Hyde Park on Hudson
Bill Murray’s best chances to win an Oscar are arguably behind him. Because if he couldn’t snag one for his portrayal of weatherman Phil Connors, doomed to relive the same day in Groundhog Day, due to the Academy’s aversion to comedy, or as Bob Harris, the actor suffering from a midlife crisis in Lost in Translation, due to the Academy’s love for Sean Penn (who won for Mystic River that year), it’s hard to see how he’ll ever get to read out an acceptance speech, unless he’s collecting the statue on behalf of one of his peers.
And yet some are saying that he might be a contender as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson. Poor Bill: If only he didn’t have to go up against another POTUS, in the form of Daniel Day Lewis’s Abraham Lincoln in the same awards season. ‘Twas ever thus.
If anything, we shouldn’t be looking to this year’s contenders but rather a film from two years ago, as we’re almost in The King’s Speech territory. The year is 1939 and George VI (Samuel West rather than Colin Firth this time) and his wife are in America to ask FDR for some help ahead of the inevitable outbreak of war with Germany. The Royals are in his mother’s upstate New York pad, whereas Roosevelt is in the city with, among others, Olivia Williams, who plays his First Lady Eleanor. Crucially, among those “others,” is his distant cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney) as their affair shows how FDR is trying to combine the demands of the Presidency with all his – ahem – “special relationships.”
The critics don’t seem to be buying it on either side of the pond. The Guardian, who likes the movie as much as anyone, still maintains a rather cynical tone. “This is a quite audaciously pragmatic product, which exists because someone has calculated that if you multiply The King’s Speech to the power of Roosevelt and then add Bill Murray, the tills that rang out (to the tune of $250m) for Tom Hooper’s film are going to be Liberty bell loud this time around.” Variety takes a similar tack but goes for the jugular: “This frequently tacky tell-all amplifies one aspect of The King’s Speech‘s appeal … by revealing celebrated world leaders to be as insecure and flawed as the rest of us. But Roger Michell’s treatment shares none of King’s Speech‘s overcoming-adversity triumph, spelling far milder returns.” As for the King of TIME reviewers, the majestic Richard Corliss, isn’t remotely moved: “Roger Michell’s movie is, pretty consistently, dreadful.”
Playing for Keeps
Tagline: This Holiday Season, What Do You Really Want?
When the likes of Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Dennis Quaid star in romantic comedies, you don’t exactly cancel all existing plans to witness the end product. And it’s arguable that Playing for Keeps, which is about a former soccer star George Dryer (Butler), who comes back home in an attempt to try and get his life together by reconnecting with his ex-wife (Biel) and son (Noah Lomax), isn’t going to buck that particular trend.
Still, let’s play this out: Can you imagine how he tries to rebuild the relationship with his son? That’s right, by coaching his soccer team. And when you consider that he has to simultaneously deal with all those soccer moms, you genuinely fear that the audience may not make it to full time.
The soccer world is more than accustomed with a final score of nil and, sadly for director Gabriele Muccino (best known for The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds), at the time of writing, 0% is his new movie’s current score on Rotten Tomatoes. “A good premise for a comedy, but somewhere along the way, it got diluted and turned into a sappy, feel-good story of family togetherness,” begins the Hollywood Reporter. “This one’s no keeper.” Glenn Kenny at MSN Movies is even less charitable. “Playing for Keeps wants to run and kick feel-good moments through the goalposts, but it limps and wheezes from the opening faceoff until its final whistle, with a lot of effort expended to earn, and make, very few points.” And it doesn’t score with the AP either: “It is truly baffling that all the talented, acclaimed actors involved actually read this script and then agreed to devote their time to this movie.” Or in soccer parlance, it’s a definite own-goal.
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Lay the Favorite
Sport of a different nature is the order of the day in Stephen Frears’s Lay the Favorite, adapted from the true story by Beth Raymer. She’s played by Frears’s fellow Brit, Rebecca Hall, who is a stripper named – yes! – Beth. Her father (Corbin Bernsen) encourages her to make her dreams come true by moving to Las Vegas, where, despite being a cocktail waitress, she soon falls in with a crowd populated by professional gambler Dink (Willis), and his wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones, cropping up in her second movie of the week).
The book made for pretty diverting reading but it doesn’t appear as if the translation onto screen has been wholly successful. “The dialogue is shrill, the emotional moments are foghorned with deafening musical cues, and every scene is lit like an advert for orange juice,” slams the Daily Telegraph. “Particularly disappointing given the names involved, it’s only mildly amusing at best, and more often downright tedious,” is the slightly milder conclusion offered by Empire. Yet Time Out London doesn’t feel that all bets are off, but rather praises the director and cast: “Frears’s strongest hand is a set of colorful characters played with verve: Hall is all heart and smiles as Beth, always keeping on the right side of a tart-with-a-brain act; Willis downplays the more caricatured tics (limping, knee-high socks, repeated scratching) of awkward but successful Dink; and Zeta-Jones lets her glare do the talking.” But from the sound of it, most of the glaring will come from the audience.