Movie Review: “A Room with a View”

 

Enchanting from beginning to end. –Rogert Ebert

Overview

Merchant Ivory productions, one of the oldest indie film companies, has produced many smart, beautiful pictures on a small budget: Maurice, Howard’s End, The Mystic Masseur, The White Countess, etc.  My personal favorite is A Room with a View from 1985; it was shot in Florence, Italy and county Kent in England.  It is based on a book by E.M. Forster, regarded as one of England’s most tolerant, sensitive writers.  I have the 2 disc special edition DVD; the film was digitally re-mastered in 2003.  Helena Bonham Carter was an unknown actress before A Room with a View.  Sadly, James Ivory’s business (and life) partner, Ismail Merchant, passed away last year. 

Plot and Characterization

At the opening of the film, Lucy Honeychurch (Bonham Carter), a British upper-middle class young lady, is on vacation in Italy with her cautious/irritating single aunt, Charlotte Bartlett (Maggie Smith).  The ladies happen upon Lucy’s pastor from home, the Reverend Mr. Beebe (Simon Callow).  There is also a romance novelist, Eleanor Lavish (Judy Dench) at the hotel.  Lucy is especially struck by a very unorthodox father and son- Mr. Emerson (Denholm Elliott) and George (Julian Sands). 

Charlotte wants to stick to what the guidebooks say, but Ms. Lavish convinces her to be more independent.  Though the Emersons are British, they have their own way of looking at the world; they speak what they feel.  Lucy is surprised by, but also curious about the handsome, yet brooding George.  Through circumstances, or fate, Lucy and George are thrown together. 

When Lucy gets home to England, she gets engaged to wealthy, uptight Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis).  You can suppose they had been courting for a long time.  Her family, including little brother Freddie (a very young Rupert Graves), think Lucy can do better.  Lucy is uncertain about her choice, too.  Into their quiet neighborhood come two new tenants- the Emersons!        

 

My Thoughts

I can’t believe this movie came out 23 years ago- it always looks fresh and new whenever I see it!  At first, it comes off as a simple love story.  But when you look deeper, you see the conflict between the natural (an individual’s true feelings/desires) and artificial (British society of the early 1900s).  Howard’s End (starring Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, and Bonham Carter) and Maurice (starring the young Hugh Grant and James Wilby) also deal directly with this conflict.  The two men Lucy must choose between personify this conflict. 

Cecil is a well-read young man, but he behaves like a stuck-up old man incapable of enjoying life.  Day-Lewis shows his character’s discomfort by doing every little thing very stiffly.  His costumes are very formal and tight-fitting, purposefully no doubt.  Mr. Beebe even suggests that Cecil is the type of man who will remain a bachelor.  Hmmm…

George is quiet and mysterious at first, but later we see he is full of life and very real.  He’s blunt in contrast to the other people Lucy is familiar with.  When he moves to Kent, he becomes a friend to Freddie.  In one hilarious scene the two young men (along with Mr. Beebe) go bathing naked in a pond.  George is comfortable in nature; he doesn’t know how to be not real, as his father points out to Lucy in a crucial scene.    

I really enjoyed the nuanced performances of Maggie Smith and Daniel Day-Lewis in this film.  They seem like the annoying “bad” guys at first glance, but they have moments where they get to show their complexity.  All the characters get their moments to shine in this film; I wouldn’t expect less from Merchant Ivory.  Bonham Carter is strong (as always); I don’t think I’ve ever seen a weak performance from her!  Here she gets to be a likeable “traditional” heroine, not a cheater or oddball- that’s interesting to see.  Check this film out ASAP!!!  

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Movie Review: “Truly Madly Deeply”

Overview

This imaginative romantic comedy (released in 1991) was recently deceased director Anthony Minghella’s first film.  It is a terrific film, starring theatrically-trained actors: Juliet Stevenson, Alan Rickman, and Michael Maloney.  Minghella also did commentary for this film; he admits that he was a technical novice, but relied on a team of experts.  Most of this team continued on to work with the director on other films, including The English Patient and The Talented Mr. RipleyTruly Madly Deeply involves Minghella’s interests, friends, and sensibilities. 

 

Plot & Characterization

Nina (Juliet Stevenson- Mrs. Elton in Emma; Keira Knightley’s mom in Bend it Like Beckham) is a charming, intelligent woman (around 30) who works at a language institute in North London.  (Nina is fluent in Spanish.)  Her boss/friend (Scottish actor Bill Patterson; he’s in Amazing Grace) is worried about her because she’s “not having any fun” these days.   Her older sister is worried because Nina’s flat (or “apartment” as we say in the US) is falling apart and has a mouse (yikes!)  She shrugs off their concerns.

 

Nina meets regularly with a therapist because she is having a very difficult time getting over the recent death of her (cellist) husband, Jamie (Alan Rickman from Robin Hood– note the mustache- and Sense and Sensibility).  She is sad, but also angry, as is revealed in a very intense scene.  (Juliet Stevenson is not afraid to reveal messy emotions.)  Nina busies herself with repairs on her flat with help from a romantic Polish immigrant (Titus).  Then one day, Jamie appears in the living room! 

 

Jamie is not like other movie ghosts you may’ve seen.  He complains constantly about it being freezing cold in the flat; Alan Rickman chose to wear a long black overcoat the entire time.  He invites other ghosts (from various time periods) to watch classic films, play music, and redecorate Nina’s place. 

 

Getting off the bus one day, Nina runs into Mark (a man who she saw at a local restaurant).  She decides to go out with this (real life) man.  Check out Truly Madly Deeply to find out what happens next! 

 

My Thoughts

Visually, there are no tricks or bells, but the acting is superb!  Even the small parts are done very well.  Minghella points out that these actors aren’t the “typical romantic leads.”  Stevenson and Rickman (who worked together before) have the kind of chemistry and comfort with each other that can’t be faked.  Nina and Jamie seem like a real, passionate couple with a shared history.  From the moment he meets Nina, there is a twinkle in Maloney’s eyes- we know that Mark is interested in her.  I especially liked how the two men were quite different: Mark is positive and smiling, while Jamie is sullen and intense.  Will Nina choose to live life again or remain in the past?        

Movie Review: “The Apartment”

 

Before last week, I never knew about this terrific comedy film by famed director Billy Wilder.  I picked it up from The Strand bookstore in Union Square because I absolutely loved Jack Lemmon (and co-star Tony Curtis) in Some Like It Hot.  The Apartment won 5 Oscars in 1960, including the most-coveted one, Best Picture!  The stars of this (black and white) film are Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray.  Unlike Some Like It Hot (another Wilder comedy where the main characters dress in drag to escape the mob), The Apartment is a more serious, true-to-life type of comedy. 

 

 

 

There are light and dark moments relating to ambition and romantic relationships, among other themes.  Jack Lemmon plays C.C. (Bud) Baxter, a single, ordinary “nebbish” (as his neighbor says) working for a huge insurance company in NYC.  But Bud has an advantage over his co-workers- he’s renting out his apartment to four men (working above him in different divisions) who want a little “ring-a-ding-ding” outside their marriages.  These guys, including a hilarious young Ray Walston (known to modern audiences from his serious TV roles), say this will put Bud on the fast track to success.  Bud has no problem with them having fun on the side, until it hits him personally.

 

The audience can clearly see that Bud has an interest in one of the elevator operators in his office building, Fran Kubelik (a very young Shirley MacLaine).  He thinks she’s “a nice decent girl” and goes out of his way to compliment and chat with her whenever he can.  When he gets a big promotion, he asks her out on a date to the theater.  He got free theater tickets from the head of personnel, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray).  But things are not as they seem with the sweet, friendly Ms. Kubelik. 

 

I’m not going to reveal more about the plot of The Apartment, because I want you all to discover the surprises on your own.  Jack Lemmon does a great job in this film- he can convey conflicting emotions with subtlety.  He can do physical comedy, and his eyes are very expressive.  Shirley MacLaine will remind you of Renee Zellweger; she can be vulnerable and tough.  Young single, working women will relate to the character of Fran (at certain points in the film).  Fran wants to be loved, but keeps falling for the wrong kind of men.  This is a must-see film for anyone looking for a smart, thoughtful comedy!