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?

FlixChatter Review: LOCKE

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When I heard the premise of Locke, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a one-man show in a confined environment. I knew it’d take the right actor, a substantially charismatic one, to pull off this role. Obviously the script and direction is just as crucial, and fortunately, those three elements work efficiently for the swift 85-minute running time.

The film is set entirely inside a BMW SUV. Within minutes of Ivan Locke climbing into his car and starts the ignition, we learn that he’s a successful construction manager and a dedicated family man. His wife and kids are waiting for him as an important soccer match is about to go on, one he and his kids have been anticipating for weeks. It also happens to be the eve of an important project, perhaps the biggest in his career, one his boss expects he’d supervise and make sure nothing goes wrong.

Seems that he’s got everything in his life under control… yet a single phone call causes him to drop everything and drive to London. Why? Well, to tell you would rob you of the experience watching this film. With every phone call Locke either make or receives, one by one the reason of his seemingly-rash decision is revealed. Yet there’s nothing impulsive about what Locke does that night, he seems to have a calculated, almost mechanical way of looking at things. It’s as if he sees things in his life, and how he responds to each conflict that arises, the same way he responds to concrete in his daily job.

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It’s quite a fascinating and well-crafted moral drama, one that really puts the audience into the roller-coaster emotional ride that our protagonist goes through. I was completely engrossed in this one man’s endeavor to salvage everything that matters to him, and I mean every single thing, this is a man who doesn’t seem to see the virtue of prioritizing. As I watch this, I kept thinking that something’s got to give, he just simply can’t have it all, try as he might.

Sorry to be so cryptic in this review but I feel that the less you know about the plot the better. So that’s a perfect segue to talk about the performances. Hardy is the only character we see in the film but there are a number of great voice actors such as Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott as the people who interact with Hardy on the phone. I think they all did a splendid job, most of all Hardy himself in a riveting and unforgettable role that just might garner him a slew of kudos come award season.

He’s speaking with a Welsh accent of some kind, channeling Anthony Hopkins at times in his manner of speaking. This is perhaps an actor’s dream to be able to use every bit of his facial expression and communicate emotion simply with their eyes or the smallest gestures, and Hardy definitely has what it takes. There’s a certain warmth about him yet within seconds he can be ruthless and even borderline psychotic. Now, that last part is why I can’t give this film a full score. I won’t say too much about it but let’s just say there are some really weird moments that I feel could’ve been toned down a bit. There’s already a lot going on in such a small time frame that it felt a bit too indulgent.

That said, I applaud Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things) for crafting such a unique cinematic experience. The night cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos (Thor) is striking, he somehow made highway driving look so dramatic and even artistic. Some people might complain that there’s not much action, but that actually what separates this from just another thriller flicks out there. For once it’s nice to see a regular guy at the center of the story, someone relatable that we could imagine ourselves or our friends being in a similar situation. There’s no government conspiracy, terrorist/kidnapping type of crisis he has to deal with. There’s no hero nor villain, just a man grappling with one VERY stressful night of his life. I love films that give me a lot to chew on after I watch it, especially in terms of morality and what is truly the right thing to do in a given situation. Locke definitely gives me that. Highly recommended.

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Have you seen Locke? I’m curious to hear what you think.

Rental Picks: Get the Gringo & The Lone Ranger

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Get The Gringo

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Remember when Mel Gibson was the king of the box office? Back in the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s, seems like every film he starred in were box office hits. After he starred in the big hit Signs back in 2002, he actually agreed to return as Max in George Miller’s Fury Road (it’s been renamed to Mad Max: Fury Road); if I remember correctly the film was scheduled to come out in the summer of 2004 but when the second Iraq War happened, the film was cancelled. They wanted to shoot the film in the middle east and of course with the war, it’s not possible. Then we all know what happened to his career after he directed The Passion of the Christ, even though I don’t agree with what he said in his personal life, I still think he’s a great talent.

A car chase opens the movie, a getaway driver (Mel Gibson) and a wounded accomplice are fleeing the American police and heading towards the Mexican border. The car crashes through the border fence and Gibson’s character was taken into the custody of the Mexican police, his accomplice died after the clash. Gibson’s character name was never mentioned throughout the movie, he’s only been called by everyone in the movie as The Gringo. After a night in a jail cell, The Gringo was transferred to El Pueblito prison under false charges, there he found out that the prison actually looks like a ghetto town rather than a real prison. Males, females and even young children are all being kept in this so called prison. Being that he’s the only Caucasian in the prison, he realized he has to figured out how to stay alive and escape the place. He was able to study the ins and outs of the prison and later met a kid (Kevin Hernandez) who’s living with his incarcerated mother. The Gringo and the kid formed an unlikely friendship and he also found out that the prison is being run by a powerful crime lord Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho). He then came up with a plan that will get him, the kid and his mom out of prison.

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This being a low budget production, most of the movie took place in the prison setting. First-time director Adrian Grunberg was able to keep the pace moving and staged some cool shootout sequences. Being that he was a second unit director on some of Gibson’s previous work and other well know films, he didn’t really established the look of his first gig as a director. That’s not a knock on Grunberg though, the look and feel of this movie reminded me of Michael Mann’s recent flicks such as Collateral and Miami Vice, as typical with a lot of action movies in the last few years, this one was shot in digital and there were too many scenes that looked like home video to me. Sometime it takes me out of the story when I see scenes that looked like someone used a consumer camcorder to record the scene, I wish some director would use some kind of effects in post production to give the movie a more cinematic look to it. Both Gibson and Grunberg co-wrote the script along with Stacy Perskie, they didn’t really come up with anything new for this kind of genre. It tends to get predictable but kept my interest and I was entertained, the movie kind of reminded me of Payback, a very good thriller from 1999.

Gibson is pretty much the star of the movie and I thought he’s terrific in the role. Again, I don’t agree on what he said in his personal life but I think he’s one of the few aging movie stars who’s still giving 100% in his performance, Tom Cruise being the other one. I can’t say the same for some other brand name stars, yes I’m referring to Bruce Willis and Robert De Niro, those two seems to just take whatever role the studio offered them.

Despite it being predictable and has that home video look to it, Get The Gringo was a good action thriller that will satisfy both fans of Gibson and the genre. It’s on sale for cheap on DVD/Bluray or you can stream it on Netflix. I think if you’re in the mood for a good thriller, this one will be worth your time.


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The Lone Ranger

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After reading negative reviews after another I didn’t intend to see this movie but my girlfriend and I couldn’t figure out what to do one Friday night, so we decided to check it out. We saw it at one of the most popular movie theaters in MN and there were only 5 people in the seats, including us and this was a Friday night! Apparently the negative reviews scared off a lot of people. Fortunately, the movie wasn’t as bad as most people made it out to be.

The film starts out with a prologue, took place at a San Francisco sideshow in 1933. A young boy who adores The Lone Ranger radio series ran into an old Native American Tonto (Johnny Depp), Tonto sees the boy and start calling him Kemosabe, seeing the boy with the mask on, Tonto thought the boy was his old pal The Lone Ranger. The boy was curious as to why this old man started calling him by that name and so Tonto decided to tell him the story about the masked man and his sidekick. The film then flashes back years later when we meet a lawyer named John Reid (Armie Hammer), he’s on a train and going to visit his brother who’s a lawman Dan Reid (James Badge Dale). However his train ended up being hijacked by a few outlaws who are trying to free their leader Butch Cavendish (William Fitchtner). Here we’re also introduced to a young Tonto, when chaos ensued, both Tonto and Reid tried to stop Cavendish from escaping but were unsuccessful.

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Shortly after, Dan deputizes his brother, allowing him to join in the hunt to bring Cavendish back to justice, but tragedy strikes as their group is ambushed and left for dead. Tonto comes to the scene and saw bodies everywhere, he decided to bury all the lawmen but then John woke up, so Tonto believed he’s been brought back to life by the higher power. John swears to take revenge on Butch for the murder of his brother and decides to team up with Tonto, who is trying to take his own revenge for another tragic event from several years ago. Their adventure will put them up against not only the violent gang of outlaws, but also against a scheming railroad man, Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who is attempting to amass a great fortune with his plan. There’s also a subplot about the romance between John and his widowed sister-in-law Rebecca Reid (Ruth Wilson) that didn’t really pan out that well.

What worked for me were the great visual effects and action scenes, especially the big climax sequence involving trains was pretty well thought out and exciting, you can tell where all those millions of dollars went to. Director Gore Verbinski and his cinematographer really wanted to capture the look of Sergio Leone’s western films of the 60s and I thought they were quite successful at it. As mentioned earlier, the action scenes were pretty great to watch, you can tell Verbinski and his crew probably spent weeks or months prepping each sequence. Wish they spent more time on the actual plot of the film though.

A few things that I thought didn’t work. First the film tonal shift just felt out of place, it didn’t know if it wants to be a comedy action or dark and edgy action/western. There would be one scene where you’ll laugh and then another where you see people getting slaughtered. By combining all these elements into a film, it just didn’t blend well for me. Also, by trying to tell origin stories of both of the leads didn’t really work either. I mean the film’s called The Lone Ranger and they should’ve just focus the story on him, Tonto’s a sidekick so why not leave his origin for later films? I understand when you have a big star like Depp in that role, you have to make him the main lead. They should’ve just called the film Tonto and The Lone Ranger. Lastly, the bloated run-time was just inexcusable, about 20 to 30 minutes of the film could’ve been edited out.

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Performances wise, I thought Johnny Depp was good as Tonto, he’s basically playing Jack Sparrow again here. I was bit disappointed with Armie Hammer though, I always liked him as an actor but I found him to be lackluster here. I wonder it’s because he’s second fiddle to Depp, he’s been told not to over shadow the bigger star? Whatever it was I just thought he didn’t really sell me as the action hero. Both Fictner and Wilkinson were great as usual since they’ve played villains in other films before. I’m still not sure why Helena Bonham Carter agreed to appear in this movie, her role was so small and didn’t really have much to do, maybe she did it as a favor to Depp since they’re good friends. Ruth Wilson was pretty decent as the damsel in distress.

Even though I thought the plot didn’t work and the film was way too long, I didn’t hate it. I actually enjoyed it for the most part but I’m a sucker for western so it’s an easy sell for me. With a better script that focuses more on The Lone Ranger and shorter run-time, the film could’ve been a fun summer ride. Since the film is officially a massive flop for Disney, we probably won’t see any more adventures of The Lone Ranger and Tonto.

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What do you think of Get the Gringo and The Lone Ranger? 

FlixChatter Review: Saving Mr. Banks

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Right away with the vintage 1960’s Disney opening, I knew this film was going to be something special. Giving a nod to the beloved classic, the film opens in the sky and adds the perfect amount of mysticism with a haunting piano melody of “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” accompanied by Collin Farrell’s recitation of, “Winds in the east, mist coming in, like something is brewing, about to begin, can’t put my finger on what lies in store, but I feel what’s to happen, all happened before.” Based on a true story about the life of P.L. Travers, known for creating and penning the beloved Mary Poppins children’s book series, and Walt Disney’s 20 year struggle to purchase the rights, this film has something to offer everyone.

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It’s 1907 and clear that Ginty, Mrs. Travers’ nickname as a child, and her father (Colin Farrell) have a very special relationship. She absolutely adores her father, and he encourages her to daydream, write and think outside the box, much to the dismay of her mother (Ruth Wilson). The family moves from an opulent home in eastern Australia to the rugged, secluded, outback of Queensland, Australia. The children see this move as an adventure, but it soon becomes evident the family is struggling to make ends meet. It’s slowly revealed that Ginty’s father is an alcoholic and is the cause of why the family had to move from means to meagerness in order to find work. While the tension between her parent’s marriage grows more palpable, Ginty continually chooses to see no wrong in her father.

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Jump to 1961 and Mrs. Travers (Emma Thompson) is now a formulaic, stubborn and priggish woman. Almost bankrupt with no current plans to write additional stories, she begrudgingly agrees to meet with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), in L.A. for two weeks, to be part of the script writing and approval process, something he never promised any other author before, in exchange for the rights to Mary Poppins. The film travels back and forth between Mrs. Travers’ childhood in Australia, and present, amidst her battle between the writers and Walt for how the film will be presented. Mrs. Travers has strong opinions about what Disney represents and wants nothing to do with the outlandish, larger-than-life animated characters and musicals Disney was known for at the time.

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Thompson absolutely dominates in this film and plays her character to a T. She’s calculating, a perfectionist and clings to routine and archaic methods. As the film reveals more about Mrs. Travers’ past, it’s hard to believe Ginty and Mrs. Travers are the same person. One is full of such hope, optimism and creativity, while the other has grown up to be a begrudgingly cynical, cold and controlling woman. The Sherman brothers (B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman), Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and Walt are thrown for a loop as Mrs. Travers makes her expectations clear for what Mary Poppins will and will not become. What ensues is a hysterical game of cat and mouse. Along the way, your heart will warm when you hear the beginnings of popular tunes such as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Feed the Birds” and you may even have a tear in your eye when “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” is finally presented.

I absolutely loved the relationship between Mrs. Travers and her driver, Ralph (Paul Giamatti). Every day, Ralph, embodies the bright and sunny Californian disposition and struggles to chip away at Mrs. Travers icy exterior. Only after they find common ground do you finally understand Mrs. Travers’ sometimes callous motivations. Without giving too much away, the film surprises you by dealing with very real, complex and adult content: loss, atonement and redemption.

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In all honesty, watching Saving Mr. Banks will give more background to the hows and whys of the fantastical world of Mary Poppins and will make you want to re-watch the classic. And, now that I’m older, I would argue that Mary Poppins was created to be just as much of an escape for adults as it was a whimsical world for children.

Disney gets is right with Saving Mr. Banks. I’d highly recommend adding this film to your roster of movies to see over the holidays. The acting was superb, the score beautifully accompanied the emotions and themes of the film and it gives you insight into how the magical classic was made. Be sure to stay in your seats during the credits, as you’ll get a glimpse of the real P.L. Travers.

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4 out of 5 reels

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Thoughts on Saving Mr. Banks? Would love to hear what you think!