“The Lost City of Z”

“The Lost City of Z” is itself lost as it misses the mark in telling the story, in cinematography, and in editing. Read the book and skip this lengthy mess. Why the director and writer decided to make this passionate adventure story a family affair, I don’t know. By balancing the gender roles between wife and husband, the script does a disservice to the “woman left behind” true 19th century story. Modern sensibilities and inordinate goodbyes seem disingenuous and, in truth, rather boring in this misguided period piece.

I found the acting even a tad wooden. While Robert Pattinson is a fine adventure companion, Charlie Hunnam seems uncomfortable as Percy Fawcett, the British soldier who becomes obsessed with finding a lost South American civilization. Sienna Miller’s portrayal seems less than long-suffering. She abandons herself to her husband’s enterprise and at the film’s end seemingly walks out of her parlor door into the greenery of the jungle. Somehow the script has strayed from David Grann’s wonderful book on Percy’s exploits.

The politics with The Royal Geographic Society and the ambition of Fawcett are broached in his want of advancement. The snide remarks of the gentry toward our adventurer are stated directly. His ” unfortunate choice of ancestors” leaves him the underdog who is not invited to royally dine. Doors are closed to him even when he “makes the kill”. If he wants promotions, he will be transferred around the Empire. Soldierly decorations will make it possible to reclaim his dissolute father’s reputation, we are told. His yesteryear strivings show epic sacrifice that seems more silly than heroic.

Kipling poetry sends the small band of seekers machete chopping through ridges of uncharted green. 1906 Bolivia with its mosquitoes and “primitives” has been done better before. While some of the screen images are hazy and romantic, most are dark and claustrophobic.

The English disinterest in any civilization older than its own and the proposition that savages may be equals is rather cliche. “Finding the glory” becomes a more personal quest in this film and it takes away from the romance of adventure and knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Grann’s book was of a  grander scale.

The gender politics distract, also. Sure lines like ” I don’t need a tent mate in need of constant care” , and ” You have given no thought to my aspirations” make us wish we were back in the jungle, the best sequence being when an arrow is stopped by a raised journal to the face.  One interesting bit of knowledge was shown when a milky substance was sprinkled in the river to stun the fish. The natives only kill what they need we are told.

Angus Macfadyen plays James Murray, who is portrayed as a disgrace. He eats the food of others and is fearful of swimming. The dishonorable Murray is sent on his own with a horse. The horse comes from nowhere! The details be damned. Other mix-ups abound. Especially irritating was the erratic ages of Fawcett’s children. If he was in the jungle for three years, that daughter should have been walking. Rank still rankles  Fawcett, and he states “rank does not guarantee mettle” with aplomb.

Victorian flourishes like palm readers, idyllic outings with children, and 1917 WWI are all covered in epic scope. Fawcett’s rousing speech and his near blindness from chlorine gas propel us forward. Now, a colonel, Fawcett finds his destiny back in the Amazon with his son. We get ” a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what is heaven for”. Both Fawcetts disappear in the Amazon in 1925. Skip the James Gray movie, and read the David Grann book.

 

 

 

 

 

“Burnt”

In this restaurant film when lovely blue thistles are displayed London-side, we are ready for a prickly chef; but, two-starred Michelin winner Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is known for sending out porcupine quills. With his bad-boy eye glints, Cooper can play an arrogant prick and so can Matthew Rhys, his co-star. The “Hell’s Kitchen” kind of abuse with the screaming, throwing and demands for control and perfection is much of the film, for sure. But there are surprises. Sy Omar’s cayenned palm being the most memorable. In fact, the supporting cast is what makes this film work. Uma Thurmond as charmed lesbian food critic, Emma Thompson as uncharmed therapist, Daniel Bruhl as besotted owner and maitre’d all bring the hum of life to the food scene.

This testosterone kitchen where “good” means “not good enough”is the Langham. We get the twelve-tone scale as background music as we see scrupulous dishes prepared,plated and delivered. Saliva flows and forks are lined-up,water glasses filled and wine paired. A spot on a glass, a fingerprint on a platter’s edge will keep the goal of a third Michelin star at bay. Sienna Miller plays the talented sous chef,Helene. Her single-mother status and pluck contribute a romantic and familiar interest. How else to change the narcissist! Writer Steven Knight has written some good lines especially for Reece ( Matthew Rhys). He books a reservation under his priest’s name so he can give the last rights.

Cooper makes us care about his second redemption: we have endured his penance of shucking one million oysters already. We get the drugs, the womanizing, the alley fights, the ” would-you-work-for-me-for-nothing” arrogance; the releasing of rats on the completion, not so much so. His Parisian badness still earns him the knives of his mentor Jon-Luc and the forgiveness of Jon-Luc’s daughter. Director John Wells gives us a well-made date movie while not tasting anything new. I’d say “yes,chef” to this one for a slice-of-life savor. There is strength in needing others probably can not be said enough times. No bodies were found floating in the Thames,or sighs at the movie’s end.