Tag Archives: england

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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The Crying Game – Review

4 Jan

Back in 1992 a movie came out called The Crying Game and it succeeded at causing a major stir among audiences which made it one of the most talked about movies in recent history. Critics and journalists were having a field day writing about the secrets of the movie, and it ended up being nominated for 6 Academy Awards and winning for Best Screenplay. Writer and director Neil Jordan worked very hard to get this controversial film made and it wasn’t always an easy task. At certain points it just seemed downright impossible. As history shows, The Crying Game did get made and has become something of a classic even if it isn’t something that is discussed too much anymore. I’d like to get some of that discussion started up again, so let’s get started.

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After Jody (Forest Whitaker), a British soldier, is covertly abducted by a group of IRA members, he is taken back to their hideout deep in the woods. Over the course of a few days, one of the IRA members, Fergus (Stephen Rea) befriends Jody and learns a lot about his past and his girlfriend, Dil (Jaye Davidson). After tragedy befalls the group, Fergus flees to London acting on a promise he made to Jody to check on Dil. The two quickly meet up in a bar and form a relationship which weighs heavily on Fergus’ conscience. As Fergus wrestles with his beliefs and motives, to of his IRA colleagues, Jude (Miranda Richardson) and Maguire (Adrian Dunbar), arrive in London and force him into another job that involves the assassination of a judge. His two lives from the past and present proves to be a volatile mixture that will lead to an inevitable murderous outcome.

The Crying Game is a movie that takes so many different themes and mash them together to create a hodgepodge of intriguing subject matter. Like the characters in the movie, these themes often clash together which causes a lot of the drama in the film. At first, the movie seems to be solely focused on the tension between Britain and the IRA. The barrier that breaks between Jody and Fergus in the first third of the movie is interesting to see because it shows that if you take away the labels of “British” and “IRA,” what’s left is just being human. The next part of the movie focuses on identity in multiple ways. Without getting into the realm of spoilers, there’s a huge focus on who Fergus is, was, and who he wants to be. This all happens when he meets Dil and introduces himself as Jimmy. He pretty much changes his appearance and name to become someone else, which is threatened when the IRA finally catches up with him. There’s so much more thematic depth that I’d like to talk about, but that would be at the risk of ruining parts of the movie.

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To go along with the deep thematic material of The Crying Game is an incredibly well realized screenplay by Neil Jordan. The characters that are written come with many layers, and each layer is slowly peeled back as the movie goes on, even if the character is only in the movie for a short time. These dimensions are best explored during the many conversations characters have with one another as the plot unfolds. The first half hour of the movie is pretty much different interactions between Fergus and Jody, which has a huge impact on the characters, especially with Fergus who is the main character of the movie. These two men should be enemies, but simple conversations turn them into close friends. This kind of dialogue also opens up an moral ambiguity that stirred up some controversy when this was released in the UK. In 1992, it wasn’t a popular thing in Britain to have a movie with a sympathetic and relatable IRA member as the protagonist.

The Crying Game is one of those movies that has a history that’s almost as interesting as the movie itself. Neil Jordan made a pretty good name for himself with his more independently produced films at the start of his career, but as his bigger budgeted efforts in the United States came along, things started to get a little bit shaky. Jordan saw The Crying Game as his chance to earn back his good reputation and feel like he was making films that were worth it again. The problem was that no producers or distributers seemed to share his enthusiasm about the screenplay. Jordan and his producer, Stephen Woolley, went all over the place asking for funding, and they finally found this funding in the UK, Ireland, and Japan. When the movie was released, it became a sensation. Critics warned audiences not to spoil the movie and it remained in theaters for much longer than anyone anticipated. The cherry on top of it all was an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

The Crying Game is a gem from the early 1990s and has unfortunately seemed to disappear from mainstream audiences. That’s really a shame since the film deals with timeless themes of violence, identity, and humanity in ways that were very controversial, especially for a movie released in 1992. This isn’t just a throw away thriller that is forgotten about 15 minutes after seeing it. This is a movie that stays with you days after you’ve seen it and has so many layers to peel away at to see the whole picture and the message the creators were trying to convey. This is a rich, intelligent, and rewarding movie that I certainly recommend.

Final Grade: B+

Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

19 Jul

Queen Elizabeth I, also known as the Virgin Queen, was England and Ireland’s monarch from the year 1558 to her death in 1603. Since then, she’s become one of England’s most iconic leaders, which certainly doesn’t mean she was loved by all. In fact, she was a very divisive and often controversial queen. That being said, there’s a lot of material to work with if anyone were to create a big budget movie about her reign. Well, lucky for us we have two. Elizabeth was first released in 1998 and it’s sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, was released in 2007. Now, I’ve been wanting to watch these movies for a long time, and I’ve finally gotten around to it. The question remains, still, on wether or not they’ve lived up to the hype that I’ve built for myself.

Let’s start out in 1998 with Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth.

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When Queen Mary I dies in 1558, the next in line of succession is her half sister, Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), a young woman who is now in way over her head. At her time of coronation, England is in a terrible state. Her army is all but useless, debts plague the entire country, and there’s heated violence between Catholics and Protestants. With Elizabeth being a Protestant, there are many Catholics in her court that want her off the throne. One of these people is the influential Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston), a scheming duke with his ultimate goal of wearing the crown. With everything collapsing, Elizabeth surrounds herself with trusted advisors and defenders like William Cecil (Richard Attenborough) and the cunning Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush). Even with these powerful minds surrounding her, her dedicated and unlawful affair with a member of her court, Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), might prove to be her ultimate downfall.

I have a weird past with this movie because I remember being young when this movie first came out and thinking it looked pretty cool. I don’t know where I saw advertisements for it, but I was always stricken by the colors, the architecture, and the costumes. Now, all these years later I’ve finally seen it and it’s pretty much exactly what I thought it would be. Elizabeth is a damn fine movie that tells an interesting, albeit fictitious, look at the early days of Queen Elizabeth’s reign before the Golden Age really began, and how the naïve girl who is crowned at the beginning of the movie turns into the rock solid monarch she is known for being. It’s a great story that’s full of political intrigue, war, corruption, and romance. That’s really all you can ask for in a movie like this, and it’s done very well. Never did I feel like I was getting cheated out of something watching this movie. It hits all of the marks splendidly.

There are few elements of the movie I have to especially give more notice to. First of all, Cate Blanchett’s performance is fantastic. This was the movie that really started her career in the way that we know it today. She was acting before Elizabeth, but this is the role that got her noticed. Her arc throughout the story is an expressive one and it’s great to watch all of the changes happening to her and her reactions to them. It’s a very expressive performance that’s worthy of all the attention it receives. The costume design and make up rank up with the best of the best in film history. They are absolutely out of this world, along with the set design which honestly must have been a nightmare. Finally the collaboration of Kapur and cinematographer Remi Adefarasin makes this film truly look as beautiful as it does.

After years of wondering about this movie, it’s a relief to finally see it. Elizabeth is a really good movie about an interesting and violent time in England’s past, and also about the monarch that would come to unite the country. It’s a beautiful film to look at, but also has a great story performed by great actors to back it up. It often feels Shakespearean in it’s scale, and you really can’t go wrong with that.

The sequel didn’t come until nearly 10 years later, with Shekhar Kapur returning as director. This is, of course, Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

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While the first film began with the early days of Elizabeth’s reign in 1558, this film starts much later on in 1585. By this point, Elizabeth has established herself as a very firm and respectable leader who isn’t easy to persuade or frighten. She is surrounded by loyal subjects like the ever present Lord Walsingham and her favorite lady-in-waiting Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish). When not being attended to by the people of the court, she s regaled with stories by the explorer Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), who has plans of starting a colony in the New World. While this loyalty makes her stand tall, enemies are still lurking on all sides, with the Spanish led by King Philip II (Jordi Molla) and his Inquisition being the most relevant threat. His plan violence and schemes soon find their way into Britain with his support going to the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) and an assassination attempt that may be enough to spark a war.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is definitely an impressive sequel, which is a good thing to say since it had the challenge of following up its beloved predecessor while also recreating history using a fair amount of both fact and fiction. There’s a lot of things going for this movie including the return of director Shekhar Kapur and the lead actors Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush. There’s also some excellent additions like Clive Owen, Abbie Cornish, and Samantha Morton. The inclusion of foreign powers like the Spanish and the English spies that supported them also makes for really good intrigue and action to push the movie along, while there’s also the romance that you would come to expect with this kind of movie. The ingredients are all there, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original Elizabeth.

One thing that is missing from The Golden Age is the beautiful set design that the first film had. I understand that Elizabeth is now a completely different monarch than she was in the first film and the set is meant to reflect the personality she puts on as she leads her people, but I really miss the colors and the vastness of some of the room in the palace. There’s also nothing really new added to this movie and it feels like something of a retread in certain ways. By that I mean that I mean all of the same themes of the first film are explored, but in some different ways. I think I just wanted more from this one in the ways that the first film succeeded.

Still and all, Blanchett returns with another powerful performance and the costume design are all on par with the original. It’s important to look at sequels as movies in and of themselves and not just follow ups, so in that way Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a very good movie, but compared to Elizabeth it’s a weaker entry. That being said, I still had a good time watching this movie and for fans of the first film, it’s still worth a look.

Watching movies like this are really great at pulling you into a time period and recreating history in the most lavish of ways. Anyone who hasn’t had the chance to watch the Elizabeth movies should really get right on that. They have quite a bit to offer and something in there for everyone.

Don’t Look Now – Review

5 Apr

The late 1960s and the 1970s were a really important time for the horror genre. It was a time when new and exciting things were being introduced to this type of film making that really breathed new life into a genre of movies that didn’t yet reach its full potential. Auteur film makers were dabbling with new ways to make movies, and one of the most important experiments for horror was Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film Don’t Look Now. Based off of a story written by Daphne du Maurier, whose stories were used by Hitchcock for Rebecca and The BirdsDon’t Look Now was almost destined to succeed before it was even made, and after its completion it has become a cinematic landmark.

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After their daughter (Sharon Williams) drowns in a pond behind their house, Laura (Julie Christie) and John (Donald Sutherland) Baxter take a trip to Venice where John has been hired to help restore a church. While there, Laura meets two sisters, Heather (Hilary Mason) and Wendy (Clelia Matania). Heather is blind but claims to have psychic abilities and tells Julie that she sees their daughter with them in Venice, and that she has a message of warning for John. John refuses to believe a word that anyone says about their daughter, firmly believing her to be dead and gone. As time goes on in Venice, the couple begin experiencing more strange and often dangerous supernatural events, while the city is also stricken by a mysterious and elusive serial killer that can strike anywhere and at anytime.

Don’t Look Now is a subtle trip down the cinematic rabbit hole that you may not even realize you’re going down. That’s probably the most brilliant aspect of this movie. While it’s on, I felt like I was watching a very straightforward psychological thriller, and in that sense, I felt a little disappointed as I was watching it. I wanted to see something that was really going to blow my mind as much as everyone says it would. It wasn’t until the movie was over that I realized that I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention as I thought I was. There are so many clues hidden in plain sight as to what is really going on, and if you aren’t a super perceptive viewer, they may go right over your head. After thinking about the movie and doing some research on it, the way Roeg made this film is truly remarkable and it demands a second viewing to really appreciate how he blends time, genres, and hides clues for you to find.

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What also makes Don’t Look Now a successful horror movie is the creeping feelings that lurk behind every dark corner and worried glance. There’s so much paranoia and grief that is caked on the entire narrative, and that combination makes for a very suspenseful ride. Don’t Look Now is comparable to Rosemary’s Baby, in that there are many times where you and the characters really have no idea what’s actually going on. Sometimes you may not even realize this confusion, but trust me, you will be confused at certain points. This a sign of a great horror movie. If you watch it and feel your hairs standing on end, find yourself breathing just a little faster, or thinking a little harder, you know you’re watching something worth while. This sort of true suspense is what’s lacking in the “spooky ghost” movies that have flooded the market as of late.

Having the story take place in Venice is also a fantastic idea. This isn’t the same Venice that you see in movies like The Tourist. No way. Far from it. This is the back streets of Venice in the winter, when things are gray, murky, and dead. The water also seems to be posing some sort of ominous threat or holding some unknown secret. Meanwhile, it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinthine alley ways that sometimes lead to nowhere. Venice transcends just being a location, and becomes something of a side character with its own living and breathing personality.

Don’t Look Now has firmly made a name for itself as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, but it would be unfair to just call this a horror movie. It’s a thriller, a mystery, and a family drama all rolled into one. This blending of time and genre set this movie above many, but the attention to detail and suspense is what truly make this film great. You may not realize how intricate it is upon your first viewing of it, but after thinking about it and watching it again, you’ll be completely entranced by its mystery.

Nil by Mouth – Review

3 Mar

Everyone knows about Gary Oldman’s acting career. He’s been in so many movies as great as The Dark Knight Trilogy and as awful as the 2009 “horror” film The Unborn. He’s one of those actors that seems to turn up everywhere, but he always brings an air of seriousness to all of his roles. I’ve just recently learned about his work in directing after reading about his 1997 directorial debut Nil by Mouth. I didn’t really know what it was about, but being a fan of Oldman’s, I felt it was worth checking out. That being said, this is a surprisingly gritty, disturbing, and genuinely upsetting film.

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Set in the working class environment of South London, this film examines the life of a small, but poor family. Billy (Charles Creed-Miles) is a heroine addict that struggles with both his finances and his addiction, mostly using one to help the other. Billy’s sister is Val (Kathy Burke), a relatively unhappy woman who is married to Ray (Ray Winstone). Ray is a thief, an addict, and violent, many times taking out his rage on the pregnant Val. After a vicious night between the two, the family really seems that it is finally ready to break down and leave everyone on their own.

When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, Nil by Mouth was received with much critical acclaim and Kathy Burke winning for Best Actress. This is really no surprise to me since this movie tackles subject matter in an unflinchingly realistic way. As I was watching it, my mind kept going to Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher, although the main protagonist in that movie is a kid and it was released two years later in 1999. It still deals with the same ideas as poverty and the breakdown of a family. There were many times in this movie that it got so intense and real that it stunned me.

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Like I said before, Kathy Burke won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for this movie, but that isn’t where the excellent performances end. Everyone in this movie seems to be working their hardest to completely sell their roles to you. Burke has a lot of different levels she plays at and Ray Winstone matches her perfectly by showing an aggravating and complex character. He has become one of the most hated characters for me because Winstone makes him so real. Charles Creed-Miles also works well as the pathetic drug addicted thief who I really couldn’t help feeling sorry for.

To really make Nil by Mouth work, Oldman had to create a certain kind of uncomfortable atmosphere that isn’t really easy to do. Many of the scenes are shot in dark side streets of London, the kind of streets that you wouldn’t want to find yourself alone at night. When we’re not in some alley, we’re in cluttered, tiny apartments that seems to have a few too many people in it. That being said, certain scenes have to appear comfortable and livable since this is just the way of life for these people. It’s an odd combination where I would be disgusted one moment and then almost feel at home the next.

Nil by Mouth can definitely be classified as a film that isn’t easy to watch, nor is it particularly entertaining. It is, however, a film that seems to be a very deep and personal project of Gary Oldman’s, and that comes through in how realistic and honest everything is in the movie. This may be one of the realest movies I’ve seen and it certainly isn’t afraid to throw a rotten piece of life into your face. While it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s an intense experience nonetheless.

The King’s Speech – Review

27 Apr

I don’t really have a whole lot to say as in an introduction to my review for The King’s Speech, except for this little anecdote about the Academy Awards. I put my whole hope for Best Picture at the 2011 Oscars in Aronofsky’s Black Swan, even though I really didn’t think it would actually win. When The King’s Speech took Best Picture, I was pretty angry, still thinking that Black Swan should have won. This all took place before I actually saw The King’s Speech , and now that I have, my attitude is 100% changed.

Prince Albert (Colin Firth) has always had trouble speaking, especially with his stammer that makes it almost impossible for him to get a word out, but he’s been able to live with it for most of his life. When his father, King George V (Michael Gambon) dies and his brother Edward (Guy Pearce), because of his romantic interests, can’t reign as king, Albert is forced to become King George VI. Amongst the family troubles, King George is also staring Adolf Hitler and the impending WWII directly in the eyes, but has no voice to unify the people. Enter Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist who will not stop until King George has overcome his speech impediment and the underlying fear, all with the support of Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter).

Sometimes it seems that there are certain actors who are born to play a particular role. This is the case with Colin Firth who plays King George VI in a way that needs to be seen to be believed. When you’re watching a movie, and you forget that the character you see in front of you is an actor merely playing a character, then you know that it is a terrific screen performance. I not only felt that way about Colin Firth, but also about Geoffrey Rush, who plays George’s eccentric speech therapist to a tee. He also gets the chance to offer the audience moments of much needed laughter amongst the drama, and the chemistry between Firth and Rush is just fantastic.

Director Tom Hooper, who first caught my eye with his fantastic mini-series John Adams, does a superb job at visualizing the King’s emotions and nervousness through not only the structure and blocking of the scene, but also in relation to the camerawork, which was stunning especially for a historical drama piece such as this. The framing seems to ignore the Rule of Thirds and makes evokes the feeling of uneasiness, discomfort, and/or insecurity. This combined with the numerous close ups that slightly distort the image and the constrictive hallways that the King finds himself in, adds a great deal to the visual style. It’s a truly remarkable way to visualize the feelings of this movie and Hooper rightly deserved his Oscar for Best Director.

The real drama in this movie doesn’t come from the family turmoil or the impending war with Germany. The drama stems completely from the battles that King George must go through with himself and his own self acceptance, in order to defeat his impediment. Although the story of a man who must rid himself of a speech problem doesn’t sound all that exciting, the personal way that the story is told, combined with the “backbone” of the other subplots makes The King’s Speech a full and moving story.

If you haven’t seen The King’s Speech yet, it is absolutely necessary that you give it a watch. It doesn’t matter if you like action, drama, romantic comedies, or splatter horror. This film speaks to all people and will entertain even the most jaded of film goers.