Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter

I have just reread a review I discovered before seeing The King’s Speech this past Tuesday. With the clarity offered of actually seeing the picture, I can more fully accept what I originally deemed a rather controversial (though truly apt) statement from the critic, Peter Bradshaw. He writes, “The movie is a clever anti-Pygmalion. Where Henry Higgins had to get Eliza Doolittle to smarten up and talk proper, Logue finds his pupil has gone too far in the other direction: Bertie is too constrained, too clenched, too formal and too miserable.” While I never thought about George Bernard Shaw once during the film screening, Bradshaw empirically evaluates the pre-war royal polemic in the correct manner. The movie revolves around the idea of finding comfort in the unnatural, discomfiture of royal authoritative life, a life growing more visible every day and less shrouded in ceremonial rituals and the obscurity offered by wealth and stature. George, having already learned how to speak, eat, and comport himself, must accustom himself to his own feelings, which have been repressed by his duty and his fears. A comparable examination of this topic could be said to be offered by Stephen Frears’ The Queen, in which Helen Mirren as Elizabeth attempts to reconcile traditional behavior and rite with populous opinion. Whereas The Queen displayed a superficial-turned-internal reflection inspired by the Queen’s subjects, The King’s Speech is mainly prompted from personal feelings of insecurity possessed by the would-be-King George.

I enjoyed this film and, especially, Colin Firth’s performance in it. His masterful command of the now-famed stammer endears and infuriates us, which is so elegantly set against his relationship with the therapist-née-linguist, Lionel Logue of Geoffrey Rush. The two have an incredibly intimate chemistry that many rightly have said borders on a sentimental, platonic love affair, particularly if we consider the story arc between the characters. Their dialogue is full of brilliant non-sequiturs, witticisms, and fun, but also produces some of the movie’s most powerful outbursts (from both characters). This relationship, beautiful if often hammily plotted, plays on par with the compelling story played in the backdrop of Firth’s George. A father’s slow death and steady abuse, in addition to a brother’s inconstancy and disregard for his duty, all manipulate George and offer necessary (though often predictable) causes for his speech neuroses difficulties. It is amusing to think back on a time when we didn’t automatically assume that royals and celebrities had psychoanalysts working with them. And here we have an intriguing look at what may have been.

As briefly mentioned above, I think there are a few weaknesses to the film. But, to show the quality of the film, I should more accurately call them “the things they brushed aside too quickly.” Here’s my wish list on that front. I wish Helena Bonham Carter played a more significant role: she was a quirky character and one whose devotion to George was unwavering, and I would like to know more about her. I wish they would have either cut out the failed actor nonsense of Logue’s character or gone for it more, perhaps even made a stronger attempt at indicting pre-war society for its harassment of colonial (and other liminal) figures. Though I enjoyed the background of George’s immediate family, there was little truly dramatic content there, nothing that tore at the heartstrings enough or adequately. Even the little Elizabeth was there as a mere token, any more so could be perhaps blasphemous. Still, these characters were hardly developed and instead of being just nationally in-jokes, they could have shared what influence these people really had on Firth’s George.

I maintain that I enjoyed this film immensely, and I think Firth rightly could go home with this year’s Best Actor Oscar.

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It is no secret that I am ardent fan of British television, no more than it is a secret that I adore period dramas. And when these two lovely categories intersect…oh, that produces a little thing called LOVE. Well, at least temporary OBSESSION. The best possible example of this intersection is the BBC’s seminal 1995 mini-series of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Starring a fantastic (and perfectly cast) Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie and THE Darcy of them all (also perfectly cast), Colin Firth, this version is uniformly praised as the height of book to film adaptations. And, for me, it is 5 hours of absolute bliss. Besides flawless casting (well, very nearly), beautiful scenery and costumes, and a faithful screenplay, this series can truly pride itself on its well-balanced story-telling, producing chapter after chapter of delicately unfolded plot with enough drama and suspense to engender faithful viewship of the whole set.

Faults are so few in the BBC’s Pride (but not nonexistent…I’m talking about you, 80’s style semi-transparent Colin Firth head appearing in Lizzie’s carriage window) that it is so very difficult for viewers, such as I, to find any alternatives to it that provide such a satisfying historical-romantic-epic experience.

And yet, I have to admit, I have found a new obsession. Introduced to me nearly two months ago by Christina and Shyla, I am speaking of the BBC’s newest mini-series drama, North & South. [Newest is perhaps a relative term. Released in 2004, the production quality has upgraded since Pride.] I watched the series in one go with Christina while enjoying delicious snacks from Vanessa’s Dumpling House. Little did I understand that, four hours later, I would be absolutely in love with this production (and happily full from several orders of dumplings!).

Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton in "North & South"

Richard Armitage as Thornton in "North & South"

I understand this may appear as sacrilege to the masses of P&P fans out there. How can anything appear to replace Firth’s lake scene or the oddity of Mr. Collins? I do not claim that it can. They are independent of one another and fill separate niches in the  movie-adoration section of my mind. And yet, they are so very similar, both treading on the same terrain. Two young people meet, detest, and slowly fall in love with one another. Throw in an awkward (but incredibly fun to watch, learn, and recite with friends) proposal scene mid-series, a detached-acting (tall, dark, and handsome) would-be male lover, worries about money and reputation, and there you have it. Even the titles have a similar ring about them.

So why do I recommend it so? If it only copies Austen, what is the point?

Well, it is certainly hard to explain. To outline the plot shortly, I’ll use the help of IMDB:

“At the heart of the series is the tempestuous relationship between Margaret Hale, a young woman from the south who finds herself uprooted to the north, and John Thornton, a formerly poverty-stricken cotton mill owner terrified of losing the viability of his successful business. Around them are class struggles between the workers and mill owners and ideological struggles between the industrial North and the agrarian South. After moving North, Margaret’s father befriends his student, Mr. Thornton. Margaret has already formed her opinion of Mr. Thornton independently after seeing him treat his workers harshly. As the series progresses, she begins to learn that his strict treatment is due to an overarching concern for his mill and, by extension, his employees. John Thornton, on the other hand, is attracted to Margaret’s independence and position in society as a well-educated Southerner. As in “Pride and Prejudice” the marriage proposal comes in the middle of the series and is rejected by Margaret. Contrary to “Pride and Prejudice” it is mirrored in social upheaval as the entire town is brought to its knees by a strike. The latter half of the series is an unraveling of the former misunderstandings ending in a romantic reconciliation which is again mirrored by reconciliation between workers and mill owners.”

Things I love about this series are:

  • The score is absolutely beautiful…granted it becomes a little repetitive if you watch the series in its entirety in one instance. Still, closing chapters with that noxious melody is a wonderful choice and brings such amazing power to moments like Margaret’s “I’ve seen hell, and it is white. It is snow white.”
  • It was very skillfully adapted from Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel. While not entirely faithful to the original, it carefully finds the right moments to connect and cut. Now that I have read the novel, I adore it more than the series itself. But I believe that the screenwriters have been absolutely right in many of their cuts and additions. As has often been noted, Ms. Gaskell’s demanding boss, Charles Dickens, forced her to write her chapters very quickly. As such, the screen adapters hoped to fill in little gaps that they imagine she would have with more time. And I am actually ok with their fill-ins.

    Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret in North & South

    Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret in "North & South"

  • Richard Armitage aka Mr. Thornton. He fits the Mr. Darcy bill quite well. He easily acts the defiant, brooding master that finds trouble in conveying his true emotion to Margaret. And he effortlessly fills the typical romantic hero mold in terms of looks.
  • Margaret has some great lines in this series. Her refusals to proposals are quite hilarious.

While it is natural to have issues with a series of this scope, I feel as though the entire package outweighs any cons I could produce. I just love it, and I have watched it countless times already. Props to YouTube for its (presumably) illegal showing of the entire series.

Maya and I attempted to see UP in 3-D last night at the insufferable Regal Cinema in Union Square (none of the AMC theatres I usually go to were showing the film). If status updates on Facebook and Twitter reveal any sort of critical or commercial success for a product, UP and Pixar definitely have yet another hit on their hands. So many of my friends have recommended the movie that I felt compelled to see it. However, with any commercially viable movie, the chances of getting a ticket are sometimes slim. As such, the 9:30 showing was sold out, as well as nearly every other showing of UP that night. A WEDNESDAY NIGHT! Really?!

Drag Me to Hell

Drag Me to Hell

As consummate movie-watchers, Maya and I myself found a stray AM New York lying on the wet sidewalk of 13th and Broadway and searched through the movie listings to find a worthy alternative (hopefully avoiding the Regal Cinema at all costs). And, with 5 movie theatres in walking distance from Union Square, there were plenty of options to tempt us. We settled upon City Cinemas East on 2nd and 12th and Drag Me to Hell.

This movie has been getting a lot of press, though I am sure it cannot even begin to compete with the media attention heaped upon the action flicks headlining the early summer season (Star Trek, Terminator, Wolverine). Apparently, this is Sam Raimi’s return to the horror genre. I never knew he left it; I saw Spiderman 3, and it was horrible. In spite of my own distaste for horror movies and extreme disappointment in those horror movies I have been forced to see (Saw), I was inclined to see this one. Critics do seem to hold some power still over my movie choices. So, the tickets were purchased for the 10:15, and, after a brief Dunkin Donuts run, it began.

(Review begins here)

The gist of the plot can be obtained in the 5 minute opening scene: a gypsy curse causes a mysterious beast to seek you out and drag you to your death…in hell! It is entirely ridiculous. It is mildly racist. But it is incredibly entertaining.

Drag Me to Hell Poster

Drag Me to Hell Poster

I do not particularly enjoy the horror genre, but Drag Me to Hell offered something that I really liked: an acknowledgement of the ludicrous. Too often these films take themselves far too seriously, giving the unbelievable a kind of deified position that is difficult to comprehend on a real-oh-shit-it-could-happen-to-me level. What I liked about Sam’s (& his brother, Ivan’s) story was its consistent ackowledgement through dialogue and plot setups of the craziness of it all. Because they make fun of their own stuff, the gap between the unbelievable and the real was drastically shrunken. The characters, and the audience through them, encounter these ridiculous moments in the same WTF-how-is-this-happening-mindset.

I like that they made the ordinary/predictable fun. What I mean is that they took the archetype of everything and contorted it just to see our reactions as an audience. Certainly, they knew going in that vomit disgusts us and kittens equate to absolute purity. As such, they use a lot of vomit (yes, into other people’s mouths) and do unspeakable things to the token virgin, the kitten.

I have to admire the sound editors on this movie, as well. With a stray chord or tone, the soundtrack was able both to prepare us for a scare or to trick us into that belief. It was relentless in its ability to automatically produce goosebumps! And that score played throughout the beginning credits (entirely underused throughout the meat of the movie) was absolutely outstanding and haunting.

I was just thinking about what my favorite moment of the movie was. I intended to say the dinner party scene, where the beast makes its return following an interesting episode with the main character’s kitten. But thinking it over, I really like the fantastic (and hilarious) parking garage fight that occurs between the spurned gypsy woman and the main character. It was violent, shocking, and absolutely disgusting at points. But a hell of a fantastic scene.

Overall, a definite recommendation for a laugh-filled, frightening night.

I do not like award shows. They do not entertain me. The movies and actors they celebrate do. So I leave it to their movies and their television shows to be their ackowledgement and triumph. Those movies and shows will last longer than the memory of any speech they will make at an awards ceremony. The Golden Globes in particular, which really do nothing for me other than prepare me for the Oscars.

But, hey. At least there is the red carpet and the fashions to look at. Here is a look at my favorites from last night and the others that grabbed my attention.

Versace

Versace

January Jones from Mad Men looks wonderful in Versace. Perfect color for her fair skin. Perfect hair to complement the overall shape of the gown and offset the strong lines. Very old glamour-art deco feel.

Chanel Haute

Chanel Haute

Cameron Diaz, attending for who knows what reason, stole the show with this pink gown by Chanel Haute Couture. It is perfect for the Golden Globes: not too formal, light weight, and more expressive with color. Even the shoes are great.

Christian Lacroix

Christian Lacroix

Freida Pinto of Slumdog Millionaire looks great in this mustard gown by Christian Lacroix. The color is a fantastically rich pastel, like Cameron Diaz’s, and gives her body some necessary curve by bringing out those hips and that bust, while extending the length of the leg. The hair is easy, providing the necessary messiness (seemingly preferred this year), but still giving a clear shape.

Elie Saab

Elie Saab

Evan Rachel Wood, not known for her dressing skills, scores a big hit with this dress by Elie Saab. Take note Tina Fey (this is said with love, I swear), this is what a plunging neckline should look like. With the pulled back hair, she really looks great.

Carolina Herrera

Carolina Herrera

Renee Zellweger definitely took a risk with this gown by Carolina Herrera. And I think it works well. Sort of Victorian, I like the transparent top when added to the lush cut of the opaque fish tail. The hair I am NOT crazy about.

Lanvin

Lanvin

I love Kristen Scott Thomas. And, although this looks a little messier than I would prefer, I think this outfit by Lanvin works well on her. I am not a big fan of flesh tones, and I would have liked to see this in an olive tone or white. That bag is a big no for me.

J. Mendel

J. Mendel

This is a gorgeous dress by J. Mendel. And Kate Beckinsale has the perfect body for it. I think it may be a little too formal for the Golden Globes, but those earrings offset the formality and make it seem, along with the bracelet, more hip and fun.

Dior

Dior

Dior

Dior

Sandra Bullock (right) and Eva Mendes (left) both look hot in these Dior gowns.

I just saw the movie “Last Chance Harvey” at the Regal Cinema in Union Square. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, I knew it would be something to see (in spite of Dustin Hoffman’s questionable choices in films to make of late). First, it was a romantic comedy, meaning irresistible to Robert. Second, I love these two actors: seeing Emma Thompson in absolutely anything and Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie or The Graduate is the mark of a complete life.

Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman in Last Chance Harvey

Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman in Last Chance Harvey

My expectations were not that high since the marketing campaign for this movie seemed to be completely non-existent. And while I was not entirely bowled over by the love story, which was much quicker than that of “Slumdog”‘s, I did enjoy the film. It was never funny or moving, but it did provide me with a pleasant evening, and I felt better by the end of the film than I did when I came in. That is all I can ask from a movie, I suppose. It will never top my list of favorite romantic comedies, and I would never outright recommend it. But if you are looking for a quick, feel-a-little-better film, this movie provides.