Kate Beckinsale

Pearl Harbor (2001, Michael Bay)

Pearl Harbor is a couple things. It’s a breathtaking historical visualization of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And it’s a patronizing, cynical, disinterested war melodrama. The big problem with the melodrama is Randall Wallace’s script, which is vapid at best. It also barely factors in to the attack sequence. The attack sequence is all director Bay, for better and for worse, along with some unfortunate digital blurring to keep the rating down.

The Pearl Harbor sequence comes about halfway through. The movie runs three hours, the attack is at eighty minutes. Before the attack, there are some scenes with the Japanese (led by Mako and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, who are both great) planning the attack and the Americans worrying about an attack. The Americans are mostly Jon Voight as FDR, Dan Aykroyd as the Naval Intelligence guy who can’t convince anyone to be worried, and Colm Feore as the Pearl Harbor base commander. But even if Aykroyd did get boss Graham Beckel to listen, the Japanese plan was too good. The Americans are just unprepared, which actually brings in the closest thing to a political statement the film makes. It makes various implications regarding the American military brass, as opposed to guys on the ground like Feore or Alec Baldwin’s Doolittle; Voight’s FDR isn’t with the brass either. It’s… interesting.

It’s probably what happens when history fails the politics of the filmmakers.

In other words, the film does a terrible job essaying how 1941 felt to the average person. Because Wallace does a crappy job in general and Bay’s really not interested in doing anything with regular people, not when he gets to do a special effects heavy war movie. As for the melodrama… the only person more disconnected from the melodrama than Bay is leading lady Kate Beckinsale, who doesn’t even get a caricature to play. Wallace’s script is, actually, quite interesting when you realize Beckinsale doesn’t just have less character than practically every other nurse (who are all man-starved caricatures, the slutty one, the sweet one, the fat one, the nerd), but her lack of character is what obliterates the film’s potential. Not just Beckinsale’s performance, which is… fine, given the circumstances. It’s vaguely believable she’s interested in Ben Affleck, but they—Wallace and Bay—can’t figure out how to get Beckinsale interested in third love triangle leg, Josh Hartnett.

See, Affleck and Hartnett are childhood best friends from Tennessee—the accents are better than you’d think; maybe not authentic, but better than you’d think. Affleck’s the alpha, Hartnett’s the beta. Though Affleck’s still fallible, he’s got dyslexia in 1941.

So let’s talk about the melodrama.

The movie opens with a flashback showing Hartnett’s character has a bad but sympathetic dad (William Fichtner in a flashback-redeeming cameo—or at least flashback-evening cameo) and sets Affleck up as his protector. Only Affleck’s about to ship out to England to get in the war because he’s getting old and still wants to be a war hero. He lies to Hartnett about volunteering and breaks new girlfriend Beckinsale’s heart, but she’s going to wait for him. Coincidentally Navy nurse Beckinsale and Army flier Hartnett both get posted to Pearl Harbor, where they see each other to say hello but don’t hang out. Or maybe they do. Because their supporting casts hang out but the film doesn’t do anything with Harnett or Beckinsale’s character development. What you’ve got with Pearl Harbor is a film wanting a beta to alpha arc for Harnett, but resenting Hartnett for being a beta, and then accidentally coming to the conclusion the alpha and beta labels are a bad way to think about masculinity. Only it can’t recognize that possibility because… dudes. There’s nothing more painful than the scenes when Affleck and Hartnett try to bond after Affleck gets back to find Hartnett and Beckinsale together. Much like when Beckinsale’s character is so exceptionally shallow you have to wonder how she made it through the scene without just defaulting to an honest answer and then when she becomes literal background in the third arc, you eventually welcome Hartnett and Affleck just standing around looking pensive as opposed to trying to talk about their incredibly complex situation.

Even though there are a couple times they’re supposedly going to have a hard talk. And there are a couple times Beckinsale’s going to get real with someone. Only she doesn’t have enough agency to do it. And Wallace doesn’t know how to write men talking about anything not military or war expository-related except Affleck and Hartnett’s buddies trying to figure out the best way to manipulate the nurses into bed. But they don’t mean it in a bad way—come on, it’s 1941, no one knew women were people yet.

Not even women.

So, spoiler, no, Beckinsale doesn’t have some kind of empowerment arc.

In fact, even though she gets the ill-advised, poorly written, and awkwardly placed end narration… Bay cuts her out of the end of the movie because she’s not a dude.

I guess to simplify the problem with the melodrama plot—it’s about Hartnett having a man-crush on Affleck because Affleck’s a square-jawed superman only to realize he’d rather have a lady, something Affleck seemingly wanted for himself but wasn’t ever going to tell puppy dog Hartnett about, and then Beckinsale—the object of their affections—doesn’t have enough of a character to react honestly to either, but with Affleck there’s at least movie romance cuteness; with Hartnett it’s a chemistry-free, erotic-free, erotic affair. It’s wholesome. With shtupping. Is it wholesome shtupping? Eh? Bay’s really bad at directing sex scenes.

Really, really, really, really bad. You’re surprised the actors aren’t blushing red from the stupidity.

Not like the canoodling, which Bay does somewhat well. Hartnett and Beckinsale’s romance is mostly short montage sequences where they cuddle and breath heavy on each other and it looks like a perfume commercial.

But the Pearl Harbor attack sequence is awesome filmmaking. Editors Roger Barton, Mark Goldblatt, Chris Lebenzon, and Steven Rosenblum don’t get jack to do before it and about twice that amount after it, but the attack is breathtaking thanks to them. Their cuts are so good the digital vaselining of the frame to insure the PG-13 doesn’t matter. It doesn’t work, but it doesn’t matter. John Schwartzman’s photography is great throughout, especially on the attack. Even an uncaring bastard like Bay is able to make each death tragic. It also reveals if Cuba Gooding Jr., who’s shoehorned into the movie to give it a single Black character with a story arc, is Bay’s real hero. Gooding’s a cook who ends up shooting down Japanese planes; Bay’s a lot more interested in the ground action than the flying action. Pearl Harbor doesn’t reinvent any wheels (or even try), but it definitely gets a lot less interest when it’s “leads” Affleck and Hartnett hitting the sky to avenge.

But getting them to the planes to go into the sky? Bay’s all about their (ground) trip to it. It’s a problem. Bay’s a problem.

Other great crew contributions? Nigel Phelps’s production design is fantastic. Hans Zimmer’s score is fine. Nothing special, but nothing bad. It’s all about that editing though. All about that editing.

Now for the acting. Lots of good supporting performances. The film has a bunch of sturdy character actors giving sturdy performances in bit parts. In the bigger ones, Aykroyd’s pretty good. Voight’s no qualifiers good. He’s really able to turn FDR into an action hero. It’s something. Baldwin’s great as Doolittle. Gooding’s fine. It’s a shallower performance than it’s the part because Wallace does a crap job with it. Bay and Wallace believe in institutional racism in 1941 but not person-to-person racism. The movie’s patronizing as hell.

Of the main cast—Hartnett’s flying sidekicks and Beckinsale’s nursing sidekicks—Michael Shannon is a revelation, Tom Sizemore’s good, Ewen Bremner’s able to get over his stutter, which is only there to get sweet nurse Jaime King to fall for him. Jennifer Garner’s bad but likable as the nerdy nurse. Some of the better glorified cameos are Feore, Leland Orser, and Kim Coates.

Affleck’s a really good lead. He’s able to do it all. He’s not able to give he and Beckinsale enough chemistry to give their romance depth, but its all so disingenuous it’d be a miracle. And Pearl doesn’t have any miracles.

Hartnett’s got some really good moments and some potentially good scenes. It’s hard to wish for more because it’s so clear the film’s disinterested in him. Hartnett and Beckinsale start their flirtation just as the Pearl Harbor attack preparations subplot really gets going and, again, it’s not like Wallace and Bay are actually interested in how anyone existed in fall 1941 in Pearl Harbor and definitely not with a girl.

Beckinsale’s… never bad. She’s never… wholly unconvincing. Though she has an utter lack of chemistry with Hartnett, who she needs some with because they get so little in the script, and still not quite enough with Affleck to get over the silly romance stuff. You’d say she was miscast but she’s good with the straight nursing stuff.

In case anyone’s wondering, Pearl Harbor intentionally and utterly fails Bechdel. I suppose it’s technically exempt when they’re talking about the wounded but… the rest of it? This group of nurses moves from rural U.S.A. to paradise Hawaii and has no reaction other than “boys, boys, boys.”

When Wallace and Bay are bad at something… they’re real bad at it.

It’s shame the movie’s not better. But it’s far from a failure; Bay lacks narrative instinct and interest, he’s indifferent to his actors’ performances—which nicely doesn’t matter because most of the parts are thin and the performances grand—but he’s ambitious to the nth with the attack sequence and he’s at least willing to acknowledge it does need some kind of bookends. Unfortunately for the actors, the audience, the film, Wallace is writing those bookends. Because he’s inept. You’d expect more from an intern who watched a week of History Channel. Some of its Bay’s fault—if he’d cared about the melodrama, it’d be fine….

As is, thanks to the cast and crew’s work, Pearl Harbor is tolerable when it’s not phenomenal, which isn’t bad at all.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; written by Randall Wallace; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Roger Barton, Mark Goldblatt, Chris Lebenzon, and Steven Rosenblum; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Nigel Phelps; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Bay; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Ben Affleck (Rafe), Josh Hartnett (Danny), Kate Beckinsale (Evelyn), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Miller), Alec Baldwin (Doolittle), Ewen Bremner (Red), Michael Shannon (Gooz), William Lee Scott (Billy), Tom Sizemore (Earl), Jaime King (Betty), Jennifer Garner (Sandra), Catherine Kellner (Barbara), Sara Rue (Martha), Mako (Yamamoto), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Genda), Dan Aykroyd (Thurman), Kim Coates (Richards), Leland Orser (Jackson), Colm Feore (Kimmel), Raphael Sbarge (Kimmel’s Aide), and Jon Voight and the President of the United States.


Love & Friendship (2016, Whit Stillman)

Love & Friendship opens with some non-traditional portrait cards for its cast of characters. The actors all appear in the opening titles, but then director Stillman breaks out introductions to the characters. Along with some narration. There’s some narration early on, which goes away almost immediately. Because narration might show a little too much of the film’s hand and Stillman wants to play it real close.

Everyone’s character gets an introduction card–done with portrait effect nodding to silent film techniques–except Kate Beckinsale. She’s not just the lead, she’s the object of everyone’s attention, which almost seems like the same thing as the film’s subject. But not so. With another twenty minutes or so, maybe Stillman could’ve made Beckinsale the film’s subject, but Love & Friendship runs a quick ninety-four minutes. There’s only so much he can do and wants to do. Beckinsale’s character might be deserving of a character study, but Stillman’s making a comedy and a light one. So object of attention she remains.

Though Stillman does obfuscate just enough to keep Beckinsale unknowable. Though no one in Love & Friendship is exactly knowable. Most character development comes out in characters discussing other ones, revealing bits and pieces of gossip and backstory, which informs how discussed characters play out, but there’s always a wink. Chloë Sevigny’s role in the film is mostly just to be knowing. She’s the wink at the audience.

Stillman takes his time introducing characters and storylines. When the film opens, Beckinsale and sidekick Kelly Campbell are just arriving to mooch off some of Beckinsale’s dead husband’s relations. It’s set in eighteenth century English society, but a lot of the film’s humor relates to just how brazen Beckinsale can be. She’s got a title and no money. She’s got a daughter and no husband. She also provokes a lot of rumor and gossip, which the audience gets in on before Beckinsale even shows up in the film. Stillman lays the groundwork for introducing her–as sensationally as possible given the realities of the setting–but also for what’s going to come in the second and third acts. He doesn’t foreshadow. He goes out of his way to avoid it, instead relying on Richard Van Oosterhout’s precise photography, Benjamin Esdraffo’s score, and Sophie Corra’s awesome editing to package each scene in the film as a separate moment. The actors give the film a continuous tempo, not Stillman’s script. Stillman’s script is about the smiles, the laughs, the intrigue, but he relies on the actors to keep the characters going.

It’s important because he’s introducing new, important ones throughout. Even if they got a portrait card in the first act, a lot goes on in Love & Friendship and Stillman uses the device for charm and humor more than establishing the ground situation. The ground situation comes out in the dialogue, the actors deliver the dialogue. Stillman directs to emphasize each exchange. Occasionally with some eclectic composition choices, always with perfectly timed ones. Again, Corra’s editing is essential to the film’s success.

The acting is all great. Beckinsale holds it all together. With everyone talking about nothing except her character, she’s always the focus, even if she’s not in the scene. So when she does come back onscreen, she doesn’t just have to do the scene, she’s also got to bridge her absence and the discussed character or plot development. Beckinsale, Stillman, and Corra get it right every time.

Xavier Samuel is good as Beckinsale’s too young suitor, Emma Greenwell is great as his disapproving sister. Morfydd Clark is good as Beckinsale’s daughter, who should be looking for a suitor of her own. The relationship with Beckinsale and Clark ought to forecast where Love & Friendship is going to end up, but it doesn’t. Stillman doesn’t want any peeking.

Tom Bennett is hilarious as Clark’s suitor, a rich buffoon. Justin Edwards is quietly excellent as Greenwell’s husband.

Sevigny’s perfect in her bemusement.

Love & Friendship is a delightful, thoughtful, ambitious, beauteous, little, grandiose picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Whit Stillman; screenplay by Stillman, based on a novella by Jane Austen; director of photography, Richard Van Oosterhout; edited by Sophie Corra; music by Benjamin Esdraffo; produced by Lauranne Bourrachot, Katie Holly, and Stillman; released by Amazon Studios.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Lady Susan Vernon), Chloë Sevigny (Alicia Johnson), Xavier Samuel (Reginald DeCourcy), Emma Greenwell (Catherine Vernon), Morfydd Clark (Frederica Vernon), Tom Bennett (Sir James Martin), Kelly Campbell (Mrs Cross), Justin Edwards (Charles Vernon), James Fleet (Sir Reginald DeCourcy), Jemma Redgrave (Lady DeCourcy), Jenn Murray (Lady Lucy Manwaring), and Stephen Fry (Mr. Johnson).


Van Helsing (2004, Stephen Sommers)

I knew Van Helsing was going to be pretty bad… but nothing could prepare me for it.

It’s not even bad in an interesting way. Its components are, simply put, terrible. Richard Roxborough’s performance as Dracula is possibly the worst essaying of the character… ever. The special effects are awful–the CG monster at the beginning is laughable. Sommers tries to play it a little like a James Bond movie, but a bad one.

Hugh Jackman–as the main character–is somehow not in it enough to make an impression. The story’s very busy, which means Jackman doesn’t actually have much to do.

Kate Beckinsale has an accent and she’s dressed a little like a pirate. Her character doesn’t make much sense, but she and Jackman’s presence in the film doesn’t make much sense either.

Sommers’s target audience is five year-olds (the dim ones) who get references to the old Universal monster movies and Vampire Hunter D, which Sommers plagiarized in regards to Jackman’s costuming.

There’s nothing even remotely good about it. Alan Silvestri’s score is terrible. Maybe David Wenham is funny as the sidekick (he’s playing Q to Jackman, only as a monk).

Besides the generally awful special effects, even the composite shots are bad. They’re so bad it’s incredible they were done for a film released in 2004.

The scariest thing about Van Helsing is someone out there likes it and thinks it’s good.

Easily one of the worst things I’ve ever partially seen.

Sommers redefines dumb.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Stephen Sommers; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by Bob Ducsay, Kelly Matsumoto and Jim May; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Sommers and Ducsay; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Gabriel Van Helsing), Kate Beckinsale (Anna Valerious), Richard Roxburgh (Count Dracula), David Wenham (Carl), Shuler Hensley (Frankenstein’s monster), Elena Anaya (Aleera), Will Kemp (Velkan Valerious), Kevin J. O’Connor (Igor), Alun Armstrong (Cardinal Jinette), Silvia Colloca (Verona), Josie Maran (Marishka), Tom Fisher (Top Hat), Samuel West (Dr. Victor Frankenstein), Stephen Fisher (Dr. Jekyll) and Robbie Coltrane (Mr. Hyde).


Underworld (2003, Len Wiseman)

I was looking for something stupid to watch—something mindlessly diverting—so I tried Underworld.

Wiseman’s action scenes are fine. It’s when Wiseman tries to direct story he falls apart. And there’s a lot of story in Underworld. Lots of needless scenes, complications, complexities. It’s not a surprise a former stuntman wrote it (Danny McBride—not the actor). It’s a bit of a surprise, though, the filmmakers found a studio to greenlight it without a literate person doing a rewrite.

Beckinsale’s performance occasionally suggests she’s able to hold herself in check. Other times, she’s clearly contemptible of the material. To some degree, it might work for the character… but it really doesn’t. It leads to her having negative chemistry with her Romeo, played by Scott Speedman.

Speedman’s not terrible. He’s not entirely believable as a med student, but he’s nowhere near as bad as I assumed.

Then there’s Michael Sheen. I knew he was in it, but I never really believed it. After seeing him, it’s even harder to believe. He’s awful.

The rest of the supporting cast is spotty. Shane Brolly is really bad. Sophia Myles and Wentworth Miller aren’t terrible. Kevin Grevioux, who co-wrote the story, he’s bad.

There’s some odd homoeroticism to the werewolves, which is mildly interesting; usually the vampires have it. It’s just not interesting enough to make one care.

Cut down to forty or seventy minutes of action scenes… it might’ve work. But with its attempts at character developments and narrative, Underworld‘s awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Len Wiseman; screenplay by Danny McBride, based on a story by Kevin Grevioux, Wiseman and McBride; director of photography; Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Martin Hunter; music by Paul Haslinger; production designer, Bruton Jones; produced by Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg and Richard S. Wright; released by Screem Gems.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Selene), Scott Speedman (Michael Corvin), Michael Sheen (Lucian), Shane Brolly (Kraven), Bill Nighy (Viktor), Erwin Leder (Singe), Sophia Myles (Erika), Robbie Gee (Kahn), Wentworth Miller (Dr. Adam Lockwood) and Kevin Grevioux (Raze).


Whiteout (2009, Dominic Sena)

I spent a lot of Whiteout wondering why Dominic Sena, whose first film is Kalifornia, didn’t go crazy stylizing the film. It’s relatively stylized as thrillers go, but it’s not at all extreme. And it didn’t even occur to me until the last shot of the film, which lots of people probably don’t have the patience for, to realize what Sena was and wasn’t doing with Whiteout. Whether he realized it or not, he’s created the first mainstream film noir with a female lead (and set in Antarctica).

With the constant use of flashback (but not narration, which is strange, since the comic was heavily narrated and the film takes breaks for it then doesn’t fill them, resulting in frequent white spaces), the tortured protagonist and the suspicious members of the opposite sex, it’s the first film with Kate Beckinsale where I’d ever say she was playing the Sterling Hayden role.

The film does stumble through its first act. Until the cast is established, it’s awkward, as the pacing isn’t quite right for such a large cast. But then, once everyone is introduced, it’s all of a sudden this wonderful experience, watching these people act together.

Beckinsale’s good (though the film’s early objectifying of her is problematic), but without wowing. This role isn’t a hard one (Whiteout‘s about as much of a feminist blockbuster attempt as Sheena). Gabriel Macht’s excellent as are Columbus Short and Shawn Doyle. Tom Skerritt and Alex O’Loughlin are both solid too.

It’s a fine film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Dominic Sena; screenplay by Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes, based on the comic book by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber; director of photography, Christopher Soos; edited by Stuart Baird and Martin Hunter; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; produced by Susan Downey and Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Carrie Stetko), Gabriel Macht (Robert Pryce), Tom Skerritt (Dr. John Fury), Columbus Short (Delfy), Alex O’Loughlin (Russell Haden) and Shawn Doyle (Sam Murphy).


The Last Days of Disco (1998, Whit Stillman)

I don’t know how to start talking about The Last Days of Disco. I was going to start with saying I first saw it ten years ago (I first saw it on video), but then I realized I probably first saw it eleven years ago and eleven doesn’t have the same ring. People do like things in ten. Then I was going to start with saying I didn’t understand why it isn’t better known or better appreciated, but I guess I do know why it isn’t better known or better appreciated. It’s an unabashedly superior film. It was the first Whit Stillman film I saw and I still don’t think either of his previous works suggest he’s capable of this level of filmmaking.

Where Stillman excels–in terms of the script–is in creating this self-aware (which really comes into play for a joke near the end) envisioning of the disco era. Because he doesn’t deal with any of the modern (in 1998) disco stereotypes, except to point out they are stereotypes, Stillman’s disco club really is, as one character puts it, the greatest club ever. It’s impossible not to think so, not to understand why the characters have to keep going back, even though they talk about never going back. They’re part of a phenomenon and Stillman makes the audience part of it too. In some ways, it really reminds me of the new Star Wars movies–really, it does–because whether or not someone can dance (just like in Star Wars they don’t have any discernible lightsabering skill) doesn’t even fit into it. Stillman fills his dancing shots with as many recognizable faces as possible and leaves it to the viewer to come up with the reason Kate Beckinsale and Matt Ross are dancing next to each other, even though Ross is there with Tara Subkoff. These little narrative tricks, ones Stillman did exhibit in his previous films, make Last Days of Disco feel like a confrontation experience. To say it’s a film requiring a lot of brain power from its viewer is an understatement–Stillman’s composition alone (or Mark Suozzo’s occasional, beautiful score) requires the viewer to pay very close attention.

Which isn’t to say Stillman makes Last Days of Disco particularly dense or heady. He just forces, with his composition, a kind of attention–I think the only thing I’d compare it to is Barry Lyndon. You have to notice the tree outside Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny’s apartment. You miss something if you don’t.

The acting is all spectacular. Seeing the film again, I remember when I had high hopes for Mackenzie Astin’s acting career. Sevigny gives an amazing lead performance. She’s quiet in so much of the film–most of the talking comes from Beckinsale (as a spectacular bitch–she’s just fantastic in making this dislikable character utterly compelling) and Chris Eigeman. I was talking about how good Sevigny is in the film… got sidetracked, sorry. She’s so quiet, just watching, looking, and then Stillman gives her these big–but quiet–moments and she nails all of them. The acting from her and Beckinsale is simply amazing, from the first moment they walk into the film.

Also great is Matt Keeslar, who I’ve longed supported (starting with seeing him in this film). He gets the closet thing to a male protagonist role in the film. He’s great–walking through it with a bemused look–but then Stillman throws all sorts of character revelations at him and he handles every one perfectly.

The supporting cast–Burr Steers, David Thornton (both have some great lines)–is excellent.

I think the first time I saw The Last Days of Disco, I watched it a lot and made other people watch it. I haven’t seen it in eight years, which is way too long to go between viewings.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Whit Stillman; director of photography, John Thomas; edited by Andrew Hafitz and Jay Pires; music by Mark Suozzo; production designer, Ginger Tougas; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Chloë Sevigny (Alice), Kate Beckinsale (Charlotte), Chris Eigeman (Des), Mackenzie Astin (Jimmy), Matt Keeslar (Josh), Robert Sean Leonard (Tom), Jennifer Beals (Nina), Matt Ross (Dan), Tara Subkoff (Holly), Burr Steers (Van), David Thornton (Bernie) and Jaid Barrymore (Tiger Lady).


Uncovered (1994, Jim McBride)

With irregular fade outs, elevator muzak for a score, bad direction and a British cast pretending to be Spanish, Uncovered plays like a mix between a British television movie and a–Canadian–after school special (albeit one with a European approach to nudity). I’ve read the source novel, an intricate thriller, and this filmic adaptation is absent any suspense. That lack is a combination of elements. First, Jim McBride directs with less enthusiasm than a Pringles commercial. He avoids Barcelona scenery and actually makes the choice to flash back to the fifteen century. It’s like he was desperate to sell the finished product to a television network. The film has a few interesting moments–the art restoration scenes–but McBride brings nothing to it.

The next problem is that score. According to IMDb, Philippe Sarde has an inordinately prolific career (around two hundred films). Based on his work for Uncovered, I imagine only three of them aren’t atrocious.

So the combination of McBride and Sarde make Uncovered incredibly problematic, but with good direction and an acceptable score, could the film survive the production philosophy? Possibly.

The production philosophy is simple and unbelievably stupid. Uncovered requests the viewer ignore accents and ethnicity. It asks the viewer to ignore John Wood is British, it asks the viewer to pretend heavily accented Irishman Paudge Behan is a gypsy. A blond-haired, blue-eyed one who wears around Hawaiian shirts. Sinéad Cusack’s character is never defined as Spanish, so maybe that one’s forgivable. Kate Beckinsale’s character is apparently supposed to be British, just living in Barcelona for the majority of her life. As Spanish nobility, Michael Gough is funny enough to ignore the major problems.

But where Uncovered is conflicting is in its approach to the characters. Even if McBride can’t direct a scene, the conversations between the characters are startlingly refreshing and blunt. Beckinsale’s character’s obsession with her weight (probably direct from the novel, since the movie doesn’t show much ingenuity), is a welcome cinematic approach. It’s part of her character, not a plot point. It began before the present action and it’s going to continue following.

Also interesting is–again from the novel–the lurking danger of AIDS.

The character stuff–and the awkwardly successful romance between Beckinsale and Behan, mostly because Beckinsale’s good enough to rise above the defects–almost makes Uncovered all right. But then the end does it in, mostly because of the terrible score and Wood’s performance going down the toilet.

Had the filmmakers just set the movie in England and hired a decent director (it’d be hard to use Sarde’s score in England), Uncovered would have probably been all right. Had they gotten a good feminist rewrite of the script, it would have been excellent.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jim McBride; screenplay by Michael Hirst, McBride and Jack Baran, based on a novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte; director of photography, Affonso Beato; edited by Éva Gárdos; music by Philippe Sarde; production designer, Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski; produced by Enrique Posner; released by CiBy 2000.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Julia), John Wood (Cesar), Sinéad Cusack (Menchu), Paudge Behan (Domenec), Peter Wingfield (Max), Helen McCrory (Lola), Michael Gough (Don Manuel) and Art Malik (Alvaro).


Cold Comfort Farm (1995, John Schlesinger)

Do the Brits have any major film movement? In the 1920s, the Germans had the expressionist movement. In the (what?) 1960s, there was the French New Wave. In addition to contributing more Greenhouse Effect-causing pollutants to the atmosphere, the United States has perfected the over-produced blockbuster. The British, however, have never really had a movement. There are some great (and good) British filmmakers, but the Archers never caused a revolution…

Cold Comfort Farm has no distinct style. It’s inoffensively directed, with a poor narrative structure, and some decent performances. It might be–obviously silly ones aside–Kate Beckinsale’s worst performance, because her character is as flat as an LCD screen. Rufus Sewell (whatever happened to him?) turns up with a similarly depth-less character. On the other hand, Ian McKellen has a lot of fun with his character. I always find it amusing when Ian McKellen’s good, since he’s since become such a ham (thanks, in no small part, to Bryan Singer).

So, while British cinema seems to lack any spectacular definition, Britain itself certainly contains quite a bit. There’s something charming about the British countryside, it’s a very definite setting and very obvious. Batman Begins used a British manor for an American mansion, something quite impossible. See, I’m even using words like “quite” and “definite.” That’s a bit of the problem with Cold Comfort Farm, it tries really damn hard to be charming. Even the theme. I listen to the theme and think, how charming. But that’s because of the theme, not because it’s the Cold Comfort Farm music.

Beckinsale improves (somewhat) throughout the picture, but she’s miscast. There’s no mischievousness, not even the hint of it, and the character needs some. Without it, she’s boring (and wholly unaffected by the momentous changes–though for good–she’s causing in people’s lives).

In the end, Cold Comfort left a defining plot thread undefined, something that gets it brownie points, but not enough to really change my opinion of it. Damn nice music though and British countryside. Shame about their cinematic output.

I realized, during the film, Britain’s best efforts seem to be in television, not film. Makes you wonder what PBS could do if nitwits weren’t trying to kneecap it.

Still, Cold Comfort is one of the last undefined films… Made in 1995, I don’t watch and think about that production date, something hard to do with current film output. Hmm. Maybe not “one of the last,” but certainly a fine example of an undated film.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Schlesinger; written by Malcolm Bradbury, based on the novel by Stella Gibbons; director of photography, Chris Seager; edited by Mark Day; music by Robert Lockhart; production designer, Malcolm Thornton; produced by Richard Broke and Antony Root; released by Gramercy Pictures.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Flora Poste), Joanna Lumley (Mrs. Smiling), Rufus Sewell (Seth), Ian McKellen (Amos Starkadder), Stephen Fry (Mybug), Eileen Atkins (Judith Starkadder), Sheila Burrell (Ada Doom), Freddie Jones (Adam Lambsbreath) and Maria Miles (Elfine).


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