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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Review

15 May

Guy Ritchie is one of my favorite film makers of all time, and more often than not I envy the skill that he has when it comes to crafting an entertaining film. Snatch is quite possibly my favorite movie, but there’s so much else to love in his filmography. His newest film, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, is not somewhere that I expected his career to go, but I learned he was making this movie close to a year and a half ago, and I’ve been excited ever since. That puts a lot of pressure on this movie with all that time to build up my expectations, and when I do that, it hurts all the more when they come crashing down. Well, I really can’t say I’m disappointed at all. This movie is no masterpiece, nor is it Ritchie’s crowning achievement. What it is, however, is a classic myth seen through the eyes of Guy Ritchie, which means there’s plenty of action, frenetic camera work and editing, and a tongue in cheek bad attitude that makes for some fun beginning of the summer blockbuster season entertainment.

After defeating the evil warlock Mordred from invading Camelot, King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is betrayed by his brother, Vortigen (Jude Law), who starts a rebellion and soon wins the throne. The only Pendragon survivor is a young Arthur who grows up on the streets of Londinium unaware of his true lineage. When Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) has grown, the mysterious sword in the stone, Excalibur, is reappears which causes alarm to Vortigen, since whoever removes the sword is the true king. Vortigen soon weeds out Arthur, but Arthur is quickly saved from execution by Sir Bedivere (Djimon Honsou), Goosefat (Aiden Gillen), and a Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey). Together with these disgraced knights and servants of Uther, Arthur joins the rebellion against Vortigen, but must also learn how to wield the power of Excalibur to even come close to standing a chance against the magically corrupted evil king and his army.

It seems that Guy Ritchie has comfortably taken on the task of being the film maker that takes classic stories and reworks them into modern, brawling stories filled with action and absurd moments of cinematic trickery. He did it with Sherlock Holmes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and now he’s done it with Arthurian legends. This isn’t the classic King Arthur you’ve come to know through the various stories and movies and television shows. This Arthur is a streetwise brawler with a strong sense of morality, and not so much a regal leader riding into battle with his knights in shining armor. I can’t proclaim to know much about Arthurian legend, but I’m comfortable saying this is a very different retelling. I, personally, love this direction and would love to see more of these legends brought to life by Ritchie.

Part of why I love Ritchie’s work so much is the high energy he always brings to his movies, and that’s where King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is unfortunately lacking. While his other movies show crazy displays of editing and directing in many different ways, this one felt a little bit tamer. The montage of Arthur growing up set the stage very well and the few scenes after that kept the energy going, but as the world building set in, so did the slow down in the energy. The only time it really picked up again, other than a few noteworthy shots, is whenever Arthur successfully wielded Excalibur. Now, when those scenes happen, I was floored. It’s cinematic wizardry that can be explained through computer generated effects, but what’s impressive is Ritchie’s eye for movement and how he choreographed and laid out these scenes. I just wish more of the action could have had the same visual flair as those Excalibur scenes. There also wasn’t the energy in the writing either. There were funny quips and rough and tough attitude, but there weren’t any lines that really stand out as being memorable and a lot of the dialogue was pretty run of the mill.

I never thought I’d say this, but Charlie Hunnam was a perfect choice to play Arthur. I love imagining scenarios where certain things are turned into movies, and who I would cast in it, and I never would have thought of Hunnam for Arthur. Fortunately, I was wrong. Now, I will say I’m not sure how well he’d work in a more classic representation of the character, but for this tough talking Arthur, he was spot on. I also have to give props to Jude Law as Vortigen. He has this way of portraying scumbag villains really well, with a shining example being his role in Road to Perdition. In this film, however, he becomes worse as the movie continues, and while humanity can be seen in him at times, he truly is an evil bastard in this movie, and it’s so much fun to hate his guts. The rest of the cast is good, with Honsou also standing out as Bedivere, but the real memorable performances are by Hunnam and Law.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is not a perfect movie, and it’s flaws become very clear as the movie goes on. It has some lackluster dialogue and doesn’t quite match the energy of Ritchie’s other films. That being said, when it does decide to pick up, it nearly explodes off the screen. This take of King Arthur is admittedly different from the classic legends, but the differences make it feel fresh. This may not be a movie that should be analyzed or thought about too heavily, but it is a really great way to spend a couple of hours and stands strong as an entertaining summer blockbuster.

Final Grade: B

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Amistad – Review

13 May

In 1839, the slave ship La Amistad was taken over in a slave revolt led by Mende captives. This led to a drawn out trial involving many different parties concerning murder charges and property rights, while abolitionists of the time used the trial to prove that these Africans had rights the same as anybody else. While this incident didn’t change the times it did have lasting effects whose ripples could be felt throughout that time in history. It remained a story that seemed overshadowed by other historical events until Steven Spielberg, producer Debbie Allen, and writer David Franzoni resurrected the story for modern audiences. While it isn’t the most historically accurate film in the world, it has a sense of courage and honor that shows there was plenty of good in a time of evil.

After freeing himself from his chains securing him to the slave ship La Amistad, Mende captive Sengbe (Djimon Honsou) leads a revolt against the Spanish slave traders on the ship. Due to their lack of knowing how to properly navigate a ship, Sengbe and the rest of the Africans find themselves landing in an American port and are swiftly arrested by Naval officers. The captives are once again locked in jail where they await trial for murder and cases involving property rights. This attracts the attention of abolitionist Theodore Joadson (Morgan Freeman) who enlists the help of property lawyer Roger Sherman Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey) to represent the captives in a court of law. The proceedings actually keep favoring Baldwin’s arguments, but it doesn’t take long for President Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne) to intercede and take the matters to the Supreme Court. With their case quickly spiraling out of control, Joadson, Baldwin, and Sengbe recruit the help of former president John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) to stand up for the Africans’ rights in the highest court of the land.

Amistad is the first film Spielberg made with Dreamworks, and at this point it’s hard to believe there was a time that he wasn’t working with this company. This was the time when Spielberg was really showing what he had to offer. This is epic film making that only got better with Saving Private Ryan. The production design of this movie is top of the line with sets that seem to live and breathe. I am really interested in this time period, so I may be a little bit biased to praise movies that so completely bring this era to life. While the set design and costumes already stand tall, there are other factors that exist to completely draw you into the world of this movie. The first is John Williams’ beautiful and often sweeping score. The other is Janusz Kamiński’s eye catching cinematography that was also put on display with Spielberg’s previous movie, Schindler’s List.

Like I said earlier, Amistad is an epic movie that really takes its time in telling the story and making sure all of the information is clear to the audience. This is both a good and a bad thing. While there is plenty of dramatic momentum moving the story forward, it’s hard to ignore that this can be an overly wordy movie. There are some moments where you have to stop and think of people really talk like the characters in this movie do. The writing is mostly spot on, but there are times when it becomes a little bit too theatrical when a general rule for film making is to show the audience information and not outright tell them. There’s one scene in particular that really stands out. There’s a scene where John Quincy Adams is addressing the Supreme Court, and it’s clear that Spielberg was really into shooting this scene, and for a while it’s incredible. It’s an amazing speech that unfortunately never seems to end. There were at least three different times where I thought that the speech was over, but then the camera would change and Hopkins would continue on. It became almost comical.

While this movie does get a little wordy and bogged down in over the top dramatic soliloquies, the people delivering these lines are all megastars in their own rights. This is a great cast with Freeman, McConaughey, Honsou, and Hopkins all knocking it out of the park. McConaughey and Honsou especially work great together and their getting to learn to understand each other while not speaking the same language is my favorite part of the whole movie. I do feel like Morgan Freeman was underutilized and only has a few memorable scenes where I feel like he was actually given something to do. Finally, Hopkins isn’t in the movie all that much, but when he is it feels like I’m watching the real John Quincy Adams and not an actor playing the part. Few actors can pull that off as well as Hopkins can.

Amistad has all the working of a memorable and epic Steven Spielberg movie. It’s filled with a cast of great actors, excellent music, and fantastic production design. It also is a little bit overdone in some parts, which can either add more of an entertainment quality or come off as something a little less respectable. This isn’t Spielberg’s finest achievement, but it is one that I feel doesn’t get the respect that it deserves. Personally, I thought it was a great movie and it’s one that I’d love to watch again. It tells an excellent story, and while it may not be totally historically accurate, it’s a pretty epic way to spend an afternoon.

Final Grade: A-