Film Friday: ‘The Duchess’ & ‘Lakeview Terrace’

by W. Andrew Powell

The Duchess

Keira Knightly and Hayley Atwell in The Duchess

Hot off the Toronto International Film Festival, and there are three more films coming to theatres from the annual event. In Toronto only, and select cities in the United States, the western Appaloosa moseys into town with Ed Harris directing and starring alongside Viggo Mortensen. The Duchess also debuts with Keira Knightly in another period drama, while Ricky Gervais stars in the comedy, Ghost Town.

Also opening this week, Samuel L. Jackson stars in the thriller Lakeview Terrace, the animated film Igor gets the young ones ready for Halloween, and for a dose of juvenile comedy, My Best Friend’s Girl also debuts.

One of the critical gems of the 2008 TIFF, Appaloosa stars Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen in the story of a town that is controlled by the outlaw Randall Bragg, played by perennial bad guy Jeremy Irons. Taking whatever he wants from the surrounding countryside, but Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch (played by Harris and Mortensen respectively) are going to try and save the day.

“At its best, Appaloosa has an endearing, oddball quality,” Stephanie Zacharek wrote for, “but it could use more of those off-center laughs. It’s high time for the western to be resuscitated as a genre; a picture that just pokes along amiably isn’t enough to get the job done.”

The Duchess
Keira Knightly is clearly a talented actress, appearing in a number of roles that have cemented her on the A-list, but as I’ve said before, I’m getting tired of seeing her in the usual period dramas. From Pirates of the Caribbean and Atonement, to King Arthur and Pride & Prejudice, Knightly is the go-to girl when it comes to costume dramas, which is starting to make her a one-trick pony in my books.

In The Duchess, Knightly takes on the real-life role of the infamous Georgiana, the 18th century Duchess of Devonshire. Co-starring Ralph Fiennes as the Duke of Devonshire, the story follows the Duchess along a bumpy road of gambling and intrigue that surrounded both her political and personal lives.

Acting as a fashion icon for the era, and a darling of the common people, The Duchess was equally reviled for her extravagant lifestyle, and admired for her spirit.

Critical consensus following the film’s debut at the Toronto International Film Festival is impressively positive, with many reviewers hailing the film’s concept and style.

“Although it skims the surface,” David Edelstein of New York Magazine wrote, “The Duchess is an uncommonly well-crafted historical feminist tearjerker – both anti-patriarchal and a monument to motherhood.”

Lakeview Terrace
If Keira Knightly has a problem accepting too many period dramas, then Samuel L. Jackson is surely a sucker for racially-motivated roles that push everyone’s buttons (look no further than Die Hard: With a Vengeance for proof of that).

Starring alongside Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington as the newlywed couple, Jackson plays Los Angeles cop Abel Turner, a stern protector with a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder. Trying to teach them what it means to be a good neighbour, Abel’s intrusions into Chris and Lisa’s life quickly becomes a threat to their lives. But how do you report problems with a police officer?

In reality, it’s probably pretty easy for your average citizen to handle a rogue cop, but in a movie like this, brains go out the window and reality takes a backseat to silly violence.

Nick Schager of Slant Magazine comments on the film’s much bigger problem: race. “Are we really supposed to stomach a thriller in which the root of all evil is intelligent black men in power who can’t stomach, to the point of going full-on psychotic, the sight of a white man married to a black woman?”

Also coming out this week…

Ghost Town
British comedian Ricky Gervais stars in this off-kilter comedy as Bertram, a rude, disrespectful man who nearly dies, but it amazingly resuscitated. Bretram’s troubles only get worse as he discovers the near-death experience has given him the ability, or curse, to see ghosts lurking everywhere in his town.

Greg Kinnear and Téa Leoni also star in the film, with Kinnear playing an annoying spirit who wants to keep his wife, Leoni, from getting remarried.

Despite how it may sound, some of the top critics have been giving the film good grades. Critic Emanuel Levy called it “A charming date film for adults.” Levy goes on to praise director David Koepp who “makes a quantum leap forward as helmer of a whimsically supernatural romantic fable that borrows elements from Blithe Spirit, Topper, Heaven Can Wait, and Ghost yet impresses as a work with its own quirky sensibility.”

In this animated monster film, John Cusack voices a wannabe evil scientist born into the role of the classic hunchback assistant. Much like Heath Ledger’s character in A Knight’s Tale, Igor gets his break when his master dies just before a big event, but as he works on his big breakthrough, bigger problems mean that he and his friends will have to fight to save themselves from a much greater evil.

Featuring a huge list of celebrity voices, including Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Jennifer Coolidge, Molly Shannon and Christian Slater, the film looks like a safe bet for families who want to get into the Halloween spirit a little early.

My Best Friend’s Girl
And in My Best Friend’s Girl, Dane Cook, and Jason Biggs play friends trying to win over the beautiful Alexis, played by Kate Hudson. As Tank, Cook is a bad date for hire who helps men get back their ex-girlfriends. When Dustin (Biggs), asks Tank to help him out though, things get obviously complicated when Tank wants to keep her for himself.

As the description suggests, the film appears to simply be a rip off a numerous films (like its antithesis, Hitch) and is just the latest forgettable comedy by both Hudson and Biggs.

Photo courtesy Paramount Vantage.

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