Posts Tagged ‘film’

When the shelter in place orders came down in California, everyone settled in and immediately started looking for a distraction.  Binge watching Netflix was an obvious choice.  So was drinking.  Baking bread became an unexpected trend that had the power to unite  and, in some cases, unhinge people.   But I did not want my time spent sheltering in place to be a wine-fueled, free-for-all of sensationalized docudramas and lurid Netflix originals (because that’s my life when I’m not sheltering in place) – I needed purpose, I needed direction, I needed a quest.  I needed to . . . watch every film ever made featuring Jeremy Irons.

borgias-season-2-16

I realize the title of the piece says “film” and this picture is a promo for a TV show , but I like it for the dramatic effect.

Sure, I could have just looked for sourdough starter and taken to the kitchen like a lot of my Facebook friends, but I failed home-ec and lying on the couch watching movies sounded way more doable.

Just like everyone else at the time,  I was looking for an escape and Jeremy Irons movies seemed like a decent option.  And unlike my second choice, the films of Keanu Reeves,  the films of Jeremy Irons seemed more reputable,  even scholarly in a very loose and possibly inaccurate definition of the word. It’s just something about the richness of his voice, the  intensity of his gaze . . . Perhaps I would find some greater meaning; perhaps I would  synthesize the entirety of Jeremy Irons’ acting career into an amazing thesis about life, cinema, celebrity and the Covid-19 pandemic.

I am better than you

I did have my preconceived notions of what I would be watching.  Dead Ringers,M. Butterfly, The Borgias and Watchmen are my favorite Jeremy Irons vehicles so I expected lots of uneasy narratives full of weirdness and ambiguity;  dark psychological dramas dripping with sexual tension and in some cases, outright sex.  Turns out I had already covered most of this territory.

On the first night of shelter in place I jumped right in with Brideshead Revisited.  I expected to hate it because the Amazon Prime Video synopsis made it sound dry and stuffy.  Instead I was immediately sucked in to the fabulous friendship of Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte, a relationship steeped in the excess of the 1920s and yes – dripping with sexual tension.  Although told in flashback from the 1940’s,  parts of it  reminded me a bit of The Great Gatsby (side note: Jeremy Irons plays F. Scott Fitzgerald in a made for TV movie, Last Call) . But as the story moves forward we see Sebastian’s excesses become his downfall. Charles Ryder finds a more suitable love interest in Sebastian’s sister, and then pitches a fit over Catholicism. Laurence Olivier gets some screen time, World War II happens and, after losing the thing that matters most, Charles Ryder decides Catholicism isn’t so bad after all. The end.

That was my viewing during the first week of shelter in place.

jeremy-irons-brideshead-caps-episode5-018

I felt rather accomplished;  with Brideshead Revisited  under my belt and the movies I’d seen prior to taking on my quest I was certain I was already close to reaching my goal.   I decided to officially track my progress.  That’s how The Spreadsheet came to be. Using Jeremy Irons’filmography from IMDB as the source of truth, I imported all his credited roles into my spreadsheet and began to fill out what I had seen.  All told, there were 109 or so entries of which I had seen just a few shy of 30.  Not exactly the count I had expected. Granted, there were a lot of TV episodes early on in his career, and a fair amount of documentary narration which I chose to ignore.  Instead I decided to focus on films and TV movies.

I also decided I needed to categorize certain aspects of each film – really important things like: Are there sex scenes? Does he get naked?  Is he especially nice to look at in this film?  You know,  things that are at the very heart of a good film critique.  A few other categories arose as I continued my viewing : Is he trying to pull off an accent?  Did he do this just for the money?  What the hell were they thinking when they made this thing –  did no one read the script before filming?  Again, very valid criteria to consider for  someone like myself;  I did after all study film for two semesters at a community college back in the 90’s.  I kept changing the categories as I watched, vacillating between serious attempts to analyze his career and ways to keep myself amused.

bc-06239

Eye Candy

The days went by.   I kept my son on track with his school work.  I checked in with my job.  I made an extra effort in my typical household duties to justify my time spent at home.  When the evening came I would plunk myself down on the couch, spin up the Jeremy Irons search on Amazon Prime and see what was next on my list.

I watched his big Hollywood movies like Man in the Iron Mask (awful) and Die Hard with a Vengeance (Is he trying to pull off an accent?  Check.  But otherwise a lot of fun). I watched small indie films like Better Start Running (surprisingly charming in parts… Jeremy Irons doesn’t quite fit the role of a disabled Vietnam vet from the South, but he committed to the part and made it work).  I watched movies I’d never heard of, like Chinese Box (a love story set in the time of Britain returning Hong Kong to China) and Waterland (an uncomfortable film about a high school history teacher and his wife (played by Jeremy Irons’ real wife) trying to move past old traumas.  Ninety five minutes has never felt so long).  I watched  films that taught me a little bit about history, including Elizabeth I  and The Mission (possibly the best film on the entire list –you really must see this is you haven’t already).  I watched films that introduced me to famous people like artist, Georgia O’Keefe; opera star, Marie Callas;  and Srinivasa Ramanujan, a math genius who was most likely forgotten until The Man Who Knew Infinity came out.

The Mission_

When I got to Lolita I felt too uneducated to properly critique it. Even worse,  I was uncertain if I should check any of the columns on my spreadsheet. It’s based on a famous novel but is it a good adaptation?  Should I like it?  I decided to go to the source material and that’s how I ended up reading Lolita.  For those who may not be familiar, Lolita reads as the confession of  a middle aged man passionately recalling his relationship with a 12 year old girl. ( They bump the girl’s age up to 14 in the movie to make it slightly more palatable.) It’s incredibly well-written; Nabokov’s use of the English language makes me realize I should return  my BA in English and get a refund.  The book feels more satirical than the movie, but Jeremy Irons portrayal of Humbert Humbert feels true to me. Side note- you can download the audio book and have it read to you by Jeremy Irons.

external-content.duckduckgo.com

Sometime after Lolita I watched Dungeons & DragonsDid he do this just for the money?  Check.  What the hell were they thinking when they made this thing?  Check.  This film features Jeremy Irons as an evil wizard or something like that;  he is  acting, with a capital “A”, while wearing a costume most likely purchased from the Spirit Halloween store.  Poor Thora Birch plays the young empress,  think Walmart’s answer to  Queen Amidala, and for whatever reason, she looks as if the make up artist had to  leave for another job right before he got to work on her eyes. This production also managed to drag Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show) and Tom Baker (the best doctor from Dr. Who) into this mess. Definitely the worst film on the list and should be avoided at all costs.

Screenshot_2020-05-24 Profion

Avoid at all costs!

How it Ends

When I began my “quest” to watch all the films of Jeremy Irons while sheltering in place I thought it would be a fun diversion to pass the time until life returned to “normal”.  As of this writing, Memorial Day weekend, there are still shelter in place orders in effect for my county, although the guidelines have loosened up a bit.  I don’t know if or when “normal” will return. It seems more likely that someday in the future we will simply be past the pandemic but what life will look like then I cannot say.

As for  my “quest”, I am putting it on pause.  I have not watched all the films ever made featuring Jeremy Irons while sheltering in place, but that’s okay.   I may return to complete the list later on but for now I need a break from Jeremy Irons; his voice has taken over my inner monologue and every now and then it narrates my life like it’s the beginning of a movie . . .  also my bathrobe gives me flashbacks to Dungeons & Dragons.  Like I said, I need a break. I need to go outside and get some fresh air.  Our local park is open again.

I’ll leave you with two things: First,  this link to  a letter penned by French physicist and philosopher, Aurélien Barrau, and actor, Juliette Binoche (who co-starred with Jeremy Irons in Damage – a movie I watched before the “quest” but definitely allowed me to check some columns on the spreadsheet).  Signed by 200 celebrities and scientists, including Jeremy Irons,  the letter requests the world not return to the pre-pandemic normal. “The pursuit of consumerism and an obsession with productivity have led us to deny the value of life itself: that of plants, that of animals, and that of a great number of human beings.”   It is definitely food for thought.

Finally, just because ultimately my “quest” turned out to be an exercise in data collection, I present this (not exhaustive) list of the movies I’ve watched and haven’t watched, categorized by genre.  Also, feel free to check out the spreadsheet.  It’s open to comments if you’re so inclined.

Histories/Based on true events/real people

The Borgias

Elizabeth I

The Mission

Georgia O’Keefe

Marie Callas

Man Who Knew Infinity

Reversal of Fortune

Last Call

Comic Books and Video Games

Assassin’s Creed

Justice League/Batman

Watchmen

Fantasy

Dungeons and Dragons

The Color of Magic

Eragon

Based on a Novel

Lolita

Waterland

Beautiful Creatures

The Dream

Brideshead Revisited

Night Train to Lisbon

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The Color of Magic

Eragon

The Good

Dead Ringers

M. Butterfly

Brideshead Revisited

The Borgias

The Lion King

The Mission

The Bad

High Rise

An Actor Prepares

Damage

Dungeons and Dragons

It’s a Movie

Inland Empire

Better Start Running

And Now Ladies and Gentlemen

Margin Call

Chinese Box

Kafka

The Unavailable

Swann in Love

Australia

Danny Champion of the World

Still on the list to see

Stealing Beauty

Moonlighting

The Fourth Angel

Longitude

The House of the Spirits

The Time Machine

Heaven and Earth

Race

Appaloosa

Pink Panther 2

 

An ode to independent film, San Francisco in the 90’s and my inexplicable obsession with an actor who had a role in War Horse.

I have hit rock bottom.

There’s a red Netflix envelope sitting on my kitchen table.  I meant to mail it yesterday but somehow didn’t find the time.  Today my kids and I are sick, hacking and coughing and generally just being miserable; in short, housebound.  Tomorrow my husband returns from his business trip.  If I haven’t gotten that movie off in the mail by then he will notice it for sure and ask, “Which movie is that?”warhorse

“Oh, just a movie, a movie you don’t want to see.”

“Really?” he’ll ask.  “Which movie I don’t want to see?”

“Oh you know – a movie. There are a lot of movies you don’t want to see, I can’t even remember all the titles.”

“But which one is that?” he’ll ask.

Finally, unable to bear the shame any longer I will exclaim, “War Horse. I’ve watched War Horse!”

How did I get here?

Just two Christmases ago I recall sitting in my in-law’s living room listening to an aunt gush about this amazing movie she’d just seen – Spielberg, horses, war. Epic!  I shot my husband a bemused look.  The amount of overblown, emotionally manipulative tripe contained in just the trailer was enough to cause my past self, a community college film school dropout, to rush outside for a clove cigarette and a snide, Gen-X patented rant on all that is wrong with mainstream movies. War Horse! Really?

I haven’t always been a mainstream movie snob.   My mother loved the movies; musicals were her favorite and she passed that love on to me.  I grew up watching late night TV showings of Gigi and Brigadoon and Singin’ in the Rain.  Movies were beautiful and fun and uplifting.  Never mind that usually after the main feature was over, my mom would change the channel to catch The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery. (Submitted for your approval: The Nightmares of my Childhood.  Demonic dolls in a lavish musical production, singing and dancing their way up my basement stairs to carry me off to the grave!)

When the home video industry began to take off in the 1980’s my mom was ready to lay out some cash to watch the movies she wanted to see when she wanted to see them.  There were a lot of flavors of home video  on the market at first and a particularly loquacious sales person at our local appliance shop convinced my mother that the RCA Video Disc players were the wave of the future.  They had an eclectic, but limited (probably because RCA Video Discs were not the wave of the future), rental section and my mom never vetted my choices.   By the time I had graduated high school I had watched The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophenia, Pink Floyd The Wall,  and Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange – those are just the films I felt I “got away with”.  There were plenty more that weren’t as gratuitous with the sex and violence and occasional rock and roll, but those three things summed up my favorite flavors of cinema. 

Once in college I sought out more underground films, but it was Central Pennsylvania in the late 80’s and art house theaters wouldn’t be popular for another 20 years.  I watched a lot of movies on VHS– Sid and Nancy (not really underground, but it had no theatrical release in my hometown), Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, Suburbia.    I still recall taking my boyfriend/future husband to see Dogs in Space, a film about the Australian punk scene starring Michael Hutchence.  As she handed over our tickets, the theater cashier looked at my husband-to-be and asked earnestly, “Now you know this movie isn’t about dogs or space, right?”  He looked at me for guidance.  I nodded reassuringly.  Did I seem like someone who wanted to see a movie about dogs and space? Did I seem like someone who would grow into middle age and want to see, War Horse, a movie that is actually about war and a horse?

I moved to San Francisco in the 90’s and discovered indie films, art house films, repertory film houses and the Film Arts Foundation.  There was so much to watch!  By this time my husband had decided he could only handle a small portion of the films I found important, so I went to the theater alone quite often.  We lived in the Haight, the famed hippie neighborhood of the 60’s, and just a few blocks away was The Red Vic, a cooperatively owned repertory house where I watched Jan Svankmajer’s Alice for the first time.  The Embarcadero, The Opera Plaza, and The Clay were all owned by Landmark, and showed only independent and foreign films.  In those theaters I discovered Jane Campion, Todd Haynes, and Mike Leigh. Over in the Mission was The Roxie, which showed first-run independent films and repertory films.  It also hosted a lot of film festivals and I had the pleasure of watching two of my own movies on the big screen there.  For everything else there was video rental – Leather Tongue in the Mission; Into Video, my local video store on Haight Street; Le Video over on the avenues.  Le Video is the only rental store that still exists from that list while  The Red Vic is the only theater mentioned here that is closed.

But back to War Horse, and my desperate attempt to illustrate why I am too savvy a film goer to be sitting home alone watching it on DVD.  First, obviously I am not because I did. Second, you can’t really diss Spielberg. He is a master at what he does (But, really?  Did the boy have to return home at sunset?   Did no one in the screening room laugh out loud and say, “You’ve got to be kidding!  He literally rides into the sunset?!?!  That’s so trite, even my grandmother would be insulted”. Perhaps not.  Perhaps you don’t say that if hope to keep your seat in a screening room with Spielberg.)  Even though the movie is clichéd (it is after all based on a children’s book) it hits all the emotional marks at the right time.  I can hate it for that, but I still cried out when it reached its darkest tone and things weren’t looking good for the horse.

But the true reason – well, there’s this actor . . .

Celebrity crushes are embarrassing, particularly at my age, but following an actor’s career, that’s different, right?  Even though I first came across the actor in a Hollywood Superhero Blockbuster movie, this particular Hollywood Superhero Blockbuster movie was written and directed by Joss Whedon and I can’t say anything bad about Joss Whedon.  I named my first born after a character he created for a TV show (no, I don’t have a daughter named Buffy), that connection alone makes Joss practically family.  So I was just being supportive by watching his Hollywood Superhero Blockbuster movie.   Of course after that I had to  watch another Hollywood Superhero Blockbuster movie, just to make sense of the storyline of the first Hollywood Superhero Blockbuster movie.

The second one was directed by Kenneth Brannagh.  Dead Again is a very good film and hasn’t Brannagh done his share of Shakespeare?  This kind of cred made it perfectly fine to be enjoying mindless, mainstream schlock because it was in fact very entertaining and I was certain it was a higher quality schlock than the usual blockbuster schlock. In the meantime I decided my attraction was for a character not the actor himself.

Then I came across a blurb about said actor having played a vampire in a film by Jim Jarmusch. Jim Jarmusch.  I confess I have not seen Stranger Than Paradise in its entirety, but at some point in every film class I’ve ever taken, the instructor has rolled a media cart to the front of the room and  shown us a scene from this film  as  perfect example of whatever they were trying to teach.  What I do know about Stranger than Paradise is that it features Eszter Balint, and she went on to play in The Linguine Incident alongside Rosanna Arquette and David Bowie. Bowie of course has just recently released a new album, The Next Day, and one of the accompanying music videos features Tilda Swinton who is also in the Jim Jarmusch vampire film with my actor obsession.  (All this in my brain and I can’t remember to pick up cooking spray at the grocery store, not one, not two, but three weeks in a row.)

Suddenly my interest went beyond the character and to the actor.  Suddenly it seemed perfectly reasonable to seek out this actor’s body of work.  I couldn’t let my husband know of course, because he wouldn’t understand, and was already privy to my secret The Avengers viewing habit.  But I had already decided: Let the Tom Hiddleston film viewing frenzy begin!Deep Blue Sea

I started with low hanging fruit, The Deep Blue Sea, a watch-it-now selection on Netflix. I waited until my husband went to bed and then eagerly turned on this post-WWII period piece about a woman who leaves her husband for a younger man.   A promising premise, but the story seemed as inane and lifeless as the main character, a beautiful woman named Hester (a classic name for an adulterous woman) who leaves her stodgy older husband for Tom Hiddleston(‘s character) and then remains mired in indecision and depression.  The lack of any substantial movement or character motivation was the most impressive feature of this film.  I later discovered it was originally a stage play written in the 1950’s, which would explain the spot-on dialogue of the era.  Ultimately there’s no real payoff other than the final visual of a bombed out building suggesting perhaps that Hester’s affair and emotional aftermath are just one small part of the devastation created by the war.

In the morning my husband asked me what I had watched and I told him.  He had the title up on IMDB in less than five minutes.

“Just as I thought,” he teased. “Loki.”

The next movie was Midnight in Paris, which I actually had to add to my Netflix queue, return a Pokemon movie and then wait for it to arrive in the mail.  This was a little more work than I had anticipated and made the whole obsession seem – well obsessive.  However, slipping this movie past my husband was easy.

“Hey, you want to stay up and watch a Woody Allen movie with me?”

“No.”

It was that easy.midnight in paris

For the most part I have enjoyed every Woody Allen film I have seen and Midnight in Paris is no exception. Owen Wilson plays the lead, Gil, a screenwriter with artistic aspirations beyond Hollywood who feels he is living in the wrong time. He’s about to marry Rachel McAdams’ Inez, a shallow woman who cares more about appearances and social standing than supporting his creative endeavors.  Naturally only sensitive writer males are searching for more meaningful work in life while females are simply looking for shopping bargains. If women are not shallow then they are hollow, a beautiful vessel in which to store the sensitive male writer’s hopes and aspirations, a muse like Adrianna, the woman Wilson’s character meets when he mysteriously travels back in time to Paris of the 1920’s.

It’s in the Paris of the past where Gil meets the literary greats – Hemmingway, TS Elliot and of course F. Scott Fitzgerald played by Tom Hiddleston.  Fitzgerald, who in real life only thrived financially by writing for Hollywood in the 30’s, but also found the work disheartening, would seem like  a natural sounding board for Gil’s character, but instead we only get a couple of scenes with him.   That’s okay, because once we get to Paris of the 20’s it’s all about Adrianna, and cramming in as many Jazz age cameos as possible.

After Midnight in Paris I checked into IMDB for other titles and decided I had tracked down all that were easily obtainable.  Sure there was still War Horse, but I was not going to watch that on principle, not in a million years, even if someone paid me.  I figured I was done.  I’d wait for the new Thor movie and keep an eye out for the opening of Only Lovers Left Alive and hopefully by that time my interest would have passed.

A day or so later I found out that The Hollow Crown was going to be broadcast on the local PBS station.

With my husband still wide awake and playing a video game on his computer in the kitchen  I nonchalantly turned on the TV and kept the sound down as to not draw attention to myself, but all I could hear was my husband’s Diablo III warrior wench yelling “I require aid!” and “I am overburdened!”.  For heaven’s sake, I thought, get thee to an auction house and pay the necessary gold to properly armor that girl and buy her a few more bags for loot.  While you’re at it, would it kill you to get her some pants. What? The auction house wants real money?  Fine, I’ll turn up the sound!  Catching only every third word of dialogue in Shakespeare is a special kind of hell onto itself.  So up went the sound.  Within moments my husband’s head snapped in my direction.

“What are you watching?” he asked.

“Shakespeare, on PBS,” I replied smugly, feeling all kinds of cultured.

He paused a moment and listened.

“I know that voice!”hollow crown_

Busted.  He did end up watching the final two parts with me and admitted that Loki could really deliver a Shakespearean speech.

You can’t criticize Shakespeare.  I tried once when I was an English major at a liberal arts college (before I was a community college film school dropout) and the professor gave me such a tongue lashing in addition to a C on my finished paper that I learned never to speak badly of the Bard again.  That said, The Hollow Crown, a BBC production of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, is excellent!  Shakespeare presented with the production value of Game of Thrones, plus Jeremy Irons?  What’s not to love?

I had reached the end of my viewing list.  There were plenty of interviews and such on the internet but I only care about movies. I wanted the damn vampire movie, but the release date seems to be up in the air.

Then my husband was unexpectedly sent out of town on business.  I could watch whatever I wanted in the evenings after the kids had gone to bed.  I could even watch . . . War Horse.

It arrived on a Wednesday, smack dab in the middle of my husband’s leave.  It was in my DVD player by 9 pm that evening, right after the final goodnight to my oldest son.  Tom Hiddleston’s character, Captain Nicholls, shows up early enough.  Just like King Henry in Henry V, he gets sent to fight a war on England’s behalf in France.  However, Captain Nicholls isn’t nearly as lucky as Henry V (although I suppose dying of dysentery at age 35 isn’t particularly lucky either . . .) Without giving too much away, in case you haven’t watched War Horse (and I don’t recommend it)  – he dies, as do a lot of other characters who come in contact with the horse.  War Horse of Death would have been a more apt title.

Here comes the part I have had hard time admitting -even though Tom Hiddleston’s character was clearly out of the picture, I kept watching.  I watched all the way through to the garish, golden-lit sunset ending when the boy, now a soldier who has gallantly faced the horrors of war, rides that damn horse, the only thing he really wanted for the entire picture, up to the gates of his parent’s farm house, proving you can go home again.

And who doesn’t want to go home again?

I myself would  feel at home again sitting in a darkened theater at the Opera Plaza  watching a movie about a depressed rock star vampire (one who is not named Lestat) ; for the duration of the film I could pretend that outside the theater it is still 1995. Why 1995?  Because a film about vampires by Jim Jarmusch starring Tilda Swinton sounds so very 1995 to me.   Because in my San Francisco of 1995 all of my friends are still alive and healthy and hopeful.   The Film Arts Foundation is still the backbone of the local film community and YouTube has yet to arrive.   San Francisco has yet to be remade by the dot com boom and it is still  affordable to all who find themselves drawn to the city. Don’t get me wrong,  I wouldn’t consider abandoning my present,  like Gil from Midnight in Paris.   I love my family, my house by the ocean and all the people who have come into my life since I left San Francisco in 2000.  But an afternoon of brief, inconsequential time travel would be lovely.

Especially if it takes me back to a time and place before I watched War Horse.