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Recent Movies: Love and Friendship; De Palma; Weiner; Travel Notes: Western Cornwall, England

July 6, 2016

Recent Movies

Love and Friendship

In the 1790s, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is recently widowed. As this new marital status had reduced her status and wealth, she must depend on the hospitality of friends and relatives. Considering her devious charms (which contribute to an ongoing affair with a married man), this makes Susan’s hosts rather hesitant to take her in – at least the female ones. The film is based on the short novel “Lady Susan” by Jane Austen.

At first, it seems difficult to keep track of the many characters. Director Whit Stillman helps by providing introduction panels at the beginning which not only identify each character but sometimes provide some comical information about them. From there on, it gets easier and one can enjoy the ride of this witty and entertaining film.

Two performances stand out. Beckinsale succeeds beautifully as a demon with charm and charisma to spare. Her deliveries of Austen’s great lines are sharp indeed. The other great performance comes from Tom Bennett as a man whose ample financial means cannot compensate for his lack of grey matter. He steals every scene in which he appears especially the one involving a discussion of the Ten Commandments.

With perfect costumes, set pieces, and other fine production values, this is rather an enjoyable film.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *


De Palma

A documentary film exposes the life and career of Hollywood director Brian De Palma who began making films fifty years ago.

This film tells a fine history, not just of De Palma’s films or films in general, but also of the various historical events that influenced movies throughout the decades. Any history of the period that began in the late 60s and continued through the 70s is always welcome. De Palma mentions that there was much more freedom in those days before the business lobby took over Hollywood in the 80s and continued dominance ever since.

There is enjoyable nostalgia in seeing clips of De Palma’s films (which include a young, pre-stardom Robert De Niro) and those of other films that influenced him. These clips are the only alternative to this movie’s main source of storytelling: De Palma himself narrating his history. While he is engaging and never dull as a speaker, the documentary feels incomplete as it lacks interviews from others – whether they be specifically for this film or older film clips from friends and foes.

At one point, the renowned director mentions that he was condemned as misogynist for depicting violence against women. While he defends himself well, it would have been more interesting to hear directly from the other side. In fairness, male characters were also brutally treated in his films. His thrillers pushed the boundaries for violence. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of this kind of film-making even though I’ve enjoyed some of De Palma’s films. Some of his films may stand out in movie history but I don’t think the genre of excessive violence is worth glorifying.

RATING:   * * 1/2


Weiner

A documentary covers the private and political life of Anthony Weiner during his campaign to run as mayor for New York City in 2013.

The beginning of the film informs of Weiner’s promising career as a congressman during which he fought passionately for underdogs and other good causes. But in 2011, he was disgraced and had to resign as he had been caught exposing explicit photos of himself on the Internet.

This documentary is almost like a fictional film in that there is a riveting start with snappy editing, an encouraging mood, and then a plot twist that throws everything right off.

In the second half right until the end, the movie leaves many questions: why stay in a long campaign and face more humiliation for yourself and your wife (Huma Abadin who has also been a top aide to Hillary Clinton)?; why did you not get help for your compulsions and sick behavior?; why did you bother to have even more exposure and degradation by doing this documentary (this question is actually asked though in different words)?

The viewer might even feel guilty at witnessing some conversations and silent exchanges between spouses that should truly have been kept private. Perhaps, there is even a greater neurosis about receiving attention of any kind that would allow this privacy to be so exposed.

In any case, this film is fascinating in exposing a very odd element of the human condition. Even more odd is after watching it, it’s still possible to like Anthony – not just for his good causes but also when he gets fired up in arguments with a pompous political commentator on TV and a voter in a bakery shop. He’s got fire.

RATING: * * *


Travel Notes:  Western Cornwall, England

Although this trip was cursed with unexpectedly cool weather (and a resulting cold), it was still filled with beauty and the wonderful charm of the friendly English people. Whether I heard them speaking to each other or to strangers like myself, the warmth was very moving. I was called ‘mate’ so often, I sometimes wondered if it was a new name they had given me.

Although I’d been to London before, I had to take advantage of some of the sights I hadn’t seen before at the beginning and end of my journey. These included a tour or the House of Commons as well as the Churchill War Rooms – a secret underground area used by Winston Churchill and his staff during World War II. Both were fascinating.

I also enjoyed a day trip from London to the lovely town of Bedford to reunite with a friend I hadn’t seen in person for twenty-one years.  It was a wonderful reunion and it was nice to visit a beautiful, historical town that is off the beaten path.

In Cornwall, I stayed in the charming small town of Penzance and used a rural bus pass to see the other parts of western Cornwall on the Penwith Peninsula. The most memorable trips were those to Land’s End and two trips to St. Ives (another charming town). In all cases, I made some hikes in the coastal areas with cliffs, greenery, and ocean waves that could easily resemble heaven especially with the blue skies above. These hikes were unforgettable.

Other highlights included the Truro Cathedral, the beautiful town of St. Mawes (including its small historical castle), and the Minack Theatre.

The Minack Theatre is an outdoor Roman theatre on a high cliff that faces the Potchurno Bay near the Atlantic Ocean. The tour included a museum which explains the theatre’s intriguing history, plus the viewing of a rehearsal for an upcoming production.

St. Michael’s Mount was also a major highlight.  It is a small tidal island with a beautiful castle and garden.  Getting to the castle was quite the effort as it was a steep uphill jaunt on cobblestones some of which were uneven.  But the journey was well worth it.  This castle faces the more famous Mont St-Michel right across the English Channel.

The rural bus rides were and adventure in themselves.  They were often “topless” double-decker buses travelling on roads that appear to fit only one single lane.  Even when traffic was met from the other direction (including other double-decker buses), the drivers always found a way to resolve the situation and everyone got on their way.  It was also interesting on the top deck sometimes as riders could occasionally be “brushed” by small tree branches or be inches from looking into the windows of someone’s private home.  (No, I didn’t look.)

While better health would have meant a better trip for me, I still have fond memories of this beautiful and special part of England.  And yes, it was fascinating to be there during the controversial Brexit referendum.

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