Love in the Time of Pandemic: “Perfect Sense” (2011) starring Ewan McGregor & Eva Green

Without love, there is nothing. -A tagline for the movie

A mysterious epidemic appears across the world where people suddenly lose one of their senses. At first, it’s the loss of smell, which comes after a destructive temper tantrum. Epidemiologist Susan (Eva Green- who is French) and chef Michael (Ewan McGregor) begin a romantic relationship; her apt is opposite from the restaurant where he works. Soon, the loss of other senses plagues more… and more people; the civil authorities try to maintain order. Is love possible in such a time/situation?

Susan: [narratingthe 1st lines] There was darkness. There is light. There are men and women. There’s food. There are restaurants. Disease. There’s work. Traffic. The days as we know them, the world as we imagine the world.

This indie film reteams director David Mackenzie w/ his Young Adam (2003) star/fellow Scotsman- McGregor. The screenplay was written by a Danish man- Kim Fupz Aakeson; originally this story was set in Denmark. Connie Nielson (also Danish) plays Susan’s bestie- Jenny. To research her role, Green spent several days hanging out in labs in Glasgow w/ biologists and epidemiologists. Susan’s older co-worker Stephen is played by Stephen Dillane (British); he is best known for Game of Thrones. Michael’s boss/the restaurant owner is played by Denis Lawson (McGregor’s uncle); this was their 1st time working together. They both appeared in the Star Wars franchise; Lawson played Wedge Antilles in the original trilogy; McGregor played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy and recent Disney+ series. Ewen Bremner (James- the sous chef) and McGregor were both in the two Trainspotting films; I need to watch those sometime. Alistair McKenzie (from Monarch of the Glen) plays Susan’s virologist co-worker; I recall watching the early seasons of that TV show on PBS.

Susan: Aren’t you going to ask why I haven’t been to work?

Stephen: Well, you’ve been sick.

Susan: Not sick, just unhappy.

Stephen: It’s the same thing.

Susan: Unhappy, on account of a man.

Are y’all fed up w/ the pandemic/COVID-19? Then, this is NOT the film for you, as it delves into similar events/themes! Yup, there are restaurant closings, face masks (KN95), and MANY people facing mental/physical breakdowns. Unlike Contagion, this story is told on a small scale w/ a personal feel. I’m a fan of McGregor (and NOT just for his looks); he usually makes acting look effortless. He brings an easy charm and lightness to Michael, though there is tragedy in his past. Susan is a serious scientist who also has a difficult past. Recently, I’ve seen Green in The Dreamers (her early role; directed by Bertolucci) and Clone/Womb (an indie co-starring Matt Smith). She brings to mind the reserved/elegant leading ladies of a past time, BUT w/ a modern twist. They have V good/easy romantic chemistry. A fun fact: The shaving cream tasted in the bath is actually made of white chocolate, as is the bar of soap bitten into- LOL! Mackenzie went on to direct Hell or High Water; check that film out if you haven’t yet.

[1] This is the “thinking man’s” end of the world type flick.

[2] I found this film quite enlightening, the performances intense, the music appropriate and, last but not least, the photography/ filming magnificent. 

[3] Mackenzie films Glasgow in glory and decay, making wonderful use of water and reflected light, as he did in Young Adam. The hard jar of the camera on a bicycle sans steady-cam is a brave choice, but it draws your attention to visual sense and foreshadows the losses about to fall.

This is a moving film, a thought-provoking one, about love, connection, and all the things we take for granted.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall” (2011)

In 1986, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera arrived on the West End stage. After 25 years, the musical achieved global success, millions of viewers, a film adaptation in 2004 (which I don’t recommend) and a sequel. Filmed at the Royal Albert Hall, this performance (which you can rent on YouTube) brings the show to a bigger stage and celebrates its role as one of the biggest shows in theater history, w/ speeches, performances, and appearances by the original cast (and some notable Phantoms). Starring Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess, POTO tells the story of a deformed musical genius who lives underneath the Paris Opera House. Shunned by society, the Phantom seeks revenge (w/ cruel and violent acts). He’s in love w/ a chorus girl, Christine Daaé, who he has been secretly training to replace the leading lady.

Karimloo (who is Canadian) is engaging and very effective w/ his gorgeous voice and imposing physical presence. One side of his face looks genuinely scary; this was done by the original makeup artist. Boggess (who is American) is charming and her stage presence is as strong as Karimloo’s. Her soprano voice is bright and clear. She esp. does a terrific job w/ Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again. Past of the Point No Return was very compelling; two leads show that they have great chemistry together (even though The Phantom has on a hooded cloak). I learned that Boggess was the original Ariel in Broadway’s The Little Mermaid.

The encore featured 4 different Phantoms from around the world and was the debut for one of them: Peter Jöback from Sweden. He was scheduled to play the Phantom after the concert in London. The other 3 Phantoms who sing are: Colm Wilkinson (who is Irish; the original Canadian Phantom and Jean Valjean in Les Mis in London and NYC), John Owen-Jones (London’s longest running Phantom). and Anthony Warlow (Australia’s most famous Phantom). The original Phantom, Michael Crawford, was also there, as was the incomparable Sarah Brightman (the original Christine; former wife of Webber). I remember buying her CDs in HS.

The camera work allows you to admire the production design and does so unobtrusively, often it has a very cinematic look…

Hadley Fraser has a different take on the childhood sweetheart of Christine. Fraser brings an energy and eagerness to the character. I loved Fraser because he brings a new energy and charisma to the character.

[Karimloo] is both very threatening and very vulnerable. He is both aggressor and victim. He captures the fragility of the Phantom’s mind and the strength of the Phantom’s will.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

More Holiday Movies

Holiday Engagement (2011)

Hillary (Bonnie Somerville- a former model and singer) is a 30-ish journo in LA w/ a V busy/successful lawyer fiance, Jason.  One day, Jason says that he MAY have to move to Pittsburgh for a promotion; Hillary is surprised/disappointed (b/c everyone she knows is in California). Jason decides to break up w/ her, saying she’s NOT supportive of his career; Hillary is shocked/saddened. She told her fam, incl. her mom (played by veteran comedian Shelley Long) that she was bringing her fiance over during Thanksgiving weekend. Hillary’s bold/opinionated BFF decides to put up an ad on an online dating site (though Hillary is hesitant). There are MANY replies to Hillary’s video ad the next morning, incl. one from an actor, David (Jordan Bridges, son of Beau and grandson of Lloyd). David is NOT a total stranger; Hillary and Sophie had interviewed him for their magazine before. David really needs some work, so he can pretend to be Jason (after all, he’s an actor)! 

This is the (rare) holiday movie, while NOT quite believable, has two good actors (in the leads) w/ plenty of chemistry! Too bad they didn’t give Long any comedic stuff to do; she’s known for that. There are points where the film drags a bit, BUT it’s got some good/touching scenes also. In one of the best scenes, Somerville (who has a beautiful voice) and Bridges (who plays the piano) sing a duet of a X-mas song. It turns out that Hillary’s fam, incl. her 2 younger sisters, don’t have the picture-perfect lives they pretend to lead. While David is NOT rich/successful, he cleans up V nice, loves Hillary’s writing, and is a caring man. What will happen after the real Jason has a change of heart and shows up at Hillary’s parents’ house? This one is worth a watch IMO (check it out on Netflix); it has some quirky dialogue and cute moments.

The Spirit of Christmas (2015)

Kate (Jen Lilley) is a lawyer from Boston who recently broke up w/ a bf (who she wasn’t ever in love w/ anyway). Her boss has ONLY 3 wks get a haunted inn appraised and sold. The kind BUT uncooperative manager claims a spirit living there will NOT approve. With Kate’s possible promotion resting on her success, she checks in (over the holidays) and attempts to deal w/ the ghost, Daniel (Thomas Beaudoin), who was murdered 95 yrs ago. 

This is a well-made (scenery, costumes, sound effects, and acting) holiday film shot in Massachusetts at a historical inn. It has a mystery element, along w/ the romance, which sets it apart from many other films. I thought the flashback scenes were done V well. The actors are pretty good; they portray their characters quite naturally IMO. I’d recommend it to those who liked The Christmas Carol. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and or the famous ’80s film- Ghost. It’s now on Netflix, along w/ MANY other titles. 

Santa’s Boots (2018)

Holly (Megan Hilty), an independent-minded executive living in Seattle, returns home for Thanksgiving and Christmas to Noblesville (a real small town V close to where my lil bro grew up for MANY yrs in central IN). When a young employee gets sick, Holly goes to work as Santa’s elf at her family’s store, Montell’s, where she meets a young Santa, Nick, w/ whom she has great chemistry. The store, which is in trouble, sees a sharp rise in profits over Black Friday (thanks to the teamwork of Holly and Nick, who kids and parents enjoy visiting). Holly doesn’t reveal that she’s the boss’ daughter and Nick doesn’t reveal his last name. When Nick (whose regular job is working on his family’s tree farm) disappears, in a Cinderella story reversal, Holly searches for him w/ the ONLY clue he left behind- his black work boots.

I thought this movie (which premiered last night on Lifetime) has some real-world elements; my friends (who I watched it w/) also agreed. Both Holly and Nick are wondering what to do w/ their futures as they near their 35th birthdays. Holly’s BFF Elle is played by a South Asian actress; it’s NOT unusual to see a few desis as supporting characters or background actors in (Canadian) movies. Days of Our Lives viewers will be happy to see Roark Critchlow (Dr. Mike), who plays Holly’s kind/supportive dad. Holly’s grandmother, a woman who keeps it real, provides some humor. R

NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour (podcast): ‘Tis the Season We Talk Hallmark Movies

National Theatre Live: Frankenstein (2011) starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Jonny Lee Miller

[1] Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has lasted because of the profound themes in her story – the morality of science, parental responsibilities, man’s vanity, the removal of the divine from creation etc. Nick Dear’s writing takes these all on, keeping the story’s political punch alive. 

[2] …great comic timing in his depiction of the more playful parts of the Creature’s growing pains, and real tendresse and anxiety as the Creature battles his own internal conflict between love and revenge.

-Victoria Sadler (Huffington Post, 10/29/13)

Frankenstein (adapted by Nick Dear from Mary Shelley’s novel) returned to movie screens this past week (10/22 & 10/29) just in time for Halloween. I almost forgot that this was on (until I looked up my local movie listings this afternoon)! In my audience, I saw several older couples (as I’d expect to see at live theater), along w/ two young ladies (Japanese), and a few other women in their 20s and 30s. Filmed in 2011 at the National Theatre in London, this (sold-out) production has been seen by about 500,000 worldwide. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, Frankenstein features Cumberbatch and Miller (who seem to be good friends; both have played Sherlock) alternating between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. FYI: I saw the version where Cumberbatch (long before he was a household name in either the UK or US) was the Creature.

[1] …it’s rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban’s point of view.

[2] Cumberbatch’s Creature is unforgettable. “Tall as a pine tree,” as the text insists, he has humour as well as pathos… But there is also an epic grandeur about Cumberbatch. As he quotes Paradise Lost, his voice savours every syllable of Milton’s words…

-Michael Billington (The Guardian, 2/23/11)

Wherever the Creature goes, people scream in fear and/or beat him, until he comes upon the hut of a blind man, De Lacey (veteran actor Karl Johnson). This is a poor former professor (w/ a lot of old books) who lives w/ his farmer son, Klaus, and daughter-in-law, Agatha. De Lacey is kind and gentle w/ the Creature, teaching him in secret for about a year. The Creature clears away rocks (so the couple can till the soil) and fetches wood for making fire. The old man even tells the Creature that if he “is a good man,” then someday he’ll have someone to love. One day, De Lacey insists upon introducing him to the family. It goes wrong- quickly and like the “emperors and heroes in the stories” he’s read, the Creature vows “revenge.”

I should be Adam. God was proud of Adam. But Satan’s the one I sympathise with. For I was cast out, like Satan, though I did no wrong. And when I see others content, I feel the bile rise in my throat, and it tastes like Satan’s bile! -The Creature explains to Victor 

The central question of this story: Who is the real monster- the Creature or Frankenstein himself? The young scholar Frankenstein rejects his creation, cursing it and throwing it out into the streets (along w/ a notebook of experiments). While Victor has been engaged to Elizabeth (a pretty, strong-willed, yet empathetic Naomie Harris), he barely speaks w/ her or shows any kind of affection. The outcast/lonely Creature desperately wants someone to love, asking Victor to make “a mate” for him. At first, Victor is repulsed by the notion, but quickly becomes intrigued at the thought of “the perfect woman.” They shake hands (strike a bargain) and Victor goes off to England, then Scotland, to do his work. From here, the play gets even darker in tone! (Now I’m curious about the original book.)

[1] Using the first 30 minutes to display the creature gradually “building” his own personality, Dear places the “voice” and troubled psychological aspect of the creature right at the centre of the adaptation, with Dear smartly showing Frankenstein and the towns people’s interactions from the outcast point of view of the creature. Whilst the screenplay does show that Frankenstein and the towns people turn the creature into “the monster” that they fear, due to being focused on the permanently damaged exterior and not the welcoming, and repairable interior of the creature.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives an unexpectedly subtle, vulnerable performance, with the opening of the film solely focusing on the creature rising from the dead, allowing Cumberbatch to place the viewer deep inside the skin of the character, thanks to Cuberbatch slowly showing the creature transform from being speechless and native, to using human skills such as lying to his deadly advantage.

[2] An intense, must-see thrilling performance from both Cumberbatch and Miller. The dialogues filled with static chemistry, a beautiful and perfect mix between beauty and horror, a destabilized yet animated stage that shows all facets of life and death. A hypnotizing and cutting-edge play, a real work of art that is absolutely not to be missed.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Big in Bollywood (2011) starring Omi Vaidya

How would it be like if the unassuming, humble, “boy-next-door” made it big in a Bollywood film? This is the premise of this doc (now streaming on Netflix) by former college friends of 27 y.o. Indian-American actor Omi Vaidya. Though he spoke very little Hindi, Omi was chosen by a famed producer (Vidhu Vinod Chopa), then a respected director (Rajkumar Hirani) to play a pivotal role in 3 Idiots (2009). The SoCal-raised actor, who attended UC Santa Cruz and NYU, is referred to as “the fourth idiot” during public appearances by co-star/superstar Aamir Khan. 

A few months after their wedding, Omi’s PhD student wife (Minal), his mom, and friends  join the actor for the 3 Idiots premiere. Minal has to return to school after only 2 weeks in Mumbai. The film was a box office success- the biggest grossing film in India up until that time. Omi notices people looking and wanting to talk to him (for the first time in his career). He gets honors due to his well-loved role, yet also notices the dark side of fame. 

Omi’s mother (Bharati- who once aspired to be an actress herself) and three friends (Bill, Kenny, and Kevin) attend the Star Film Awards ceremony. They’re full of enthusiasm and high hopes for Omi, though he is NOT quite certain about his dance number, or if he’ll win an award (being nominated for two). 

AFI showed this film last week, then there was a Q&A session w/ Omi. He and Minal are currently living in Rockville, MD with their toddler son and new baby. Minal is a post doc at NIH; she studied Biochemistry. Though his young family comes first, Omi is still acting in TV and movies. His next film (releasing in 2018) is starring Irrfan Khan. Omi was part of the ensemble cast of Netflix’s Brown Nation (a comedy series starring desi actors).