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.
The story of Lust Caution begins in the midst of WWII in Asia as the Japanese have a stranglehold on key areas of China including Shanghai and Hong Kong. The iron-fisted Chinese who are collaborating with the invaders are led by Mr. Yee (Tony Leung) a cruel and ruthless man who delights in the torture and murder of his fellow countrymen who are fighting against the Japanese occupation. When a patriotic band of college students (made up of four men and two women all part of the drama school) decide to strike a blow for Chinese freedom by assassinating Mr. Yee it falls to Wang (the mesmerizingly beautiful Wei Tang) to infiltrate his home and heart to pave the way for the killing. But as her compatriots--including handsome Kuang played by American-born Chinese rock star Lee-Hom Wang who loves her from afar--bid their time waiting for the moment to strike Mr. Yee and Wang enter into a torrid affair that begins to consume them both. Think of the Hitchcock classic Suspicion shift from Europe to Asia add in intensely explicit sex scenes and a completely unexpected ending and you have Lust Caution--a film that is soon to be considered a classic as well. Veteran actors Tony Leung and Joan Chen lead a fine cast of actors who together create this completely believable glimpse into Chinese culture during the dark days of Japanese occupation. Both give intense performances--he as the powerful emotionless Mr. Yee and she as his vapid shopping and Mah Jong-obsessed wife. But the most amazing performance is that of newcomer Wei Tang the Miss Universe finalist who makes her film debut in Lust Caution. Her fantastic face slim body and almost ethereal presence seem to blot out everyone else when she is on the screen; you can’t help but look at only her. Her transformation in the four-year span of the story is masterful. As she goes from a naïve young student to a mature woman whose physical obsession with a man she despises begins to overwhelm her. The ingénue proves that she is much more than just a pretty face. In fact she deserves an Academy Award nomination for her often subtle always fearless performance that is at the heart of the film. Ang Lee has a unique cinematic ability to begin a story very specific to a time a place and a culture and end with a universal tale that resonates across all societies and peoples. He did it beautifully with Sense and Sensibility Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon as well as Brokeback Mountain and he’s done it again masterfully with Lust Caution. This newest film is an intense look at how war often causes an individual to make the ultimate sacrifice for the common good yet it also explores another underlying theme: the idea that there is a never-ending battle between the sexes for emotional dominance within a sexual relationship. Ang Lee’s deft hand is evident in every frame including the incredibly explicit (and often violent) sex scenes that have given the film its NC-17 rating. But this is not pornography; every scene is necessary to the story showing us that using sex as a means to an end (no matter how noble that end) is a very dangerous game to play especially during wartime. Look for Ang Lee’s name to come up on the Academy’s list again this year as awards season kicks into high gear. He deserves every honor for this emotionally disturbing masterpiece.
October 15, 2003 2:13pm EST
Top Story: Kidman Wins Damages Against Tabloid
Star Nicole Kidman, who won an Oscar for her performance in the 2002 drama The Hours, won undisclosed libel damages and an apology Tuesday from the British tabloid Sun that reported in March she had had an affair with her Cold Mountain costar Jude Law, which led to the breakup of his marriage. In London's High Court, the Sun admitted the allegations about Kidman were untrue. "The defendants are here today to publicly set the record straight and through their solicitor to personally apologize to the claimant for the distress and the embarrassment they have caused her," said the Sun's lawyer Daniel Taylor. He added that the paper vowed never to repeat the allegations and would pay fines and damages. Kidman was not in court but said in a statement: "I am glad that this has finally been resolved." According to BBC News, she will donate the balance of the damages received from the case to a charity that helps Romania's abandoned children.
Miramax To Downplay Bennifer in Jersey Girl Ads
Miramax Films has decided to spin the advertising around their upcoming film Jersey Girl around director Kevin Smith instead of its stars, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. Launch.com reports that the studio decided to rethink its marketing strategy following a supposed Bennifer backlash with the bomb of Affleck and Lopez's Gigli. Jersey Girl was originally set for release this fall but was pushed back to a 2004 release date. The promotion for Smith, who has directed Clerks, Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, is likely to be the biggest he has ever received.
Actors Join Screener Ban Opposition
Variety reports actors Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Frances McDormand, Rosanna Arquette, Hilary Swank, Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek, Ellen Burstyn, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Don Cheadle, Willem Dafoe, Olympia Dukakis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, and Selma Blair have all signed on to protest the Oscar screener ban. "This is an acknowledgement that actors are often the triggers for financing and distribution decisions on independent movies so it's really important their voices are heard," said IFP's executive director Michelle Byrd. "The ban creates a disadvantage for actors in films released by the studio divisions, which often are the ones that need real support campaigns."
Martha Stewart Doubtful She Will Serve Jail Time
Lifestyle mogul Martha Stewart, who is facing criminal charges in an insider trading scandal, told Barbara Walters in an exclusive interview with ABC News that although she is feeling scared about going to prison, she doubts she will end up behind bars. Stewart came under fire last year for selling shares in biotechnology firm ImClone Systems Inc. just before the company reported some bad news that sent its stock plunging. She is a close friend of former ImClone chief executive Sam Waksal. Reuters reports the interview, the first broadcast TV interview Stewart has granted since her June indictment on obstruction of justice charges, is set to air during the November ratings sweeps, but the network declined to give an exact date.
Tommy Hilfiger's Daughter Stars in MTV's Rich Girls
MTV is set to debut a new reality series tilted Rich Girls, which follows two wealthy young women as they dash around New York City mindlessly spending money. According to The Associated Press, one of the girls is Ally Hilfiger, the daughter of designer Tommy Hilfiger. "We just prance around this damn city like it's, like, our shopping haven," Hilfiger says in the first episode. But she adds, "Just because we're rich doesn't mean that we're not good people." In the premiere scheduled to air at 10:30 p.m. ET Oct. 28, cameras capture Hilfiger and her friend Jamie Gleicher riding in a limousine as they shop for prom dresses. Gleicher, however, says she has learned "money does not buy happiness."
Role Call: Wilson-Sampras Joins Shopgirl Cast
Bridgette Wilson-Sampras has joined the cast of the Steve Martin comedy Shopgirl, which is being directed by Anand Tucker and co-stars Jason Schwartzman and Claire Danes, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The film is based on Martin's best-selling novella of the same name. The Shopgirl role marks a return to acting for Wilson-Sampras, who took some time off after having a baby with her tennis champ husband, Pete Sampras.
Hollywood.com is on the scene at the 55th Cannes Film Festival, seeing the films and sipping with the stars for the next 12 days. Check in every day to get the latest!
May 15, 2002 -- It really was the Cannes before the storm as festival staffers put the finishing touches on their preparations for the 55th Cannes Film Festival. Saws buzzed, generators whirred, brooms swished. Cameramen rehearsed their swooping aerial shots over and over. Never ones to be hurried at beautifying, the French workmen didn't begin work on the famous steps of The Palais until yesterday! And by this morning they'd barely covered the banisters in the familiar and fabulous red.
The Jury, who gets to decide the big winner at the end of the festival, arrived early. Director David Lynch, of Mulholland Drive fame, heads the Jury of the Competition this year, along with Sharon Stone and others. The Cannes Selection Committee sat through 2,281 films, including 939 features and 1,342 shorts to come up with their 55 selections.
All day the energy rose as the sun baked the growing throngs of fans who brought folding chairs and created the best seats in the house in front of The Palais. Some of them arrived 12 hours in advance. Even the fans are dressed to the max, as they watch producers, journalists and barely dressed starlets-in-the-making networking in all different languages.
One of the festival's most celebrated auteurs, Woody Allen, opens the Festival. Beginning at the end is very popular these days, so it makes sense that Cannes opens withis his Hollywood Ending and closes in 12 days with French director Claude Lelouche's And Now…Ladies and Gentlemen.
Then suddenly it's time! It's a bit before 7 p.m. and the sun is still shining brigh as that once-in-a-lifetime moment begins. The music swells, the paparazzi shout as their camera flashbulbs explode nonstop. The crowd roars as Debra Messing, Tiffani Thiessen, Treat Williams, Barney Cheng and Jodie Markell join Woody (avec wife, Soon Yi) in their finery as they glide over the Palais steps transformed by red carpet and enter
the huge theater where they will enjoy this comedy about a comeback director before whisking off to the after-hours, invitation-only beach party at the fancy Carleton Hotel.
There is so much to look forward to over the next 12 days. For the very first time digital technology makes its debut in Cannes with a showing of George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese will show 20 minutes of their wildly anticipated Gangs of New York. (Scorsese, that multitasking director, will also serve as President of the Short Films Competition.)
Other stars planning to spend a little time here are Cameron Diaz, Adam Sandler, Matt Damon, Sandra Bullock, Jeremy Irons, Rosanna and Patricia Arquette and Antonio Banderas, just to name a few!
And who knows what will be added to the mix? Earlier today a green convertible VW Beetle passed us on the main drag, the Croissette, with a transvestite in a matching green wig behind the wheel, followed by a pink convertible bug driven by a pink-wigged transvestite.
Why? That is never the question to ask in Cannes.