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LOVE & FRIENDSHIP

Starring Kate Beckinsale

Starts Friday, June 3

Rated R; 124 minutes

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By PETER TRAVERS - The Rolling Stone

Whit Stillman takes on Jane Austen and comes up with one of the best movies of the year

The first time I saw Whit Stillman's Love & Friendship I fell head over heels. And like anything you love at first sight, you want to see it again — not just to get closer but to put it to the test. Love & Friendship passes with flying colors. I can't think of a more wickedly modern romantic comedy, even though the film is based on Lady Susan, an unfinished epistolary novella that Jane Austen wrote in 1794 when she was about 20, and that remained unpublished until after her death.

So right away, we know something's up. Stillman doesn't adapt the works of others, even a genius like Austen. He's a lone wolf, known for writing and directing his own elegantly witty films with large gaps in between: Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), The Last Days of Disco (1998). It wasn't until 2011 that Stillman gave us Damsels in Distress, another comedy of bad manners among today's young and restless. Happily, Austen and Stillman prove to be soulmates. Though the deliciously barbed dialogue stays firmly in period, the emotions bubbling up under the film's cultivated surface have a this-just-in tartness.

A sublime Kate Beckinsale digs into the role of her career as Lady Susan Vernon, a widow with impeccable taste and the scheming ambitions of a Kardashian. Her base of operations is the Churchill estate owned by her brother-in-law Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) whose wife Catherine (Emma Greenwell) is onto Susan's wiles. Men, notably Catherine's hottie younger brother, Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel), find Susan's beauty hard to resist, despite Catherine's not unreasonable attempts to slut shame Susan. Something below the belt is calling the shots for Reginald and fitting right into Susan's plan to marry the wealthy young man for play and profit.

All goes well until Susan's daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), shows up at Churchill, having fled school for reasons unknown. Seeing Reginald's interest, Susan springs into action. She pushes her hapless daughter to marry Sir James Martin, played by the pricelessly funny Tom Bennett as an idiot who literally blithers on any number of topics, including what he calls "the 12 Commandments." Frederica is horrified. "But marriage is for one's whole life!" she insists. "Not in my experience," laughs mommie dearest.

Lady Susan's ally in finding financial and sexual satisfaction is Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny),the American wife of a wealthy Brit (a terrific Stephen Fry) who threatens to ship Alicia back to the wilds of Connecticut if she sides with "the most accomplished flirt in all England." Of course, Alicia does just that, giving Sevigny and Beckinsale — costars in Stillman's The Last Days of Disco — another chance to plot like conspirators and let it rip. The language, a lyrical blend of Austen and Stillman, is a kind of music, the kind that bewitches even as it stings. I could hear it on a continuous loop. Austen wrote her novel in the form of letters, which Stillman translates into scenes that delight the eye and challenge the ear with verbal loop-the-loops. Austen often used the word "amiable" to describe something that tickled her fancy. Stillman's Love & Friendship is far more than amiable, it's pure pleasure and one of the best movies of the year.

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The Man who knew Infinity

Rated PG-13; 108 minutes

Starts Friday, June 10

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by Miriam Di Nunzio - Chicago Sun Times Mathematics pretty much has always been a subject of study that draws an emotional response from those who teach it and those who do their best to distinguish quotients from integers from square roots. And honestly, when WILL I ever use it in real life?

Watching “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” I came away with a much deeper understanding of math from a man most consider the greatest mathematician in history (though he had and most likely still does have his detractors). Nope, I didn’t understand one iota of what the Indian math genius S. Ramanujan was talking about when it came to math partitions. But everything changed in an instant, when the young visionary, struggling to make the world understand the theorems that poured forth from his mind faster than he could even write them, explained it thusly: “An equation has no meaning for me unless it expresses a thought of God.”  I didn’t gain more knowledge of what he spoke; I came to learn about someone who opened a whole new world to those who would listen. And isn’t that the mark of any great teacher?  

At the heart of writer-director Matthew Brown’s film is that mathematical existentialism, if you will, that “higher power” that separated a man of deep faith (regardless of religion) from his nearest champion, the eccentric British mathematician G.H. Hardy, who believed in no God, believed in nothing he could not “prove.”  If Ramanujan was guided by faith, was he less of a genius?

“The Man Who Knew Infinity” is the true story of Ramanujan (played by the striking Dev Patel from “Slumdog Millionaire”), a self-taught Indian math prodigy who, through a series of events and much determination to leave his native Madras, winds up at Trinity College at Cambridge, where he finds a mentor (and eventually a friend) in the eccentric Hardy (Jeremy Irons in a steadfast performance), an accomplished mathematician in his own right, who can help him publish his formulas and perhaps one day achieve the esteemed position of full fellow at the lofty university.

Set against the outbreak of WWI, the film touches on sacrifices — the wartime rationing (the vegetarian Ramanujan nearly starves in the pursuit of sustenance), the use of all available space for makeshift field hospitals, the nearly immeasurable pain of leaving behind those you love as Ramanujan does with his new bride Janaki (in an almost ethereal performance by twentysomething newcomer Devika Bhise).

It also touches on the prejudice of early 1900s English society, scorning Ramanujan simply because of his skin color and heritage (though India was under the rule of the British crown at the time). “Great knowledge often comes from the humblest of beings,” Hardy’s colleague John Littlewood (Toby Jones in a fine performance) observes in Ramanujan’s defense. Perhaps most of all, “Infinity” shows us the very finite lives we are all afforded. In the end, it’s what we leave in our wake that is truly the measure of a person, what we did to make the world a little better than we found it that gives us each a thread of immortality on some level.

“I don’t want this to die with me,” Ramanujan pleads at one point with Hardy, begging that the elitist faculty embrace the theories he knows to be true. The mathematician can change the world, one theory at a time. He knows it is so in his mind — and his heart. In the end, Ramanujan’s pleas will be heard, and it of course comes at a price. Comparisons will undoubtedly be made to “A Beautiful Mind” or even “The Theory of Everything.” But “The Man Who Knew Infinity” stands on its own merit, thanks in great measure to Patel and Irons, who give us two engaging characters.

This is not so much a film about understanding the numbers, but understanding the men who made us see their merit, and the passion that drives each of us to find the true meaning in our lives. And that is a worthy lesson indeed.

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