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.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
When it comes to Sofia Vergara, what you see is what you get. What you see is someone unfathomably gorgeous, and what you get is someone who can make you laugh, even if you didn't quite understand what she just said. So it was of no real surprise that Saturday Night Live banked heavily on Vergara's stunning looks and broken accent for last night's episode. (Hey, if Modern Family can rely on it every week, why not SNL?)
After a too-long Mitt Romney cold open featuring (the-soon-to-be-departed?) Jason Sudeikis (though his botched "Hey New York, let's start the show" served as a funny alternative to the classic "Live from New York, it's Saturday night"), Vergara took the stage at Studio 8H for her first time as host. In a slinky black dress, Vergara talked about the town in Colombia she grew up in (it translated roughly to "Cleveland"), her son Manolo (who was in the audience), her stare-causing cleavage, and, of course, her ability to "make anything sexy," including "gonorrhea," "Rick Santorum," and "New Jersey." So, yeah, her looks and her accent. Watch it here:
This isn't to say that even if Vergara's brand of comedy is predictable, it's not enjoyable or funny. There's something infinitely likable about the actress (yes, fellas, we know what you like about her) and her willingness to have fun on camera. (Quick sidebar, did anyone else notice there were no less than five commercials featuring Vergara during the breaks, including a Three Stooges preview, which got nary a mention in the actual show?)
Following up a silly new pre-recorded bit with Sudeikis and fellow rumored exiting cast member Andy Samberg as "not gay" friends sporting "Not Gay" booty shorts and tank tops, SNL wisely opted to bring back Abby Elliott's "Quirky Girl with Zooey Deschanel." While the effort wasn't nearly as strong as when Deschanel herself appeared in the sketch when she hosted earlier this year, it was still hilarious to watch Elliott poke fun at her mannerisms ("I look like a guilty baby") and Taran Killam's delightfully squeaky Michael Cera impression. This time around, Kristen Wiig (who previously played Bjork) did a spot-on impression of Drew Barrymore, Samberg took a shot at "Jewish Strawberry Shortcake" Mayim Bialik, and Vergara got her first shot at a sketch by playing another amplified comedienne, Fran Drescher. Vergara knocked it out of the park, but if you were watching in a household where anyone was asleep, there's no question Vergara's imitation of Drescher's infamous laugh woke them up. If Vergara's comedy is one-note, that note is incredibly loud. Watch it below. Though, you may want to turn the volume on your computer down.
The other new pre-recorded segment of the night was a fake commercial for a food (?) product called Almost Pizza, in which the always-top notch Bill Hader and his family try to figure out the mystery product. It was a short, effective, funny bit peppered into an even with sketches that couldn't quite pull that off. Case in point: The groan-worthy sketch featuring Fred Armisen as a newscaster who can't figure out how to smile for the camera. Not only did SNL try out a sketch just like this already this season with SportsCenter broadcasters, but Armisen already realized the hard way that repeating an already ho-hum concept (remember when he kept getting hit by a car in the dreadful Lindsay Lohan ep?) doesn't make it funnier if you keep going. Although the sketch did accomplish the near-impossible: It made Vergara fade in the background. Aside from Vergara -- who, unsurprisingly, played a sexy sex ed teacher who mispronounced words in the Gilly sketch -- there were some other newbies to the SNL family last night. Kate McKinnon began her new gig as a cast member (more on that later) while wildly popular Brit import boy band One Direction made their SNL musical guest debut. Despite looking a little nervous (who could blame them?), the group sounded quite good as they crooned their hits "What Makes You Beautiful" and "One Thing," much to the delight of their hardcore fans. One Direction may look a little different from the boy bands of yore, but the vibe, and those ruthlessly catchy songs, are still very much the same. Seriously, between the return of the boy bands and the fact that both Titanic and the American Pie gang are back in theaters, it's pretty safe to say the '90s are back.
SNL decided not to waste the appearance of the young stars (there's no question there were some kids up far past their bedtime last night) and had the five singers appear in "The Manuel Ortiz Show." In fact, the members of One Direction managed to upstage a blonde Vergara and a mustached Hader for the predictable recurring sketch. (Yes, I realize I skipped right over the recycled "Lil Poundcake" commercial and "Weekend Update," but with the exception of a visit from Bobby Moynihan's consistently hilarious Drunk Uncle, not much else happened.) But, back to McKinnon. The newbie didn't get a chance to show her stuff until later in the show when she appeared as the testy Tabatha from Bravo's Tabatha Takes Over for Killam's funny send-up of Andy Cohen ("I'm like a shark, if I stop moving, I die") and Watch What Happens Live. While McKinnon may have been trumped by Killam's impression of the excitable, cute Cohen and Kenan Thompson playing Bishop Desmond Tutu (would anybody else totally watch Tutu Hot Tutu Handle?), she still made an impression. Watch her debut here:
McKinnon relied on doing an impression again for the next sketch, a send-up of Pantene commercials that featured Vergara as herself and McKinnon as Penelope Cruz. In it, Cruz appeared in a commercial with Vergara, who seems to be getting all the easy words to pronounce. Even though the sketch was predictably on-par with most of the night's bits that relied on the humor of Vergara's mangled accent, it was fascinating to watch and consider what's next for McKinnon. With Wiig possibly leaving, the show will be in dire need for a strong female performer than can pull off impressions as flawlessly as she does. McKinnon looks like she could be up for the task, but she could fall into the Jay Pharoah impressions-only trap. It's too soon to tell, but her brief introduction hinted at more of the former than the latter.
The episode wrapped with a suprisingly weak Hunger Games sketch (though Hader as Caeser Flickerman could give Stanley Tucci a run for his money) in which Vergara played a newscaster thrust into the middle of the murderous action. Sorry, but The Hunger Games Puppy Bowl would have been much better. While last night wasn't the strongest outing of the season (no one has trumped Jimmy Fallon or Maya Rudolph yet), credit has to be given to a game Sofia Vergara and a squeal-inducing One Direction. Next week Josh Brolin and musical guest Gotye will have their shot at getting the last few episodes of the season to end on a high note.
What did you think of last night's SNL? What did you think of Sofia Vergara as host? Anyone else notice Bill Hader sweetly congratulating McKinnon during the closing credits? Would you agree One Direction stole the whole show? More importantly, what was louder, Vergara's screams or the screams One Direction's fans?
[Photo credit: NBC]
Sofia Vergara's Saturday Night Live Promo: Watch!
Sofia Vergara on Saturday Night Live: Do Bombshells Make Bad Hosts?
One Direction Turns Down Invitation to The White House
Inspired by the 1944 Sant Anna di Stazzema massacre perpetrated on an Italian town by the Nazis Miracle at St. Anna focuses on four members of the 92nd Infantry Division African Americans also known as Buffalo Soldiers who served in Italy during the final year of WWII. These four find themselves in compromising positions when they befriend a frightened young Italian boy in a remote village that is about to come under attack by the German SS. The fact that this village has likely never seen a black man before becomes the centerpiece of the story that seeks to highlight the color barriers that can separate us--and bring us together--especially under extraordinary pressure. As the town gets to know these individuals they find that they all must band together to fight the common terror associated with a horrible war. Spike Lee has assembled a first-rate cast of young African-American actors led by Derek Luke (Catch a Fire Antwone Fisher) as Staff Sergeant Aubrey Stamps the conflicted leader of the division whose confusion about his place in America drives his actions. Luke has emerged as one very promising actor and further cements his growing reputation with a complex portrayal of a black man in the midst of war. Michael Ealy as Sgt. Bishop Cummings captures all the bravado of a shoot-from-the-hip character out for himself using street smarts to survive a battle he doesn’t think he belongs in. As the reluctant radio operator Hector Negron Laz Alonso plays a Puerto Rican living in Harlem who finds himself sent to war with an all-black unit. Towering above all the rest though is Omar Benson Miller a dead ringer for Forest Whitaker who plays the “gentle giant” Sam Train the one who takes the boy under his wing. His relationship with the young man Angelo played beautifully by Matteo Sciabordi is what gives the film its heart and soul. Several name actors including John Turturro Joseph Gordon-Levitt Kerry Washington D.B. Sweeney and Robert John Burke have relatively brief screen time and there’s a very strange cameo early on from John Leguizamo that seems like it belongs in another film altogether. A host of fine Italian actors including Pierfrancesco Favino and Valentina Cervi add to the flavor and authenticity Lee is going for. Coming off his biggest box office hit ever Inside Man and his Emmy-winning documentary on the aftermath of Katrina When the Levees Broke Lee continues his streak with this very accomplished and humane WWII epic focusing on African Americans we don’t often see depicted in American war movies. Lee makes this point forcefully in the film’s present-day prologue where we meet one of the soldiers now an older man cynically commenting on the all-white cast of the 1962’s The Longest Day as he watches the movie on TV. There is no question Lee is a skilled and extremely talented filmmaker. The many battle sequences in the film are violent and expertly choreographed. Lee’s work with the large cast is also top-notch letting James McBride’s forceful script breathe with plenty of room for the human element missing in many films of this type. Although the picture running at 160 minutes could have benefited from some judicious editing (particularly in the opening and closing sequences) overall it’s a worthy effort from Spike further proof of his new maturity as a filmmaker at the peak of his talents.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.