Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Couple of not-so-top movies

In our current catch-up of various DVDs from the public library, I picked up The Barchester Chronicles, and Last Chance Harvey.  I'm lumping these two together because they were both disappointments.

Last Chance Harvey has Dustin Hoffman (he was 71 at the time) and Emma Thompson (she was 49) in it.   The ages are important, because the film puts these two together and tries to make chemistry out of it.  Both are struggling with loss - he in the sense of losing a job, and then being treated as a second-rate citizen at his own daughter's wedding (there's a stepfather in place who's much more 'attractive' to everyone).  She's reduced to dealing with a mother who can't keep off the cellphone (Eileen Atkins, who's thoroughly wasted in the role) and being set up for blind dates.  Which is a puzzle, because Emma Thompson is just too gorgeous to be on this sort of shelf - at least as she plays this character.   There's minimal backstory in both cases - other characters hint at things, but nothing is very clear, and the two actors are left to play out their roles with little information to offer us.  Even Hoffman's last minute revelation of having heart arrhythmia comes out of the blue; there's no indication that he's likely to collapse after being made to walk up several flights of stairs.

In fact there's minimal story here altogether.  If the two characters had been allowed to develop without all the other guff (what there is of it) the film would have been worth watching.  As it is, they tend to get into an interesting conversation and then the camera pulls away and leaves them mouthing words that haven't been scripted.

And one other thing, it's not surprising that Thompson looks a surprised more often than not.  Somehow when she and Hoffman get off the train at Paddington, they arrive in Trafalgar Square. They do quite a bit of walking along the South Bank too (including trailing around the second-hand book stalls that we remember from our last visit); but this is mostly to show off the scenery and the outdoor globe string lights - it has little to do with the movie.  

The Barchester series should have been worth watching.  We survived The Warden section of it, but didn't feel inclined to pick up any more, even though Alan Rickman hadn't appeared by that time.  Donald Pleasance played the Warden who's charged with living off money that isn't rightfully his; Pleasance plays this mild-mannered man as someone deeply troubled.  In fact he plays him as Pleasance, who always looked troubled on screen, when he wasn't looking maniacal.  But the character is more than that.  There's little light and shade, and little warmth (except in one of the scenes with the woolly-thinking Bishop, who just wants peace and quiet and no conflict).  Nigel Hawthorne chews up the scenery as Pleasance's son-in-law, and if the episodes had been taken at the pace he provides, they would have been excellent.  Somehow everything else is pale and sluggish around him.   Everything looks good and authentic, but the lighting throughout is very bland and ordinary, without shadows or contrast.  It's probably somewhat typical of its vintage as a series, although I don't think that can be entirely the reason.

I'd love to have seen these two novels done better (they're amongst the top of Trollope's oeuvre, I think), but somehow this series doesn't get them there.

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