The Year of Gwyneth: "Shakespeare in Love"

"Shakespeare in Love"

Gwyneth Paltrow's crowning achievement of 1998 and her career for that matter was playing Viola in John Madden's multiple Academy Award winning film "Shakespeare in Love".  The fictitious story of a young William Shakespeare in the midst of a crippling writer's block and finding the inspiration to write one of the greatest love stories of all time.

Set in London, the year is 1593 and two dueling theatre houses compete for services of an up and coming writer, poet and actor named Will Shakespeare, played by Joseph Fiennes. His hotly anticipated new play is still percolating in his head but so far he is unable to commit it to paper.  It's tentatively titled "Romeo and Ethel: The Pirate's Daughter" although hilarious needs a lot of work.  Will is uninspired and lifeless until he meets the regal and ravishing Viola De Lesseps.  She is however unavailable and has been promised to Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) by her father.  Wessex is a demanding and controlling brute who needs this marriage to bring his family name back into prominence.  

Viola is equally taken with Will as they meet at a formal dance, that he has wriggled in to.  She is also a big fan of the theatre and in a time when women were banned for performing on the stage she must come up with a plan to see more of him.  She disguise's herself as a young man named Thomas Kent and auditions for Will's new play.  Will can see there is something special about Thomas and must find out more. Viola's rouse it up quickly and Will has finally found his muse.  There illicit affair rages on despite their circumstances.  Will's pen now furiously churns out the pages of what is now called "Romeo And Juliet", under the recommendation of the towns lead actor Ned Alleyn (played by Ben Affleck).

In time Wessex catches wind of Viola's new suitor and looks to put a strong and decisive end to it.  While Viola and Will's romance slowly leaks out she is forced out of the play due to her being and actual woman and not a man in drag.  She does however make a triumphant return to the stage upon the plays opening performance for the Queen (Judi Dench).  The film certainly doesn't end like your average Hollywood Rom-Com and should be commended for it.  It ends and a very hopefully and positive beat, very truthful and real

This film is not your average romantic comedy although all the ingredients are there.  It's extremely smart, witty and fun to watch.  The filmmakers were able to make it thoroughly accessible and enjoyable for everyone.  It went on to win 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Lead Actress in Paltrow, and Best Supporting Actress in Dench. 


The Year of Gwyneth: "Sliding Doors"

"Sliding Doors"

"Sliding Doors" premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival and got a limited theatrical release in the Spring.  Coincidentally Gwyneth's character is named Helen just as in the previously reviewed "Hush", but this Helen has a proper British accent and lives in London.

The story is a high concept what if style romantic comedy that asks the question how different would your life be if you made or missed a subway ride home.  Helen is fired or "sacked" from her job at a PR firm and while trying to catch the train back home the story line fractures into two paths.  Meanwhile her wanker of a boyfriend is at home shagging some skag.  When Helen catches her ride home she walks in on unsuspecting couple, what a day.  She leaves him and looks to get a new start by getting her long hair chopped off and dyed blond.  On the other hand when she misses her ride she also misses out on a chance to reinvent herself and is stuck in her current life and relationship.  Sometimes the bad things in life are actually a blessing is disguise would be the overall message or meaning of the film.

The way the filmmakers work with this story structure is well done and thoughtfully put together, although not without its convenient coincidences.  It still doesn't have its typical romantic comedy clich├ęs.  The new and single Helen starts dating a man who she meet on that train and their ensuing relationship follow a fairly well known path.  The ending is pretty interesting as both timelines end up converging into one.  The film also questions fate.  If two people are meant to be together does it matter what path they take to get there?  Its a fun movie that's worth watching as its looks like it has something to say rather than just being a mindless bore like 90% of all other romantic comedies.


The Year of Gwyneth: "Hush"


When your in five movie in one year they can't all be good and "Hush" was Gwyneth's 1998 lame duck of a movie.  She co-stars with Jessica Lange in what looks to be the perfect Lifetime Network movie of the week.  Although dumped in to theatres in the spring of '98 it's your typical paint by numbers thriller that panders to the female audience.

Gwyneth plays Helen and girl that gets pregnant with her one dimensional Ken doll of a boyfriend/husband named JacksonJackson's family has tons of money and his mother Martha (Lange) own a ranch out in the country.  The newly weds look to start their family on the ranch and the expected cat fighting between Helen and Martha start immediately.  Martha is extremely controlling and protective of her son.  She over plays the role of the evil mother in-law to a comical extreme.  In fact we learn that she even orchestrated Helen's pregnancy for her own diabolical reasons. 

The whole estate know as Kilronan actually belongs to Jackson and her is very keen on selling the place by Martha won't have it  and will don anything to keep it.  The whole film is built on this triangle of characters that are poorly developed.  Jackson is just a cardboard cutout of a character that is fought over by the two women who are equally weak and plainly drawn.  You feel for and root for Helen but its just so ridiculous you end up crying "really?" 

The soap opera continues with Martha pulling all the strings and with Jackson going off to a horse show, the two women can fight it out.  Helen giving birth is probably the most intense scene of a film that's void of any real suspense or thrills.  Martha's attempts to steal the baby and kill Helen are short lived when Jackson arrives and leans the truth about his fathers death and his mother other lies.  Martha is thoroughly dispatched and the happy couple and baby live happily ever after, the end.  However if you like the cheesy and overreacted Lifetime movies you'll probably like this one, however it was not for me and cannot recommend it.  If your more looking for Gwyneth using a British accent then stay tuned for the next review in the series "Sliding Doors".

The Year of Gwyneth: "A Perfect Murder"

A Perfect Murder (1998)

The next film in the Year of Gwyneth is a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock film "Dial M for Murder" entitled "A Perfect Murder".  Directed by Andrew Davis and starring Michael Douglas leaning on his Gordon Gekko character from "Wall Street" as a ruthless New York City stock broker, although he goes by Steven Taylor in this film.  His young trophy wife Emily has gotten bored with him and has wrapped herself up in a steamy affair with the hansom and rugged artist David.  Once David wises up to her infidelities he hatches a plan to take care of everything.

The themes and story lines are pretty basic but is done quite well by all of those involved.  It's all about the cat and mouse games being played by all three characters and who know what and at what time.  Steven is a cunning and smart man who researches David's past and comes up with some pretty unsettling information.  He then offers a deal to David that he can't refuse.  Steven's grand scheme to murder Emily goes awry and leaves him in a vulnerable position as David now tries to pull off a plan of his own.

Although Emily was attacked she doesn't fall into the poor victim category for very long.  Her and Steven spend some time in the country to recuperate, but the gears in his mind are always grinding away.  He meets with David and their inner chess match continues, although Steven has never lost a game and David is just cocky enough to give him a run for his money both literally and figuratively.  Emily returns home still a little jumpy and on edge but knows that something just doesn't add up.  She begins to suspect that Steven is hiding something and does some investigating of her own.  As Steven and David's confrontations come to an end its time for Emily put up a fight as well.

"A Perfect Murder" is entertaining and fun to watch, with decent performance and good pacing throughout.  There might be a few holes here and there but for a movie that was released along with all the Summer blockbusters its a welcomed treat.

The Year of Gwyneth: "Great Expectations"

Great Expectations (1998)

The classic Dickens novel "Great Expectations" has been adapted in many different things over the years along with several movies, this review will focus on the 1998 film directed by Alfonso Cuaron starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke among others.  Remaking classic books and plays for a new generation is something Hollywood has always banked on and will forever be done whether warranted or not.

This modern retelling is a sexy and romantic tale of a penniless artist who gets introduced to a rich young girl and for the next twenty years tries to win her affections.  Ok its a little more than that but seeing as how I've never actually read the book, this version of the story is all I have to go on.  Living on the gulf coast of Florida Finn (Pip in the book) is a curious young boy who loves to draw.  While out by himself one day with his sketchbook he runs into an escaped convict played by Robert De Niro.  Scared to death Finn helps the man with his chains and feeds him.   These acts of kindness and feelings of terror will come back to him at an important crossroads later in life.  Another monumental influence in Finn's young life comes in the form of a rich eccentric women Ms. Dinsmoor (Anne Bancroft) and her daughter Estella.  This sets the foundation for Finn's life as we flash forward some 15-20 years, Finn is now played by Hawke, while Estella is played by Paltrow.  After struggling for years as a painter, he finally seems to get his big break and a showing of his work in a swanky New York gallery.  Estella is also back in the city after spending a number of years studying and living abroad.  They meet rather coincidentally and the torch Finn has always carried for her is reignited, although Estella has always been no more than a tease going all the way back to their childhood.  Then there's Dinsmoor even more older and more eccentric than ever playing the part of the puppet master in toying with Finn and his emotions.  Finn's one an only muse is Estella and she loves being his model, but she holds him at distance and after years of instruction from Dinsmoor plays him like a fiddle.  When Finns learns that she is engaged he tries harder than every to win her over, her engaged looks to be just a front in order to hurt and inspire him.  Will his last ditch efforts to win her over finally work, or will he be forever pining for a woman he can never have? 

When it finally comes time for his big opening all of his artistic dreams seem to coming true.  With a few bumps along the way as his well meaning father (Chris Cooper) crashes the party and nearly ruins everything.  The opening is a huge success and all of his pieces sell, but behind all of this was a secret benefactor who has been controlling it all.  Finn is a good guy, almost too good and brings to mind the saying "Good guys always finish last", its what makes this such a heart wrenching story.  I also must point out that the soundtrack and the music used throughout the fill is exceptional and would be worth buying on its own.  The film is only available on DVD and it's kind of dated.  A blu-ray release is sorely needed and I'm still waiting for it, just like Finn for Estella.