Tag: based on play

Movie Review: The Devils (1971)


Seen: In 35mm at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.

In mid-17th century France, Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu together enforce Catholic dominance across the country. In his fanaticism, Richelieu entreats the king to tear down the walls surrounding the small city of Loudun, which–while Catholic–is basically self-governing and (in his mind) a likely haven for Protestants. Charismatic priest Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed), who is beloved by the townspeople despite his known affairs with local women, has been in charge since the governor died, and he resists any orders to destroy his city’s defensive walls. Meanwhile, Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave), Mother Superior at Loudun’s Ursuline convent, experiences explicit visions involving Grandier as a sexy Christ figure, and confesses to a suspicious local priest (Murray Melvin). He assumes she is possessed by a demon, while Baron De Laubardemont (Dudley Sutton), who is sent to tear the walls down, sees it as a means to delegitimize Grandier, accusing him of witchcraft. What follows is a sensational series of events involving satanic curses, crazed nuns, illegal marriage, violent exorcism, political trial, and fiery death.

This movie. I find myself suddenly obsessed with this movie. It is bizarre and grandiose and over the top and scathing and sensual and darkly funny, and really quite beautiful. The sets are towering and modern, rendered in sweeping lines and stark tans and greys, matching the overblown grandeur of both the French court and the Catholic Church. Ken Russell takes a true story and blows it up into this truly singular, scandalous piece of cinema. The melodrama is turned all the way up, like past 11, and I love that, especially since the tone is perfect for such a pomp and circumstancey target as Catholicism. Russell eagerly recognizes the strange blend of sexual repression and orgasmic ecstasy, pain and pleasure, guilt and pity, self-aggrandizement and hypocrisy, all so intricately connected within the religion, especially in this time period. Sex and violence–while theoretically discouraged–are unquestionably major elements found within the church’s actions, whether in bloody executions of heretics or the romantic affairs of priests.

the devils

One of the many interesting aspects of The Devils is its protagonist, Urbain Grandier, as played by the devilishly sexual Oliver Reed. He is introduced as a well-liked public figure, then immediately shown to be a philanderer who coldly casts aside his aristocratic fling the moment she reveals she is pregnant. He is certainly a flawed character, both as a priest and as a man, yet in the greater scheme of things (namely Richelieu vs Loudun), he is in the right. He nobly fights for his city, defending it against power-hungry fanatics, and I couldn’t help but root for him even if I found some of his behavior repugnant (to be clear, I don’t care that he was a priest who broke his celibacy, or a priest who got married, but that he abandoned a scared woman whom he impregnated). Reed has this constant look of condescension about him coupled with a palpable charisma, weird sexual energy, and a good head of hair; I admit I fell for him just a little bit. And I liked how in this very moralistic atmosphere the “good guy” was himself not exactly meeting high moral standards, continuing with Russell’s exposure of religious hypocrisy.

This film works on a number of levels. It is a fearless criticism of the Catholic Church as an institution, a playful historical satire, a riveting and romantic drama, an investigation of the sadomasochistic elements of religious fanaticism, and certainly an artistic triumph. Its politics are muddy yet biting, its characters confused yet deliberate. The combined star power of Oliver Reed and captivating/unsettling Vanessa Redgrave is enough to sell it, but it was often the little things that really held my attention: the opening shot of an androgynous Louis XIII (Graham Armitage) performing onstage as Venus; the ridiculous fight between Grandier and two sniveling hack doctors (involving a stuffed crocodile); Sister Jeanne’s mad attack on wide-eyed “fornicator” Madeleine (Gemma Jones) through the bars; hints as to the sexual desires of repressed nuns; the dominant effect of Derek Jarman’s modernist sets; the proto-Girls-Gone-Wild possession sequence; the eye-catching style of Father Barre (Michael Gothard), a no-nonsense exorcist with round sunglasses, long hair, bare arms, and bright white gloves. Everything just worked for me. I loved this movie.


Movie Review: The Sapphires (2013)

Seen: On my laptop, streamed from netflix instant.

Loosely based on the real-life singing group (and written by the lead singer’s son), The Sapphires follows four musical Koori women- three sisters and their cousin- who tour Vietnam in 1968 to perform for American troops. They are accompanied by their drunken manager, Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), who is generally useless but seriously believes in their talent. While traveling the young women experience various ups and downs: the oldest, Gail (Deborah Mailman), fights to protect everyone else in an unfriendly environment; her sister Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) embarks on an affair with a handsome soldier; Julie (Jessica Mauboy), the youngest, suddenly finds herself in the spotlight due to her strong singing voice; and their cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), struggles with her conflicting identities as an Aboriginal woman who was forcibly raised in white society due to Australia’s aggressive anti-aboriginal policies.

With a fun, soulful soundtrack and a really likable cast, The Sapphires is a darned enjoyable musical that also offers a glimpse into a specific historical moment that I admittedly know little about. It is made clear early on how these girls have grown up: as Koori in a country that resents their people so much that the government sought to eradicate them through forced indoctrination and child-stealing (of course, to an American this does sound familiar). Gail and her sisters are strong-willed, incredibly motivated, and fiercely loyal to their family and community. They take a stand against the racist rules of their country by refusing to be ignored, and their efforts to be heard are rewarded with a terrifying but significant opportunity to perform for huge crowds in Vietnam. What’s interesting about this movie is that, while the protagonists’ struggle against prejudice and hatred is of course a major factor, the story never leans on it as a defining plot point. This is about individuals whose Koori background is integral to their identity but not their defining feature, resulting in a multi-layered and often lighthearted script that explores how these women react and adapt to their unique situation.

While I think in many ways this is History Lite, I was so charmed by The Sapphires that I didn’t really care. It balances humor and romance (led by Dave and Gail’s adorable interactions) along with tragedy and social commentary, peppered heavily with excellent musical sequences. I loved the cast, especially O’Dowd and Mailman in the leads. It’s a little cheesy at times and seems so intent on keeping things upbeat that the more seriously emotional points aren’t always effective, but I did enjoy myself immensely. And now I’m encouraged to learn more about this moment in Australia’s history, and indeed more about USO performers in the Vietnam War. Yay learning!


Pair This Movie With: Another musical about a girl group, perhaps? I still haven’t seen it but I imagine Dreamgirls might fit. Or maybe Linda Linda Linda. Alternatively, there’s The Boat That Rocked for another look at a real life rock music thing in the 60’s, but with mostly white British dudes. And Chris O’Dowd again.

Movie Review: Holiday (1938)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

As might be gleaned from previous reviews, I’m a fan of the Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant team-up. But somehow I just never got around to seeing Holiday! Thankfully that’s been rectified, since this is a really great film. Grant stars as Johnny Case, an intelligent businessman who’s worked hard all his life to support himself and is very set in a life plan to eventually quit his job so he can explore the world and himself while he’s still young. He falls in love with Julia Seton (Doris Nolan), discovering after their engagement that she is super rich and very set herself on turning her soon-to-be husband into a respectable man of wealth. Johnny clashes with her father (Henry Kolker) but warms up to her wacky sister Linda (Hepburn) and drunken brother Ned (Lew Ayres), struggling to rationalize his own working-class worldview with Julia’s stubborn privilege, and realizing their love might not be enough. But her sister… well, that’s a different story.

As I grow older, wiser, and poorer simultaneously, I find my loathing of super-rich people growing stronger as well, because let’s face it: rich people suck. The original play was produced right before the stock market crash of 1929, but this version of the film came out in 1938, when out-of-work Americans could steal away to the movies for some escapism. A film that exposed both the decadent lifestyle of a blue-blood family and their haughty assholery- all through the eyes of an unassuming man who came from nothing- surely offered an interesting story for Depression-era viewers. I certainly got a lot out of it! Because… fuck rich people? YES. This mentality is why the side characters of Nick and Susan Potter (Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon) were my favorites. They’re down-to-earth intellectuals who can’t stand the image-obsessed world of the Seton family, preferring to hide during a fancy party and do a puppet show. They make hilarious jokes about class that those “above” them don’t get, and that just makes it better. They won best couple the instant I met them, plus I think it’s cool that Susan was a university lecturer before she got married, but it’s too bad she retired (I guess? They weren’t too clear on the point).

Ok enough about side characters, we’re all here for the stars, I know! Hepburn is effervescent and sly as the “black sheep” Linda Seton, a character who is moody and erratic and clinging to a childhood full of promise that developed into an adulthood destroyed by wealth and status. How could she help falling in love with the funny and ideologically defiant Johnny? The two perform acrobatic feats and joke about family members, it’s a perfect match! Most of their budding romance is unrealized since Julia is still in the mix, and it’s kind of sweeter to watch these two fall in love without even realizing it until the third act. Though I would bill this a romantic comedy, much of the film is more of a class satire, with hilarious and fast-paced dialogue and some serious digs at the Seton family, representative of the stuffy, old-money “type” in American society. I was most impressed with Ned, as played by Lew Ayres. He is a bitter alcoholic, with a baby face that rarely betrays his hardened core. Like Linda he spiritually rejects the life laid out for him by his overbearing father, but unlike her he isn’t strong enough to get out of it, and just sadly resigns himself to wasting away in the family business, giving into this shallow, hedonistic lifestyle because he sees nothing to lift him out of it. He’s like the template for a Sofia Coppola or a Wes Anderson movie.

MOSTLY THOUGH this is a comedy! And I loved it. It’s not quite up there with Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story, but it’s close. Also now I want to know everything about big game hunter/super spy/socialite Gertrude Sanford Legendre, whom Hepburn’s character is based on.


Pair This Movie With: I kinda wanted more Edward Everett Horton being sarcastic around doofy rich people, so Top Hat seems like a good choice.

Movie Review: Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

Seen: At the AMC/Loew’s at Boston Common, for a free preview screening.

I’m way behind on blogging because I’ve been visiting friends in Seattle, sorry dudes. But anyway I saw Much Ado About Nothing a little while ago. Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedic battle of the sexes moves the action to a current-day mansion (in fact the director’s own house) but maintains most of the same dialogue. The story concerns a get together of rich people who play at mistaken identities, nascent romance, classist snobbery, faked deaths, and general tomfoolery during a big house party. Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) have been matching wits for years but never considered a romantic relationship until their friends and family conspire to trick them into dating. Meanwhile young Claudio boyishly romances Beatrice’s cousin Hero (Jillian Morgese) but their love is threatened by the machinations of the evil Don John (Sean Maher). Comedy BUT ALSO DRAMA ensues.

I’ve never been a big Shakespeare person- I’ve seen a few play and film adaptations and read a few of the major ones in high school, but I wouldn’t consider myself a fan. But I knew that the killer cast Whedon had assembled in his house during his vacation to make a movie just for fun would give me plenty of reasons to check out his version of Much Ado About Nothing. Though it took me a few minutes to get the old-timey vocabulary and iambic pentameter in my ear, I easily fell into the swing of things as the action got underway. It’s funny and well-paced, combining timeless witty banter with hilarious and up-to-date visual gags. The production is understated, but Whedon makes good use of the resources at his disposal, taking advantage of his house’s nooks and crannies and beautiful backyard, and throwing in some cool tunes and cute costumes. The use of black and white gave it a slightly DIY feel to me, which I liked, since that added to the intimacy of the presentation.

Of course we’re all here for the cast, and I totally get that, because the cast is GREAT. I’m so happy Whedon has finally found a great leading role for Amy Acker, since she’s fantastic but rarely a star. She has a lot of funny physical moments and shines with energy. Alexis Denisof is also excellent but I felt not quite as comfortable as Acker with the dialogue (he does get the funniest scene though). While Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, Riki Lindhome (a nice gender-bent Conrade), and company are great, the standout co-stars are definitely Clark Gregg, who is utterly adorable, and Nathan Fillion, whose well-meaning, doofusy Dogberry is probably the most entertaining character. The script is fairly true to the original (I’m led to understand) but Whedon throws in some lady-positive nods while maintaining the balance of super-silly and melodramatic elements. Overall it’s just a pleasant, enjoyable film, hurray!


Pair This Movie With: I don’t know you guys, more Shakespeare? I’m so uninformed on these things. Or I kinda felt like revisiting The Cabin in the Woods for some of the actors/Whedonness.

Movie Review: Anna Christie (1930)

Anna Christie

Seen: On dvd on my laptop, rented from netflix.

So a few weeks ago I finished Frances Marion’s terrific memoir, Off With Their Heads: A Serio-Comic Tale of Hollywood. This informative and funny book is sadly out of print, but I recommend anyone who’s interested in early Hollywood history and/or in women filmmakers to try and track it down (I found a copy in my university’s library). Her many anecdotes about silent film stars reminded how many films from the 1910s-30s I still hadn’t seen, and I was motivated to finally sit down and watch a Greta Garbo movie. The Swedish actress’s first talkie, Anna Christie was also written for the screen by Marion so it fit my needs perfectly. It focuses on the titular Anna, an unhappy young woman who reunites with her father (George F Marion) after a long separation. A sea captain, he left her in the charge of farmer relations believing that they would give her a better life than he could, but she resents his abandonment. He takes her along on a voyage to reconcile, where she meets a rough-and-tumble sailor (Charles Bickford) and tries not to fall in love with him.

Filmed with a static camera and drawn-out, dialogue-heavy scenes, Anna Christie remains play-like in its style, which allows the cast to relish the script’s colorful language. Garbo is passionate and compelling, expressive in her whole body the way a silent star should be but not so exaggerated that it’s reduced to comedy. And of course, she’s also gorgeous. And stylish! I was digging her high-waisted pencil skirts paired with thick sweaters. Very fancy. Though this is very much Garbo’s film, supporter Marie Dressler almost steals the show in her few scenes, swaying and slurring like an expert fake-drunk and combining humor and pathos in a sad but weirdly dignified character. Marion wrote a lot about Dressler since they were good friends, and it was great to see her perform after reading about her.

While the performances are strong and the script is interesting enough, I didn’t love the story. It’s paced strangely with this really long opening and then halfway through a love story is suddenly inserted and rushed onward. I liked the theme of a father and daughter reconciling after their estrangement, and felt the romantic subplot wasn’t necessary, though it did encourage Anna to reveal her mysterious secret at the end. Her final big monologue at the climax is pretty great, and deals with perceptions of women in a surprisingly open way (though still is pretty anti-sex workers). I just didn’t like the actual ending, the resolution. I either expected a super depressing but realistic ending about how much all men sucked (Anna has maaaad misandry in this movie) or maybe something of her starting a completely new life separate from those who bring her pain. But instead (spoiler alert) she ends up a giddy housewife. Eh. Just too easy.


Pair This Movie With: Mmm I don’t know, haven’t thought of too many other boat-heavy dramas that might go well with this. Or maybe another Garbo film?