The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society


Wheels keep on turning.

(2018) Drama (NetflixLily James, Michael Huisman, Jessica Brown Findlay, Glen Powell, Matthew Goode, Tom Courtnay, Katherine Parkinson, Clive Merrison, Bernice Stegers, Penelope Wilton, Kit Connor, Bronagh Gallagher, Florence Keen, Andy Gathergood, Nicolo Pasetti, Marek Oravec, Jack Morris, Stephanie Schonfeld, Pippa Rathbone, Rachel Olivant, Emily Patrick. Directed by Mike Newell

 

In 1946, England was still picking itself up and dusting itself off after the war. In London, the ruin of the Blitz was still very much in evidence and while there was an attitude of starting fresh, the pain and horror of the war wasn’t far from the surface.

Author Juliet Ashton (James) is making a tidy amount off of plucky war-set stories that are popular but bring her no intellectual satisfaction. A fan letter from a book club in picturesque Guernsey, a Channel Island that had been occupied by the Nazis during the war (a fact that this ignorant American wasn’t aware of) leads her to visit the club to perform a reading. She is captivated by the beauty of the island but even more so by the people, particularly those in the club. Although she is engaged to a flashy American diplomat (Powell), she finds herself drawn to farmer Dawsey Adams (Huisman). She is also drawn to the mystery of Elizabeth McKenna (Findlay), once the heart and soul of the club but whose absence nobody seems to want to talk about.

Mike Newell is one of the UK’s most capable directors with movies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral as well as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, one of the better installments in the franchise, to his credit. He does a marvelous job of evoking the post-war Era and gathering together an even more marvelous cast. James is never more attractive than she is here, and nearly all of the ensemble cast has some wonderful moments, particularly veterans Courtnay and Wilton, particularly Wilton who is much undervalued as an actress. There are sequences here where the raw emotions brought on by survivor’s guilt are communicated without theatrical hysterics. It’s a nuanced and brilliant performance that very nearly steals the show.

The romantic elements of the movie are a bit too sweet, leaving one with an unpleasant taste in the mouth – I truly wish that the plot had revolved more on the tale of Elizabeth McKenna than on the romance between Dawsey Adams and Juliet Ashton which came off like a British period soap opera only less interesting. I can’t not recommend a Mike Newell film however and the strong performances in this one make it a perfect candidate to Netflix and Chill.

REASONS TO SEE: The era is recreated beautifully.
REASONS TO AVOID: Contains more than a little bit of treacle.
FAMILY VALUES: The themes are somewhat adult; there are also some sexual references and occasional mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James, Findlay, Good and Wilton also have appeared in the hit PBS series Downton Abbey; one of the filming locations for the show also doubled as exteriors for Guernsey (the Charterhouse in cases anyone is keeping score).
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/24/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews: Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Man Who Went Up a Hill & Came Down a Mountain
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Jim Allison: Breakthrough

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

In ancient Persia, tandem wet t-shirt contests were done with slightly different rules.

(Disney)  Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell, Steve Toussaint, Richard Coyle, Ronald Pickup, Reece Ritchie, Gisli Orn Garvarsson, Claudio Pacifico, Thomas DuPont, Dave Pope, Domokos Pardanyi. Directed by Mike Newell

One thing you can say about summer movies, they don’t require a great deal of brain power to enjoy. The more action and fantasy you can cram into 90 minutes, the better and if it takes you away from your cares and troubles, even more so.

Of course, the characters onscreen have plenty of cares and troubles. Take Dastan (Gyllenhaal), for example. He’s a Prince of the mighty Persian Empire, but not by birth. Wise King Sharaman (Pickup) adopted young Dastan from the streets of Baghdad after observing the boy’s bravery in standing up for another boy. Dastan has grown into a headstrong young man, a gifted fighter and a bit of a wiseass. More than a bit, perhaps.

He and his brothers Garsiv (Kebbell) and Tus (Coyle) – the latter of which is heir to the throne – are on some kind of military exercise with their Uncle Nizam (Kingsley). The plan is to attack the holy city of Alumet – which King Sharaman has expressly forbidden them to do, mind you – but whom their intelligence has led them to believe is supplying their enemies with weapons. The leader of Alumet, Princess Tamina (Arterton) is understandably peeved, considering her people have done no wrong.

Still, the city seems impregnable enough until Prince Dastan discovers a weakness in the defenses and leads the troops into the city, even though he’s been expressly forbidden to….hmmm, seems there was a lot of that going around in the Persian royal court. In order to mitigate the issue, the decent Tus offers to marry Tamina in order to…well, politics was never my strong suit.

King Sharaman, upon hearing that his sons have disobeyed direct orders, comes to Alumet to celebrate. He is promptly poisoned and Dastan blamed. He escapes with the aid of Tamina. It turns out that an elaborate dagger, which appears to be purely ceremonial in nature, is the weapon of mass destruction that Dick Chaney was looking for after all.

This dagger can cause time to rewind a few minutes, with only the wielder of the dagger aware of the change. It can only go back a few minutes because that’s all the sands of time that the dagger can hold. There is an unlimited supply of the stuff underneath the city of Alumet, but in order to obtain enough to send the dagger-wielder back in time for any length of time, Armageddon would have to be unleashed but that little drawback doesn’t stop the villain of the piece from wanting to do just that.

The villain – oh, you know who it is, don’t you? – has also hired a secret society of assassins (try saying that five times fast) – to retrieve the dagger and eliminate the pesky prince and princess. They escape into the desert, on their way to the funeral of King Sharaman to warn…well, the bad guy because….oh my head hurts.

In any case, on the way they run into a wacky sheikh (Molina) who makes his fortune on rigged ostrich races and bad mouths any sort or form of taxation (he’s the original Tea Bagger) while keeping a taciturn knife-throwing expert (Toussaint) from Namibia (or some such place). This makes complete sense. The sheikh means to collect the hefty reward that is out on Dastan’s head but they escape by…ummm…causing a riot at an ostrich race by opening a crate of scimitars and…ummm…okay I’m done with the plot.

Okay, you’re not going to go to see a movie based on a videogame because of its intricate plot. You’re probably not going to go to see it because of its acting performances either. No, you’re going to go see it because of the eye candy and the action. On both scores, Prince of Persia gets high marks, particularly the former. The cities of ancient Persia, rendered digitally, look marvelous with the practical sets resembling the hinterlands depicted in Gladiator and Hidalgo pretty much.

Gyllenhaal probably wouldn’t have been my first choice to play Dastan, but he acquits himself nicely. Dastan is an athletic sort who combines parkour-like moves with some nifty sword work. It all works out to a pretty good approximation of The Thief of Baghdad, the granddaddy of this kind of film. Gyllenhaal is no Errol Flynn, but he carries enough offbeat charm to make the character memorable. Arterton delivers a performance from the feisty princess school of acting. It’s not groundbreaking, nor is her chemistry with Gyllenhaal particularly sizzling; she’s insanely easy to look at however and at least comes by her British accent honestly. Gyllenhaal effects one and it isn’t too bad, but it gets distracting now and again when it comes out strained.

Molina is one of the most reliable actors in the business and brings a light touch to the picture. Whenever he’s onscreen, he makes a mark and improves the movie. Kingsley lends gravitas – it’s not often you get an actor of his calibre in a videogame adaptation – and adds subtleties to his performance that you wouldn’t expect to find at a movie like this. That may go completely ignored by the average moviegoer, but I found it refreshing and surprising.

Given the political situation there now, it’s hard sometimes to remember that the Middle East was considered a romantic place, full of adventure going back to the days of Rudolph Valentino. Prince of Persia resurrects that romance, adding some surprising political jabs on both sides of the aisle (finally, a movie that both Bill Maher and Glenn Beck can both love). It’s mindless, its fun and everything you could want from a summer movie.

REASONS TO GO: Magnificent production design, from the ancient cities to the intricate weapons. Action sequences are exciting and frenetic.

REASONS TO STAY: Gyllenhaal’s faux English accent is distracting at times.  

FAMILY VALUES: As you might expect from a videogame adaptation, there is a great deal of action and violence, but nothing the average teen hasn’t seen in videogames and television. If you’re okay with them playing the videogame, there should be no problem with them seeing the movie.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Other than the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, this is the only PG-13 rated movie Disney has ever released under its Disney banner.

HOME OR THEATER: Big screen, without a doubt. The fantastic vistas have to be seen on as big a medium as possible.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Winter’s Bone

Love in the Time of Cholera


Love in the Time of Cholera

Touching and yet not touched.

(New Line) Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Benjamin Bratt, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Hector Elizondo, Liev Schreiber, Fernanda Montenegro, John Leguizamo, Laura Harring. Directed by Mike Newell

There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied. The same argument cannot be translated to romance and love; sometimes, love delayed is love deepened.

Florentino Ariza (Bardem, played as a teenager by Unax Ugalde) is a well-read clerk and messenger in Venezuela in the last decade of the 19th century. He comes from a poor family but does not carry himself that way. One day, while carrying a message in the crowded marketplace, he catches a glimpse of the beautiful Fermina Daza (Mezzogiorno), daughter of a wealthy mule trader (Leguizamo).

He is smitten from that very moment. He falls deeply and hopelessly in love with her and vows to court her. His efforts are met with a gentle but firm refusal from the father, but a sympathetic aunt smuggles heart-rending, bodice-ripping love letters from the lovesick Florentino to the overwhelmed Fermina – until her father discovers what is happening and ships his anguished daughter far away until she can come to her senses. Dear old dad wears away at her until she eventually comes to believe as he does – that Florentino is beneath her. Instead, she turns her attentions and affections to Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Bratt), a handsome, charming and sophisticated medico who nurses her to health after a bout with a stomach ailment that her overprotective father had feared was cholera, a serious health hazard in 19th century Venezuela.

She ends up marrying the good doctor, leaving Florentino heartbroken. He vows to wait for his beloved to become free again, even if he has to wait 50 years for the doctor to die. Of course, the doctor takes his time in doing so. In the meantime, Venezuela crosses into the 20th century (kicking and screaming in many ways) and suffers through civil war, cholera epidemics and a host of dramatic social changes. Dr. Urbino turns out to be a bit of a playa, which devastates his naïve wife but in all honesty wasn’t unusual in Latin America at the time.

Florentino occupies his time by taking a job as a clerk for Don Leo (Elizondo), an importer of goods and eventually Florentino takes over his business when Don Leo retires. He also discovers the thrills of recreational sex thanks to the urging of his buddy Lothario (Schreiber) and embarks on a series of meaningless sexual escapades, all the while proclaiming himself a virgin because he is, as far as he is concerned, a virgin until he makes love to the woman that he loves. Still, time passes on and when the moment appears that Florentino may finally get what he has been waiting for, the question is will Fermina still want him?

This is an adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel and those who have read Marquez know that it is a daunting task to adapt his work. He writes primarily in Spanish and one of the compelling things about his work is its lyricism, which often doesn’t translate well to English. Filming this in English was a tactical error on the part of the filmmakers; this is one of those movies that would have been better served by subtitles.

Another thing that doesn’t translate well is the Latino mindset. The rigid and puritanical mindset of the Latin American culture of that era made the contemporaneous Victorians look like free-love hippies by comparison, especially in regards to how young women were regarded. Men were expected to have sexual conquests and frequented prostitutes and other women of easy virtue, but women were more or less treated like possessions that were expected to arrive at their owner in pristine condition. It’s as foreign a concept to us as eating insects is.

Still, director Mike Newell has managed to make a gorgeous-looking film that captures the era nicely. Haciendas and marketplaces are chock-a-block with the colors of the tropics and the gentility of the era is also portrayed accurately. One can lose themselves in the beauty of the images here, and you might get an urge to do some exploring in the part of the world that this is set in.

The flaws of the movie are not the fault of the actors, certainly. Bardem, who would win an Oscar that year for his work in No Country for Old Men, manages to take a role that American audiences would have difficulty getting behind and making him a sympathetic, romantic figure. While we might scratch our heads about his sexual proclivities, we wind up admiring his loyalty nonetheless. The international cast has some very distinguished figures in it, such as Oscar-nominated Brazilian actress Montenegro as Florentino’s sympathetic mother. Generally, this is very well-acted.

This winds up being a movie with great intentions – to bring a work of literary genius to the screen. The story itself is as timeless as love, and just as heartbreaking. What is also heartbreaking is that the movie doesn’t succeed in its grand intentions and it really isn’t anyone’s fault, unless you want to count that Marquez is such a magnificent writer that his work doesn’t really translate well to the medium. They might have had a chance if they’d filmed it in Spanish, and perhaps an enterprising filmmaker who is used to that language might give another go at bringing this classic love story to the screen once again.

WHY RENT THIS: This is a lush, beautiful-looking film that captures the look and atmosphere of the time and place in which it’s set. The actors, particularly Bardem, do a wonderful job.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Slow-moving and a bit archaic, the motivations of Florentino may mystify modern audiences. None of the lyrical poetry of Marquez’ original novel translates well to English.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of nudity and sexuality, so keep moving if that kind of thing offend you.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno found an owl’s nest in her rented home during the shoot in Cartagena, Columbia and named the two owls after the lead characters in the movie.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Driving Lessons