Every Little Merry Proposal (Weekly Links)


Let nothing ye dismay.

Reviews I did for the Herald this week.

The Proposal. “An eagle carrying off a small dog.”

Year One. “Can a visit to Sodom be far behind?”

Tetro. “Begins to jump its tracks about halfway through.”

The Merry Gentleman. “Calm, stately, and alive to changing weather and mood.”

Food, Inc. “The news ain’t pretty.”

Every Little Step. “Every callback is another lease on hope.”

O’Horten. “What is it about this title that strikes my ear so pleasingly?”

Easy Virtue. (Dead link; review below)

by Robert Horton

How many degrees of separation are there between the British wit Noel Coward and the disco song “Car Wash”?

In case you were sitting around wondering, the answer now is one. The movie “Easy Virtue,” based on a Coward play and set in the 1920s, boasts a new recording of “Car Wash” done in a Twenties jazz-band style. I mention this because the retro “Car Wash” one of the few genuinely fresh ideas about this movie. Otherwise, this drawing-room comedy is a slog.

The plot hinges on a rich young twit (Ben Barnes from the “Narnia” movies) returning to his family’s vast country estate with a new bride, Larita (Jessica Biel). Not only did he fail to consult his parents about the marriage, but his wife is—shudder—American. She’s also been married before. In the eyes of Larita’s new mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas in raging harridan mode), this is one more unacceptable thing about this dreadful barbarian. The dissolute family patriarch (Colin Firth), who’s never been the same since service in the First World War, thinks Larita is just marvelous. The movie thinks so too, as the stuffy old British mansion needs a good whiff of fresh American air.

“Easy Virtue” is directed by Stephan Elliott, the Australian filmmaker who had a hit with “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” but hasn’t been heard from much since. There’s nothing glaringly wrong about his approach: the costumes and sets are well-chosen, the lines are sometimes dry, the potshots at the British upper crust are earned. Yet the film feels off. Some of Elliott’s original touches don’t work as planned; the way the young husband breaks out into snippets of popular song once in a while (not “Car Wash,” but Cole Porter) becomes annoying rather than charming.

And Jessica Biel, who’s been improving her movie choices of late, is game to the challenge but not quite right, either. She’s got the beauty part down, and it’s not her fault that the lone American accent sounds especially clanging amongst all these English performers. But she’s more spirited than skillful. The rest of the movie bumbles along, sympathetic to Larita but not quite sure how to handle her. It all ends with a retro take on the 1980s hit “When the Going Gets Tough,” at which point the non sequitur fits the strange approach.

On KUOW, I talk with Jeannie Yandel about three oddly relevant Depression films: Wild Boys of the Road, Heroes for Sale, and Black Legion: here.

Movie Diary 6/17/2009

Blood: The Last Vampire (Chris Nahon, 2009). A very impressive sword. Why, you could vertically cleave a man in two with a sword like that. No you couldn’t. (full review 7/10)

The Proposal (Anne Fletcher, 2009). Digital landscaping is becoming a distraction and a fascination all of its own in movies (and no, this has nothing to do with Sandra Bullock’s nude scene). Much of this film is set in Alaska, but shot in Massachusetts, which, after all, has a coastline too. Mountains have never looked quite so blearily unconvincing; the painted Himalayas of Black Narcissus are raw realism by comparison. (full review 6/19)

Easy Virtue (Stephan Elliott, 2009). Jessica Biel, meet Noel Coward. It had to happen. (full review 6/19)

Year One (Harold Ramis, 2009). Have you been waiting for a movie that crosses Caveman with Wholly Moses? No? Then pretend this isn’t it, and forgive Ramis for coasting. (full review 6/19)