Thursday, 13 December 2018

David at the Movies: Fifty shades of tulip

TULIP FEVER


Based on a book by Deborah Moggach, who gave us the original story for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Tulip Fever could hardly be more different. For starters it’s a lot more raunchy, with sex scenes that could almost be out of Fifty Shades – except than there isn’t any spanking. In 17th-century Amsterdam, when tulip bulbs are changing hands at the kind of price we associate with Chanel fragrances, Sophia Sandvoort (Alicia Vikander) starts cheating on her much older husband (Christoph Waltz) with a handsome young artist (Dane DeHaan). Sophia’s cook (Holliday Grainger) becomes jealous after her own lover is shanghaied.

The tulip bubble is about to burst, and with it comes the inevitable crisis in the love affair. Despite an intelligent script and good performances, Tulip Fever is a bit like period soap opera spiced up to porno-lite. As in soaps, the storyline is predictable and the characters over-familiar, but the cinematography is gorgeous and production values are high. In a similar league to Scarlett O’Hara, Sophia Sandvoort is not an entirely sympathetic heroine.


WIDOWS



In case you’re too young to remember, this was a UK TV mini-series back in 1983 from Lynda La Plante, who also gave us several series of Prime Suspect. Co-written and directed by Steve McQueen (who gave us award-winning Twelve Years a Slave), it’s been updated to contemporary Chicago where four women, widowed by the violent death of their gangster husbands, take on a $5 million robbery that one of the husbands (Liam Neeson) was planning.

Neeson’s widow Veronica (Viola Davis, whom we remember from The Help and several other fine movies) leads the gangsta girls. In the background (more like a foreground) is the upcoming local city council election between corrupt millionaire Colin Farrell (taking over from his corrupt father Robert Duvall) and vicious crimelord Brian Tyree Henry. (Poor Chicago voters: and only two years ago they had to choose between the Donald and the Hillary!)

Despite some talky scenes, the movie moves at a fairly cracking pace, with car chases and killings paving the way to plot twists that add to the echoes of last summer’s all-girl Ocean’s 8. More caper than crime story, this version of Widows replaces the gritty realism of the 1980s TV series with high-gloss violence and the kind of villains we have seen all too often. Liam Neeson’s Harry is a minor variation on his overdone Taken character, and although her performance is first-rate, Viola Davis’s Veronica lacks the quiet fury of Ann Mitchell’s Dolly Rawlins in 1983.

Worth watching? Yeah, but I’d rather see the TV series again.

A STAR IS BORN


Two major revelations: Lady Gaga can act! And Bradley Cooper can sing. This is very much a remake of the Barbara Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version (1976) with ‘country rock’ songs rather than the ‘Some Enchanting Evening’ sound of the 1954 Judy Garland/James Mason version, which I still prefer. Funnily enough, the ending of this new movie does carry a strong echo of the Garland movie and a fainter echo of ‘The Man That Got Away’.

The storyline is familiar all the way back to the 1937 non-musical original. Gaga plays an undiscovered mega-talent (she’s singing in a drag cabaret) whose career gets a boost from a singer (Cooper) who’s passing his peak. Gaga becomes a superstar while Cooper hits the sauce and becomes an embarrassment. But she loves him – more even than she loves her career. Aah.

The 1954 ballady version. Still my favourite!
The love story works thanks to onscreen chemistry and quality performances. Gaga actually reminds me of Streisand in Funny Girl: she brings that sense of a raw burgeoning talent. I’m not a fan of her singing: she has a shouty style that reminds me, not pleasantly, of Carly Simon. Bradley Cooper sings as well (and in similar voice) as Kristofferson in the 1976 version. He also directs with considerable flair and has an amazing screen presence. Not sure he’ll get awards for this, but clearly his star, unlike Jackson Maine’s in the movie, is rising.

This is a loud, gutsy movie. I’m an old softie, I wanted more ballads.