Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Frears’


Richard and CP24 anchor Jamie Gutfreund have a look at the weekend’s new movies including the drug addled biopic “American Made,” the real-life-royal dramedy “Victoria & Abdul” and Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in the late-in-life love story “Our Souls at Night.”

Watch the whole thing HERE!


Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Jennifer Burke to have a look at the Tom Cruise War on Drugs movie “American Made,” the real-life-royal dramedy “Victoria & Abdul” and Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in the late-in-life love story “Our Souls at Night.”

Watch the whole thing HERE!


A new feature from from! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at the Tom Cruise War on Drugs movie “American Made,” the real-life-royal dramedy “Victoria & Abdul” and Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in the late-in-life love story “Our Souls at Night.”

Watch the whole thing HERE!

VICTORIA AND ABDUL: 3 STARS. “an attempt to lull its audience into complacency.”

The opening title card of “Victoria & Abdul,” a new historical dramedy starring Judi Dench and Ali Fazal, states that the movie is “Based on real events… mostly” sets the tone for what is to come. What follows is a true-life tale that doesn’t let the facts get in the way of telling a good story.

Dench returns to her Oscar nominated role of Queen Victoria. She is a frail older woman, ill of health and scheduled at society functions at a pace that would tire someone a third her age. It is her Golden Jubilee in 1887, an endless round of meetings and dinners. At one of these dinners she, as the Empress of India, is gifted with a special coin presented by Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) and Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar), two young men brought in from the North Indian city of Agra for the occasion.

Both are given strict instructions. “The key to good service is standing still, moving backwards,” they’re told, “and don’t ever look at her.” Of course Abdul catches her eye, otherwise there’d be no story.

“I thought the tall one was terribly handsome,” says the Queen as she requests they become for personal footman. It’s a move that causes consternation at the palace. Racism and jealousy rear their ugly heads as Abdul is given more and more responsibility, soon becoming her Munshi, a tutor who teaches her how to write and speak Urdu.

She sees him as a breath of fresh air from the “aristocratic fools” who jockey for position around her. She’s lonely—”Everyone I’ve ever loved has died,” she says, “and I just go on and on.”— and his a chatty, amiable manner comforts her.

The staff and Victoria’s son Bertie (Eddie Izzard), next in line to be King, want Abdul gone and look to get dirt on him. When the monarch gets wind of the palace skulduggery she makes it clear her confidant is not going anywhere.

“Victoria & Abdul” is based on a recently uncovered story. In the days following Victoria’s death Bertie ordered all traces of her relationship with Abdul destroyed and he and his family deported back to India. It wasn’t until a hundred years later when journalist Shrabani Basu dug deep and discovered previously unseen information that the story became public.

What could have been a fascinating look at Victoria at the height of her colonial power—she is 81 years old, 62 of which have been spent ruling over almost 1,000,000,000 citizens—is instead shaped into a light weight crowd pleaser and virtual remake of 1997’s “Mrs. Brown.” In that film Billy Connolly played John Brown, a servant who provided comfort to Victoria (played again by Dench) creating a scandal that almost lead to monarchy crisis. “He’s the brown John Brown,” sneers Lady Churchill (Olivia Williams) in a nod to the sense of déjà vu that hangs over the proceedings.

The big difference between the two films is the underling role. Brown was clearly defined. The Scottish servant is strong-willed, a rebel with little respect for the propriety that surrounded Victoria’s every move. Abdul is less defined. He is unquestionably devoted to the Queen, but we don’t ever really learn why. Was he a social climber, a Rasputin or a truly dedicated acolyte? We’re led to believe the latter but that doesn’t give Fazal much to work with other than his easy going on-screen charm.

Not that “Victoria & Abdul” doesn’t have enjoyable elements. It mines humour from the ridiculous royal protocol. Queen Victoria eats quickly and everyone else at an elaborate state dinner must keep pace because when she’s done, they’re all done. It’s a funny scene, made more amusing by Dench’s skilful handling of the situation.

She is by times comedic, by times touching, often in the same scene. She is masterful as Victoria, a lioness in winter grasping for a last stab at happiness in a life filled with decorum and responsibility.

If the recent film “mother!” was an attempt, as one writer suggested, “to shock its audiences out of complacency,” “Victoria & Abdul” is an attempt to lull its audience into complacency.


Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 2.14.17 PMRichard and CP24 anchor Travis Dhanraj talk about the weekend’s big releases, including Seth Rogen’s smarter-than-you-think “Sausage Party,” “Pete’s Dragon,” a new look at Disney’s most famous dragon and Meryl Streep as the world’s worst singer in “Florence Foster Jenkins.”

Watch the whole thing HERE!


Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 10.27.57 AMRichard sits in with Marcia McMillan to have a look at the family friendly “Pete’s Dragon,” the un-family smörgåsbord of swears and smut that is “Sausage Party” and the marvellously off key “Florence Foster Jenkins. ”

Watch the whole thing HERE!

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS: 4 STARS. “unlike its subject, hits all the right notes.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 2.44.22 PMAccording to a new biopic Florence Foster Jenkins left the world with these words on her lips, “People may say I couldn’t sing but no one can say I didn’t sing.” Meryl Streep plays the eccentric New York City songbird as a woman with a passion for music but an ear of tin.

The delightful story of a society hostess with a song in her heart but no ability to translate that into something tuneful, is twenty five minutes into its running time before Jenkins (Streep) lets loose with her atonal caterwauling. She’s a wealthy woman who has devoted herself to the musical life of her city. She’s a patron of the arts, giving money to legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini and others, a founder of clubs, a fixture of mid-twentieth century New York life.

When she attends a Lily Pons (Aida Garifullina) recital the fire to sing is ignited. “Can you imagine what that must feel like,” she says, “to hold 3000 people in the cup of your hand?” With the help of her husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) she hires pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) and Maestro Carlo Edwards, assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, to whip her into stage shape in exchange for handsome paydays. Trouble is her vocalizing sounds like two cats in heat fighting in an alleyway. So wrapped up in the music, she has no idea of the terrible sounds coming out of her mouth. “There is no one quite like you,” the Metropolitan maestro says delicately.

Her performances are both remarkable and delusional. “A few wrong notes can be forgiven,” says Bayfield, “but singing without passion cannot.” Her husband, who loves her but has a younger girlfriend (Rebecca Ferguson) living in his downtown apartment, carefully manages who comes to her vanity performances, ensuring the audiences is stacked with well wishers. When Florence books Carnegie Hall for a charity concert for US servicemen, Bayfield does everything he can to protect her from the “mockers and scoffers.” When tickets to the show sell out faster than for Sinatra—megastars Cole Porter and Tallulah Bankhead even show up—the show becomes Manhattan’s social event of the year but is it a display of vainglorious egotism or passion?

“Florence Foster Jenkins” is one of those true-to-life bios that seems to prove the cliché that fact is stranger than fiction. In real life Jenkins’s awful singing sold out concert halls and the records she made were the biggest sellers Melotone Recording Studios ever had and have become collector’s items. She is the center of the action, the reason we are here, and Streep plays her with gusto. Like Jenkins who won audiences over with her enthusiasm, Streep wins us over with her passion to present her character as a real person and not a caricature of a talentless hack unaware that she was being laughed at. Afflicted with syphilis contracted on her wedding night, she fought to stay alive for 50 years, taking each day as it comes, inspired by her love of music to go on. Streep, as usual, finds the real humanity of her character and brings that to life.

But for once, Streep is not the star of the show. In a movie filled to the brim with great performances from Streep, Nina Arianda as a Judy Holliday-type with a loud mouth and Ferguson as Bayfield’s second fiddle, it is Grant who shines the brightest.

His Bayfield is courtly but tough, a maître d’ for Jenkins’s life. He protects her from the harsh realities of life, making sure their “happy world” stays that way. It’s the kind of effortless performance that made him a star but it isn’t all surface charm and wit. Under his furrowed brow is a real love for Florence that extends beyond the perks of being married to one of the city’s richest women. He genuinely loves her and that comes across every time he glances in her direction. If it’s not a career best performance for Grant, it’s very close.

“Florence Foster Jenkins” is a story of devotion, passion and off key singing that, unlike its subject, hits all the right notes.


film-cheri-pfeiffer-stephen-frearsThe world’s oldest profession has experienced an on screen revival of late. Steven Soderbergh’s film The Girlfriend Experience is a thoroughly modern look at the life of an escort while Cheri, the new film from Stephen Frears (of Dangerous Liaisons and The Queen fame) is a decidedly old fashioned take on the life of a lady of the night. Based on a 1920 novel by French author Colette it tells the story of the end of a six-year affair between a retired courtesan, Léa de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer), and an ostentatious young man, Fred ‘Chéri’ Peloux (Rupert Friend). When the relationship is over each must learn to go on with their lives. “Living with someone for six years is like following your husband to the colonies,” says Léa. “When you come back you’ve forgotten how to act and what to wear.”

The two films share a theme, the notion of what happens when people who sell themselves actually fall in love, but while Soderbergh’s take on the situation is up-to-the-minute with its references to Obama and the market meltdown Frears has taken a different path. His movie is not only set in the 1900s, but it feels like it was made in the 1900s; it feels old fashioned and staid.

The film is beautifully appointed—the sets, clothes and period details are bang on—but the acting style is stiff (with the exception of Kathy Bates, the only live wire in the cast), and the language a touch too courtly. For a movie about a courtesan it’s a bit too mannered.

The film has lots of problems. Firstly it breaks a cardinal rule of movie making: show me don’t tell me. A narrator (the voice of director Frears) pops up now and again to clumsily fill in the details sadly lacking in the film’s storytelling. When a narrator is needed to keep the momentum moving forward something is amiss.

Secondly affairs of the heart are unpredictable things, but Léa and Chéri are so self absorbed that their dangerous liaison never comes across as interesting. Their emotions are on the surface with no real depth. It was a repressed time but the film presents it and its characters as vapid rather than simply reserved.

If the story was more interesting those faults could be forgiven but the real killer here, the thing that drags the whole movie down is the casting of Rupert Friend as Chéri. There is love sick. There’s morose and then there is whatever Friend is trying to convey here. He turns Chéri into such a doleful wet rag it’s hard to imagine that anyone would want to spend a minute in the same room with him, let alone surrender their heart.

Pfeiffer fares better, wringing some emotion from the affected script and bringing sophistication to the character but is undone by an underwritten story.

Cheri is a minor work from a major filmmaker and talented cast.