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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The daughter of former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair was held at gunpoint by two men while walking her dog in London. Kathryn Blair, 25, was out in central London with her boyfriend on Monday (16Sep13) when two men attempted to rob them.
The pair escaped unhurt and nothing was stolen. Police have now launched an investigation, and have linked the men to another attempted robbery earlier in the day.
A statement from Scotland Yard says, "The victims were a man and a woman, the suspects were two males."
A spokesman for the Blairs adds, "Kathryn was with a group of friends. No one was hurt and nothing was stolen."
The incident came just days after Kathryn attended her brother Euan's wedding to Suzanne Ashman in Buckinghamshire, England over the weekend (14-15Sep13).
Where do you go after Harry Potter? Daniel Radcliffe checked into a haunted house in the English countryside, and Emma Watson will be enrolling in a Pittsburgh high school. But even more excitingly, author J.K. Rowling is posting up in Pagford — and if you're deterred by the name, just remember that "Hogwarts" didn't really sound all that appealing at first either.
Rowling has announced the title of her first post-Potter novel, and her first adult-directed book yet: The Casual Vacancy. Details are being withheld, but the author alludes to the fact that Pagford, an ostensible paradise, will actually have some demons brewing. Not literally — you really have to stress that when it comes to Rowling. Little, Brown & Co., the company that is publishing The Casual Vacancy, calls the story, "darkly comic."
You can't help but think of some other successful book series authors' attempts at branching out. In 2008, The Twilight Saga author Stephanie Meyers published The Host, which is in development as its own film adaptation (you can watch the trailer here). Fans might be surprised to learn that Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, actually wrote the five-book series The Underling Chronicles prior to her Katniss Everdeen trilogy. She also wrote Fire Proof, the eleventh book in the Shelby Woo series.
Are Potter fans looking forward to Rowling's next venture into literature? Will her new novel capture the same spirit that the wizard series did?
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J.K. Rowling's New Book: Harry Potter All Grown Up?
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Grab your bows and prepare to make mince meat out of the other tributes…The Hunger Games are upon us.
This week, arguably the first anticipated film of 2012 finally finds its way to theaters. Based on the young adult book series by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games presents a distant future in which an uprising of the poorer classes was quelled and, as punishment, each of these districts must offer up two children each year to fight to the death in a widely-televised, macabre sporting event.
This movie details a dystopian future, an oppressive, state-run nightmare masquerading as a utopia, and that got us thinking about the ultimate dystopian story: 1984. If you haven’t seen the film adaptation of this classic novel (which was, unironically, produced in 1984), Netflix’s Watch Instantly service has you covered. We hope you’ll consider making it a companion film for The Hunger Games.
Who Made It: 1984, the novel, was written by George Orwell. Orwell was a deeply socially-conscience thinker harboring a fierce opposition to totalitarian and otherwise oppressive political regimes. This film version was directed and written for the screen by Michael Radford. One of his first feature films, 1984 would be followed with his highly acclaimed Il Postino in 1994.
Who’s In It: 1984 stars John Hurt in the lead role. Hurt, who most recently appeared in Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, is one of the greatest living actors of our time. You may also have seen him in V for Vendetta, Immortals or as the wand maker Ollivander in the Harry Potter franchise. The film also marks the last on-screen appearance of acting royalty Richard Burton.
What’s It About: 1984 takes place in an alternate future, well what would have been an alternate future when the book was written though now a year long since past. In this supposed era, a form of socialism has taken over England, which is in a state of perpetual war and overwhelming poverty. The new government keeps a firm hold over its people through surveillance and fear. Our protagonist is Winston Smith, whose occupation sees him altering historical documents to create whichever past is most convenient for the government at that time. He is however risking his life to keep a diary of his thoughts, a rebel who dares to feel.
Why You Should Watch It:
1984, both as a novel and as a film, occupies the top tier of dystopian science-fiction. Like most works within this strange subgenre, it supposes a world where order and social “harmony” is achieved at the expense of individual thought and freedom. A society in which the people are lulled into conformity by a system of lies and propaganda. Individual expression is forbidden and regulated by a group called The Thought Police. I mean, heck, this is the story that coined the term, “big brother.”
These films, these stories, are always fascinating to contemplate within the context of our actual society. We may not be living under a tyranny this exaggerated, but there are themes touched upon in the film that are echoed in our current political climate. The influence and government and its right to intrude upon our privacy, the regulation of sexual morays, and the supplication of the poorer classes are all ideas that, in some form or another, still resonate and foster much debate. What’s great about these dystopian tales is that the presence of the lone, rebel hero who has the audacity to be a normal, free-thinking human being, always inspires hope in even the most somber, pessimistic portrayal of our future.
On top of its metaphoric and thematic trappings, 1984 is a supremely well-made piece of cinema. John Hurt’s performance is reserved, but powerfully complex. The film was shot by Roger Deakins, who is one of the most celebrated cinematographers in the industry. The guy has shot pretty much every Coen Brothers movie—if that’s any indication. He does a great job of creating this harsh, cold, industrial hellscape to which these supposedly free citizens are shackled. It’s a movie that looks as desolate and grim as its themes elicit affectively from the audience. Interesting side note, it was jrecently announced that we’ll be getting an updated version of the film co-produced by Ron Howard and renegade street artist Shepard Fairey.
Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.