Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tipping the Velvet

By Moira Sullivan

The most enchanting story of a young woman growing up in England and searching for her identity is the foundation for Tipping the Velvet. Based on a novel by Sarah Waters,  chosen by the New York Times as the best novel of 1998. Making this three part story telecast for the BBC in 2002 was not without problems for some of the scenes are sexually explicit, including the implications of the title itself.  Geoffrey Sax is the director of this straightforward television drama, but the story is done in a captivating way.  Rachel Stirling is Nan Astley, a young woman who falls in love with a male performance artist, Miss Kitty Butler (Keeley Hawes) who is the most exciting woman she has ever known. She eventually tours with Butler  as her sidekick, and unbeknownst to her at the time, their performances had a large fan base among London lesbians. Waters takes liberty with the historical period of the Victorian Era and surmises that there could have well been an underground lesbian community.  Alas Butler disappoints her and Nan in the second part of the narrative becomes the sexual slave of dominatrix Diana Letheby (Anna Chancellor). She is rescued by her from being sodomized just in time after dressing up as a man and performing sexual favors for men for pay. In exchange for this she becomes Diana's pet and captures the awe and envy of her predatory and game playing lesbians friends. When things don’t work out, Nan is really down on her luck but remembers the kindness of her neighbor Florence Banner (Jodhi May), a socialist activist She looks her up and slowly the two woman enter into a mature and loving relationship.
Rachel Stirling is the daughter of Diana Rigg and while their appearances are quite different even the young Diana, Stirling has the same brilliant diction as her mother, every line delivered with force and clarity. At the time of this production Stirling was 28 and she clearly carries the story skillfully. An avowed heterosexual she said she had no problem playing Nan and wanted her performance to be as realistic as possible.  It is thoroughly entertaining to watch the fascination the audience has for women as male performance artists, which at the time was one of the few ways they could feel free and independent. Rachel Stirling has not had a central role in a film since Tipping the Velvet, which is unfortunate as she is such a fine actress. But like her mother she has done considerable work on the stage for productions such as The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night‘s Dream and A Woman of No Importance. At any rate Tipping the Velvet is a pearl of a made for TV film, and engaging from beginning to end.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan

© 2010 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 08/18/10
Movie Magazine International

Life During Wartime

By Moira Sullivan
 
Todd Solondz’ sequel to Happiness called Life During Wartime premiered last year at the Venice Film Festival and took home the best screenplay award. Solondz who serves as both screenwriter and director for his new film is a favorite at this festival, and four years ago he brought Palindrome together with actress Ellen Barkin. In that film several actors play the same character and in Life During Wartime, other actors than the original ones in Happiness play the main roles. The plot follows the lives of the three Jordan sisters, Trish Allison Janney, Joy Shirley Henderson, and Helen played by Alley Sheedy. The scene is Miami Florida and it's pro Israel Jewish community.

Trish raises her children alone and is on antidepressants. Her husband Bill played by CiarĂ¡n Hinds, was arrested for child molestation but is now out of jail.  She begins dating Harvey (Michael Lerner) and tries to start anew. Her son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder), the poster boy of the film, is a precocious and daring 12 year old about to become a man and do his Bar Mitzvah.  Trish told him that his father had died rather than the truth that he went off to jail and he is devastated. But he also accuses Harvey of being a pedophile though he later apologizes for being mistaken. Trish is not so understanding: once a perv, always a perv.  Bill has a one-night stand with Jacqueline superbly played by Charlotte Rampling and it is assumed that he later commits suicide.
Joy takes a leave from her husband who is an ex con in order to visit Trish and Helen but while she is gone he kills himself as did her other boyfriend Allen played by Paul Reubens. And Helen, a successful TV writer with a slew of award trophies decides to inform her about how her life doesn’t seem to be working.  Though she herself seems shut off and alone in her huge house despite all of her accomplishments.
The power of this film is twofold: there is an exceptional screenplay with masterly dialogue and the delivery of  them by a fine ensemble of actors.  The dark themes that Solondz explores such as pedophilia, suicide and prescription drug abuse may be disturbing to audiences but he says that these things are in the news everyday.  It is hard to single out any of the three sisters for their acting acumen since all are positively enchanting and skillful.  Their neurotic natures may vary, Trish being more happy go lucky yet vindictive at the same time, Joy carefree yet attracting men with death wishes and Helen who can not commit to a single thought about her true feelings.  The musings of the characters is humorous but also disturbing. No one should have to live with such entrenched grief disguised as contentment or compensated through excessive work. All too often the men seem to check out with suicide.
The title of the film is both a metaphor for the war of the emotions and life during todays long standing Palestinian Israeli conflict, which is a war that has engulfed the world for decades. Underneath this are the atrocities the Jews have suffered in history. But as Harvey’s son explains, "In the end China will take over and none of this will matter".

Here now is Todd Solondz in an exclusive interview with Movie Magazine here in San Francisco.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan

© 2010 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 08/04/10
Movie Magazine International

SALT is Angelina Jolie

By Moira Sullivan

Angelina Jolie is Evelyn SALT - a CIA agent with a Russian past. The opening minutes pull us into a scene with a Russian defector who Salt speaks to in an interrogation room. Suddenly a plan to kill the Russian president is on board and Salt is implicated by the defector as a double agent just before he leaves the building. Here’s where the action begins. None other than a James Bond spider woman, Angelina Jolie jumps out of buildings, on to moving trucks, strong arms agents like they were silly putty and wrenches a motorcycle from a driver when the freeway jams. Unlike James Bond, Jolie has a husband and his safety is her MO. Here’s why James Bond never marries, pretty much through all of the film, her husband is her main concern, and why she needs to stay on the run. But at least she gets to be spider woman. Her husband is a German anachronologist that somehow sprung her from North Korea military for being a spy and afterwards she continues her domesticated life until fate has its way. After her escape from the CIA Building San Francisco native Liev Schreiber as Ted Winter
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peabody seem to always be cutting her slack, and are never quite convinced that she is a double agent.  Director Philip Noyce succeeds in providing the backdrop to this action thriller and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer has written some believable dialogue. Watching Jolie escape the bad guys which are both American and Russian is an exhilarating roller coaster ride, and her bag of tricks includes knowing something about spiders, being a master of disguise, and being able to get herself out of the most amazing situations with the acumen of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Alas we are back again to the days where the Russians and Americans are trigger happy and the Presidents are ready to push the panic button and launch nuclear weapons. All the usual cold war suspects are on hand, including a league of young children raised by Russian agents and stationed in America to seek retaliation. Is SALT one of them?  Nothing is predictable in this film, which is bound to have sequels, and that is great for Jolie.  
Some questions come to mind -- why are the parameters pushed back to the post second world war political climate. And what is it with this German anachronologist? Will we get to know more about how are spiders will be used in warfare? Phillip Noyce after all did to a series of films on where Harrison Ford played US Naval Academy and PhD Jack Ryan until he was too old, followed by Ben Affleck. Well Angelina Jolie who has partnered with Noyce for The Bone Collector has more than a few years left to play a swashbuckling pulverizing secret agent.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan


© 2010 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 07/28/10
Movie Magazine International