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Emma (compared to Sense & Sensibility)

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There comes a time in every woman’s life where she needs to curl up with a pizza, some Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, and Jane Austen, and last weekend was just such a time. I picked Emma at the store because I hadn’t seen it since it came out, and even though I had also *read* it, I completely forgot my impression of it. Plus it had Ewan McGregor in it. Did I mention Girl Scout cookies?

After greatly disliking Gwynneth Paltrow in Great Expectations, I was horrified to find myself adoring her again in this film, and the multitude of wonderful people who join her – Jeremy Northam, priming himself for the conjugal spanking of a lifetime, Phyllida Law and her daughter, Ms. Thompson – not Emma, but her sister whose name escapes me – it didn’t even occur to me to write anything down at this stage in the game. Emma Thompson’s sister (to that actress, I sincerely apologize) is big in British TV and not so much in film, but she gives an excellent performance as the poor spinster friend to Paltrow’s Emma. And Toni Collette – how underappreciated she is!

I had forgotten how true to the book this adaptation was, and I appreciated by proxy how true to the source material Clueless is as well. I have always like Austen’s women leads, they are strong but neurotic, insecure but confident, lovely yet stupid at times as well – they are perfectly normal people, trapped in this unwittingly sexy period when restraint was the order of the day and gossip and wordplay were art forms. Oh, I wish I could conjure such magical times in my immediate social circle!

Ah well. Yet despite the restraint and British stuffiness and decorum, the mood is so genial and comfortable – I can’t stand the formality of a regular mid-week sit down dinner, much less servants and dressing for tea!

After traipsing through a pleasant, winsome, sunny British romantic tale, I said, well, geez, I have to watch Sense and Sensibility again. Watching the two films together, it is difficult to imagine the germs of the books coming from the same author – true, the films have different casts and directors, but Sense and Sensibility draws more deeply from the well of melodrama (in the best sense) with a wider range of pain and joy than in felt in Emma. Emma is an adolescent tragedy that turns out well – Sense and Sensibility is a more dire, heartfelt exploration of women’s predicaments and feelings. Emma was written 5 years after S & S – could it be Austen just lightened up? Or is Ang Lee (director of S & S) simply more sensitive to the issues underlying the plot?

The bottom line is, who cares? They are both excellent books and movies in their own right, and neither actually lose anything when contrasted to the other. And I want to buy them both on DVD when available. The sexual tension is a bit more exposed in Emma, perhaps because it is a more “Hollywood” film. And frankly, there are way hotter guys in Emma as well, and a greater number of lovely ladies. The incomparable Kate Winslet’s sensibility is a keen match to Emma Thompson’s sense; while both actresses are thought of as those personalities in real life, it’s their sisterly affection that sells us on the contrast.
Rent them both and you will see. Neither will disappoint, even on repeated viewings. My 10th grade English teacher was right – there is a reason these books become classics, and it’s because they’re freakin’ great.

*Author’s note, much much later in time: While Emma remains a delicate froth of a movie, Sense and Sensibility always makes it onto my top ten list of all time for its sheer perfection of craft and content, casting and color. if you are trying to choose, Sense should win every time. Also: enjoy Clueless as a brilliant modernization of Emma!

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 8/2/96
Time in minutes 121
Director Douglas McGrath
Studio Miramax

Sense and Sensibility
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/14/95
Time in minutes 135
Director Ang Lee
Studio Columbia Pictures

Comments Off on Babe


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Hi again!
This weekend, the Best Boyfriend in the World and I went to see Babe, a Universal Studios talking pig movie, not to be confused with Gordy, another talking pig movie.

First of all, I am not going into why we went to see it, I normally shy away from fluffy kiddie treats, but this movie was GREAT! It was funny, it had a good message for kids (tolerance and generally being nice are the ebst ways to make it in the world), the technical aspects of the talking animals were astounding–thanks to Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, they didn’t wiggle their lips like Mr. Ed, they talked! Animatronics and some computer wizardry and we were transported to a (well, almost) timeless barnyard with real characters and lots of great personalities.

The story is from the British children’s tale, The SheepPig, and it’s of Babe, an orphaned pig (yes, just like Gordy), who comes to the Valley and tries to fit in to his new non-pig family…but it’s more than that. It was funny, and tragic, and visually fabulous–shot in Australia, this is no regular Valley! I recommend it for adults and kids alike, but if there is anyone who can’t find something to like in this film, he is too cold for this world. The irising between scenes got a little old, and the singing mice were a tad too Chipmunks-y, but both myself and the Best Boyfriend in the World (so named because he not only took me to see Babe but also Gordy because I got them confused at first! What were the odds we’d be having a talking pig renaissance?) had a great time!

MPAA Rating G
Release date 8/4/95
Time in minutes 91
Director Chris Noonan
Studio Universal Pictures

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Now I have read all the press on Powder, and I went to go see it, completely forgetting about the director’s spotty personal past. I want to say at the outset that at no time did I find Powder to be homoerotic–the scene many reviewers describe as the camera lingering over the hot body of one of Powder’s fellow students I had interpreted, sitting in the theatre, as a very Elephant-Man-like moment of envy on Jeremy (Powder)’s part–he wanted to have hair on his body and head and skin colored skin and be normal and to be accepted, as we all do, even if only at some point. The camera looks at the student lovingly but also enviously–who among us has not at some point, particularly in adolescence, seen something in someone and wished to have that effortless beauty or to fit in. I did find the scene to be a tad sexy, but no more sexy than any shot of an attractive young man. There are so many comparably lingering shots of women in film these days, I wonder that this take in particular was so dissected.

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Nine Months

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Warning: At this point in my life I am *not* interested in having kids so please don’t flip out if you think I am a deviant for thinking this. This is humor writing as well as a review.

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You know what’s a scary flippin’ movie? Coma. The movie came out in 1978, a year after Robin Cook’s book, when telephones had dials and nervous housewives took valium, and shortly after Roe vs. Wade went into law. Why is this relevant? Robin Cook wrote medical thrillers with big ideas (though I find the actual writing unbearable, the ideas are incredible) disguising even bigger ethical concerns. Whatever his stance on abortion, it was clear that he didn’t feel that men could play god with other people’s lives, or decide the relative values of one life over another. Enter Coma, directed by Michael Crichton. Crichton himself is a writer with big, ethical ideas, but once upon a time, before he settled on producing, he was a director too. Let’s hope he catches the bug again soon.

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Young Frankenstein

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Always Full Price

Werewolf! Werewolf?! There! There wolf. There castle!
Would you mind telling me whose brain I did put in?
Abby someone. Abby Normal. I’m almost certain that was the name.

I recently purchased the new special edition laserdisc of Young Frankenstein – it has bloopers, deleted scenes, and a running director’s commentary audio track option. Now, this movie is one of the best comedies ever made, and if you’ve never seen it, you really should – it’s the Gone With The Wind of parody/homage movies. Mel Brooks’ commentary is not as illuminating as others (The Mask on DVD director’s commentary is actually GRIPPING! It’s really great!) I’ve heard; he rambles about personal memories on the set and how nice Kenny Mars is and he reiterates information we are looking at, but occasionally tells us something new and interesting. Better just to watch and adore.

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MASH (1970)

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I watched M*A*S*H the TV show the whole time it was on the air (years), and I loved it. I loved the people, I loved the humor and the pathos, the whole bit. The last episode, one of the most watched final episodes ever, still mists me up. So, upon renting Robert Altman’s film that inspired the show, I expected…something special. Granted, it’s hard accepting Donald Sutherland as Hawkeye after years of new episodes and reruns of Alan Alda. I was prepared for that. TV shows built from film premises have the advantage of hundreds of hours of story line to build rich, lovable characters, whereas a movie has 2 hours to cram in plot, character, change, and some jokes. I was prepared for that. I was not prepared to dislike the film as much as I did, and I can only be grateful to whomever was the brilliant producer who saw the potential for one of the best-loved series
within this mess of dullness and mean-spirited randomness.

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Deep Rising

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Matinee Price and something chewy tasty

I was all ready to dub this one Gorge Rising but I can’t. I had too much fun. OK, I’ll start with a new rating system. Bottom to top: Anaconda, Phantoms, The Relic, Deep Rising. Why does Deep Rising win? It’s no Aliens, but it attempts to develop Aliensesque character – driven humor and see-no-bad-stuff tension – we don’t see the (later poorly explained or justified) critters for a full hour – just their damage & ripples in metal. Therefore, class, genuine tension is created in a laboratory environment.

The people in this movie are not as grey-matter challenged as the subsimians in the Relic, Phantoms, or Anaconda, and the acting is…if not better, at least more enjoyable. These guys are having a great time. An example – 3 people firing insanely at the beast (a Cthuluesque mass of coils and sharp things) with hysterical terror on their faces. Both kinds of hysterical. The dialogue is clearly silly on purpose and the lack of the overseriousness that generally plagues movies like this is refreshing. To reword – the fun stuff makes it fun. And I genuinely believe these people’s terror and mania.

Our heroes’ theme music is this insane late 60’s muscle car rockin’ adventure music with that old school monster movie feel (Jerry Goldsmith, orchestrated by Alexander Courage – you know, the Star Trek guy!) – it’s hilarious. It totally sets the tone which is this is wacky, high tech, SFX fun stuff. MITCHELL!

Pop quiz: What movie released this winter features a humongous luxe ship named after Greek badasses and stuffed with ritzy passengers, which on its maiden voyage is run into unexpected mass destruction and death by its hubris-laden top banana, and includes a clever, hot babe in a red dress, a diamond necklace, a safe, and a zillion stunt people thrown around like confetti?
A. Titanic
B. Deep Rising
C. Both!

Yes C. No attempt is made to disguise its derivativeness (Is derivativeness a word? It’s not an homage) – we’ve got The Poseidon Adventure, Alien Resurrection, any number of heist movies, Jaws, and the sleeper hit of the week, a little art house flick called Titanic. But the newer of those stole from the older – big deal! It all works out nicely for everyone this way.

It’s amusing, not entirely stupid for the genre, and it’s meant to be fun and amusing and entertaining. Instead of being vapidly empty and retarded, like say, oh, Anaconda, or accidentally stupid like The Relic, it’s definitely written with a droll lack of self-importance, and therefore becomes fun.

Anthony Heald always seems stuck in the Mr. Pride Before The Fall guy, and Kevin J. O’Connor is a resilient bit of comic relief (think Bill Paxton’s Hudson but more inept and unlucky). You would recognize their faces, and others. Famke Janssen, former Bond girl, is clever and sexy and thank god they didn’t make her wear her party dress the whole movie. Lucky thing Argonautica crewmen keep bras in their lockers. Treat Williams, still enjoying the beauty and the splendor and the wonder of his hair, is somehow studly and vital and still believable saying stuff like “jeez louise!” He has one of my favorite lines, which really has to be seen in context. But it starts with Jeez Louise and is delivered to Janssen.

Director Stephen Sommers would do well to keep his comic sensibilities alive – he’s a breath of fresh sea air in the laboring monster/FX genre. I also need to mention the computer effects. When an FX house is creating a nonreal creature, they have a lot of freedom to create something unreal and unlikely, or at least enough freedom to match the puppets used on set. The critter, while looking entirely supernatural (it’s not, by the way) in its alienness, really has a tremendous sense of mass – the coils are oily and quick moving but they definitely captured the illusion of the displacement of air and water and its environment, a quality too frequently lacking in computer generated creatures (dinos excepted of course). No matter what you might think of the movie, you have to watch and sense the pure poundage of creature bearing down on these people and think, wow, nice job, gang.

And I can’t emphasize strongly enough how horrible Anaconda is in every way but cinematographically.
If this were summer, I would say get a beach ball and chill in the theatre. But it’s early in the year, when they release nothing but remainders, so catch it. It’s a lark.

MPAA Rating R for sci-fi violence and gore.
Release date 1997
Time in minutes 106
Director Stephen Sommers
Studio Hollywood Pictures