Friday, October 26, 2012

Film Gab's Leading Ladies

Wise: Good day, Werth.

Werth: Good day, Wise. Have you finished signing our birthday card to Hillary Clinton?

Wise: I got distracted by one of those memes of her texting in sunglasses.

Werth: I really enjoy watching her strut through press conferences in her power pantsuits. But then I've always found women in politics excitingespecially if they are women in politics in the movies!
Take the role of Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury) in the 1962 political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate. Eleanor's son Raymond (Laurence Harvey) has just returned from being a prisoner of war in Korea and she immediately turns his Medal of Honor arrival into a band-playing, banner-waving photo op for her husband, the McCarthy-esque Senator, John Iselin (James Gregory). 

Wise: Wouldn't a pot roast have been easier? 

Werth: Eleanor's political ambitions to be the wife of a Vice-President know no bounds and include trying to keep her son away from a left-wing politician's daughter who Raymond takes a fancy to.
But Raymond is acting very strangely and some of the men from his company have started having nightmares where they are having tea in a New Jersey garden club with the top brass of the Soviet and Chinese Communist Party who turn into little old ladies who tell Raymond to kill his own men.

Wise: That sounds like Bayonne to me.  

Werth: Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatrawho also produced) begins to investigate and soon discovers that he and his patrol are cards in a deadly game of solitaire. John Frankenheimer's taut direction and iconic visual punch make this film one of the great suspense classics of all time.
All the performances are first-rate—but Lansbury dominates this film. Her portrayal of Eleanor as a woman whose naked ambition is lightly clothed in good ol' American maternal sentiment as she icily barks orders at her son, her husband and anyone who stands in her way should have won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar that year. Patty Duke walked away with it for The Miracle Worker, but I've always felt that Landsbury was robbed... even if it was by Helen Keller.
Wise: The Young Victoria (2009) charts the political and personal growth of Queen Victoria (Emily Blunt) in the years just previous to and just following her ascension to the throne.  Growing up sheltered by her mother The Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson) and her mother's adviser Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong), she finds herself struggling against the political machinations that surround her.  
Her uncle King William IV (Jim Broadbent) wants to exert more influence upon her before passing on the throne while her other uncle King Leopold I of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann) hopes to ally the two kingdoms with the marriage of his son Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) to Victoria.  Meanwhile, the seductive Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) attempts to charm his way into Victoria's good graces, proving to be both friend and foe.

Werth: Sounds like a political gangbang.  

Wise: The film is a surprising hybrid of women's picture and political thriller, almost as if Joan Crawford had been directed by Oliver Stone.  It's not alone in that category (recent examples include Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette and The Duchess and reach at least as far back as Bette Davis in Juarez), but it is one of the few to take the affairs of state just as seriously as the romantic kind.  

Werth: There must be a Hillary film in the works. Notting Hill-ary?

Wise: Part of the film's success in portraying the rigors of statecraft comes from the intelligence of the performances.  Emily Blunt indulges in all the requisite bosom heaving and tempestuous dialogue, but makes Victoria as passionate about Parliament as she is about her prince.  
And somehow Rupert Friend turns a buttoned up wonk into a dashing matinee idol who smolders while proposing social reforms.  Both actors resemble their historical counterparts to an almost shocking degree, particularly Friend who studied contemporary accounts in order to capture Albert's somewhat prickly demeanor and awkward habits. 

Werth: Hamburger Hill-ary.

Wise: Julian Fellowes's script artfully balances the personal and the political, cleverly highlighting the effect human desire (both petty and profound) plays in shaping public policy.  Director Jean-Marc Vallée also performs a balancing act: giving each scene a contemporary dash while still lingering over the sumptuous period detail (particularly Sandy Powell's gorgeous and authentic costumes).  
But perhaps the best example of how this film epitomizes the surprising union of seeming opposites is that its producers include Martin Scorsese and the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson (who knows more than a little about the perils of being a princess). 

Werth: The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill-ary But Came Down a  Mountain.

Wise: Tune in to Film Gab next week when hopefully Werth will have run out of spoof Hillary movie titles.

Werth: The House on Haunted Hill-ary!  


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