Tag Archives: Colin Firth

Review: ‘Genius’

dfn-genius_300For any movie fan who also loves to read, Genius is intoxicating.

The film takes place in New York City over the course of several years in the heady literary period of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. The central figure is Max Perkins (Colin Firth), an editor at Scribner who already counts F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) among his renowned authors.

Into his life strides Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), a boisterous presence and a prolific writer. Perkins immediately recognizes his talent, and then must work with Wolfe to trim his ungainly and massively long manuscript into something he can publish. Once that’s done, and Wolfe wins the acclaim he deserves for his first novel, the writer eventually returns with his next book: even longer, even more ungainly, and even more in need of editing, in Perkins’ view.

Yet Wolfe resists, in part because he’s in love with every word he’s written, and in part because he resents the suggestions made by critics and others that he owes his success to Perkins. The exceedingly modest editor, for his part, is resistant to any such idea, and even wonders if his editing has affected Wolfe’s work to its detriment.

The very experienced screenwriter John Logan adapted the first book by A. Scott Berg, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, published in 1978 and winner of a National Book Award. As might be expected, Berg’s book covers far more ground than could be covered in a single feature film, and so Logan primarily focuses on the relationship between Perkins and Wolfe.

That makes sense, in that their personalities are so markedly different. Perkins is quiet and supportive, while Wolfe is wildly effusive and selfish. Perkins is married to a loyal wife (Laura Linney) with a handful of children, while Perkins carries on with a married woman (Nicole Kidman).

Yet Law portrays Wolfe with such over the top abandon that he chews the scenery in every scene he’s in — and then spits it out with relish. It’s difficult to ever forget that Law is giving a performance, which makes it feel like a caricature. Kidman’s shrewish anger at her paramour also strikes a variety of false notes. She’s angry!, dang it, and she wants everyone to know she’s unhappy — and it’s not her fault.

Director Michael Grandage makes his feature debut here, bringing with him considerable experience with stage productions. Teamed with veteran, versatile performers, it’s easy to guess that the very uneven performances played far better in person. On screen, however, the tonal inconsistencies call attention to themselves, and even the best efforts of Academy Award-winning film editor Chris Dickens (Slumdog Millionaire) cannot smooth them all out into a convincing narrative.

The consistent theme that emerges is that we’re only seeing a synopsis of the lives on display. Genius is perfectly enjoyable for what it is: a tasty appetizer, not entirely satisfying on its own, but, strangely enough, a movie that encourages reading, to find out more about Max Perkins and the authors whose talents he nourished.

The film opens in select theaters in Dallas on Friday, June 17.

Review: ‘Magic in the Moonlight,’ Woody Allen’s Latest Romantic Fantasy

Emma Stone and Colin Firth in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'
Emma Stone and Colin Firth in Woody Allen’s ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
In the late 1920s, a skeptical magician travels to the south of France so he can expose a fraudulent fortune-teller.

Now, that premise may not sound very promising, even with the knowledge that Colin Firth is the magician and Emma Stone is the fortune-teller. Yet in the hands of Woody Allen, who wrote and directed, Magic in the Moonlight proves to be a treat worth tasting, even if the ingredients don’t quite shake out into much more than an ordinary confection.

Allen is a stalwart filmmaker, an enviable island unto himself. He sits alone at his typewriter every year, writes a screenplay, and then directs it. Actors line up to appear in his films. Investors line up to finance his films. It’s an enviable position, but maybe not the best for someone whose creative spark is often spurred by little more than a good idea for a movie — and who then has no one to challenge his vision, and push him into giving the idea more thorough consideration.

When the idea is very good and the execution uplifted by an extraordinary performance, as in last year’s Blue Jasmine, Allen’s best film in 20 years, the “first draft” quality of the script matters less. But Magic in the Moonlight suffers in comparison. The premise suggests a light-hearted, merry little adventure, with a strong whiff of romance to charge up the intentionally flaccid affairs that unfold.

It’s summer, and especially in the south of France nearly 100 years ago, things slow down to a lazy patter. Allen, in key collaboration with Darius Khondji, an ace cinematographer, and Alisa Lepselter, a film editor whose range of experience covers 15 years and almost nothing outside of Allen’s work, delivers a beautiful-looking, wonderfully dawdling picture that, nonetheless, tends to stall out in the course of its telling.

Allen has, once again, made an older man and a younger woman his protagonists. Although, technically speaking, both are involved with others — the doubting Stanley (Firth) lives with a woman his own age who is never seen, and the spirit-bound Sophie (Stone) is dating a wealthy beau her own age — theirs is intended to be a deep attachment, one that should shake each one to their foundations, even as they spend nearly all their on-screen time bantering lightly.

The intended chemistry, however, never manifests itself on screen. Firth, in his early 50s , and Stone, in her mid-20s, make pleasant talk appear quite engaging, yet sparks of a romantic nature never fly between them; they appear to be friendly but never veer toward sexual heat or even sensual warmth. Theirs is a cordial relationship. Without a more tantalizing component to drive things forward, certain extended stretches of the story pass by without engaging the audience on the deeper level that is intended.

What remains is a story of integrity and firm conviction that is broken down, brick by brick, into a tale of amiable belief. It’s entirely agreeable to watch, though it never builds to a compelling tone; this is a minor work by Woody Allen, which means it is still better than most light comedies that have emerged in theaters this year.

The film opens on Friday, August 1, exclusively at Landmark Magnolia and the Angelika Film Center in Plano.

DVD Releases for 07/06/10

Four fine films that come from very different places:

Better Than You Heard Dep’t.:  Brooklyn’s Finest – Antoine Fuqua’s rather grim but powerful and thrilling tale of three cops (Richard Gere, Don Cheadle & Ethan Hawke) who face very different, very violent fates.  Gere is an aging who-cares veteran;  Cheadle is deep undercover;  and Hawke is a stressed-out strike force member who has too much guilt and too many bad ideas.  Great flick.

Continue reading DVD Releases for 07/06/10