Friends with Kids

Friends with KidsThis 2011 movie written, produced and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt is about a group of shallow, sex-obsessed Manhattan Yuppies who start having children.  I’m going to discuss the full plot in some detail, so if you don’t want the ending spoiled, you probably shouldn’t read this review.  On the other hand, the story is quite predictable and if you haven’t figured out the entire plot in the first five minutes, then all cylinders aren’t firing anyway.

Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Westfeldt), are both well-paid professionals in their mid-30s.  Best friends for many years, they live in the same building in Manhattan and have long telephone conversations usually involving a choice between grisly ways to die.  Julie asks Ben if he’d rather die a long, painful death by cancer or to see a loved one die the same way.  Ben chooses to watch the loved one die because he would still be alive.

They gather regularly with married friends Alex (Chris O’Dowd) and Missy (Kristen Wiig), who are obsessed with having sex, and Ben (Jon Hamm) and Leslie (Maya Rudolph).  Not interested in each other Jason and Julie continually seek their own romantic relationships, the success measured in sexual happiness.  Their friends have children, but they continue to seek permanent mates themselves until one evening they decide to have a child of their own.  Seeing the misery that their friends have experienced, they decide that they can raise a child and still search for their own soul-mates.

While Ben and Leslie manage to make their marriage work, Alex and Missy’s relationship falls apart, further evidence that they’ve made the right decision.  As time passes, Jason becomes involved with a dancer, Mary Jane (Megan Fox), while Julie finds Mr. Right in the form of Kurt (Edward Burns).  When Alex gets drunk at a New Years skiing getaway for the eight of them, he comes down hard on Jason and Julie for not thinking through the effect their decision will have on their child.  Jason strongly defends the decision, declaring how much they love each other and how much they love their little boy.

Taking this to heart, Julie realizes that she really does love Jason more than Kurt.  When they get together to celebrate her birthday, she tells him how she feels, but Jason recoils, explaining that he loves her as a friend and is already in a deep relationship with Mary Jane.  Julie decides to move to Brooklyn to get away from him.  Both of their relationships end and Jason then realizes that he actually loves Julie, too.  It ends with him telling her that he’s changed his mind: he’d rather die himself than to watch her die of cancer.  She is reluctant at first to accept this change of heart, but when he promises great sex, she changes her mind.

There are moments in this movie that ring true and come close to being genuinely touching, but the predictability of the plot makes it very hard to become attached to story.  The characters are genuinely shallow.  Self-obsessed relationship-junkies who have probably never had an original thought in their lives, their elevation of sex to the be-all and end-all of human love comes across as pathetic and self-serving.

Maybe this is the present or the future of American ideals, but I sure hope not.  One can admire Westfeldt for her hard work in doing the project, but I really wish she had taken the time to put some thought into it.  I can’t really recommend this movie to anyone.

Jane Eyre 2011

Jane Eyre 2011This adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel Jane Eyre was produced in 2011.  Directed by Cary Fukunaga from a script by Moira Buffini, this is clearly the best of the recent movie versions of the novel.  Ms. Buffini’s script is faithful to the novel, yet innovative in the way it tells the story, bringing a passion lacking in the other attempts.

For a detailed plot synopsis, please see my review of the novel at the link below.

The movie begins between the second and third sections of the book, when Jane  (Mia Wasikowska) runs away from Thornfield Hall and becomes lost on the moors.  This is a dramatic departure from the other adaptations, which tell the story in a straightforward manner.  To bring the single most iconic scene to passionate life at the very beginning is both clever and stirring.  After she is found at the doorstep of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell), the first two parts of the story are told in flashback as Jane regains herself and settles into life with St. John and his two sisters, Mary and Diana.  The other two adaptations give the final third of the novel short shrift, but this version, by making it the “present day” of the movie, allows us to experience Jane’s new life and the relationship with St. John to the fullest.

The second innovation is that the script makes the deepest cuts in the first section, Jane’s childhood.  There are good and bad repercussions of this, but in this movie they are mostly good.  The abuse within Mrs. Reed’s (Sally Hawkins) household by both her aunt and her cousins is shown much more dramatically.  The child actress playing Jane at ten, Amelia Clarkson, does a terrific job.  The cruelty of the school is brought out more boldly in this version, as we actually see Jane’s friend, Helen Burns (Freya Parks) being caned by the headmistress.  So, even though this section is shorter, it is much more powerful in setting up Jane’s character.

After leaving Lowood as a 17 year old girl, Jane takes her position at Thornfield Hall.  In this version, it seems much older, more rustic and authentic, dark and brooding, becoming more the character that Brontë created in the novel.  The housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) guides her through narrow hallways, dimly lit by candles.  Her pupil, Adele (Romy Settbon Moore), speaks mostly French and is very charming.  Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) is offensive, brooding and Gothic.  The entire creation of Thornfield Hall is much spookier than the other versions.  This film also shows the process of Jane and Rochester falling in love, which makes it much more believable.  The script actually brings over some of the dialogue from the book where Jane and Rochester speak during the evening.  The viewer can see Jane challenging him intellectually.

The acting is superb.  Mia Wasikowska gives an extraordinary performance as Jane Eyre, even if she is quite a bit more beautiful than the character in the book.  They try to make her look plain, but Wasikowska’s eyes alone give her away as a beautiful woman.  Likewise, Michael Fassbender is terrific as Rochester, but he’s just a little too handsome.  Nonetheless, these two actors have an extraordinary chemistry that brings a great deal of emotion to the story.  The supporting characters are also very well drawn, again bringing a felicity to the book that is rare in film adaptations.  Jamie Bell is especially good as St. Johns.

Cary Fukunaga’s expert direction brings this wonderful script to life, from creating the rustic Gothic texture of the environment to the beautiful use of light and shadows throughout Thornfield Hall.  The film is full of a kind of shimmering beauty that makes it a wonderful viewing experience.

From almost every point of view, this is a delightful adaptation of a great classic novel.


Jane EyreRead my review of the novel Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte!

This 1847 classic novel both delights and confounds a modern reader.

Told mostly in first person past (with brief lapses into first person present) by the heroine, Jane Eyre, the book was originally subtitled An Autobiography.  It begins with Jane as a young girl of ten years as an orphan living with her Aunt Reed at Gateshead Hall.


Jane Eyre 1996Read my review of the 1996 Franco Zeffirelli movie of Jane Eyre.

Adapting a classic novel to the big screen is always a dicey proposition.  The screen writer and director have a limited amount of time, yet there is so much in a classic novel that readers depend on for a satisfying experience.  Indeed, there is so much that is germane to the internal logic of a novel of depth that the story itself is resistant to adaptation within a two hour format.


 

Samantha Morton2_Jane EyreRead my review of the 1997 ITV movie of Jane Eyre.

This film adaptation of the classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë was originally aired on Great Britain’s ITV in March of 1997 runs approximately one hour and 45 minutes.  Obviously, a great deal had to be cut from the story in order to fit it into that kind of time parameter, but Kay Mellor’s script concentrates rightly on the romance between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester and the Gothic suspense of Thornfield.

I

 Il Postino PosterIl Postino (The Postman)

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.”

~ Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

C

 Calendar-Girls-001Calendar Girls

Even though the cinema is full of buddy movies and mindless stupid comedies, the joy of friendship, through good times and bad, isn’t celebrated enough in film, yet it is the heart and soul of this wonderful 2003 British comedy-drama.


 Philip-Seymour-Hoffman-CapoteCapote

Bennett Miller’s film Capote is a well-crafted, thoughtful look at the process by which Truman Capote sculpted his novel In Cold Blood.  The restrained control of color, minimal sets and costumes, and stark cinematography make this film so good that it should be studied in film schools as a masterful use of time and funding.


Cheyenne AutumnCheyenne Autumn

Cheyenne Autumn was the last western film in the great career of director John Ford.  Released in 1964, it was the first big Hollywood film to portray Native Americans as human beings, people who were not only more than primitive savages to be killed and driven off their lands by the white man, but people who were victims of the bigoted and corrupt government of the United States of America.


 Chocolat VienneChocolat

Most things that are good are not necessary bad.  In fact, most things in life that we enjoy are quite without sin, even if they do induce sensual pleasure, such as, let us say, chocolate, that most wonderful of confections.


 John WayneThe Cowboys

This 1972 coming of age western stars John Wayne as Montana rancher Wil Anderson.  When his hands abandon him to join in a gold rush, Anderson solicits the aid of local schoolboys to help him move his herd of cattle and horses 400 miles to market.


Waitress

waitress keri russell with babyFunny, touching, tough: three words that truly describe this vastly underrated 2007 comedy-drama, written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly.

Jenna (Keri Russell) is an amazing pie-maker in some unnamed southern town. She works at Joe’s Pie Diner with her friends, Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly), under the management of Cal (Lew Temple) and the ownership of Joe (Andy Griffith).  She’s married to a domineering redneck man named Earl (Jeremy Sisto), who takes all of her tip money and bullies her relentlessly, but she’s been hiding away some of the money and she hopes to enter a pie contest where the prize is $25,000–with the intention of leaving him as soon as she can.  This plan gets derailed at the very beginning of the movie when she discovers she’s pregnant.

waitress I don't want earl's baby pieThis brings on the inspiration for her to make tomorrow’s featured pie, the “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie.” Dawn remarks that she shouldn’t probably write that on the menu board, so Jenna changes the name to the “Bad Baby Pie,” a quiche with Brie cheese and a smoked ham center.

waitress I hate my husband pieShe considers making an “I Hate My Husband Pie” made of bittersweet chocolate–unsweetened–made into a pudding and drowned in caramel. Deciding to keep the baby, she goes to see her doctor only to find that her gynecologist has gone into semi-retirement and most of her cases have been taken over by young, attractive Dr. Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion).  When he congratulates her, she tells him that she doesn’t really want the baby, but is having it anyway, so please don’t be all happy for her.  “It’s not a party.”

Her mother taught her to bake as a child, singing this little song (written by Adrienne Shelly):

Baby, don’t you cry, gonna make a pie
Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle
Baby, don’t be blue, gonna make for you
Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle
Gonna be a pie from heaven above
Gonna be filled with strawberry love
Baby, don’t you cry, gonna make a pie
Hold you forever in the middle of my heart.

waitress marshmallow-mermaid-pieEverything is about pie creation. She brings the doctor her “Marshmallow Mermaid Pie” that she created when she was nine years old.  She makes a “Falling In Love Pie” (chocolate mousse) for Dawn’s date, and she fantasizes about new pies night and day.  At one point, she considers making a “Baby Screaming Its Head Off in the Middle of the Night and Ruining My Life Pie” that would be a New York cheesecake brushed with brandy and topped with pecans and nutmeg.

waitress earl wants to kill me pie

“I Can’t Have An Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie”

Finding Dr. Pomatter irresistible, she begins an affair with him and considers making an “Earl Murders Me ‘Cause I’m Having An Affair Pie” made with smashed blackberries and raspberries in a chocolate crust, but decides it would be better to make an “I Can’t Have An Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie” with vanilla custard and banana–no–hold the banana. Among the other pies mentioned in the movie are the “Spanish Dancer Pie,” the “Naughty Pumpkin Pie,” the “Singing Tuna Casserole,” and “Jenna’s Special Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie.”

After she discovers that Becky is having an affair with Cal, she asks him, “Are you happy?” He answers, “I’m happy enough.  I don’t expect much, give much.  I don’t get much.  I generally enjoy whatever comes up.”  Dawn finds happiness with a little accountant named Ogie, but Earl continues to make Jenna’s life miserable, forcing her to have sex with him, slapping her around, and controlling her.  In fact, she conceives of the “Pregnant, Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie,” made of lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in and served flambé.

In spite of the comedy, the movie holds a very dark side. Earl, for example, though an ignorant bully, has unexpected depth.  He’s never really been loved and he depends on his control over Jenna to give meaning to his life.  Joe, the owner of the Pie Shop, is himself an old loser, but he advises Jenna to leave Earl and start all over.  “This life will kill you,” he says.  “Make the right choice.”

The script contains many unexpected depths and Shelly’s deft direction and control of the story arc keep the movie on point through its one hour and forty-eight minutes. Keri Russell is beautiful, with a big heart that makes you love and root for Jenna to find a way out of her mess.  Nathan Fillion is charming as the nervous, tender Dr. Pomatter.  Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelly are funny and poignant as her waitress friends and Andy Griffith is terrific as Joe–again providing unexpected depths.

But the pies are magnificent. Every pie in the movie looks absolutely beautiful and each one acts like a Greek chorus, providing commentary on the action.

waitress adrienne shellyUnfortunately, Adrienne Shelly did not live to see her movie appear at the Sundance Film Festival or to see its critical success. Three months before it was due to open, Shelly discovered a thief in her apartment.  The man panicked and killed her.  A foundation has since been established in her name to help young female filmmakers fulfill their dreams and you man contribute at The Adrienne Shelly Foundation.

Everyone should see this movie! It’s a film that can be seen over and over again with a kind of sensual culinary pleasure, with laughter and tears, and lots and lots of love.

Funny, touching, tough.

Jack Goes Boating

Jack Goes BoatingThis movie is about two relationships going in opposite directions. One of them, just beginning, is very sweet and the other is clearly at the end of its shelf life.

Jack (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a shy and sensitive New York limo driver who works for his uncle and lives in his uncle’s basement. He listens to raggae, tries to whirl his blond locks into dreads, and dreams about working for the MTA.  His best friend, Clyde (John Ortiz) also works for his uncle as a limo driver and is married to Lucy (Daphne Ruben-Vega) who works in the office of a mortician.

The couple sets Jack up with Lucy’s new co-worker, Connie (Amy Ryan), a shy, nervous girl who seems to be right for him. Their own shyness really works to their advantage as each one takes it nice and slow, careful to make sure of each other before taking any big steps at all.  As Jack walks Connie to a cab on their first date, she mentions that she’d like to go boating some time.  They are walking through the snow at the time and Jack remarks that it might be better to wait for summer.  But he takes it seriously and Clyde sets out to teach him how to swim at a Harlem pool.

Connie is approached by a strange man in the subway on her way to work and she violently resists, breaking her nose. Lucy calls 911 and she is taken to the hospital.  Jack buys a little stuffed koala bear for her and they talk about a second date, maybe for dinner.  She tells him that no one has ever cooked for her, so Jack decides to learn how to cook and make a splendid meal for her.  Clyde recommends a chef he knows from the Waldorf Astoria that he calls “the Cannoli.”  Without Jack prompting him, Clyde then volunteers that Lucy had an affair with the chef that lasted two years.  It’s obviously bothering him, but he tries to pretend that they’ve worked the problem out.

Applying himself to his swimming and cooking lessons, Jack gets good at both. After a few initial problems, he gets his application into the MTA and waits to hear whether he will be called for an interview.  As he and Connie become more intimate, he comes to understand that she has serious psychological issues about sex, but he is understanding and goes slow, much to her relief.

Without revealing how the movie ends, I will say that both situations come to a head when Jack finally cooks his big meal for Connie at Clyde and Lucy’s apartment.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman directed this moving film, based on the stage play he appeared in, adapted for the screen by the playwright, Robert Glaudini. The study in opposites is very funny at times, but a feeling of tension runs underneath the surface and it kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen.  At an hour and twenty-four minutes in length, the pacing and timing are perfect.

Hoffman’s performance as Jack is just amazing. It is a pleasure to watch such a gifted actor creating such a layered character.  Amy Ryan gives a great performance as Connie and she works as a perfect foil for Jack.  You find yourself hoping that these two gentle, injured people will find a way to make their relationship work, even as it hurts to see what can happen to a relationship at the other end of the scale.  John Ortiz is excellent as Clyde and Daphne Ruben-Vega compliments him very well as the two cope with a relationship that doesn’t have the glue to hold it together.

I’m an innocent when it comes to betrayal. I’ll never understand how partners in a marriage can turn away and wound the other so deeply.  Jealousy remains one of the great emotional themes of art.

This is a very fine movie and it should be seen. When it was released, it kind of slid by me–and pretty much everyone else, I gather, but it is really good filmmaking.  It’s a story well-crafted and well-filmed and it deserves far more attention than it has gotten.  I highly recommend it for adult audiences.

Bright Star

bright-star cornish and wishawThis review contains spoilers.

Written and directed by Jane Campion and based on the John Keats biography by Andrew Motion, this 2009 film is one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen and it captures one of the most touching romances in history. It takes its title from one of Keats’ most moving poems, “Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art.”

In 1818, the poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw), at the age of 22, moves into one half of a duplex in Hampstead, a suburb of London, with fellow writer Charles Brown (Paul Schneider). His book of poems, Endymion (containing what is now one of the most famous openings in all literature: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever…”) is considered a failure and he himself is deep in poverty, living off the good graces of his friends.  The other half of the duplex is occupied by a family by the name of Dilkes, who introduce the writers to their friends, the Brawnes, consisting of a mother (Kerry Fox), a teenage daughter, Fanny (Abbie Cornish), an adolescent boy, Samuel (Thomas Sangster) and a little girl of about ten, Toots (Edit Martin).

Fanny Brawne is a beautiful, stylish young woman who sews all of her own clothes. Her interest is piqued by Mr. Keats, a quite good looking man, so she and her siblings go to a book store in London to buy a copy of Endymion.  Since it hasn’t sold, there are plenty of copies available.  Although she loves the opening, Fanny finds herself out of her depth as she reads on, so she solicits help in understanding poetry from Mr. Keats.  Charles Brown objects to her because he feels that she is a distraction to the writing, so he teases her about her mind, her limited understanding of the world and he plots to keep them apart.

It is a tactical error, for the more Fanny and John are held apart, the more they crave each other’s company. Since Fanny is an inspiration to John, Brown has a greater difficulty.  When Fanny and the kids accompany John to London to visit his sick brother, Tom, her sympathy increases and when Tom dies, she helps John to deal with his grief.  He spends Christmas with the Brawnes, despite Brown’s objections, and grows very fond of the entire family.  But John holds himself apart from Fanny and when she asks her mother, the answer she receives is, “Mr Keats knows he cannot like you, he has no living and no income.”

In February, Fanny receives a valentine from Brown that upsets her and when John finds out about it, he confronts them, accusing them of being lovers. Brown warns John about Fanny, claiming she is merely flirting with him, but John sees from her actions that she does love him.  The Dilkes move out of the duplex and the Brownes move in, so Fanny and John are thrown together every day and their romance heats up quickly. With the coming of summer, Brown must leave to take his summer rental and John must go with him.  This enforced absence makes the two lovers inconsolable and the letters fly back and forth between them furiously.

I won’t give away the ending, but it is only fair to say that John Keats died at the age of twenty-five.

The cinematography by Greig Fraser is simply amazing. One stunning image is followed by another.  Color jumps out at you and the compositions are at times breathtaking.  The Production and Costume Design by Janet Patterson fully compliments the photography.  Combined with a number of period musical compositions, a complete world of English life is created.

In this beautiful picture we are treated to two wonderful performances from Wishaw and Cornish. They seem to be bonded on a very deep level and the beauty of their love is almost painful.  The liberal use of Keats’ poetry and love letters gives the film an aural as well as a visual beauty, for he was a gifted genius in the use of words.  All of the supporting actors are extremely well cast and pull of their roles with complete believability.

It’s a stunningly lovely picture and anyone at all interested in great romances should see it!