THE BEGUILED (2017) – Showcases Talented Female Cast

0
thebeguiled

Director Sofia Coppolla and the cast of THE BEGUILED (2017).

THE BEGUILED (2017) is a remake of a 1971 Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, directed by Don Siegel.

The Eastwood film, which is something of a cult favorite among Eastwood fans, is certainly one of the more offbeat and haunting movies Eastwood ever made.  It was a box office failure at the time, due to a poor ad campaign which marketed it as another Clint Eastwood action film, which it isn’t, and also because audiences in 1971 weren’t quite sure what to make of this dark tale of a Union soldier recuperating at an all-girl Confederate school.  Directed by Don Siegel, the film is steeped in atmosphere and style.

The 2017 version was directed by Sofia Coppola and tells pretty much the same story.

In Virginia, in the waning days of the Civil War, a young girl Amy (Oona Laurence) discovers a wounded Union soldier, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) in the woods while she is picking mushrooms.  She brings the soldier back to her school, and the head of the school, Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), decides it would be un-Christian of them to turn the Corporal over to the Confederate army until he has a chance to recuperate.  And so they tend to his wounds and nurse him back to health, with the intention of handing him over to the Confederate army once his wounds have healed.

But John is a man, and the school is full of women and girls who simply haven’t been around men all that much.  As such, during his stay, the sexual tensions build.  Not only is Miss Martha attracted to John in her own reserved way, but teen student  Alicia (Elle Fanning) can’t keep herself from openly flirting with him.  Even young Amy is attracted to him.

And matters become more complicated when privately John declares his love for teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), who he says is the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Edwina falls for John instantly, mostly because she is unhappy and sees John as her ticket out of her present life at the school. She would like to run away with him.

For his part, John remains quiet and polite, keeping things proper, except for his declaration of love to Edwina.  But one night he makes a fateful decision to enter a certain bedroom, and things change dramatically from that point on.

Director Sofia Coppolla, who also wrote the screenplay, gets the atmosphere right but struggles somewhat with the characterizations, specifically with Corporal John McBurney, who is too reserved to be effective.

THE BEGUILED is beautiful to look at.  Director Coppolla captures the essence of a school in the southern countryside, photographing the manor through abundant green trees and filtered sunlight.  There are also some nice shots of red sunlight reflecting off the front of the elegant structure.

But the majority of the film is shot in shadowy darkness, as the bulk of the action takes place inside the school, lit by low burning candles.  The look of this film drew me in immediately and kept me in its Civil War world throughout.

It is definitely slow-paced and plays out like the period piece Civil War drama that it is. This worked for me for the most part, but towards the end of the film when things get seriously darker, the film downplayed these heavy moments, which worked against the movie for me.  I expected things to get very ugly, but the horrible things that happen are only hinted at and not fully explored.  The film never really rises above its southern slice of life portrait.

As I said, Sofia Coppolla also wrote the screenplay, which is based on the screenplay to the 1971 film by Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp, itself based on the novel by Thomas Cullinan.   Coppolla does a nice job with the female characters, but Corporal John McBurney isn’t as defined as well as he needs to be.  In the 1971 film, you knew Clint Eastwood’s character was conning the women. Here, as played by Colin Farrell, the audience isn’t so sure.  Is he playing these women or not?  Since the screenplay isn’t clear, it makes what happens at the end of the film far less satisfying, because we don’t know how to react to John’s fate, since we really don’t know what kind of a person he truly is.

In terms of casting, you can’t ask for a better female cast.

Nicole Kidman plays Miss Martha as a strong and independent woman.  She is clearly in charge of everyone at the school.  But questions remain about her character as well. For instance, would she do what John accuses her of doing at the end of the movie?  Or did she do it for the reason she said, to save his life?  The film isn’t clear.

Kirsten Dunst is also very good as Edwina, the depressed school teacher who is only too willing to fall in love with John.  And Elle Fanning is sultry and seductive as the young woman who is intent on getting John into her bed.

But it’s the younger girls who make an even stronger impression here.  Oona Lawrence is exceptional as young Amy, the girl who first finds John and really likes him throughout the movie.  Angourie Rice, who played Ryan Gosling’s daughter in last year’s comedy THE NICE GUYS (2016) is memorable here as Jane, the one girl in the school who is offended by the idea of housing a Union soldier at the school.  And Addison Riecke also has some significant moments as Marie, the girl who makes the ominous suggestion at the end of the movie on how to stop John.

As John, Colin Farrell is okay, but I’ve seen him deliver far better performances.  He was too calm and relaxed throughout.  The character seemed to be begging for a nefarious side, which doesn’t come out at all.  Towards the end of the film, when bad things begin to happen, we finally see John act passionately, which gives us some insight into his character, but it’s too little too late.  He remains polite to the last, apologizing after his deplorable behavior and sounding sincere in his apology, which makes the ending of this one all the more tragic.  Then again, without a clear-cut defintion of John’s character, it’s difficult to know how to feel about him.

In spite of this, when the women make their bold decision at the end of the movie, the coldness with which they proceed is jarring and potent.  The shot of the women around the dinner table afterwards is one of the more memorable images in the film.

That being said, the film would have been stronger had it gone to these dark places more often instead of avoiding them.

THE BEGUILED is a moderately entertaining movie, a showcase for its talented female cast and its female writer/director, Sofia Coppolla, but with a vaguely defined male protagonist, the story they are telling is far less potent than it should have been.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

Little Boy Lost In LION (2016)

1

lion-poster

LION (2016) tells the incredible true story of a five year-old boy named Saroo who became lost on the streets of Calcutta in 1986 and found himself alone thousand of miles from home.

The movie opens with little Saroo (Sunny Pawar) enjoying a simple life with his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), his mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose) and baby sister.  When Guddu allows Saroo to join him on a long trip to go to work, it proves too much for Saroo, and the young boy falls asleep.  Guddu leaves Saroo at the train station and tells him to stay and wait for him to return.

When Saroo awakes, the train station is empty and Guddu is gone.  In search of his older brother, Saroo enters a stationary train where he again falls asleep.  When he awakes, the train is moving, whisking him miles away from his home.  When Saroo finally gets off the train, he finds himself on the dangerous streets of Calcutta, lost and alone.  He meets other homeless children, but their time together is cut short as a group of men descend upon them, rounding them up, but Saroo escapes.

Eventually Saroo is taken in by an orphanage.  He doesn’t speak the same language as the people in Calcutta, and he doesn’t know where he lives, and so the officials have no way of knowing where he came from or how to bring him back home.

Saroo is later adopted by an Australian couple, John (David Wenham) and Sue Brierley (Nicole Kidman).  He moves to Australia where he learns English and grows up.

The movie then jumps ahead to 2010, where we meet the adult Saroo (Dev Patel) who eventually makes it his mission to finally find out where he came from and to return back home to India to find the family he left behind.

LION is an agreeable movie that draws you in right away with its vibrant and colorful shots of India as seen through the innocent eyes of young Saroo.  The story grows more compelling when Saroo is lost on the streets of Calcutta,and this first half of the movie is definitely its best part.  The latter half which follows the adult Saroo’s quest to find his home is a tad slow and far less interesting. But it does set up the film’s emotional and very satisfying conclusion.  You’d better keep those tissues handy.

While I liked LION a lot, I didn’t love it.

I really enjoyed young Sunny Pawar as the five year-old Saroo and almost wish the entire movie had been about him.  The young actor pretty much steals the movie.

Not to take anything away from Dev Patel as the adult Saroo, but his storyline is never as interesting as the story told through the eyes of the five year-old Saroo.  That being said, Dev Patel is still very good and has some effective scenes in this one.  Patel of course starred in the Oscar-winning SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008), as well as the recent THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY (2015).

Patel enjoys some nice chemistry with Rooney Mara who plays Saroo’s girlfriend Lucy.  He also shares a moving scene with Nicole Kidman, where the adopted son and mother open up about their relationship, and she tells Saroo of a dream she once had, and why it was that she and her husband, even though they could have children, decided it would be better to adopt instead.  It’s Kidman’s best moment in the film.

Under Garth Davis’ direction, the film moves at a deliberate pace.  It’s well-photographed, especially the first half of the movie, which captures a world as seen through the eyes of a five year-old.

The screenplay by the real Saroo Brierley and Luke Davies, based on Brierley’s book “A Long Way Home” is excellent.

LION has been nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, and while I liked it very much, I did enjoy some of the other Oscar contenders more, films like LA LA LAND, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, and HIDDEN FIGURES.

That being said, LION is still worth a trip to the theater.

By the way, the film gets its title from Saroo’s name.  Saroo learns when he returns home that he had been mispronouncing and misspelling his name.  It was not Saroo but Sheru, which means “Lion.”

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (2014) Interesting Story, Mediocre Thriller

0

Before-I-Go-To-Sleep-Movie-PosterMovie Review:  BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (2014)

By

Michael Arruda

 

Midway through BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP, the new thriller starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong, I found myself thinking “something better happen soon before I go to sleep!”

 Sorry.  Couldn’t help myself.

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is a deliberately paced thriller, on purpose no doubt, that nonetheless crawls along at a sluggish pace all the way to its standard pedestrian conclusion.

It actually has a pretty interesting story.  Nicole Kidman plays a woman named Christine who wakes up in bed with a man she doesn’t recognize.  The man (Colin Firth) tells her that he’s her husband Ben and that she suffers from a condition in which every night when she goes to bed she forgets everything that happened to her the day before.  When she awakes in the morning, she has forgotten everything about her life.  Ben tells her that her condition is a result of a car accident in which she suffered severe head injuries.

One morning Christine receives a phone call from a Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) who tells her he has been treating her, but that obviously since she forgets everything at the end of the day she has no memory of his treating her.  He directs her to a camera she has hidden in her closet, and she discovers that under his direction she’s been making a video diary of herself in order to work towards regaining her memory.

During this process, she begins to see glimpses of memories, including one where she’s viciously attacked by an unknown assailant. This memory is corroborated by Dr. Nasch who tells her that she was indeed assaulted and that her injuries were the result of this attack and not a car accident.  This revelation makes Christine wonder why Ben has not been truthful to her about the cause of her condition.  When asked, Ben tells her in the past the truth has caused her pain and so he has chosen not to reveal it to her any longer.

It makes perfect sense to Christine and she quickly moves on.  However, as she regains more lost memories, she finds other instances where Ben has kept the truth from her.  Worse yet, certain images in her mind raise suspicions about Dr. Nasch as well.  As she struggles to regain her memory, she finds herself doubting both her husband and Dr. Nasch and doesn’t know which one to trust, especially when the things they say contradict each other.  If only she could remember the truth.

For the most part, I enjoyed BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP.  The story it tells is a good one, and it kept me guessing all the way to the end.  However, it moves along at such a sluggish pace, it really prevented me from settling in and getting completely drawn into the drama.

Director Rowan Joffe seems to have done this on purpose to give the film a quiet claustrophobic feeling— Christine spends her days alone in her home— and thoughtful self-discovery.  So, the film certainly does a good job of capturing Christine’s mood and frame of mind, as she seems to be in a perpetual mental fog, struggling to learn the truth about herself, unable to take giant steps in her search for answers because of her condition.  But the trade-off is a movie that never rises above the curious, never becomes gut-wrenchingly intense, and never really attains that next level, the one necessary to make this one a memorable thriller.  At the end of the day, it’s all rather unmemorable.  Heh heh.

Nicole Kidman is fine as Christine and does a good job making her a vulnerable character, but it’s Colin Firth who has a field day here.  He turns in a first-rate performance as Ben, coming off at first as very sincere and loving, and every time Christine doubts him and shares her doubts with him, he has a satisfying answer for her.  Time and time again, Christine finds herself questioning her husband, and each time she confronts him, he convinces her of his love and loyalty with his charm, and yet thanks to Firth’s terrific performance, there’s an underlying quality of duplicity about him, something you can’t put your finger on but you know it’s there.  Firth really does a good job keeping the audience off balance here.  Is he really in love with her and simply being secretive because he’s trying to protect her? Or is he up to something sinister?

Mark Strong is serviceable as Dr. Nasch, but I’ve seen Strong much better in other roles.  Part of the issue here is most of the screen time goes to Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth, and so Firth gets to do much more in terms of making the audience question him than Strong does.  Strong’s role is much smaller, and as a result he doesn’t get a chance to strut his stuff as effectively as the two leads.

Director Rowan Joffe wrote the screenplay based on the novel by S.J. Watson.  As such, I expected this one to be much more fleshed out than it ultimately was.  Other than Colin Firth’s character, the rest of the characters and the story itself aren’t really developed enough to make this film a rewarding and satisfying experience.  Nicole Kidman’s Christine is not supposed to be as developed since she can’t remember who she is, and this is okay since we go along for the ride with her to find out who she is and what happened to her, but because of this, the movie needs a strong cast of supporting characters.  There is really only one, Firth’s Ben.

The story did manage to hold my interest for the most part, but it never reached that next level where I was squirming in my seat.  It could have used some more thrills.

The ending was also somewhat of a letdown.  What had been a clever mystery ends in an obligatory by-the-numbers physical confrontation where Christine fights for her life against her attacker.

It also doesn’t help that there really weren’t any memorable scenes in this one.  The best part is the story itself, as I wanted to find out what really happened to Christine and who it was who attacked her, and I enjoyed the gimmick of her twenty four hour amnesia. Likewise, I wanted to know which man she should trust, her husband, her doctor, both, or neither.  These story aspects were all good.

It’s just that the movie took its sweet time finding the answers, and the amount of thrills along the way was minimal.  And once we get to the ending, the payoff was anticlimactic.

I wanted more.

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is a mediocre thriller that benefits from decent performances by its three leads, Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong, especially Firth, but it lacks the intensity needed to make its mark.

After twenty four hours you’re likely to forget it all.

—END—