The Last Vermeer

I love history, it is where some of the most amazing stories get told and they are not fiction. While you always want to be careful about taking a feature film as authoritative on a subject, many of them do reflect events fairly accurately or at least convey the essence of that history. This is a story I’d not heard of, it is apparently largely true, and it worked twice as well for me because I have never encountered it before. This independent film was the only new film opening this last week and as soon as I saw who the star was, I was ready to commit. 

Set immediately at the conclusion of the war in Europe in 1945, Captain Joseph Pillar of the Canadian military,  who is a Dutch Jew, has returned home to locate art treasures plundered by the Nazi’s during the occupation. After discovering a Vermeer, in Goring’s personal collection, he attempts to track down how this piece of art ended up in the hands of Hitler’s second in command. The story appears at first to be a mystery about collaborators in Amsterdam,  who allowed these treasures to be taken in return for money and special treatment by the invaders. Pillar tracks this painting as a legitamate sale, through brokers and others in the Dutch art community.  Here he encounters Han van Meegeren, an unsuccessful artist who somehow seems to have thrived during the war. 

The interviews and cat and mouse games played out in the first third of the story suggest that the film is headed in a particular direction, but of course there is a turn that drives the rest of the story in a very different direction . Van Meergeren is played by Guy Pearce, an actor who has always been a favorite of mine. Han is a contradictory personality,  he faces execution for collaboration with the enemy, but seems to be a charming, slightly eccentric social climber, who was popular in the party circuit,  despite being perceived as a mediocre talent. Pearce plays him as aloof from the threat he faces and distracted as he tries to continue painting while incarcerated.  Pillar and his partner are befuddled a bit by this attitude and they delve deeper into the events that lead them to Han in the first place.

As I said, there is a twist that alters the relationship between Han Van Meergeren and Captain Pillar. When the film focuses on that relationship,  it usually works well. Unfortunately,  we get a back story about Pillar and his wife during the war, and there is a potential Romance between him and his art curator assistant Mina. The Captain is played by Danish actor Claes Bang, and he is sullen, guilt ridden and not really very interesting.  When the focus of his role changes, he doesn’t seem to be very motivated.  Maybe the first time director Dan Friedkin, didn’t see that his leading man was coming off like a stiff. It is additionally problematic because Pearce is infusing his character with a sly energy that firs the way the story ultimately plays out. 

There is a creepy side story about the Dutch government trying to punish the collaborators, and it is represented by two characters that add to some confusion at the end. There is an obstinate judge who seems uninterested in justice and more committed to the government’s narrative than he should be. Then there is the police detective who claims jurisdiction over the case and motivates the trial in the last third of the story. He comes across like the Dutch version of the Gestapo, rather than a dedicated civil servant. There is one more twist and I can’t say I quite understood what point was being made. I am also unclear as to how accurate it is to the real story. 

As I said at the start, what makes this film worth seeing is not necessarily the drama but rather the history.  Regardless of motivations,  Han Van Meergeren seems to have been a brilliant artist,  unappreciated for those talents but remembered for his cleverness.  The film has accomplished at least one objective,  I want to read the book this is based on and find out more about this less known aspect of WWII.

Freaky

This is a movie that I enjoyed but wanted to like more than I did. The premise is the main selling point and it is a great one. This is a mashup of body switch comedies like “Freaky Friday”  with a traditional slasher film like “Friday the 13th”.  Doesn’t that sound fun for horror fans? Then as an added twist the victim body is of the opposite gender, but not a cheerleader, rather it is a girl who is underappreciated and struggling with self esteem issues and grief. There is a pattern here if you look closely at the film’s pedigree. 

The writer/director of this film is Christopher Landon, who previously brought us “Happy Deathday” both 1 and 2. I was not a big fan of the first movie and never saw the second. The one thing that made “Happy Deathday” unique was the redemption arc of the lead character. “Freaky” tries to replicate that formula by making this a story of empowerment in two contradictory ways. First, the nebish girl gets a makeover when her body is occupied by the serial killer. Now I know that this is a fantasy comedy and we have to suspend a lot of disbelief in the first place, but the conundrum here is one of the writers own making. By taking shortcuts in the storytelling to hook us in, he sacrifices opportunities for humor and internal logic. The killer, known as the Blissfield Butcher, has been written as a mindless hulking transient with severe hygiene issues and maybe a drug problem. So how does it make sense that he would have a stronger fashion eye and makeup skills than the teen girl whose body he is occupying?  If the killer were more Hannibal Lector than Jason Voorhees,  this could work. The writer just wants us to go with it. The teen girl Millie, does get a little more sensible transition,  marveling in being able to urinate standing up and turning her nose up at the smell emminating from her new body. The second way the story plays up the female empowerment is by letting her revel in her newly aquired strength.  

Serial killer in the girls body, ends up taking revenge on the girls tormentors, with just the slightest amount of reason to limit it to those figures. If the story let it play out more this would be ok, as it is, it feels a bit rushed and coincidental.  Meanwhile, the parallel story of our hero trapped in the hulking body of the maniac does work itself out a little better with trying to connect with her friends at school to get some help. Finding yourself romantically and in your relationship with you mother is a little harder to believe. This is the personal growth story which is supposed to add some weight to the story. I think it clutters up the horror and only occasionally adds to the humor.

Vince Vaughn is the star of the film rightly so, because he has to personify a character. Unfortunately,  Kathryn Newton doesn’t get as much to do after the switch. She is believable in the pre switch section, but merely stares aggressively in the main part of the story, because the serial killer, while having a fashion sense, has no personality or character traits. 

OK, enough with the thoughtful insights, the movie does have two or three pretty gruesome murders to keep us engaged as horror fans. The Opening section that sets up the supernatural twist, has some graphic violence but also a touch of humor. The cocked head of the killer after pinning a victim to the wall is right out of “Halloween” and was subsequently used in some of the Friday the 13th films. Two effective murders are basically spoiled by the trailer, but the buzzsaw sequence still shocks because of It’s graphic depiction.  

There is a coda section that is meant to drive the female empowerment theme home at the end. It makes sense only because we know that the killer always has an extra scene in the conclusions of these sorts of films. It would mean more if the killer had motivations or some background character,  but all he has is the conventions of the genre. 

So my reaction is similar to the feelings I had about the earlier film, but where that story  made the redemption work a little,  it simply feels shoehorned into this film. The movie has enough going for it to make a trip to a theater, but it will quickly fade as other better executed horror/comedy mashups come along.

Evil Dead with Bruce Campbell

How can you beat a Halloween experience like this? We saw “The Evil Dead” and it was introduced by a conversation with Ash himself, Bruce Campbell. 
Having been a fan of Mr. Campbell I had a pretty good idea what to expect. I went to a screening of “Bubba-Ho-Tep” back in 2002 with my oldest daughter, and Bruce was there and he was hysterical. 18 years has not changed that. Bruce Campbell knows how to work the audience and make a story interesting to listen to. 
https://soundcloud.com/richard-kirkham-227409846/sets/bruce-talk
The above is a link to a few brief clips from his Conversation that day. 

The awesome Paramount Theater in Austin Texas. was our host for the day. If you look past me you will see Bruce in the Doorway posing for pictures with VIP Guests. 
Oh yeah, here are a couple of VIP Guests.

If you ever get a chance to hear Bruce in person, jump on it. Completely worth it. 

Honest Thief

Whatever you do, don’t watch the trailer that is posted above. This is one of those too numerous examples where the trailer is basically a condensed version of the film and it gives away plot points, action beats and storyline without regard to what you want to know going in. I was lucky, I’d never heard anything about the movie, I never saw a trailer, I only knew that Liam Neeson was in it and it fits the action genre that he has owned for the last decade. The truth is, you will know most of where the movie is going as the story unfolds, there really are no big surprises in the film, but why would you want every highlight to be foreshadowed by an image from the trailer? 


So, not having seen the preview, I am watching this and I know immediately who the “bad guys” are going to be. All you needed to do was see Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos sitting in their cubicle and you just know, these are going to turn out to be crooked cops (or FBI agents as it is). You also keep suspecting that Jeffery Donovan might be a bigger crook except they give him a dog that he actually takes care of. That would not be a scene in the movie if there was a turn for his character. I watched every season of “Burn Notice” and I was happy to see him in a movie, but he does have a somewhat dark persona. Two decades ago, instead of Jai Courtney as the obvious heavy, Robert Patrick would have fit the bill, but as time as marched on, he more naturally fits the senior agent with a case of cynicism and a short story arc. 


The whole point of these kinds of movies is to allow us to do some hero worshipping of Neeson, and watch him use his special skills to bring down the baddies. I think he still looks to be in good shape but it probably is a better idea to have him taking those guys out more with his wits than with his physical skills. The use of IEDs is more believable than a 70 something guy beating up a 30 something guy. Of course nothing in this movie is particularly believable. The premise is that this guy commits these crimes for no reason, never spends the money, and has principles that come back to haunt him only after he falls in love. That is a bit of a stretch. 


What is not a stretch is the chemistry between Liam Neeson and Kate Walsh. I don’t really know her as an actor although she seemed really familiar to me for some reason.  Although she has extensive credits, the thing that I recognized her from was a Cadillac commercial from twelve years ago. She has a great line in the ad, and the same personality was on display in this movie. She is mature enough to feel like a romantic partner for Neeson, and still be someone that can be changed by the experiences the character is going through. The cute meet was maybe the best written scene in the film, and I think they could pull off a romantic movie about adults if anyone is willing to see such a movie anymore. 

So this is a suspense thriller with a revenge plotline about a heist that doesn’t go according to plan. Does that sound like they mixed together enough genres to get your attention? For me it did not matter that it was derivative, soft edged in regard to the violence, and preposterous in concept. I went to this because it was a movie in theaters, not also streaming, just in theaters. It stars Liam Neeson who I love, and it was Sunday afternoon. There was popcorn and the world almost felt normal again. I want the theater experience to return, so I will be going as much as I can, and spending money at the concession stand so the Cinemas can remain open. If the movie is passable and stars someone I enjoy watching, so much the better.

#getyourassintoatheateryouwanks

Lawrence of Arabia (Austin)

As usual, when Lawrence of Arabia is playing on a Big Screen, I want to be there. This was my second visit to the Paramount Theater in Austin and we took a different approach this time. Choosing Orchestra seats, we watched the movie from an appropriate perspective and got to enjoy a different view of the theater. 

Again, it is a beautiful classic movie palace and I expect as the year ends, I will be joining the organization that maintains it. Memberships have privileges, but I do want to see that the programming is going to continue, even with the Covid restrictions. 

Having written about this film a number of times, it is challenging to find perspectives to focus on for each new post. However, in this weekend’s screening, I had two things jump out at me immediately.

Editors deserve a huge amount of credit for the movies they work on. There are many films that have been saved by an editor fixing things that the director was unable to take care of on set or location. Anne V. Coates was certainly deserving of accolades when she did this film, but it is clearly the vision of David Lean. Coates however realized that vision in numerous ways.

I did not take notes on all of the cuts and transitions but I noticed especially in the first third of the picture how jump cuts were used judiciously. The most famous being the jump from Lawrence blowing out the match to the rising sun over the desert. The camera work was smooth but it is enhanced by a timely use of swipes from below and the sides. It was also impeccably timed to synch with the fil’s action and music.

The other thing i was paying attention to during this screening was the willfulness of Lawrence himself. In the first half of the movie, the story revolves around the success that Lawrence wills himself to accomplish. The match trick is the perfect precursor to all of these points. As he tells his colleague who burns himself while trying to copy the action, “the trick is not minding that it hurts.” He chooses to forgo a drink when his guide  does not drink. He is unyielding in the first confrontation with Sherif Ali. The trip to Aqaba across the Nefud desert is a miracle that he chooses, and then he repeats it with the trip across the Sinai. 

He jokes at one point with General Murray that he is not insubordinate, but rather it is his manner that makes him seem so. That is a piece of circular reasoning being used to justify the fact that he is willful, even with those under whom he is supposed to be working. 

The events after the intermission, demonstrate that will alone cannot accomplish the things he wants. He uses the same fierce will power to lead the Arab Army, but with limited success in regard to their discipline.  The military success cannot be matched with political success. His will is broken at one point by his brutal encounter with the Turks, and the depraved General played by Jose Ferrer. He blames Allenby for returning him to the effort, but it is Lawrence’s will power that moves him to try to reach Damascus first. 

These were just a couple of new notes on the continuing love I have for this film. You can read more Here, and here, and here, and here, and here, oh and here

Bill & Ted Face the Music


So 29 years after our last dose of Bill and Ted, we get a sequel that is not needed for the story to feel complete, but feels like it is needed in these times. The world seems like it is a mess. Covid, violent protests, Political Division, and natural disasters galore. The whole planet could use a break and a movie like this fits the circumstances nicely. There is no agenda here, the closest the story comes to reflecting our times is the notion that reality as we know it is being threatened. Forget that silly coincidence and let the stupidity flow over you like a warm stream from a hot shower. The only way you will be changed by this is that you will have a slight smile on your face, and no memory of the world outside for 90 minutes. That is a reasonable respite for these times.


While Bill and Ted have aged physically in the story, their emotional growth is static. The two of them are joined at the hip, skimming through life, having missed the chance to turn their immense popularity at the end of the last film into something lasting. The problem may be expectations. Since they know that the future has been influenced by their work, they appear to have been chasing the dream of writing a song that will unify the world and bring balance. We all know how hard it is to fall asleep when we want to rather than when we need to. Nothing will keep you awake as much as thinking about how important it is for you to get to sleep. Well apply the same principle to just about anything else and it will be true there as well. In an effort to fulfill their potential, they have alienated their audience, isolated their life experience and generally grown less relevant. For the first twenty minutes of the movie, I felt that the characters and script were suffering from the same problem. The movie wants to be fun, but it takes a long time to set up the story, and by exaggerating some of the character traits by genetically passing them on, the screenwriters seem to be suffering from the same hubris. 


Once the set up is out of the way, the movie feels a lot more easy/breezy and the dofuss fun begins. Creatively, there is not much here. As in the first film, historical figures are being collected, but this time for a band rather than a history project. Also, as in the second film, we return to Hell and have to figure out how to escape the afterlife. The return of William Sadler as Death is the most welcome call back to the previous films. The storyline of estranged bandmates coming back together is one of the few organic elements of the film that fits. Some other side plots such as the counseling session with their wives, the two princesses rescued from the first  and second movies, may amuse but don’t connect well to the main story. If you thought Bill and Ted were deficient in IQ points back in 1989, it appears that there is no recessive gene, because the two daughters are even more vacuous. There were a few cute points about their similarities to the dads but combined with the story points, it does feel a bit like they are simply repeating themselves.


Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves don’t seem to have changed all that much. They are in on the joke and play it straight for us. Other returning characters seem to be there simply to show that the world we are seeing is an outgrowth of the previous films. Ted’s Dad, the boy’s Step Mother Missy, and the Joanna and Elizabeth, the wives/princesses, don’t do much for the story except provide continuity. I can’t decide if Dennis Caleb McCoy, the robot sent to kill Bill and Ted is more amusing or irritating. I think I got just enough laughs out of him to tip the balance slightly in his favor. I can tell you however, that as a

long time SoCal resident, San Dimas never appears as itself in this movie. There was one static shot in the credits of the real San Dimas High School, but all other physical similarities are non-existent.
The other thing that is missing from the movie is a song track that would be worth playing back. I did not notice any killer songs being used as background music, and the stuff that was supposed to be original, entirely lacked a hook. So how is it that after these criticisms, I can still say the movie was fun, thats simple. It is stupid and relishes it’s stupidity. I have no idea who Kid Cudi is, but I know that when he is given the exposition that is supposed to explain the physics of the plot line, it is supposed to be ironic. It was, because it is scientific mumbo jumbo spewed forth by a peripheral character, at an opportune moment, and we are just expected to let it go. I could do that, and did so with a number of other things in the film, because the two slackers and their cohort were making me smile and forget about the really dumb stuff happening in the world these days.    

JAWS 2020

Because of Covid, I did not get to do a trip to see Jaws on the big screen this last July 4th. That’s right, we literally had “panic on the 4th of July.” Thanks Mayor Vaughn for that prescient moment. I did watch the new 4K version at home on that holiday, but this site caters to theatrical presentations for the most part, so I did not feel there was anything worthy to say at that time. Since then, I have relocated to Texas, just outside of Austin, and I am trying to find my feet in this new cinema community. It looks as if there will be many chances to see older films in a theater at a local hot spot for those activities, the Paramount in downtown Austin.

They were closed over the summer but recently re-opened and there is a series of popular classics scheduled for the next month or so, including this greatest adventure film of all time. The theater is an old style movie palace that has a mezzanine section and a balcony above the main orchestra level of the theater. We chose seats up here so we could get a better look at the walls, ceiling and boxes of the theater.

There are some intricate moldings around the proscenium, and the elaborate decor on the opera style boxes is lovely. Although modern theaters are comfortable with stadium seating and wider aisles, the presence of old style showmanship in these classic buildings makes a visit to see a movie special.

As usual, the “Quint” essential film of the 1970s played like gangbusters. The audience was not huge, probably because capacity is limited under the current times and people are required to wear masks. I did hear the four ladies behind us a few rows, laughing after gasping, which many people do to alleviate their anxiety. So it was clear the movie has lost none of it’s impact. The sudden arrival of Ben Gardner continues to cause people to jump, even when they know it is coming. 

That is Amanda in the background, taking in the theater and taking a picture of the ceiling. I would not be surprised to find some of those on social media if you go looking in the right places. Anyway, popcorn was had, sodas were consumed and Hooper and Brody [spoiler alert] manage to make it back to the shore at the end of the film. In all, it was a successful Sunday afternoon that I hope to repeat frequently in my new hometown.

That should not be hard considering what is coming up in another couple of weeks.  Somebody out there likes me. 

Tenet

This was probably the most anticipated film of the summer for a lot of people. Because of the Pandemic shutdowns, it got pushed back three times before finally making it to theaters this week. Bu all means, see this movie if you are interested, in a theater. The scope, photography and action sequences will be diminished if you choose to see this on a tablet, TV screen or heaven forbid, on a phone.

I want to start with a message that is also a warning. If, during the course of this Two and a half hour film, you need to visit the restroom or concession stand, and you are worried you will miss something that clarifies the story or advances the plot in the time you are gone, go ahead and go. Nothing explained in any five minute sequence during the film, will help you keep track of what the hell is going on in this movie. “Inception”, “Memento” and “Interstellar” all play with time and parallel events. If you ever had trouble following those concepts, which are reasonably well explained although still confusing at times, get ready to feel completely lost. For the first hour, things made sense and you could follow the logic of the world Christopher Nolan has created here. The premise is interesting and it contains the usual conundrums that time travel stories face. The problem is that about a third of the way into the film, two or three additional plot elements are introduced, each one with different time influences , and they all start influencing each other. Sometimes those effects are so complicated that a map would not help you. Events start moving faster and trying to keep up will be a waste of time if you are also trying to enjoy the movie.

There is nothing inherently wrong  in having a complicated plot, if at some point you can make sense of how it all comes together, “Tenet” attempts that but largely fails to be coherent, even though several of the twists involve tricks you have seen a hundred times before in a time travel story. Ultimately, I think you can view this film as one loop in an event that has a limitless number of possible variations. Doing that will not make the story more satisfying however. I would have to see the movie several more times to pick out the inconsistencies and  conundrums that pop up, but to be honest, Nolan himself doesn’t seem to care about them. He even has one of the characters say as much, fairly early in the film. Stop trying to make sense, let’s just let this wash over us. I can live with that, but it will leave Tenet as an exercise in style and film making, rather than a piece of cinematic art. 

With a pre-title sequence that feels a lot like a Bond film, Nolan sets this up as an espionage story, that potentially would be confusing the way some double and triple cross stories can be, but it would still be grounded. As the science fiction element takes center stage, the tradition spy tropes get doubled back on with a wink and a nod to time travel twists we have seen before. I won’t spoil it for you, but during a heist scene, one character confronts another and we don’t see the second characters face in that sequence. You know that will play out again, and there will be a reveal.,,guess what’s coming.

John David Washington has just enough charisma to play the low key “Protagonist” of the story. The scene that shows off the potential of what might have been a solid spy film, involves his lunch with Michael Caine. It is not his fighting skill, or dramatic intensity that makes the scene work, rather, it is his bemused self confidence in the face of being judged by others. One place I don’t think he was quite successful at was the near romantic element of his relationship with the character played by actress Elizabeth Debicki. I can buy that he feels a sense of responsibility for her in a paternalistic way, but the embers of romance that are supposed to be the base of this are not there.  He can sell that he cares, what is not clear is why he cares.

We get a pretty good preview of what the next Batman movie will be like because Robert Pattinson, plays a much more active Felix Leiter to Washington’s 007. I suspect, that as in most of the good Batman films, the quirky Bruce Wayne will not take a back seat to the brooding “Dark Knight”. Pattinson plays Neil, the mysterious counterpart to the Protagonist, and he has a light touch with the humor and enough presenter to sell the physicality. 

You ready for a surprise? The actor who steals the movie is Kenneth Branagh. Taking the start he made on a similar character in the Jack Ryan film from a few years ago, Branagh manages to make a cartoon villain feel dangerously real. A kingpin of a Russian oligarch, it would be easy to just say the lines and have threats come off as empty bravado. Nolan gives Branagh actions to play that show us his ruthlessness, the actor adds a sense of menace to those lines, but never with the charm of a fictional character. Instead, the deadly earnestness of his performance is disturbingly real. The tiniest touch of humanity right at the end of the film paints just enough of a persona to make the character evn more real, and loathsome. 

Filmed in some of the most beautiful locales in the world, it would be hard to fault the look of the picture. The movie is not overcut in the action scenes, but the parallel time tracks and reverse structure do require some frequent cuts in perspective that can get a bit confusing at times. The backward car chase sequence looks great, but when it is followed up on, instead of being clearer, it leads us to start questioning what we really saw before, but not in the good way that it is supposed to work. 

At two and a half hours, despite a solid pace, the film feels long. Probably because of the plot conceit concerning inverted time elements. I loved “Memento” but it was less than two hours and the same kind of thing happens there. Adding another forty minutes to it would do to it what happens with “Tenet”, it makes you look at your watch and wonder how much longer it is going to go on.  Maybe when it is serialized as a four hour mini-series, it will work better. 

Christopher Nolan has one of the greatest imaginations in the film industry. There are terrific concepts in most of the movies he has made. There are simply too many times that we ravel on a tangent that takes up a chunk of time but might have been replaced with something simpler as just as easy to admire. The stacking Russian Doll story structure worked well in “Dunkirk”, it was clever in “Inception”, but it is simply overdoing it in this movie. 

I probably sound like I am down on the film, I’m not really. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Pattinson and Washington invading a penthouse in India, or doing a heist at an airport freeport, were well staged action scenes. The inverted battle at the climax of the movie was spectacular to look at but mostly incomprehensible. The inverted stories are fine but when you start to retcon your own movie to change the outcomes, you create dilemmas that Solomon could not work out and algorithms that might give Einstein fits. See the movie, go with what is happening on the screen at any point and don’t try to make it make sense. That extra brainwork will distract from the moment, and it is the moments that make this movie worth seeing, not the plot.  

The Personal History of David Copperfield

We have had plenty of Jane Austin inspired films in the last few years, including a charming version of “Emma” earlier this year. It’s time for a change up, but not too big a change, so we will stick to 19th century English writes, but change genders, decades and primary locations. Who is in the mood for some Charles Dickens? 

I’d not seen the trailer for this film before we went to the movies, in fact, I don’t even think I’d heard of it, but it was the weekend, theaters are opening up, and this was not “The New Mutants” so it became the designated choice for Saturday afternoon. From the start, you can tell this will be an interesting approach to telling the well worn story of David Copperfield. The opening of the film is set up like it was a lecture hall, and the audience was certainly more diverse than you would have seen in 1840’s London. That is one of the winning choices of the film makers. Casting was dictated not by historical accuracy or by Dickens’s description per se, but by the ability of actors to be charming in the roles that they are cast in. Our hero is portrayed as an adult by Dev Patel, not a traditional Englishmen of the stage. He is delightful in the role, and I have been a fan since “Slumdog Millionaire”.  He has an earnestness that matches well with the Dickensian moods of our hero. I assume that the young Ranveer Jaiswal  was chosen to play the young David Copperfield because he matched up with Patel in many ways, but the way that is most important is demeanor rather than appearance and that worked here. 

Director/writer Armando Iannucci is familiar to me because of two films, “In the Loop” which was a MOTM on the LAMB three years ago, and “The Death of Stalin” which was widely hailed and recommended to me. Both films were solid comedies with a bent to them that is very distinctive, and that sensibility is also found in this movie, at least in a few spots. I had some reservations because the framing device and transition to the traditional narration felt a bit frantic and unclear at the beginning. It was as if the director was struggling to signal that this is a comedy, while still trying to retain the elements of Copperfield that are not really funny. The whole thing settles down after about ten minutes and the more straightforward narrative takes over. There are still plenty of the odd moments and stylings that Iannucci is well known for, but it fills the story rather than driving it as we go along.

I recognized Peter Capaldi, not from Dr. Who, which I don’t watch, but from “In the Loop” and the “Paddington” films. I thought he was a perfect Mr. Micawber, and every time he showed up the movie was funny again. Hugh Laurie, who plays Mr. Dick, was also a comforting comical presence. Both of these actors are capable of playing off absurd circumstances yet still pulling some poignant moments amid the craziness. My guess is that most of the cast will be far more recognizable to Brits than we colonists, because they all seem very good, so they probably work in television programming or theater that is more U.K. centered.  

The casting of romantic counterparts in the film might be a little precocious since the point seemed to be to emphasize the lack of ethnocentricity,  The actors are so good however, that what might have been seen as an affectation, turns out to be barely noticeable. Rosalind Eleazar as Agnes, a love interest for Patel, and the daughter of Benedict Wong’s Mr. Wickfield, crossed two ethic boundaries at once and we don’t care at all. This is the sort of casting I think would address the desire for diversity without drawing attention to the fact that you are trying to do that. 

For a complicated story, the film is paced pretty well. I do think that the opening section with the awful Mr. Murdstone needed to fleshed out a bit more, but perhaps the youthful Copperfield isn’t where the writer found the most joy in the story. If you are able to see the film, by all means do so. I think it would be easy to peg the costumes for awards consideration at the end of the year. The clothes help make the characters easy to understand and entertaining simultaneously. Copperfield has some tragic moments but this production does not dwell on them, it acknowledges those points but move quickly to it’s objective, which is to amuse us. The return of the bookend devices toward the end of the film are much less jarring than at the start of the story and they finish things off nicely.