Collateral Beauty: Time for Love & Death to Take a Holiday

 Mirren Kills'em.jpg Mirren Kills’em

DATELINE:  Bereavement Hallucinations

Every once in a while a movie comes along that invites insult and derision. This time it is  Will Smith’s dramedy called Collateral Beauty.

It has echoes of so many other, better stories, that we aren’t sure where to begin the diagnosis.

From the trailer you might believe this is a fantasy film on the lines of Love, Death, and Time, Meet in New York. You’d have been deceived, sort of.

A depressed man, dealing with the death of his child of six, has business associates that want to have evidence to commit him to a looney bin.

So, they arrange for actors to play Love, Death, and Time, to pay him a visit. It’s Gaslight—but as Helen Mirren, playing Death, discovers in the course of the movie, no one remembers that classic film, known for its good acting. No one will remember this one for that same reason.

When you start out with some of the most unlikable characters all woven into one plot, you are already behind the Oscar voting. Will Smith knows about being overlooked for a good performance—and lets his natural gray hairs show his love for acting this time as the movie lay dying.

We presume this is a cautionary tale—but we aren’t quite sure if we are being warned about sneaky business partners, cruel fate, or bloated self-pity. There is plenty of that stuff to go around in this movie. Just call it a sentimental journey.

Here’s the rub: you probably will watch it and hate yourself in the morning, which may be the opposite emotion the film wants you to have. It preaches at the audience enough to cause a backlash.

You may actually begin to think those “actors” playing at Death, Love, and Time, may be the real thing, like a coven of witches hanging out in the Big Apple for laughs.

At one point, Helen Mirren says, “This is not Noel Coward. It’s more like Chekhov.”  Yes, the movie never falls short on lofty pretensions. You could do worse.

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People’s Princess v. The Queen

 DATELINE: Ten Years Later

Queen & Country

As docudramas go, Helen Mirren’s movie about Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana is among the best.

Now ten years later, we took another peek at the film called merely The Queen, directed by Stephen Frears and written by Peter Morgan. It has that wry detail of Diana looking back at the Queen with an accusing stare.

We don’t know how the creators know what tears, angst, and emotions, were expressed when the Queen was alone.  Mirren provides all this and more. Yes, it surely makes an exciting and intimate film performance.

This is the best of Mirren’s many queen roles, and this is the best of Michael Sheen’s many Tony Blair roles. Blair has to save the Queen from herself and her noblesse oblige family. Mirren’s Queen is witty and ultimately practical, whether this is true of the real people in the movie or not.

Actors re-enacting surely provides powerful insights into the tragic event of Princess Di’s death and the reaction of Her Royal Pains in the afterlife.

We recognized an impressive Roger Allam this time, from his Endeavour TV series, playing the Queen’s personal assistant. James Cromwell is his usual acerbic character as Prince Philip.

Mirren has many stunning moments, such as her shock when the public applauds Di’s brother after giving her eulogy. The Queen’s speech left more to be desired, even with a great actress delivering the same words.

Ryan Reynolds & Helen Mirren Fight for Klimt

DATELINE:  One of the Golden Girls

aunt-adele

Ryan Reynolds is Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Man of the Year. He likely won because of Deadpool, but his far better movie of the year is Woman in Gold.

Lacking car chases, fights with super powers and other special effects, the film obviously has had a much smaller audience.

Co-starring with Helen Mirren as the niece of the woman in the famous Klimt painting, Reynolds is a nebbish attorney, grandson of Arnold Schoenberg.

As they confront the dubious art leaders of the museum, Mirren compares her lawyer to Sean Connery and James Bond—an era when technology and special effects supported a good plot.

The true story centers on the efforts of an aging refugee of the Nazi regime in Austria. She is trying to retrieve the $100 million painting that hangs in a Viennese museum. What she encounters are a bunch of crypto-Nazis.

Reynolds represents her as a favor to his mother, against his own law firm’s wishes. Mrs. Altmann feared traveling back to the place where her family died—and her nightmares and rush of memories emerge at every site.

A protracted court case, going to the Supreme Court of the United States, and ending with a hearing in Austria, wears on them. Mrs. Altmann wants to take her Aunt Adele (in the form of the art work) to the United States. Mirren seems a tad young to be a girl from the 1930s in Austria (story is set in 1997).

We will abstain from analyzing the painting, which may not be flattering at all.

A few marvelous actors adorn the film in golden cameos: Charles Dance, Jonathan Pryce, and Elizabeth McGovern.

In an age of cartoon/comic book tales, the gold Klimt image of Adele Bloch-Bauer may seem like a super-heroic woman—but it is her niece with the determination to finish a battle to honor Adele’s murdered family.

Eaton Place, Gosford Park, Downton Abbey? High Rent Stuff

MOVIE MASHUP

going gone gosford

 

With the final season of Downton Abbey nearly a year away, we decided to give ourselves a fix with the movie that helped Julian Fellowes decide to write the hit TV show.

We refer to Gosford Park, which we did not put on our A list back then. It seemed to be too American filtered—with Robert Altman directing like Agatha Christie had decided to redecorate Upstairs/Downstairs.

By far the worst part of the film was Bob Balaban as the intrusive Hollywood producer at the English shooting party. Heaven knows, he was an anachronism then—and remains one now. He just did not fit in, whether it is bonking his beautiful manservant Ryan Phillipe, or calling butler Alan Bates, Mr. Jennings. It seemed too precious for words.

Yet, the overall effect was to pick out all the actors who found work on Downton Abbey—including Maggie Smith, playing well, Maggie Smith as a dowager.

One of the key effects was the all-star cast. It seemed to bring in every actor who had a role in a British miniseries to those who frequented Ivory-Merchant period movies. It was a great idea, making characters jump out instantly. Without the weekly series to bring familiarity to the characters, Altman hit on a highly effective idea.

Of course, there is something insidious going on—and we see the clues everywhere—from bottles of poison to missing knives. There is murder in the air, and we aren’t even close to the Orient Express.

It helps to have a great cast, clever plotting, and a director at his peak of power. We found this bargain basement Downton, but then again Downton is bargain basement Brideshead Revisited.

If you are into the genre, then it all falls into period place. You know where you are and what to expect. We were not as up or down as the first time around. Gosford Park started to feel comfortable.

 

 

Everyone’s Face Should Be RED 2

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

Why did anyone want a sequel to the original comic adventure movie about retired CIA agents? We suppose it gave good salaries to its stars—Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovitch, and now in the sequel, to Tim Piggot-Smith, Anthony Hopkins, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, all along for the long in the tooth ride.

Maybe they just wanted to have fun. Well, if your cup of tea is mayhem, and what dizzy funsters those old assassins really can be, this is your movie.

We hate any movie that is like a cartoon. This one revels in it. The opening credits, and the montages between scenes, are actual morphing into cartoon versions of the action and stars. This is DC Comics writ big, but with geriatric superheroes.

We knew that our tolerance level would be pushed to the limit with this little doozy. Usually we do not review films that we know will win our enmity. Perhaps for a few seconds, we thought this little dismal comedy thriller would transcend the materials. Call us wrong.

Perhaps we thought the aging stars would be hilarious in off-the-wall mode. Nope.

How misguided we were to entertain the notion something good would come this way. This movie is putrid for its violence and cavalier dispatching of human life. We don’t find sociopathic killers among our favorite amusements. If that were the case, we’d be rooting for those laugh riot terrorists.

The film has excellent production values, easy to watch performances, and quick plotting. It’s not enough. Trust us when we say that lugubrious movies with ponderous arty plots, like You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet and Kill Your Darlings, may be excruciating in their pseudo-arty approach, but we will take an effort to say something important over an effort to use chaos as comic relief.

Big budget failures are the worst—because the money would have been better spent in a serious (or humorous) little film. Sure, the producers may have to pay for a vocal coach for Daniel Radcliffe, or security for Robert Pattinson, but if the movie has merit, we applaud the expense.

RED 2 should not inspire another RED. We’d rather have our stars go into genuine retirement than reprise these roles ever again.