Mary Queen of Scots (NOW PLAYING) starring Saoirse Ronan & Margot Robbie

NOTE: This review contains MAJOR spoilers for the film.

Mary Queen of Scots explores the turbulent life of the charismatic Mary Stuart. Queen of France at 16 and widowed at 18, Mary defies pressure to remarry. Instead, she returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. But Scotland and England fall under the rule of the compelling Elizabeth I. Each young Queen beholds her “sister” in fear and fascination. Rivals in power and in love, and female regents in a masculine world, the two must decide how to play the game of marriage versus independence. Determined to rule as much more than a figurehead, Mary asserts her claim to the English throne, threatening Elizabeth’s sovereignty. Betrayal, rebellion, and conspiracies within each court imperil both thrones – and change the course of history. -Summary from Focus Features

While cannot highly recommend this film, it does have it’s strengths: a very fine cast, enriching music, lush set design, and gorgeous costumes.

The film is a well-intended historical drama that nevertheless falls short of expectations for a couple of reasons: first and foremost, what should be palace drama that raises the hairs on your arms, plays out meekly for much of the movie. Second, the movie’s pacing is too slow… Lastly… the movie tries to set it up as “Mary vs. Elizabeth”, yet then forgets to provide an in-depth charter for Elizabeth.

There is no clarity in why one was either Protestant or Roman would be such an insurmountable issue, partly because John Knox was so poorly written (despite having hidden the very talented and capable David Tennant behind all the hair).

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) were cousins and BOTH concerned w/ marriage (or avoiding it), as well as children (or succession). Mary ALSO wants the throne of England b/c she is a Stuart; Elizabeth is the (illegitimate to Catholics) daughter of Henry VIII and his 2nd wife, Anne Boleyn. Ronan (NOT yet 25 y.o.) is a FAB actress, thus capable of playing the regal/powerful Mary. The talent is NOT in question; she tries to rise above the (mostly mediocre, sometimes laughable) dialogue. The screenplay is by Beau Willimon (House of Cards) and John Guy, author of the biography- Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart. Many critics/viewers have commented on her Irish accent; it’s VERY noticeable in this film. Why did the director NOT have Ronan modify her accent to reflect Mary!? She could’ve done a Scottish accent or a French one (since Mary grew up in France). Samantha Morton (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) used a Scottish accent.

Ronan has zero chemistry w/ her love interest, Henry Darnley (Jack Lowden- a 28 y.o. from Scotland). Lowden is just TOO much of a lightweight (lacking screen presence, aside from conventional good looks- IF that’s your thing) for the role. Even in the emotional scenes, I was bored by his acting! During MOST of his romantic scenes w/ Ronan, the two desi 20-something gals sitting next to me giggled (perhaps they felt the awkwardness). Though we start out thinking that Mary and Hadley could be happy together, it’s NOT the case. Then the plot veers off the rails- MORE unexpected (and ludicrous) than I ever imagined!

In contrast to Lowden, Joe Alwyn (also in The Favourite opposite Emma Stone) as Elizabeth’s “special friend” Sir Robert Dudley seems a BIT more interesting. He also has V conventional good looks, BUT is brooding and believable. As you may recall, other Dudleys were been played by the powerhouse veteran actor- Jeremy Irons (HBO’s Elizabeth I w/ Helen Mirren)- and the dark/enigmatic Joseph Fiennes (Elizabeth w/ Cate Blanchett). Alwyn and Margot Robbie (who I hadn’t seen before) have a few moments; they relate well to each other. The main question I have: Did Elizabeth really send Dudley to the Scottish court as a (potential) husband for Mary?

Aside from Ronan, I just came away feeling V bad for the (older/experienced) actors; this includes Guy Pierce (Lord Cecil- Elizabeth’s loyal counselor), the FAB at nearly 50 y.o. Adrian Lester (ambassador Lord Randolph), David Tennant (John Knox- anti-Catholic leader), and Brendan Coyle (Earl of Lennox- Darnley’s father). Actually, Pierce does get a FEW nice moments, incl. one scene alone w/ Elizabeth. Lester (best known here in the U.S. for Primary Colors) is a tall/handsome/British theater actor who happens to be black. As in theater world (where director Josie Rourke hails from), this film uses colorblind casting for several supporting and MANY background roles. My good friend thought that was strange; it doesn’t fit w/ the historical period. I’m NOT saying there were zero POC in these royal courts. I wouldn’t have a problem IF there was a basis for it OR if the movie worked well! After all, one of my fave films- Much Ado About Nothing– has Denzel Washington as a Spanish nobleman and Keanu Reeves as his younger brother. Also, Lester has a FAB smile, BUT no smiles here!

It took me a few mins. to recognize Tennant (Doctor Who); he is nearly hidden under a long wig, heavy beard, and dark robe. His character is SO one note- it’s laughable (which is what a few in my audience did); he is TOO good for such a role! There was a LOT of anti-Catholic sentiment in court of Elizabeth (and perhaps also among MANY of the commoners), BUT why make Knox a cartoonish villain!? Even Jordi Molla’s King Phillip II (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) was more nuanced. Coyle (beloved as Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey) doesn’t have much to do, aside from looking disgusted/disappointed (w/ his son) or smirking (as he’s plotting the overthrow of Mary). Sure, it MAY be fun to be a baddie for a change, BUT this is just a waste!

The scenery is quite lovely to look at and the costumes look historically accurate, though FEW students of history objected to the use of black cloth. MOST of the men, incl. the Scottish nobles, wear black. The ladies in waiting to Mary wear black, too. Bess (Gemma Chan from Crazy Rich Asians) as Elizabeth’s confidante/lady-in-waiting wears shades of gray. Where is the tartan cloth which prominent in the Stuart family? The thick makeup and bright red wig worn by Elizabeth in the (pivotal) meeting scene reminded some viewers of a clown. We know that Elizabeth used white powder to cover up her pox scars (after being stricken w/ the disease in her late 20s). As for the action- that’s ALSO a disappointment. The military battle, where Mary’s soldiers face her older half-brother’s men, is more like a small skirmish.

Speaking of the half-brother, the actor has some potential. The men in this film are mostly drunk/useless/jokes or plotting/power-hungry; aside from Dudley and Cecil, none are loyal, thoughtful, or kind-hearted! Even Mary’s long-time ally, Lord Bothwell (Martin Compston), turns against her in the end; this is shocking/sudden. OK, that was a BIT interesting; this actor (who appeared on many TV series, incl. Monarch of the Glen) did well w/ his role. The ladies-in-waiting (incl. Chan) are a physically diverse group; they get almost zero character development. In real life, these were noblewomen who had personalities and lives of their own (aside from attending to their queens). In the eyes of MANY critics, Cate Blanchett is the ultimate Queen Elizabeth. I expected to see a BIT more of Elizabeth; Robbie did a decent job (and her English accent was good). Unless you really LOVE historical fiction, skip this film. Luckily, I saw it for free (w/ my Regal Club points)!


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SPOILER-FREE Review: The Favourite (NOW PLAYING) starring Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, & Olivia Colman

I saw this film last SAT evening (w/ 2 gals from my movie Meetup) at Landmark E St (downtown DC). For a cold/rainy night, MANY people who favor indies came out (our theater was full). There is SO much to like about this (NOT like any other) period piece! If you (like me) enjoy historical dramas, then you MAY be (pleasantly) surprised by director Yorgos Lanthimos’ take on 17th century England. If you (like the 20-something group of friends sitting behind me) enjoy the absurd, you’re ALSO in for a treat. If you want to simply be entertained by wild hair/makeup, intricate costumes, beautiful scenery, and characters who LOVE to be bad- check it out.

The three female leads (two over the age of 40- whoa) ALL give great performances; the depressed/gout-stricken Anne (Olivia Colman, best known for Broadchurch) may be queen, BUT it’s her closest friend- Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz, fierce and fabulous as ever)- who runs the show. Lady Sarah is beautiful, intelligent, and VERY politically savvy; she meets w/ MPs (as well as foreign diplomats), and even has the keys to Anne’s chambers. The film belongs a BIT more to noblewoman-turned-maid Abigail (Emma Stone, now age 30) who is a cousin of Lady Sarah in dire need of a job. This role is as far from La La Land as Stone can get (smart move, girl)! Abigail is the one we want to root for at the start of the story, BUT she’s NOT as helpless/clueless/ innocent as we assume.

The writing (truly unique- NOT all historically accurate), camera work (esp. use of wide fish eye lens), and lighting (in some scenes- ONLY candles were used) set this film apart from anything I’ve seen before. There is a dance number that you MUST see to believe- the audience was roaring w/ laughter. Yes, there is plenty of humor here, in case you didn’t gather that from the trailers, reviews, or cast interviews. The men, incl. Nicholas Hoult (a prominent/scheming MP), are more in the background here. Lady Sarah’s husband, played by actor/writer Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), is off fighting the war (France) most of the time.

You don’t have to ONLY take my word for it, so here are a few excerpts from IMDB reviews:

The three main actresses are definitely the highlight of the movie: Rachel Weisz is amazing and of course, Olivia Colman is outstanding. I wouldn’t complain if she gets nominated for an Oscar next year, but can we talk about Emma Stone? Yes, I’m a fan, but I really think her performance is the best in the whole movie, maybe it’s because she also plays the most interesting character.

Honestly all I can say is that this film was not what I was expecting and far exceeded my expectations. The chemistry between the actors and also the visual story is absolutely stunning and I’m just wowed by how well done everything is done in this film.

It’s sharp intelligence and sarcastic approach devours the mind, cinematography wows, acting mesmerizes and overwhelms, soundtrack creates with the atmosphere of the movie that is so raw and somehow relatable to this day. 

Arguably the most fascinating showcase of acting from each of its three leads, the dynamics of the trio are effervescent, chock-full of disdainful side-glances, sharp smiles and lascivious touches, making every man look like a disposable accessory. 

Reviews of Recently Viewed Films

Terminal Station (1953) starring Jennifer Jones & Montgomery Clift

Last week, I saw this rare little gem of a movie one afternoon (on TCM); the David O. Selznick cut is titled Indiscretion of an American Wife. Then, I decided to check out the slightly longer version from the Italian director, Vittorio De Sica(Amazon Prime); it contains a a few more (ambiguous) lines/scenes. De Sica’s films are known for romantic neo-realism. My parents (fans of Sophia Loren) really enjoyed Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) and Marriage Italian Style (1964) which both won Oscars. 

If my art seems pessimistic, it is a consequence of my continuing optimism and its disillusion. At least I have enthusiasm. It is necessary to all professions to have enthusiasm in order to have success. -Vittorio De Sica

Why did you come with me? -Giovanni asks Mary

You didn’t look very wicked. I’m not an imaginative woman. It was you. It was Rome! And I’m a housewife from Philadelphia. -Mary replies

A married American woman, Mary Forbes (Jennifer Jones) has been involved for a month w/ a slightly younger Italian-American teacher, Giovanni Doria (Montgomery Clift), in Rome while visiting relatives. One rainy morning, Mary suddenly decides to return home to her husband and young daughter, but w/o telling anyone (aside from her nephew, played by a young Richard Beymer). She goes to the (newly built) train terminal, realizes that she is not at all sure about leaving, and agonizes over her decision. Giovanni joins her at the station, very confused and hurt, as she had just told him “I love you” the previous night.  

[1] This is such a contained, focused film, and demands so much of its two actors, every little nuance matters in a kind of exciting dramatic way. The closest thing this compares to, as two lovers or would be lovers talk in a train station, is Brief Encounter (1945), and that’s a masterpiece of acting and cinema both. Here, with Montgomery Clift and Jennifer Jones, it comes close.

[2] Jennifer Jones, beyond radiant in her prime-of-life womanhood, exudes a sensuality that both contrasts strikingly with her 1950s-prim exterior and celebrates the troubled woman within…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

There is plenty of drama behind this film! Producer Selznick (then married to Jones), wanted to have a slick romance depicted; De Sica wanted to show a ruined romance (which was fully supported by Clift). De Sica favored realism, so wasn’t interested in Hollywood-style close-ups; Selznick eventually hired cinematographer Oswald Morris to film some of these. Each day on the set, Selznick had critical letters for De Sica (who didn’t know English). The script was altered several times, as the two men had such different visions. Two scenes were written by Truman Capote, who gets screenplay credit. 

The Violent Men (1954) starring Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck, & Edward G. Robinson

Never meet the enemy on his terms. -John says to his ranch hands

I’ll fight for the privilege of being left alone. -John explains to Lee 

A former Union Army officer, John Parrish (Glenn Ford), fully recovered from his war wounds, plans to sell his ranch to the wealthy owner of Anchor Ranch, Lew Wilkison (Edward G. Robinson) and move east w/ his fiancee, Caroline (May Wynn). However, the low price offered by Wilkison, and his hired mens’ bullying tactics, make Parrish think again. When one of his young ranch hands is murdered, he decides to stay and fight, using his battle know-how. At Anchor Ranch, Lew’s shrewd wife, Martha (Barbara Stanwyck), has been having an affair w/ his handsome younger brother, Cole (Brian Keith), who has a Mexican girlfriend, Elena (Lita Milan), that he supports in town. Lew and Martha’s 20-something daughter, Judith (Dianne Foster), has become distant and angry; she has suspected deception in her home.

I know what you’re thinking- whoa, there are a lot of ladies in this Western! I was watching this at my dad’s; even he noticed this fact. Well, not all of these women are well-developed. Caroline seems like she’d marry any guy to get out of her hometown. Elena loves Cole desperately, but we don’t know much about her; her sudden/violent action at the end is quite unexpected (bordering on soap opera). Judith, who’s very much a “daddy’s girl,” is intrigued by Parrish, yet also abhors the violence that ensues during the stampede. Some viewers commented that in order to get a big star like Stanwyck, the role of Martha must’ve been bulked up by the writers. Who doesn’t like Stanwyck!? But I was expecting this film to be more about Parrish. 

[1] The Fifties was the age of the adult western, themes were entering into horse operas that hadn’t been explored before. There’s enough traditional western stuff …and plenty for those who are addicted to soap operas as well.

[2] …the actors in question deserved a better story from which to work from, it is, when all is said and done, a plot that has been milked for all it’s worth, and then some. …still a very rewarding film regardless of the missed opportunities evident with the production.

I learned that this film was shot partly in Old Tucson; my dad noticed this before I did! The cinematography is well done, which is a must for a Western. The best action scene is the one between the unapologetic/violent cowboy, Matlock (one of Lew’s men), and Parrish in the saloon. Ford plays it so cool; he can handle himself w/ a gun man-to-man. This isn’t quite a hit, but worth a look.

The Candidate (1972) starring Robert Redford

…one of the many great movies about the world of politics. It holds up as well today as it did in 1972 (maybe even better). 

A sad commentary on the way things work. Very relevant. I recommend it for fans of Robert Redford or anybody interested in politics 

It’s fair to say that many Americans are fed up w/ politics these days- LOL! It’s refreshing to take a day (or even a few hours) avoiding the news, even if you’re a news junkie (like me). This film was recently shown on TCM; I’d heard much about it, but never watched it. Also, who doesn’t love Redford!? Peter Boyle plays the political expert who convinces Redford to run for Senate (Democratic side, of course). Look out for cameos from journo Mike Barnicle (currently seen on MSNBC’s Morning Joe) and Redford’s real-life pal, Natalie Wood (playing herself).   

 

 

 

Mile 22 (NOW PLAYING) starring Mark Wahlberg

Lea Carpenter (novelist and 1st-time screenwriter) talked re: this fast-paced/fast-talking action movie at the International Spy Museum. She is a former English major (like me). After her father died, Carpenter learned that he was in the Special Forces (after serving in Vietnam). She became interested in the spy thriller genre. Director Peter Berg read her first book and was impressed w/ it; he reached out and asked if she wanted to work on a screenplay (w/ Mark Wahlberg attached to the project.

Intensity, tension, violence, fighting and chase scenes are jam-packed into a relatively short run time (close to 90 mins). The opening sequence was done quite well.  The team sets up a raid on a group of Russian spies who have a safe house in the ‘burbs. The film then jumps ahead 2 years to the top-secret CIA team (Overwatch) reassembling in Southeast Asia. James Silva (Wahlberg), aided by his command unit, tries to smuggle a mysterious police officer, Li Noor (Iko Uwais- an Indonesian actor/martial artist) w/ sensitive information on a dirty bomb out of the country. Uwais (who briefly appeared in Star Wars: The Force Awakens) has the potential to be the next Jet Li or Jackie Chan, as many reviewers commented.

Ronda Rousey (who is best known for MMA) does a good job in her minor role of tough operative; I didn’t know she was pursuing acting. Lauren Cohan, another operative who is going through a tough divorce/custody battle, brings some heart (and realism) to this movie.  Cohan has appeared on various TV shows; she is best known for The Walking Dead. John Malkovich (w/ a flat-top hairpiece) didn’t have much to do, mainly sitting behind large computer monitors. His code name is “Mother,” as he is overseeing this operation. I’m guessing that the production companies wanted a well-known veteran actor attached and Malkovich was available. I know that he has worked in South America; this film was shot in Bogota, Colombia (which was an affordable location, as opposed to Southeast Asia).

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. -Silva quotes English author George Orwell

RBG (2018)

People ask me “Don’t you feel uncomfortable being compared to a rapper?” Why would I? We have a lot in common like being born and raised in Brooklyn. -Ruth Bader Ginsburg

If you’re not watching #RBGMovie you are missing one of the great multi layered love stories. Love of the law, love of knowledge, love of equality and above all, love of marriage as a true partnership, bursting with mutual respect. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an American original. -Tom Harrington (CBC Radio)

The love story between Ruth and Martin Ginsburg is nothing less than awe-inspiring. I love how she tells about her undergraduate years at Cornell where there was a four to one ratio of boys to girls. “Every mother wanted to send their daughter there because, if you couldn’t find a husband there, you were hopeless.” She reveals that during her freshman year, she never dated the same boy twice. That is, until she met Marty, who was the first guy that recognized she had a brain. -Excerpt from IMDB review

He was okay playing second fiddle. In fact, he joked about it… -Nina Totenberg (NPR legal correspondent) on Marty, a very successful tax attorney in NYC, who moved to DC when his wife’s career took off. 

The film traces RBG’s life from her childhood in Brooklyn through her years struggling to be taken seriously as a young female law student  and practicing attorney, and through her tenure on the SCOTUS and emergence as a pop culture icon. The storyline is mostly linear, but includes frequent jumps backward, forward, and even sideways as it examines different aspects of her life, personality, and public image. There’s a mix of historical photos, videos, but the main draw are the interviews. We hear from Ginsburg’s children, childhood friends, colleagues, admirers and a few detractors, as well as fellow feminist icon Gloria Steinem, former Pres. Bill Clinton, and Ginsburg herself.

Some of the cases RBG argued before the SCOTUS:

  • Frontiero vs. Richardson (1973): A young newly-married woman from Alabama, Sharron Frontiero, working in the U.S. Air Force, sues for gender discrimination when the housing stipend is denied her (unlike male co-workers).
  • Weinberger vs. Wiesenfeld (1975): A widower and father to baby boy, Simon Wiesenfeld, sues the Social Security Administration for sole-survivor benefits (then called “a mother’s benefit” and only avaiable to women). When the case reached SCOTUS, RBG had Simon come sit w/ the lawyers (putting a masculine face in front of the all-male justices).
  • Califano vs. Goldfarb: Leon Goldfarb, a widower, who applied for survivor’s benefits under the Social Security Act had his application denied (even though his wife Hannah had paid Social Security taxes for 25 years).
  • Edwards vs. Healy: Challenging the Louisiana law that allowed women to opt-out of jury service.

You may remember these (high-profile) cases that RBG presided over:

  • U.S. vs. Virginia Military Institute (1996): VMI boasted a long and proud tradition as Virginia’s only exclusively male public undergraduate higher learning institution. The U.S. brought suit against Virginia and VMI alleging that the school’s male-only admissions policy was unconstitutional insofar as it violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
  • Ledbetter vs. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007): Over her 19 yr. career at Goodyear, Lilly Ledbetter was consistently given low rankings in annual performance-and-salary reviews and low raises relative to other employees. Ledbetter sued for gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that the company had given her a low salary because of her gender.

A granddaughter, Clara Spera, who recently graduated from Harvard Law School, explains that this was the first year that the graduating class was 50% male and 50% female (WOW). Jane and James (her adult children) recall how their mother rarely laughed, stressed education and personal responsibility, and was a horrible cook (LOL). Her husband, Marty, worked hard by contacting people from the business and legal communities to get RBG (then aged 61) to the top of the list for Supreme Court justice in 1993. Pres. Clinton was very impressed by her interview. RBG, who even won the admiration of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), was confirmed 96-3 in a quite partisan time. This is a MUST-SEE documentary (for people of ALL ages)!