“Royal Shakespeare Company: Love’s Labour Won” (2015)

Autumn 1918. A group of soldiers return from the trenches. The world-weary Benedick and his friend Claudio find themselves reacquainted with Beatrice and Hero. As memories of conflict give way to a life of parties and masked balls, Claudio and Hero fall madly, deeply in love, while Benedick and Beatrice reignite their own altogether more combative courtship. Set amidst the brittle high spirits of a post-war house party, where youthful passions run riot, lovers are deceived and happiness is threatened – before peace ultimately wins out. -Synopsis

I saw this play on Marquee TV (which is an arts and culture streaming service); I signed up for the free 14-day trial. The play is more commonly known as Much Ado About Nothing; it’s my favorite Shakespeare comedy. This adaptation is set in the time period made famous by the recent PBS drama series and movie Downton Abbey. Hero (Flora Spencer Longhurst) and Claudio (Tunji Kasim) are the younger/fresh-faced couple. Beatrice (Michelle Terry) and Benedick (Edward Bennett) are the slightly older/jaded pair content to be singletons. By means of “noting” (which sounds similar to “nothing,” meaning gossip, rumor, and overhearing), Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other; Claudio is tricked (by Don John and his accomplices) into rejecting Hero at the altar thinking she has been unfaithful.

We are in an English village w/ an estate fit for royals. In the living room, there is a tall/elegantly-decorated Christmas tree. In one hilarious scene, Benedick hides inside the tree (while Leonato, Prince Don Pedro, and Claudio discuss him and Beatrice). There are songs and dances which come from (or are orchestrated to fit) the early 1900s vibe. We hear “Sigh No More” sung by Balthasar; it tells women to accept men’s infidelity and keep on living w/ joy. In the 1993 film directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, the song is featured prominently in both the opening and finale.

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,-
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.

Benedick and Beatrice (“too wise to woo peaceably”) are the main interest of the play; they have some of the best (and most memorable) lines. Terry (who became director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 2017) commented in an interview that “Beatrice felt very deeply,” so humor was a “defense mechanism” she used. I loved how this actress played the (pivotal) scene in the church.

I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.

Not till God make men of some other metal than earth [would she consider having a husband]

Benedick is a bit disappointed when his best pal (Claudio) has the “intention to turn husband.” Benedick is also adept at using humor. The life of a bachelor suits him best, and only a rare woman would convince him otherwise.

…But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none.

I wish my horse had the speed of your tongue.

I liked how this production created a balance between the light and serious moments. The humor is played (mostly) w/ subtlety, as would suit Brits from that era. Beatrice, Benedick, and some of the minor characters have scenes w/ physical humor. I was impressed by how light the actors were on their feet (when the scene called for it). You can watch some scenes below!

Beatrice and Benedick meet.
Leonato, Prince Don Pedro, and Claudio set a trap for Benedick.
Beatrice and Benedick say they love each other, but she wants him to kill Claudio!

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

The Two Faces of January (2014) starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, & Oscar Isaac

[1] In turns enchanting, brooding and cowed like a cornered animal, he [Isaac] plays the perfect James Stewart character in this Hitchcockian homage.

[2] The narrative is very well-balanced and restrained from the hyperactive traps of modern cinematic storytelling.

[3] Not so much a morality play as a tale of amorality, this psychological drama makes for a movie that is moody and deeply satisfying.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The principal relationship in this film (referred to as “a reto reworking of film noir” by one viewer) is between two men (one of them married; the other drawn to his wife). Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) is a rich American touring Greece w/ his younger wife, Colette, (Kirsten Dunst). The man who is intrigued by them is young tour guide, Rydal Keener (Oscar Issac), who is also American (yet able to blend in w/ the locals due to his language skills). Chester reminds Rydal of his father, who recently passed away, and w/ whom he had a difficult relationship. At first, Rydal thinks he has the upper hand; soon he realizes that he may have taken on too much by offering the couple his help. Who is the true con-man here? 

Adapted by the director, Hossein Amini (who is British-Iranian), from a novel by Patricia Highsmith (The The Talented Mr. Ripley; Strangers on a Train), this film is an atmospheric, well-acted thriller set in beautiful locations (Athens, Crete, and Istanbul) w/ great (’60s) costumes. Amini knows how to heighten the tension as the film goes on. This film is tightly edited, which adds to its effectiveness. The music fits very well w/ the action, too. You can watch it on Netflix. 

 

 

 

2 States (2014)

2states_book_poster
Book cover and film poster

This rom com (based on the memoir of the same title by Chetan Bhagat)  came out in Spring 2014; I saw it two weeks back.  This is a fun, yet realistic film, that’s NOT only concerned w/ two MBA students falling in love, BUT what comes after (getting to know each other’s families and the drama that ensues).  To add a twist usually NOT seen in mainstream Indian films- Ananya (Alia Bhatt) is from the South; Krish (Arjun Kapoor) hails from the North. 

So, what’s the biggie here- they’re BOTH Hindu, right?  Yes, WE American desis MAY feel that way!  BUT their families who speak different languages and follow different customs, along w/ ALL the typical baggage (which you’d see in a film like Meet the Parents). 

chetan_anusha_bhagat
Chetan and Anusha Bhagat- the real couple behind this film

When they first meet in grad school, Ananya is annoyed that there is no beer at the local café.  Krish explains: “Gujarat is a dry state.”  He gets interested in her first, BUT thinks she’s “out of my league.”  Krish offers to help Ananya w/ Economics (which is her weak subject).  Their friendship quickly grows into love after he declares one night that he doesn’t ONLY want to be her buddy. 

2states_college
Ananya (Alia Bhatt) and Krish (Arjun Kapoor)

There are only a FEW songs in this film (which are quite good); you can get them from iTunes.  The music blends pretty well into the actions/emotions.  The students/dancers in the background actually look like real/average people, NOT models.  The run time could’ve been shorter.  I recommend it for ALL of you who wouldn’t usually give Bollywood a chance!             

 

Re-Imaginings of Two Well-Known Stories: Maleficent & Ghostbusters

Maleficent (2014)

Disney's "MALEFICENT"..Maleficent (Angelina Jolie)..Photo Credit: Film Frame..?Disney 2014
Disney’s “MALEFICENT” Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) Photo Credit: Film Frame Disney 2014

If you liked Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959), then this may or may NOT be up your alley.  In that animated movie, I liked the different personalities and caring displayed by the 3 good fairies (Flora, Fauna, and Meriweather).  BUT in this tale, they are portrayed as clueless (esp. re taking care of a baby) and bickering among themselves- I didn’t enjoy that.  These fairies are Flittle (Leslie Manville from BBC’s North & South), Knotgrass (veteran actress Imelda Staunton), and Thisletwit (Juno Temple, all grown-up from Atonement).  These actresses are underused and in certain scenes- just annoying!  

The first third of the story, which focuses on the child, then teenaged Maleficent, is VERY well-done.  We see the fairy as happy, flying (she was born w/ wings), and becoming friends w/ Stefan, a human boy (who accidentally strays into her forest kingdom).  Maleficent falls deeply in love w/ Stefan, and we think that he feels the same way.  However, he betrays her trust in order to fulfill his ambition one night.

maleficent_spell

Angelina Jolie (who I haven’t seen in MANY things) does a really good job w/ the main role.  And I can definitely see how little girls would think her costume was a cool choice for Halloween.  Diaval (Sam Riley) is a refreshing new twist on the sidekick.  However, Maleficent is NOT a black and white villain in this story.

Ghostbusters (2016)  

ghostbusters-2016-trailers-tv-spots-posters1

I FINALLY saw this film, which was much talked about this Spring/Summer, last week On Demand!  I esp. liked the special effects, as well as Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon (BOTH ladies are SO naturally funny).  The hate that was thrown toward the all-female lead cast is even addressed in one scene (clever move). 

The cameos by the earlier Ghostbusters were pretty cool; wait for the end credits to see Sigourney Weaver.  This is an alternate universe film, so it exists in a world of its own (NOT a sequel).  Yet another reason that some fanboys were pissed off!   

ghostbusters-2016-car

As MANY critics noted, Kristen Wiig’s outfits seem like out of another era (and NOT in a cool, retro way).  Chris Hemsworth plays it straight as a Kevin, the himbo secretary.  This actually makes him seem VERY natural and funny!  Overall, it was an enjoyable film, and there is a sequel planned.