Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
For a film that involves a love triangle, mental illness, a Bohemian colony of free-spirits, an impending war and several important historical figures, the most exciting elements of Summer in February are the stunning shots of the English country and Cornish seaside. The rest of the film never quite lives up to the crashing waves and sun-dappled meadows that are used to bookend the scenes, as the entertaining opening never manages to coalesce into a story that lives up the the cinematography, let alone the lives of the people that inspired it.
Set in an Edwardian artist’s colony in Cornwall, Summer in February tells the story of A.J. Munnings (Dominic Cooper), who went on to become one of the most famous painters of his day and head of the Royal Academy of Art, his best friend, estate agent and part-time soldier Gilbert Evans (Dan Stevens), and the woman whom they both loved, aspiring artist Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning). Her marriage to Munnings was an extremely unhappy one, and she attempted suicide on their honeymoon, before killing herself in 1914. According to his journals, Gilbert and Florence were madly in love, although her marriage and his service in the army kept them apart.
When the film begins, Munnings is the center of attention in the Lamorna Artist's Colony, dramatically reciting poetry at parties and charming his way out of his bar tab while everyone around him proclaims him to be a genius. When he’s not drinking or painting, he’s riding horses with Gilbert, who has the relatively thankless task of keeping this group of Bohemians in line. Their idyllic existence is disrupted by the arrival of Florence, who has run away from her overbearing father and the fiancé he had picked out for her in order to become a painter.
Stevens and Browning both start the film solidly, with enough chemistry between them to make their infatuation interesting. He manages to give Gilbert enough dependable charm to win over both Florence and the audience, and she presents Florence as someone with enough spunk and self-possession to go after what she wants. Browning’s scenes with Munnings are equally entertaining in the first third of the film, as she can clearly see straight through all of his bravado and he is intrigued by her and how difficult she is to impress. Unfortunately, while the basis of the love triangle is well-established and entertaining, it takes a sudden turn into nothing with a surprise proposal from Munnings.
Neither the film nor Browning ever make it clear why Florence accepts his proposal, especially when they have both taken great pains to establish that she doesn’t care much for him. But once she does, the films stalls, and both Stevens and Browning spend the rest of the film doing little more than staring moodily and longingly at the people around them. The real-life Florence was plagued by depression and mental instability, but neither the film nor Browning’s performance ever manage to do more than give the subtlest hint at that darkness. On a few occasions, Browning does manage to portray a genuine anguish, but rather than producing any sympathy from the audience, it simply conjures up images of a different film, one that focused more on Florence, and the difficulties of being a woman with a mental illness at a time when both were ignored or misunderstood.
Stevens is fine, and Gilbert starts out with the same kind of good-guy appeal the won the heart of Mary Crawley and Downton Abbey fans the world over. However, once the film stalls, so does his performance, and he quickly drops everything that made the character attractive or interesting in favor of longing looks and long stretches of inactivity. He does portray a convincing amount of adoration for Florence, although that's about the only real emotion that Gilbert expresses for the vast majority of the film, and even during his love scene, he never manages to give him any amount of passion.
Cooper does his best with what he’s given, and tries his hardest to imbue the film with some substance and drama. His Munnings is by turns charming, brash, and brooding, the kind of person who has been told all of their life that they are special, and believes it. He even manages to give the character some depth, and even though he and Browning have very little chemistry, he manages to convey a genuine affection for her. It’s a shame that Munnings becomes such a deeply unlikable character, because Cooper is the only thing giving Summer in February a jolt of life – even if it comes via bursts of thinly-explained hostility. It's hard to watch just how hard he's working to connect with his co-stars and add some excitement to a lifeless script and not wish that he had a better film to show off his talents in.
Unfortunately, by the time Florence and Gilbert are finally spurred into activity, the film has dragged on for so long that you’re no longer invested in the characters, their pain, or their love story, even if you want to be. Which is the real disappointment of Summer in February; underneath the stalled plot and the relatively one-note acting, there are glimmers of a fascinating and compelling story that’s never allowed to come to the forefront.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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It's an age-old question that's plagued the masses for centuries: can men be funny? Like, really actually funny? Ellie Kemper, The Office star and just one of the many fabulous funny (ginger!) women that control the female-dominated comedy world, mused prophetically about the subject for GQ this month. And, well, it's fabulous. Fans of satire will appreciate her deft ability to look at the oft-posed question ("are women funny?") by flipping the quandary onto men in order to highlight its absurdity. Here are our 5 favorite moments.
1.) "Why do they even try? my 7-year-old self would wonder as I watched Alan Alda flounder helplessly through yet another failed rerun of M*A*S*H. Why is every single Korean-lady extra so much funnier than he is?"
2.) "From Madeleine Albright to Kate Upton to Sinead O'Connor, so sue me, women just make me laugh. And I'm not talking about the kind of sweet, sexy laughter that I use when I am trying to butt someone in line; I am talking about the loud, snorting, disgusting laughter that essentially explodes out of me when I have fully and completely given myself over to yet another zinger flung by Barbara Piasecka Johnson."
3.) "Please don't think that I am arguing that all men are humorless. There are some extremely acceptable male comedians out there: Joel Osteen, Abraham Lincoln, the man who played Phil Spector in HBO's Phil Spector. ... Has any one of those men ever uttered anything even close to the zings that fly swiftly, sharply, and uproariously from [comic strip star] Cathy's chocolate-loving mouth? Game over."
4.) "Guys, do you want to know a secret? You don't have to be funny in order to attract us. Believe us, between your scalps and your calves, you've already got us. Your narrow, decrescendoing hips, and your soft, very hairy thighs leave us breathless. The truth is, there is no evolutionary cause for you to have to be funny. And precisely because your ancestors, and your ancestors' grandparents, and your ancestors' grandparents' grandparents, and so on and so on, had no procreative need to cultivate a sense of humor and performance, you literally do not have it in your DNA."
5.) "We women, with our sumptuous breasts and our shapely hips, have to be funny in order literally to survive. Our curves render us useless for just about anything except cracking wise and quip-firing. Sometimes our breasts are so big that we actually can't move; we have no choice but to sit very still in one place and come up with joke after joke. Sometimes—though rare—our hips are so wide, that we physically cannot fit through the exit door of the comedy club that our office co-workers dragged us to after happy hour. So the only option available to us is to stay inside the comedy club, absorbing comedy act after comedy act, and in so doing, completing the full transformation from comedy student to comedy master."
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What is an ensemble cast? How many actors constitute one? There aren’t any guidelines that determine what qualifies as a true ensemble, but if anyone can offer some insight it would be Woody Allen, who has been getting great groups of actors together for decades now. From Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters to Melinda and Melinda and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, he’s always had a keen eye for casting and the stars continue to line up to work with the iconic auteur.
With the home entertainment release of his latest, fore mentioned film at hand, I thought it’d be apt to honor some of the coolest ensemble casts ever assembled. Keep in mind: this isn’t a list of the best films featuring an ensemble cast. It’s about the best rosters of talent roped in for a single production.
This under-appreciated Tony Scott action spectacle was polarizing to audiences because of its ultra-violent approach, particularly toward women. But Patricia Arquette proved herself to be one tough chick, able to take a beating a give it back in equal measure. Together with her beau-to-be Christian Slater, she embarks on an odyssey to free herself from pimp Gary Oldman and, later, his criminal overlord Christopher Walken, all while L.A. detectives Tom Sizemore and Chris Penn are hot on the trail of drugs and blood. With bonus appearances by Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Michael Rapaport and more, True Romance is a twisted web of cameos and special roles filled by some of the coolest actors of the time.
The Thin Red Line
WWII films have a long history of stellar casts comprised of legions of screen legends. This 1998 genre entry continues that grand tradition with enough A-listers to make five separate movies. George Clooney, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Adrien Brody, Miranda Otto, John Cusack, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, John Travolta, Nick Stahl, Elias Koteas and Jim Caviezel all appear in the prestigious picture at one point or another – a logistic achievement in and of itself.
This sweet rom-com gets me every time. Not just because of the cheerful dialogue and warm and fuzzy relationships, but also because of the charming cast of characters played by Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert, Rodrigo Santoro, Shannon Elizabeth, Andrew Lincoln, Denise Richards and the adorable Thomas Sangster. Together, there are around eight revolving, relatable romances in the film, but we wouldn’t have cared about any of them if not for the lovable cast.
In telling this sprawling tale about the intersecting lives of a handful of Angelenos, director Paul Haggis needed an international cast to represent the diverse population of the City of Angels. He got it with Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Esposito, Shaun Toub, Daniel Dae Kim, Matt Dillon, Loretta Devine, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Keith David, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Pena, Tony Danza and Thandie Newton. Though Dillon was the only actor recognized by the Academy at awards time, the triumph of the film belongs to its eclectic cast.
The Magnificent Seven
Akira Kurasawa’s epic Seven Samurai was practically begging for a Hollywood adaptation when it was released in 1954. By 1960, director John Sturges had made it a reality with a pack of screen idols including the dashing Yul Brynner, the inimitable Eli Wallach, the ultra-cool Steve McQueen, the bad-ass Charles Bronson, the slick Robert Vaughn, the cool James Coburn and the “newbie” Horst Buchholz. The septuplet of stars had a great deal of chemistry that made their on-screen antics all the more enjoyable to watch, and fifty years later their work on this classic film has become the stuff of movie mythology.
The star power packed into these popular motion pictures is astonishing. With Hollywood heavyweights like George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt leading an army of talent - young and old - including Don Cheadle, Scott Caan, Bernie Mac, Andy Garcia, Carl Reiner, Eddie Jemison, Elliot Gould, Casey Affleck and Julia Roberts, there's no shortage of charisma throughout the film. You may be wondering why I chose Oceans Twelve over the 2001 remake of the 1960 original; it's because this hit heist pic also features the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Albert Finney, Robbie Coltrane, Jared Harris, Vincent Cassel and Bruce Willis in appearances big and small. Not too shabby for a sequel...
Forget the awful 2008 remake. I implore you to give the original a chance. It’s a virtual who’s who of top Hollywood talent of the era. The premise is simple by today’s standards, but in 1939 its empowering themes were ahead of its time. Some of best actresses to ever grace the silver screen, including Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Joan Fontaine, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Lucile Watson and Marjorie Main delivered the message. All of the above are Oscar winners or nominees, making this cast of female performers one of the most celebrated of all time.
I’m not sure if Francis Ford Coppola knew what he was onto when he picked his rag-tag group of actors for this kick-ass 1983 film. After all, most of the actors were relatively unknown and untested at the time (save for C. Thomas Howell, who had just starred in Steven Spielberg's E.T.), but that quickly changed in the years following its release. Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane and Tom Cruise all appeared in the acclaimed teen drama, leaving behind one hell of a legacy.
Jeopardy! whiz ends 74-game streak
Jeopardy! whiz Ken Jennings' 74-game winning streak came to an end in an anti-climactic episode televised Tuesday on ABC, but the computer software engineer from Salt Lake City has something to write home about: $2,520,700 in winnings. Rumors of Jennings' loss circulated on the Internet yesterday after video clips of the episode, which was taped in September, were leaked. Jennings' downfall started when he blew two Daily Double questions and then got stumped in the Final Jeopardy round. The answer in the Business & Industry category was: Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year. Contestant Nancy Zerg, a California real estate agent, had the correct reply: "What is H&R Block?" But Jennings guessed Federal Express as a shocked audience gasped in unison. The final score was Jennings $8,799 to Zerg's $14,001. But Jennings, who gave more than 2,700 correct responses during his stint on Jeopardy!, said getting use to the post game show life has been difficult. "I miss it quite a bit," Jennings told The Associated Press. "It didn't really hit me that that was going to be the hard part. I thought the hard part would be the loss." During his Jeopardy! reign, Jennings' average daily haul was $34,063.51, but the show benefited, too. Ratings were up 22 percent over the same period last season.
Sheryl Crow stalker acquitted
After deliberating for about three hours Tuesday, a jury found 38-year-old Ambrose Kappos not guilty of stalking singer Sheryl Crow for 15 months, the AP reports. Kappos was accused of stalking Crow from July 2002 until his Oct. 6, 2003, arrest at a concert hall in New York City where the singer was appearing. During that time, he also visited the singer's sister in Tennessee and her father in Missouri. Kappos told reporters outside the court he was "delusional" when he thought he was communicating telepathically with Crow and blamed two unhappy marriages, an infatuation with the singer and other emotional difficulties for creating the "perfect storm" psychologically.
CBS takes November sweeps
With one day to go, CBS claimed a November sweeps victory among viewers aged 18 to 49, while ABC and NBC were fighting for second. November is one of the four sweeps month where Nielsen Media Research ratings are used to set local advertising rates. According to Nielsen, CBS won the week, averaging 13.9 million viewers, followed by ABC with 11.1 million, NBC with 10 million, Fox with 7.5 million, the WB with 3.9 million, and UPN with 3.4 million. For the week of Nov. 22-28, the top 5 shows, their networks and viewerships: Desperate Housewives, ABC, 27.2 million; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Thanksgiving Special, CBS, 24.4 million; CSI: Miami, CBS, 22.1 million; Without a Trace Thanksgiving Special, CBS, 19.8 million; and Two and a Half Men, CBS, 18.9 million.
Bill Maher fights ex-girlfriend's lawsuit
HBO's Real Time host Bill Maher is asking for the dismissal of a $9 million palimony lawsuit against him, claiming he never promised to marry and support his ex-girlfriend Nancy "Coco" Johnsen, the AP reports. "He never supported her financially, and he never promised to support her or to purchase any house for her," said the filing, calling Maher "a confirmed bachelor, and a very public one at that." In her lawsuit, the former model and flight attendant claimed Maher, who began his relationship with Johnsen in 2003, convinced her to quit her job and promised marriage, children and a house but became "verbally abusive" once she did. The relationship ended in May.
Sundance unveils film premieres
The Sundance Film Festival has announced dozens of films that will premiere in January at what has become the leading U.S. showcase for independent movies. This year's festival will feature 120 films with 87 world premieres and 19 U.S. premieres, including: Happy Endings, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tom Arnold and Lisa Kudrow; The Matador, featuring Pierce Brosnan; Loverboy starring Sandra Bullock; Upside of Anger with Kevin Costner; The Jacket with Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley; Game 6 with Michael Keaton and Bebe Neuwirth; and The Ballad of Jack and Rose, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. The festival, backed by actor Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, kicks off for 10 days on Jan. 20.
Drake sweeps British indie awards
Mike Leigh's Vera Drake, a moving portrayal of a back-street abortionist in 1950s London, cleaned up at the British Independent Film Awards Tuesday, taking six awards, including best film and best director, Reuters reports. Drake's stars Imelda Staunton and Phil Davis also took the top prizes in the acting categories. This makes the second win for the indie film this year, after snagging the Golden Lion for best film at the Venice Film Festival in September.
Soap actor David Bailey dies
Soap star David Bailey, who played the ruthless Alistair Crane on NBC's Passions, died in an accidental drowning at the age of 71, the AP reports. Bailey was spotted submerged in his apartment pool in Los Angeles on Nov. 25. According to an investigator's report, Bailey swam almost daily. An autopsy performed Sunday determined drowning was the cause of death. Bailey joined the Passions cast in September, finally giving a face to Alistair Crane, who had only been heard via speaker phone since the program debuted in 1999. He also portrayed Russ Matthews on Another World as well as Alan Spaulding on Guiding Light, Ben Forrest on As The World Turns and Teddy Malcolm on Ryan's Hope.
Opera singer Pavarotti to retire
Opera legend Luciano Pavarotti said he plans on retiring after he completes a 40-city tour. In an interview with Reuters, the tenor, known as "The king of the high C's," said he will bring down the curtain on a 43-year career with an international tour taking him from the Balkans to Buenos Aires via London, Paris and New York. "The tour is long but I never perform like a rock star night after night. I shall do a maximum of two or three concerts a month," he said of his global finale. When pressed, Pavarotti could not put a date on when the tour will end or where. "I don't know. When they are finished, I am finished."
Lucas donates cash to California university
Star Wars creator George Lucas has donated $100,000 to California State University, Long Beach, for film department scholarships as well as repairing equipment damaged in a heavy rain storm, the AP reports. Although Lucas attended the University of Southern California, close friend director Steven Spielberg is a Cal State Long Beach alum.
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.