Thursday Movie Picks: Period Dramas

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday! It’s TMP time! The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… Period Dramas.

Ahhhh! This is one of my all time favorite genres and those who read my blog regularly knows I have a soft spot for Jane Austen, specifically Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility. But beyond that, I watch a TON of period dramas and so in order to narrow things down to just FOUR, I’m only selecting TV MINISERIES based on books. I actually love the miniseries (or limited series) format as it allows more time for character development and unpack the story in a deeper level. I happen to own ALL of these miniseries, that’s how much I love them!

So here they are in the order of release:

North & South (2004)

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North and South is a four part adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s love story of Margaret Hale, a middle class southerner who is forced to move to the northern town of Milton.

Call me old fashioned but I feel like a lot of romances these days are all about instant gratification. I think the pent-up passion, the waiting, the stolen glances, etc. are what makes period romances so irresistible to me. I’ve seen my North & South DVD countless times and it never gets old. The casting of Daniela Denby-Ashe (Margaret) and Richard Armitage (John) are superb and they have a palpable chemistry, especially towards the end. I’ve even dedicated a post for John Thornton character in this post.

Similar to Pride & Prejudice, Margaret and John didn’t get off on the right foot initially, there’s also a proposal that didn’t go over well, which of course adds to the drama! I love that this story is SO much more than just a love story (though it’s the best part about it), but it also shows the changing economic landscape of the north and south of England during the Industrial Revolution, hence the title.


Jane Eyre (2006)

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A young governess falls in love with her brooding and complex master. However, his dark past may destroy their relationship forever.

There are a whole bunch of Jane Eyre adaptations both on films and TV. Up until 2006, my favorite miniseries is the 1983 version starring Timothy Dalton that I’ve talked about here. Now, there are parts I still prefer the 1983 version, but overall I think this is a more compelling adaptation with a much more superior production quality. I love the fact that it’s a female-driven series both in front and behind the camera–directed by Susanna White from a screenplay written by Sandy Welch, surely a first in a Charlotte Brontë adaptation.

I love Ruth Wilson as Jane and Toby Stephens as the brooding Rochester who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s not as stiff and stoic as previous Rochesters (Dalton excluded) that I’ve seen previously, which makes for a more fun dynamic. The banters between the two are lovely to watch, and I can see how Jane falls for her much older boss despite her better judgment. Stephens often comes across as too playful in the role but somehow it works well here and the emotional scenes between them are really heart-wrenching. Jane says Rochester is the only one who’s ever treated her like an equal and the filmmakers did a good job showing that.


Persuasion (2007)

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Anne was in love with Frederick, who was rejected by her snobby parents 8 years ago. They’ve now hit hard times and rent out their mansion to his brother-in-law. He returns a Royal Navy captain. Will he remember Anne?

Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel, which is her last novel she fully completed before her death. The main protagonist, Anne is considered ‘old’ at 27 and has lost her bloom, while the man she rejected eight years ago is now a war hero and a wealthy man. Now, I have to say that the 1995 version is a much superior adaptation, but this one has its charms. I like the way Sally Hawkins portray Anne and Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth, while Anthony Head is hilarious as her vain and stuck-up father obsessed with his status in society. The scenery is gorgeous as it was filmed on location in Bath. The direction by Adrian Shergold is a bit baffling in parts, I don’t know why Anne is the only character who breaks the fourth wall, and I wish he didn’t have Anne run all over town to see Wentworth in the end. Overall I enjoyed this adaptation though, and I love this scene when they meet in Bath by chance during a rainy afternoon.


Death Comes Pemberley (2013)

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Elizabeth and Darcy, now six years married, are preparing for their annual ball when festivities are brought to an abrupt halt. An adaptation of PD James’s homage to Pride and Prejudice.

It’s Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie! Somehow Pride and Prejudice is one of those classics that’s quite extendable. Now, unlike Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this one is pretty much a continuation of the story of Lizzie and Darcy, who somehow still can’t escape the shadow of the dastardly Wickham. I LOVE Matthew Rhys as Darcy, this Welshman is masterful in any role and here he portrays the more mature, conflicted Darcy brilliantly. I was a bit skeptical about Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth but I’ve grown to appreciate her portrayal and the fact that she’s actually more plain-looking as Lizzie is supposed to be in the book. As P&P fans, it’s always intriguing to imagine the life of our beloved couple past their blissful wedding. The way the script explores the Darcys relationship during this tumultuous time is quite fascinating.

Now Matthew Goode as Wickham is absolutely perfect casting, esp. in displaying his vulnerable side as he stand accused of murdering his own best friend. He also never looked more ravishing in his red uniform, yowza! Jenna Coleman is quite irritatingly hilarious as the over-the-top Lydia, and I love the pairing of Eleanor Tomlinson (as Darcy’s younger sister) and James Norton who are besotted with each other. The production values are incredible, gorgeous set pieces, costumes, and especially the legendary Chatsworth House as Pemberly estate. I can’t recommend this enough for anyone looking for a good mystery and intrigue in a costume drama.


Have you seen any of these? Which are YOUR favorite period dramas?

Weekend Viewing Roundup: Mr Robot, ‘A Hologram for the King’ & The Wine Show

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How’s your weekend everyone? It’s another glorious weekend weather-wise… Summer is so fleeting here in MN so we’ve got to make the most of our time being outside.

I didn’t go to the cinema this weekend, trying to finish up Mr Robot Season 1 and we’ve got four more episodes to go. I’ll defer my final judgment until I finish all episodes of the first season, but I’m impressed w/ it so far. It keeps me guessing just what the heck is going on and it always ends on a suspenseful cliffhanger.

It’s certainly one of the most diverse cast of a TV series, with the lead Rami Malek himself of Egyptian descent. No shortage of interesting characters in this series, Mr Robot himself (played by Christian Slater) is definitely an enigma, but the Swedish-speaking Tyrell played by Martin Wallström is the one who gives me the creeps. He reminds me of American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman with his steely gaze and violent tendencies.

Looking forward to finishing Season 1 hopefully next week!


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Saturday night I watched the new Tom Hanks drama set in Saudi Arabia. At first it made me think of Lost In Translation mixed with Learning to Drive, though it’s quite different from either. Cross-cultural stories always appeal to me, though this film is more about a personal journey for the lead character. Alan Clay is a washout American sales rep who’s sent to Riyadh to do a major pitch for his company to a wealthy-yet-elusive monarch.

I have to say I’m not sure what to make of this movie. I was amused one second, discombobulated the next. The novel by Dave Eggers (which Hanks reportedly loved) might have been very interesting, but it feels like it might not have translated as well on screen. Now, it’s not that I wasn’t entertained, there are some amusing moments and Hanks was likable as always, I just felt that the humor felt a bit forced at times. They also hired another White guy (an American) to play an Arab. Alexander Black plays the taxi driver Yousef who predictably becomes friends with Alan. There’s a running joke about him checking the hood of his car for a bomb, not in a terroristic way he said, but from a jealous husband who suspects he’s having an affair with his wife. It was amusing the first time around, but it became repetitive. I feel there’s a lack of genuine rapport between the two actors, but it’s more because of the way they’re written.


There’s a budding romance between Hanks and his female doctor, Dr. Zahra (Sarita Choudhury) who treats him for the cyst on his back. I’m not really feeling the chemistry between them however, just like Alan and the taxi driver. Oh and the scene between the two towards the end is very um, unexpected. Let’s just say I didn’t expect to see a topless underwater scene in this movie, though I don’t think that alone warrants that the R-rating. Interesting that Choudhury was also in Learning To Drive, it seems like she’s got that ambiguous ethnicity where she could play an Arab, an Indian or Italian believably. I like that her character defies the stereotype of what we, in the Western world, think of an Arab woman. There’s another female character, a Danish woman working in the region who came on very strong to Alan, but her storyline seems grossly under-developed.

The pacing of the film seems off, though the story did manage to surprise me a few times. I can’t judge how accurate its portrayal of Arab culture as I’m not from that region, but I feel that the filmmakers did attempt to do it respectfully and not resorting to simple stereotypes. Filmed in Morroco with some exterior shots of Riyadh, it blends the traditional and very modern aspect of the Arab world.  The actual hologram presentation to King Abdullah itself is a non-event, apart from a rather odd cameo from Ben Whishaw playing a Q character of sort.

Once I finished the film, I found out that the film’s director is Tom Twyker. I love his German film Run Lola Run, but his last Hollywood movie is the even more puzzling Cloud Atlas. I did praise it for its valiant effort, though I honestly don’t know if I’m going to like it as much upon rewatch. Now, what I can say for this one is, give it a shot if you’re a huge fan of Hanks (as he’s in virtually every single scene). Overall it’s lacking a certain oomph to make it a memorable movie. But at only 138 minutes, at least it didn’t overstay its welcome.

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WineShow

I saw on Twitter there’s a new reality show called The Wine Show arriving on HULU. It’s got the two gorgeous Matthews, Matthew Goode & Matthew Rhys, who played Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy in Death Comes to Pemberley. The show was originally done for British ITV. Filmed in beautiful locations all over the world, The Wine Show is informative, entertaining, humorous and surprising, with something for everyone who enjoys a glass of wine. I love that the wine expert is called Obi Wine Kenobi, ha!

I love this, definitely will be watching all 13 episodes!

 


So that’s my weekend recap. What did YOU watch this weekend, anything good?

Weekend Roundup: The Americans (FX series) and The Bling Ring reviews

Happy Weekend everybody! WOW, everything’s still very much awesome for The LEGO Movie, winning box office for the third straight weekend with $31 mil. It’s now made $183 mil domestically, and with a production budget on only $60 mil, that’s quite a huge hit for Warner Bros. The McG/Luc Besson’s spy thriller 3 Days to Kill (review coming later this week) is a distant second with $12 mil but with a low production budget of $28 mil, I’d think they’d still turn a profit. Pompeii on the other hand, lives up to its subject matter, being a major box office disaster as it only made a measly 10% of its $100 mil budget, ouch!

It’s home cinema this weekend for me, catching up on some older films and TV series I’ve been meaning to check out. Here are my thoughts:

The Americans (FX series)

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Two Soviet intelligence agents pose as a married couple to spy on the American government.

A few people have mentioned about this show, but finally my hubby and I had a chance to check out the pilot last Friday. We’re definitely gonna try to catch up with Season 1 as there are only 13 episodes.

I thought the concept of having two Russian protagonists in an American show is very intriguing. It certainly offers a fresh twist to an otherwise run-of-the-mill spy show. It’s set in the 80s during the Reagan-era Cold War, and according to IMDb, the show is based on a true story that broke in 2010 of Russian sleeper agents hiding in plain sites in the US for decades. So just like in the series, their children, coworkers, friends, and neighbors had no idea they were spies.

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Having just seen Austenland, it’s quite a change to see Keri Russell as a bad ass spy here, in the opening sequence she’s dressed like a hooker seducing an FBI agent. Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, with impeccable American accent, plays her *husband* aka spy partner. Both are excellent in the role of married couple Elizabeth & Phillip Jennings, who look like a typical suburban DC couple with a couple of kids posing as travel agents. The pilot presents quite a dilemma for the couple when their assignment involves kidnapping a defecting KGB agent whom Elizabeth had a personal vendetta. Their loyalties to Mother Russia is tested as the Jennings don’t always share the same feelings about their job. Of course things are about to get even more interesting when one of the FBI agent hot on the trail of the kidnapping suspects move in to their neighborhood! A strange twist of coincidence or is there more to it than that?? Well, I can’t wait to find out! Nice to see Noah Emmerich as FBI agent Stan Beeman, he’s one of those character actors I’m always impressed with every time I see him in a movie or TV series.

I think the most riveting of all is how the American audience are no doubt compelled to perceive the “enemy” of the states in a whole new light. I definitely sympathize with them more than I probably should. But really, are they really so different from our own agents working in a foreign country? The sharp script keeps me engrossed and in suspense. I love that this spy series is not about the cool action and gadget you’ll find in escapist fun like James Bond, but it’s more in the vein of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that explores the tricky adventure of espionage and really get into the intricate psyche of a secret agent.

I refrain from giving a rating at this point as I’ve only seen the pilot. But I highly recommend this one if you’re a fan of the spy genre or if you’re looking for a quality show to get hooked to.

Now switching gear to Sofia Coppola’s latest effort from last year. 

The Bling Ring (2013)

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At first glance I really wasn’t all that enthused to watch this film. I mean I couldn’t be more disinterested in seeing materialistic and fame-obsessed teenagers robbing their favorite celebrities. I find the whole TMZ culture so loathsome, I don’t even care to read US magazine anymore even when I’m at the salon. It’s interesting why Coppola choose to do a film on them, but perhaps there’s some kind of message she’s trying to tell us with this story. Well, unfortunately this film is as shallow as protagonists depicted here.

The film basically shows us how these teens, led by its ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) and her new BFF Marc (Israel Broussard), rob one celebrity’s house after another. They’re mostly C-list celebs who are more famous for their shenanigans (Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton) or those famous for being in the fashion mags instead of actual work (Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson). So apparently none of these celebs have heard of home security as even Hilton’s mansion was so easy to break into, in fact, the group barely had to break anything to access their homes. I don’t know what is more repulsive than witnessing these kids stealing things left and right or seeing the excessive decadence on display.

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I have to admit I wasn’t as bored out of my wits watching this as I did watching her last film Somewhere, but I felt that even that movie perhaps had a bit more depth as at the very least Coppola tried to present some kind of redeeming quality for the disenchanted Hollywood actor. In this film, the characters only pass through time, living their incredibly shallow life in succession, simply motivated by the grand hedonistic lifestyle and self-indulgence. It’s stylishly shot but everything is so detached. Despite a few engaging and hilarious moments in a self-parody kind of way, I struggle to find a meaning – if any – that Coppola is trying to say here.

The only saving grace here seems to be Emma Watson, simply because it’s amusing to see her portray someone so different from Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. Her American accent is spot on and she certainly has the gift of comedy. It’s amusing to think that the young actress is surely as wealthy – if not more – as the victims that her character rob in this movie! But even she could barely save this vapid drivel. Even though it’s only 90-min long, it felt pretty tedious by the repetitive stealing-and-partying scenes displayed over and over. It’s darn near impossible to sympathize with any of the characters the way Coppola depicted them here. I think Marc was perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film as he seems to be the only one who has the slightest bit of remorse. But really, that’s not saying much.

This is the third film by Sofia Coppola I saw, but so far my favorite is by far still Lost in Translation. I might give her other earlier films a try, hopefully The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette fare much better than this one.

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So what did you watch this weekend? Thoughts on The Americans series and/or The Bling Ring?