Before we allow ourselves to be swallowed whole by the overblown cacophony of big explosions, mind-bending visual effects, one-dimensional characters, simplistic stories and eye-rolling dialogue that seem to make up the majority of our summer movie season, let’s take a moment to revel in the beauty of language. You remember language—it’s that thing we used to find in books. You remember books—they’re those things we used to read before Twitter.
Well, someone who was really good at this thing called language was Jane Austen. You may know her from her many beloved screenplays, like Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma (and Emma’s more popular, if not looser, Hollywood interpretation, Clueless). Yes, this Miss Austen knew her way around the verbal playground—and knew how to spin a yarn or two in the process. One of the reasons her stories and novels have been adapted so many times in so many different ways is they are not only charming and warm but witty, smart and seductive. Well, as seductive as a 19th century English countryside can get (a smoldering Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy notwithstanding.)
The latest interpretation of the grand dame of English countryside romance literature’s prose is Love & Friendship, an utterly enjoyable, charming and language-laden bon bon upon which any lover of the English language can feast their ears. For there really isn’t anything new here, cinematically, or even thematically (seen one Austen, you’ve seen them all), but what makes Love & Friendship such a rare treat in this day and age is its total commitment to the words. Everything, even the gorgeous scenery, costumes and a Kate Beckinsale who looks NOT the worse for wear after all those Underworld movies, play second fiddle here to the words on the page, lovingly inspired by Austen’s novella, Lady Susan, but actually written by director/screenwriter Whit Stillman.
Stillman has such a grasp of the tone and texture of Austen’s language that it’s hard to believe Love & Friendship wasn’t actually written by Austen herself. From the very first scene, you get caught up in the frantic exchange between two characters and, from there, you’re in deep. Practically the entire movie is made up of one-on-one conversations, often while strolling through a garden or riding in a carriage. This is not your typical summer action movie. However, the dialogue, and the richness and cleverness of it, is so intoxicating, you find yourself drawn in and seduced by every single word.
There are many machinations in Love & Friendship. Promises of love, promises of friendship, manipulations upon manipulations, jealousies and betrayals, seductions and heartbreak. The actors, all of whom are solid and capable, serve the screenplay well, as does the entire production, which is lavish and beautiful. But, make no mistake about it, Love & Friendship is a movie only for those who seek out—and revel in—the way words, when put together in just the right way, can create dialogue (and, thusly, a story) that is seductive, cunning, playful, layered, and oh so Austen.
If you think the whole fish-out-of-water trope in movies has been done to death, you haven’t seen Keanu. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the Emmy-nominated comedy duo behind television’s Key & Peele show, have made their first feature film and it’s both funny and unique. I wouldn’t have expected anything else from them.
Much like Amy Schumer’s debut film from last year, Trainwreck, Keanu marks the feature film debut of two of the best comedy voices in America and, also like Trainwreck, Keanu highlights the distinctive comedic talents—and features just enough satiric social commentary—of their exceedingly gifted stars.
Keanu tells the story of two cousins, Clarence and Kell (played by Key and Peele), who live in suburban Los Angeles, far closer socially to Beverly Hills than to Compton, as these self-acknowledged “blerds” (black nerds) have mainstreamed themselves into society and are as far away from being “gangsta” as two black guys could be. But, when Kell finds that the local hardcore drug-dealing gang may have stolen his prized kitten, Keanu, he enlists Clarence to help him infiltrate the gang in order to get Keanu back. And, well, you can guess the rest. click here to keep reading Keanu »
You’d think Deadpool would be a movie right up my alley. A superhero movie that actually makes fun of superhero movies. A movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that has fun with tropes and conventions of the genre, one that smartalecks its way through the (bare) plot, and zips along with a fast pace and stunning visuals. So what exactly is wrong with Deadpool? Well, if you don’t mind me quoting from another campy and over-the-top movie (one that I love), St. Elmo’s Fire: “there is the brink of insanity and then there is the abyss.”
Welcome to Deadpool: aka the abyss.
This movie puts me almost at a loss for words. First time director Tim Miller is best-known for being a visual effects artist and video game producer and you certainly know it by watching this movie, which looks and feels like one giant video game, complete with slow-mo action sequences, big-budget, explosive action sequences and a teenage lowbrow sensibility that makes Jackass look like a Lifetime movie. And that’s really where Deadpool separates itself and ultimately disappoints.
Even though it does spiral into just another shoot-em-up, blow-em-up, CGI explosion-fest by the end of the movie, I’ve gotten so numb to all of that in movies I almost don’t notice it anymore. Where Deadpool really had a chance to be different was in its tone—it really set out to be snarky and clever and be the exact opposite of the other superhero movies: NOT take itself seriously. The problem with that? It goes way too far. Deadpool not only doesn’t take itself seriously, it falls in love with its own jokes. It thinks it’s just the coolest, funniest, hippest, most outrageously original thing ever to be on a movie screen and, well, it’s not. Right off the bat, I can think of two movies that tried to do the same thing and worked much, much better: Charlie’s Angels (directed by McG) and Guardians of the Galaxy (directed by James Gunn). Both of those movies managed to blend self-awareness with comedy, snark and action to much, MUCH greater success than Deadpool does here. And those movies were much more fun too.
Director Miller does one thing right, which is casting Ryan Reynolds as the star. Reynolds is as charming as he can be, and he’s put all the work in to make himself look like a superhero, but neither Reynolds’ charm nor his abs can save a script that is one dick joke after another or a directorial vision that is Matrix-meets-Playstation.
That’s a wrap on yet another Oscar season. It was one of the most compelling in recent memory, with a legitimate 3-horse race all the way to the end, with an actual surprise (to most) film pulling out the big prize at the end. For the last three months, The Revenant, The Big Short and Spotlight were in a race, and it was fun to watch the pundits tear their collective hair out trying to figure out which one would take home the gold. In the end, it was the little film that could, Spotlight, that led from wire to wire, a rarity these days in the Oscar race—the festival darling that had the legs to withstand the challenge from the star-studded Big Short and the epic Revenant. See the complete list of Oscar winners here. (In case you were wondering, I was 19-for-24 in my predictions)
Overall, the awards season brought many delights, including Brie Larson’s emergence, George Miller’s resurgence, Ennio Morricone’s overdue appreciation, and, finally, Leo’s crowning. There, in my opinion, could have been more love for Carol, Straight Outta Compton and Idris Elba, but, as with movies in general, awards are subjective, imperfect, and built to inspire discussion, passion and awareness. The Oscars aren’t perfect, and neither is Hollywood. But life sure would be a whole lot more boring without them in it.
Before we say goodbye, here’s one last look at the 2015 Oscar-nominated movies:
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