weddings and a Funeral!)

(SPOILERS)

Four Weddings and a Funeral is truly an oddity.  It’s a romantic comedy that works wonderfully well, despite the fact that there’s next to no chemistry between the two leads.

Hugh Grant plays Charles, a neurotic bachelor who lives in London and who, despite having been in several relationships, has yet to marry.  As he’s explains it, he’s spent his life expecting love to hit him like a thunderbolt and it hasn’t happened yet.  Andie MacDowell plays Carrie, an American who has one of those vaguely defined magazine jobs that are so popular in romantic comedies.  Carrie and Charles meet over the course of … well, four weddings and a funeral.  From the minute they first meet, they are attracted to one another but the path of true love is never an easy one.  After spending the night with him, Carrie leaves for America.  When Charles meet her for a second time, she’s now engaged to Sir Hamish Banks (Corin Redgrave), a rather boring politician.

Hugh Grant is perfectly cast as Charles.  It can be easy to make fun of an actor like Grant, what with all the stammering and the carefully calculated charm.  But it works perfectly in Four Weddings and a Funeral, in which Grant manages to believable as both a hopeless romantic and a committed cynic.  Within moments of his first scene (in which Charles wakes up and realizes he’s late for a friend’s wedding), you forget that you’re watching Hugh Grant.  He is Charles.

On the other hand, Andie MacDowell never convinces us that she’s Carrie.  That’s not totally MacDowell’s fault, of course.  Carrie is an underwritten character, one who serves more as a plot device than anything else.  We’re never quite sure how she feels about Charles.  For that matter, we never understand why she’s marrying Hamish.  When she shows up at the film’s funeral, we’re left wondering if she’s really mourning or if she’s just showing up to be polite.  Carrie never comes to life and MacDowell never feels comfortable in the role.  When she gives a warmly received speech at her own wedding reception, the scene feels false because you never feel as if the words are coming from Carrie.

The film ends with Charles and Carrie finally getting together.  Charles both swears his love for her and asks if she’ll agree to never marry him.  We later see them in a snapshot, with a child.  But, despite all of that, you never believe that Charles and Carrie are going to stay together.  There’s just not enough chemistry between Grant and MacDowell to convince you that Carrie isn’t going to get bored and run off with whoever it is she meets at the next wedding she attends.

So, why does this film work so well?  It works because it’s a love story.  However, it’s not about the love between Charles and Carrie.  Not really.  Instead, it’s about the love between Charles and his friends.  Because of the way the film is structured, we only get to see how these people behave at weddings and a funeral.  We never really get to see what these people do for a living or what they’re like during the week.  In fact, we don’t even find out how they all became friends in the first place.

But it doesn’t matter.  The friendships feels real.  The friendships feels authentic.  You might not know how they all became friends but that doesn’t matter.  By the end of the movie, you feel as if you could go to London and possibly run into any of these people going about their daily lives.  They become real in a way that Carrie never does.

There’s Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman), who is Charles’s roommate and who gets flirty when she has too much to drink.

And then there’s David (David Bower), who is Charles’s younger brother.  Both the actor and the character are deaf.  One of the sweetest scenes in the film is when a woman who has been crushing on David attempts to show off her sign language skills.  Everything she signs is wrong but David’s sweet smile tells us all we need to know about how he feels towards her.

Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Tom (James Fleet) are siblings.  Fiona, who dresses in black, presents a hard exterior but, in one of the film’s more poignant scenes, she admits that the reason she’s never gotten married is because she’s been in love with Charles for ten years.  Tom is a goofy optimist, the type who never doubts that he’s going to find happiness no matter what.

Gareth (Simon Callow) and Matthew (John Hannah) are as close to being married as anyone within Charles’s clique of friends.  (Four Weddings and a Funeral was released twenty years before the legalization of same-sex marriage in the UK.  If someone views the film 50 years from now, they’ll probably wonder why, exactly, Matthew is always described, by those outside of his central group of friends, as merely being a “close friend” of Garth’s.)  Sadly, the funeral of the title is for the fun-loving Gareth.

It’s during the funeral, when Matthew reads a poem from Auden, that it becomes apparent that the heart of this film belongs not to Charles and Carrie but to their friends.  Ultimately, Four Weddings and a Funeral is a celebration of the bonds of friendship.  At the end of the movie, you’re happy, not because Charles and Carrie are finally together but because this unique and wonderful group of friends have all found each other.  Everyone should be so lucky.

Four Weddings and a Funeral was nominated for best picture but lost to Forrest Gump.

Playing Catch-Up With Four Biopics From 2017: All Eyez On Me, Maudie, A Quiet Passion, and Victoria and Abdul


Continuing with my efforts to get caught up on the major films that I saw in 2017, here are my reviews of four biopics!  Two of them are very good.  One of them is so-so.  And the other one … well, let’s just get to it…

All Eyez on Me (dir by Benny Boon)

All Eyez On Me is a movie that I think a lot of people had high hopes for.  It was a biopic about Tupac Shakur, who died over 20 years ago but remains one of the most influential artists of all time.  Starring Demetrius Shipp, Jr. (who, if nothing else, bore a strong physical resemblance to Tupac), All Eyez on Me followed Shakur from his youth as the son of activist Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira), through his early stardom, his political awakening, his time in prison, his eventual association with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana), and his still unsolved murder in Las Vegas.  Along the way all of the expected people pop up.  Kat Graham plays Jada Pinkett and tells Tupac that he’s wasting his talent.  Someone who looks nothing like Dr. Dre is introduced as being Dr. Dre.  Another actor wanders through a scene and says his name is Snoop Dogg.  The film last 2 hours and 20 minutes, with some scenes feeling oddly rushed while other drag on interminably.

The main reason why All Eyez On Me fails is that, unlike Straight Outta Compton, All Eyez on Me never figures out how translate Tupac’s legacy into cinematic form.  For instance, when I watched Straight Outta Compton, I probably knew less about NWA than I knew about Tupac Shakur when I watched All Eyez On Me.  But then there was that scene where NWA performed “Fuck That Police” while surrounded by the police and, at that moment, I understood why NWA deserved their own movie.  There’s no comparable scene in All Eyez On Me, which gets so bogged down in going through the usual biopic motions that it never really comes to grips with why Tupac is such an iconic figure.  Combine that with some less than stellar performances and some amazingly awkward dialogue and the end result is a film that is massively disappointing.

Maudie (dir by Aisling Walsh)

Maudie tells the story of Maud Lewis, a Canadian woman who found fame as a painter despite suffering from crippling arthritis.  Working and living in a one-room house with her husband, a fisherman named Everett (Ethan Hawke), Maud Lewis’s paintings of flowers and birds eventually became so popular that one was even purchased by then-Vice President Richard Nixon.

Maudie is a very special movie, largely because of the incredibly moving performance of Sally Hawkins in the role of Maud.  As played by Hawkins, Maud may occasionally be meek but she never surrenders her dream to create something beautiful out the often harsh circumstances of her life.  Hawkins not only captures Maud’s physical struggles but she also captures (and makes compelling) the inner strength of this remarkable artist.  Ethan Hawke also gives a remarkable performance as the gruff Everett.  When you Everett first appears, you hate him.  But, as the film progresses, Hawke starts to show hints of a sensitive soul that’d hiding underneath all of his gruffnes.  In the end, Everett is as saved by Maud’s art as is Maud.

Directed by Aisling Walsh, this is a low-key but all together remarkable and touching film.  If Sally Hawkins wasn’t already certain to get an Oscar nomination for Shape of the Water, she would definitely deserve one for Maudie.

A Quiet Passion (dir by Terrence Davies)

You would be totally justified in assuming that this film, a biopic of poet Emily Dickinson, would have absolutely nothing in common with The Last Jedi.  However, believe it or not, they actually do have something very much in common.  They are both films that, on Rotten Tomatoes, scored high with critics and not so high with audiences.  When last I checked, it had a 93% critical score and a 51% audience score.

Well, you know what?  Who cares?  The idea that you can judge a film’s worth based on an arbitrary number is pure evil, anyway.

Personally, I’m not surprised to hear that audiences struggled with A Quiet Passion.  It’s a very challenging film, one that is more concerned with mood than with traditional narrative.  The film is much like Dickinson herself: dark, uncompromising, sharply funny, and, on the surface, unconcerned with what people might think.  Much as how Dickinson retreated into her Amherst home, the film retreats into Dickinson’s head.  It’s not always the most pleasant place to hide out but, at the same time, it’s so alive with creativity and filled with such a sharp wit that it’s tempting never to leave.

In the role of Emily, Cynthia Nixon gave one of the best performance of the year, bringing Emily to uncompromising life.  Neither the film not Nixon ever make the mistake of sentimentalizing Dickinson.  Her pain is just as real as her genius.  Ultimately, though, both Nixon’s performance and A Quiet Passion stands as a tribute to Emily’s own quiet passion.

Much like Emily Dickinson’s poetry, A Quiet Passion will be appreciated with time.

Victoria & Abdul (dir by Stephen Frears)

If there’s ever been a film that deserves to be known as “generic Oscar bait,” it’s Victoria & Abdul.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a bad movie or anything like that.  Instead, it’s a very respectable film about Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her servant, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), an Indian Muslim.  While the rest of the royal court is scandalized by Victoria’s close relationship with the foreigner, Karim teaches the Queen about the Koran and encourages her to enjoy life.  The royal court is played by the usual collection of distinguished actors who always appear in movies like this: Simon Callow, Tom Pigott-Smith, and Michael Gambon.  Victoria’s heir is played by Eddie Izzard, which should tell you all you need to know about how the future Edward VII is portrayed.

As I said, it’s not a bad movie as much as it’s just not a very interesting one.  You know that Abdul and Victoria are going to become close.  You know that the Royal Court is going to be a bunch of snobs.  You know that Victoria is going to get a chance to express anti-colonial sentiments that she must surely never actually possessed.  Indeed, whenever the film tries to make any sort of larger statement, all of the characters suddenly start talking as if they’re from 2017 as opposed to the late 1800s.

This is the second time that Judi Dench has played Victoria.  Previously, she played the Queen in a film called Mrs. Brown, which was about Victoria’s friendship with a Scottish servant.  Apparently, Victoria got along well with servants.

 

 

Cleaning Out The DVR #37: A Room With A View (dir by James Ivory)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of today!!!!!  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

Room_with_a_View

Poor Cecil Vyse.

The 1986 film A Room With A View is a love story.  It’s about a young woman who meets a young man in Florence, Italy and then, upon returning to England, she discovers that the same young man and his father are now her neighbors.  From the minutes they meet, it’s obvious that the young man and the young woman are destined to be together.  The only thing that’s standing in their way is the strict culture of conformity of Edwardian England.  That and the fact that the young woman is engaged to Cecil Vyse.

Cecil represents the establishment.  He comes from a good family.  He’s well-educated.  He talks about the right subjects.  He holds all the right opinions.  He’s not an exciting man but he’s a good man who is destined to have successful but not very interesting life.  From the minute that we meet him, we know that our heroine is not meant to stay with Cecil.

And it’s heart-breaking because the film goes out of its way to show that Cecil is not a bad person.  In his own befuddled way, he’s one of the most likable people in the entire film.  He may not have an interesting mind but he does have a good heart.  When the moment comes that Cecil’s heart is broken, the film treats him with respect.

Of course, it helps that Cecil was played, in one of his first roles, by Daniel Day-Lewis.  Day-Lewis plays the role with a quiet dignity.  Instead of just turning Cecil into a mere nuisance that has to be pushed out of the way in the name of love, Day-Lewis emphasizes Cecil’s humanity.  There’s a quiet scene where the recently heart-broken Cecil ties his shoes that is an example of truly great acting.

As for the two young lovers, Lucy Honeychurch is played by Helena Bonham Carter while George Emerson is played by Julian Sands.  Both of them are achingly beautiful and, even more importantly, they both look as if they belong in Edward England and with each other.  Still, seeing this film today, it takes a little while to adjust to seeing both Bonham Carter and Sands playing such … normal characters.  We’re so used to seeing Helena killing people in Tim Burton movies that it’s nice to see her getting to rather sweetly fall in love for once.

The entire film is full of great British actors, all at their best.  Denholm Elliott plays George’s father and gets to deliver a rousing defense of both true love and free thought.  Maggie Smith plays Lucy’s overprotective aunt while Rosemary Leach is Lucy’s supportive mother.  And then you’ve got Simon Callow as an eccentric vicar.  (Because every British film needs an eccentric vicar.)  Lucy’s younger brother is played by an actor named Rupert Graves and he’s so adorable that I kind of found myself wishing that he could have had a spin-off movie of his own.

A Room With A View is a wonderfully romantic film, one that I could easily see myself spending days just watching over and over again.  A Room With A View was nominated for best picture but it lost to the far less romantic Platoon.

(For those following at home, I now have one more review to go to reach my goal of reviewing 38 films in 10 days!)

Scenes I Love: The Phantom of the Opera (Part 3)


Point of No Return

It’s time to finish off my triptych of Scenes I Love from 2004’s film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera. The first two parts were my favorite solo and chorus scenes from film and now we finish it off with what has to be the top scene (IMO) from the film.

The characters of The Phantom and Christine have always been the focal point of the film. Even with the arrival of the wholesome and (as Lisa Marie would call him) vanilla Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, the film continues to truly sizzle when it’s all about The Phantom and Christine moving their relationship from ingenue and mentor to unrequited lovers.

It’s the latter which this scene looks to portray through a duet written by The Phantom himself and where he swaps himself into the role of Don Juan. This duet has always been a fan favorite for those who love the musical and many different versions of it have played throughout the years. Yet, they all have one thing in common and that is the heated chemistry between the two characters once the duet begins.

The scene itself begins and comes off pretty much like foreplay between the two characters without having literal sex on the stage. The whole scene is so sexually charged that even those watching the duet who set the trap looked so transfixed that they fail to act. Even Raoul, Christine’s own fiance, finishes the scene with such a look of cuckold expression once he realizes that he could never have such a deep and personal connection that Christine has with The Phantom.

For me, this duet pretty much sums up what the whole is all about.

Scenes I Love: The Phantom of the Opera (Part 2)


Masquerade

Here we have the second of three scenes I love from the 2004 film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera.

The first scenes was my favorite solo from the film with Emmy Rossum as Christine Daaé performing the solo “Think of Me”. It’s a powerful scene that more than holds it’s own against the other solos in the film. The second favorite scene from this film comes in the beginning of Act II.

“Masquerade” is really the one and only true full cast and chorus production in the film and in the stage musical. While both would have songs and scenes involving multiple characters and a large of background chorus, this one pretty much cements the film’s grandiose and epic visuals.

Director Joel Schumacher may have his detractors and critics, but he definitely nails the grand masquerade ball in the opera house to begin the second half of the film.

Scenes I Love: The Phantom of the Opera (Part 1)


Think of Me

Stage productions, especially musicals, have always drawn me. I think it goes back to my time in my final two years in high school when, on a lark, I decided to join the Drama production as part of my after-school activities. For a teenager whose never really had any experience watching musicals prior to joining one I was surprised as any to have fallen in love with the art when exposed to it.

Musicals range from classic Sondheim-style productions to the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera epics right up to the Matt Stone and Trey Parker comedy musicals. I love them all. One musical production that I was literally obsessed with during those late high school years was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera production of The Phantom of the Opera.

I knew the songs by heart and, even now, I still remember those final years of high school fondly because of this particular musical. So, finding out that they were going to make a film adaptation of the musical had me feeling both excited and hesitant.

How could a stage musical translate to film if they cast more for acting and less for singing?

My trepidation ended up being unfounded once I finally saw the film and was satisfied that all involved were more than up to the task of performing the iconic roles in the musical.

This first of three of my favorite scenes from The Phantom of the Opera comes early in the film as Emmy Rossum’s understudy, Christine Daaé, gets a chance to show just how much she has learned from her mysterious tutor. “Think of Me” is the one of the signature solos in the musical (the other being the Phantom’s own) and Emmy Rossum nails the scene and song. The expression on the skeptical managers in the beginning quickly turns to surprise as does the rest of the cast and crew who never realized they had a genuine ingenue in their midst.

While I will admit that the song and the scene has been pulled off better on stage, Emmy Rossum’s own experience singing as a member of the Metropolitan Opera as a child leading up to being chosen for the role of Christine Daaé more than makes her hold her own against those who came before her.