Court and sparks: 'Favourite' to 'Postcards from London'

By Tom Von Malder | Mar 12, 2019
Photo by: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Olivia Colman won the Best Actress Oscar for her work as Queen Anne in "The Favourite."

Owls Head — The Favourite (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 119 min.). "The Favourite," a mostly fictional account of the two women who vied for the affection of England's Queen Anne in the early 18th Century, and in one case for control of the kingdom, turned out to have a favorite in Olivia Colman (TV's "The Crown," "Broadchurch"). Colman took home the Best Actress Oscar at the recent Academy Awards. Although the film was nominated for a season-high 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, Colman was the only winner. As the two rivals, Emma Stone as servant Abigail Hill and Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, both were nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscars.

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (the quirky "The Lobster," which Colman also starred in), from a script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, the film is witty, acerbic and unexpectedly physical, including Abigail getting pushed in the mud at least twice, Abigail's fun rough-housing with her future husband in the woods and an extended horse-dragging scene. The film has a glorious, majestic historical look via the costumes and palace setting, but there is very much a modern sensibility, particularly when it comes to sex.

The Queen is not in the best of health and often would rather let her 17 rabbits -- one for each child she has said she lost, most by miscarriages  -- run loose in her chambers than attend to affairs of state. In many ways the country, and its current war with France, is being run by Sarah, with the backing of Prime Minister Godolphin (James Smith), leader of the Whigs. Abigail, after some hard luck in her life and loss of station, arrives at Westminster looking for employment and is given a job as a scullery maid. At one point, she goes to the woods and obtains some herbs that help with the Queen's gout, which brings her to the favorable attention of first Sarah, and then the Queen.

When Abigail accidentally comes across Sarah and the Queen being intimate, she ups her game to win more of the Queen's favor. Eventually, Abigail aligns with Harley (Nicholas Hault), leader of the Loyal Opposition, aka Tories, who wants peace with France and an end to crippling taxes that are being used to support the war effort. Sarah's husband, by the way, is leading the troops overseas. Ultimately, Abigail proves to be even more ruthless than Sarah, although she lacks Sarah's political acumen.

The film features three marvelous performances by the leading ladies and is highly entertaining, but there were several stylistic touches that bugged me, including the wide spreading of words in the chapter cards so they reached both border edges. For example, in "The Favourite," the "t" is over the "f," the "h" is over the "u" and the "e" is over the "e." It actually makes some of the  chapter cards difficult to read. There are a couple of scenes that use a monotonous one-note for music, which is quite annoying as it starts to sound like an alarm going off in the distance. Also, Lanthimos, for no apparent reason, often throws in a fish-eye lens view of a scene, with the curved edges disorienting.

The extras are rather poor, just four deleted scenes (2:47) and a making-of featurette (22:19) in which the filmmakers say they were going for history reimagined rather than accuracy and how the film depicts the casual cruelty of the time. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 1.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

London Fields (20th Century Fox DVD, PG, 84 min.). Based on the Martin Amis novel (1989), this adaptation by director Matthew Cullen (a music video director, including several by Katy Perry, and visual effects creator for "Pacific Rim"), with a screenplay by Amis and Roberta Hanley, features a lot of narration by Billy Bob Thornton ("Sling Blade"), who plays American reality novelist Samson "Sam" Young. Sam has traded his Hell's Kitchen, New York City apartment for one in London, owned by author Mark Asprey (note, he has the same initials as Amis), so that he can work on his next book.

Sam is still searching for a subject matter when she -- Amber Heard ("Aquaman") as Nicola Six -- walks into the Black Cross Pub, capturing the eye of every man in the place. It turns out, Nicola lives in the same building as Sam; in fact, her apartment is right above his, which later allows him to listen to her conversations, with her permission. When he sees her throw some journals away, Sam retrieves them and reads them, learning that Nicola is a clairvoyant, able to foretell deaths, including her own, for which she lists the time and place and says it will be one of three men who were in the pub that day.

Amusingly, Nicola proves to be a femme fatale and decides to have fun with her three potential killers, working herself into their lives. And while she may offer sex, her ultimate aim is to screw up at least two of the men's lives. One potential killer is Keith (Jim Sturgess of "21," "Across the Universe," "Cloud Atlas"), a darts player -- there is a lot about competitive darts in the film -- who is deep in debt to several bad people, including Chick Purchase (an uncredited Johnny Depp, who actually is quite good in the small role). Another is Guy Clinch (Theo James of the "Divergent" series), who also is married. Nicola cons the money that Keith owes out of Guy with a sob story about two Burmese refugees trying to immigrate. (It is easy to know it is a con and their names are Enola Gay and Small Boy.) Sam, of course, is the third potential killer.

Heard has to pull off so many character shifts that it is hard to know just who she is at times. Sturgess overacts and James is pretty, but bland. Thornton's unemotional narration also creeps into much of his performance. On an interesting note, the film started filming in 2013 and Depp and Heard fell into a short-lived marriage afterwards. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2 stars

Postcards from London (Strand Releasing DVD, NR, 89 min.). This is writer/director Steve McLean's second film and first film since 1994's "Postcards from America," which was adapted from the autobiographical writings of David Wojnarowski, a gay writer who died of AIDS. This film both echoes the first in title and stylistically, with elements of fantasia. Often the film looks like a stage presentation, especially the street scenes with their generic neon signs, and then there are the "staged" recreations of famous paintings by Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610). However, that is getting ahead of ourselves.

The film, which in some ways serves as an art appreciation course, has Jim (Harris Dickinson of "Beach Rats," another role in which he was objectified) as the central character. He is a young man who has moved from Essex to Soho in London to search for "a world full of mysteries and possibilities."Jim's beauty is constantly referred to by those he meets; some say he has the face of an angel. In fact, Jim (aka Dickinson) is a remarkably handsome man, who makes watching the film an easy-on-the-eyes delight, even as the film itself sometimes turns strange. Visually playful, the film reminded me at times of Derek Jarman's work.

Jim encounters a pack of four 20-somethings, who call themselves the Raconteurs. They are high-class male escorts who specialize in post-coital conversation about classic art and literature to appeal to their more sophisticated, much older clientele. While Jim gets a crash course -- mostly through books -- in art, and Caravaggio is his favorite, it turns out he has Stendhal Syndrome, a psychosomatic disorder that, depending on the quality of the art viewed, causes rapid heartbeat, tremors, dizziness, feinting and even hallucinations. Some of those hallucinations are hilarious as he and the other models posing for Caravaggio fall into discussions. Also, some of Jim's clients like to pose him in the manner of classical paintings. There are scenes with Jim as Caravaggio's "Boy with Basket of Fruit," "The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian," "The Lute Player" and "The Entombment of Christ."

The other Raconteurs, while initially cute, soon come off  as self-centered fops who are too impressed with themselves. They are played by Jonah Hauer-King, Leonardo Salerni, Alessandro Cimadamore and Raphael Desprez . Their most fun scene is when they dance in the club, doing an arranged line instead of dancing as couples. Among the film's fun touches is the playing of "My Funny Valentine," with its lyrics about being "a work of art," while Jim is learning about art, poetry and literature. One scene in a bar includes men and women in white t-shirts and sailor hats, frozen in place, as Jim wanders through. The latter is probably a homage to "Querelle," Rainer Werner Fassbinder's adaptation of Jean Genet's novel.

Caravaggio, whom I must admit is one of my favorite artists, was a controversial figure, known for his  more realistic interpretation of religious scenes, usually using models he found on the street, with a gay sensibility in his work. He also killed a man in a swordfight and was a fugitive during his last years. Stendhal Syndrome is named after a 19th Century author, Marie-Henri Beyle, who used the pseudonym of Stendhal, who experienced the effects when visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Niccolo Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Galileo are buried, in 1817. The film has no extras. Grade: film 3 stars

Krypton: The Complete First Season (DC/Warner Bros, 2 Blu-ray or 2 standard DVDs, NR, 427 min.). The TV show is set two generations before the destruction of Krypton, Superman's home planet. The lead character is young Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe of TV's "The Halcyon"), who will be Superman's grandfather. The House of El has been banished by the ruling oligarchy, with Seg-El's parents sent to their doom. However, Seg-El has been dating Nyssa (Wallis Day), the daughter of Daron-Vex (Elliot Cowan), the same man who ordered the deaths of Seg-El's grandparents. Seg-El is rising in the Guards and has marriage ahead.

However, a stranger from the future (Shaun Sipos as Adam Strange from Earth) arrives and soon everything Seg-El thought he knew is tested, especially when he discovers his grandfather's fortress of solitude. His grandfather had been condemned for saying that the races of Krypton were not alone in the universe and they will soon be threatened. That threat turns out to be Brainiac (different from the Brainiac currently of the CW's "Supergirl"), who has begun operating in Kander City through a phony religion. It is Brainiac whom Strange has come to the past to warn Seg-El about.

The show is engaging, despite what appears to be a limited budget. Extras include the 2017 Comic Con panel (22:52) with Cuffe and the two showrunners; 8+ minutes of deleted scenes; a gag reel (3:22); the cast and crew discussing designing the world and its societies (17:04); and a discussion about creating Krypton history, society and sigils, as well as the characters and so on (22:38). A second season is planned. Grade: season and extras 3 stars

Nightflyers: Season One (Syfy/Universal, 2 Blu-ray or 2 standard DVDs, NR, 450 min.). This series, which will not return for a second season (at least not on Syfy), is based on the George R.R. Martin ("Game of Thrones") novella of the same name. Set in the year 2093, the series follows a team of scientists aboard the Nightflyer spaceship, the most advanced one ever built. There hope is to communicate with aliens believed to be passing Earth way out in space to obtain knowledge that might save an energy-starved Earth that is devolving into chaos. The only trouble is that the ship also contains a threat.

While originally conceived as an ongoing series, the final episode seems to provide a catastrophic ending. The cast includes Eoin Macken, Sam Strike, Maya Eshet, Angus Sampson, Jodie Turner-Smith, Gretchen Mol, David Ajala and Brian F. O'Byrne.

In 1987, there was a film adaptation, co-written by Martin and Robert Jaffe. There are no extras here. Grade: season 2.5 stars

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