Friday, March 20, 2020

"Emma" and the Week in Reviews

[I review yet another version of Jane Austen's "Emma" as well as DVDs "Dark Waters" and "Terminator: Dark Fate."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with Frederick Wiseman's documentary "High School."]



Emma


A young rich girl gets her kicks interfering with the love lives of her family and friends.

Jane Austen's "Emma" has already been made into a movie and mini-series six times and this is the seventh.  Was it necessary?

I'm not sure.

With the popularity of such shows as "Downton Abbey" and "Young Victoria," it seems we can't get enough of British costume dramas.  And most of the time, I am one of those people, except, this time, sitting in the theatre watching this film I couldn't help but feel, in light of the current state of the world, well, kind of silly.  I am not sure how I would have viewed this film in a different climate, at a time when I didn't have to worry about catching the coronavirus from the person sitting next to me or what was going to happen if everything shut down because of it.

Anyway, the film once again tells the story of young Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), a very rich, very pretty and very vain young woman who lives with her father (Bill Nighy) on a lovely English estate.  She is losing her friend and former governess, Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan), to marriage to Mr. Weston (Rupert Graves), but she is comforted by the fact that she was the one who introduced them. You see, Emma enjoys matchmaking.  She also prides herself on the fact that she herself is not the least bit interested in getting married. She has all of the money she needs, and since she knows what's best for everyone, she keeps busy meddling in their affairs.

So now on to the next bit of matchmaking - her young friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) to Mr. Elton (Josh O'Connor), the local vicar.  But that match is complicated by the fact that Harriet has a crush on Mr. Martin (Connor Swindells), a local farmer, and he likes Harriet too. In fact, he likes her so much, he has asked her to marry him. But Emma will have none of it.  A farmer?  I think not. So Emma talks the young and impressionable Harriet out of marrying Mr. Martin in favor of Mr. Elton, the local vicar. But what Emma doesn't know is that Elton actually wants Emma and has no intention of marrying Harriet, and when Emma rejects Mr. Elton, he leaves town and returns with a snobby wife (Tanya Reynolds). Harriet is very unhappy about all of this.  Not only has she lost Mr. Elton, but she has rejected Mr. Martin and now she has no one and it's all Emma's fault.  Meanwhile, Emma has a rather fractious relationship with her sister's brother-in-law, Mr. Nightly (Johnny Flynn), a childhood friend who lives just across the pasture from Emma and who has no problem telling Emma off when he feels she has gone too far. Those are two very attractive individuals who don't seem to like each other. Gee, I wonder what's going to happen there.

All kinds of complications ensue: Emma has her eye on Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), Mr. Weston's handsome son, as does the accomplished but poor Miss Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), who has come to visit her Aunt Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) and her elderly grandmother (Myra McFadyen), and when Mr. Nightly saves Harriet from an encounter with some gypsies, Harriet sets her sights on him. But then, as if we haven't already guessed this would happen, Emma has suddenly started to like Mr. Nightly too. All kinds of meddling for Emma, who thinks she is doing everyone a favor (so let's not talk about her jealousy of Jane Fairfax), but when Emma insults Miss Bates, a chatty but kind airhead, and Nightly calls her to task about it, Emma starts to have an inkling that maybe she isn't a very nice person after all and that her matchmaking is actually hurting people.

Screenwriter Eleanor Catton has faithfully adapted from Austen's novel and wonderfully captures Austen's often used theme - flawed characters who lack self awareness but eventually see the error of their ways and try to make things right - and Autumn de Wilde, in her directorial feature film debut has made a film that is absolutely gorgeous to look at, in part because of the lovely town of Lower Slaughter, where it was filmed.  As I was watching the film, I thought it looked very familiar so as soon as I got home I looked up the production details and yes, there it was - Lower Slaughter, my all-time favorite Cotswold town, where I have been many times, traversing the lovely sheep meadow between Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter and pretending I lived there.


The film plays like a beautiful painting with every shot framed to perfection and the screenplay is humorously faithful to Austen, and the actors lovely to look at and quite delightful.

So what's not to like?

As I said earlier, these are terrible times and watching a bunch of beautiful rich people whose only concerns were who was going to marry whom just didn't cut it for me.  I think I need to see this again when I don't have to worry about catching something or the state of the world.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a beautifully produced period film.  If you enjoyed "Downton Abbey" or other Jane Austen films, you will probably enjoy this, but considering the state of things, you will have to wait for it on DVD.
(Or get it On Demand for $19.95.  Due to the coronavirus, many first-run movies will be available this weekend On Demand, for a price, of course)



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


On DVD



Dark Waters (2019)




Mark Ruffalo plays Robert Bilott, a Cincinnatti attorney, who reluctantly takes on the chemical behemoth, Dupont, in this true story of man vs. corporation.

It's 1998 and Robb Bilott has just been made partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, considered Cincinnati's most prestigious law firm, when Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp, who employs an effective but almost unintelligible Appalachian accent), when a farmer from Parkersburg, West Virginia, shows up at his office wanting to see him.  He has some VHS tapes he wants him to see, because he is sure that the Dupont company, which operates in Parkersburg, has been poisoning his land and killing his cows.  Bilott doesn't want to help until Tennant invokes Bilott's grandmother's name who lives in Parkersburg, so Bilott reluctantly heads to West Virginia to see what is happening for himself.  When he arrives he learns that 190 of Tennant's cows have died with strange medical conditions: bloated organs, blackened teeth and tumors.

Ironically, Bilott files a small lawsuit on Tennant's behalf.  It's ironic because his law firm represents big corporations and one of those big corporations is Dupont.  But Bilott wants to do Tennant a favor and thinks he will "get in and get out"and that will be that, but what he doesn't know is that in so doing he will set off a string of events that will obsess him and culminate in years of lawsuits against Dupont.

Dupont sends Bilott hundreds of boxes of discovery documents in hopes of burying the lawsuit, but they don't know who they are dealing with.  Bilott methodically goes through those boxes and eventually discovers numerous references to something called PFOA, which turns out to be perfluorooctanoic acid which was being used to manufacture Teflon.  You know, those nonstick pans we love so much?  Turns out in addition to keeping our food from sticking to our pans, the PFOA used to manufacture Teflon also caused cancer and birth defects.  Dupont knew this but never let it be known.  They also dumped hundreds of gallons of toxic sludge near Tennant's farm.  PFOA is a forever chemical, meaning that once in our blood stream it never leaves and even slowly accumulates.

To make matters worse, Parkersburg, West Virginia, was a company town, a Dupont company town, so the townsfolk are not happy with Tennant for suing their biggest employer but he perseveres because he wants justice.  Bilott also  manages to get medical monitoring for all residents in a large class action suit, having no idea that seven years will pass before he gets the evidence that he needs to take on Dupont.

This film, directed by Todd Haynes, seems like a departure for him.  He is best known for stylish films like "Far from Heaven" and "Carol," films reminiscent of the glamorous Douglas Sirk meodramas of the 1950's, where Haynes exposed the secrets his seemingly upright characters were hiding.  This  is one of those whistleblower films in the tradition of "Silkwood" and "Erin Brokovich," but he exposes secrets here, too, the secrets that Dupont kept from the public as it went about polluting the environment. Adapted from Nathaniel Rich's New York Times magazine article "The Lawyer Who Became Dupont's Worst Nightmare" by screenwriters Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan, this is a traditional whistleblower film that went on a bit too long and had a few holes, but it is still an engrossing and important film. Ruffalo does a good job playing a man caught up in circumstance.  I was never a big fan of Ruffalo, thinking he was just too laid back of an actor for me, but here he shows his acting chops and visually takes on the character of a little man fighting the big corporate machine.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, PFOA is no longer used to make Teflon.  Teflon has been PFOA free since 2013.


Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like whistleblower films where big corporations get what's coming to them, you will enjoy this.




Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)


A rehash of the first "Terminator," except this time we have liquid terminators and more than one badass woman!

There have been four sequels to the Terminator franchise since the first one in 1984, which made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star, not to mention the phrase "I'll be back" entering the American lexicon, but don't worry.  You don't have to remember what happened in all of them to get this one.  This one totally forgets sequels #3, #4 and #5 and basically does a remake of the first one starting up where sequel #2 - "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" left off.  But it would help if you remembered the first two.

I am starting to get irritated at these sequels and remakes that take 30 years to get made.  Who can remember what happened 30 years ago? I can't. I remember seeing the first film and don't think I saw the second one, so I either have to go back and remind myself or be totally confused.  Since I didn't go back and remind myself, I was totally confused.  But this sequel is basically a rehash of the first Terminator: a bad robot has come from the future to kill a woman who will eventually become a resistance leader and someone else has come from the future to try to save her.

Dani (Natalia Reyes) is happily living her life in Mexico City until she meets Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an "enhanced" human who has literally fallen from the sky from the year 2042 to save her from an advanced terminator, a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), who is out to kill her because she is a threat to the machines in the future. Sound familiar?  In the meantime, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) has lost her son, John, who she saved in the first film, and is a terminator hunter.  She has been getting strange messages about the locations of arriving terminators, all with the message "For John."  Have I lost you yet?  I was totally lost for most of the film and you will be, too, if you haven't seen the first film. But fortunately about 40 minutes in, Sarah recaps it - a terminator was sent to kill her to stop her from giving birth to her son who would eventually grow up to lead the human resistance against Skynet, the AI's that were supposed to wipe out humans. She was able to fight off the terminator and save the world. But now she is older, and I would add, a bit bitter. Here she went to all of that trouble, saved billions of people and now, she laments, she if forced to hunt terminators and drinks until she blacks out.  Sarah is not a happy camper.

Anyway, for the first 30 minutes of confusion, at least there was carnage and a car chase involving a big garbage truck and going the wrong way on the freeway and the robot getting blasted and then morphing into all kinds of things. So ther was lots of action, and it also became apparent during those first 30 minutes that it's difficult to fight off a robot whose sole purpose in life is to kill you.  

But I don't like movies that make me wait 30+ minutes to discover what the hell is going on. Since Arnold's picture is on the movie poster, I couldn't stop wondering when Arnold was going to show up.  And speaking of Arnold, there is a certain amount of homage to the first film.  When Sarah shows up and lays waste, she says...now, wait, let's all say it together..."I'll be back." And speaking of Sarah - I can't really remember if I thought Linda Hamilton was a good actress or not when I saw the first film.  But here she says her lines like she is in a cartoon.  Is she a bad actress or should I blame the dialogue?  Not sure.  But she actually is in a cartoon, so I guess it's not her fault.

Finally, an hour and fifteen minutes in, Arnold shows up.  He is now "Carl," - Carl? -  and he gets to say, "I won't be back." And I think he forgot his acting lesson, too. Geez, can this thing get any worse?

Based on James Cameron's (he directed the first two) and others' original story and reworked by David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes and Billy Ray (Goyer and Rhodes both worked on the original story) and directed by Tim Miller, all I could think of watching this is that people must sometimes go to movies just for the action - to see car chases and things getting blown up - because this film, despite the fact that it stars some badass women, is really all action and very, very little substance.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you were dying to see Sarah Connor again and wondered what happened to Arnold as the original Terminator, you might like this but otherwise, it's a no.



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


38 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?



High School (1968)



A look inside a Philadephia high school in 1968.

Director Frederick Wiseman is a documentarian who has filmed over 40 documentaries in the last 50+ years. He concentrates mostly on America's institutions.  In 2017, critic A.O. Scott of the New York Times considered him "one of the most important and original filmmakers working today."  I am a huge fan of documentaries, so I found that interesting considering I hated his most recent film, "Monrovia, Indiana."  Even more interesting is the fact that I rather liked this one, which was only his second film.

Wiseman employs the documentary technique of cinema verite, where the filmmaker uses no narration and the camera captures the reality, leaving the viewer to make his or her own judgments. 

This is a day-in-the-life of Northeast High School, a predominantly white high school in Philadelphia in 1968.  Wiseman films a Spanish class, band, a French class, English class where I swear the teacher read the entire poem "Casey at the Bat (was that really necessary to read the whole thing?)," choir, a cooking class for boys and a fashion show for the girls, where the director has no problem telling a young girl her legs are too fat for the short dress she is wearing.  The sex ed classes are cringe-worthy, especially the one for the boys where a male gynecologist makes some comments about girls and sex that would certainly not play in any high school today.  We also see the vice principal dealing with two boys who had a fight, one who didn't want to put on his gym clothes, a girl who had the audacity to wear a short dress to Prom, and a counseling session with parents and their daughter.

It's all very banal and, despite the lack of narration, it's not difficult to draw the conclusion that Wiseman does not approve of the education that these kids are getting and that the teachers and administrators are not fostering any self-expression or critical thinking. It's also an interesting look at gender roles - the boys study rocket science, the girls do a fashion show. But it's also very voyeuristic. I couldn't get over how Wiseman used extreme close-ups on faces, as in right up peoples' noses, but also on the crotches and butts of the young girls dancing around in their gym class, something that seemed unnecessary and was quite distracting. 

But, the film had a hypnotic quality, and I felt that Wiseman had captured a moment in time, a time when earning $9000 a year made for a semi-comfortable life (and most people didn't even make that much), and kids had not yet become embroiled in the revolution that was to come.  

Interestingly, Wiseman had also captured a moment in time that I lived.  I graduated in 1966 so this brought back many memories of my own high school experience and, thank goodness, I did have a good education there that did foster self-expression and critical thinking, though gender roles were still very defined. I also remember some teachers who did things that teachers would certainly not get away with today. One very popular English teacher had a name plate on his desk that said "God."




It's funny that everyone thinks that the 1960's was the age of hippies and revolution.  Actually, most of the 1960's consisted of the Beach Boys, mini-skirts and boys just starting to grow their hair long. So this film was interesting as it documents those last moments before riots, hippies, free love and drugs seemed to take over. Here, there are hints of what is to come but mostly these kids are just trying to get through high school.

Watching this film, I had an epiphany about the films included in the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book.  I complain a lot about many of them and question their inclusion, but I have come to realize that I need to view these films in the context of the time in which they were produced. e.g. how audacious was this film for the time it was made?  And how influential did it become? In this case, Wiseman, in only his second film, was an early adapter of cinema verite, letting his audience be a fly on the wall as a 1960's high school went about its business. That was something new for its day. So I can appreciate a film when I think about it that way. But I still wish I had been spared some of those avante-garde and experimental films I have endured!

Why it's a Must See: "Frederick Wiseman's second film is one of the most horrifying and ambiguous of his institutional studies...[But]...The portrait isn't entirely negative...Above all, Wiseman's filmmaking, sensitive to how his subjects reveal themselves, respects the humanity of even the most reprehensible among them."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fascinating look back in time.
(In b & w)



Thanks for reading!



See you Tuesday


for 


"What To Watch While You Are Sheltering In Place" 
(Coronavirus 2020)


and


The Week in Reviews
(What To See and What To Avoid)

as well as

the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project"






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Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database).



Go to IMDB.com, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.








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