Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Netflixing: The Hours

Casting around for a decent movie on Netflix last weekend I settled on The Hours.

"This one is unlikely to be full of slash bangs and violence", I said, "and look it has 5 stars!"
"It had better be good, commented husband - considering that cast list, it must have been a very expensive film to make, even in 2002."

Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore head the cast, with Ed Harris, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney and Claire Danes in secondary or minor roles.

Two hours later, as the credits rolled, my first remark was - "What an utterly depressing and highly pretentious movie!"

I'd been constantly irritated by the film's every character except, perhaps, a little boy, a little girl, and Allison Janney (aka CJ Cregg of The West Wing).

According to the few reviews I read afterwards, I appear to be on the wrong side of the critical appreciation fence. The vast majority of reviewers heap praise upon everything connected to The Hours. I will admit that Nicole Kidman's acting was a whole lot better than in some others of her films, and that and she, equipped with prosthetic nose, as Virginia Woolf actually irritated me the least.

What's it all about?

Well...there's a bit of time travel involved - of a sort. The story, adapted from an acclaimed novel, same title, by Michael Cunningham, centres on specific days in the lives of three women of different decades of the 20th century. Virginia Woolf, British writer (Nicole Kidman)in the 1940s; Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), a 1950s housewife in suburban USA; and book editor Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep), a 1990s a sophisticated New Yorker. There are time-spanning links between the three women: one writes a novel "Mrs Dalloway", one reads the novel, and one lives the novel (kind of). It's a clever concept that could, in my opinion, have been put to much better use than setting its focus on suicide, and generally self-absorbed, spoiled individuals who had so much to be thankful for, but remained "unsatisfied". Two of the women had supportive, loving husbands, the other a long-term loving lesbian relationship - this is no tale of spousal abuse. On second thoughts though, perhaps it is, and mental abuse comes from the women involved causing different levels of pain and sorrow upon the males in their lives.

Was it a "Feminist Film"? If it was, I'm even less of a feminist than I thought! If I suspected that that's how most women are: spoiled, selfish, self-absorbed then I'd immediately tear up my (small "f") feminist card!

A decent review by Gabrielle Wenig from 2003 (I did eventually find one I agreed with), states:
The subversive message in The Hours is: Life is only worthwhile if it is fiercely exhilarating and intoxicating, and death is to be preferred over an existence that in any way fails to match this measure. In the world of the film, blessed ordinariness – love, affection, security, and routine – is death, while madness, that is, meanness or an exclusive and sadistic regard for one’s own interests, is life.

For that reason, it is difficult to think of The Hours as a women’s film, for the women in it find their escape from the ordinary through others’ pain. It is a film that calls on us to celebrate women who act on base instinct, ostentatiously abandoning the everydayness they are encumbered with, and searching for salvation only in choices that remove them from the simple things in life. This rejection of the so-called ordinary appears to fortify these women, giving them a feeling of entitlement to something different and better. The film conveniently sanitizes the hideous consequences of these choices, by exhorting us to admire women who achieve a self-awareness that is constructed from the wreckage of others’ emotions, and an obsequious servitude to their own impulses........

There is little doubt that The Hours will achieve Academy recognition for its showcase of superior achievements in all aspects of film, but the high level of craftsmanship serves a deeply disturbing end. It is a film that valorizes the abnegation of moral responsibility, and the poise and precision of its craft draws us into a willing suspension of our instinctive sense of what is life-affirming and good. We lose our moral bearing as we concentrate on the self-absorption of these women –and in the solipsistic world of The Hours, that is all that matters.

It's an expertly made, quality film, interesting for its construction, if irritating (for me) in its storylines.


mike said...

I've tossed the coin several times, whether to view "The Hours", but the brief synopsis Netflix offers never won me over. The movie actually interests me more after reading your review...LOL. I don't particularly mind feeling that the content doesn't match my sensibility. When I read a book or view a movie, I want to be left with an impression, regardless of alignment with my morals-ethics-whatever. Some of the best movies I've watched have left me feeling stunned and-or drained. As long as the script and acting are good, I can handle it. It's always beneficial if everything lines-up and the subject matter, plus all side-dishes, are superb.

I can't critique the movie, but from your description, I've known men and women that fit the characters in "The Hours". Their lives gain meaning only by becoming emotional vampires, elevating themselves on the stairs of corpses they've slain. It's very difficult for me to feel empathy for these individuals, but I do realize that they live isolated, shallow, vapid lives, founded on their own self-hatred acted-out through others, which is probably the worst of all punishments. The real-life Virginia Woolf was bipolar and suffered terribly, and brought terrific destruction to the table of her relationships. We say that someone is afflicted with bipolar disorder when they overtly express the symptoms, yet ALL of us have a degree or two or three within our nature...just a matter of how much and when. I've met some very fine individuals in my lifetime, but I must say that I've met more than my fair share of the spoiled, selfish, and self-absorbed, replete with meanness and sadistic disregard of others.

BTW - http://www.allflicks.net/ offers a listing of Netflix movies by genre and ratings by Netflix and IMDb. I find it difficult to find ALL listings while in Netflix, so this make it convenient. I use it while on my computer with one tab open for Netflix, another for allflick, and I have the option of opening another tab to find reviews of a possible movie offering. I can then go to the Netflix tab and add it to my list. Takes a little organization, but far better than surfing through Netflix solo and coming-up empty handed.

Also - Have you seen "Like Water for Chocolate" yet? I think you and anyjazz may enjoy the movie. It's quite different.

Sonny G said...

thanks for your review Annie..

having dealt with all the emotional vampires I ever care too,I think I'll choose something else:)
the daughter found a netflix series--making a murderer. she's intrigued by it so I'll give it a try and let ya'll know what I think..

Twilight said...

mike ~ Re a film matching my own sensibilities - sometimes I mind, sometimes I don't.
This one hit the same kind of note that shows such as "Downton Abbey" hits - a definite "bum note" to my sensibilities, though in a different key. ;-)

Virginia Woolf in this film is bi-polar also - and for that reason I felt less irritation and more sympathy for her.

I have a feeling that all those critics heaping praise on the film are emperor's new clothes syndrome sufferers. It had to be good because....Virginia Woolf, and because...Meryl Streep.....

The last paragraph of Gabrielle Wenig's review in my post pinpoints the worst side of the film:
...the poise and precision of its craft draws us into a willing suspension of our instinctive sense of what is life-affirming and good. We lose our moral bearing as we concentrate on the self-absorption of these women –and in the solipsistic world of The Hours, that is all that matters.

Thank you for the allflicks link - it'll be useful. :-)

No, we haven't seen "Like Water for Chocolate" - I looked at Wiki's page on the film and note that it's a Spanish language film...I don't do well trying to read sub-titles closely enough, and watch the action at the same time. Subtitles are fine for occasionally unravelling accents, when dialogue is in English; but total foreign language movies are a bridge too far for me. I don't even care for English-dubbed foreign movies (though haven't seen one of those for a long time).

We watched "The Da Vinci Code" on Netflix over Christmas too. I've seen the sequel but not the original film when it was first released. Anyjazz had read the book and liked it, but wasn't sure if he'd seen the movie. We enjoyed it. Got me thinking on all those old mysterious chestnuts: the Illuminati, New World Order, and the Merovingians again. I think I'd refused to see "Da Vinci Code" when it was new, in the past, or wouldn't read the book because it was going over stuff I'd read about so often in years past. Anyway, I enjoyed the movie much more than expected.

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ That's a very good plan! I'm not sure I'd fancy "Making a Murderer".
We started watching episodes of "Hart of Dixie" the other night, as a change from police stories, murder, etc.

It's one of those tales of a person out of their natural environment - a young woman doctor this time, moved from New York to Alabama! It's well done, nice characters, and funny at times. Reminds me of a very modern version of that old series "Dr. Quinn".
Used to love that - especially Doc Quinn's boyfriend and his lovely wolf/dog. ;-)

mike (again) said...

Re - "Like Water for Chocolate"...it's one of my favorite all-time movies...different, peculiar, entertaining. I've not seen any movie similar. Well worth the closed-captioning, as it's not that fast moving and much can be inferred, but each to their own.

Re - "Da Vinci Code"...I came close to viewing, but it was too long and would have put me in bed way too late. Maybe this week. Several of my Catholic friends that read the books said there are segments that could go over the heads of non-Catholics...maybe the movie version was scrubbed for a general audience.

Re - "Downton Abbey"...I missed the first season, so didn't see much point coming-in late and unknowing, so I never watched any of the series. Like you, I didn't think I'd be entertained by aristocratic shenanigans. The current season is the last and PBS has been showing behind-the-scenes and what's-it-all-about programming specials late Sunday nights for the past two months. I've watched several of these specials and have found them very interesting. I believe I was mistaken to toss "Downton Abbey" under the bus. It's more a period-piece, though centered on the elite, covering all segments of that era's society and culture. The specials I've seen lately portray the elite in a subtle parody, providing a bird's-eye view of their customs and behavior as a prison of their own desires.

I read that "Downton Abbey" is similar to "Brideshead Revisited", which I thoroughly enjoyed.


Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Before I forget to mention....Sabina left a reply to you on Sat/Sunday's post comments (in case you miss it).

Re Da Vinci Code: Most - in fact all - of Roman Catholicism goes over my head, so the movie must have been meticulously cleaned up and acceptably marinated for consumption by the average atheist/agnostic-in-the-street. ;-/

I never did see "Brideshead Revisited". Back then, in England, I was in my obtuse frame of mind about TV shows which cornered massive viewerships and about which people talked, ad nauseam, for days on end. Wouldn't watch or read "Lord of the Rings" for the same reason. I did watch a Sunday evening series called "Upstairs Downstairs" - it had stories of aristocrats upstairs but gave equal if not more time to the servants' lives, below stairs.

I'll join the BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR chorus as regards the weather. No further snow or rain though. Were around 40 degrees now - an improvement on yesterday; down to low 20s tonight again.

mike (again) said...

Thomas Podgoretsky needs our help! Please sign change.org petition!




Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Done!!