New This Week
The Favourite is quirky, charming, and hilarious. It is brilliantly acted, superbly directed and beautifully designed, costumed, and shot. Just how much of it is accurate, however, we may never know.
Queen Anne ruled England, Scotland, and Ireland for a little over seven years from 1707-1714 from the age of 42 to her death at 49. Prior to succeeding William and Mary (her sister) as ruler, she suffered through seventeen pregnancies, resulting in only five live births. Four of the five died before the age of two. The fifth died at the age of eleven. Her husband, Prince George of Denmark, died the year after her succession. With the support of her friend, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, she fought the War of the Spanish Succession aka the second French and Indian War in the thirteen colonies aka Queen Anne’s War. One of Lady Sarah’s descendants, Winston Churchill, later called it the First World War.
The film explores the tug of war between political parties, the Tories, which Anne favored, and the Whigs, of which Lady Sarah, whose descendants also include Princess Diana, was one. The film, however, mostly focuses on a lesbian triangle that is not in the history books. It revolves around a fight between Lady Sarah and her cousin, Abigail, a servant who gains favor with the queen during one of her fallouts with Lady Sarah. To say more might spoil the fun for anyone who hasn’t seen it.
This is the first film in Oscar history in which the film’s three female stars were all nominated for their performances, although only one was nominated for Best Actress, the other two having been nominated for Best Supporting Actress instead. This was the first nomination and win for Olivia Colman who plays Queen Anne. It was the second nomination for Rachel Weisz who plays Lady Sarah. She won on her previous nomination for 2005’s The Constant Gardener. It was the third nomination for Emma Stone who plays Abigail. She was previously nominated for 2014’s Birdman and 2016’s La La Land, for which she won.
This was the third English language film for Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos who was previously nominated for his screenplay for 2015’s The Lobster. He was nominated this time for both Best Picture and Best Directing. This is the first of his three English language films for which he did not write the screenplay. Those other two films, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, were dark comedies with more in common with 2018’s Hereditary than The Favourite.
The Favourite is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Peter Hedges, the Oscar-nominated co-writer of 2002’s About a Boy, directs his son Lucas Hedges, the Oscar-nominated co-star of 2016’s Manchester by the Sea, in his second starring role of 2018 in Ben Is Back. As he does in his earlier starring role in Boy Erased, the young actor commands the screen opposite a Hollywood legend playing his mother. In Boy Erased it was Nicole Kidman. In Ben Is Back, it’s Julia Roberts giving her best performance since her Oscar-winning work in 2000’s Erin Brockovich.
The first half of the film, about an addict home for Christmas, is exceptionally well done as it keeps you guessing as to whether Hedges’ character is truly on the mend or just conning his mother, stepfather, and siblings. Unfortunately, the film devolves into a good-guys vs. bad-guys chase in the second half, before coming to its only somewhat satisfying conclusion. It really needed another scene or two to give it the kind of send-off it should have had.
Ben Is Back is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Newly released Blu-ray upgrades include 1996’s Before and After and the 1940 version of A Bill of Divorcement from Kino Lorber, and 1944’s Phantom Lady and 1964’s Psyche 59 from Arrow.
Barbet Schroeder’s Before and After is one of the lesser known films from the director of 1990’s Reversal of Fortune, but it finds him working with two of the most enduring stars of our time, Meryl Streep, between The Bridges of Madison County and Marvin’s Room, and Liam Neeson, between Rob Roy and Michael Collins. It is a modern morality tale in which the two stars play the well-meaning parents of a teenager (Edward Furlong) accused of murder, both of whom do stupid things on his behalf. Alfred Molina and John Heard co-star as the kid’s lawyers. It’s a suspenseful film worth seeing for the performances of the two stars.
John Farrow’s diffidently directed 1940 version of A Bill of Divorcement stars Maureen O’Hara, Adolphe Menjou, Fay Bainter, and Dame May Whitty in the roles previously played by Katharine Hepburn, John Barrymore, Billie Burke, and Elizabeth Patterson in George Cukor’s better-known 1932 version, recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The earlier version is the classic, this one, stolen by Whitty, is of interest primarily for film buffs.
One of the earliest of the classic films noir, Robert Siodmak’s Phantom Lady provides Ella Raines with the standout role of her career as a secretary who tries to find the woman who can prove that her boss (Alan Curtis) could not have murdered his wife before his date with the electric chair. Franchot Tone, Thomas Gomez, Fay Helm, and Elisha Cook, Jr. provide solid support. Extras include a 55-minute vintage documentary on film noir.
Psyche 59, from the late, longtime successful TV director Alexander Singer, was one of only three theatrical films directed by Singer in the 1960s, all of them flops. Worth seeing for Patricia Neal’s performance and Walter Lassally’s stunning black-and-white cinematography, this is the film Lassally made between Tom Jones and Zorba the Greek and Neal made just after receiving her Oscar for Hud. In it, she pays a woman with psychosomatic blindness, the cause of which is not revealed until the film’s conclusion, although you’d have to be blind yourself not to see what caused it. Curt Jurgens, Samantha Eggar, and Ian Bannen co-star. Extras include a newly filmed interview with Eggar.
One of the most entertaining of the modern British TV mystery series, New Zealand’s The Brokenwood Mysteries, has released the fifth in its series on both Blu-ray and standard DVD. As delightfully daft as ever, Neill Rea, Fern Sutherland, Nic Sampson, Cristina Serban Ionda, Pana Hema Taylor, Rawiri Jobe, and Karl Willets are all back as Mike, Kristin, Breen, Gina, Jared, Kahu, and Frodo, respectively. If you don’t know who they are, you should.
This week’s new releases include Green Book and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.