Monday, June 02, 2014

A couple of movies from 1993

The Warehouse had a sale of DVDs on the weekend, so we picked up a few to replace a bunch that were surplus to requirements, movies we'll never watch again (wouldn't want to watch again) and some that we had double-ups of for whatever reason.
On Saturday night we watched a DVD of The Remains of the Day, which we'd seen at the cinema when it first came out. Neither of us could remember much about it; in fact there was very little of that visual recognition you usually have when you're seeing a movie again. Perhaps we're losing our visual recognition as we get older, which is a bit scary!
Anyway, this movie, with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson both at their best, is a story about a butler in a large aristocratic home, Darlington Hall, owned by Lord Darlington. The Lord, though he is an honourable man, is an amateur in his political dealings; he foolishly sides with the Nazis during the war, and probably should have been charged with treason. Hopkins, the consummate butler, always there, always perfect in behaviour, claims he never hears what goes on around him: he's too busy doing his job. But in fact he's closed off to human relationships for the most part. When he employs his own father as an under-butler, he calls him Mr Stevens rather than father. It's only as his father is dying that he manages to speak as though there is some relationship there. Even when his father is lying dead upstairs he believes his duty is still to serve his Lordship first.
Thompson plays the housekeeper who gives as good as she gets from Hopkins, but also falls in love with him. In spite of himself, he's in love with her, but his nature is such that he can't admit to it, and so both their lives go awry as a result.
There's a top-notch cast including Hugh Grant, Christopher Reeves and Ben Chaplin among the more familiar faces. The direction by James Ivory is quiet and assured, and the script by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala gives the performers ample room for subtlety and subtext. A great film, with much in it to be admired. 
In the same year, Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman starred in a much less well-known movie, My Life, which, if it had been done as a TV movie with a TV actor would have ended up requiring a box of tissues. It narrowly avoids this because of Keaton's solid performance in which he has ample room to both clown and play to his serious side. 
Keaton plays a man who has only a few months to live because of cancer, and like many in that position he doesn't want to die, especially as his wife is expecting their first child. He manages to stay alive long enough to see his son grow through his first months before succumbing to the continually invasive cancer. As in too many movies about illness, the cancer gets put on the back-burner too often: it has a brief dramatic appearance at the beginning (sorted out by some magic pill that works instantly) and hardly turns up again until the end. In the meantime, unlike most cancer patients, Keaton, on the surface at least, appears to be as healthy as the next man.
Before he dies he makes a series of home movies that he wants his future child to be able to view, but in the process he comes face to the face with the fact that he's never forgiven his own parents: he particularly felt that his father was never there for him because he worked so hard at his business. But he has to face the fact that he's actually no different: he's a workaholic too. 
For the most part it's Keaton who makes the movie work (Kidman has a bit of a wishy-washy role that doesn't give her room for much depth unfortunately) in spite of its forays into occasional silliness. The rest of the cast, including Bradley Whitford (from West Wing, and sporting the worst false moustache you've ever seen - it looks as though belongs in the 70s rather than the 90s), Michael Considine and Queen Latifah don't really get much chance to get to grips with their roles because they're basically underwritten. Latifah doesn't appear till almost the end, comes in with a whiz and a bang and is then given nothing to do. 

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