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Entries in A Little Chaos (4)

Wednesday
Aug052015

New DVD: Is this unofficial costume drama week or something?

Question: Do you ever look to the left sidebar to see "new on dvd"? That's our handy way of referencing older articles once a movie reemerges in its new format. Release dates used to be so much simpler. Now in addition to tortured theatrical patterns, it's super complicated afterwards, too: rental before or during theatrical, streaming only, digital release, cable release, exclusive rental windows at one place before it's available elsewhere, blu-Ray/DVD editions (sometimes on separate dates), etc. It's all so exhausting. Movies are meant to be seen; they shouldn't be playing hide & seek or 'Where am I now?' games. This is why we gave up trying to have a devoted DVD column.

This is all a long way to say that a weird coincidence prompted this post. This week's DVD releases are heavy on the actressy costume dramas. Unofficial Corset Convention! So, naturally our eyes here at TFE flashed a little. You've got Kate Winslet in A Little Chaos, Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd, and Mia Wasikowska in Madame Bovary all at once.

It's like a spontaneous Who Wore It Best party. 

Also on DVD this week and with links if we've written something about them: The Affair S1, Child 44, Chocolate City - the no-budget urban response to Magic Mike but with even less nudity (it's like they don't even know why people watch cheapie ripoffs), The Divergent Series: Insurgent (the first was too boring to bother with the second), Every Secret Thing an actressy mystery with Diane Lane, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks, How to Get Away With Murder S1 - which I gave up on early, True Story, and something called The Salvation which I'll admit I've never heard of but it stars two creepy great actors Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green so for a moment visions of gonzo supernatural fantasy loomed but it turns out it's just a bloody western (sigh). On the other hand the director Kristian Levring did that Dogme 95 movie The King is Alive (2001) back in the day and that was heavy on the ALL CAPS ACTING so maybe we should check this one out? [UPDATE: EEEeeek. We reviewed it right here a full year ago from a festival. Thanks David!]

Thursday
Jun252015

Corset Kate: Winslet's Best Period Piece Performances

With "A Little Chaos" opening tomorrow, abstew looks back at Kate in corsets. - Editor  

Oscar winner Kate Winslet returns to the screen tomorrow in A Little Chaos (in select theaters and available on VOD). It's a fictionalized story of how the elaborately lush gardens at the Palace of Versailles were constructed for King Louis XIV. The film is a reunion for Winslet and Alan Rickman (who stars as Louis and also directed the film), who haven't worked together in 20 years. But more importantly, the film reunites Winslet with the corset, getting laced-up again for the first time since 2004's Finding Neverland. For the first few years of her career, Winslet only appeared in period pieces (it wasn't until 1999's Holy Smoke! that she finally starred in a film set in modern-day) so it's time to look back on three of her best performances in those waist-cinching garments! (For purposes of this list, I decided to not include her 1950s set films - a girdle just isn't the same...)

 

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Proving that the period piece was a good fit from the start, Winslet's first Oscar nomination came for her wildly romantic turn as Marianne Dashwood in the Best Picture nominated adaptation of Jane Austen's first published novel, Sense and Sensibility. But director Ang Lee had to be convinced that Winlset was the right actress for the role as he hadn't cared for her film debut in 1994's Heavenly Creatures. And even after casting her in the role, on the first day of filming, he was unimpressed with her work, telling her that she'll have to be better. The criticism must have lit a fire under her because Winslet completely throws herself into the role with determination and gusto. Her Marianne is all bleeding heart that she pins tellingly on her sleeve for the world to see. Incapable of hiding her turbulent emotions, she allows herself to be ruled by love. And Winslet plays her without judgement of her impulsive nature, embracing Marianne's romanticism and temperament. But even the strongest wildfire can't blaze brightly forever. In the most heartbreaking scene of the film, Marianne's passionate ideals are extinguished as she walks across the moors to gaze upon the home of the man that has abandoned her. Influenced by her devotion to poems and romance novels (as preparation, Winslet read and studied works of the period to achieve Marianne's mindset), she is willing to die for her dreams of love. But instead of death, Marianne experiences a rebirth, allowing herself some of her sister's practical reasoning. Able to look at things with a little more understanding. Marianne's transformation could very easily feel like the character has become defeated, but what Winslet does beautifully is bring Marianne a newfound maturity without losing the spark that makes her still believe in the possibility of love. 

Jude (1996)

In this little-seen, but devastating film, Winslet gives one her most complex performances as Sue Bridehead, an independent and headstrong woman in late 1800's England. As the tragic events unfold in Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's controversial novel Jude the Obscure, Winslet's magnetic star-turn saves it from becoming a dreary slog. Her early scenes with Christopher Eccelston's Jude, as they begin to get acquainted, have an easy playfulness, especially in a flirty pub scene in which Sue smokes and drinks beer with the bar patrons. It's reminiscent of Winslet's below-deck escapades in Titanic but the scene here plays earthier and sexier, as Winslet seems more relaxed and natural than she ever does as Rose. And the two actors have wonderful chemistry together, willing us to want their characters to eventually get together despite the fact that they are cousins and already married to other people. Unfortunately Sue's constant need to defy convention, her refusal to comform to the standards of Victorian society, becomes their ultimate undoing. No spoilers here, but the tragic incident hits you like a gut-punch. For most of the harrowing scene, Winslet is silent and still, completely numb to pain. It's in the scene directly after that we get our catharsis as she lies facedown on the ground, twisting her body as she lets out animalistic howls of despair. We are no longer watching an actress give a performance, but viscerally feeling the character's bottomless grief. 

Hamlet (1996)

In a part that has been played on film by Jean Simmons, Marianne Faithful, and Helena Bonham Carter, the definitive screen version of Shakespeare's ill-fated heroine Ophelia, has to be Kate Winslet. In Kenneth Branagh's unabridged, 4-hour version featuring such esteemed thespians as Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, and John Gielgud, it is Winslet that emerges as the film's most memorable player. And it's all the more impressive because, unlike most British actors, Winslet never trained in the classics. Later she even turned down an offer to appear in Sam Mendes' The Bridge Project, performing in Twelfth Night and Uncle Vanya, because she didn't feel like she could tackle them properly. It's surprising because on film, Winslet is an actress never afraid of a challenge and her Ophelia works precisely because of that fearlessness. This is an Ophelia not afraid of her sexuality, a young woman discovering the harsh realities of men's actions and what it means to give yourself to someone. Winslet endows her with womanly understanding while still maintaining the fragility that leads to her downfall. Ophelia is definitely a showy part with its descent into madness, but instead of being overly theatrical or studied, Winslet plays those scenes manic and unhinged, surprising us with bold execution and raw modernity. Which is not to say she's incapable of delivering Shakespeare's language the way it is intended. It's just that she's not slavishly devoted to it, more concerned with capturing Ophelia's state of mind and allowing the text itself to feed her emotions. In a 400-year-old play, the most often produced of all of Shakespeare's work, Winslet interpretation helps you feel like you're witnessing it for the first time.

 

Do you agree with these three choices as Kate's best work in a corset? If not, what's your preference?

Saturday
Sep132014

TIFF: A Little Chaos

TIFF 14 doesn't actually wrap until tomorrow night but my adventure in Toronto has come to an end. There are still a few writeups to come but here, for you, is my take on the Closing Night Film as I zip up the suitcase and head to the airport.

How to describe that thing where you thoroughly enjoy watching something that is neither objectively good, nor enjoyably bad? I imagine anyone who has an inordinate fondness for an entire genre or subgenre, quality be damned, will understand. Sci-fi and horror fans will line up nodding, I'm sure. But for me that genre is the costume dramedy.

Those with allergies to "light" costume period pieces should give this trifle from actor/director Alan Rickman a wide wide berth. For me, prone to enjoy both famous thespians playing dress-up and royalty porn as long as it neither are weighed down by the self-seriousness of Oscar-seeking biopics, this obscure fanciful tale flew by. Alan Rickman plays the King of France who wants a brand new something-he's-never-seen-before as new attraction for the gardens of Versailles. He's about to move the entire court there and the unveiling must be magnificent. A fountain it will be then and his royal gardener Andrè Le Norte (Matthias Schoenaerts in walking romance novel cover form with long luscious locks but broad shouldered manliness) hires the widow landscape designer Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) to create it because he recognizes that she's actually a visionary immediately though he can't quite admit to it as he weighs her proposal.

Complicating matters is that the King doesn't handle failure well and Le Norte's future hangs in the balance and he wants things quicker than they seem possible. Also: Le Notre and De Barra are, SURPRISE! (just kidding), falling for each other.

There's a bit of proto-feminism wishfulfillment happening and a bit of romantic melodrama but the movie never totally commits to any one thread. Its paper thin, really, with nothing much in the way of thematic interest that's actually explored or depth of characterization. All hangups aside it was just great to see Kate Winslet on the big screen again but she could've done this in her sleep while blinded by silly hats and short of breath from a corse---oh, wait. But better light and unchallenging than embarrassing which is how things go in the movie's most obvious bid at self-seriousness with a "twist" flashback about Madame Barra's tragic past that the movie teases ad nauseum from early on.

The movie suffers from what looks like underfunding since it skimps on anything that might back up the central subject matter which is meant to convey and continually references about how lush, overgrown, and imaginative De Barra's work is. But again, an easy sit, especially if you're costume inclined. Winslet and Schoenearts work fine together though their romance feels more talent-based than physical. Since their work is dramatic they sometimes feel like they're in their own film. It's not unlike those classic Disney fairy tales, really, where the leads are drawn as "beautiful" realistic-ish humans while the side characters are from another species, with oversized heads or comic limbs. Among the ensemble, most of the actors are delightful even if no one is remotely challenged (oh look Stanley Tucci doing his fun gay sidekick schtick again!). Jennifer Ehle (far on the periphery) and Helen McCrory (near the center of the action as Schoenaerts shady wife) both manage to play into the movies preference for types and caricature while also slyly suggesting actual individual character. As a result their scenes feel like whole new films sprouting up like weeds inside the one we got but that's okay since this garden is wilted. C+

 

Also at TIFF: WildThe Gate, Cub, The Farewell Party, BehaviorThe Theory of Everything, Imitation GameFoxcatcher, Song of the Sea, 1001 Grams, Labyrinth of Lies, Sand DollarsThe Last Five YearsWild Tales, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on ExistenceForce Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl, Out of Nature, The Kingdom of Dreams and MadnessCharlie's Country, and Mommy

Tuesday
Jun032014

Chart Feedback & Mystery Movies

ICYMI over the weekend, I finally unveiled the first round of Oscar charts and pontificating and naturally Best Actress generated the most commentary from you though I readily admit I expected a little more discussion than we got on Screenplay (wah-wah). But maybe that's because I find that topic inherently interesting.

When I'm working on reviews or charts or any topic that involves opinion-making (*cough*) I tend to avoid reading other people on the same topic until I'm finished. Naturally this approach has drawbacks because I forget things. For instance, Sasha Stone recently talked up Best Actress and threw out some names that aren't on my chart (like Diane Keaton in And So It Goes...)  and Kris, Guy, and Gregory at In Contention also talked up '20 movies that aren't on your radar' and my biggest miss there from the Oscar charts is surely the civil rights drama Selma from Ava DuVernay which stars the formidable young actor David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. I loved their last collaboration Middle of Nowhere and I'd be thrilled if this film was a) as good and b) made a bigger dent come awards time. Tom Wilkinson co-stars as President Lyndon B Johnson. If that film is finished in time it could rock the boat in more than a few categories.

The next chart updates will hit on June 22nd so we have a few weeks to mull over the field.

One movie that I can't stop thinking about is Alan Rickman's A Little Chaos. I expect this curiousity is due to the very vague info that's floating about. We know that Alan Rickman is directing and plays King Louis XIV. We know that Kate Winslet is the lead as a landscaper trying to design a fountain for the King. We know that the talented as he is hunky Matthias Schoenearts (who must have cloned himself he's in so many movies now) is Kate's love insterest. But not much else though it wrapped filming last year. It's an odd premise that sounds comedic but most vague reports list it as a drama or a romance. But the cast is marvelous. The film also features character actors like Stanley Tucci, Helen McRory, Jennifer Ehle and Emma Thompson's mom Phyllida Law. 

Which under the radar movie are you most curious about?