Love & Friendship

Posted on May 12, 2016 at 5:54 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rate PG for some thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Scuffles
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: May 13, 2016
Date Released to DVD: September 6, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01HE7NTX6

Copyright 2016 Westerly Films
Copyright 2016 Westerly Films
Who better to adapt Jane Austen’s epistolary novel, Lady Susan, for the screen than our finest contemporary observer of life among the “haute bourgeoisie,” Whit Stillman? A highlight of his first film was a conversation about Austen’s Mansfield Park, and his gift for epigrammatic dialog and understanding of class and money — and female protagonists — make it a natural fit. The result is a delightful confection about a woman described by Austen via one of the other characters as “the most accomplished coquette in England,” and one who “does not confine herself to that sort of honest flirtation which satisfies most people, but aspires to the more delicious gratification of making a whole family miserable.”

That assessment is not exactly accurate. Making a whole family miserable is somewhere between collateral damage and side benefit.

Lady Susan (fearless but effervescent Kate Beckinsale) is a recent widow with a teenaged daughter. In the manner of the era, when the gentry visited each other for months at a time, she has been staying with friends. First, she has no money and therefore her primary asset, aside from her guile and is her relationships with more comfortably settled members of her class. And second, the best chance for her to have a home of her own again is to marry her daughter off to a wealthy man. Stillman makes Lady Susan a more sympathetic character than Austen did, in part due to the vivacity of the actress who portrays her. It’s hard to have her believably portray such a captivating figure without our being captivated ourselves. But in addition, it is clear throughout that she may be ruthless and mercenary, but she has no other options. Her very status and gender constrain her from any other option, but she is undeterred. “In one’s plight is one’s opportunity,” she says. She has a gift for outrageous comments made with so much confidence they almost sound reasonable: About being sent away by her hostess: “If she were going to be jealous, she should not have married such a charming man.” About her daughter’s school: ““The fees are too high to even think of paying!” In the midst of an era of polite misdirection and euphemism, she is focused and direct, a hint of the coming modernity in the days of the harpsichord.

If she was around today, she’d be a CEO. Or a reality star.

Lady Susan has very little by way of education. She is not sure how many Commandments there are or what they contain. But she knows people, especially men. She knows her husband’s family has no socially acceptable vocabulary to tell her she can no longer stay with them. And when a handsome, eligible man warned about her skill with the opposite sex appears ready to resist her, she cleverly upends his expectations and before he knows it, he is captivated.

Stillman presents the story with wit and brio, introducing us to the characters with helpful on-screen descriptors: “his wealthy wife,” “a divinely attractive man.” The slight archness is his, or Austen’s, or Lady Susan’s; all are a bit reductionist when it comes to assessing everyone in the story according to his or her usefulness. He resists the usual musty respect for all classics, especially those featuring corsets, and presents the story with elegance and a refreshing briskness. Lady Susan would approve.

Parents should know that this film includes themes of deception and adultery.

Family discussion: Why did Lady Susan confide in Alicia? How did Lady Susan show her understanding of what it took to gain the affection of the different men around her?

If you like this, try: more Jane Austen films including “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice,” as well as the books that inspired them

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Based on a book Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Romance

Trailer: Love and Friendship from Jane Austen and Whit Stillman

Posted on March 28, 2016 at 8:00 am

Jane Auten’s unfinished novel Lady Susan is an epistolary story — told via letters. The title character is a scheming, manipulative woman determined to find rich husbands for herself and her daughter. It is the basis for “Love and Friendship,” the new movie from writer/director Whit Stillman, starring Kate Beckinsale.

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Based on a book Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Total Recall

Posted on August 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language
Profanity: Some strong language (for example, s-words, one f-word)
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and sustained sci-fi action and violence, shooting, explosions, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 3, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B005LAII3A

Will the 2012 version of the story inspired by Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” erase the memory of the Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic from 1990?  Dick’s story is about a time in the future when a company named Rekal (Rekall in the films) implants false memories to order — vacations, heroic missions, romances  –and a man who tries to buy a memory only to find that his own real-life memories have been imperfectly erased and he is neither what nor who he thought he was.  Both movie versions are very loose adaptations, but both, like the story, are about heroes who have no memory of their previous lives as spies and assassins until an attempt to insert a happy memory of a vacation trip inadvertently jars loose some imperfectly erased memories of another life.

The original film is fondly remembered but even its fans admit that it is cheesy, with special effects that look like cardboard compared to today’s digital enhancements.  The new version has vastly better effects and a vastly better actor with Colin Farrell as Quaid (Quail in the story).  He is a factory worker (jackhammer operator in the earlier film) whose dreams seem more real to him than his waking life with a beautiful, affectionate, and sympathetic wife (Kate Beckinsale as Lori, memorably played in the original by Sharon Stone).

Director Len Wiseman (the “Underworld” movies and “Life Free or Die Hard”) and production designer Patrick Tatopoulos create a dazzlingly dystopic world.  If it draws heavily on the brilliant work of Syd Mead in “Blade Runner,” at least it pays homage to the best and, after all, that was also based on a Dick story about a dark future and the exploitation of imperfect memory.  As in “Blade Runner,” the setting combines the decay of edifices contemporary to our time that we still think of as impressive and useful with the imposition of harshly impersonal spaces and some mind-boggling technology that is matter-of-factly ordinary for the characters who use it.  The hover car and the literally hand-held phone are great fun.  There are some major logical inconsistencies in the story but it works as a popcorn pleasure.

Some people have strong attachments to the original movie and embrace the cheesiness and for them this re-imagined version is unlikely to replace that memory.  While it honors the earlier version, sometimes directly, sometimes with a cheeky twist, this version works just fine on its own, with well-staged chases and confrontations and even a bit of existential rumination about memory, identity, and redemption.  Beckinsale’s character is more prominent than Stone’s (yes, she is married to the director, with whom she worked in the vampiric “Underworld” series as well, but it works).  Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy, and Bokeem Woodbine contribute solid performances that keep things grounded.  No Mars, no turban, no “consider this a div-ausss,” but it is an entertaining, visually striking adventure with a main character you will not want to forget.

Parents should know that this film includes a great deal of intense and sometimes graphic sci-fi action, peril, and violence, with many shoot-outs and many characters injured and killed.  There are some disturbing images of mutants.  Characters use some strong language (mostly s-words and one f-word), drink, and get drunk.  There are some sexual references and a non-explicit situation and brief nudity (a woman with three breasts).

Family discussion: How did Quaid decide who to believe?  If you had a chance to buy a memory from Rekall, would you?  What would it be?

If you like this, try: “Blade Runner,” also based on a story by Philip K. Dick, and the original “Total Recall” with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Movies -- format Remake Romance Science-Fiction

Contraband

Posted on January 12, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Oh, not another one last job movie!  This remake of an Icelandic thriller, directed by the actor who played the lead role in the original, is a by-the-numbers heist, chase, and shoot-em-up.  It’s too gritty to be escapist fun and too predictable to work as a thriller.

Mark Wahlberg plays Chris, a one-time smuggler turned legitimate family man with a loving wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and two sons.  He is committed to staying on the right side of the law.  But Kate’s young brother gets into trouble with the local drug dealer (Giovanni Ribisi as an oily predator named Briggs) the same way Han Solo got into trouble with Jabba the Hutt, dumping the payload to avoid capture, and Briggs says he will come after the whole family if he doesn’t get paid.  So, Chris has to get the band back together for one more run.  He gets approved by the Department of Homeland Security to work on a ship going to Panama and arranges for trusted associates to be assigned to the crew.  He leaves his closest friend Sebastian (Ben Foster), a recovering alcoholic, to watch over Kate and the boys and takes off for many locations where bad cell reception will add to the tension and frustration.

We’re supposed to be on his side because he keeps saying he won’t smuggle drugs and he loves his highly photogenic family and because the bad guys are so thoroughly loathsome.   And because he such a good smuggler.  But that can’t make up for the increasingly sour taste of the story as Chris and his gang get caught up in some ugly situations, including a detour to meet up with yet another strung-out drug dealer who wants everyone to call him El Jefe, keeps deadly animals in cages, and yes, needs Chris to ride along for just one more last job.  There is one good exchange when the drug dealer says he fed a colleague who disappointed him to the wolves and Wahlberg responds, “Literally?”  And there are scenes that are either commentary on the conundrum of abstract expressionism in a realist world or an ironic statement on valuation models, or perhaps a pearls/swine reference, but most likely just a cheap joke about real guys who know how to fight being smarter than people who pay millions of dollars for paintings no one can understand.  Chris may love and defend his family and even try to protect Briggs’ little girl but his callousness to the carnage and other damage around him and inflicted by him makes it hard to stay on his side.

 

(more…)

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Action/Adventure Crime Remake

Everybody’s Fine

Posted on February 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

Parents try very hard to protect their children and at the same time teach them to be independent. And then we struggle to accept the consequences. That is what has happened to Frank Goode (Robert DeNiro), a recent widower preparing for a visit from his four grown children. When all four of them cancel, he decides to get his suitcase out of the attic and go see each of them. Well, he goes to visit each of them — without calling to let them know. But seeing them will take a little longer.

Based on the 1990 Italian film “Stanno tutti bene,” this is a quietly moving story of a family struggling to re-connect. Like many families, this one had one member, the mother, who operated as a communications hub and mediator. Without her, the grown children feel that their primary obligation is to protect their father, in part because that is what their mother did and in part because no one seems to know how to tell him that one of his children is in terrible trouble.

Frank takes the train, telling the other passengers that he helped to create the miles of telephone wire they are passing by. A million miles of wire to raise his family. And now, his children are constantly on cell phones that communicate without the tangible connection of wires. And no one is communicating with him.

What Frank thought of as encouragement they now see as impossibly high expectations, and each of them is afraid of letting him down. When Frank first arrives, he sees the children as they were. The married woman with a teen-age son (Kate Beckinsale) appears to him as a little girl (Beckinsale’s real-life daughter, Lily Mo Sheen). Director Kirk Jones adds a dreamlike, poetic tone to the story with these encounters, especially one near the end of the film when Frank sees the family gathering he was hoping for, with his sons and daughters appearing to him as the children they were, but letting him see and tell them the truth. Jones, who also wrote the screenplay, makes good use of the vast and varied American landscape as a metaphor for the distances and the connections between the characters. The simple, direct mode of the telephone lines Frank covered so carefully has splintered into a dozen ways of staying in touch — ways that can just as easily be frustrating just-misses that make us feel even more isolated. The movie gently shows us the challenges of maintaining those connections and the inevitability of getting it wrong sometimes — but also that even with that certainty, the importance of trying is what keeps everybody fine.

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Drama Family Issues Remake
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