Archive for the 'drama' Category

03
Sep
16

Antony and Cleopatra

Film_Cleopatra_Gallery_Embrace

After reading the play for my book club, I watched the 1971 Antony and Cleopatra film starring, written and directed by Charlton Heston. It was a grand epic and I think today a director would be more naturalistic, which isn’t necessarily bad. I did appreciate the grandeur and pretty much expected that in a Heston production.

I was surprised by the amount of skin shown. We see Charlton Heston in a thong-like loin cloth and some women’s bare backsides. It was the early 70s and Antony and Cleopatra were led by their desires and Cleopatra’s court was hedonistic in Shakespeare. (Earlier Chaucer wrote about Cleopatra and she was more of a “good wife,” more nurturing and romantic.)

The film did make parts of the play, which I read for my online book club, clearer.

The film was able to show the scale of the battles and their brutality, which was quite gory, but how things would have been. While it wasn’t perfect, I got the sense that the film did include authentic aspects of the Ancient World.

It reinforced my attitudes toward the characters–they weren’t at all admirable, but they were compelling as great people who suffered great falls.

As I watched I wondered why Shakespeare had all three servants–Iras, Charmian, and Eros–commit suicide for their masters. Such blind loyalty. I wondered how Shakespeare’s contemporaries thought of that. I wondered why no one went on to move on with their lives. Two women killed themselves for Cleopatra. Wow. Was she worth dying for? Ladies, you could have had a better life post-Cleopatra.

There was a scene in the film that really struck me. In Act 2, Scene 2 when Caesar and Lepidus are conferring Caesar’s watching two gladiators spar. Then Antony walks in and he and Caesar . All the while the gladiators spar and are quite violent. Therefore there was a good tension between the veiled, polite language Antony and Cleopatra use and the increasing fighting Caesar’s seeing.

26
Aug
16

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot stars Tina Fey as Kim, a broadcaster who half-heartedly volunteers to go to Afghanistan on assignment. Fey’s character leads a nice, but ho hum life in New York with a steady boyfriend (Josh Charles) and a steady, unchallenging job just reading news. Once in Afghanistan, she realizes she’s way over her head. She eventually adapts to life during wartime.

While away, she discovers her boyfriend is cheating so she’s free to take up with Martin Freeman’s politically incorrect, usually philandering, war-savvy character, who’s a photo journalist.

I felt the first half of the movie drags and contains a lot of obvious jokes and clichéd situations about culture, but it’s worth watching on DVD or on a plane where you can watch half, take a break and watch the second half. Tina Fey does a fine job as does Martin Freeman and Josh Charles. The reason to watch is to see what sacrifices people make during this war that too many of us forget and to see what has gone on in Afghanistan.

 

16
Jul
16

Mr. Six

Mr. Six (left), his pal (right)

Mr. Six (left), his pal (right)

At a hotel, I asked a concierge for a list of good Chinese movies and Mr. Six was among them–and wow did it belong there.

I found it on a Singapore Air flight and this tale of the clash of the old and poor Beijingers with the rich and young blew me away. The film opens in the hutongs of Beijing where an old time gangster, nicknamed Mr. Six, lives and rules dispensing justice as he threatens pickpockets and intervenes between the police and a poor vendor. Mr Six, a widower, hasn’t even heard from his twenty-something son in six months. He knows the kid doesn’t care about him. He soon hears that his son’s been kidnapped as vengeance for sleeping with a super-rich kid’s girlfriend and then keying that guy’s Ferrari.

Mr. Six knows his son was in the wrong and tracks down the gang of rich car racers, who might as well come from another world. Their culture and mores have little in common with this old geezer who has a very clear, almost eye-for-an-eye view of justice.

Rich kid with blond hair and scratched Ferrari

Rich kid with blond hair and scratched Ferrari

Mr. Six shocks and impresses the kid his son wronged in a curious way. He’s given 48 hours to come up with 20,000 to pay for the car’s paint job. Mr. Six then proceeds to make the rounds of his old pals, some who’re squeaking by and others who’ve become wealthy to get the money. The film is a good look into China’s culture today. The young are (in some regions more than others) not buying into the old ethos. Materialism is on the rise and taking its toll in the form of souls. Mr. Six has the old justice system down, and it differs from Western ways so he surprised me again and again.

Also the film itself takes some interesting turns that wouldn’t come up in an American film. At one point the young, spoiled kids agree to meet Mr Six and his cronies to resolve the matter with a big fight. The old guys show up, but the young ones don’t. I can’t remember a no-show like that in a Western film. Returning home, Mr. Six gets surrounded by henchmen sent by the rich kid’s dad. They proceed to threaten and beat him.

The film captivates and has stayed with me and will for quite some time.

 Warning: Mr. Six will strangle and fight anyone who’s treating his son unjustly. It’s not as violent as The Godfather but there’s a lot of fighting and some blood.

22
Mar
16

A Night to Remember

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

A Night to Remember (1958) is a disaster film with dignity. It lacks the sentimental love story, which was central to Titanic, but that’s why it’s a better film. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, the film shows the swells enjoying the high life and the boisterous fun below in steerage mixed in with the misplaced wire messages about the iceberg and the frustrating refusal of nearby ship called the California to believe the Titanic’s distress messages.

The film shows people of all sorts, some willing to help their fellow passengers and others who’ll kick and claw their way into a lifeboat. The film weaves the facts in so you don’t feel like it’s a history lecture. You root for the characters all the while knowing most won’t make it. When the boat starts tilting so much that it’s at a 45° angle, you feel dreadful.

The Criterion Collection offers a good essay on the film here.

08
Feb
16

Downton Abbey, 6.6

Downton-Abbey-Series-6-Episode-6-Review-The-One-Where-Nothing-Happens

My reactions to the sixth episode of the final season of Downton Abbey. I’d say this was my favourite episode of the season due to all the humour.

  • As is true for the whole season, I find the clothing sumptuous and it made me want to work on my triceps.
  • Robert is out of the hospital and on the mend, but confined to bed all week.
  • This week the hoi poloi was allowed to trample through the Abbey to make money for the Hospital Trust. What a situation ripe for dissension and humour! Of course, Violet, Carson and Robert believed this was the end of civilisation and they did have a point. Even Edith (I think) later said having them come through made her feel like there was something strange so that people were willing to pay to gape at them so that their home was a bit like a zoo. What was most funny was how when Cora, Mary and Edith gave their tours they knew so little about the house’s history. It makes sense because they’ve grown so used to it. It’s just home. Still since they fight to keep it you’d expect them to know more.
downton-abbey-season-6-episode-9

Don’t you just love these clothes?

  • Daisy continues to get on my nerves. Lately, Mr. Mason is growing sweet on Mrs. Patmore, who seems to return his feelings. Daisy does whatever she can to keep them apart. In this episode she throws a letter to Mrs. Patmore from Mr. Mason in the trash. Luckily, Mrs. Patmore finds it, but Daisy’s acting so oddly and there’s no reason for it–especially since Daisy hasn’t taken up Mr. Mason’s offer for her to live in his house, which would be a lot more more comfortable and pretty than the servants’ quarters. She’d still be able to work at the Abbey.
  • The storyline with the hospital progressed. The York Royal Hospital will take over the local hospital. What’s worse was that they’ve made Cora president of the hospital, and they’re sidelining Violet. Everyone kept that a secret from Violet till she discovered the truth via the grapevine. She was livid! The climax was Violet storming into the Abbey during the charity tour and blowing off steam with the acerbic wit we love her for.
  • Mary’s love life is moving along. With Tom as an escort, she met Henry Talbot at a dinner party in London. Afterwards, Tom disappeared and Henry and Mary got caught in the rain and shared a romantic kiss. She’s still concerned about his lack of status and his car racing, which reminds her of Matthew’s death.
  • Edith invited Bertie, the man who helped her get the magazine out in one night, for dinner at the Abbey. She even showed him her “ward” Marigold. Finally Mary is on to the truth that Marigold is Edith’s daughter. Rather than directly asking Edith, which she really can’t go since she’s got such a rotten relationship with her sister or asking her parents, she’s trying to get the truth out of Anna and Tom. I really applaud their loyalty to Edith as neither spilled the beans.
  • Poor Thomas. He’s teaching Andy, who’s illiterate, to read. Yet Mrs. Patmore and Carson have seen Andy coming out of Thomas’ room so they’ve reached the conclusion that Thomas is corrupting Andy. Well, Thomas has been cold and conniving so people don’t expect him to be kind so in part, you reap what you sow, but it’s still too bad. He’s being pushed out the door. It’s understandable because the family has to make cut backs, but now it seems, that he’s getting pushed out because  Thomas has been misunderstood. He promised Andy he’d keep his illiteracy a secret so out of honour he can’t tell. What a dilemma.
  • Mr Carson continues to nitpick his new bride Mrs Hughes over her cleaning and cooking skills. She must have known how to make a bed to have progressed in her early career, yet it’s not good enough for Mr Carson, who has no tact. Unfortunately, rather than raising the issue, Mrs Hughes has been stewing. I predict she’ll explode next week. We’ll see.
  • Dexter, who deserves to be out of a job at the Dowager’s, coerced Spratt into pleading her case with Violet. He succeeded, but as is the case with blackmail, he’s still on the hook. Dexter will tell the world that he hid his nephew, who was fleeing the law. Yes, Spratt broke the law, but Dexter is so manipulative it’s dangerous.
26
Jan
16

downton abbey, S6, Ep. 3 & 4

End of ep 4

I’m a bit behind in my musings on Downton Abbey.  The major events in episode 3 were Carson & Mrs. Hughes’ wedding. After a kerfluffle over what the ever-practical Mrs. Hughes would wear (she didn’t want to make a big deal about a dress and thus had no pretty, let alone elegant dresses), Elsie Hughes looked lovely in a coat that Cora wound up giving her. The trouble before the wedding reached its pinnacle when Cora, who had a headache from arguing with the dowager, discovered Anna, Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes all in her bedroom trying on one of her coats that Mary said she could wear. Cora through an out-of-character fit, but then Mary hadn’t explained or asked and it did look like a trespass over social boundaries. Soon Cora, true to form, apologised and wound up graciously giving Mrs. Hughes a gorgeous, embroidered coat that perfectly matched the plain dress Mrs. Patmore had ordered from a catalog. How lucky!

Edith took the reigns at the magazine. She sacked the complaining editor and worked all night to get the edition out. She lucked into meeting an attractive male acquaintance who asked her for drinks and then wound up staying up all night to help her with the magazine. How much cleaner than saving the pigs! Does that make it more or less romantic? What happened to Mary’s pig-beau?

Anna continued to have pains and fears of a miscarriage. The family elders continued to bicker over plans for the hospital and once again Thomas had a semi-comical, semi-sad Chekoves-que job interview at a big estate in decline. In the final scene I’m sure I wasn’t alone in rejoicing that Tom and Sybie have returned to Downton for good! (We could have guessed since Tom has been shown in promotional interviews and photos.)

Episode 4

Mr & Mrs. Carson were on their honeymoon for most of the episode. Several characters mentioned how hard it would be to call Mrs. Hughes Mrs. Carson. That little problem was solved at the end when everyone agreed that at the house she’d be Mrs. Hughes.

The squabbling over the hospital continued. Violet called in an aristocratic friend to assist her in her cause. Unfortunately, Lady Shackleton flip-flopped at the dinner party. Her main use proved to be that she brought her nephew, Henry, who is one of Mary’s suitors from last season.

Anna felt she was about to miscarry, so late at night Mary whisked her off to London via York, where the super Royal York Hospital with all it’s nifty skill and technology is. Hmm. Well, it worked out because Mary got to have cocktails with Henry and flirt a bit. Anna was okay and had a procedure that saved the baby. Still I wouldn’t want to take a train trip lasting I’d guess a few hours when I was miscarrying. Seems the last thing a woman would want to do would be to be on a train.

Daisy, who’s very eager to see that Mr. Mason get the house and farm that the Drewes have vacated since Mrs. Drewes kidnapped Edith’s daughter Marigold (what was she thinking?), almost sabotaged her job. She’s gotten to be quite a firebrand. She took Cora’s interest in Mr. Mason and a vague comment that Cora would see what she could do as a promise. When she hears a rumour that Mr. Mason won’t get the the land, Daisy works herself into a frenzy that culminates in her determination to tell off Cora. Every single servant urges her to calm down, to watch it, to wait and hope for the best, but Daisy obstinately ignores. At the pinnacle of her rage, Daisy storms upstairs. She’s willing to put her job on the line. Fortunately, before she can irrationally lash out against Cora, the Crawley’s tell her that they’ve decided that (although it’s not a great financial decision) they’re giving Mr. Mason the farmland. I doubt there was a luckier character on the show than Daisy at this time.

My favourite part of the show was when Gwen, who in the first season was a maid who with Sybil’s help became a secretary, showed up at Downton. She came with her husband, an aristocrat. When she arrived Thomas and Anna recognised her. The family members didn’t. Thomas, full of envy, blustered about how Gwen prospered, but he’s working in the same house in 1925 that he was in 1912 (or earlier). When serving, Thomas spilled the beans and got Gwen to reveal that she had been a kitchenmaid at Downton. While Thomas tried to embarrass her, Gwen regaled the family with stories of how dear Sybil helped her get the education and job that propelled her into the workforce and how that ties into her current association with a new woman’s college, Hillcroft. All the Crawley women now fully support this novel idea to educate women who need to work.

Baxter, Cora’s lady’s maid, is called upon to agree to testify against the man who urged her to steal from her previous employer. At first she was reluctant, but Mr. Mosley convinced her that if she didn’t other women would probably be tricked by him and would end up in jail or as prostitutes (that’s what has happened to some of women he’d conned).

Odds and Ends

  • Tom wants to do something more than just be the agent for the estate. He’s got an inkling that it may have to do with racing cars.
  • Mary and Henry met in London and romance may bud there, again.
  • Quite a few people–Anna, Robert, and Violet–experienced some kind of health worries or aliments. Will this mean that down the line the Crawley’s may actually need that new hospital with all it’s modern equipment and knowledge.
  • Violet made a good speech on how when government gets into an area, people lose power and autonomy. Typically, I don’t buy that line of thought, but Violet was quite convincing.
  • As usual the dresses were amazing.

 

 

25
Jan
16

The Big Short

bigshort
Based on Michael Lewis’ book, starring Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling, The Big Short tells the story of the man who figured out the U.S. housing market was a house of cards and the others who learned about it and bet (invested) the market would collapse. It’s an interesting story though now anyone who follows the news knows what happened and why.

I liked the main narrative, but found the montages ineffective. These were interspersed showed the era through random images shot with a shaky hand, which was no doubt imagined to be “cool.” The director aimed to be artsy with these and I think failed. Just tell us the story in as compelling a way as possible.

The story’s sort of a cat and mouse plot, with three teams of investors tracking the source of the financial crisis and even though they bet big, I found myself rooting for them. I wonder whether generations hence would. The film does bring up the question of their hypocrisy, which is a fair question and needed to be asked.

Although I doubt the filmmakers realized that while their film indicts the greedy on Wall Street, it implicitly indicts all swaggering, men who lack a code of honor or morality. What we see is a male-dominated field with no true oversight who spend way too much time joking around, teasing each other. The film, probably made by a boys’ club, puts strippers or “bathing beauties” in a scene whenever they could. I left the theater angry that only one man went to jail for causing the crisis, that we could still have a similar crisis as we don’t have new regulations that can prevent it, and that Hollywood is yet another male-dominated field that doesn’t serve society as it could.

I could have done without the gratuitous strippers and a clearer narrative, but I’d still say it’s worth seeing, though perhaps it’s better to read the book.




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