1.18.2006

Catching up with holiday movies is almost as hard as catching up with my Ticket Stub reviews:

* Pride and Prejudice -- As a card-carrying Austenophile and also an Ang Lee fan (see below), he who created the perfect Austen adaptation, I had seriously low expectations for this film, which raised the hackles of many with it's spiced up ending for the American audience -- showing the couple after they marry, totally verboten in Jane's universe. But it seemed to be a tempest in a vintage teapot, because I enjoyed it on the whole, and Kiera Knightley in particular. Shot in a loose, earthy, somehow French way (it reminded me of Jean de Florette -- not to sound like another Working Title film or anything), saturated with color and candlelight, the settings and characters seem truly authentic, down to the slightly unwashed look of the country Bennett sisters. Knightley's slow-burning, brainy brunette Elizabeth Bennett is somehow more believable, yet much more attractive, than Jennifer Ehle in the much-lauded BBC miniseries; she manages to seem headstrong but not silly, thoughtful but not gloomy, and sardonic in all the right places. Mr. Darcy is reliably cold, yet boyish, a nice touch -- until he comes striding through the dawn in an open-necked shirt, that is. There are several totally overwrought scenes like this, complete with music swelling out of nowhere, almost like a telenovela...huh? If the tone were more consistent, and the younger sisters and Mrs. Bennett a little less grating (which is the point, but still), the whole would go down easier. Lop off that last scene, and it's highly recommended. Extra points for Donald Sutherland's excellent turn as the put-upon Mr. Bennett; one point off for the over-cast Judy Dench; is she required to appear in these historical movies annually or something? (B+)

* Brokeback Mountain -- Heath Ledger turned in the performance of the year here; sorry, Joaquin! As the stony, wounded Ennis Del Mar (ah, the Jungian implications of a name that translates to "rock of the sea"), Ledger forever buries his past as a lightweight teen hunk. Literally in the first five minutes of the movie -- a wonderful, wordless sequence that could be a short film in itself -- he tells us everything about his character through gesture, just the way he fills space...amazing. Can't quite say the same for Jake Gyllenhaal, although he comes off convincingly as a cocky twerp, and manages to become more complex and soulful over time, while Ledger fossilizes in stoic bitterness. Against a windswept Western backdrop, these two fall into the most compelling star-crossed romance ever put on screen, somehow as inevitable as it is unlikely. I joked with Nat that it would make a great double feature with Wedding Crashers (think about it!), but it also calls to mind Remains of the Day, the underrated All the Pretty Horses, and of course Boys Don't Cry. Ang Lee is a master of imagery and placing the camera, with each element bringing something to the story: waving prairie grass, peeling paint, a red cowgirl hat, casually naked flesh. He conveys the chilling irony of hiding one's deepest desires in plain sight, of living a confined, diminished life in the midst of such wide open country, so smoothly and comprehensively that the final image, which makes devastating use of these themes, just breaks your heart. The central story is rounded out with tremendous smaller parts, particularly Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway who give two very different takes on the "wronged wife" role, and Roberta Maxwell and Kate Mara for giving some glints of hope to the final scenes. Hope, but not redemption, since the film plays as a tragedy, not quite a cautionary tale. There have been some interesting fruits of the "controversy" over the film's subject matter; all I'll say about that is, this is one of the least gay movies I've ever seen. Whatever his "orientation" (a laughable and alien concept in 1963, for sure), Heath Ledger's characterization will stay with me for a long time. (A+)

1 comment:

Nathaniel said...

Your reviews are so good - you talk more pretty than me, urg.

I agree it seems like they overuse Dame Dench, but over the last 10 years, she has made almost as many contemporary movies as period pieces:

PERIOD
Pride & Prejudice.... Lady Catherine de Bourg
Mrs. Henderson Presents.... Laura Henderson
Ladies in Lavender.... Ursula
The Importance of Being Earnest.... Lady Bracknell
# Iris.... Iris Murdoch
# Chocolat.... Armande Voizin
# Tea with Mussolini.... Arabella
# Shakespeare in Love.... Queen Elizabeth
# Mrs. Brown.... Queen Victoria
# Hamlet.... Hecuba

CONTEMPORARY OR FUTURE
# Casino Royale.... M
# The Chronicles of Riddick.... Aereon
# Die Another Day.... M
# The Shipping News.... Agnis Hamm
# The World Is Not Enough.... M
# Tomorrow Never Dies.... M
# GoldenEye.... M