Tag Archives: Stephen Fry

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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Alice in Wonderland (2010, Tim Burton)

Alice in Wonderland has a number of balls in the air at once and director Burton–though he does show a good sense of them each while in focus–can’t seem to bring them together successfully. The potentially unifying elements–like Danny Elfman’s score or Mia Wasikowska in the lead–both fall short. For whatever reason, Burton doesn’t have Elfman design the score to be memorable; even when it’s competent, it just reminds of better Danny Elfman scores. As for Wasikowska, who’s utterly phenomenal whether she’s in nineteenth century England or the titular Wonderland, the film loses her too often.

And that loss of Wasikowska, even though it’s always to bring in the assorted cast of Wonderland, kills the film’s momentum. Alice has a very standard plot–Wasikowska has an unpleasant future waiting for her in reality, will her experiences in Wonderland somehow edify and empower her to deal with them? Even though it’s Alice in Wonderland, it often feels like Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton wish they were making Dorothy in Oz.

But when Wasikowska is on screen, she’s able to sell Wonderland’s generic journey. She’s got able assistance too. Johnny Depp turns the Mad Hatter into a wonderful character, acting against his makeup, and Helena Bonham Carter is fantastic as the Red Queen. Both Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover are painfully affected but they’re always opposite someone great so it doesn’t matter too much.

Wonderland’s a moderate success, but should have been a much greater one.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Linda Woolverton, based on novels by Lewis Carroll; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; produced by Richard D. Zanuck, Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd and Jennifer Todd; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice Kingsleigh), Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen), Crispin Glover (Stayne), Anne Hathaway (White Queen), Matt Lucas (Tweedledee and Tweedledum), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat), Timothy Spall (Bayard the Bloodhound), Michael Sheen (White Rabbit), Barbara Windsor (Dormouse) and Alan Rickman (Absolem the Caterpillar).


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Super Clyde (2013, Michael Fresco)

The worst thing about Super Clyde is the blandness. For a while, it seems like Gregory Thomas Garcia can’t figure out how to make fat jokes and be sympathetic–he has to do it cheaply in the end–but there’s nothing to it.

Rupert Grint is geeky in the lead. He’s a geeky red-haired twenty-something who’s weird. It’s awful. He has two annoying siblings–Tyler Labine and Justine Lupe; they’re supposed to be nouveau riche dipsticks (more Lapine and Lupe, but still her too). Grint wants to do something significant with his new wealth.

Enter a bored Stephen Fry as Alfred to his Bruce Wayne.

The comic book influences–even though it doesn’t seem like anyone in the set decorating department paid attention to the references in Garcia’s script–are kind of neat. But they’re a lot more playful than the show itself.

It’s lame stuff. Real lame.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Fresco; written by Gregory Thomas Garcia; director of photography, Sharone Meir; edited by William Marrinson; music by Danny Lux and Matt Mariano; production designer, John Zachary; released by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Rupert Grint (Clyde), Stephen Fry (Randolph), Tyler Labine (Duke), Justine Lupe (Faith), Laura Ortiz (Jolene) and Carla Jimenez (Adriana).


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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011, Guy Ritchie)

I think Guy Ritchie has to be the last blockbuster director who still likes bullet time. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has so much bullet time, one would think it’s from the late nineties. Sometimes Ritchie uses it pointlessly–there are some fight scenes with it and it doesn’t work so well. In contrast, Ritchie also does an action sequence in profile without bullet time and it works much better.

The one time the bullet time is awesome is when Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law (and their gypsy sidekicks) are on the run from some mechanized artillery. Ritchie and his effects people show the weapons working in (digitized) close detail, then zooming back (digitally) to show their effect. Sherlock is supposed to be a blockbuster… not sure having some amazing realization of historical weapons–for a limited audience–is the way to go.

The film’s a very long two hours. The story itself doesn’t fully get moving until about forty minutes into the picture, when Downey first meets arch villain Jared Harris. It gets boring at times, even showing signs subplots got the axe, but it’s always amiable.

Downey’s excellent, Law’s funny and Ritchie, except indulging a little much, does all right.

Noomi Rapace is nothing special as their sidekick, but Stephen Fry’s hilarious in a smaller role and Rachel McAdams is pleasant. Paul Anderson does well as another villain.

Once again, against the odds (and itself) a Sherlock outing proves to be a diverting motion picture experience.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Guy Ritchie; screenplay by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by James Herbert; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Sarah Greenwood; produced by Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey and Dan Lin; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes), Jude Law (Dr. John Watson), Noomi Rapace (Madam Simza Heron), Jared Harris (Professor James Moriarty), Eddie Marsan (Inspector Lestrade), Kelly Reilly (Mary Watson), Stephen Fry (Mycroft Holmes), Paul Anderson (Colonel Sebastian Moran), Thierry Neuvic (Claude Ravache), Geraldine James (Mrs. Hudson) and Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler).


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