Tag Archives: period drama

The Painted Veil – Review

7 Apr

Way back in 1925 a book was written called The Painted Veil, which told a story of love, heartbreak, and betrayal in the midst of a cholera epidemic in rural China. I’m not sure what the initial reaction was to the novel, but it spawned a plethora of adaptations dating back to 1934 and starring Greta Garbo. Another adaptation happened in 1957 with the film The Seventh Sin, an overlooked movie that cost MGM a great deal of money. The version I’m going to be talking about is the 2006 film starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. The Painted Veil is one of those movies where I’m really glad to have watched it, but it’s not something that’s going to stick with me for very long.

Kitty (Naomi Watts) is a well known and admired socialite who has no real interest in doing much of anything with her life, despite the pleas of her parents to find someone to marry and build a family with. Kitty is taken off guard one night when she meets a bacteriologist named Walter (Edward Norton) who asks her to marry him the next time they meet. She agrees to the marriage for the sole purpose of getting as far away as possible from her family. The couple move to Shanghai for Walter to continue his work, but Kitty meets Charlie (Liev Schreiber), a British government official, and they begin an affair. Walter quickly learns this and volunteers for a position to study Cholera in a rural village suffering from an epidemic. He brings Kitty along as a punishment and threatens to create a scandal if she doesn’t accompany him. It is in the middle of the sickness and the death that Kitty and Walter are forced to face mortality and their own selves to discover what is really important in their lives.

The first thing that pops out at me in The Painted Veil, and where I think the film is most successful, is in its production design. This is a gorgeous looking movie that’s beautifully shot and filled with excellent costumes and set designs. Being a period piece, it’s very important that the film has a sense of time and place, and this one knows and understands its time very well. This is why I really love well made period pieces, because they have the ability to transport you to a time that you’ve never seen before or never had the chance to experience. This also comes in handy when dealing with the plot point of a cholera epidemic. It hits the viewer hard and director John Curran pulled no punches in showing the horror that these people went through before a real cure was found.

You can clearly tell that the studio and makers of this film were really trying to push this movie as Oscar bait. Unfortunately, it never got to that point. I will say that they cast the right actors to get audiences’ attention, including mine. I think Edward Norton and Naomi Watts are two powerhouse actors, and usually give their all to whatever movie they’re in. The same can be said about their performances in The Painted Veil. They have really good chemistry together, which makes it all the more upsetting when the hostility between their characters reach their boiling points. There’s also real fear behind the stone wall façades that the two characters have built up, which make them feel all the more human. There’s also some great performances by the film’s minor roles with Toby Jones and Anthony Wong.

It’s hard to pinpoint where this movie falters, but I can’t help shake the feeling that the full potential of this film wasn’t reached. It may be that this story and its archetypal characters have been seen a dozen times before since the original story was written way back in 1925. There’s lots of flash in the production design and the acting, but I knew exactly where the story was going to go before I even started watching the movie. I had a good idea of what was going to happen based on the plot summary and most things I predicted came true. That takes a lot of joy and fun out of watching a movie since it feels like I’ve seen it all before. There are certain plot points in movie that can be predictable and have the movie remain intact, but when I can guess the entire movie, beat by beat, it kind of makes me rethink how entertaining the movie actually was.

I’m glad that I watched The Painted Veil because it has some really great production design, very good acting, and an interesting enough hook to get me engaged in the story. I feel as if I don’t need to see it again, however, because at the end of it all it was a very predictable film. It doesn’t dare to be different from any other romantic period drama, and it actually seems to try really hard to stay within the parameters of a very exact formula. If anyone ever asks me if they should watch The Painted Veil, I’d say sure, but I’d never go out of my way to recommend it.

Final Grade: B

Boogie Nights – Review

7 Jul

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most distinct voices in modern film, and I doubt that anyone would diminish the scope and power of his vision. There Will be Blood and The Master are so well photographed and told, while Magnolia tells a surreal, yet human tale. Before all this, however, there was Boogie Nights, Anderson’s break out hit from 1997. Not only was this the start of a career for Anderson, but also for Mark Wahlberg, who was known more for his rap music and work as a Calvin Klein model. To say the least, Boogie Nights is an epic film that hearkens back to the earlier films of Martin Scorsese, but it also stands alone as a singular visionary tale with P.T. Anderson’s style written all over it.

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In the late 1970s, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) is one of the leading names in the pornography industry, after directing numerous successful porno films. His real dream, however, is to hook the audience with the story instead of the sex. One night at a club, Horner stumbles upon Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a young guy with a seemingly non existent future and some really special talents. Adams is soon recruited by Horner and changes his name to Dirk Diggler, a name that will soon be known throughout the porn industry as the greatest male actor to grace the screen. Along with his best friend, Reed Rothchild (John C. Riley), Diggler takes the world by storm, but is soon introduced to a lifestyle of hard drugs and decisions without consequences. This takes a toll on his life, and the lives of everyone around him, and by the time the 1980s hits, it becomes time for Diggler to make some serious decisions about who he is and who he wants to be.

From the very first shot, I knew that I was about to watch a masterfully shot film. The first three minutes is a long take that starts on the marquee of a theater, travels through the street, and finally into the nightclub where we meet Jack Horner and Eric Adams, soon to be Dirk Diggler. I’m a real sucker for long takes like this, and it reminded me very much of the famous long take from GoodfellasBoogie Nights is made of quite a few of these long takes, with another in particular happening about halfway through the movie, which switches gears into overdrive. Other than that, this is just a really nice movie to look at. The outdoor scenes are very bright and really set the tone of the success that Dirk and his friends are feeling. Once the 1980s hits, a lot of the scenes are shot at night which also signifies a massive tonal shift. The way Anderson shoots this movie isn’t just artistic and technically proficient, but it also helps tell the story, and that’s awesome.

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While this is a story about Mark Wahlberg’s character, it’s important to note that it also tells the story of many other characters who come to be associated with Diggler. Other than Burt Reynolds and John C. Riley, Boogie Nights also stars Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I would much rather look at this movie as an ensemble pieces about a time period and the consequences of that time period, with the rise and fall of Wahlberg’s character as a catalyst. Anderson pays such close attention to period detail that it’s hard to argue this movie isn’t about the period in which it takes place. Each character has a different problem or situation that reflects a part of that time, and it gets even worse when the 1980s arrive and they have to come to terms with their past choices.

I keep mentioning the 1980s like it’s some ominous presence looking over the sun drenched horizon of the 1970s, and that’s sort of what it is in this movie. It also marks a point where Anderson makes some poor storytelling choices. The first half of the movie that takes place in the 1970s is note perfect, and I don’t have single complaint. Things take a turn for the worse right when the 80s arrive. This is when the fall of the characters begin, and it’s handled well for the most part, but some of it is just way too over the top and kind of pulled me out of the movie. There’s a really powerful sequence during this part that is followed up by a striking moment with Don Cheadle’s character. This scene alone is really cool and odd, but fitting it in after some really disturbing stuff was like sticking a Spider-Man comic into the Book of Revelations. This scene is really what I’m talking about, and it pulled me out of the movie so much that I just kept seeing all of the over the top moments as individual scenes that could have been turned down a few notches to make a better fit. These are really only a few scenes in a movie that’s two and a half hours long, so it doesn’t hurt the movie too bad, but I felt that I had to mention it.

Boogie Nights is simply a movie that can not be ignored. I consider Paul Thomas Anderson to be one of the best film makers working today, so seeing the movie that kick started his career was a real treat. This film is more than the pornography industry in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a film about the kinds of decisions that were made by a kind of people that led to a decade of serious trouble. It’s a rise and fall story with a time period that sort of act like characters themselves. This isn’t exactly a perfect movie, but I’d recommend Boogie Nights to anyone and everyone.