' Cinema Romantico

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Finding Dory

Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), the endearing regal blue tang of 2003’s ultra-successful Pixar adventure “Finding Nemo”, who functioned as both comic relief and unwitting co-navigator on account of her short term memory loss, graduates from sidekick to leading lady in Andrew Stanton’s inevitable sequel, expectedly titled “Finding Dory.” We catch up with the titular character in the company of her surrogate family, a more mature Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and his forever-frazzled father Marlin (Albert Brooks), a year after the events of the first film. Dory’s quest emerges on account of a fragmented memory of her childhood, prompting her and her two friends to traverse the ocean to what she reckons is home – the Marine Life Institute along the coast of California – and where her parents might be waiting for her after so many years apart.

We see her mother and father (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) in an early scene, conveyed with winning tenderness that is deliberately, frightfully extinguished when the film elliptically jumps to Dory in the aftermath of unwittingly separating from her folks. These brief scenes of Dory lost in Pacific’s vastness find Stanton forgoing the visually enchanting aquatic blue, as if all the ocean’s a solarium, for an ominous darkness, the kind of blackness you think of surrounding ghostly shipwrecks. And as Dory swims with no direction, asking for help that is not forthcoming, a palpable sensation emerges of being a young child, becoming separated from your parents at the mall, not knowing where to go, failing to recognize any faces, and then trying to explain to the people at the security kiosk how you got lost only to realize you cannot re-trace your steps. And it suggests, if only momentarily, another movie, “Finding Dory” prowling around potentially dark nooks and sinister crannies, a fairytale with an edge.

That never happens, just as Stanton never chooses to transform the Marine Life Institute into commentary on captivity at Sea World-ish theme parks. Oh, there are allusions to what can lurk in these places, like in the case of Hank, the grumpy Octopus (Ed O’Neill), who is actually Septopus on account of one of his tentacles being lopped by all the kids at the institute run amok, but even that is played more for laughs than institutional criticism. If anything at this supposed place for “rehabilitation and release” is emblematic it is the recorded voice of the tour guide – Sigourney Weaver, one of our greatest action heroes. And this is because Stanton renders a story that, while necessarily heartwarming, is more often adrenalized to the extreme.

Though the new Jason Bourne movie is not released until August, “Finding Dory” gets the drop on it. After all, while Bourne might be a re-programmed government assassin and Dory might be a fish, they both are on quests to uncover their identity, and each of their quests make way for an abundance of awe-inspiring action-oriented set-pieces, like Nemo and Marlin soaring through the air via plaza fountains and, even better, Dory and Hank’s breathless, hilarious escape from a terrifying touch pool. Indeed, if my favorite action sequence of last summer was Tom Cruise’s underwater derring-do in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”, my favorite sequence of this summer is the touch pool, in which the crashing hands of children reaching into the shallow water to grab terror-stricken sea urchins resembles something like the Giantess of “Into the Woods” let loose in the scene of collecting 57mm shells in “One Crazy Summer.”

And if “The Bourne Supremacy”, that masterpiece of the genre, concluded with a car chase, well, rest assured “Finding Dory” does too. Like any movie of this sort, simply finding her parents isn’t enough; there also has to be a ticking clock. That clock presents itself in the form of a truck scheduled to ferry all manner of aquatic animals to vast aquarium in Cleveland, a truck which Dory winds up on, and then Nemo and then Marlin, and which Hank wants on, given that he’s the Murtaugh of this story, too old for this octopus ink. And the ticking clock goes off with a chase down the coastal highway that finds Hank at the truck’s wheel, making like Indiana Jones.

This rip-roaring denouement, however, is preceded by Dory’s requisite re-uniting with her parents, a mystical sequence underlined by a haunting musical score that sounds like something out off Pure Moods, where muddy waters give way to the color of bright white shells pointing the way home, pulling at the heartstrings. It’s strange, then, that after a moment of such earnestness, the movie proceeds to more or less turn her parents into semi-comic bystanders to the madcap conclusion on the freeway. It lets some of the air out of this all-important encounter, sacrificing emotion for sensation, as if “Finding Dory” is afflicted with the same case of sequelitis that plagues so many productions this time of year.

Still, that madcap conclusion is pretty darn good in spite of what it sacrifices, and speaks to the film’s predominant tone of action-packed farcicality. It might not be as poignant as its predecessor, but it is undoubtedly enjoyable in its own way, that as a Pixar poster quote movie that wants to take you for the proverbial ride. It’s an animated aquatic rollercoaster; it’s Oceans of Fun™!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Independence Day Resurgence

If Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin’s “Independence Day” (1996) pointedly refused any wonder regarding aliens and outer space, it still had a discernible spring in its narrative step, a welcome know-how for sculpting enjoyably hokey characters and relationships and a delightful commitment to corn. It was empty calories, absolutely, but it was full-flavored. Its just-released follow-up “Independence Day Resurgence”, on the other hand, is flavorless. It’s like ingesting a non-nutrient meal in pill form. Where is the fun in that? This cheerlessness is reflected in the movie’s oppressively drab visuals. Whether it’s the black of space, the dark of night, or murky underground government lairs, Emmerich and cinematographer Markus Förderer shroud the film in as little light as possible, as if unconsciously wishing the sequel would disappear into this darkness and be forgotten.

“Resurgence” is set twenty years after the original as the unfailingly angry aliens have returned to re-attack Earth. As it opens, the movie swings from the moon, where a military base has been built, back to various points on our blue planet, either disseminating necessary information with witless dialogue, or simply not disseminating at all. Gaps in logic are hallmarks of these kinds of movies, and “Resurgence” has its fair share, but those are of less consequence than the storytelling breakdown. Whereas the original film had a buoyant set-up and sturdy structure of three concise acts, “Resurgence” is ungainly from the get-go. Bereft of pace, missing the necessary scope for a supposed planetary context and conspicuously without Emmerich’s patented to ability to plant joyously obvious set-ups for joyously obvious call-backs, it is at once humdrum and herky jerky, noticeably devoid of any glee in its rendering and struggling to make clear where we are, what’s happening and who anyone is.

Characters from the original, like David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman), have to wearily exposit what they’ve been up to and what’s happened in the intervening years while new characters just kind of enigmatically materialize as if they are holograms. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Catherine Marceaux, a colleague of David’s, isn’t really even established; she’s just there, and then quickly shunted aside to do nothing but observe the obvious. She’s a far cry from Margaret Colin’s Constance Spano, whose absence is never explained, and whose romantic energy Goldlbum clearly misses playing off of. He gets a few good lines, but mostly seems to exist in that hell-fire of blue screen, where he’s never sure what he’s supposed to be looking, or where he’s standing or sitting in relation to it. Pullman, meanwhile, never gets a handle on his mental patient ex-Commander & Chief, playing a broad caricature with too much solemnity.

Their fate speaks to the movie’s foremost flaw - that is, its painful lack of personality. The new characters of this five person screenplay are so underwritten they don’t even rise to the level of stock, and made worse because the actors portraying these parts are unable to infuse them with even the slightest spirit. Maika Monroe as President Whitmore’s daughter is a nonentity. Liam Hemsworth, playing a pilot dating President Whitmore’s daughter, is less Maverick or Iceman than Walking Potted Plant. Jessie T. Usher plays the son of Will Smith’s Steven Hiller as if his character inherited not one single ounce of his father’s considerable charisma. “Independence Day Resurgence” is the first movie that made me pine for the mellow quasi-pizzazz of Harry Connick Jr., never mind Harvey Fierstein, whose squawking would have stampeded right over this triumvirate of languid youths. (Sela Ward is a President whose sole job is to stand there and say nondescript authoritative things.)

An early scene finds David and Catherine in the Congo where they meet Dikembe Umbutu (Deobia Oparei), a Warlord, whose people spent years after the conclusion of the first film in ground combat with the aliens. Though he winds up as part of the main group, Umbutu mostly blends into the background, which is unfortunate, because his character alone has the glimmer of oomph, and who he is what this movie should be, one where African warlords and American archetypes are allies, an untraditional conveyance of global inclusiveness that the movie pitifully tries peddling later in a thinly sketched scene that is lifted straight from the original film. The latter sequence, like so many others, is lip service.

No one would confuse Emmerich with harboring an extravagant imagination given how often he cribs from other movies, but that is not to say he is un-imaginative. In his marvelous “White House Down” he aptly demonstrated his ability for out-of-the-box thinking by engineering a car chase despite the film being set, as the title implies, predominantly inside a residence. In “Independence Day Resurgence”, however, none of this resourcefulness is on display. Instead he incessantly replicates bits from the first film without re-imagining them, whether it’s a half-baked shot at another President Whitmore speech or Steven Hiller’s son firing off a godawful imitation of a Steven Hiller wisecrack at a crucial moment. And so the movie feels like a lethargic retread, as light on its feet as the Godzilla-ish alien queen that shows up at the end to stomp and smash.

It’s difficult not to note that irony, considering the woebegone calamity that was Emmerich and Devlin’s “Godzilla” in 1998. You might remember their crack at that venerable Japanese franchise ended in such a way as to ensure a sequel. Yet, its terrible telling thankfully negated that sequel. The conclusion of “Independence Day Resurgence” leaves no doubt that it wants to clear a path for another movie too. You leave with hopeful thoughts that the sheer haplessness of the finished product will prevent this from happening, and that, like Armin Tamzarian, everyone, such as myself, who loved the 1996 original so forcefully will refrain from mentioning “Independence Day Resurgence” ever again under penalty of torture.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday's Old Fashioned: Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

As “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” opens, Dr. Russell Martin (Hugh Marlowe) and his brand new bride Carol (Joan Taylor) are driving through the desert. He’s dictating into a tape recorder about various scientific concerns which seems pretty misplaced considering they just got hitched. Carol lets him know it. So they canoodle, a little, and then, wouldn’t you know it, he goes right back to dictating. A domestic drama beckons. Then, an ominous sound appears. It is a flying saucer, looming right out their rear window, up to who knows what. And this immediately reveals the overall intention of director Fred F. Sears. He never seeks to draw out suspense regarding the existence of flying saucers. I mean, why would you when they are right there in the title? So they are right there in the beginning, and because they are, they immediately upstage the two primary characters, rendering their backstory moot not more than a few seconds after it’s been established. No one came to the theater (put in the DVD) to watch The Newlywed Game.

The film’s DNA is in the litany of 1950s movies that imagined invaders from other planets, like Mars, for instance, which is never name checked as the homeland of these flying saucers but still feels like the place from where these loping robotic invaders with human beings clearly inhabiting their alien cinematic spacesuits feel like they must hail. Perhaps that observation is merely an extension of having seen Tim Burton’s 1998 “Mars Attacks!” first, a droll and sporadically brilliant comedy which seems to have drawn at least partially from “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers”, although the latter’s determination to play it completely straight never even threatens to crumble despite the thoughts of a mugging Pierce Brosnan and a preening Tom Jones that were dancing in the back of my head.

That successful seriousness can be attributed primarily to the supremely effective visual effects engineered by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. The saucers, plain as a sketch in the notebook of a little kid dreaming about extra-terrestrials, are not scary, not exactly, but they never feel pre-programmed, beholden to strokes on a keyboard. Instead they seem to move of their own scary free will, dropping or sliding into the frame, often over stock footage of national landmarks and battleships at sea and remote desert locations, as if they may have always been there, lurking. And the sound design, that incessant buzz that grinds its way into the back of your brain, heightens the sensation. Those big spaceship behemoths in “Independence Day” sought to generate awe; these regular ol’ UFOs in “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” seek to put a pit in your stomach. They do.

Though many of the sci-fi invasion movies of 50s often employed their alien invaders as allegories, “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” is generally free of such pesky metaphors. Oh, it flirts initially with the idea of the military resistance jumping the gun, as men in combat uniforms immediately open fire at the first sign of alien visitors. The movie then dangles the idea that perhaps the aliens come in peace, but that's quickly revealed as a mere feint. They do not come in peace; they come to destroy. America, and then the rest of the world, must stand up to them, and do, though to be fair, “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” does not fetishize the military and instead makes science the focal point of the resistance, as Dr. Marvin and his team must deduce what these invaders are up to and then fashion a more intelligently methodical means of combatting them. It’s a healthy bit of screenwriting chicanery rather than simply going nukes ‘round the clock.

The characters, from Russell and Carol on down to the rest, all of whose names could be anything, are pawns of the plot. But admirably, after that opening, the screenplay also more or less refuses to even try and give them dimension beyond what they need to do to deal with and stop the flying saucers. And that’s actually a pretty smart decision, making the movie that much more compact and heightening the pace, while also intrinsically putting forth the idea that once the aliens do finally invade our blue planet, any and all human interest stories will fall by the wayside.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Emmerich-ized Reaction Shot Extravaganza

Tomorrow, of course, "Independence Day Resurgence", the long-gestating sequel to Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin's Kansas Corn cinematic faux-classic "Independence Day" (or ID4 for the marketing gurus), is finally set to drop after a twenty year wait. I'm so excited, even if the buzz on it has suddenly plummeted toward Ice Age temperatures. 

Hey, speaking of the Ice Age, I briefly considered returning to this blog's beloved (is that the right word?) tradition of posting "Independence Day" reaction shots to celebrate its sequel's release. But then I figured, maybe you, my faithful, frustrated readers are tired of "Independence Day" reaction shots. And fair enough. So here are some other Emmerich-ish reaction shots from his 2004 eco-disaster extravaganza "The Day After Tomorrow" in which the Ice Age returns. 

Emmerich-ized Reaction Shot Extravaganza

This is a standard-issue reaction shot to kick us off, but also important to note because it's about as reaction-y as our leading man, Jake Gyllenhaal, ever gets. He's nothing if not a serious actor and I can only imagine Mr. Emmerich counciling Gyllenhaal on Day 1 about the need for reaction shots, like this scene where he's staring up at fleeing CGI birds (along with Emmy Rossum, who goes for heightened curiosity), and Gyllenhaal nodding and then getting back to his dressing room and thinking to himself "Like hell I will" and then deciding to make every one of his reactions impassive. And Emmerich thinking why can't Gyllenhaal be more like.........

.........THIS GUY!!!!!!!

Or like the great Ian Holm who, in this frame, demonstrates how a mere raising of the eyebrows can communicate so much ominousness. 

Not, however, like the Dude on the Left who seems to have mis-interpreted "The Day After Tomorrow" as a wacky comedy.

The official facial expression, I imagine, of all President Blake's cabinet meetings.

I like this one for the woman in the background as she listens to the Supposed-To-Be Dick Cheney Vice President blather angrily and wrongly about everything. She's kind of twisting her lip, just a little, an expression that seems to suggest she's thinking more about lunch.

When you just found out at the dawn of a new Ice Age that the boy you like likes you.

Props to the librarian still taking questions at the reference desk in the immediate aftermath of a tidal wave that leveled New York.

Props to Gordon Masten who turns up for a single scene as "New York Bus Driver" solely to get wiped out by the massive tidal wave and still manages to wring genuine emotion out of the brief moment when he realizes this is it.

Ah yes. The classic Look At The Phone After The Phone Line Just Forebodingly Went Dead reaction shot. Bravo, Holm.

Emmy Rossum and Arjay Smith have just seen The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; Jake Gyllenhaal has just seen the invisible oracle Uyulala.

They've all just seen Katy Perry ride by on a mechanized wooly mammoth.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Shout-Out to the Extra: Twister Version

Shout-Out to the Extra is a sporadic series in which Cinema Romantico shouts out the extras, the background actors, the bit part players, the almost out of your sight line performers who expertly round out our movies with epic blink & you’ll miss it care.

You would think – you would THINK – that having tornadoes, those terrifying twirling funnel clouds would be antagonistic enough in a movie in which daring meteorologists chase them to and fro across the Oklahoma prairie. But this, friends, is Hollywood where conflict and stakes rule all. Can’t never have enough of conflict and stakes, don’t you know, and so “Twister”, with titular rotating clouds of mayhem coming out its proverbial ears, still decided to insert a gaggle of Bad Weathermen in all black vans trying to chase the same tornadoes as the Good Weathermen. The Bad Weathermen are lorded over by Jonah Miller, played by Cary Elwes with an omnipresent sneer who fuses a modern storm chaser with sub-optimal Lionel Barrymore. And throughout the movie Dr. Miller, as he must be, is trailed by a bastion of flunkies, all of whom apparently did not know that meteorology school would one day entail mimicking the members of Biff Tannen’s gang.

Indeed, kind of like how you now recognize Billy Zane in Biff’s gang, you probably recognize particular faces in Jonah’s gang. There’s Jake Busey and Zach Greiner and Patrick Fischler. But, there is also Eric LaRay Harvey. Per IMDb he plays Eric, which is something of a letdown compared to Busey’s “Mobile Lab Technician” and Fischler’s “The Communicator” and even Greiner’s “Eddie” which is the perfect name for Dr. Miller’s #2. Not that it matters. Eric outdoes ‘em all. He never gets a line, mind you, because he’s just the Token Black Guy In The Background. But he doesn’t need a line; he just needs to laugh.

Film scholars generally agree that “Twister’s” most memorable moment is the gas station parking lot confrontation between Good Weathermen and Bad Weathermen when the Good Weathermen’s chief emeritus, Bill (Bill Paxton), realizes that his brilliant idea for placing a patented doo-hickey in a tornado’s path to scientifically gauge its innards has been pilfered by Dr. Miller. “You damn thief,” Bill declares as he knocks the baseball cap off Dr. Miller’s head. There is a little pushing and shoving and it is quickly broken up and the two men exchange a few words and appear set to go on their un-merry ways until Dr. Miller decides to get off one more zinger. Knowing that Bill has hung up his storm chasing credentials to become a TV weatherman instead, Dr. Miller scoffs: “By the way, I really enjoy your weather reports.” All on its own, this historically horrendous insult would be comedy enough, but Eric LaRay Harvey, bless his soul, decides to take this moment into the unintentional comedy stratosphere. At the conclusion of the affront, LaRay Harvey unleashes a mammoth cackle. (You can watch the scene here. Skip to 1:50 for the cackle.)

It’s just incredible to hear. It’s the kind of cackle I imagine Dennis Rodman would have unleashed circa 1996 when he was Michael Jordan’s primary enforcer and #23 had just talked some trash to, say, Detlef Schrempf. I mean, LaRay Harvey has “Eric” act like “I really enjoy your weather reports” is the sickest burn since Bill the Butcher advised in no uncertain terms that “I don’t give a tuppeny fuck about your moral conundrum, you meat-headed shit sack.” LaRay Harvey’s cackle is not just an exclamation point; it feels like a rush of insight, a glimpse behind the curtain at an entire world we don’t know existed, where scientists and TV weathermen are like the Sharks and the Jets, pitted against one another in a never-ending Battle Royale, where the manner in which you choose to employ your knowledge says more than your knowledge. You know, there was talk way back when of a “Twister” sequel but it just sort of quietly abated, maybe because they had already served up all the tornadoes that CGI could bear. But maybe it was never meant to be set in the field. Maybe it was meant to be set out of the field, at the news station, behind the desk and near the doppler. Somewhere, Hollywood, Eric LaRay Harvey waits for your call.

Pour one out for the extra.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Maggie's Plan

Watching Rebecca Miller’s “Maggie’s Plan” is a unique experience. Though in some respects the film is a fairly formulaic rom com with a happy ending, its overriding mission is to plunk three intellectuals with cerebral tendencies into a situation that, whether they know it or not, is considerably quixotic. It’s like watching 1980s Woody Allen remake “Serendipity.” The titular character (Greta Gerwig) might claim she believes in destiny, given her conception by divorced parents who hooked up and told their daughter fairytales about this merely meant she “had to be born”, but her behavior suggests that she, in fact, believes she controls her own destiny. Her plan, however, intent on doing just that doesn’t quite work out, until it does, at which point she’s made to realize she was never driving this car at all. Take as many wrong exits as you want, men, women and children, but the modern moirai are guiding us all.

Maggie’s plan involves having a child with a sperm donor, a guy named Guy (Travis Fimmel), a pickle briner, which intrinsically betrays the film’s setting (New York City). Yet the plan begins to crack when she meets John (Ethan Hawke), a part-time professor at the New School where she works as a counselor. He tantalizes her intellect by asking her opinion of the novel he’s writing and she surrenders to erudite passion, bringing about an unplanned marriage and an unplanned kid that, of course, was planned, just planned with the other guy. Alas, Maggie & John's marriage quickly founders as she comes to realize many of his charms equate to negatives. She wonders if he was meant to be with his first wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore), whose broad accent, outrageous costumes and fearsome disposition belie a semi-generous spirit, all along, and hatches a new plan to get the exes back together.

That’s a plot that sounds readymade for a screwball comedy, and while there is some barbed dialogue, Miller forgoes the seemingly innate mania for something breezier instead, noticeably muting even the story’s most sensational twists. This means that you can see Miller’s screenplay telegraphing the conclusion, one that comes back around to the beginning, which despite the myriad of complications the characters endure still makes it seem as if nothing substantial has changed, as if everything in-between was an interruption. And if that eliminates suspense as to what will happen, well, “Maggie’s Plan” was never seeking to unload a surprise on us. It’s an academic’s fable.

As one character observes in relation to writing a paper, sometimes your opening paragraph says the same thing as your concluding paragraph, and this is because your conclusion is merely repeating your thesis in a more developed form. This is essentially what Miller does; the way the world in “Maggie’s Plan” is lined up as it opens is the way it is lined up as it concludes, just in a more developed form, with all sorts of entanglements yielding enlightenment. That illumination relates to destiny, which, it turns out, cannot be altered, not by our best laid plans and not by our whims either, suggesting that in spite of all human idiocy on display in this film, the fates always have our backs.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Love & Friendship

Twice in “Love & Friendship”, a Whit Stillman film based on an epistolary Jane Austen novel published well after her death, a gaggle of British aristocrats indulge in unflattering gossip about Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a Georgian Era widow, only to be interrupted by Lady Susan herself. Both times her sudden appearance freezes the gossipers in place, their mouths agape at being caught in the act, while Lady Susan coolly owns their discomfiture by rubbing their faces in it via haughtiness so polite the less sharp gossipers might not even realize her true intent. The implication is clear: Lady Susan owns the room even when she’s not in it, an irrepressibly wily character repeatedly dropping verbal bombs that explode on impact, jettisoning subtext for implicit meaning instead, civility dripping with poison, lines brought to peerless life by Kate Beckinsale, so often underused in movies unworthy of her skill and now unleashed in a role created by Austen and cultivated by Stillman that mammothly marries her ability to allure with her dexterity for effecting a cold, cold heart.

There is a moment when her character is searching for the word to describe Churchill, the country estate outside London of her brother-in-law where she has taken residence, and settles on “charming”. It’s a dig, of course, rather than a compliment, but it’s more what Beckinsale does in the moment just before she says it – she pauses. And she looks away from the person with whom she’s conversing, into the air, as if she’s searching for the word and then sees it and then plucks it. “Charming!” Of course she doesn’t conjure it out of the air because everything she says and everything she does is deliberate; she merely means to give the impression that she’s thinking things through. Because if the many male chuckleheads around her think she’s thinking things through, they’ll be obliged to believe they are persuading her when, really, she’s persuading them.

She has been left moneyless after the death of her husband and has been publicly ridiculed for an affair with the married Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O'Mearáin), leaving her in a precarious position of needing to find a new husband to maintain her place in the pecking order but having to do so with much of polite society not-so-politely aligned against her. What’s more, she is simultaneously seeking a suitor for her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark). The emergent irony is that the man, Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel), Lady Susan targets is the same man for whom Frederica develops eyes, and who can blame the young girl? After all, Lady Susan’s pick for her little girl, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), while well off, is described as “a bit of a rattle.”

Though De Courcy is also never near as smart as his self-impressed countenance would suggest, Sir James (Tom Bennett) really takes the cake, a pompous, oblivious dufus who no doubt would have been the first one to fall in the chocolate river at Willy Wonka’s factory. He’s the biggest joke of the movie, and he is indicative of a society where money seems simply to materialize for men, no matter their intellect, while even the smartest women, like Lady Susan, are reduced to second class status no matter how posh their accoutrement or digs.

This is not to suggest that Lady Susan tears up these antiquated rules; no, she merely operates within them, cunningly if gleefully, as evinced by the way she and her American co-conspirator Mrs. Johnson (Chloe Sevigny) who revel in the fast ones they pull, never failing to find pleasure in the rules of the same game that exists to keep them down. Yet simultaneously, that keeping them down is what keeps the movie afloat. If it is difficult to empathize with Lady Susan for all the artful verbal acid she spews, and for the less than high regard she openly admits to having for her own daughter, it is just as easy to empathize with her for the deviously delightful way in which she gets exactly what she wants in a culture specifically designed to ensure the opposite.