Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hope Springs, Total Recall & Farewell My Queen


“Hope Springs” a Funny, Serious Look at Marriage

By Skip Sheffield

Some comedies are a joke-a-minute laugh riots. Some comedies balance laughs with pathos and even pain. “Hope Springs” is that kind of comedy.
The title is a double entendre that cites the homily “Hope springs eternal in the human breast” and the fictitious Maine town of Great Hope Springs.
Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star as a middle-aged Omaha, Nebraska couple who has just celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary.
“Celebrate” is not the right word, because there is no joy or zest in the relationship of Kay (Streep) and Arnold Soames. In fact there is hardly any affection or communication at all.
Fretting about what to do about her wilted romance, Kay happens upon an infomercial touting the book “You Can Have the Marriage You Want” and its author, Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell), and his one-week “Intensive Couples Counseling” sessions in the seaside town of Great Hope Springs, Maine.
A no-nonsense accountant, Arnold wants no part of counseling, marriage or otherwise. Kay takes matters in her own hands, pays the $4,000 fee up front and tells Arnold he is going.
When you think of Tommy Lee Jones you don’t automatically think “barrel of laughs,” but Jones, with his creased, mournful hangdog face, has a wonderfully subtle touch at deadpan comedy.
Likewise Meryl Streep is best-known for her highly dramatic, tragic roles, but she too has a deft comic touch, as she proved in “The Devil Wears Prada,” directed by David Frankel, who also directs this film.
Steve Carell specializes in playing nice guys. It is unlikely there could be a nicer, more insightful psychologist than the Bernie Feld created by screenwriter Vanessa Taylor.
Dr. Feld has his work cut out for him with stubborn tightwad Arnold and repressed, emotionally frigid Kay. That where the laughs come, from the fumbling attempts of the couple to carry out Dr. Feld’s suggested “exercises.”
There is a very serious side of the story too. If you have been through the breakup of a marriage, you will know it only too well.
Parts of “Hope Springs” are awkward and uncomfortable. Some are downright painful.
In the end this is a thoughtful if idealized adult romantic comedy performed by professionals who know their business.

"Total Recall" Remake

For get a trip to Mars. The new “Total Recall” finds plenty of trouble right here on Earth.
Like the 1990 original, this is based on a 1966 Philip K. Dick short story and set in the future in 2084. Even the names are the same. Colin Farrell has taken over the Arnold Schwarzenegger role of factory worker Doug Quaid, who also becomes known as Hauser. Kate Beckinsale plays his wife Lori, formerly played by Sharon Stone. Alluring Jessica Bale plays the feisty freedom fighter Melinda, previously essayed by Rachel Ticotin.
The setting is completely different. Instead of a real or imagined trip to Mars through an artificial memory implanted by a sinister company called Rekall (Slogan: "We can remember it for you”), the hero stays on Earth, which has been ravaged by chemical warfare with only two population centers remaining: United Federation of Britain, which looks like a futuristic, post-holocaust London, and The Colony, which looks like the worst rotting slums of Hong Kong.
A critic friend of mine asked me when I thought “Total Recall” went over the top.
“The first few frames,” I replied, and it stayed that way.
“Total Recall” is even noisier and more bullet and explosion-ridden than the earlier summer reboots “Spider-Man” and “Batman: Dark Knight Rises.” What the three films have in common is a doomsday, totalitarian scenario. The message seems to be you can’t trust the government, the police or the armed forces.
Hmm, are the movie-makers trying to tell us something?
What director Len Wiseman lacks in subtlety he makes up which sheer action and mayhem. I get a little tired of hearing the rat-a-tat-tat of automatic weapons firing bullets that just miss the mark every time, and action heroes that take pounding after pounding with no broken bones. Ah, but Colin Farrell is a much better actor the Schwarzenegger ever was. We really do believe he is either losing his mind or the victim of some wickedly sinister plot. The sets and gadgets are incredible and the ladies are nice to look at as they go through their gymnastic action scenes. Sometimes that’s all you need ask of a summer action flick.

"Farewell My Queen"

For this week’s “Masterpiece Theatre” kind of historical film we have “Farewell My Queen,” set in the last days of the French monarchy at the Palace of Versailles.
It’s ironic that this film comes out at the same time as “Queen of Versailles,” a contemporary American documentary about the let-them-eat-cake moral bankruptcy of the super-rich and the gaudy mansion they intend to construct.
The year is 1789 and Paris is in turmoil, but debauchery and excess continues as usual at the court of Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) and King Louis XIV (Xavier Beauvois).
Based on a novel by Chantal Thomas, “Farewell” is told from the point of view of Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux), one of the Queen’s “readers.” Why the Queen can’t read for herself is just one of the questions about an indolent, indulgent, indifferent ruling class.
Yet Marie Antoinette is not totally indifferent. She is passionately in love with one of her ladies-in-waiting, Gabrielle (Virginie Ledoven). We get the feeling she wouldn’t mind a fling with young Sidonie, who is not as innocent as she presents itself.
Acting as the voice of reason and reality is the elderly cleric Jacob (Michel Robin), who knows exactly what is coming to pass.
Yes there is intrigue in Versailles, set against the gathering storm of revolution. As with the contemporary American documentary, it is hard to feel sorry for these privileged, selfish people. If you know your history, these figures paid a most terrible price. In this sense this is a melancholy portrait of a bygone era that fascinates, but should not be mourned.

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