Tulip Fever

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Tulip Fever

An artist and the woman whose portrait he is painting can fall in love at any time in any place. In Tulip Fever it happens in 17th century Amsterdam when the tulip market soared and plunged in a way that feels just like the frenzy of our contemporary stock market. Sadly, the fact that the film opens with promise and ends in failure must be laid at the feet of writers Deborah Moggach, an experienced writer, and Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love).

Sophie (Alicia Vikander) has outgrown her stay at an orphanage run by the abbess (Judi Dench) who finds her a home and marriage to Cornellis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz) who adores her on sight. Sophie, he knows, will be the fine mother of the son they must produce. So right at the start we have Vikander. Waltz, and Dench, each a deserving winner of an academy award in the recent past. How can anything go wrong with that cast?

Cornellis adores Sophie and commissions Jan (Dane De Haan), a promising young artist, to paint a majestic portrait of the couple. Sophie falls in love with Jan and they begin an affair that takes us through 17th century Amsterdam as they indulge themselves. So far so good. Not one of them is a villain and we can root for all.

We absorb a fun bit of history as abbess Judi Dench explains the tulip fever of the time. It’s a moment when the mania for tulips, especially the rare white one with slight red has become the headquarters of the tulip market with men bidding in a frenzied version of today’s high flyers. We are happily absorbed in the culture of ancient Amsterdam (actually filmed in England). Women are invisible; men are tyrannical.

And then the whole thing falls apart in the writing of Deborah Maggach and Tom Stoppard. In a jolt of convoluted reasoning and utterly ridiculous filming, Sophie and Jan will do the standard thing of running away together; but first they will collude with pregnant housemaid, Maria (Holiday Granger) in a thoughtful effort to hurt Cornellis less. This leads to a delivery of the baby scene that is possibly one of the more ridiculous things ever filmed.

The cast is full of fine actors – add Tom Hollander as Dr. Sorgh, the delivery doctor – and it is a lethal act to all of them to force them to undermine their reputations with the prolonged silliness of two women screaming in pain – one real, one fake – while the happy father stands on the other side of the door. As much as I hate to savage a movie, this is one that begins with promise and ends in absurdity.

The word is out that it took several years along with cast changes and rewrites to make Tulip Fever. What was Tom Stoppard thinking? Given the fine quality of all the actors we can only wish they had quit while they were ahead.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Tulip Fever
Word Count : 501
Running time : 1:47
Rating : R
Date : September 17, 2017

 

This review was posted on September 17, 2017, in Drama, Romance.

It

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

It

It is a movie that hands us a hideous villain and an enormously appealing gang of young outcasts determined to erase his evil. Think of 1989 in the small town of Derry in Maine. Children have been disappearing and when Georgie, the beloved younger brother of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) doesn’t come home, the worried boy sets out to find him.

Bill gathers his fellow outcasts, a genuinely appealing group of pre-teens who share the fate of being bullied by older boys. They come together to search for Georgie on their bicycles and end up, of course, in a decrepit old house that demands bravery from anyone who enters. Doesn’t that sound like an ordinary scary movie? Yes, but since this is a Stephen King story, we can assume there is nothing ordinary about the way he scares us.

The boys are confronted by the hideous clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgaard) who will bedevil them throughout the film. We see buckets of blood, disfigurement, and terror. But this clown can’t equal what happens repeatedly as the music rolls along with increasing power telling us something awful is about to happen though it never comes when we expect it, but just exactly when we don’t. It does no good whatsoever to tell yourself it’s just a movie, close your eyes. It’s much too well done for that simple escape.

As we get to know the gang of boys and Beverly (Sophia Lillis) the pretty, strong girl with a heart, we sink easily into watching them grow closer as they develop their values and their courage. Instead of being peripheral to the violence, the young actors are so good that they become the sustaining focus of the movie. For me, the clown became and interruption to watching the kids.

I wanted that clown to get lost. No such luck. Stephen King has interwoven the boys and the clown so cleverly that there’s no way to ignore that clown as he spews blood through his ghastly teeth. He spins and leaps and uses the ugly weapons moviemakers love in our often grim time: special effects that increase the power of horror.

All this is delivered flawlessly by a good cast of very young actors. Jaeden Lieberher is an appealing hero with his own vulnerabilities. Jeremy Ray Taylor’s Ben is immensely engaging because he isn’t the stuff of a standard hero. He’s a unique hero. Sophia Lillis nails her part in every way.

Of the few adults in small roles, one – I won’t spoil it for you by telling you which character – is far more frightening than the clown himself. Stephen Bogaert creates a monster of a man and I am still trying to forget him.

If you can stand being subject to terror delivered with unconscionable skill, this movie just might make your day. Try to see it in a multi-speaker theater so you can enjoy whirling from left to right as unexpected maxi-sounds bombard you from all sides.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : It
Word Count : 500
Running time : 2:15
Rating : R
Date : September 10, 2017

 

This review was posted on September 10, 2017, in Drama, Horror.