Tag Archives: english

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.

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Hammer’s “Mummy” Series – Review

19 Jul

Many moons ago, I did a two part review on Hammer Film’s Dracula movies starring the late, great Christopher Lee as the title character. Hammer didn’t stop it’s remakes of Universal monster movies there, however, with a long running series of Frankenstein films and also a series of Mummy movies. This four film long series ran from Hammer’s hay day in 1959 to 1971, when the company was in its decline. While there are certainly aspects of these movies that have that genuine Hammer horror feel, a few of the outings feel like complete rehashes of what’s already been done, and one even seemed completely devoid of any and all types of thrills.

Like I said the series started in 1959 with The Mummy and continued after quite a few years in 1964 with The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb.

 

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The series continued in 1967 with The Mummy’s Shroud and finally ended in 1971 with Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb.

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At the risk of sound repetitive, I really only need to give one basic summary for the first three films in this series. Pretty much throughout these movies, archaeologists discover ancient tombs containing mummies and priceless artifacts, which they use to try to make a profit at a museums or as sideshow attractions. The mummies in the tomb awaken because of a curse and then begin to kill members of each expedition one by one. Now, Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb changed the pace up a little bit with an expedition team finding a perfectly preserved Egyptian princess buried in a sacred tomb. This princess has been reincarnated as a professor’s daughter and is soon tricked into working to bring the evil princess back to life… by killing members of the expedition, so the basic formula is pretty much still there.

The Mummy starts the series off with a bang, and it unfortunately never quite achieves the thrills and fun that are packed into this movie. Part of that may be because this is the only film in the series to feature Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. These two Hammer titans clash just as good as they always do in this film. There’s one excellent scene in particular where the mummy, played by Lee, unexpectedly crashes through Cushing’s glass door and lunges at him with a vengeance that has been boiling up for a thousand years. There’s also a memorable flashback sequence that shows how Lee’s character, Kharis, became the mummy. The Mummy is a wonderfully creepy Hammer classic that shouldn’t be missed.

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So, like I said before, the first film of this series is unfortunately the peak of all the excitement. The next two sequels can be best described as incredibly lackluster. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb has almost no redeeming qualities. The actual mummy in this movie has very little screen time, and pretty much just lumbers around. The scenes all have the appropriate atmosphere, but no actual climax that is worth watching. Terence Morgan’s character is really the only interesting part of this movie, so honestly, just skip this one.

The Mummy’s Shroud thankfully steps things up a little bit, but not by all that much. Take the atmosphere away and replace it with a much cooler mummy and some really awesome death scenes, and you have this movie. Being released in 1967, this starts the period when Hammer began its fall into obscurity. People just weren’t interested in what they were making, and when films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were released, people REALLY weren’t interested. Like I said though, this movie has some redeeming qualities. The death scenes are over the top and memorable, and they also give the mummy something to do. There’s also a great climactic scene in which the mummy appears to disintegrate before our very eyes. I don’t really have too much to say about this one other than it showed where Hammer was at at the time, and it has some wonderfully eerie scenes that make it worth at least one watch.

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Finally, it seemed like Hammer saw that they couldn’t just have another movie where a guy wrapped in cloth terrorized upper class British men who accidentally resurrected it. Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb is actually based off of a novel by Bram Stoker called The Jewel of the Seven Stars, which is a story about archaeologists working to revive an Egyptian queen. That’s more or less the story of this last movie, but it steps up the “Hammer Factor” big time. There’s plenty of blood, eerie scenes, and…well… let’s just say there’s plenty of Valerie Leon to go around… It was also nice to see a different sort of story than the other movies. This makes Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb the best in the series after the original 1959 movie, but also an underrated Hammer classic.

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This Hammer series is ultimately pretty uneven. There’s really only one awful movie in the bunch, and that’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. Just a step above that we have The Mummy’s Shroud, which has some really memorable scenes. Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy are the real stand out film in this series, since they have the most style and are all around just better made movies. Any fans of Hammer films have probably already been exposed to these movies, but if you’re new to their works, stick with the first and the last films. Those ones just scream Hammer and rank as some of their best work.

Black Moon – Review

5 Nov

Experimental film is a really weird area of cinema that has its really hard core, die hard followers and plenty of critics and skeptics who really can’t get into it at all. I, personally, think that experimental film making can be really cool when done by the right artist and done correctly. Of course it helps if these experimental films dabble with surrealism, but that’s just my own personal taste. One name that doesn’t really come up in  conversation about this kind of film making is French writer/director Louis Malle. Malle is best known for films like My Dinner with Andre and Lacombe Lucien, along with his many documentaries. In 1975, however, Louis Malle made a film called Black Moon, a surreal trip with hints of Lewis Carroll that isolated many critics and audiences, even still today.

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In a post-apocalyptic world, men and women are engaged in a brutal war against each other. Lily (Cathryn Harrison) is a teenage girl who is fleeing the countryside to get away from the war soon finds herself at a mansion in the middle of nowhere after she was chased by the opposing soldiers. As she begins exploring the house she meets a strange old lady (Therese Giehse) lying in a bed, who’s only friend is a rat and who keeps contact with the outside world through a ham radio. She also meets a brother (Joe Dallesandro) and sister (Alexandra Stewart) who looks very much alike and may actually be the same person. Finally, she meets many talking animals and plants, including a unicorn, but all of this doesn’t matter once the war begins getting closer and closer to the mansion.

This is one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in a long time, and I went into Black Moon not knowing anything about it. As far as this film goes, I think this was a really entertaining film for being an experimental movie. There was enough weird things going on in it to keep me interested and the whole backdrop of a war between men and women was an interesting thing to see, especially with both sides being equally menacing. Being made in the mid-1970s, Malle wanted to make a sort of statement on the new wave of feminism going on, but the way he does it is smart. Both sides of the war are equally brutal and unforgiving towards each other, with scenes of violence being committed by both genders.

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Being a movie with very little dialogue, the sound design is very impressive and perfectly makes up for how little actual talking there is. It’s really amusing whenever an animal talks, and can be kind of weird when flowers and grass cry out in pain when they are being stepped on. Even the bugs can be heard, their tiny mandibles scratching on the rocks that they scurry across. Along with the awesome audio is some really impressive cinematography by Sven Nykvist, who often collaborated with Ingmar Bergman. The film has a very muted look to it, emphasizing the time of year and the mysterious war alike. His cinematography really succeeded at putting me in the movie, and worked very well with the sound design to be very immersive, if not just as strange as everything else.

Now, even though the cinematography, sound, and strangeness is all very appealing and made for an entertaining movie, Black Moon can become pretty tiresome after a little while and may require more than one sitting to finish. This is a pretty average length movie, but there really isn’t any story and a lot of just running around around the house seeing weird things. That’s why most surrealist and experimental films that people talk about, like the overly obsessed Un Chien Andalou and La Jetée, are short films. The film makers got their points across in a short amount of time so our brains didn’t feel like mush at the end of the movies. Black Moon goes on and on, and a break is recommended to more easily get through the film.

Black Moon is one of those movies where you need to be careful because it is far from a traditional film. It’s Louis Malle’s trip down Carroll’s rabbit hole where the result is a surreal metaphor for gender relations and sexual discovery. Very 1970s if you ask me. I enjoy films like this because they challenge me to look deeper into the odd events and figure them out, even though this one is a bit more explicit than most. If you enjoy the work of Buñuel, Dali, or other surrealists, you ought to check out Black Moon.