Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Winter's Tale

"What if, once upon a time, there were no stars in the sky at all? What if the stars are not what we think? What if the light from afar doesn't come from the rays of distant suns, but from our wings as we turn into angels? Destiny calls to each of us. And there is a world behind the world where we are all connected, all part of a great and moving plan. Magic is everywhere around us. You just have to look. Look. Look closely. For even time and distance are not what they appear to be."
A Winter's Tale was released in 2014, and directed by Akiva Goldsman. It stars: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay and Russell Crowe.

When his parents are denied entry to the U.S. at Ellis Island, young Peter Lake (Collin Farrell) is set adrift in a small boat.  When next we see him, Peter is a grown man and has fallen out of favour with the local crime boss/demon Pearly Soames (Russeell Crowe).  Peter is on the run for his life. Fortunately for Peter, when he is cornered, Athansor, a magical winged white horse appears and whisks him away.  Peter decides that perhaps he should head south for the winter and let some of the heat cool off but Ahtansor has other ideas.  When Athansor stops in front of a house, Peter watches as a family pulls away for what must be their winter vacation. Being a smart thief, Peter decides not to look a gift horse in the mouth and decides to rob the place. His plans come to a screeching halt however when he sees Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) playing the piano.  The two quickly develop a connection and fall in love over tea but little do they know, the dark side still has plans for Peter.

A Winter's Tale definitely falls into the category of romantic fantasy and though it absolutely bombed at the box office, I found myself somewhat captivated, even if it didn't always make a lot of sense. A Winter's Tale was adapted from a book by the same name by Mark Helprin. Though I have not read the book, which was published in 1983, I am quite certain that many elements had to be stripped away to make this movie because at times things didn't really seem to connect and rather than showing us the world, we were overloaded with exposition.

We are supposed to be caught up in the love story between Peter and Beverly but they fall in love over a cup of tea and then spend a few days together at her family's winter home.  I suppose if I were one who believed in love at first sight, I might have been able to suspend belief but I read these quick love scenarios as lust and not love.  It doesn't at all help that when Peter breaks into Beverly's posh home with the intention to steal, she is barely alarmed. It's so ridiculous that Peter has to comment on it. Who exactly invites a thief for a cup of tea and tells them their life story? Yes, I get that Beverly is dying and that this is tragic, it still doesn't explain why she wasn't afraid of Peter. Let's be honest, she's in her dressing gown and she doesn't actually know him from Adam.  He could have been a rapist but none of that runs through Beverly's mind.

Russell Crowe's Pearly Soames is perhaps the least satisfying character in the movie. He growls and grunts and grimaces throughout the film to portray his evil and supposed menace.  He is at times unintelligible and this is magnified in the scenes he shares with Will Smith (Lucifer). These two have absolutely zero chemistry with each other.  Soames and Lucifer talk about accords but these are never really explained beyond the fact that Soames, for some reason cannot travel beyond the five boroughs.  I assume that this is a shortfall of the medium rather than the author's original story.
I know that these two are meant to represent evil but it is never clearly explained what threat exactly Peter represents, or why Pearly makes the desperate move of becoming human in order to kill him. Simply saying that Peter is a protegee who developed ideas simply doesn't get it.

After Beverly dies, Soames throws Peter into the river and he magically appears in the present with no explanation and he hasn't aged a day.  Peter has lost his memory and he is filled with images of a red headed woman he cannot identify.  It's only with the help of journalist Virginia Gamely, and her dying daughter Abby, that he becomes reconnected with Willa, Beverly's younger sister. I had to roll my eyes here.  Willa would have had to be about 110 years old if she's a day and she willing accepts that she is seeing an unchanged Peter without question. Not only is Willa about 110, she is still vital and working. I'm sorry, I don't believe it though it was nice to see Eva Marie Saint.  I also couldn't help but wonder why it was that Virginia became so quickly invested in Peter, given that she did have a dying child to deal with.

From the beginning, it's Peter's destiny to save a young red headed woman from dying too early. Nothing like a damsel in distress to make a man a hero, particularly if he has to go up against evil to protect her.  As it turns out, Beverly's destiny is to make Peter fall in love with her so that he can have the miracle of immortality, to then give a miracle to Abby by saving her life.  We are told vaguely that all life is connected and that when people finish their task, they go up in the sky and become a star.  I suppose this is to make the viewer think about the purpose life and death; however, it just didn't feel connected to anything. Yes, to some degree it's okay to ask the viewer to fill in some of the blanks but it's not okay to give them no legitimate starting place.  What exactly were the stakes between Peter and Soames because generic good and generic evil isn't a good enough explanation?

A Winter's Tale is not the most inclusive of stories. Yes, it had Will Smith, who essentially was promoted to obscurity in his role as Lucifer and the rest of the characters of colour appeared even more briefly on screen and really had no substantial role to play.  There were no LGBT characters in this novel which made me wonder if Soames had eaten them all.  Having a story set in NYC, no matter the era, without a single LGBT character is ridiculous at best.

A Winter's Tale had beautiful cinematography.  The turn-of -the-century production was great and really helped set the time and place.  I loved these elements far more than I loved the movie itself which is not I realise a true selling point.  It must be said that though this movie was unsuccessful in a lot of ways, Colin Farrell worked really hard to pull it off and without this work, A Winter's Tale would have been absolutely unwatchable.  The problem is that you cannot make a diamond out of shit and this task certainly proved even too much for Farrell.  If you want something mindless (really you shouldn't think to hard about this one) and visually beautiful to have a Netflix and chill afternoon, A Winter's Tale might be for you.  It's light on fantasy, has overwrought romance and takes itself too seriously but with a nice glass of wine and a warm blanket, you can turn off your mind and just enjoy the beauty.