WHEN FDR MET BERTIE

You may recall King George VI (aka Bertie) from the Oscar-winning movie The King’s Speech, which chronicled how a voice tutor helped the British monarch to overcome his stutter. Well, the stutter is in full force in Hyde Park On Hudson, which details the first meeting of an American president (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, portrayed by Golden Globe nominee Bill Murray) and a British king (George/Bertie, played by Samuel West) in 1939. The initially awkward summit makes for a witty film, but it is framed by the story of FDR’s growing secret romance with his distant cousin Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney), who witnessed the events and the discovery of whose secret diaries and letters lead to the telling of this tale from her special perspective. What makes this period piece distinct is its understated and elegant storytelling and the way in which small moments carry larger significance. The meeting between Bertie and FDR—in which the King curses his stutter, then feels comforted by the president pointing out his own polio—is touching and also makes us feel more intimately connected to two men whose near mythic prominence seemed even greater at a time when many scandals were covered up or ignored by the media. But the quiet love between Daisy and Franklin is equally important here, and it reveals a lot of insight into a man who had other demons to grapple with. There have been some criticisms of the film’s historical accuracy, but despite that, Murray’s warm portrayal of a deeply flawed historical figure, and Linney’s subtly layered portrait of his naive love interest, make this very worthwhile watching indeed.

 

FRENETIC FANTASY FARE

It should be noted that the title Woochi: The Demon Slayer is misleading since he actually fights monsters, but ultimately that does not matter much. This 135-minute Korean blockbuster is so hyperactive and fast-paced that it tends to get confusing, yet somehow it’s odd blend of martial arts action, fantasy adventure and teen-oriented comedy is entertaining despite its narrative shortcomings. The basic premise is that after a human-monster detente, monsters escape a 3,000-day imprisonment by humans in the heavens, and various immortal characters, including the titular hero and his sidekick who have been unjustly imprisoned in scrolls for 500 years, fight in the present day for possession of two parts of a broken magic flute that, when used by the powers of evil, could lead to a monster takeover of the world. At least that’s what it seems to be about. The set-up comes off very quick—this film is based on a famous Korean folktale, so for audiences there it probably makes total sense—and the ensuing story, which moves from the Joseon Dynasty to the modern day world, keeps us merrily distracted. There are plenty of wild goblin fight scenes and cool digital effects to keep you engaged, and the womanizing Tao master Woochi, who is fighting for humanity while fighting off his lustful urges, is a charismatic if cocky character. As a bonus, the movie features a giant rabbit with nasty, big, pointy teeth—he’s like the killer bunny of Monty Python And The Holy Grail on steroids.

 

PUZZLING SPIRITS

Traditional ghost stories have gradually been coming back into style in post-torture porn horror cinema, and The Presence certainly qualifies as one of the most unusual and intriguing. Made three years ago but just released on DVD now, the film stars Mira Sorvino as a writer (or researcher, it never truly specifies) isolating herself in a cabin by woods and a lake to get some alone time and work in peace. But when she feels a silent, invisible spirit (the eerily mute Shane West) in her space, she summons her beleaguered boyfriend (Justin Kirk) to visit her. Things get twisted when the ghost starts to hear voices himself—are there more entities that even he can’t see lurking about?—and devilish goings-on ensue. This debut from writer-director Tom Provost does take its time to unfold, but if you have patience, it builds an unsettlingly beautiful atmosphere that gets under your skin. And there’s a well-orchestrated scene near the end that will make you jump. West has to emote by his face alone, and he does a great job. The romantic agitation between Sorvino and Kirk—they have some serious relationship issues to contend with—adds another layer to the sinister story. Overall, The Presence is an original spooky story that is equally philosophical and visceral; a horror tale with a purpose.

 

NETFLIX FIX: THE HOSPITAL (1971)

Just after actor George C. Scott won an Oscar of his portrayal of Patton and six years before screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky won an Oscar for the highly influential Network (although he won an Oscar for this too), their talents were pooled together with director Arthur Hiller (who had been Oscar-nominated for Love Story) into this offbeat tale of life in a madcap NYC hospital that is having bureaucratic and medical issues, not to mention a serial killer quietly on the prowl. Chief of medicine Herbert Bock (Scott) is suicidally depressed over his divorce and lack of connection to his children. His teaching hospital is in disarray. But when he meets a beautiful younger woman (Diana Rigg) who wants to spirit him away from this urban madness, he feels renewed vigor. But will he be able to leave his dutiful post? And will the serial killer be caught before more people die? The Hospital starts as a black comedy and shifts more into dark drama near the end, but I felt comfortable with the transition, and the ending is not typical Hollywood tripe. There’s also a lot of moving camerawork that keeps us rolling through the discombobulated hospital and the craziness surrounding its attendants and patients. Part of what makes this fascinating to watch is looking back to see what was considered modern medicine at the time. You may feel so much better about the current state of health care. Well, at least the medical part. The insurance aspect is a mess.

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