Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lovers, Sisters and Brothers

Anthony and Cleopatra is my favorite Shakespeare play. It has the most gorgeous poetry. In the 1974 TV adaptation of an RSC production, Janet Suzman is utterly believable as Cleopatra. What she lacks in looks she more than makes up for in her mercurial sensuality. As Anthony, Richard Johnson may be less grand than I would like, but is otherwise human and persuasive. The stand-out is Patrick Stewart as Enobarbus. His betrayal of Anthony near the end, and his ultimate regret, is very moving. This TV movie, entirely shot in the studio, is directed by Jon Scoffield and produced by Trevor Nunn.

Iron Jawed Angels, a 2004 HBO docudrama about the 1920s fight for the 19th Constitutional Amendment, giving women the vote, got my back up right from the start. It tries so hard to be cool. The hip music. The slangy script. The pretty faces. The Hollywood romance. The chirpy colors.  Director Katja von Garnier has little confidence in her compelling material and her MTV audience. The unfortunate effect of all the air-brushing is to make one doubt the authenticity of the history presented. Yes, Hilary Swank puts on a good performance as Alice Paul, as does Frances O'Connor as Lucy Burns and Anjelica Huston as older suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt. One cannot help but to root for them after their courageous campaign against a war-time President (Bob Gunton as Woodrow Wilson) and their cruel prison treatment, which included force-feeding during their hunger-strike. But the genre of a biopic focuses too much attention on one woman at the expense of a movement; in order to create a heroine, it simplifies her allies into sidekicks and her opponents into enemies. Joseph Adams (Senator Thomas Leighton) and Molly Parker (Emily, his wife), with their emotionally nuanced performances, seem to belong to another, a finer, movie.

The Darjeeling Limited is my first Wes Anderson movie, and it leaves me wanting more. Three estranged brothers embark on a spiritual quest, by train, across India. Days into the trip, Francis (Owen Wilson) the oldest brother reveals their goal, to find their runaway mother (Anjelica Huston) who did not bother to attend their father's funeral. Peter (Adrien Brody), who witnessed their father's road accident, is himself running away from being a new father. Jack (Jason Schwartzman), the youngest, has a girlfriend back home whom he cannot abide but cannot leave. Stabbed in the heart of the action is the death of an Indian child, whom the brothers tried to save but could not. Picaresque in its plot, quirky in its characterization, the movie takes the train as its central symbol for life lived as experience and relationship. You can only get on it if you are prepared to leave your baggage behind.

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