25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: LITTLE WOMEN (1994)

CAST

Winona Ryder (Black Swan)
Gabriel Byrne (Stigmata)
Trini Alvarado (The Frighteners)
Kirsten Dunst (Bring It On)
Claire Danes (Romeo + Juliet)
Christian Bale (Batman Begins)
Eric Stoltz (Caprica)
John Neville (Odyssey 5)
Mary Wickes (Sister Act)
Susan Sarandon (Tammy)
Matthew Walker (Highlander: The Seires)
Donal Logue (Gotham)
Samantha Mathis (Broken Arrow)
Sarah Strange (White Noise)
Jay Brazeau (Bates Motel)

The film focuses on the March sisters: beautiful Meg (Trini Alvarado), tempestuous Jo (Winona Ryder), tender Beth (Claire Danes), and romantic Amy (Kirsten Dunst), who are growing up in Concord, Massachusetts during and after the American Civil War. With their father away fighting in the war, the girls struggle with major and minor problems under the guidance of their strong-willed mother, affectionately called Marmee (Susan Sarandon). As a means of escaping some of their problems, the sisters revel in performing in romantic plays written by Jo in their attic theater.Living next door to the family is wealthy Mr. Laurence (John Neville), whose grandson Theodore, nicknamed “Laurie” (Christian Bale), moves in with him and becomes a close friend of the March family, particularly Jo. Mr. Laurence becomes a mentor for Beth, whose exquisite piano-playing reminds him of his deceased daughter, and Meg falls in love with Laurie’s tutor John Brooke (Eric Stoltz). Mr. March is wounded in the war and Marmee is called away to nurse him. While Marmee is away, Beth contracts scarlet fever from a neighbor’s infant. Awaiting Marmee’s return, Meg and Jo send Amy away to live in safety with their Aunt March. Prior to Beth’s illness, Jo had been Aunt March’s companion for several years, and while she was unhappy with her position she tolerated it in the hope her aunt one day would take her to Europe. When Beth’s condition worsens, Marmee is summoned home and nurses her to recovery just in time for Christmas. Mr. Laurence gives his daughter’s piano to Beth, Meg accepts John Brooke’s proposal and Mr. March surprises his family by returning home from the war.Four years pass; Meg and John marry, and Beth’s health is deteriorating steadily. Laurie graduates from college, proposes to Jo and asks her to go to London with him, but realizing she thinks of him more as a big brother than a romantic prospect, she refuses his offer. Jo later deals with the added disappointment that Aunt March has decided to take Amy, who is now sixteen (and now played by Samantha Mathis), with her to Europe instead of her. Crushed, Jo departs for New York City to pursue her dream of writing and experiencing life. There she meets Friedrich Bhaer (Gabriel Byrne), a German professor who challenges and stimulates her intellectually, introduces her to opera and philosophy, and encourages her to write better stories than the lurid Victorian melodramas she has penned so far.In Europe, Amy is reunited with Laurie. She is disappointed to find he has become dissolute and irresponsible and scolds him for pursuing her merely to become part of the March family. In return, he bitterly rebukes her for courting one of his wealthy college friends in order to marry into money. He leaves Amy a letter asking her to wait for him while he works in London for his grandfather and makes himself worthy of her. Jo is summoned home to see Beth, who finally dies of the lingering effects of scarlet fever that have plagued her for the past four years. Grieving for her sister, Jo retreats to the comfort of the attic and begins to write her life story. Upon its completion, she sends it to Professor Bhaer. Meanwhile, Meg gives birth to twins Demi and Daisy. A letter from Amy informs the family Aunt March is too ill to travel, so Amy must remain in Europe with her. In London, Laurie receives a letter from Jo in which she informs him of Beth’s death and mentions Amy is in Vevey, unable to come home. Laurie immediately travels to be at Amy’s side. They finally return to the March home as husband and wife, much to Jo’s surprise and eventual delight.Aunt March dies and she leaves Jo her house, which she decides to convert into a school. Professor Bhaer arrives with the printed galley proofs of her manuscript but when he mistakenly believes Jo has married Laurie he departs to catch a train to the West, where he is to become a teacher. Jo runs after him and explains the misunderstanding. When she begs him not to leave, he proposes marriage and she happily accepts.It’s a small scale masterpiece that will leave you in tears. The film is honest and true in it’s portrayal of human emotion. It went from being an adaptation of the book to it’s own story and portrayal of people and their lives. It’s beautiful aesthetically and dramatically, and a real gem of a film.

 

REVIEW: THE HOURS

CAST

Nicole Kidman (Batman Forever)
Julianne Moore (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay)
Meryl Streep (Into The Woods)
Stephen DIllane (Game of Thrones)
Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow)
Linda Bassett (Calander Girls)
Toni Collette (Japanese Story)
John C.Reilly (Cyrus)
Ed Harris (The Abyss)
Margo Martindale (Mike and Molly)
Allison Janney (Mom)
Claire Danes (Brokedown Palace)
Jeff Daniels (Allegiant)

With the exception of the opening and final scenes, which depict the 1941 suicide by drowning of Virginia Woolf in the River Ouse, the action takes place within the span of a single day in three different years and alternates between them throughout the film. In 1923, Virginia has begun writing the book Mrs Dalloway in her home in the town of Richmond outside London. In 1951, troubled Los Angeles housewife Laura Brown escapes from her conventional life by reading Mrs Dalloway. In 2001, New Yorker Clarissa Vaughan is the embodiment of the novel’s title character, as she spends the day preparing for a party she is hosting in honor of her former lover and friend Richard, a poet and author living with AIDS who is to receive a major literary award. Richard tells Clarissa he has stayed alive for her sake, and the award is meaningless because he didn’t get it sooner, until he was on the brink of death. She tells him she believes he would have won the award regardless of his illness. Richard often refers to Clarissa as “Mrs. Dalloway” – her namesake – because she distracts herself from her own life the way the Woolf character does.

Virginia, who has experienced several nervous breakdowns and suffers from bipolar disorder, feels trapped in her home. She is intimidated by servants and constantly under the eye of her husband, Leonard, who has begun a publishing business, Hogarth Press, at home to stay close to her. Virginia both welcomes and dreads an afternoon visit from her sister Vanessa and her children. After their departure, Virginia flees to the railway station, where she is awaiting a train to central London, when Leonard arrives to bring her home. He tells her how he lives in constant fear that she will take her own life. She says she fears it also but argues that if she is to live, she has the right to decide how and where.

Pregnant with her second child, Laura spends her days in her tract home with her young son, Richie. She married her husband, Dan, soon after World War II. On the surface they are living the American Dream, but she is nonetheless deeply unhappy. She and Richie make a cake for Dan’s birthday, but it is a disaster. Her neighbor Kitty drops in to ask her if she can feed her dog while she’s in the hospital for a procedure. Kitty pretends to be upbeat, but Laura senses her fear and boldly kisses her on the lips; Kitty laughs it off as if it didn’t happen. Laura and Richie successfully make another cake and clean up, and then she takes Richie to stay with Mrs. Latch. Richie runs after his mother as she leaves, fearing that she will never come back. Laura checks into a hotel, where she intends to commit suicide. Laura removes several bottles of pills and Mrs. Dalloway from her purse and begins to read it. She drifts off to sleep and dreams the hotel room is flooded. She awakens with a change of heart and caresses her belly. She picks up Richie, and they return home to celebrate Dan’s birthday.

Clarissa appears equally worried about Richard’s depression and the party she is planning for him. Clarissa, who is bisexual and has been living with Sally Lester for 10 years, had been in a relationship with Richard during their college days. She meets with Richard’s ex-lover Louis Waters, who has returned for the festivities. Clarissa’s daughter, Julia, comes home to help her prepare. Richard has taken a combination of Xanax and Ritalin and tells Clarissa she is the most beautiful thing he ever had in life, before he commits suicide in front of her. Later that night, Laura, who is Richard’s mother, arrives at Clarissa’s apartment. It is clear that Laura’s abandonment of her family was deeply traumatic for Richard, but Laura reveals it was a better decision for her to leave the family after the birth of her daughter rather than commit suicide. She has led an independent, happier life as a librarian in Canada. She does not apologize for the hurt she caused to her family (Dan and their daughter are also both dead) and suggests that it’s not possible to feel regret for something over which she had no choice. She acknowledges that no one will forgive her, but she offers an explanation: “It [her life] was death. I chose life.” When Julia visits Laura in her bedroom, she treats her with kindness and sensitivity that Laura does not expect to receive.

The film ends with a line from Virginia’s suicide note (in voice-over) in which she thanks Leonard for loving her: “Always the years between us. Always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.”

A great adaptation. Fantastic acting from all those involved. Three women portray / mirror the life of Clarissa Dalloway, heroine of the novel Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. This movie is a masterpiece & the emotion flows like water and at times is very sad but worth watching every minute. A beautifully crafted piece of art.

 

REVIEW: THE MOD SQUAD (1999)

CAST

Claire Danes (Stardust)
Omar Epps (Scream 2)
Giovanni Ribisi (Ted)
Dennis Farina (Get Shorty)
Josh Brolin (Men In Black 3)
Steve Harris (The Rock)
Richard Jenkins (The Cabin In The Woods)
Michael O’Neill (Bates Motel)
Holmes Osborne (Donnie Darko)
Michael Lerner (Elf)
Monet Mazur (Blow)
Mariah O’Brien (Halloween 6)
Eddie Girffin (The New Guy)
Sam McMurray (L.A. Story)
Toby Huss (Rescue Dawn)

The Mod Squad has an intriguing cast, a director who knows how to use his camera and a lot of sly humor. Shame about the story. When you see this many of the right elements in a lame movie, you wonder how close they came to making a better one. The director, Scott Silver, co-wrote the script himself, and has to take some of the blame: This is a classy production and deserves better.
The premise is from the old TV series. Three young screw-ups are interrupted at the beginning of criminal careers, and recruited by a police captain to form an undercover squad. Their assignment: Infiltrate a club where prostitution and drug-dealing seem to be happening. The mod squad doesn’t carry guns (officially, anyway), doesn’t have badges, and I’m not sure if they can make arrests; maybe they’re more like high-level snitches. The members are described by a Rod Serling-type voice over the opening credits. Julie (Claire Danes) was “a runaway–an addict at 18.” Pete (Giovanni Ribisi) “went straight from Beverly Hills to County Jail.” Linc (Omar Epps) “doesn’t blame his crimes on anything.” (He’s black, and so the implication, I guess, is that this is worthy of comment.) In the good-looking opening sequence, filmed by Ellen Kuras, they’re intercut with dancers at a club, get into a fight, and then find themselves being debriefed and lectured by Capt. Greer (Dennis Farina), who orders them to stand up when they talk to him, quit sitting on his desk, etc. Of course their bad manners are a curtain-raiser to bravery, heroism and astonishing crime-fighting skills.Claire Danes and Josh Brolin in The Mod Squad (1999)The skills, alas, are astonishing because they’re so bush league. The main investigative technique in this movie consists of sneaking up on people and eavesdropping while they explain the entire plot and give away all the secrets. Julie falls for a former lover, follows him to a rendezvous with a drug kingpin (Michael Lerner) and overhears choice nuggets of conversation (“None of them have any idea I know they’re cops!”). Then she follows him home and hides in his closet while the faithless louse sleeps with another woman.

Pete, meanwhile, is even more clever. He creeps up on a hideout and hides behind a wall while tape-recording a full confession. It goes without saying his tape will later be played over a loudspeaker in order to incriminate the bad guys. He uses one of those little $29 microcassette recorders–you know, the kind that can record with perfect fidelity at 20 yards outdoors on a windy day.As the mod squaders were creeping around, eavesdropping and peeping through windows, I grew restless: This is the kind of stuff they rewrote the Nancy Drew books to get rid of. Too bad, because I liked the pure acting touches that the cast brought to their roles. Ribisi (from “Friends,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Other Sister”) has a kind of poker-faced put-upon look that’s appealing, especially when he gets beat up and goes back to Beverly Hills and his dad chortles heartily at the claim that his kid is now a cop. Danes (“William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet”) has a quick intelligence that almost but not quite sells the dumb stuff they make her do. Epps (“Scream 2,” “Higher Learning”) is the dominant member of the squad, who tries to protect the others from their insane risk-taking.And there’s a small but indispensable supporting role by Michael Lerner as the crewcut evil kingpin, who intimidates his enemies by dancing with them (“I’m not a fairy–I just like to dance”). He delivers his dialogue indirectly, as an ironic commentary on the horrible things he always seems about to do. So all of this is a good start, but the screenplay just doesn’t provide the foundation. Consider Billy, the Josh Brolin character, who is Julie’s once and future boyfriend. We know from the first moment we see him that he’s no good. We’re tipped off by how suddenly Julie goes for him; if the point were romance, the movie would let them take longer, but since the point is for her to be deceived, she has to rush in heedlessly. No girl meets a guy who dumped her and broke her heart, and immediately drags him into a toilet stall for sex. Especially not now that she’s clean and sober, as Julie is (although the movie repeats the tiresome cliche that all recovering alcoholics immediately turn to drink after a setback–preferably swigging from a fifth). What I’d love to know is how the screenplay got green-lighted. This is a top-drawer film with a decent budget and lots of care about the production values. The cast is talented and well-chosen. The movie is even aware of potential cliches.

REVIEW: STARDUST

CAST

Charlie Cox (Daredevil TV)
Claire Danes (Terminator 3)
Ian McKellen (The Hobbit)
Michelle Pfeiffer (Dark Shadows)
Robert De Niro (Limitless)
Sienna Miller (Layer Cake)
Ricky Gervais (The Invention of Lying)
Peter O’Toole (Supergirl)
Ben Barnes  (The Chronicles of Narnia 2)
Henry Cavill  (Man of Steel)
Mark Strong (Green Lantern)
Jason Flemyng  (X-men: First Class)
Rupert Everett (Shrek 2)
Julian Rhind-Tutt (Rabbit Fever)
David Walliams (Little Britain)
Sarah Alexander (Green Wing)
Joanna Scanlan (The Bad Education Movie)
Mark Williams (Harry Potter)
Dexter Fletcher (Cockneys vs Zombies)

A village lies near a gap in a stone wall bordering the magical kingdom of Stormhold. The gap is guarded constantly but Dunstan Thorn manages to go through and meets an enslaved princess, Una. She offers him a glass snowdrop in exchange for a kiss, then invites him on her trailer. Nine months later, the Wall Guard delivers a baby to Dunstan, saying his name is Tristan.Eighteen years later, the dying king of Stormhold throws a ruby into the sky, decreeing that his successor will be the first of his fratricidal sons to recover it. The gem hits a star, they fall together and the remaining sons, Primus and Septimus independently search for the gem.In Wall, Tristan sees the star fall and vows to get it for the object of his infatuation, Victoria, in return for her hand in marriage. Tristan learns that his mother is from beyond the wall, and receives a Babylon candle that she had left for him, which instantly takes the user to any desired location. Tristan lights it and is transported to the fallen star, personified as a beautiful woman named Yvaine. He promptly chains her to take her home to Victoria.Three ancient witches in Stormhold resolve to eat the fallen star’s heart to recover their youth and replenish their powers. Their leader, Lamia, eats the remnants of an earlier star’s heart, and sets off to find Yvaine. She conjures up a wayside inn as a trap.Yvaine becomes tired, so Tristan chains her to a tree and promises to bring food. In his absence, a unicorn releases her but unwittingly takes her to Lamia’s inn. Tristan discovers Yvaine gone, but the stars whisper that she is in danger, telling him to get on a passing stagecoach, which happens to be Primus’s. At the inn, they interrupt Lamia’s attempt to kill Yvaine. Lamia kills Primus, but Tristan and Yvaine use the Babylon candle to escape into the clouds, where they are captured by pirates in a flying ship who teach Tristan how to fence.Septimus discovers that, as the last surviving son, he need only find the stone to claim the throne. He learns it is in the possession of the fallen star and realises that the heart of a star grants immortality. After leaving Captain Shakespeare’s ship, Tristan and Yvaine confess their love for one another and spend the night together at an inn. Come morning, Tristan leaves Yvaine sleeping and goes to Wall with a lock of her hair, to tell Victoria he won’t marry her, having fallen in love with Yvaine. When the lock turns to dust, he realises Yvaine will die if she crosses the wall, and rushes back to save her.Yvaine finds Tristan gone, and starts walking towards the wall, thinking he abandoned her for Victoria. Tristan’s mother Una notices Yvaine walking to her doom, so takes the caravan of her enslaver, a witch named Ditchwater Sal, to the wall to stop her. Lamia arrives, kills Sal, and captures Una and Yvaine, taking them to the witches’ castle. Septimus and Tristan both pursue Lamia, agreeing to work together for the time being. Barging into the castle, Septimus recognises the princess as his long-lost sister and Una informs Tristan that she is his mother.Septimus and Tristan kill two of the witches, but Lamia uses a voodoo doll to kill Septimus and make his corpse fight Tristan. Lamia is about to finish Tristan off, when she appears to break down over the loss of her sisters. Lamia frees Yvaine but her feigned defeat was just a ruse to bolster Yvaine’s broken heart. As Tristan and Yvaine embrace, their love allows her to shine once again, vaporising Lamia in a blinding flash of starlight.Tristan retrieves the jewel that Yvaine was wearing. As the jewel turns red, Una explains that, as her son, Tristan is the last male heir of Stormhold. He becomes king with Yvaine as his queen whilst Dunstan and Una are reunited. After 80 years of ruling Stormhold, they use a Babylon candle to ascend to the sky, where Tristan also becomes a star and the pair live forever in the sky.It’s difficult to think of any negatives with this movie. It’s light, breezy, fresh and fun but not shallow. A great story with intelligent characters it is laugh-out-loud funny in many places, but with some real moments of pathos and emotional intensity elsewhere. Fantasy movies as good as this don’t come along very often these days.

REVIEW: BROKEDOWN PALACE

CAST

Claire Danes (Terminator 3)
Kate Beckinsale (Underworld)
Bill Pullman (Lost Highway)
Jacqueline Kim (Star Trek: Generations)
Lou Diamond Phillips (Stargate Universe)
Paul Walker (The Fast and The Furious)
John Doe (Roswell)
Tom Amandes (Arrow)

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Brokedown Palace has an intriguing premise: two best friends (Kate Beckinsale and Claire Danes) fresh from high school are on their summer vacation in Thailand, but are arrested for possession of narcotics, found guilty and sentenced to 33 years in a women’s prison.
Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale in Brokedown Palace (1999)
Bill Pullman also stars in the picture as an American lawyer named Hank Greene, who feels for the girls’ plight and fights to prove their innocence. But the real focus is on Beckinsale and Danes, whose wonderful performances are the anchor to the film’s drama and moral quandaries. Beckinsale’s Darlene is the more reserved and quieter of the two, the kind of person who sort of follows her friend without question, and certainly not the type to take unwarranted risks (unless her friend persuades her to). She’s almost a direct opposite of Danes’ Alice, whose outgoing and semi-rebellious behavior is the indirect link to their current troubles.Kate Beckinsale in Brokedown Palace (1999)The film slinks to melodrama in its climactic moments, but still rings true thanks to the tour-de-force turns from Beckinsale and Danes. It’s an open-ended question as to whether or not either of the girls committed the crime of smuggling narcotics, and such ambiguity might upset some, but I liked not knowing for certain, and it’s not as if it makes the final scenes any less believable.