Tag Archives: Kate Beckinsale

Love & Friendship (2016, Whit Stillman)

Love & Friendship opens with some non-traditional portrait cards for its cast of characters. The actors all appear in the opening titles, but then director Stillman breaks out introductions to the characters. Along with some narration. There’s some narration early on, which goes away almost immediately. Because narration might show a little too much of the film’s hand and Stillman wants to play it real close.

Everyone’s character gets an introduction card–done with portrait effect nodding to silent film techniques–except Kate Beckinsale. She’s not just the lead, she’s the object of everyone’s attention, which almost seems like the same thing as the film’s subject. But not so. With another twenty minutes or so, maybe Stillman could’ve made Beckinsale the film’s subject, but Love & Friendship runs a quick ninety-four minutes. There’s only so much he can do and wants to do. Beckinsale’s character might be deserving of a character study, but Stillman’s making a comedy and a light one. So object of attention she remains.

Though Stillman does obfuscate just enough to keep Beckinsale unknowable. Though no one in Love & Friendship is exactly knowable. Most character development comes out in characters discussing other ones, revealing bits and pieces of gossip and backstory, which informs how discussed characters play out, but there’s always a wink. Chloë Sevigny’s role in the film is mostly just to be knowing. She’s the wink at the audience.

Stillman takes his time introducing characters and storylines. When the film opens, Beckinsale and sidekick Kelly Campbell are just arriving to mooch off some of Beckinsale’s dead husband’s relations. It’s set in eighteenth century English society, but a lot of the film’s humor relates to just how brazen Beckinsale can be. She’s got a title and no money. She’s got a daughter and no husband. She also provokes a lot of rumor and gossip, which the audience gets in on before Beckinsale even shows up in the film. Stillman lays the groundwork for introducing her–as sensationally as possible given the realities of the setting–but also for what’s going to come in the second and third acts. He doesn’t foreshadow. He goes out of his way to avoid it, instead relying on Richard Van Oosterhout’s precise photography, Benjamin Esdraffo’s score, and Sophie Corra’s awesome editing to package each scene in the film as a separate moment. The actors give the film a continuous tempo, not Stillman’s script. Stillman’s script is about the smiles, the laughs, the intrigue, but he relies on the actors to keep the characters going.

It’s important because he’s introducing new, important ones throughout. Even if they got a portrait card in the first act, a lot goes on in Love & Friendship and Stillman uses the device for charm and humor more than establishing the ground situation. The ground situation comes out in the dialogue, the actors deliver the dialogue. Stillman directs to emphasize each exchange. Occasionally with some eclectic composition choices, always with perfectly timed ones. Again, Corra’s editing is essential to the film’s success.

The acting is all great. Beckinsale holds it all together. With everyone talking about nothing except her character, she’s always the focus, even if she’s not in the scene. So when she does come back onscreen, she doesn’t just have to do the scene, she’s also got to bridge her absence and the discussed character or plot development. Beckinsale, Stillman, and Corra get it right every time.

Xavier Samuel is good as Beckinsale’s too young suitor, Emma Greenwell is great as his disapproving sister. Morfydd Clark is good as Beckinsale’s daughter, who should be looking for a suitor of her own. The relationship with Beckinsale and Clark ought to forecast where Love & Friendship is going to end up, but it doesn’t. Stillman doesn’t want any peeking.

Tom Bennett is hilarious as Clark’s suitor, a rich buffoon. Justin Edwards is quietly excellent as Greenwell’s husband.

Sevigny’s perfect in her bemusement.

Love & Friendship is a delightful, thoughtful, ambitious, beauteous, little, grandiose picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Whit Stillman; screenplay by Stillman, based on a novella by Jane Austen; director of photography, Richard Van Oosterhout; edited by Sophie Corra; music by Benjamin Esdraffo; produced by Lauranne Bourrachot, Katie Holly, and Stillman; released by Amazon Studios.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Lady Susan Vernon), Chloë Sevigny (Alicia Johnson), Xavier Samuel (Reginald DeCourcy), Emma Greenwell (Catherine Vernon), Morfydd Clark (Frederica Vernon), Tom Bennett (Sir James Martin), Kelly Campbell (Mrs Cross), Justin Edwards (Charles Vernon), James Fleet (Sir Reginald DeCourcy), Jemma Redgrave (Lady DeCourcy), Jenn Murray (Lady Lucy Manwaring), and Stephen Fry (Mr. Johnson).


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Van Helsing (2004, Stephen Sommers)

I knew Van Helsing was going to be pretty bad… but nothing could prepare me for it.

It’s not even bad in an interesting way. Its components are, simply put, terrible. Richard Roxborough’s performance as Dracula is possibly the worst essaying of the character… ever. The special effects are awful–the CG monster at the beginning is laughable. Sommers tries to play it a little like a James Bond movie, but a bad one.

Hugh Jackman–as the main character–is somehow not in it enough to make an impression. The story’s very busy, which means Jackman doesn’t actually have much to do.

Kate Beckinsale has an accent and she’s dressed a little like a pirate. Her character doesn’t make much sense, but she and Jackman’s presence in the film doesn’t make much sense either.

Sommers’s target audience is five year-olds (the dim ones) who get references to the old Universal monster movies and Vampire Hunter D, which Sommers plagiarized in regards to Jackman’s costuming.

There’s nothing even remotely good about it. Alan Silvestri’s score is terrible. Maybe David Wenham is funny as the sidekick (he’s playing Q to Jackman, only as a monk).

Besides the generally awful special effects, even the composite shots are bad. They’re so bad it’s incredible they were done for a film released in 2004.

The scariest thing about Van Helsing is someone out there likes it and thinks it’s good.

Easily one of the worst things I’ve ever partially seen.

Sommers redefines dumb.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Stephen Sommers; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by Bob Ducsay, Kelly Matsumoto and Jim May; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Sommers and Ducsay; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Gabriel Van Helsing), Kate Beckinsale (Anna Valerious), Richard Roxburgh (Count Dracula), David Wenham (Carl), Shuler Hensley (Frankenstein’s monster), Elena Anaya (Aleera), Will Kemp (Velkan Valerious), Kevin J. O’Connor (Igor), Alun Armstrong (Cardinal Jinette), Silvia Colloca (Verona), Josie Maran (Marishka), Tom Fisher (Top Hat), Samuel West (Dr. Victor Frankenstein), Stephen Fisher (Dr. Jekyll) and Robbie Coltrane (Mr. Hyde).


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Underworld (2003, Len Wiseman)

I was looking for something stupid to watch—something mindlessly diverting—so I tried Underworld.

Wiseman’s action scenes are fine. It’s when Wiseman tries to direct story he falls apart. And there’s a lot of story in Underworld. Lots of needless scenes, complications, complexities. It’s not a surprise a former stuntman wrote it (Danny McBride—not the actor). It’s a bit of a surprise, though, the filmmakers found a studio to greenlight it without a literate person doing a rewrite.

Beckinsale’s performance occasionally suggests she’s able to hold herself in check. Other times, she’s clearly contemptible of the material. To some degree, it might work for the character… but it really doesn’t. It leads to her having negative chemistry with her Romeo, played by Scott Speedman.

Speedman’s not terrible. He’s not entirely believable as a med student, but he’s nowhere near as bad as I assumed.

Then there’s Michael Sheen. I knew he was in it, but I never really believed it. After seeing him, it’s even harder to believe. He’s awful.

The rest of the supporting cast is spotty. Shane Brolly is really bad. Sophia Myles and Wentworth Miller aren’t terrible. Kevin Grevioux, who co-wrote the story, he’s bad.

There’s some odd homoeroticism to the werewolves, which is mildly interesting; usually the vampires have it. It’s just not interesting enough to make one care.

Cut down to forty or seventy minutes of action scenes… it might’ve work. But with its attempts at character developments and narrative, Underworld‘s awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Len Wiseman; screenplay by Danny McBride, based on a story by Kevin Grevioux, Wiseman and McBride; director of photography; Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Martin Hunter; music by Paul Haslinger; production designer, Bruton Jones; produced by Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg and Richard S. Wright; released by Screem Gems.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Selene), Scott Speedman (Michael Corvin), Michael Sheen (Lucian), Shane Brolly (Kraven), Bill Nighy (Viktor), Erwin Leder (Singe), Sophia Myles (Erika), Robbie Gee (Kahn), Wentworth Miller (Dr. Adam Lockwood) and Kevin Grevioux (Raze).


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Whiteout (2009, Dominic Sena)

I spent a lot of Whiteout wondering why Dominic Sena, whose first film is Kalifornia, didn’t go crazy stylizing the film. It’s relatively stylized as thrillers go, but it’s not at all extreme. And it didn’t even occur to me until the last shot of the film, which lots of people probably don’t have the patience for, to realize what Sena was and wasn’t doing with Whiteout. Whether he realized it or not, he’s created the first mainstream film noir with a female lead (and set in Antarctica).

With the constant use of flashback (but not narration, which is strange, since the comic was heavily narrated and the film takes breaks for it then doesn’t fill them, resulting in frequent white spaces), the tortured protagonist and the suspicious members of the opposite sex, it’s the first film with Kate Beckinsale where I’d ever say she was playing the Sterling Hayden role.

The film does stumble through its first act. Until the cast is established, it’s awkward, as the pacing isn’t quite right for such a large cast. But then, once everyone is introduced, it’s all of a sudden this wonderful experience, watching these people act together.

Beckinsale’s good (though the film’s early objectifying of her is problematic), but without wowing. This role isn’t a hard one (Whiteout‘s about as much of a feminist blockbuster attempt as Sheena). Gabriel Macht’s excellent as are Columbus Short and Shawn Doyle. Tom Skerritt and Alex O’Loughlin are both solid too.

It’s a fine film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Dominic Sena; screenplay by Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes, based on the comic book by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber; director of photography, Christopher Soos; edited by Stuart Baird and Martin Hunter; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; produced by Susan Downey and Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Carrie Stetko), Gabriel Macht (Robert Pryce), Tom Skerritt (Dr. John Fury), Columbus Short (Delfy), Alex O’Loughlin (Russell Haden) and Shawn Doyle (Sam Murphy).


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