Caroline, royalty from England, is compelled to go to Denmark where she first meets her husband, the mad King Christian VII in A Royal Affair. It is hate at first sight and all the butlers, maids and officials know it. To aid the King, his court finds a Dr. Johann Struensee to serve him and to overcome his childish ways. As the story goes, the doctor is stuck by the beauty and intelligence of the Queen. Their mutual love leads to an inevitable pregnancy. This is not “Anna Karenina” but a better film, a richer tale of unfortunate circumstance. The doctor has worked with Christian so that Johann and Christian help turn his political ideas toward a progressive Denmark and Europe for the end of the 18th century. However, the idea is short-lived as the government refuses to give up the monarchy. Christian declares Struensee “King” but—well, I can’t go on without being a spoiler. Alicia Vikander (who was also in “Anna K”), Mads Mikkelsen (the doctor) and Mikkel Boe Folsgaard (the King) do splendid work with director Nikolaj Arcel. Worth catching.
Barbra Streisand (Joyce) and Seth Rogen (Andy) are mother and son in The Guilt Trip. With ulterior motives (to locate old loves), the two leave New York for San Francisco, a route which will allow the failing Andy to sell his organic cleaning solution to prospective clients on the way. Joyce is led to believe her son is a great success but the more kvetching she does, the greater the friction. Always searching for a freebie, Joyce enters a contest right out of Man vs. Food (Travel Channel). She must eat a 50 ounce steak with all the sides in one hour. This is a band-aid on their relationship but a start. The trip ends appropriately and while not the funniest movie around it is a pleasure to see two pros going at it.
In This Is 40, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are Pete and Debbie in this comedy about a couple becoming 40 during the same week. Pete runs a boutique record label specializing in groups he enjoyed as he grew up, Graham Parker (really) is his current talent. Unfortunately, Parker has not sold many records in 30 years. Pete’s inevitable cash flow problem seems distant as he seeks ways to avoid his family responsibilities. Apatow also throws in John Lithgow and Albert Brooks as their almost worthless fathers. To appreciate the movie even more, Judd Apatow has written and directed his real wife (Mann) and daughters in this personal work.
The Impossible takes place during the destructive 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia, and the setting here is a beautiful beach resort in Thailand. Everything gets washed away as Maria (Naomi Watts) attempts to stay alive while keeping one son close by. Her husband Henry (Ewen McGregor) and the two other sons, have been swept away from her. The melodrama plays out against the landscape the dismal hospitals and shelters. While visually impressive, the search is not very effective emotionally. You know the ending by ten minute mark so the overwhelming obstacles are overcome as a series of anti-climaxes.
The thought of Bill Murray as F.D.R. in Hyde Park on Hudson raised some skeptics’ eyebrows. Roosevelt was too bellicose, too over the top for Bill Murray. Murray might have played a mess of other presidents but not F.D.R. This story is told by Daisy (Laura Linney), a distant cousin raised in the same area though her family just scraped by. One day, she is called to Hyde Park to meet the president. She is smitten and becomes part of his Hyde Park entourage. Her relationship with Roosevelt is no secret to insiders though kept from the public (par for the media back then) while wife Eleanor pursues her own relationships. Of course, the history and the visitors are important (the British King George VI stutters and Roosevelt has polio), but never far away is Daisy. Linney deserves the greatest praise as the perfection of imperfection and if the film falls short of its mark, she hits the bulls’ eye.
Les Miserables has now gone from novel to filmed versions to musical and back to film. It is being anticipated by millions who have seen it on stage and by millions who have waited over twenty years to share in the experience. Unfortunately, it is neither the staging, nor the songs, but as filmed, this musical drama with is an unconvincing adaptation. The songs are earnestly sung by Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman. Still, the Hugo plot at the surface is Jackman as Jean Valjean, condemned to spend his life paying for stealing a loaf of bread, and Crowe as policeman Jauvert, obsessed with finding and arresting Valjean for escaping the remainder of his sentence as stated by the law. After that, romance takes over, anti-government activity, more romance and an abrupt end to a revolution. Even Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter can’t enliven this Hugo plot.v I appreciate the production and the sacrifices given, but it is a shame it seems so distant, not unlike “Anna Karenina.”
Tom Cruise is the mysterious Lee Child character, Jack Reacher, friend of truth, enemy to evil. There are exciting scenes of car chases on empty roads. (half of the excitement of a chase is to see the crashes and add up the law suits the police would have) The special effects are old, but the plot is neatly played out. Werner Herzog is wonderfully cast as evil. This is a gun culture movie so if you are sensitive to the subject, given the recent shootings, then stay away.
Alfred Hitchcock is not only the subject of Hitchcock, a pretty good movie with a great performance by Helen Mirren, but his films are worthy to gift, as a gift to receive and as a gift for yourself. If you do collect everything Hitchcock has done or you are a cherry picker, here are titles here for you. You might start out with the silent film The Lodger (Ivor Novello, 1926) and Britain’s first sound film, Blackmail (John Longden and Sara Allgood, 1929). His career really got going in the mid 30s with The Man Who Knew Too Much (Peter Lorre, 1934), The Thirty-Nine Steps (Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll, 1935), Secret Agent (John Gielgud, Madeleine Carroll); Sabotage (Sylvia Sidney, Oscar Homolka1936), Young and Willing (Nova Pilbeam, 1937) and The Lady Vanishes (Dame May Whitty, 1938). His first American film was an adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca (Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier, 1940), a model of straight direction under the eyes of David O. Selznick. Except for a film or two, Foreign Correspondant (Joel McCrea1940), Suspicion (Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, 1941), Saboteur (Robert Cummings, 1942), Hitchcock’s favorite Shadow of a Doubt (Joseph Cotton, Teresa Wright, 1942), Lifeboat (Tallulah Bankhead, Walter Slezak, 1944) and Notorious (Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, 1946) are each unique in ways that make them indispensable for watching time and again.
After some misses, he came back in the 50s with Strangers on a Train (Farley Granger, Robert Walker, 1951) is a classic of opposites, especially in murder. The merry-go-round sequence caused millions to think twice before taking that child’s ride. I Confess (Mongomery Clift, 1953) puts a priest at the center of a murder plot when he is told in a confessional that a parishioner is going to kill someone. Because of the sacrament, the priest is unable to tell anybody what he knows though the police are suspicious. Rear Window (James Stewart, Grace Kelly, 1954) has a professional photographer laid up with a broken leg in a large chair facing out at his Greenwich Village court and slowly notices what might be a murder. The slick To Catch a Thief (1955) is a classic cat burglar melodrama. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), a remake of the 1934 thriller, may be loaded with too much Doris Day and James Stewart, but there is much Hitchcock to love. The Wrong Man (Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, 1956) is a black and white drama about a case of mistaken identity and my favorite just as Vertigo (James Stewart, Kim Novak, 1958) and North by Northwest (Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, 1959) could be screened on the walls of the finest museums of the world. To many Psycho (Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, 1960) is his last great film—original in plot, form and atmosphere. It did for showers what “Strangers on a Train” did for merry-go-round. But I have always been a fan of Frenzy (Alec McGowan, Jon Finch, 1972) about a sadistic London serial murderer and the policeman after him. It is as extreme and as Hitchcockian as any film he had ever done. Most of these have been issued by Criterion, Universal, Warner Bros. Home Video, and many of the early British films from smaller companies. Just about all are available.