Tuesday, April 26, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Watching Movies, New and Old

We have much to do, little sister."
by Liz Smith

Watching Movies, New and Old — "The Huntsman" Dazzles ... "Possession" Made Me Crazy and Sleepy!

"FLASH! I love you, but we have only fourteen hours to save the earth!"
That was Melody Anderson to Sam J. Jones in 1980's "Flash Gordon" one of the greatest intentionally bad movies ever.
Flash a-ah ...
OVER THE weekend I had experiences with Movies That Don't Make A Lot of Sense. One, I enjoyed ("The Huntsman: Winter's War.") The other — 1981's "Possession" — I fell asleep halfway through, although even at my most alert, that movie was definitely not taking me on a pleasant journey.

"Winter's War" is a prequel/sequel to "Snow White and the Huntsman" which I quite enjoyed, despite it being a fantasy film and not to be taken seriously. In this one, Charlize Theron is back as Ravenna, the wicked queen who spends so much time at her mirror. Well, if you looked like Miss Theron, wouldn't you?
Charlize Theron back as Ravenna.
Kristen Stewart (Snow White) is not around, which is all to the best, as I find her a relentlessly unappealing actress. (Snow is referenced, however. She still has issues.) As a matter of fact, Charlize doesn't get as much screen time as she did in the first movie. This is because there's another wicked queen on hand, Freya, her sister, played wonderfully by Emily Blunt. (Blunt has simply never given a bad performance.) Freya's had some tragedy as a child — what queen hasn't? — and she's turned heartless, icy. In fact, she's known as the Ice Queen. In her kingdom, love is forbidden, and she raises an army that makes sure nobody is ever infected with tender feelings.
Emily Blunt as Ravenna's sister, Freya.
Blunt gives her Ice Queen just enough conflicted vulnerability that we root for her a bit, awful as she is. Charlize's Ravenna is not exactly vulnerable, but we kind of root for her too, because she is so very beautiful. (Just like Lana Turner in "The Three Musketeers." So, she killed June Allyson. Did she have to die over it? I mean — it was June Allyson.)
Lana Turner as Milady in "The Three Musketeers."
Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain — who are actually the main story — are two of Freya's army who have done the forbidden; fallen in love. Everybody thinks Ravenna is dead, but is she, really, and where is her magic mirror?

That's as much plot as you'll get from me. For one thing, it's as much as I understood. We never really know what happens in the big gap between the prequel and sequel, or certain whys and wherefores between the queenly siblings. After a while, it's pointless to question. The dialogue isn't much, except for the comic relief of the dwarves (Nick Frost and Rob Brydon) but all the basics of the performances hold up.
Chris Hemsworth as The Huntsman and Jessica Chastain as Sara in "Winter's War."
Everybody — including Miss Chastain, who rumor has it, didn't really want to do the movie — is as convincing as one should expect from the genre. Even without anything particularly engaging to say, Theron and Blunt are fabulous, and the movie itself is striking, magnificent, to look at. It's a visual feast, a delirious sort of escape. (We need escape, now more than ever!) While I tend to prefer the straightforward, if something is so beautiful and so obviously exists to entertain, it can be less-than-linear and I'm fine with that. Critics have been unkind, but as I am no critic — just an opinionated moviegoer with an outlet — I say ignore the experts if you'd like to forget the outside world for a little while.
Sister, sister ...
AS for the other film, "Possession" which I stumbled upon after midnight on Turner Classic Movies, it stars Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani as a couple undergoing marital strife — to put it mildly! I was immediately struck by the extraordinary over-emoting of the actors. At first it was bewildering (they are both excellent, why were they performing like this?) Then it seemed comic, then simply downright bizarre. I checked the on-screen "info" and saw it was categorized as "drama/fantasy" and that Adjani's character had a "shocking secret" — aside from the affair she was having with a man who was not Mr. Neill (a man who seemed to also want to be having relations with the insanely distraught character played by Neill.)
Was it terribly pretentious, clearly European gobbledygook? Was I missing some greater meaning? I wanted to turn it off — it's quite violent, and there's an unhappy child involved — but somehow I stuck with it until I fell asleep. (I was awoken at one point by Miss Adjani shrieking "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!" in what appeared to be a train tunnel. Okay, I'd had enough. Click!)

Still, what little I was conscious for stayed with me, because it was so freakishly bad.
Isabelle and Sam — Why can't we be friends?
Or was it brilliant in a way I can't appreciate? The next day, I was reminded of Pauline Kael's comment on "Secret Ceremony" the 1968 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum. (When I saw it back then my reaction was "What the HELL?") Miss Kael summed it up with: "Sometimes the nuttier a movie is, the more people want to love it." Actually, "Possession" was not unlike another of Taylor's strange latter-career entries, "The Driver's Seat" which had the same creepy, vacant, occasionally nonsensical vibe. Maybe it was a '70s/'80s era thing?
Liz and Mia — Why can't WE be friends?
Perhaps if TCM runs "Possession" again, I'll DVR it. I think I'd like to know what the exquisite Miss Adjani and the slender, handsome Mr. Neill were screaming at each other about? (Apparently, they were directed to never engage in normal conversational tones. For once, I didn't need to turn the sound up on my TV!)

Oh, and please, dear readers don't write in and spoil it. I want to make it a minor mission to see "Possession" to its conclusion. If I can stand the screaming.
La Liz in "The Driver's Seat" — she forgot to wear a safety belt!

With Denis Ferrara

Contact Liz here.