Friday, September 8, 2017

"Tulip Fever" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Tulip Fever" as well as DVDs "The Disenchanted" and "Regression."  The Book of the Week is "Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend."  I also bring you-up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die" with "Ordet]



Tulip Fever




A good old-fashioned costume drama complete with illicit love, bodice-ripping, blackmail and mistaken identity, all set against Holland's Tulip Wars.

Who knew that tulips were once a hot commodity?

Tulip mania swept Holland for a short period in the 17th century.  Everyone was taken with the flower.  It was a status symbok and speculation on the value of its bulbs created an economic boom.  The more unusual the coloring, the higher the price.  Buyers met in back rooms of bars and bid with a frenzy, much like Wall Street trading today. A sort of informal futures market was formed and some bulbs changed hands several times a day and prices skyrocketed. However, just as our real estate bubble burst several years ago, so did the tulip trade leaving many participants penniless.

The drama centers around Sophia (Alicia Vikander), a young woman, orphaned at an early age, who is basically sold off to a local spice merchant, Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), by the abbess of the convent (Judi Dench) where Sophia had grown up.  He is a much older widower looking for a wife to produce a son.  The abbess tells Sophia that "marriage is a safe harbor" and off Sophia goes to marry a much older but wealthy man.  Unfortunately, three years later there is no son and Cornelis talks of getting rid of Sophia to find another wife. However, there is a sort of mutual affection between the two.  Cornelis is old and needs a bit of help in the sex department but he avidly tries every night to produce an heir and Sophia does her duty.

Cornelis decides he wants a portrait painted of the two of them, a common practice among the upper classes in Amsterdam, so he hires a young, handsome painter, Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan), and you can probably figure out what happens next. Old husband who needs help getting his "little soldier" and who is short on the foreplay; young, handsome guy who is ready to rumble.  You do the math.

Yes, Jan and Sophia have an instant attraction and embark upon an affair.

There is also another love story running parallel to Sophia's and this one is actually a real hot and heavy love story, and that is the story of Sophia's maid, Maria (Holliday Grainger), who narrates the story and who is in love with the local fishmonger, Willem (Jack O'Connell).  When Cornelis grouses about having fish so many nights for dinner, he grumpily proclaims that Maria must be in love with the fishmonger.  Well, yes, Cornelis, she is.

Meanwhile, both Jan and Willem are caught up in the tulip frenzy.  Willem invests in a particular popular bulb and makes some money which he plans to use to marry Maria. However, before he can ask Maria to marry him, both women's love affairs collide when Sophia takes Maria's cloak to meet with Jan and Willem mistakenly believes it is Maria meeting Jan.  Upset, he gets drunk in a brothel, loses his money, gets beaten up and finds himself on a ship sailing to Africa.  Maria, thinking that Willem has left her willingly, discovers that she is pregnant and knowing that is a sure way to get booted out of Cornelis' household blackmails Sophia, telling her that she will tell Cornelis of her affair with Jan if she doesn't help her.  The two concoct an elaborate  plan to pass the baby off as Sophia's - and believe me, it's elaborate.

Meanwhile, penniless painter Jan has also gotten himself immersed in speculating heavily on that same rare bulb in the tulip market and sends his friend, Gerritt (an almost unrecognizable Zach Galifianakis), to secure the bulb so he can pay off his creditors. Unfortunately, Gerritt has a bit of a drinking problem and you can guess how that worked out.

Well, it all kind of goes to hell from there - the baby, the tulip money, the love affair. 

Despite the unfortunate title that makes this film seem like a horror film about a tulip allergy pandemic, this film is actually a lovely-looking, historically- based melodrama that looks like it was painted by the Dutch Masters.  It has an interesting, though sometimes far-fetched plot, good looking actors, romance, sex, heaving bosoms, all with a little history thrown in.  What more could you want?

Alicia Vikander is a gorgeous actress whose luminosity just oozes off the screen.  When Jan was painting her standing in a window, she looked like a Vermeer painting.  As for Waltz, I am usually not a fan because it seems like he always plays the same character.  He fell into the Paul Giamatti category for me - too many mannerisms and too many characters played the same - but here he is toned down and quite poignant. I believed him.

Jack O'Connell, who burst on the scene in "Unbroken," and who I liked much better in this, is a handsome guy who I am going to keep my eyes on.  Likewise, Holliday Granger is another lovely actress who I believe has a bright future ahead.  The rest of the cast includes Tom Hollander, who I do really like, as the rather sketchy doctor with Douglas Hodge (been a fan of his ever since the British TV series "Capital City"), Matthew Morrison (remember "Glee?"), David Harewood and Cara Delevingne all in small roles.  Delevingne's was especially small.  Not sure what she was doing there considering the big roles she has had lately, but the fact that release of this film had a long delay could explain that. 

I enjoyed this film but I am a sucker for costume films with soap opera plots, romance and good-looking actors.  However, I had one complaint which would be DeHaan, not because he is not a good actor.  He is.  But because he just seemed too young and callow for the role.  He looks very much like a young Leonardo Di Caprio, which is not a bad thing, but for this role, it just didn't work.  He looked like a teenager here, not a savvy guy in 17th century Amsterdam trying to make his way as a painter and tulip trader.

Adapted from her own novel by Deborah Moggach and the venerable playwright Tom Stoppard and directed by Justin Chadwick, this is a satisfying costume drama with an interesting plot and gorgeous cinematography and a welcome relief from some of the summer crap we have been enduring.

If this film interests you, get thee to the theatre now because I don't think it will be around long.  At a 12:10 matinee this week, I was literally the only person in the theatre and that's too bad because this was one of the better films this summer. People must have stayed away because of the title. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fun 17th century soap opera with an unfortunate title.






***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

On DVD






La Desenchantee (1990)
(The Disenchanted)




 


The disenchantment of finding out what the world is really like.

Seventeen year old Beth (Judith Godreche) is just about to graduate from high school. She is bored. She lives in Paris with her invalid mother (Therese Liotard) and brother, Remi (Thomas Salsmann).  Her mother has been a kept woman (that's a polite term for what she really was) by a man the kids call Uncle (Ivan Desny), but it seems "Uncle" now wants to turn his attentions to Beth.  When Beth's boyfriend (Malcoln Conrath), whose character is merely called "the other (probably because he is just an unfortunate blip in Beth's young life)" tells her she needs to have sex with an ugly guy to prove her love for him, this film kind of lost me. Not sure how those two things correlate. 

Anyway, she finds him, the so-called "ugly guy" - Edouard (Francis Mage) - a ginger-haired nerd who could be a younger version of the comedian Carrot Top.  We know he's a nerd because he has a bad haircut, wears khakis with a tucked-in polo shirt and has a computer in his room which would have been actually very cool for 1990.  He takes her to his room and awkwardly attacks her.  She disentangles herself from Edward only to find herself abused by her boyfriend and rescued by a knife-wielding older man, Alphonse (Marcel Bozonnet), who eventually gets Beth to think about the purpose of existence, especially in the face of death.  It's all very existential.

It's also all very French so it's all about sex, 1990 Parisian teen style, and it harks back to the films of the French New Wave.  But it's also about being poor in Paris which must be the pits.  Paris, The City of Light, the City of Love. As tourists in Paris we don't think of the locals scrounging for a living. but as we dine at The Ritz or walk along the Champs Elysee those less fortunate are all around.  If it's expensive to visit Paris, just imagine what it must cost to actually live there!

The title comes from Beth's obsession with the poet Rimbaud, but it also embodies the disenchantment one feels as one goes from the carefree joys of youth to the realities of adulthood and what some have to do to survive, especially as a young person surrounded by tortured and haunted adults. 

Written and directed by Benoit Jacquot, I couldn't figure out how I ended up watching this movie.  I think this is one of those movies I ordered from Netflix because I liked the trailer.  Probably not a good idea to order films based on the trailers. The trailers often show all of the best parts of the film and the film itself never gets any better than the trailer.  So remember, I warned you!  

This is not an easy film to get into as it follows a bored teen around Paris.  She's bored, we're bored.  However, Goodreche is certainly a lovely teen to look at, the film is beautifully shot and it's short (only 78 minutes), but in the end, the film doesn't really have much new to say about coming of age.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Godreche, who was nominated for a Cesar Award for this film and who went on to have a successful acting career, is an appealing screen presence and the best thing about this film.





Regression (2015)


While investigating a molestation, a detective gets caught up in possible satanic cult activities.

Supposedly inspired by real events in Minnesota in 1990 (but really just a conglomeration of the satanic cult hysteria that gripped the nation in the 1990's), a girl, Angela Gray (Emma Watson) accuses her father, John (Bruce Dencik), of molesting her.  Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is the detective called in to investigate.  John confesses but says he doesn't remember doing it. It is decided that some regression therapy is needed to get the father to remember that he has molested his daughter.  Enter Professor Raines (David Thewlis).

Meanwhile, radio shock jocks have been working the locals up about satanic worship sweeping the country, and it isn't long before the therapist blatantly plants this suggestion to John and suddenly John remembers.  The devil made him do it!  Likewise, as Kenner investigates, more and more people undergo the regression therapy and conjure up visions of satanic rituals and people in masks. Remember those child care scandals several years ago that all turned out to be false accusations? Or the whole "Paradise Lost" mess where three young men were falsely accused of killing some little boys in a satanic ritual just because they were potheads and goth?  The 1990's was the age of devil worship hysteria, and this film capitalizes on that.

As the story unfolds, Kenner is caught up in claims of satanic worship throughout the small town and begins to experience visions and nightmares himself.  Was Angela really molested by her father?  Is the town rife with satanic cults?

Though the film is supposed to be taking place in Minnesota, I was distracted by the fact that this is obviously not filmed in the U.S.   How do I know this?

  • The cops are all wearing sweaters with epaulets.  No American cops wear attire like that.  I have only ever seen it on cops in the U.K.
  • David Thewlis and Emma Watson are in it. David Thewlis is in practically every British film ever made when they need an odd, smarmy character, and, well, Emma Watson is British too.
  • People watching TV in a bar are obviously in a pub, not an American bar. Two totally different animals because I have frequented many an American bar and English pub (ahem) in my time. I know these things!

OK, upon looking into the filming locations, it's Canada, but I was close because Canada definitely has English influences, and it certainly wasn't Minnesota, so yay me!

Written and directed by Alejandro Amenabar, the film has film noir qualities, a stylish atmosphere, lots of star power (the actors did the best with what they had to work with) and an interesting premise, but the film got so convoluted with side plots that it never went anywhere and the very over the top conclusion defies believability.  What was the point?  Were we just remembering that time when everyone was accusing everyone else of being a devil worshiper?

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are into devil worshipping, you might enjoy this, but the film doesn't really add anything new to that discussion and if you can keep track of all of the twists and turns, I tip my devil mask to you.





***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***


187 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?




Ordet (1955)


Winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in 1955, this Danish film is the story of the Borgen family and their struggles with their religious beliefs.

Morten Borgen (Henrik Malberg) raises hackles in his religious town in Denmark because he is a quiet believer, not a fundamentalist.  He has three sons: Mikkel (Emil Hass), the eldest who has no faith but is married to the pious, Inger, who is pregnant; Anders (Cay Kristiansen), a romantic who wants to marry Anne (Gerda Nielsen) despite his father's disapproval; and Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye), a religious fanatic who wanders around the house like the second coming of Christ, because, well actually he believes he is the second coming of Christ. 

Johannes is prone to wandering in a daze out to the nearby cliff and preaching to the town.  Everyone is very worried about him and they should be.  He is loony and really kind of a pain.  Imagine living with someone who looks like a zombie and wanders into the room without warning, makes a religious pronouncement and then retreats to his room.  I would call him the family nutter, the nutty brother everyone wants to keep hidden.

Mikkel wants to marry Anne but her father, the local tailor, won't let her marry Mikkel unless Morten and Anders convert to his fundamentalist religious sect. Morten is not thrilled either because he is not a fundamentalist.  But when a tragedy strikes, a miracle occurs and the two families are reconciled.

Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, this film is all about faith and asks whether it's possible to be a good person without faith or faithful but not a good person. Think of the Ku Klux Klan.  Many of them consider themselves Christians but how can they justify hating people of other colors and beliefs? But despite this film's serious subject matter - religion and the power of faith - I found this film rather boring at times.  

The cinematography is what is called "gorgeous black and white."  We modern folks can't seem to handle black and white anymore, but back then, that was the standard, and the cinematography was just as colorful as color with all the various gradations of black and gray.

And don't be fooled by the movie poster (see above).  The poster is a catfish!  It makes the film look like there is a sex scene in it WHICH THERE IS NOT!

Why it's a Must See: "An extraordinary work, and arguably the finest achievement of this great filmmaker...it manages to persuade the viewer that a miracle can happen...[and]even if [this film] fails to convert us to religious belief, we have, at least, witnessed cinematic art of the highest order."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...despite my appreciation of the cinematic techniques, this is an earnest film that doesn't really hold up today and reminded me of why I no longer go to church.
(In Danish with English subtitles)





***The Book of the Week***




Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend by Michael Munn (2016)


A biography of a film star from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Ah, the Golden Age of Hollywood.  I'm talking the 30's and 40's when the film studios ruled Hollywood as well as their actors and actresses.  There was no Internet, no Twitter, not even the National Inquirer to spread gossip about the private lives of these golden gods of the movies, and if anything bad did get out about them, the studios made sure whatever it was was quickly squelched.

Though it was an unrealistic time and many of the movies from that era painted too rosy a picture of life, I miss those movies, and I miss those actors and feel sad that young people today don't know or appreciate who Clark Gable was or Vivien Leigh or even Elizabeth Taylor.  In recent years, Carrie Fisher was more famous than her mother Debbie Reynolds, who was a superstar of her day, far more famous than Carrie ever was.  So I was thrilled to watch the TV mini-series "Feud," not just because it was a wonderful series and will no doubt win many Emmy's next week, but because it was about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, two superstars of that era who have mostly been forgotten today.

I wasn't born until the late 1940's, so I missed those times too, but I was able to see all of those movies as I stayed up and watched the late late show with my Dad.  Back in the 50's when there were only a couple of TV channels and no first-run movies, every afternoon and every night the stations would show the old movies and my Dad and I wallowed in them.  He had actually seen most of them in the theaters and loved to regale me with tidbits about the actors. From him, I learned to read the credits and look for names of actors in small roles who later became famous or to look for their real names - Tony Curtis was billed as Bernard Schwartz until the studio made him change his name and Joan Crawford's real name was Lucille Le Seur (I actually think her real name was much more a movie star name than Joan Crawford, don't you)?  I miss those days with my Dad, I miss those old movies and I am sad all of those once famous glittering personalities have mostly been totally forgotten.

Author Michael Munn also laments the fact that young people today are not familiar with the "great movie stars" of the past, and he hopes to correct that with this biography of Jimmy Stewart, one of those legends of Hollywood I was talking about.  With his laconic delivery and natural acting style, Stewart achieved stardom (after 19 earlier films) in 1939 with "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and then went on to star in such classics as "It's a Wonderful Life," "Philadelphia Story," and "Vertigo." 

Born into a conservative family in Indiana in 1908, Stewart attended Princeton, where his accordion playing led to spots in plays, which in turn led him to summer stock and then Broadway where Hollywood came calling. The "truth" referred to in the title is about Stewart's extracurricular activities: undercover work for the FBI, his heroism in WW II and possible racism. Though many other biographies have been written about Stewart, Munn's friendship with Stewart and his wife, Gloria, gave him rare access and this biography sheds new light on the actor.

Rosy the Reviewer says...treat yourself to a well-written biography that is a foray back in time when actors were golden.


Thanks for reading!


See you TUESDAY 


for a Rosy the Reviewer special edition  


"Fashion Inspiration for a Woman of a Certain Age (and Size)"  

 
  

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