Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread

Paul Thomas Anderson (2017)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest offering, Phantom Thread, seems at first to be a strange choice for a Best Picture nominee. Though critics have been effusive about the film, actual audiences have been less than thrilled. With a 69 percent audience-approval rating on Rottentomatoes.com (in contrast with a 91 percent critics rating), this film has the lowest audience approval score of all the nine films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar—and that rating is from people who went to the film knowing something about it and expecting to like it. One wonders, for instance, why Phantom Thread received the nod over, say, I, Tonya, or (from much earlier in the year) The Big Sick, both of which were well reviewed but also very popular with audiences.

Perhaps to some extent the Best Picture nomination was the result of looking at the film as the sum of its parts, since it was also nominated for five more Academy Awards. One of these, for Costume Design, it probably has a lock on winning. It’s a film about fashion design, and therefore is full of luxurious and colorful haute couture. If Mark Bridges wins this Oscar, it will be well deserved. Also nominated is Jonny Greenwood for his original score. Greenwood, who rose to prominence as guitarist for Radiohead, first worked with Anderson on his film There Will Be Blood in 2007, and has scored every Anderson film since. He mixes classical pieces with compositions of his own in the score to create an effective and haunting musical background for the film’s action. Such as it is.

Sorry, I don’t mean to be snide, but I did find the film quite slow moving and, frankly, pretty dull. Which may have something to do with the lower audience approval rating for the film. Film audiences like to see a story that moves along. Film critics are fascinated by visuals, and often think of plot and character as something secondary. It’s not such a mystery, then, that critics would love this film, which is gorgeous to look at, and ignore the parts that put me to sleep (I admit I’m old and go to sleep pretty easily). The Academy seemed to feel the same as the critics, rather than the audiences, and also nominated Anderson for a Best Director Oscar, while we moviegoers might be scratching our collective heads over a category that would nominate Anderson for this film, yet fail to nominate Martin McDonagh for the brilliant (and never dull) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot, There Wil Be Blood, Lincoln) is nominated for another for his role as Reynolds Woodcock, a fashion designer for the rich and famous in 1950s London. By reputation as fastidiously devoted to his art as the character he is playing, Day-Lewis has proclaimed that this is his final role before retirement, having opted to partner once more with his director from There Will Be Blood. Woodcock, who might more accurately be named Peacock, is a spoiled, narcissistic, artistic “genius” whose world revolves around his entitled self and who expects it to remain that way. A confirmed bachelor, he spends his opening scene in the film berating his latest romantic interest for daring to bring sticky buns to the breakfast table and insisting quietly but petulantly that he “cannot have conflict” at breakfast. Having completely alienated the audience with barely three lines of dialogue, he assents to his sister Cyril’s offer to send the woman packing.

Cyril, played with perfectly restrained imperiousness by Lesley Manville (Another Year, Mum) is Reynold’s business partner and the person who actually seems to insulate him from the real world and the consequences of his self-centered, antisocial, insensitive and sometimes downright cruel behavior, and though she appears in the beginning to be just another person he runs roughshod over, we realize as the film progresses that she is in fact the dominant person in the relationship, and the only one that Reynolds cannot bully, and who can tell him to shut up in a way that he will actually listen to. Manville, too, has been nominated for an Academy Award for her skillfully underplayed portrayal of the power behind the throne.

Strangely, the actor who in many ways dominates the movie (but whom the Academy did not see fit to nominate) is Luxembourgian actress Vicky Krieps (The Colony, Hanna) who plays Alma, Reynolds’ new romantic interest, model and muse, and without whom, seriously, nothing in this movie would happen. Reynolds meets her in another breakfast scene: After he has left the mansion that doubles as his studio for one of the few times in the film, he stops at a seaside resort where Alma is the shy, rustic waitress who is fascinated and charmed by the (significantly) older man’s flirtatious breakfast order, which consists of tea, bacon, scones, Welsh rarebit, butter, jam, and oh yeah, a few sausages as an afterthought. Before long Alma has become his muse and model and new live-in lover.

Cyril assumes at first that Alma will be just like all the rest: a temporary port in the storm of Reynolds’ egomania. But he surprises her, and everyone else, when he in fact finally decides to marry the new girl. But Reynolds’ relationship with her is basic narcissist behavior: He showers her with apparently loving attention in the beginning of the relationship, only to withdraw that approval and consistently find fault with her tastes, her looks, her cooking, her behavior and everything else once he essentially has her in his clutches.

The twist in the film comes when we realize that Alma is not the naïve innocent she has appeared to be, and as events take a surprising turn or two, the mansion turns into a psychological battleground of sado-masochism that we didn’t really see coming.

The film had opened with a close-up of Alma, discussing her relationship with Reynolds. We think she’s talking directly to us at first, until the camera pans back and reveals a man who has, presumably, been questioning her. It is not until much later that se realize the man is a doctor. What she is saying to him, and us, is that Reynolds has made her dreams come true, and, she claims, “I’ve given him what he desires.” It’s not until he end of the film that we realize in full exactly what this means.

Despite skilled performances by all three principles, the lush costumes and moving score, this really doesn’t add up to a great film. For my own taste, I didn’t even find it a very good film. It wasn’t just that I found the film soporific, or that there’s virtually no plot as I’ve already mentioned, or that I didn’t find the characters at all likeable (though I didn’t). It’s also that I didn’t find anything in the film that explained why the characters were the way they were. There is a strange obsession that Reynolds has with his dead mother, which may explain his devotion to his sister and his desire perhaps for a dominating mother figure. This might explain his childishness, but not so much his cruel narcissism. As for Alma, she is a complete cypher. How did this young woman with the Luxembourgian accent find her way to rural Britain in the 1950s? What is it she wants out of this relationship? We know absolutely nothing about her background or her motivations. Perhaps this is deliberate, to make her turn in the end more of a surprise, but it certainly doesn’t make her more sympathetic.

I’m going to give this one two Jacqueline Susanns and half a Tennyson. You might like it if you’re not too much into plot, character, or pace. I wasn’t so keen.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

I, Tonya

I, Tonya

Craig Gillespie (2017)

Three Tennysons/Half Shakespeare

Just in time for the winter Olympics, Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) revisits the big story of the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer: the worldwide scandal featuring American figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. If you were alive and in any sense conscious in 1994, you will remember how Harding was implicated in a crude attack on Kerrigan that broke her kneecap at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships seven weeks before the Olympics and became, by virtue of that incident, the best-known and most hated woman on the planet.

The timing is also fortuitous in another way: During this Oscar season, I, Tonya is being shown in theaters (not many, as it turns out, in central Arkansas—you can only see this at Breckinridge) at the same time as another highly publicized film, The Post, which revisits another significant moment in recent history, the publication of the Pentagon Papers. Whereas The Post demonstrates the best that journalism can accomplish—the necessary role of a free press in keeping the government accountable to the people, I, Tonya portrays the opposite—the pressure of the 24-hour news cycle, just coming into its own in 1994, to over-report and oversimplify stories, to craft them into the kind of hero-villain fictions that entertain audiences, and thereby to irresponsibly try cases in the media.

Certainly Harding was no saint and the film does nothing to imply that that is the case. But in its complex depiction of the actual human being (from several points of view), and in the vigorous, athletic, and brash portrayal of her by Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street), we are introduced to a Harding that gains our grudging sympathy even as her life appalls and horrifies us.

This is more or less a biopic, though it is occasionally fictionalized, and it is structured around documentary style interviews (recreated from the ESPN documentary The Price of Gold from 2014, as well as some more recent interviews conducted with the principals by screenwriter Steven Rogers). The story is told by Harding, her vile, bullying and outspoken foul-mouthed mother (played with delicious obnoxiousness by Allison Janney), her dim-witted and abusive ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan of Logan Lucky and the Captain America movies), and her deluded, self-aggrandizing bungler of a bodyguard, Gillooly’s friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser of TV’s Kingdom), and thus it follows a nonlinear narrative that is only generally chronological. The characters comment on the action as we witness it, through interviews, voiceover, and occasionally through the breaking of the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience, as when Harding, chasing Gillooly out of the house with a shotgun, turns to the camera and says, “I never did this.” The multiple perspectives combine with the occasional fictional elements to create a story that makes it difficult to know precisely what actually happened. What we can be fairly certain of, however, is that, surrounded by knaves and fools as she was her entire life, it would have been a miracle if Harding’s life had not turned out to be a disaster.

The story begins in Tonya’s childhood, when her mother, chain-smoking at an ice rink, effectively forces Tonya’s first coach, Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson of TV’s The Red Road and Masters of Sex) to take the 3-year-old into her figure skating class. We witness the young Tonya, abandoned by her father and consistently abused both physically and emotionally by her mother—who refuses to allow her daughter to take a bathroom break from skating practice, forcing her to urinate on the ice, ultimately leave school at 15 to devote herself full-time to skating. She predictably leaves home to be with Gillooly, the first male to pay any attention to her, only, inevitably, to suffer more physical abuse from him.

Embattled at home, we see Harding at the same time fighting a disgusting form of class discrimination on the ice. The insidious snobbery becomes clear as we see Harding on the sidelines fuming at her scores, then charging the judges’ table demanding to know why, when she had clearly demonstrated an athleticism superior to the other skaters, the judges failed to give her the marks she was sure she deserved. When the female judge tells her condescendingly that there were flaws in her “presentation”—the go-to excuse in a totally subjective sport for a judge to give any sort of score in a whim—Harding tells her in a rage to “suck my dick” (something that actually did not happen, though the rumor is that when Harding saw the film herself, she said she wished she had said it). In a later scene, a somewhat more in-control Harding accosts a male judge in a parking lot after a competition and asks why she cannot get a fair score, he honestly tells her that, with her homemade costumes and her working-class background and tumultuous family life, she simply does not project the image of the idealized princess that the world of figure skating wants to embrace for the Olympic games: “You’re representing America, for Christ’s sake.” There is a heart-rending simplicity in Tonya’s response: “But why can’t it just be about the skating?”

The answer, of course, as the film makes clear, is that it was never just about the skating. If it were, Harding would have been far more respected than she was. The reason for this is her unprecedented performance in the 1991 Skate America competition. To understand this, you have to understand some of the technicalities of figure skating. First, the “axel” jump (named after the Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen, who was the first to perform the jump in 1882) is a jump that required a forward takeoff with an extra half a rotation, performed by a skater who takes off from the left forward outside edge and lands on the right back outside edge after a rotation. A double axel (not performed in competition until 1948) required two and a half rotations before landing, and a triple axel three and a half. Before 1991, no American woman had ever performed a triple axel in competition, and Tonya Harding did it twice during that 1991 Skate America. Only eight women in history have ever performed this jump in competition, and until 2017 Harding had remained the only American woman ever to do it. When this triumphant moment occurs during the film, Robbie-as-Tonya during the faux interview tears up, and says “nobody ever asks me about that anymore.”

When the film does get to this point it sets the stage for what everyone involved refers to as “the incident.” Harding is put on a collision course with her chief competitor in American women’s skating, Nancy Kerrigan, the embodiment of wholesome and privileged social in-group the judges are looking for to represent America. As competition becomes keener, Harding receives a death threat (yes, this is one of the verifiably true parts of the plot), and in retaliation, Gillooly decides they should send a similar threat to Kerrigan, which a distracted Harding apparently consents to, and Gillooly makes the monumental mistake of turning the project over to the inept and delusional Eckhardt What begins as a kind of retaliatory prank turns into a “hit,” for which Eckhardt hires two comically bungling thugs who manage to cripple Kerrigan with a retractable police baton, breaking her kneecap after a practice session in Detroit.

What follows most of you will remember, but I won’t talk about it in case some of it falls into the “spoiler” category. But the media explosion is well documented, as tabloids and new “news” channels leaped on the story, since it gave them the sympathetic princess in Kerrigan and the obviously guilty white-trash villain in Harding, who goes, as she says, from being the most admired woman in America to being the most hated, to ultimately being a punch line—an arc punctuated in the film by David Letterman’s “Top 10 Things Tonya Harding said to Connie Chung…” that plays in the background as Tonya eats a TV dinner alone. The ultimate question of Tonya’s guilt is never absolutely clear, since we can’t necessarily believe what she says—or, for that matter, what anybody in the film says. This is a darkly comic movie in which the characters are so bizarre they cross over into comedy, but it’s a laughter in the face of darkness, since it distances us from child abuse, spousal abuse, class bias, and criminal assault. Perhaps that distance allows us to see things more clearly.

The film contains memorable performance by Robbie and Janney, both of whom are deserving of their Oscar nominations announced last week. Janney already has a Golden Globe for her work. These portrayals of mother and daughter, and the effective retelling of a story we only thought we knew, are enough to make this film one of the year’s must-see pictures. Three Tennysons and half a Shakespeare for this one.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Hostiles

Hostiles

Scott Cooper (2017)

[av_image src=’http://jayruud.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Tennyson-180×180.jpg’ attachment=’77’ attachment_size=’square’ align=’left’ animation=’left-to-right’ link=” target=” styling=” caption=’yes’ font_size=” appearance=’on-hov

Hostiles, the new western directed and co-written by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Black Mass), begins with a stark quotation from D.H. Lawrence: “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” While this does seem to sum up a good deal of the movie, and is a pretty good thumbnail sketch of Christian Bale’s character in the film, I can think of another quotation, this one by Native American writer Sherman Alexie, that might be said to encapsulate the theme of the story: “I used to think the world was broken down by tribes….By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.” It takes Bale’s character the whole film, pretty much, to come to this place, but he does. The thing is, there’s a lot more humor in Alexie’s one sentence than there is in the entire grim 135 minutes of Cooper’s film.

Seriously, and I mean very seriously, Cooper is trying to create a classic epic western in the style of John Ford, but in the revisionist manner of more recent classics like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Cooper pays direct tribute to Ford by referencing the famous doorway shot that ends the classic 1956 film The Searchers, and indirect homage to Unforgiven in making a film in which, as Eastwood says in Unforgiven, “We all got it coming kid.” Bale’s character, Captain Joseph J. Blocker, is a compilation of Eastwood’s William Munny—an aging killer unsuccessfully seeking to leave violence behind—and John Wayne’s monomaniacal Indian-hating Searcher Ethan Edwards in Ford’s film.

The film opens with a horrific scene of violence as a band of Comanche marauders descend upon a family of homesteaders, mercilessly slaughtering the husband, two young daughters and a baby in his mother’s arms, while the mother Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike of Gone, Girl), still carrying her dead child, manages to elude the raiders and save her life. Such a scene does not elicit sympathy for the plight of Native Americans. The scene cuts to another native man, this one an Apache, being kicked around and tormented by a group of U.S. cavalry, finally being dragged behind a horse while his wife and child look on in terror, and while a mounted Captain Blocker, in command of the troops, looks on stolidly without expression. The Apaches’ crime was escaping from Fort Derringer, New Mexico, in which they have been imprisoned, and Blocker is intent on dragging them back to their confinement. We have just witnessed life on the western frontier of America as Cooper’s film depicts it: a world of violence and enmity.

Blocker, a veteran of a quarter century in this world, a quarter of a century of warfare against Native Americans, bears a hardened hatred of America’s indigenous people it has been his job to dispossess and control for his entire adult life. He has seen atrocities committed by his enemies, and he has taken part in slaughter of his own—at one point one of his old comrades declares Blocker has “taken more scalps than Sitting Bull himself.” And as the film opens, he is about to retire, to enter civilian life. Imagine his surprise, and chagrin, when as his last official assignment as a cavalry officer he is ordered to escort his fiercest enemy, the Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi of Dances with Wolves and Geronimo) and his family from their imprisonment in New Mexico back to their Montana birthplace. Now dying of cancer after years of imprisonment, Yellow Hawk wants to die in his own homeland, and President Harrison has ordered that he be allowed to do so. Blocker wants nothing to do with the assignment, but, threatened with losing his pension, he finally, but resentfully, agrees.

He starts out with a company consisting of a brand new lieutenant named Kidder (Jesse Plemons, also currently in The Post), a master sergeant named Metz (Rory Cochrane, who was also in Cooper’s Black Mass) who has been with Blocker for some twenty years, an African-American corporal named Woodson (Jonathan Majors, from the TV miniseries When We Rise) who in some ways is Blocker’s conscience, and an immigrant Private Philippe DeJardin (Timothée Chalamet, currently also appearing in Call Me by Your Name and Lady Bird). With Yellow Hawk are his son Black Hawk (Adam Beach, who starred with Studi in the TV production of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee) and Black Hawk’s wife Elk Woman (Q’orianka Kilcher, who worked with Bale in The New World) and their young son Little Bear (Xavier Horsechief), as well as the chief’s daughter Living Woman (Tanaya Beatty from TV’s The Night Shift). Despite the free passage they have received from the president, Blocker insists on treating the Cheyenne as prisoners, and puts chains on Yellow Hawk and Black Hawk.

Not long into the journey, the group comes across the widowed Mrs. Quaid, alone and in shock in her burned-out home, still clutching her dead infant while the bodies of her family lie all around. The detail members have no choice but to bring her along with them, though her first sight of the Cheyenne family paralyzes her with fear. Still, she is ultimately able to see the difference between this family and the marauders that killed her own people. In this way her story arc parallels Blocker’s.

Later, stopping at a fort along the way, the group picks up another new member—a cavalry sergeant named Wills (Ben Foster of Hell or High Water), who needs to be escorted to his execution at the next fort, not far out of the way for Blocker and his group. Wills proves to be something of an alter ego for Blocker—in the unrepentant Wills he can see something of himself, and though Wills insists on their likeness, Blocker will not acknowledge it. At the same time, Sergeant Metz, tortured by his own years of killing and atrocities, has difficulty keeping on in this life, while Blocker denies the need for such regrets.

The captain first realizes the error of his ways when the group is attacked by the same Comanche who killed Mrs. Quaid’s family, and sees how Yellow Hawk and Black Hawk try to help despite their hands being chained. As the journey progresses, and the group must take action against a group of white outlaws, Blocker, as the audience probably expects, begins to feel a kinship even with the chief who has been his greatest enemy. To say much more would need a spoiler alert, but let me just say that Blocker is successful in getting Yellow Knife to his Montana home to die, but the violence and loss that the journey finally entails makes me wonder how the journey can possibly be justified. The violent world that we saw at the beginning continues, and blocker’s change of heart may be the only good that comes of it. Nor does the change of heart affect any change on the culture of violence.

Thematically, then, it’s difficult to see what the story means. It is a grim world and the survivor is the one best able to respond to violence with deadly force. It’s a joyless world and it’s hard to feel in the end that this world has any meaning. But I admit, that is a point of view that deserves consideration. This is a film that looks fantastic: The sunlit western vistas are often breathtaking. Pike is remarkable as the shattered woman who finds her way back, somehow, to a worthwhile life. Bale is his dark and stoic warrior self, showing significant emotion by a flick of his eyelid. The Native Americans are presented with respect, though they are really not allowed to become full characters: Studi is also a dark and stoic warrior, but one who has a lot less space for character development. But it is not his story, it’s Blocker’s. Hostiles—and the irony of the title is that everybody in this world is hostile—does not quite reach the heights of the classic western Cooper is aiming for, but it’s a pretty good attempt. Three Tennysons for this one.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro (2017)

Three Tennysons/Half Shakespeare

With 13 Academy Award nominations, announced yesterday, The Shape of Water leads all other films of 2017. Released on December 22, Guillermo del Toro’s romantic horror-fantasy has had a month to make it to Conway, but (like most of the important movies of the season) has yet to do so. It is now, in fact on only one screen in central Arkansas, at Riverdale 10. How long it will be there who can say? So if you want to see this movie, I’d advise you to get there soon.

With his characteristic magical realism, Mexico’s best-loved export and film critics’ darling del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) has put together a modern fairy tale that combines the paranoia of cold-war monster films like The Creature from the Black Lagoon with folk tale motifs familiar from Beauty and the Beast or The Frog Prince.

The film begins with a voiceover—belonging, we realize later, to Giles (Richard Jenkins, best known from TV’s Six Feet Under and Olive Kitteridge), an out-of-work commercial artist whose friend and neighbor Elisa (Sally Hawkins from Maudie and Blue Jasmine) is the protagonist of the film. Giles gives us a “once upon a time” opening, introducing us to Elisa as a fairy-tale princess. It’s probably a good idea to keep this introduction in mind, lest we mistake the story, which takes place in pretty mundane circumstances at a specific moment of historical time, as realistic.

Elisa, a lonely woman unable to speak, lives next to the equally lonely Giles sharing space in a loft above an old movie theater. We are introduced to her through her daily routine, which involves her getting out of bed in the evening, setting an egg timer, lying down in the bathtub (where she seems to gyrate somewhat off camera), making herself some hard boiled eggs, then visiting Giles next door en route to the bus, which she takes to her job as cleaning woman in a government facility dedicated to aeronautical research—a place with all kinds of dials and instruments that looks like something straight out of a 1950s science fiction flick.

Her co-worker, and the only person she seems to have a relationship with other than Giles, is Zelda (Octavia Spenser of The Help and Hidden Figures), who makes sure Elisa gets punched in on time and talks so much during their shift that Elisa has no need to speak. They seem to have a comfortable bond. But one night, things change in the facility, as a strange creature, an “Amphibian Man” (as he is called in the credits) who has been found and captured in an Amazonian swamp by a certain Colonel Strickland (a comically and bizarrely threatening Michael Shannon of Nocturnal Animals and Revolutionary Road). Stickland is now in charge of security at the facility and keeps the creature chained in a water tank, where he wants to study “the asset” as he refers to the creature, with the possible object of sending him into space for experimental purposes. Meanwhile one of the researchers at the institute, Dr. Hoffstetler (the ubiquitous Michael Stuhlbarg, who also appears in The Post and Call Me by Your Name this holiday season, not to mention TV’s Fargo earlier this year) happens to be a Russian spy who would love to capture “the asset” for the Russkies.

Meanwhile the Amphibian Man himself (played by Doug Jones, currently in TV’s Star Trek: Discovery) seems to have an actual human-like consciousness in there, in a body that looks uncannily like the Creature from the Black Lagoon in those films of the fifties. And Elisa seems to sense a kindred spirit under the scales. Like her, the Amphibian Man cannot speak except by a kind of sign language. Like her, he is alone and isolated. Like her, he is regarded a kind of freak by many others in society. And so she begins to hang out at the creature’s tank, making friends with him by offering him some of her hard boiled eggs and, as time goes by, playing big band music for him on a portable record player.

But this idyllic state can’t last, of course, because Colonel Strickland and the evil military forces behind him want “the asset” terminated, for no particularly good reason except they don’t want the Russians finding him. Meanwhile Hoffstetler’s Russian overseers would also like to see the Amphibian Man destroyed so that the Americans can’t learn anything from him. But Hoffstetler’s got a conscience, and he’s willing to help Elisa, with the assistance of Giles and Zelda, to smuggle the creature out of the lab to where Elisa can keep him in her bathtub at home. The plan is, ultimately, to set him in the river at high tide some days hence.

But this is where it gets weird. Elisa’s attraction to the Amphibian Man develops into a romantic passion, and yes, an inter-species love affair develops. Okay, this may sound like a spoiler, but every other review of this film mentions it, and if you’ve heard from anybody who’s seen the movie you know it’s there. I found it initially shocking, even disturbing, but then I realized that it was no different from The Little Mermaid—it’s just that Ariel is a bit more attractive than Amphibian Man, and besides, they are both fairy tales. What happens in The Shape of Water is a parable about two isolated beings, two social misfits, finding happiness together.

It’s not surprising that Elisa’s helpers are Giles, a repressed gay man whom we see vehemently rejected in his only attempt at intimacy in the film, and Zelda, a black woman n 1962 America, where an African-American couple gets thrown out of a diner where Giles is eating, and where images of blacks being attacked by dogs while protesting in southern streets are shown on the news program that Miles turns off in favor of Shirley Temple movies. But it does occur to me that, ultimately, Elisa is abandoning her humanness in favor of the Amphibian Man. This is a little harder to take than Ariel abandoning her mermaidness in favor of a human man. It’s no accident that the film playing in the movie house beneath Elisa’s apartment is The Story of Ruth—the story of a woman who abandons her home and her own people in order to become a part of her husband’s.

To talk about the film’s denoument definitely would be a spoiler, but suffice it to say that Strickland will stop at nothing to get “the asset” back, and the Russians still want Amphibian Man dead. And Elisa is still bent on getting him to the river at high tide. And everybody is not going to be satisfied in the end. Let’s just say that if the interspecies sex wasn’t enough for you, there is definitely enough violence in the end to justify the film’s R rating, and then some.

In the end, this is definitely a film worth seeing. In combining a fascination with horror and the monstrous with a tone of fairy tale romanticism, in addition to its beautiful visuals all tinged with a bluish-green hue, this is a quintessential Del Torian film. The ensemble cast is one of the most impressive of the year, with Hawkins’ memorable hauntingly waif-like Elisa (brought to life without her saying a single word) leading the way, and Jenkins’ repressed and lonely Giles painfully sympathetic as well. Both deserve their Oscar nominations, as does Spenser as the sympathetic and harassed best friend. Shannon and Stuhlbarg are equally fine in their roles.

Is The Shape of Water the best picture of the year? It seems to be the favorite going into the Oscar competition. It is certainly a good looking, well-acted film. It is certainly not a run of the mill Hollywood production, but surprises, delights and even astounds by turns. Despite its fantasy genre it communicates on a very human level. But I don’t think all of that makes up for the parts of the film that strain our willing suspension of disbelief. Three Tennysons and half a Shakespeare for this one.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

 

 

The Post

The Post

Steven Spielberg (2017)

Three Tennysons/Half Shakespeare

When first-time screenwriter Liz Hannah wrote the original screenplay for The Post in 2016, it was in response to her reading of Katherine “Kay” Graham’s memoir Personal History. Hannah, inspired by Graham’s impressive and eventful life and career, intended the film to be a biopic of Graham, turning on her first major decision as publisher of the Washington Post, the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. In the fall of 2016, former Sony studio head Amy Pascal called Hannah to tell her she wanted to produce the film. At that time, the two women discussed the possible relevance of the story for contemporary audiences, and agreed that, with Hillary Clinton on the verge of becoming the first woman president, Graham’s story of a lone woman in a world of white men in suits, who essentially patted her on the head and ignored her, would resonate powerfully.

By the time Steven Spielberg signed on to direct the movie in February of 2017, the political landscape had changed drastically, and the theme of a news story being blocked by a bullying White House administration intent on limiting the first amendment rights to freedom of the press became far more topical. So topical, in fact, that Spielberg decided to put everything else on the back burner and begin shooting immediately in May, after convincing Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks to play Kay Graham and Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee respectively. Josh Singer (The West Wing, Spotlight) was brought in to do some revisions to the script. Thus what most people see as the film’s chief purpose—a veiled criticism of the Trump administration’s relationship with mainstream news media by portraying an historical instance of executive overreaching and attempting to suppress the news—was not in the original plan of the author or the producer—though by the time it got to Spielberg (and I assume Singer), it was impossible to ignore.

Still, the film makes no obvious or blatant references to contemporary events. Essentially the movie is one of Spielberg’s recent historical political thrillers, like his Bridge of Spies or even Munich, but it also very consciously belongs to the genre of films about investigative journalism that stretches from The Front Page and His Girl Friday through Call Northside 777 to Zodiac and The Paper, ultimately to Tom McCarthy’s 2015 Oscar winning Spotlight. While Spielberg’s film does not rise to the level of the undisputed classic of this genre, Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (1976), The Post is a noble and notable addition to this hallowed list. The scenes that focus on the old time linotype machines and hard-copy print runs, especially at a time when printed newspapers are losing readership daily, give the film a nostalgic feel, as if we’re back with Charles Foster Kane—whose line “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper” is echoed in Hanks’ line as Ben Bradlee, “My god, the fun!” as he glories in the midst of his working on the story of the Pentagon Papers.

If you are not quite as old as I am, and I’m afraid that’s true of the vast majority of our readers, then you may not remember the sensation caused by the Pentagon Papers: These amounted to some 7,000 pages of secret government documents that a former RAND Corporation employee and aide to Secretary of State Robert McNamara named Daniel Ellsberg copied and leaked to the New York Times in 1971. Ellsberg wanted to demonstrate to the country how the government, through the course of four presidential administrations, had been systematically lying to its citizens about the United States’ role in Vietnam. Particularly damaged by the release of these papers was McNamara, Defense Secretary under both Kennedy and Johnson, who documents showed knew as early as 1965 that the war was unwinnable, yet continued to send more and more soldiers to die by the thousands because, well, it would look bad to give up.

Spielberg’s film opens with Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys from TV’s The Americans) briefly in Vietnam, then working briefly for McNamara and becoming disillusioned when he sees the secretary announce to the press what he knows are complete falsehoods. We shift then to Bradlee in the Post newsroom, tired of being editor of “a nice local paper” and wanting to be more like the New York Times. In particular, he wants to know what the Times’ chief investigative reporter Neil Sheehan is up to, since he hasn’t had a story in some time.

Turns out what Sheehan is up to is composing a series of bombshell articles based on the Pentagon Papers, which the Times has receive from Ellsberg. In the meantime, Katherine Graham, who has inherited ownership of the Post from her husband, who had recently taken his own life, is about to take the paper public, with the advice—one might even say the bullying—of her board of directors, anchored most importantly by Fritz Beebe (Tracy Letts of The Big Short and Lady Bird) and Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford, playing the polar opposite of his character from The West Wing). It is important that nothing go wrong at this point, or the sale of the paper might be in jeopardy. A close friend of former Defense Secretary McNamara (Bruce Greenwood, who played McNamara’s boss JFK in Thirteen Days), Graham learns from him that the Times is about to run a story that will be extremely detrimental to him. She learns from Bradlee that this is precisely the story he would love to run.

The Nixon White House moves quickly to get an injunction to stop the Times from publishing any more stories, citing national security. But it appears that the Post may be able to pick up where the Times is forced to leave off. Post reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk of TV’s Better Call Saul) happens to be an old colleague of Ellsberg and suspects he is the Times’ source. He is able to get hold of piles of documents, and brings them to Bradlee’s house, where a team of reporters works round the clock to try to put a story together. There are, of course, legal considerations in addition to financial ones that will affect the sale of the paper. If she agrees to publish, Graham may lose her corporation a fortune and end up landing both Bradlee and herself in prison. To publish or not to publish? The turning point of the film occurs when she must weigh the ethics of journalism against her family fortune, her lifelong friendships, her standing in society and her freedom, with Bradlee, Beebe, and Parsons on the phone trying to tell her what she should do.

Streep, of course, is phenomenal as always in portraying an insecure female who grows into her role as a woman making her way through an Old Boys world. She should receive her annual Oscar nomination for this film. Hanks is his usual charismatic self, imbuing Bradlee with a charm and wit he is not reputed to have possessed in real life. Greenwood manages to play the besieged McNamara with some sympathy, and Whitford and Letts are sufficiently condescending. But it’s Odenkirk who comes close to stealing the show. His performance as the veteran reporter who actually does the leg work and brings in the story not in any glorious way but through hard work and perseverance and a dedication to journalistic ethics is priceless.

The Post is certainly one of the most important films of the year. There have been some complaints that the film downplays the New York Times contribution, which was certainly more significant than the Post’s in bringing the Pentagon Papers to light. But this ignores the fact that the film was intended originally as a Graham biopic. Still, in the end I don’t think the film is on quite the same level as the genre’s standards Spotlight or All the President’s Men. In the first place, Spielberg can be heavy handed, as he occasionally is here: As Bradlee’s wife for example, a woefully underused Sarah Paulson, delivers a long, preachy monologue on how courageous Kay Graham is. If this were All the Presidents Men, the audience would be trusted to see that for themselves. In the second place, the film has something of a split personality. It is drawn in two directions, one toward a focus on Graham’s development from a cypher that the men in the room either ignore or walk all over to a woman who truly takes charge of a very difficult situation (which was Hannah’s original intent for the script), the other toward an historic parable of freedom of the press applicable to contemporary America (which is what Spielberg’s direction aims for). It’s not that the two can’t complement one another, but the emphasis of the film seems divided. Three Tennysons and half a Shakespeare for this one.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

All the Money in the World

All the Money in the World

Ridley Scott (2017)

Three Tennysons/Half Shakespeare

It may be inevitable that Ridley Scott’s new film, All the Money in the World, concerning the notorious 1973 kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III, grandson of the richest man in the world, will be remembered for the remarkable drama that took place behind the scenes during the making of the movie, rather than the story captured by the camera and being shown on movie screens across the world. By now everyone knows that, as a result of the avalanche of sexual assault and harassment allegations that emerged against the film’s star Kevin Spacey just two months before the film’s scheduled release, Scott made the bold decision of replacing the actor portraying the elder Getty with veteran actor Christopher Plummer, reshooting some 400 shots in 22 scenes that had featured Spacey over a period of nine 18-hour days, and re-editing the finished product to get it into theaters within a few days of its scheduled release date. Scott’s commitment to getting the job done and to eliminating any association of Spacey’s with the project, the 88-year-old Plummer’s stamina dealing with the grueling reshooting schedule, and the willingness of the film’s other stars, Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg, to commit to the reshooting schedule as well, are nothing short of heroic. It cost another ten million dollars to finish the film after Spacey’s elimination, but it was either spend that much more to make the project marketable, or eat the entire cost of a film that perhaps could never be released as it was.

If you go into the film without knowledge of that backstory, you will be oblivious to any trauma in the making of the movie, because all of Plummer’s scenes are seamlessly incorporated into the film. And even if you didn’t know that what Plummer was doing in his scenes was essentially saving the movie, you could not help but admire his portrayal of a man who could easily be regarded as a monster: the richest man in the world—indeed as the film makes clear, the richest person who has ever lived in the entire history of the world by the time this story takes place—who refuses to pay the $17 million ransom asked for his favorite grandson. Plummer manages to give this cold, heartless, empty husk of a man a touch of humanity who can even evoke a momentary spark of audience sympathy. Well, that may be going too far—maybe not sympathy but at least a recognition of his humanity. Plummer really does make the movie.

Screenwriter David Scarpa’s story begins as the 16-year old Getty III (Charlie Plummer from TV’s Boardwalk Empire—and no relation to Christopher), with long blond hair and a baby face, wanders the streets of Rome exchanging banter with a group of sex workers, one of whom tells him he should go home to his mother and stop wandering the streets alone. No sooner does the teenager announce that he can take care of himself than he is grabbed by a small group of ruffians and shoved into an old Volkswagen van. A ransom demand for $17 million is made to Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams of Manchester by the Sea), but, divorced from her alcoholic, drug-addict husband Getty Jr. (Andrew Buchan of TV’s Broadchurch), she has no fortune of her own, and is forced to approach her estranged father-in-law, the richest man in the world, to ransom her son. But the elder Getty, confronted with the demand that amounts to a single day of earnings in his vast empire, very publicly tells the press exactly how much he is willing to pay for the safe return of his favorite grandson: “Nothing.”

There is an echo here of Shakespeare’s King Lear, who famously says in the first scene of that play that “Nothing will come of nothing,” ironically unaware of the great tragedy about to befall him. Here, too, if Getty is the film’s tragic figure, it is upon this “nothing” that tragedy is built.

While Getty is stubbornly unwilling to pay a cent in ransom despite Gail’s continuous pleading and the kidnappers’ insistent demands, he does dispatch his personal adviser and negotiator Fletcher Chase (a strangely miscast Mark Wahlberg), an ex-CIA agent, to try to bargain with the kidnappers and secure his grandson’s release. At one point Chase even comes to believe that Paul is faking his own kidnapping and will reappear once it becomes clear grandpa isn’t biting. Meanwhile, as the weeks pass, the original somewhat incompetent kidnappers sell off the young victim to a more serious and brutal gang that turns up the heat on Paul and on Gail, but even when Chase is convinced that things have become quite serious, Getty remains adamantly close-fisted. There is a scene in which Getty is shown negotiating with someone and agreeing to a price tag of millions—but it turns out to be for a painting for his personal collection. Just what Getty is willing and what he is not willing to spend money on are maddeningly twisted questions in this film.

As things begin to turn truly ugly and we in the audience begin to join Gail in fearing for young Paul’s life, one of the original kidnappers, Cinquanta (Romain Duris of The Confession), now working for the new mob, pleads with Gail to come up with the money to save Paul, and does what he can in the mob to protect the young man. The irony of these scenes is incredibly heavy as he becomes a foil to Getty himself, for it becomes clear that the boy’s kidnapper cares more for his life and safety than does his own grandfather.

Scott adds some flashback scenes in the early part of the film that demonstrate how Getty built his empire, and a few others that indicate his strained relationship with his son, Gail, and the child Paul, while that family was still together. Getty Jr.’s complete lack of contact with his father, his resentment over his father’s total absence from his life when he himself was a child, and the elder Getty’s giving him just enough rope to hang himself when he appeals to the absent father for help during his financial difficulties, prepare us for the old man’s lack of cooperation in Paul’s kidnapping case.

As Gail, Williams is spot on and sympathetic in her battle against merciless kidnappers on one hand and the embodiment of merciless corporate capitalism on the other. The four-time Oscar nominee turns in another praiseworthy performance here, though as her constant companion, Wahlberg seems somewhat bland. His role essentially has him trying to make things work out, but though Getty considers him—and he considers himself—the best negotiator in the business, he comes across as pretty incompetent, and nothing positive in the outcome of the film can be attributed to him. More than anything else, he is a kind of chorus figure: He is here to observe and to comment upon events, but doesn’t seem to influence them much. Like the audience, his frustration with Getty becomes harder and harder to hold in as the events continue.

The younger Plummer is waiflike enough to be sympathetic most of the time, though it’s hard to really get to know him—primarily he is the thing that sets the action going, and the scenes with him would be nothing but clichéd “we have this kid and we’re holding him for ransom” fare if it weren’t for Duris as Cinquanta, who makes us believe Paul is somebody we ought to care about because he cares about him so much himself.

But though the scenes of Paul with the kidnappers and of Gail and Chase trying to deal with the kidnappers’ demands and with Getty’s reluctance are necessary to shuffle between in order to keep us aware of what’s going on, it is the scenes with Plummer as Getty, conniving in the boardroom, defiant with the press, cold, pathetic, and mean alone in his Citizen Kane-like mansion full of artifacts and empty of people, that make this movie worth seeing. Three Tennysons and half a Shakespeare for this one.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman

Michael Gracey (2017)

2 JACQUELINE SUSANNS

Hugh Jackman has played Marvel’s Wolverine so often that it’s hard to remember he’s at heart a song-and-dance man, but a quick look back at his impressive work in Les Miserables is sufficient to remind us of his significant talent in that area, and so it seems natural for him to be cast as the lead in this Christmas season’s big annual musical, The Greatest Showman. In its attempt to be 2017’s La La Land, this musical pseudo-biography of P.T. Barnum has employed La La’s composers, Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, to whip up some flashy numbers for the show. The fact is, however, that La La Land found innovative and magical new ways to present its musical numbers, while Showman’s numbers are presented in rather hackneyed ways. And while Les Miserables presented a soundtrack already full of favorites made familiar by the world’s most popular musical, Showman’s songs are all pretty forgettable. I couldn’t hum you a single one even though I just saw the movie.

The Greatest Showman is a bit more like a Baz Luhrmann movie, and is more reminiscent of Moulin Rouge than either of those previous Christmas musicals, in its flashy over-the-top glitz and production numbers. The choreography is watchable, and the performers put a lot into those numbers, but in the end, it’s a less interesting movie than Moulin Rouge as well, since it’s less original or ambitious.

This is another case where there is a significant gap on Rotten tomatoes.com between what critics think of the movie and what audiences think. Only about 50% of critics give the film a favorable rating, while 89% of audience members are positive about the film. Of course, one must recall that the audience of a film like this is already self-selected, and have come expecting songs (perhaps have even downloaded some of them) and choreography, or are fans of some of the stars and are unlikely to be critical of them. Apparently with this film they were not expecting historical accuracy, meaningful social commentary, or believable or relatable characters. Which is a good thing, because they didn’t get any of that.

The film tells the story of Barnum beginning with his childhood as the poor son of a tailor, who falls in love with Charity Hallett, the daughter of a rich New York patrician. After growing up during a forgettable song, Jackman as Barnum calls on Charity (Michelle Williams) and takes her off to get married over her father’s objections. Frustrated and poor with two daughters in his growing family, Barnum finds a way to achieve his dreams of monetary success by inventing the circus, building it on money borrowed under false pretenses and by exploiting a group of outsiders he and his society regard as “freaks”: including a bearded lady (Keala Settle), a little person dressed as Napoleon and billed as Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), a black acrobat Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), and a host of others. The film also features Zac Ephron as the playwright Phillip Carlyle, Barnum’s completely fictional business partner, who is himself a member of the New York upper crust and incurs his family’s wrath when he appears in public with Wheeler, thus paralleling Barnum’s situation with Charity.

Complications arise in the form of Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), the Swedish songbird whom Barnum sponsored on her American tour, and who causes difficulties, both personal and financial, in Barnum’s happy life; and in the form of bigoted New Yorkers who consider Barnum’s freak-show morally offensive—and not because of the way it exploits the “others” in our society, but because they find it offensive even to be reminded that such beings exist.

The incredibly complex moral problem of Barnum’s exploitation of these social outcasts is the most important issue raised in this film, but it’s simply glossed over generically in the one semi-memorable number of the film, “This Is Me,” which says, essentially, in a 21st-century pop-culture manner, that everybody should just be themselves and that’s OK! But that doesn’t deal at all with the position of such people in 19th century America, or the moral ambiguity of Barnum’s exploiting them for monetary gain (a question hinted at when Barnum convinces “Tom Thumb” that if people are going to laugh at him anyway, he might as well get paid for it—but never taken any further). Nor is Carlyle’s relationship with Wheeler given serious consideration, since his parents are shown objecting to his relationship with someone of low class, but the fact that the relationship is in fact interracial is never even mentioned—a treatment that is either anachronistic or simply lazy because it was too much for the script to get into. There was already a class issue in the Barnum-Charity couple, so why not just repeat that here?

Nor does the Jenny Lind story get much development. Aside from a few scenes of her singing some obviously contemporary compositions instead of the kind of 19th-century songs she would have actually sung, her part is so underwritten that her motivations are almost a complete mystery to us. But actually, Barnum’s wife Charity doesn’t get much more development. Nor, for that matter, does Wheeler. The women seem to be here to look good, or in the case of Settle’s bearded lady, to sound good singing about being herself. Whoever that is.

Even Barnum remains something of a mystery in his own quasi bio-pic, He’s essentially a generic rags-to-riches musical comedy protagonist who happens to own a circus, which gives him some interesting venues for songs. His reputation as the great flim-flam man of American capitalism is barely hinted at. Nor is there much else to distinguish him as an individual. Jackman does what he can with what he’s been given, but he just hasn’t been given much. Two Jacqueline Susanns for this one.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Pre-order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Pre-order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Rian Johnson (2017)

Three Tennysons/Half Shakespeare

Just in case you’ve been living in a cave for the past several months, let me inform you that the eighth installment in the Star Wars franchise, subtitled The Last Jedi, was released this past weekend, grossing $220 million domestically and close to half a billion dollars worldwide. The film premiered on 4,232 screens in the United States and Canada, averaging a whopping $52,000 per screen. It was the second largest opening weekend in history. The largest? This film’s immediate predecessor in this third trilogy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Critics have been kind to the film, giving it a 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.com, but only 56 percent of audience reviewers have given it a positive ranking. This kind of discrepancy always really interests me, as I try to puzzle out what it is critics like that audience members don’t, or what the viewers dislike that critics are unconcerned about.

In the case of The Last Jedi, many of the complaints are coming from longtime Star Wars devotees who feel that the new film does not satisfactorily answer concerns they’ve been obsessing about on social media for two years: Just who is this Snoke who rules the First Order like a new emperor, and employs Kylo Ren as his new Vader? And who exactly are Rey’s parents? Turns out The Last Jedi is far less concerned about these plot points than Star Wars’ most ardent fans are. Further The Last Jedi allows for some new and unusual power of the Force that may seem freaky to longtime fans—Rey and Kylo Ren can communicate closely over long distances in ways that far exceed Luke’s being able to “sense” what Leia may be thinking from far away, and by the same token Luke and Leia see to have powers we haven’t seen before. Who knew? More importantly, there is a good deal of concern among fans about the character arcs of certain cherished characters, Luke in particular.

Of course, there is also a hint of grousing over the loss of white male privilege in the disgruntled posts about this long ago and far away Star Wars galaxy. Not only is the New Hope in this final trilogy a woman, Rey (Daisy Ridley), but the one white male figure among the current crop of heroes, the X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) turns out to be wrong about almost everything and is considered a “trigger-happy flyboy” by the two nasty women who outrank him, Princess Leia (the sorely-grieved Carrie Fisher) and her second in command, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern). It is not lost on fans who resent this development that the two chief villains in the piece, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his chief rival General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) are white males set on power and universal dominance.

On one hand, the film pays tribute to George Lucas’s original trilogy with scenes and situations that recall and parallel those films, particularly The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi: AT-Ats attack a rebel base on a snow-covered planet—though it turns out that the white stuff this time is actually salt rather than snow. A young Jedi travels to a distant planet to find a Jedi master, but this time Luke Skywalker is the master, not the student. A crucial, climactic scene before the throne of the supreme leader is fought out between Jedi adherents of the Dark Side and the Right Side of the Force, but it ends in a way that no one is likely to have anticipated. Yet despite these tributes to the past, the thrust of this film is in a new direction. Kylo insists to Rey that she must “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.” And in a highly symbolic gesture, when Snoke (Andy Serkis) chides Kylo by saying “You’re not Vader. You’re just a child in a mask,” Kylo responds by removing his Vader-like helmet and smashing it. For many Star Wars fans, that is precisely the image of what Johnson is doing in this film. For critics, the act is the knell of freedom from the heavy weight of the franchise’s history and an announcement of a new direction.

Writer-director Rian Johnson (Looper) intertwines three plot threads, each one focusing on one of the three new resistance heroes introduced two years ago in the trilogy’s first film, The Force Awakens: The film opens where the first one ended, as Rey has taken it upon herself to seek out the last surviving Jedi master, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a remote planet where he lives in seclusion, in order to be trained in the Fore and oh, by the way, to get him to stop brooding and rejoin the Resistance, which can use all the Jedis it can get. Luke, however, is licking his wounds after his failure in training Ben Solo, now the Dark Side’s own New Hope, Kylo Ren.

Meanwhile, General Hux is busy trying to crush the last of the Resistance. After Poe wins a pyrrhic victory that sacrifices much of the fleet, he’s demoted by Leia, now commanding the Resistance The remnant of the rebel army is now forced to flee across the galaxy, pursued by Hux’s great warships, which are now in possession of a device that allows them to track rebel ships through hyperspace.

But never fear, the ex-Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) is sent with his not-so-secret admirer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) off to another remote planet in order to find a rumored “codebreaker” who can help them infiltrate Hux’s flagship and disable the new tracking device. Turns out they end up imprisoned but find a codebreaker in the form of a fellow prisoner Benicio del Toro, who is, you might say, the Lando Calrissian of the new trilogy.

Anything more I say will only bring about spoilers, which I don’t want to do, though it seems likely that most people reading this will have already seen the movie. I will say that visually the film is often very striking: One such scene is the one in which Kylo, Rey and Supreme Leader Snoke reprise the Emperor-Luke-Vader climax of Return of the Jedi with a new twist. But in the other most memorable scene of the film Rey, in training with Jedi Master Luke, reenacts the scene in Empire when as Yoda’s trainee Luke enters the swamp cave on Dagobah and envisions a battle with Darth Vader in which his own face appears on Vader’s severed head. Here, Rey enters a dark cave on Luke’s island and, as she questions her parentage, receives a vision of herself as if placed between two mirrors, so that all she sees are reflections of herself, stretching on into infinity. Both scenes, of course, are versions of the mythic descent into the underworld, going back as far as Homer’s Odysseus, in which the hero, descending into a darkness representing his/her own unconscious, meets his/her greatest fear or weakness—what psychologist Carl Jung called the “shadow” archetype, and, overcoming or assimilating it, emerges a whole and mature warrior. Johnson has acknowledged the parallel in the two scenes, and commented in an interview, “she descends down into there and has to see, just like Luke did in the cave, her greatest fear. And her greatest fear is [that], in the search for identity, she has nobody but herself to rely on,” Johnson said. That’s something of an oversimplification, and no doubt viewers will interpret the scene in deeper ways as they see fit, but in any case the scene is a turning point for Rey’s character, and perhaps for the entire Star Wars franchise.

This film is definitely worth seeing even if you aren’t a Star Wars fan. Driver is convincing as the brooding, troubled representative of the Dark Side, struggling with his inner demons. Ridley as Rey is equally conflicted, drawn to Kylo but committed to the rebellion. Isaac has his own struggles, mainly with accepting that the women might be right sometimes. Mark Hamill also has his inner struggles as Luke, and does the most impressive acting of his career here. As for the late Carrie Fisher, while you might experience a pang of grief every time she appears onscreen, in her quiet power and dignity as she, too, struggles to keep the flame of hope alive as commander of the rebel forces she is herself very much alive.

The film is a bit too long at two and a half hours, but still, I think is worth three Tennysons and half a Shakespeare, and it will be fascinating to see just what new direction this franchise will take now that the past has been transcended.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Pre-order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Pre-order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Lady Bird

Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig (2017)

Three Tennysons/Half Shakespeare

I can’t say I was dying to see this movie, which as far as I could tell was just another teen angst movie about a high school senior coming of age. Seems like I’ve seen something like that before—like in every other movie that gets made these days, unless it’s a superhero movie intended to appeal mainly to those adolescents that all the other movies are about. But Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird turns out to be the year’s best-reviewed movie, judging by the 100 percent rating it had on Rottentomatoes.com, at least up until this morning, when some curmudgeon seems to have finally taken aim at it after waking up on the wrong side of bed or something. And it was just nominated for three Golden Globes, including one for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy. But with reviews like that, I figured I really needed to see it, and have been waiting patiently for three weeks for Cinemark to bring it to Conway. And of course, I’d still be waiting if I hadn’t decided to see it in Little Rock. Cinemark hasn’t seen fit to bring a single new movie (aside from the abominably reviewed Just Getting Started—9 percent on Rotten tomatoes) to Conway for those three weeks. So for Lady Bird—or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, or The Man Who Invented Christmas—you’ll have to go to Little Rock. I suspect it will be the same with the Golden Globes’ darling The Shape of Water when it finally arrives in this flyover state. Hey Cinemark, we’ve got 60,000 people and three colleges here, one of which has a graduate degree in film. I think there must might be an audience for actual decent movies here!

But I digress. This is Gerwig’s first time alone in the director’s seat, (she is credited with co-directing the indie Nights and Weekends with Joe Swanbeg in 2008). She’s appeared in front of the camera in several films, including Noah Baumbach’s Francis Ha and Mistress America, and she is credited with co-authoring the screenplays for those two films with Baumbach, but Lady Bird is her first solo credit as author of the screenplay. It’s a screenplay based largely on Gerwig’s own life: Gerwig was born in Sacramento, California, and attended an all-girl Catholic school. Her mother was a nurse and her father a loan officer in a credit union and a computer programmer. She came to New York to attend Barnard College upon graduation from high school. This film’s protagonist, Christine McPherson, is a senior at Immaculate Heart high school in Sacramento in 2002, and she wants to make her friends and family call her “Lady Bird.” When asked if “Lady Bird” is her given name, she declares, “It is my given name! It’s a name I’ve given to myself.” Oh, by the way, Christine also wants to shake the dust of Sacramento from her sandals and head for college in New York, or at least somewhere on the east coast.

Lady Bird is played with remarkable genuineness and dexterity by the very compelling Saoirse Ronan, who, at 23, is not far removed from the high school senior she plays, but she comes to the role with two Oscar nominations already in her back pocket (one for playing the Irish immigrant protagonist in 2015’s Brooklyn and one for playing the young sister in Atonement), and this role may garner her another, as it has already earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

The film’s plot is somewhat episodic, taking us through the ups and downs of Lady Bird’s final year of high school: her audition for the fall musical, in which her best friend, the brilliant and witty Julie (Beanie Feldstein of Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising) gets the lead opposite her new crush Danny (a very sympathetic Lucas Hedges of Manchester by the Sea); her attempts to get into a private east coast college despite her mediocre performance in high school; her breakup with Danny and fling with the Howard Zinn-reading too-cool-for-school guitarist of a local rock band, played to smarmy perfection by Timothée Chalamet (who is nominated for his own golden Globe for Best Actor in this year’s Call Me by Your Name); her subsequent dropping of the somewhat dowdy Julie in order to join the “cool kids” clique of which Kyle is a member, and her taking up with the school’s reigning popularity queen, Jenna (Odeya Rush of Goosebumps), who’s nice enough but shallow and dumb as a rock. And of course we wait to find out who Lady Bird is going to prom with and whether she gets in to that highly valued east coast school.

But what actually raises this film above the level of the genre is not the plot, which is pretty typical, nor the acting, which is not, but rather the treatment of the adult characters—those creatures from the other side of the Great Divide whose main purpose in films like this is usually to act as straight man to the jokes, or obstacles to the achievement of the New Society that the kids are striving for, or to act as impotent bystanders while the we-know-better kids save their world. But here the adults are real people who have lives and feelings of their own that do not simply revolve around the teenagers as the center of the universe. Veteran actress Lois Smith, whose film career dates back to East of Eden with James Dean in 1955, is wonderful as Sister Sarah Joan, the school’s guidance counsellor, who thinks it’s hilarious when Lady Bird puts a sign on her car saying “Just Married to Jesus.” Stephen McKinley Henderson (Fences, Manchester by the Sea) plays Father Leviatch, the troubled director of the fall musical, leaves us aching to know what is troubling him, but it’s not his story so we are not privileged to follow that thread. To some extent this is also true of Lady Bird’s father, Larry (Tracy Letts of The Big Short and Elvis and Nixon), who is wildly sympathetic as Lady Bird’s calm, philosophical, and indulgent parent, who helps her with her college applications behind her mother’s back. Larry is unemployed and depressed and the family is struggling, and that backstory is, again, not up front in Lady Bird’s consciousness, and therefore not something that the film delves deeply into. One of the movie’s themes, apparently, is that every individual is the hero of his or her own story, and how unaware we are of those stories when we are caught up in our own egos—a condition particularly characteristic of, though not exclusive to, adolescence.

Most significantly, there is Lady Bird’s mother Marion. Played by another veteran actress, Laurie Metcalf. Best known for her television work, particularly for her ten years as the sister on Roseanne, for which she won three Emmy awards, Metcalf has been nominated for a Golden Globe for this film, for playing a demanding, loving, frustrated and passive-aggressive mother to perfection. Like the other adult, she has a life of her own, a life troubled by overwork and financial worries. Marion’s relationship with Lady Bird is truly the core of the film, providing the glue that holds the episodic school year together. Gerwig knows exactly what kind of power mothers can exert over daughters with passive-aggressive comments that prick at their psyches  and get them worked up like spurs in a horse’s side, and Metcalf delivers the perfect tone and expression. This is the relationship that has to work itself out in the film, and I won’t provide any spoilers about exactly how that happens.

Like another of this year’s best movies, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, this film recognizes that life does not contain great moments of closure when all questions are answered and the participants’ fates are settled. So don’t expect a compete resolution. This is a film that rises to transcend its genre. I’m giving it three Tennysons and half a Shakespeare.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Pre-order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Pre-order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh (2017)

Ruud Rating

4 Shakespeares

Some movies are hard to pigeonhole. Pretty much all of Martin McDonagh’s work falls into this category. The toast of the London and New York stages while still in his twenties, the author of  such darkly comic plays as The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Pillowman, McDonagh won an Academy Award for his first film, the short Six Shooter in 2006. He went on to stun audiences with In Bruges, the violent, tragic, yet often hilarious and bizarrely quirky story of a hit man vacationing in the Belgian city of Bruges with a companion assigned to terminate him. McDonagh went on to write and direct Seven Psychopaths, violent and comic in the same vein. Now he brings us Frances McDormand in her most memorable role since Fargo, as the bereaved mother of a teenaged daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton, currently also seen in Lady Bird), who was raped and murdered but whose case the local police have not been able to solve in seven months. It’s not the most promising basis for a comedy. But this is one you will remember.

McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, whose frustration over the lack of progress in her daughter’s case leads her to rent three billboards near her home outside of the small town of Ebbing, Missouri. The first reads “Raped While Dying”; the second “And Still No Arrests”; and the third “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” The bold protest is noted almost immediately by Ebbing police officer Dixon (played by Sam Rockwell, who worked with McDonagh previously in Seven Psychopaths as well as in his play A Behanding in Spokane), riding by in his squad car. Dixon informs the police chief, William Willoughby (played by Woody Harrelson, another veteran of Seven Psychopaths), who is just sitting down to Easter dinner with his family. At this point you are almost certain to be making assumptions about how this film is going to progress. Willoughby, you are likely assuming, is an incompetent good ol’ boy running a corrupt police force, and Mildred’s billboards are going to either shame him into solving the case or anger him into stonewalling and carrying out a police vendetta against Mildred and against poor Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones of Get Out and American Made), the local advertising representative who has provided the billboards.

But one thing this film teaches you quickly is that any assumptions you make are almost certainly destined to be wrong. Turns out Willoughby is as decent a cop as you’re likely to find, in real life or the movies, and he’s well-respected in the town. He also happens to be dying of pancreatic cancer, and there’s a good deal of backlash against Mildred for kicking the poor man when he’s down. And he does ask for the file on Angela’s case to review right away. But he explains to Mildred that the DNA evidence taken from the crime scene matches no one in any database. In the absence of any witnesses or other evidence there seems nothing the department can do.

If Willoughby has a fault as police chief, it is his apparently indulgent attitude toward Dixon, who is about as inept and thuggish a cop as you’re likely to find, in real life or the movies. When Mildred makes an angry taunt that the Ebbing police are “too busy torturing black folks” to solve her daughter’s murder, the remark is directed toward Dixon, and Willoughby’s answer to that is the rather unconvincing “there was no real evidence of that.” Still, Dixon, fiercely loyal to Willoughby, is the embodiment of the racism and homophobia that a number of people see as riddling Ebbing’s police force, undermining public trust in the department particularly among African Americans in the community. And it is from Dixon that we do see some of the backlash we may have anticipated coming at Mildred from the town police.

But if you’re hoping to see Dixon get his comeuppance, once again you may be only partly satisfied, but then you may also be surprised. And if you’re expecting this film to be a whodunit and anticipate the kind of closure that a solved mystery gives you in the end, expect to be frustrated. This just isn’t the kind of film that wraps things up neatly, or gives you that warm and comfy sense of closure. More than almost any film you can name, this is closer to real life than a narrative. And in real life there are no neat denouements.

Just as in real life there are no pure heroes or villains. As Willoughby turns out to be no kind of demon, so Mildred turns out to be no kind of angel. Her anger sometimes crosses over into rage, in part because she feels some culpability in her daughter’s death. She puts up the billboards out of desperation, knowing Willoughby isn’t personally to blame but believing that putting his name up in giant letters will keep her daughter’s case in the public spotlight, where it will have a better chance of being solved. But mostly she is trying to battle the dark cloud that says to her “there ain’t no God and the world’s empty and it doesn’t matter what we do to each other.”

So the film is not so much about solving the crime as it is about Mildred’s redemption. This comes about through her interactions with Willoughby, who continues to surprise her even after you’d expect; with her son Robby (Lucas Hedges of Manchester by the Sea), who wishes she would stop her crusade since it won’t bring her sister back; with her ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes of Everest and Lincoln), who feels the same and who also surprises her in a less positive way; and from James, the “town dwarf” (Peter Dinklage, on a break from Game of Thrones), whose budding romance with her—you guessed it—doesn’t turn out the way you might anticipate.

But unlooked for as it may seem, this film turns out to be even more significantly about the unlikely redemption of Officer Dixon—brought about again in part by Willoughby’s influence, and contributing again in part to Mildred’s character arc. Sam Rockwell has always been an excellent actor but his performance in this film is every bit as masterful as McDormand’s. I’ve seen no better performances on film this year, and would be surprised if Oscar nominations did not wait for both of them—and perhaps for Harrelson as well. In a year when he starred in six films (including the major critical and popular hit War for the Planet of the Apes), this is far and away Harrelson’s most memorable performance, and one that may garner him his third Oscar nomination. As for McDonagh, he may be looking at another nomination for the screenplay as well as, perhaps, one for best picture. The film has already won this year’s People’s Choice Award in Toronto, and is nominated for 11 British Independent Film awards. Look for more success in awards season here. Four Shakespeares for this one.

 

NOW AVAILABLE:

If you like these reviews, you might enjoy Jay Ruud’s most recent novel, now available from the publisher at https://encirclepub.com/product/the-bleak-and-empty-sea/. Also available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Jay Rudd

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.

Pre-order from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Bleak-Empty-Sea-Tristram-Mystery/dp/1893035735/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503328086&sr=1-1&keywords=Bleak+and+Empty+Sea

Pre-order from Barnes and Noble here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bleak-and-empty-sea-jay-ruud/1126958139?ean=9781893035737