From N.E. to Gem: Emma

During the first ten minutes of Emma, the confused me was conjuring humorous blog titles, like N.E.mma, (enema, get it?), but then I got it, as in understood who the characters were and what in goodness name the plot was actually about.

And being an occasional playwright and screenwriter myself, means needing the audience to hang in there long enough to figure it out. You can’t hand out Cliff notes ahead of time to explain everything to folks who haven’t read Austen since college or ever.

In fact, in the major ball scene, I daresay I am on the record to vouche for Emma being a better film than Little Women, as relatively new screenwriter Eleanor Catton and first feature length director Autumn de Wilde ingrained in Emma what Billy Joel sang about, and Greta Gerwig failed at, which is “Leave a Tender Moment Alone”. The dance sequences and near romantic teases were far more evocative than any Gerwig managed. So bravo to the new crew in Hollywood.

Acting wise, Anya Taylor-Joy, while not aesthetically pleasing to me, did a honest job portraying an entitled brat. Johnny Flynn makes up for Taylor-Joy’s missing charisma and is wonderful as Emma’s hopeful suitor. Bill Nighy was a joy as Emma’s germaphobe father. And Josh O’Connor had a special sparkle despite his goofy character. And sure enough, on further inspection the guy’s already racked up two lead actor British Independent Film Awards. I’ll be sure to catch up on his award winning performances (God’s Own Country and Only You).

The cinematography and production were also crisper and more authentic than Little Women. The minor characters while at times a bit clunky at least seemed more human than L.W.’s Lauran Dern (who simply can’t do 19th century) and Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk.

Bravo to Emma for making us feel for conflicts nearly 200 years old and going from enema to gem-ma in a mere two hours.

The Nearness of You: Bright Star, a 2009 Perfection

I started having a fantasy the year James Taylor came out with his version of Glenn Miller’s classic “The Nearness of You”. The fantasy was simple, a slow dance with the man I love (preferably in moonlight or candle light). The man I was dating at the time, a sensitive itinerant painter who would not sleep next to me for fear of ‘losing his artistic edge’, not surprisingly told me he was not a dancer.(this was the mid 2000’s and he’s since gotten married and had children).

Watching Jane Campion’s beautiful film Bright Star from 2009, reminded me of this relationship. First, John Keats was also a very sensitive artist who, along with his buddy Mr. Brown, guarded his own artistic milieu. Second, the movie occurred in an era when people were near each other log enough for feeling to simmer and grow to a full boil, without pressure or distraction. This was the case with my relationship, too. Sure it wasn’t the 1800’s, but it was the aughts, pre-internet frenzy and while I don’t necessarily want reminders, I have fond memories, if that makes any sense.

But, to me, Bright Star was even better than The Piano, Campion’s other more famous film. The movie was a perfect depiction of an era when finances and romance were intricately entwined. Due to the fine trio of actors, never did I think ‘this is maudlin’ or sappy. Abby Cornish was terrific, a look alike to Lindsay Lohan, as Fanny Brawne. Ben Whishaw, equally great as the sickly Keats. And Paul Schneider, terrific as the womanizing deviant and Keats cock blocker, Mr. Brown.

Looking up the actors, there’s not much with Cornish coming out that thrills me, nor past-RoboCop? But I wish I could re-watch scenes from The Lobster and The Danish Girl to catch Whishsaw, now that I have seen him at his best. I’ve now got two of Schneider’s on my library list; Rules Don’t Apply, last year’s Howard Hughes failure with Warren Beatty and The Assassination of Jesse James which I’ve heard is fantastic.

One of these days I’ll get back to read more about Keats and Brawne’s long, suffering relationship.

Last of the Female Director Trilogy: Jane Campion’s The Piano

Again, thanks to the Amazon series “I Love Dick”, I happened upon two older films and a reminder of a third (I had already taken in) from three power house female writers/directors. To recap, I had seen Chantall Ackerman’s film, recently saw Potter’s Orlando, and last night viewed Jane Campion‘s The Piano.

And I know, I know, for shame on me for not seeing this three time Academy Award winner (best actress, best supporting actress, best original screenplay) earlier. My cinematic passion didn’t reach full flame until the mid 2000’s or ‘aughts’ as the lingo goes. I do remember thinking, once upon a time, that I really didn’t need to see Harvey Keitel nude, nor do I think Sam Neill is a very charismatic actor, both snobbish opinions on my part to be sure. And yet I think HK is a superb actor and loved him in Youth, from a few years ago.

The movie The Piano, of the three power house films, comes in third in my book after Ackerman #1, with Potter obviously at #2.

Why? Mainly due to the setting, which I get was a choice to enhance the feelings of oppression, but I couldn’t think of April/May being the cruelest months (along with November through March) in that Godforsaken land I left called Rochester, New York, mud and cold, mud and cold, (shiver) mud and cold. I have post traumatic frost bite, what can I say?

Now, the positives: Anna Paquin was astoundingly good and recognized with an Academy Award. I’m surprised (though a Golden Globe win for True Blood s noteworthy) that she hasn’t made more of a grand splash in major films. Holly Hunter is probably the best of all time at the derisive unsatisfied frown. The aforementioned gentlemen were good, but again someone more appealing may have heightened the interest (again, fully confess that’s a pompous ass comment).

What I got from this in a feminist perspective: women have to give up art or at least part of themselves for love. Probably true in the past, not so sure it’s as true in the modern era. I do know this recent relationship I ended was punctuated by the male trying to cover me with his music (most of which was great, especially the Tears for Fears guy’s solo cd) and film (if I heard the movie title Laura one more time or the phrase film noir, I may have pulled a Barbara Stanwyck). And, this should be in all caps: DON’T GET ME WRONG, I LOVE LEARNING NEW THINGS, BUT, when I tried to insert my favorites, it was almost as if the person felt threatened or unwilling to give it a try-Lost in Translation, Bfore the Devil Knows You’re Dead, The wood Brothers, Chris Trapper, etc. So maybe Campion is more on the money than I give her credit for. she did say this:

“I think that the romantic impulse is in all of us and that sometimes we live it for a short time, but it’s not part of a sensible way of living. It’s a heroic path and it generally ends dangerously. I treasure it in the sense that I believe it’s a path of great courage. It can also be the path of the foolhardy and the compulsive.”

To which I agree and disagree. If I had to list my top 20 life moments, the first 14 would be child birth, moments with my son and running.
(That’s not to discount the 16 years of safety and intermittent happiness I felt with my first husband, but that almost goes in a different category-Best Life Segment, maybe?)
However, the other 6 would involve adventure I had giving and receiving love: Ft Lauderdale 1985, Atlanta 199?, Montreal 2002, etc.
If we don’t reach for larger than life moments, life just turns in to day to day drudgery and turmoil. In fact, I wrote to a friend today, finally communicating info I had neglected to impart based on a recent compliment that I am a light in his life. After I wrotea and sent the communication, I looked up my Free Will Astrology for this week (don’t eye roll, it’s philosophical) and realized I had just done what was advised:

“Life is inviting you to decode riddles about togetherness that could boost your emotional intelligence and earn you the right to enjoy lyrical new expressions of intimacy. Will you accept the invitation? Are you willing to transcend your habitual responses for the sake of your growth-inducing relationships? Are you interested in developing a greater capacity for collaboration and synergy? Would you be open to making a vulnerable fool of yourself if it helped your important alliances to fulfill their dormant potential? Be brave and empathetic, Sagittarius. Be creative and humble and affectionate.” (Ron Brezsny’s Free Will Astrology)

To which I tell Jane Campion, yes, Jane, it’s totally worth it.

Next I’ll try to get a hold of her film Bright Star about the poet John Keats which I almost saw in 2003.

Carpe Diem.

Not AABA’s “Orlando”, But Just as Pretty

So I’m watching what I thought was a new Amazon show, I Love Dick (not an Anthony Wiener expose`) hoping to scoop my ultra hip friend Carrie-

(only later to be told by Carrie that she saw the show previewed a year ago among many other Amazon shows which were voted on, “but wait, I say, I just heard Kevin Bacon on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast?” foiled again)

-when I see Kathryn Hahn (the woman who loves Dick) mind flash a reference to an obscure Chantall Ackerman movie I saw at the Film Forum, combined in a trio of female film makers references (Sally Hopper and Jane Campion being the other two).

So little Ms. School Marm borrows Orlando and The Piano (Hopper and Campion respectively) in yet another attempt to learn everything.

The movie Orlando, based on a Virginia Woolf novel was written and directed by Sally Hopper. Look for a new movie from Hopper this year called The Party with one of my favorite actresses Patricia Clarkson.

True confession about Orlando (looked from the dvd jacket like it might have some adult content wink, wink, but alas, the jacket was for marketing purposes only). Before you, too, begin to whine, let me say that the 1992 flick is gorgeous to behold, acquiring two Oscar nominations, one for best costumes. To boot, the film’s essence was both epic and thought provoking. Now isn’t that better than sex anyway? Well?…

The movie begins in the year 1600 and transcends into the modern age. I’d have to read (and will if ever bedridden) Woolf’s novel and know from surface study she wrote it as a love letter to a lesbian lover, but my naïve take on Hopper’s influence is the message: women make their best impact by being good mothers due to a male dominated society. A melancholy motif to the entrapment of this message carries our immortal heroine through centuries of governance, war, love and art.

Tilda Swinton is the title actress and is enthralling to watch. I have loved her in most films, Jarmusch’s laconic vampire flick being one exception. The other stand out for me in a cast of thousands was Lothaire Bluteau as the Middle Eastern ruler. The scene with Swinton offering up competitive toasts to Bluteau is worth the price of admission (in this case 0, since it a library loaner).

Hopper likes to wink at the audience now and then, with a comical wry comment here, or a Swinton speaking to the camera there. The movie cheered me enough to momentarily forget the emotional turmoil of the week, agonizing over whether to end a 2 month infatuation. I chose to abort for self-preservation reasons. At 53, I can’t swing with people who need to talk into the wee hours of the night. I just need someone who reads at night, wants to see a movie and have a dinner out once a week. Doesn’t seem too impossible. Let’s hope my casket doesn’t read: “well, she was productive.”

The world might be back in order: The D Train and Far From the Madding Crowd

Jack Black is back to dark quirky roles in “The D-Train”, where he plays a desperate man looking for friendship intimacy while rejecting the familial kind. The film’s uniqueness is due to the genuine nature of the character’s actions. We all screw up in real life, get caught up doing embarrassing things for meaningless connections, wanting to please, yearning to be the person all others seek out and admire.
Jack Black

In “Far From the Madding Crowd” (directed by Thomas Vinterberg), may I say that the romance (as old as the Thomas Hardy novel is from 1874) did not seem farcical? And this is coming from the female version of Mikey in the old Life Cereal commercials when it comes to romance (“She won’t like it, she hates mushy’).

Much like D Train, there are times in our lives when we also get caught up in the old adage ‘flattery will get you everywhere’ whirlwind attraction. I was riveted to her marriage to Tom Sturridge, when she realizes on her wedding night, in that all of his charm is the equivalent of smoke obscuring a needy and weak human being. I’ve only disliked one of Carey Mulligan’s roles (Inside Llewyn Davis in which her character was just a horrible foul mouthed misandrist) and LOVED her in Drive and Shame. She’s perfect in “Far From…”, an all natural no-nonsense 1870’s gal.

Tom Sturridge was panned for his role of the bad boy soldier that Carey’s character marries and while I wanted to see the movie and say it ain’t so (I was moved by his Broadway performance in Orphans), tis pity tis true that he just falls flat. I think there’s a way to show charm and not seem vacant to keep us as fooled as Carey’s character was, but his character lacks the ability to trick the audience. I hope he’ll eventually get the role that shows the talent of which I witnessed, or perhaps he is better with live audiences. Time will tell.Tom Sturridge

So beyond Black’s choice originality, Vinterberg/Mulligan’s believable, yet old romance, as proof that the world is righting itself is a trailer I saw before “Far from the Madding Crowd” with Johnny Depp finally in a macho talent worthy role as Whitey Bulger upcoming in “Black Mass”.

Summer truly is the best time of the year.