A Quiet Passion


Sisters are doing it for themselves.

(2016) Biographical Drama (Music Box) Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine, Duncan Duff, Jodhi May, Catherine Bailey, Emma Bell, Benjamin Wainwright, Joanna Bacon, Annette Badland, Rose Williams, Noémie Schellens, Miles Richardson, Eric Loren, Simone Milsdochter, Stefan Menaul, Maurice Cassiers, Yasmin Dewilde, Marieke Bresseleers, Barney Glover, Verona Berbakel. Directed by Terence Davies

 

Emily Dickinson remains, more than a century after her death, one of the giants of American literature. Little-known in her own time (only a dozen of her poems were published in her lifetime, most of them heavily edited), she lived much of her life as a virtual recluse in her home, rarely coming out of her home and in fact rarely emerging from her bedroom. It was only after she passed away that her sister discovered a treasure trove of her poems and made it her life’s work to see them published and even then she didn’t get the acclaim she deserved until well into the 20th century.

So who was Emily Dickinson? As a young woman (Bell), she was dismissed from Mount Holyoke Academy (nowadays Mount Holyoke College) for her lack of piety. Rather than capitulate to the demands of the headmistress, she stood up for herself much to the bemusement of her father (Carradine). Emily returned home to live with him and her mother (Bacon) as well as her brother Austin (Duff) and most importantly her sister Lavinnia (Ehle), known to one and all as Vinnie.

Now grown into full womanhood, Emily (Nixon) asks and receives permission from her father to use the early morning hours when all else in the household are asleep to write. It is permission, she later explains, she would never get from a husband. Emily remains outspoken about the place of women in the society of the day and she finds a fellow traveler in Vryling Buffam (Bailey) with whom she exchanges barbs at the institutions of church, marriage and society in general. Twirling their parasols like nunchuks, the two make a formidable pair.

As the years pass, Emily maintains an increasingly faint hope of writing something important. She begins to get discouraged and as loss piles upon loss, she grows embittered and more withdrawn from the society in Amherst. Her brother’s infidelity causes a family schism that creates tension in the household, a tension that Vinnie tries in vain to mediate. Emily does get at least one persistent suitor (Menaul) but she is so cruel to him that at last he takes his leave of her. She develops a passion for the married Reverend Wadsworth (Loren) but when he is transferred to San Francisco she is devastated. Thinking herself too plain for marriage, she changes her wardrobe from nearly all black, as was common in the day to all white. As those closest to her die or get married (which Emily likens one to the other), she increasingly withdraws from life.

This is not the Emily Dickinson I had pictured in my head, which shows you how much I know about the great poet. I had always thought her shy and retiring but in fact it was not shyness that made her reclusive. She was forthright and blunt in conversation almost to the point of cruelty. She was an independent thinker as well which was not attractive to men of the era but Emily didn’t need a husband to feel complete in life.

Nixon gives a performance that may be the high water mark of her career, which is saying something. She’s one of those actresses who rarely gets much acclaim but has over the years quietly accumulated a resumé of distinction, one that would be the envy of any actress. Best-known for her work in Sex and the City, she really inhabits the role of Emily Dickinson, reading her poetry in voice-overs to help put context into the events onscreen. It is a forceful performance that only grows more powerful as the movie goes on.

She gets plenty of support, particularly from Ehle who is a marvelous actress in her own right and like Nixon doesn’t always get the acclaim she deserves. As Vinnie, Ehle is the embodiment of compassion and loyalty. Carradine also excels as the somewhat stiff-necked father, and Bailey almost steals the movie as the ebullient and outgoing Vryling who it is a shame is a fictional composite. I would very much like to believe that such a woman existed at that time – and perhaps she did – just not in Emily Dickinson’s world.

There is a definite Merchant-Ivory vibe her in the sense that we get a lush visual experience with mannered performances and dialogue that reflect the era. Especially early on in the film, the actors seem to struggle with the language and the overall effect is a little awkward but as the movie goes on it feels a little bit more organic, although the delivery is still somewhat deadpan.

This is definitely a movie for adults with adult attention spans. It might seem a little long (and definitely younger audiences will find it so) but in the end this is a movie to be experienced, to be allowed to envelop the viewer and bring them into the world of Emily Dickinson in mid-19th century Amherst. I can’t honestly recommend this movie to everybody – hence the somewhat middling rating – but for cinema buffs, lovers of history, lovers of poetry and those who have cinematic patience, this is a movie that will transcend its score and reel you in.

REASONS TO GO: Nixon gives a superb performance. Davies uses Dickinson’s own poetry to accentuate the various scenes.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the actors sound uncomfortable with the language and style of 19th century New England. The movie is a bit on the long side and younger audiences may find it tough sledding.
FAMILY VALUES: There is one scene of sexual material, a disturbing image and some thematic material inappropriate for children.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Davies used six different biographies of Dickinson as source material in order to get her character right. He believes that she was a legitimate genius.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/11/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hours
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: The Wall

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New Releases for the Week of May 12, 2017


KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD

(Warner Brothers) Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Astrid Bergés-Frisbey, Annabelle Wallis. Directed by Guy Ritchie

A new take on the Arthurian legend from iconoclastic director Guy Ritchie. When Arthur’s father, the King, is murdered his power-mad brother seizes the throne. Arthur is forced to flee and live a life in the alleys and streets of the capital, but all that changes when he pulls a sword from the stone. Now he must face his history and seize his legacy. The trouble is that Arthur isn’t all that eager to do either.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Fantasy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language)

A Quiet Passion

(Music Box) Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine, Duncan Duff. Emily Dickinson is one of the most beloved and acclaimed poets in American history, but few know all that much about the reclusive woman who passed away in 1886. What was she like? What prompted her to write such beautiful poetry? Why did she never marry? Legendary director Terence Davies takes on the story of one of the most revered figures in American literature.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, disturbing images and brief suggestive material)

Absolutely Anything

(Atlas) Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Robin Williams (voice), Monty Python. A group of eccentric aliens bestow an ordinary man with virtually unlimited power – the ability to make anything he wishes come true. As he struggles to control his power, observed from space by the aliens, he starts to rely more and more heavily on his loyal dog. Now, however, with a beautiful woman literally in the palm of his hands, he finds himself forced to choose between the girl and the dog. The movie is notable as for being the last film in which the late Robin Williams appears (he is the voice of the dog) and as a reunion for the surviving members of Monty Python, whose Terry Jones directed the film.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy
Now Playing: Premiere Fashion Square

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, and brief nudity)

Lowriders

(BH Tilt/Telemundo) Gabriel Chavarria, Demian Bichir, Eva Longoria, Melissa Benoist. East L.A. is a world unto its own. Danny is a talented street artist who has his own goals and dreams; his father and brother are part of the car culture of East LA, fabled Lowriders who have built a street rep over the years. Danny gets caught between their world and his own and must choose between family and future.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for language, some violence, sensuality, thematic elements and brief drug use)

Snatched

(20th Century Fox) Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack. A young woman is getting ready to go on the vacation of a lifetime when her boyfriend abruptly dumps her just before they are due to leave. With her options limited and not wanting to give up her vacation, she reluctantly invites her uptight mom with her. When they are kidnapped, the two polar opposites realize they must work out their differences and lean on each other if they are to escape from their captors.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content, brief nudity, and language throughout)

The Wall

(Roadside Attractions/Amazon) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli. Two Marines are investigating a construction crew’s ambush by a sniper. Convinced that the sniper has left the area, they prepare to be evacuated from the area when the sniper, who has patiently out-waited them, opens fire, wounding both of them and pinning one behind a crumbling wall. It becomes a game of cat and mouse as the sniper talks to them over their radios and with food and water running out and no way to communicate with their base to get help, forces the Americans into a desperate act. Doug Liman, who directed The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow, is the man behind the camera here.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout and some war violence)

The Family Tree


It's always the quiet ones...

It’s always the quiet ones…

(2011) Dramedy (EntertainmentOne) Dermot Mulroney, Hope Davis, Chi McBride, Max Thieriot, Britt Robertson, Selma Blair, Keith Carradine, Shad “Bow Wow” Moss, Gabrielle Anwar, Rachel Leigh Cook, Jane Seymour, Christina Hendricks, John Patrick Amedori, Evan Ross, Madeline Zima, Evan Handler, Pamela Shaw, Hannah Hodson, Ally Maki. Directed by Vivi Friedman

When you look at your neighbors, what do you see? Upstanding church-going citizens? Kinky fetishists? Hard-charging workaholics? Bratty snot-nosed teens? Or all of the above?

In the world of Serenity, Ohio, the last answer would be appropriate. Bunnie Burnett (Davis) is an offensive shrew who rules her family through her sharp tongue and sadistic sensibilities. Her husband Jack (Mulroney) seems meek and inoffensive on the outside but years of being browbeaten has worn him down, turning him into a quaking philanderer after years of being refused sex by his wife. She would no doubt emasculate him if she knew but the truth is she’s far too busy engaging in role-playing games with their neighbor Simon Krebs (McBride) to do much investigating.

Her children aren’t much better. 17-year-old daughter Kelly (Robertson) is promiscuous and foul-tempered – she is well along the road of becoming her own mother although if you pointed it out to her you’d probably get kicked in a very sensitive portion of your anatomy. Kelly’s twin brother Eric (Thieriot) has fallen under the sway of pot-smoking gun-toting preacher Reverend Diggs (Carradine) who talks tough on the outside but on the inside…well he’s just an idiot.

During a particularly rough game of home invasion/rape fantasy with Simon, Bunnie is accidentally dealt a particularly severe whack on the head (Simon flees, leaving Bunnie to be discovered by her family) which leaves her with an unusual amnesia in which all her memories after the first year of her marriage have disappeared. Once again, Bunnie is the woman that Jack fell in love with. It’s an opportunity for the whole family to start fresh. The trouble is, the other lunatics in Serenity may not necessarily let them.

This is supposed to be a black comedy. Now, I understand that in such enterprises that a certain amount of cynicism should be expected and even appreciated. HOWEVER, the fact that every…single…character has some sort of dark side or sexual secret gets old really fast. You find yourself having nobody to really hang your hat on – everybody here is basically a douche, although some find at least a measure of redemption by the closing credits. For the most part even Jack who’s perhaps the closest thing to a truly nice character still cheats on his wife – deservedly or not. Not that I’m a prude nor do I need my lead characters to be too good to be true (in fact, some comedies go too far the other way). I just need my characters to act like PEOPLE and not CHARACTERS. How many characters do you run into every day when you walk out the door of your house (and I’m not talking about the ones at the multiplex) – I’m betting none. I can’t find too funny a comedy in which I identify with nobody.

Which is a shame because there are a lot of really talented actors involved as you can read from the cast list. Mulroney, who some might remember from My Best Friend’s Wedding has some decent screen presence and Davis is one of those actresses who has tons of talent but doesn’t get the roles these days that she is worthy of. Most of the rest of the cast – particularly Blair, Seymour, McBride, Carradine and Hendricks are either wasted in scarcely developed roles or appear in little more than a glorified cameo.

I like the concept here of a dysfunctional family given an unexpected second chance to be a family. I just wish they’d tried for a simpler approach and eliminated a lot of the extraneous characters who are just that – characters – that detract from the film overall and turn it from the satirical comedy it could have been into a wooden, leaden blunt instrument without the finesse to really capture my attention – or my laughter.

WHY RENT THIS: A somewhat satirical look at family and community dynamics. Nice opportunity to play “spot the character actor.”

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Muddled and scattered. A little bit too mean-spirited for my taste.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s sex, violence, bad language (a whole lot of it) and some drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film received its world premiere at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are some on-set home movies.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $6,035 on an unreported production budget; no way in Hell this made money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Family Time

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Monsters University

Cowboys & Aliens


Cowboys & Aliens

If these townsfolk had seen Battlestar: Gallactica they'd be running and screaming by now.

(2011) Sci-Fi Western (DreamWorks/Universal) Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Noah Ringer, Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown, Ana de la Reguera, Abigail Spencer, Toby Huss, Walton Goggins, Raoul Trujillo. Directed by Jon Favreau

We all know that stagecoaches belong in Westerns and starships in Sci-Fi movies and never the twain shall meet. Why that is, I’m not sure – but at last the twain have actually met.

A stranger (Craig) wakes up in the badlands of the New Mexico territory circa 1873. He has no idea where he is and no memory of who he is. He also has a strange shackle on his wrist and a strange wound in his side that is still bleeding but half-cauterized. He is immediately beset by a trio of bounty hunters but apparently he knows how to fight and he definitely knows how to kill, besting the three of them, stealing their clothes, their gold, one of their horses and their dog.

He rides into the town of Absolution, and enters a house on the outskirts to freshen up. The owner of the house, Preacher Meacham (Brown) takes exception to this but eventually warms up to the lost lamb and helps stitch up his wound.

Later on, Percy Dolarhyde (Dano) goes on a drunken rampage shooting up the town, despite attempts by Nat Colorado (Beach), the right-hand man of Percy’s father to placate him, and the pleas for clemency by saloon owner Doc (Rockwell) and his wife Maria (De la Reguera). That’s Doc’s wife, not Percy’s by the way.

Percy accidentally shoots a sheriff’s deputy and the stranger eventually subdues him. Sheriff Taggart (Carradine) recognizes the stranger from a wanted poster; he’s Jake Lonergan, a notorious stagecoach bandit and murderer. Taggart’s attempts to capture Lonergan appear to be going south when a mysterious beautiful woman, Ella Swenson (Wilde) clocks Lonergan with a 2×4 and knocks him cold.

Meanwhile, Percy’s father, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford) is investigating some of his cattle who have been burned along with his men who have gone missing when word reaches him that his son has been arrested. The wealthy and powerful Colonel Dolarhyde rides into town with Nat and a posse of his men to go take his son out of custody and also to remove Lonergan, who had most recently stolen a shipment of Dolarhyde’s gold.  

Things are just about to get ugly when they are interrupted by the appearance of strange lights in the sky. Those lights turn out to be alien spaceships which launch concussive fireballs into the town, knocking over buildings but harming nobody. That might be because the aliens are abducting the townspeople, including Percy, Maria and Sheriff Taggart. The day is saved somewhat by Lonergan, whose shackle hides a weapon that takes down one of the alien ships. It turns out that is the only effective weapon against them, so when Colonel Dolarhyde wants to go rescue his son and the other townspeople, he insists that Lonergan go with them.

Lonergan has no such plan however and rides off on his own to find out who he is and why he has this metal doo-hickey on his wrist. The secret of his identity may rest with the mysterious Ella and the mystery of who Jake Lonergan is and what happened to him may hold the key to saving the world from these nasty aliens.

Favreau is currently riding high as one of comicdom’s fan favorites on the strength of Iron Man and its sequel. While his latest film is ostensibly based on the Platinum Studios comic of the same name, in reality it shares little in common besides the title.

Favreau had originally wanted to cast Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role but when he had to bow out to work on Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows Daniel Craig was cast instead and a fine bit of luck that was. Craig is far better at the Eastwood-like mysterious stranger than I think Downey would have been and he interacts with Ford in a much more believable manner.

Having Ford and Craig as your leads in a Western is about as fortuitous casting as it gets. Ford in particular is gruff and curmudgeonly, snarling and barking like a dog but having something of a puppy heart deep down. Craig, James Bond aside, is an excellent action hero and while Favreau has characterized Ford as the modern John Wayne, I think a case could be made for Craig as a modern Gary Cooper as well.

Overall, the cast is pretty nifty with Brown taking high marks as the Preacher who may look like a missing cough drop brother but has a surprisingly modern take on faith. Dano gets some of the best comic bits as the sniveling son of the wealthy rancher (a cliché that he helped make palatable here) and Wilde is surprisingly good as the mysterious woman – I hadn’t seen much of her work but now I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing more of her in future roles. Beach is one of my favorite character actors ever since he emerged in Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers (he also grew up in Winnipeg which adds further points) and he continues to impress here. Sam Rockwell, one of the better actors working today, has a minor role that Rockwell underplays nicely. Having the sheriff’s nephew along for the posse’s ride is unnecessary and ridiculous – his part could have easily have been taken by a teenager or an adult. You don’t need a kid in every single film to save the day y’know.

The western vistas of New Mexico look great on the big screen here and three cheers to Favreau for resisting the studio’s pressure to film this in 3D. I think the movie benefitted by being left in traditional 2D and the bright sunlit canyons and badlands look better without the polarized lens of the modern 3D glasses.

The action sequences are at times amazing, with CGI alien ships going at Apaches and gunslingers going full-tilt on horseback. The aliens themselves are plenty scary, with a sturdy shell-like carapace, recessed hands and a real cruelty and lust for gold. Think of them as intergalactic versions of bankers and mortgage company CEOs. Okay, maybe they’re not that evil.

At the end of the day, a movie like this has to be fun and for the most part it is – the ratio of action to exposition should have leaned a little heavier towards the former but there is still enough of it to make this worth your while. If you don’t go for Westerns, the sci-fi element might be enough to make it palatable while if you don’t like sci-fi, you might take comfort in the western elements instead. If you don’t like either one, well, this is good enough filmmaking for you to check out anyway. I had hoped for a little bit better, but it is entertaining nonetheless.

REASONS TO GO: Ford and Craig provide plenty of star power and Wilde, Rockwell, Beach, Dano and Brown provide fine support. Interesting mash-up of genres.

REASONS TO STAY: Action sequences are great but too far between. The kid is completely unnecessary here.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of violence and bloodshed, some disturbing creature effects, a little bit of partial nudity and some kids in jeopardy – the very young will probably get nightmares out of this.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first comic book from Platinum Studios to be adapted to the big screen; this is the third comic adaptation from DreamWorks (after The Road to Perdition and Over the Hedge).

HOME OR THEATER: This is definitely a summer popcorn flick meant to be seen in a multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Crazy, Stupid, Love

New Releases for the Week of July 29, 2011


Cowboys and Aliens

COWBOYS AND ALIENS

(DreamWorks/Universal) Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, Noah Ringer, Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown, Abigail Spencer, Ana de la Reguera, Walton Goggins, Buck Taylor, Chris Browning. Directed by Jon Favreau

In the dusty Arizona Territory of 1873, a stranger walks into a small town with no memory but a strange shackle on one wrist. The people there seem to know who he is – and that he’s not a particularly nice guy. However when aliens show up, the townsfolk and the local Apache tribe must band together to fight for their survival – and the stranger may be the key.

See the trailer, promos, featurettes, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference)

Crazy, Stupid, Love

(Warner Brothers) Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore. A happily married man’s world comes crashing about his ears when his wife informs him that she’s been cheating on him and she wants a divorce. Thrust into the dating pool from which he’s been absent for decades, he leans on a local player who agrees to take him under his wing and teach him how to be attractive to women in the 21st century – only to discover that both player and protégé are equally susceptible to the ravages of love.frseweqweww

See the trailers, interviews, clips, featurettes and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for coarse humor, sexual content and language)

The Smurfs

(Columbia) Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria, Sofia Vergara. The wee blue creatures of Belgian television lore are chased out of their magical world by the evil wizard Garbage Smell…I mean, Gargamel…and into our own. They are discovered by an expectant couple whose lives are turned around by the Smurfs, who must find a way to escape the evil wizard and make their way home.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for mild rude humor and action)

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

(Fox Searchlight) Hugh Jackman, Li Bingbing, Jeon Ji-Hyun, Archie Kao. A pair of friends in 19th century China is forced to communicate surreptitiously, using a secret language imprinted on paper fans. Their story is told in parallel with the story of their descendants in modern Shanghai.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for sexuality, violence/disturbing images and drug use)