The Films of Roger Michell
My Night with Reg
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Venus (August 1/07)
Venus casts the venerable Peter O'Toole as Maurice, an aging actor who strikes up an unexpected friendship with a sassy teenager named Jessie (Jodie Whittaker). Much of the film revolves around Maurice's plotless exploits with Jessie, and there's little doubt that the viewer's interest is generally held by the palpable chemistry between O'Toole and Whittaker. The low-key vibe is certainly reflected in Roger Michell's understated visual choices, while Hanif Kureishi's script unflinchingly explores the harsh realities of Maurice's increasingly frail state. There is consequently an authenticity to the movie that's intensified by O'Toole's expectedly masterful performance, with the actor seamlessly stepping into the shoes of an ailing yet strangely virile figure. Whittaker more than holds her own opposite O'Toole, offering up a surprisingly complex portrait of a character that - in lesser hands - could've easily come off as petulant and obnoxious. Ultimately, there's little doubt that Venus' effectiveness is directly related to one's ability to sympathize with Maurice's plight - although, admittedly, O'Toole's riveting performance does make it awfully difficult to not find something here worth embracing.
An energetic and entertaining comedy, Morning Glory follows ambitious television producer Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) as she successfully lands a gig at a failing morning show - with the film subsequently (and primarily) revolving around her efforts at turning the program around and handling the on-air talent (including Harrison Ford's Mike Pomeroy). Filmmaker Roger Michell has infused Morning Glory's opening half hour with an almost astonishingly fast-paced sensibility that proves impossible to resist, as the movie's inherently compelling workplace-comedy atmosphere is heightened by the charisma of the various performers. (In addition to Ford and McAdams' stellar work, the film boasts appearances from scene-stealers like John Pankow, Jeff Goldblum, and Ty Burrell.) It is, as a result, slightly disappointing to note that Morning Glory inevitably (and undeniably) segues into an increasingly conventional romcom, with this feeling perpetuated by the ungainly inclusion of several click-flick-type elements within the narrative (including Becky's on-again-off-again relationship with Patrick Wilson's Adam Bennett). The progressively uneven atmosphere is, for the most part, rather easy to overlook, however, as Michell, working from Aline Brosh McKenna's screenplay, does a nice job of compensating for the movie's lackluster elements by offering up a series of downright exhilarating scenes and sequences (ie Ford's character heads out into the field to break a major news story). By the time the sentimental yet satisfying finale rolls around, Morning Glory has certainly established itself as a refreshingly breezy piece of work that should leave most viewers contented.
Hyde Park on Hudson (December 14/12)
Hyde Park on Hudson casts Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and follows the 32nd President as he prepares for (and eventually hosts) a visit by Britain's King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman), with the film primarily unfolding through the eyes of FDR's sixth cousin and lover Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney). There's little doubt that scripter Richard Nelson's decision to place so prominent an emphasis on Linney's character initially holds the viewer at arm's length, as Margaret, despite Linney's typically fine work, is simply unable to establish herself as an intriguing or worthwhile central character - with the strength of Murray's performance ensuring that one can't help but wish that Margaret had been omitted entirely. It is, as such, not surprising to note that the movie improves substantially once the King and Queen arrive on the scene, with the inherently amusing fish-out-of-water bent of their initial scenes proving instrumental in resuscitating the viewer's flagging interest. The ensuing culture clash - the Royal pair debate whether or not George should eat a hot dog, for example - ensures that Hyde Park on Hudson is at its best during its unexpectedly watchable midsection, with the movie's highlight a stirring sequence depicting a heartfelt chat between West's George and Murray's FDR. The subsequent third-act emphasis on Daisy's comings and goings lamentably brings the proceedings back down, and there's ultimately little doubt that Hyde Park on Hudson would've fared a whole lot better had it focused entirely on Roosevelt and the King's appealing exploits.