The Lady in the Van (2015 Movie)

MrsMiracle_DVD_Sleeve3 Kernels

Let me preface this review by stating that the British do make quirky movies.  You can put The Lady in the Van into the very quirky category.  Believe it or not, it’s a true story that had been told previously in a book form and on stage.  Alan Bennett, the author, tells of his relationship with the homeless (except for her van) Mary Shepherd. Wonderful and talented Maggie Smith has played this role both on stage and film.

The story centers around an elderly woman who drives a dilapidated van. She favors Alan’s neighborhood and moves the van from house to house early in her arrival.  The neighbors tolerate her presence and attempt to be kind, offering her food and the like, but she’s undoubtedly the most cantankerous old lady you’ll meet.

Alan is a bit of an oddball himself in this story.  He’s a playwright by trade, and you see him much of the time writing about this fifteen-year experience with Mary (or maybe it’s Margaret – nobody is sure).  In his own oddball way, he has a double of himself in the storyline – the one who lives life – the other who writes about life. Alan is also dealing with his aging mother as the story unfolds.

Mary Shepherd is an interesting character herself, having lived in her youth as a gifted pianist. Twice she attempts to become a nun but the church doesn’t believe she’s nun material. When an accident happens in her van years before, she is plagued with the belief that she had killed someone. The guilt sends her down a spiral hole of despair from which she never recovers.

Lady in a Van is an interesting character study, set in a very small portion of London with occasional visits elsewhere. There is plenty of screen time with her van that eventually ends up parked in Alan’s driveway for the period of fifteen years. Maggie Smith’s costumes consist of filthy clothing and a pigsty of a location, but she shines as usual with her talent.  You may, however, find the role a bit shocking and beneath her abilities from the grand Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey to a grungy, grumpy, and stinky old lady. However, since Maggie has owned this role in the past on stage, I dare say she was the only one to do it justice on film.

In the end, it’s the story of where life can take an individual. As an elderly woman, she appears to have no more worth than the rags she wears. Nevertheless, underneath all the filth is a woman who was once revered and applauded.

Vanity Fair (2018 ITV Television Series)

3 Kernels

(but throwing my tub of popcorn at Becky Sharp)

Vanity Fair, a classic story written by William Makepeace Thackeray in 1847-48, is back on the screen…again…as a TV mini-series, now streaming on Amazon Prime. This production is an ITV and Amazon Studios remake that includes seven parts.

Let’s be clear. This story has been portrayed in film and television more times than you can change your channel.  Film versions: 1915, 1922, 1923, 1932, 1935, and 2004. Television versions: 1967, 1987, 1998, and 2018.  I ask you, did we really need another remake?

To be honest, I find no fault in this production as it is lavish and well-acted. They’ve gone to great lengths on settings, war scenes, costumes, and outrageous hats to make this appear authentic to the time period.

Nevertheless, the character of Becky Sharp, in my opinion, doesn’t need to be memorialized again on screen. By the end of the story, I’ve had enough of this selfish, soulless, money hungry, and unempathetic woman as one can stomach. Having to watch her seven hours is pure torture.  I find Becky Sharp as annoying as Lily Langtry when it comes to female leads in a book or film production.  If you haven’t watched Lillie a 1978 TV series production, you’re missing out on another interesting female climbing the social ladder in English society who by the end of the story you grow to despise.

Okay, so putting aside my dislike of the main character, I cannot fault this new series to any great extent.  The storyline, if you know nothing about the infamous Becky Sharp, is about a poor woman who is determined to climb the ladder of success through hook or crook.  She hooks her victims, hoards her money, takes advantage of others to their financial ruin, and cares nothing deeply for the human beings around her to any great extent.

The characters in the story make their fortunes, lose their fortunes, die of strokes and heart attacks, and leave to their wealth and inheritance to the next person. Of course, what makes Becky tick as a human being is somewhat understandable. Orphaned at an early age, with an art teacher as a father and dancer as her mother, she hasn’t had the best of life so far. She suggests to her best friend in one of the last scenes she became a woman at eight years of age. Naturally, you do try to find a bit of sympathy for her plight that has her turned her into such a cold-hearted, money-hungry creature, filled with vanity. 

Having seen the 2004 Movie with Reese Witherspoon, I thought the runtime of 141 minutes was enough of Becky for me to get the picture.  Any screentime with James Purefoy is worth the watch as he looked especially dapper in his English military uniform as Captain Crawley.

If you’ve not seen any Vanity Fair renditions, I would recommend you tune into this longer version.  Should the idea of watching seven, forty-seven-minute episodes (or 5.48 hours) of Becky Sharp’s personality rubbing you the wrong way, check out the movie version instead.

 

Mary, Queen of Scots (Movie 2018)

3 Kernels

When the trailer first came out, I felt excited to see this movie.  Upon its release and some of the not too stellar reviews and often complaints about historical inaccuracies, my enthusiasm didn’t lessen.  After all, as an author, I’ve taken my own creative liberties, if you will, in some of my historical and gothic romance books.

Let me preface this by saying the movie is full of stars you may not recognize underneath their hair and beards. Nevertheless, besides the leading ladies who play the queens (Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart and Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I), are a bunch of favorites such as David Tennant, Brendan Coyle (fka Mr. Bates from Downton), Guy Pearce, Martin Compston (who you may know from Line of Duty aka Steve Arnott), any many others are hiding behind facial hair unrecognizable. A few oddities in the series are characters who are African American and Asian, which appear out of place in the court of the queens for that time period.

As far as the movie goes, for me, it does have its problems. One point that rubbed me the wrong way after watching portrayals of Elizabeth I by Cate Blanchett is an entirely different spin on the personality traits of the English queen. Unlike other works, Margot Robbie is given the role of a queen who is full of self-doubt and low self-esteem as she compares herself to her cousin Mary and almost idolizes her throughout the story. In her mind, Mary is strong, beautiful, and everything she is not, which frankly just doesn’t sit well with me. Eventually, when they meet, she comes to some sort of epiphany, but it’s only because Mary thinks Elizabeth is her inferior.

Mary, of course, is what one might expect after seeing the previews. She’s strong-willed, independent, but unfortunately is unwelcome in the world she has returned to from France. At every turn, her Catholic background and intents on running Scotland as Queen are ruined by the men around her and the poor choice of a second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (marrying those cousins again) and then being forced after her husband is murdered to marry Lord Bothwell.  It’s a twisted mess, frankly, of the male domination pushed by her brother who had been running the country in her absence.

Well, I won’t go into historical detail.  You can Google the rest but don’t rely too heavily upon the movie since it was said that Mary and Elizabeth never met later in life. I’ve read they did meet when they were children but not as adults, and some say they never met at all.  A point still debated.

The setting is gorgeous (apparently filmed in the UK and Scotland), and the costumes interesting with an odd choice of fabrics (denim).  A few close-ups of the dresses and men’s clothing looked perfectly stitched by machine. You might enjoy this article from FrockFlicks having a good snark at the hair and costumes. I didn’t quite get Mary’s odd choice of earrings – both different from one another or Elizabeth’s shoddy jewelry at times. The men, of course, look quite dapper in their outfits of the day.  Something about those jackets they wear makes them so attractive.  The actresses who portrayed the queens did well in their parts, even if I didn’t agree with the weak Elizabeth characterization.

At times, I found the movie sluggish, the changes between scenes jumpy, and the storyline a bit choppy and confusing if you don’t know your history and what exactly is going on.  I wanted to like the movie more than I did, frankly, so I’m only going to throw three kernels at the screen for this one, having left with a feeling of “meh.”

Oh, and though Mary has her head on the block at the end, they do at least spare you the gory details of the execution.

Maximilian and Marie deBourgogne (2017)

max4 Kernels

Currently streaming on Starz is a spectacular series in six parts entitled Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne.  It’s a German-Austrian co-production that I found extremely well done for a period piece, not at all minding the German and French spoken throughout with English subtitles. The story is engrossing enough to keep you glued to the dialogue as you are immersed in another time in history: 1477.  Dust off your history books, because if you’re like me you’ll be glad to know this storyline does a good job of keeping to the historical facts.  To add to the authenticity of this period drama are the sets and costumes that are well done, as well as the musical score.

The story centers around two key players in the chessboard of the fifteenth-century politics in Europe. Marie is the daughter of Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, who is killed in battle by the French. With no male heir, Marie is made duchess. However, Burgundy is a male fiefdom and from day one she becomes the pawn of those in power in Burgundy and France, each attempting to wield their political maneuvers. She is encouraged to marry the Dauphin of France, who is a mere boy, as France wants Burgandy back in its power.

Then, in a faraway land of Austria, resides Maximilian, the son of the Holy Roman Emperor.  He is encouraged to wed Marie but balks at the idea until circumstances finally lead him to Burgundy.  Like a knight in shining armor, with integrity and purpose, he comes to save the day.  The series is a sweeping story of war, politics, and endearing love between two young people. Unfortunately, in real life, and portrayed with such emotion it made me cry at the end, their happiness is ended by tragedy.

I think what I liked about this series is the wonderful job the two leads did, emotionally portraying these historical characters learning to rule.  Many of the children of the main monarchs in this tale — France and Austria are merely pawns of their parents in arranged marriages to other kingdoms.

Anyway, highly recommend if you have Starz.  If not, you can get it on Amazon for $8.95 a month or purchase each episode for $2.99.  It’s worth just paying $8.95 to watch the six episodes and then you can cancel.

There are a few sex scenes but tame compared to Outlander’s first two seasons. Also, it’s a brutal time of war and torture so you may see some unsettling scenes but it’s not overly graphic and gory.

Oh, and as a matter of trivia, Queen Elizabeth II is a descendant of Maximillian, which makes his character even more interesting.

Christmas Movies 2018

Thankfully, I don’t have the Hallmark channel.  Only Netflix and ION television are putting Christmas movies in my path.  I’ve watched a few this year, so here it goes.  No doubt I’ll post again with more to come as I waste precious time I should be using to write.

PotterThe first one makes me wonder if I have a sick sense of humor since the poor movie received 0% on the tomato meter of Rotten Tomatoes. I apparently enjoyed the odd story but must have missed it last year.  It came out in 2007 and is streaming on Netflix.

Pottersville is the story of Maynard, a down-to-earth regular nice guy, whose wife is into an absolutely absurd, crazy, a kinky outlet.  You’ll have to see it to believe it.  When he discovers his wife with another man, he goes on a drinking binge and decides to dress up in a costume that makes him look like a hairy monster.  With a gorilla head, paws with claws, and a fuzzy body, he runs around the town. The next day, reports come in that people saw Bigfoot.  Of course, one sighting of Bigfoot, and the entire town goes bonkers and descends into Bigfoot mania.

Maynard really wants to tell the truth that it’s him behind the mask, but when he sees the outcome of his drunken night and how the town has come alive, he keeps it a secret.  I don’t know what it was about this movie, but I thought it cute and had a few good laughs.  Not much in the way of romance. Some parts are just stupid, I’ll admit.  Well, at least 53% of the Rotten Tomatoes audience liked it.

***

Okay, ladies, back to princes.  Netflix has a sequel to A Christmas Prince.  It’s A Christmas Prince: The Royal cristmas princeWedding.  It continues the story from last year.  The prince is now king since his father died.  It focuses mainly on Amber’s return to Aldovia, with her father in tow, before the wedding and her acclimation to becoming the queen.

Everyone attempts to mold her into the royal protocol and ways of doing things, while she comes kicking and screaming along the way.  Richard, her husband to be, is awfully busy with affairs of state, dealing with a country in debt and nothing working as it should.  The evil cousin returns but he’s not so bad this time.

It’s the usual fluff.  Can’t say I was overwhelmed by the story though Netflix users seem to be piling on five stars.

***

Swtcih

Your next royal movie (le sigh), The Princess Switch.  It’s another overused trope – two lookalikes who switch places.  The commoner, Margaret, in this switcharoo is a baker from Chicago who owns her own bakery.  The royalty, duchess of Montenaro, is betrothed in an arranged marriage to a prince.  Vanessa Hudgens plays the parts, doing quite well from speaking in a haughty poss-English accent to a down-to-earth woman who loves to bake.

Same old story.  Gee, let’s switch places.  The duchess wants a moment to see what life is like on the other side, while Margaret had always dreamed of her prince charming.  Of course, each enjoys their new roles in life and each fall in love with the individuals they should not.

It’s a fairly enjoyable movie but overly similar to so many others that use this story, which creates a tad bit of boredom and yawning.

I also watched the Christmas Crush on Netflix that came out in 2012.  Didn’t finish it.  Oh, my gosh, so over the top with four girls who attend a high school winter reunion ten years later.  Spare me.  If you hated high school, you’ll hate this one.

Another I used the fast-forward button on repeatedly and didn’t finish, Christmas Wedding Planner, on Netflix, came out in 2017.

That’s it for now!

 

Howards End (Starz 2017-18)

Howards End4 Kernels

Howards End is not new to the screen, having been adapted by the book written by E.M. Forester’s into a movie in 1992 staring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins.  Starz has a new series out that expands on the movie version in four parts, starring Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfayden.

It’s a slow moving and somewhat odd story of three families in the scheme of English society, focusing on the middle-class Schlegels, a wealthy family named the Wilcoxes, and a poor working class family named the Basts.

The Schlegel family, who consist of three siblings, meet the Wilcoxes, and through various interactions and visitations become acquaintances. Margaret Schlegel forms a friendship with Mrs. Wilcox. At her death, she leaves her family home, Howards End, to Margaret.  The children and Mr. Wilcox decide that the bequest scrawled on a piece of paper during her illness should not be honored.

As time passes, Mr. Wilcox forms an attachment to Margaret.  In the storyline enters the Basts, who have an integral part to play in the tale of the three families.  Frankly, it’s a convoluted intersecting of all involved.  The story is filled with conversation in every scene, which requires your attention to understand the characters and their motivations for their behavior.

Having watched the 1992 version and this mini-version, I am inclined to prefer the latest Starz television production.  It’s well acted, with good choices of those who played the parts of each of these complicated characters.  The story is definitely not for everyone, and probably enjoyed more by those who love the Edwardian era before WWI.  The sets and costumes are done very well, which helps to immerse the audience into the times and values of the day.

I’ll throw four kernels at the screen for this one.

Bodyguard (Netflix 2018)

Bodyguard5 Stars

Thank you, Netflix for purchasing the rights to show the BBC drama Bodyguard. No this isn’t a remake of the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston hit. Rather, it’s a BBC One production that grabbed the United Kingdom audience and now gets to grab you wherever you are.

It stars the talented Keely Hawes and Richard Madden (who takes a while to understand his accent). Fantastic acting by all the cast, a nailbiting, tense thriller to keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat.

Richard Madden plays the character of David Budd who is assigned as bodyguard to protect the Home Secretary Julia Montague played by Keeley Hawes.  She’s a high and mighty politician while he is a former soldier dealing with residual PTSD but packing a gun. The story revolves around tense political scenes, terrorists around every corner, broken marriages, and love affairs. To top it off, it’s the usual well-done British show with the tense music in the right spots.  Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the plot twists in a surprising direction.

Great British television!  There’s nothing like it, and this is one of the best.  Just read the reviews online, and you’ll see many agree.

Woman Walks Ahead (Movie 2018)

Walks Ahead4 Kernels

I grew up watching cowboys and Indians on television and in the movies. In fact, when I think back about how many pictures I did watch, that’s probably why I cannot stand to see another one as an adult.  However, in my Prime email from Amazon this morning, this was advertised.  I knew it to be recent and I like Jessica Chastain, so I thought I would check it out.

It’s a true story about a widow from New York who came out west to paint Sitting Bull. Hollywood portrays her as a childless widow, when in fact in real life, Catherine Weldon did have a son.  In 1890, she boards a train from the big city and travels to the plains of the Dakota intent on meeting the infamous chief.  Her one mission is to learn about him, his people, their treatment, and paint his portrait.

It’s a well-acted and soul-searching look into a time period when the United States didn’t play fair when it came to the Indians. A lot of hatred existed between the white and the Indians on the reservation, and Catherine does her best to help with the intent of making waves in Congress for better treatment.  Unfortunately, she also is hated by the locals for her sympathies toward the Lakota tribe.

Michael Greyeyes, who plays Sitting Bull, is much younger and more handsome than the real man who walked the earth. Romantic undertones by Hollywood are mixed into the story, focusing on his relationship with Catherine.   Jessica Chastain is a fine actress who plays a wide spectrum of characters well.

If you have Amazon Prime, I recommend this movie as a freebie. It didn’t garnish great reviews though.  In the end, a bit of history comes up on the screen, but you may have to hit stop to read it as editing doesn’t give you more than a few seconds to speed read the content.  I was unaware that this time period in the movie is a precursor to the massacre at Wounded Knee, where over three hundred men, woman, and children Lakotas were killed in 1890.

Suffragettes with Lucy Worsley (2018 BBC)

Lucy5 Kernels

I don’t usually blog about documentary shows, but my female readers (and males too) might really eat this one up like candy.

Perhaps since we’re facing mid-terms in the United States this November and it’s time to vote again, this might give you the incentive to register and get out to exercise your right.  Even though this is about the British woman who campaigned for the vote in England, it is no less poignant to realize the sacrifices many women made to bring change about in a man’s world.

Our wonderful Lucy Worsley, is an English historian, who does fascinating shows from the King’s Bedchamber, Six Wives, Empire of the Tsars, Tudor Treasure: A Night at Hampton Court, and many other wonderful documentaries.  This particular one is probably the best I’ve seen with re-enactments and personal testimony of the ladies who fought.  Frankly, it’s far better than the recent movie in 2015.

Like many others, I knew about the protests, the arrests, the forced feedings while incarcerated, but I didn’t appreciate the years and ingenuity these ladies used.  Yes, perhaps much of it turned radical and violent out of anger and frustration because no one cared to listen. Parliament ignored and pushed the women to their limits. Violence brought about the attention they craved, but ultimately it took a World War to bring about change.  You may judge them for their violent tactics, but some of their other schemes were down-right brilliant.  Who knew that Edwardian women understood the power of branding?

The show is currently streaming on BritBox.

It’s even got 100% on the Tomatometer.

Line of Duty Season 5: Ted Hastings and Kate Fleming RETURN…  Yes!!! 

LINE OF DUTY fans were in for a treat last night when Jed Mercurio dropped a teasing look at the upcoming fifth season of the hit BBC drama after the Bodyguard finale.

Source: Line of Duty season 5: Ted Hastings and Kate Fleming RETURN as Steve Arnott unrecognisable

%d bloggers like this: