Films I Neglected To Review: Hope-Less RomanticsBy Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/24/20 07:14:20
Please enjoy short reviews of "Dreaming Grand Avenue," "Enola Holmes," "Jay Sebring. . . Cutting to the Truth," "Misbehaviour" and "Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood History."
With a premise as offbeat as this, there is an excellent chance that this film will simply not "work," as they say, for a number of viewers who may be perplexed by the combination of romantic fantasy, recognizable reality and the odd splashes of noir and horror elements scattered here and there. I can't really say that it all pulls together into a cohesive whole--with such diverse ingredients, how could it?--but I didn't actually mind. Stylistically, it reminded me a lot of the great films of the perpetually underrated filmmaker Alan Rudolph--especially "Choose Me" (1984), "Trouble in Mind" (1986), "Love at Large" (1990) and "Equinox" (1993)--and if Schulze is not quite as adept as a writer-director, he certainly is as ambitious and he ultimately hits more of his targets than he misses. The performances are quite good as well, with Londo and Fitzpatrick both being especially good at finding just the right approach to their characters to help them negotiate the sometimes strange waters. Additionally--and I recognize that this will probably not be a consideration for many of you reading this--it has been more than six months since I have actually set foot in Chicago and just to be able to see the sights once again (the city is practically a character itself in this story) was enough to make my heart swoon. As I said, "Dreaming Grand Avenue" is a strange duck of a film and your mileage with it may vary greatly from mine. However, if you do find yourself sharing its peculiar wavelength, there is an excellent chance that you will have a lot of fun with it.
As attempts to spin off Arthur Conan Doyle's legacy to a younger generation go, "Enola Holmes" certainly beats the atrocious "Young Sherlock Holmes" (1985)--it is handsomely mounted, contains a nice performance from Brown as Enola and a surprisingly effective turn by Cavill as Holmes, who is presented here in slightly more humanistic terms than usual without sacrificing his typically oddball behavior. The trouble with the film is that in their efforts to bring the YA book series by Nancy Springer to the screen and launch a new franchise for Netflix, screenwriter Jack Thorne and director Harry Bradbeer wind up losing the plot a bit along the way. While I have no doubt about Enola's abilities to juggle two mysteries at the same time, the same cannot be said for Thorne and Bradbeer and as the film goes on (eventually clocking in at over two hours for no real reason), it just gets too convoluted for its own good as key plot points (such as the impending vote on 1884 Parliamentary Reform Act) are not explained in a coherent enough manner for viewers to understand why they have been included. Another aspect that might be problematic for some viewers is that while the premise may make it seem ideal for younger viewers, it has a few moments of serious-minded violence that might prove to be too much for some of them. And yet, while it is a little too bloated and disorganized for its own good, most of the pieces for a good movie are there. Perhaps when they get around to do a second one, the filmmakers can shake off the weight of being an origin story, develop a more streamlined narrative and become the winning and satisfying entertainment that it should have been the first time around.
The resulting work is of such a deeply personal nature that I almost hesitated to give it a formal review--critiquing it would feel like criticizing someone's home movie or a video tribute shown at a funeral. The film is at its best when DiMaria sticks to reminding viewers of who Sebring was and how visionary his notion of a men's haircare empire would prove to be over time, even if he wasn't around to see the industry that he helped to create from virtually nothing explode into one eventually worth billions of dollars--the archival footage is fascinating and interviews help to flesh him out and give us a fuller sense of who Sebring was, even though the amount of now-deceased subjects offering commentary does get a bit distracting. When it comes to dealing with Sebring's murder and the way that his death was exploited from all ends while he went forgotten, things get a lot shakier. He rails against filmmakers and authors who have exploited his uncle's tragic end for their own means but at the same time, he includes an interview with Quentin Tarantino in which he promises to present him as a full character in "Once Upon a Time. . . in Hollywood," which once again ended up regaling him to the sidelines. He also properly castigates the media for sensationalizing the story with lurid claims that were spread around without any proof but attempts to do the same thing himself with a would-be bombshell revelation in the final minutes--one slightly undercut by the person making it not only admitting that he has now proof but blanking on the name "Polanski" as well. Not surprisingly, Polanski doesn't come off well here but some of the elements DiMaria uses to plead his case in this regard--a recording of a police interview the still-shocked filmmaker gave after returning to America following his notification of the murders and his decision not to do a new interview--are not entirely convincing either. "Jay Sebring. . . Cutting to the Truth" is not without interest but in the end, the only people who will find it of genuine interest are those who already know about the man and his accomplishments in the first place.
With its undeniably interesting story and strong cast of actors, "Misbehaviour" seems like a can’t-miss proposition—sort of a real-life version of Michael Ritchie's brilliant beauty pageant-inspired satire "Smile" (1975)--so it is more than a little frustrating to watch it never quite hit its marks. With one exception--we'll get to that in a bit--there is nothing about it that is especially awful but it pulls together into the film that it might have been. One big problem is that while the screenplay by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe contains any number of intriguing narrative threads, they have elected to put much of the focus on the least interesting of the bunch, the gradual radicalization of Sally Alexander in the face of opposition from her mother and fellow students that is driven by her determination to improve things for her own daughter. This is okay--I could have lived without the bit where the stick-in-the-mud grandmother has a last-minute change of heart--but it is the kind of thing we have seen many times before--meanwhile, the infinitely more interesting stories involving Janssen and Hosten (who would, Spoiler Alert, go on to become the first black winner of the competition) are, ironically, given nothing more than a surface treatment. The performances from Knightley, Buckley and Mbatha-Raw (not to mention Loreece Harrison as Janssen) are all good--Mbatha-Raw is the best of the bunch--but nothing that they do here is especially memorable or revelatory. The performance that is memorable, for all the wrong reasons, is the frankly terrible work done by Kinnear as Bob Hope. Granted, playing someone as famous and recognizable as Hope is always a gamble but his take is just as hacky and unconvincing as the material Hope was delivering at that point in his career--considering how well Kinnear managed to assume the persona of Bob Crane in "Auto Focus," it is disconcerting to see just how badly he whiffs it here. During the where-are-they-now? title cards running before the end credits, we discover that most of the key participants in this saga are still alive and you can’t help but think that "Misbehaviour" might have made for a stronger and more effective recounting of the story if it had just been done as a documentary in the first place.
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