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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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Pirates of the Caribbean Series Review – At World’s End & On Stranger Tides

27 Dec

By this point, the Pirates of the Caribbean films have proved to be major box office successes. With all of this money, Disney and Jerry Brukheimer had no problem throwing in massive amounts of money for the third movie in the series. The result is the most expensive movie ever made, At World’s End, costing $300 million to make.

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Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is trapped in Davy Jones’ Locker, but Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and Mr. Gibbs (Kevin McNally), and the rest of the Black Pearl’s crew are going in after him. Upon his release, the macrocosm of trouble is revealed. Will is willing to conspire with anyone to free is father Bootstrap Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) from Davy Jones’ (Bill Nighy) ship, The Flying Dutchman. Elizabeth Swann is made a Pirate Lord and must decide with Jack, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and the rest of the Pirate Brethren what to do about Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) trying to control the ocean through the control of Davy Jones. All of this culminates in one climactic battle.

I never used to like this movie because I thought it was too confusing. If you thought there was a lot going on in Dead Man’s Chest, then multiply that by 10 and you have At World’s End. This is my third time watching the movie and I vowed to pay as much attention as I possibly could so that I could get everyone’s subplots and betrayals in order. Well, I finally understand exactly what’s going on in the movie and I have to say that this is my favorite installment in the series.

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The action in this one is stepped up in epic proportions. The final climax that takes place inside a maelstrom between The Black Pearl and The Flying Dutchman is one of the most badass things I’ve ever seen in a movie. That being said the effects are mind blowing and show the $300 million budget off beautifully. Davy Jones and his crew look as great as ever and the sets for the Pirates Brethren and the Singapore scenes look grimy and real. Finally, the locations chosen for the outdoor scenes are beautiful with the whitest sand and the bluest ocean. This movie feeds its audience just as much eye candy as your willing to take.

Seriously though, this movie’s about as confusing as any linear narrative can get. There’s more betrayals, shattered alliances, new alliances, and bargains in here than I’ve ever seen in one movie. It’s enough to make your head spin. If it’s your first time watching At World’s End, you might need to make a chart just to keep track of it all. Now that I fully understand everything, I appreciate it so much more. Critics said that the complex nature of the story is a huge step backwards, but I think it’s great. Of course it’s going to get complicated. They’re all pirates. The characters in this movie handled themselves just as they would in real life. Pirates may talk about code and honor, but they really want what’s best for themselves.

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I feel like the general consensus is that The Curse of the Black Pearl is most people’s favorite. I’d have to say that mine is At World’s End. There’s so much awesome action and adventure, deception, and plot that it can only be explained as organized chaos. It may take you a couple of times to completely wrap your head around the story, but once you do it may just become your favorite, too!

So that’s it, right? The story wraps up nicely at the end of the third one, so that must be it for Pirates. Well, it was a cool trilogy, so I’m glad… wait… there’s more? Oh no. Alright, well let’s talk about it then, the obligatory money grabber, On Stranger Tides.

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Captain Jack is still up to no good. His most recent adventure is to find the Fountain of Youth, because of his newfound fear of death. He’s not the only person who wants it though. Jack gets shanghaied by a former flame, Angelica (Penélope Cruz), to join Blackbeard’s (Ian McShane) crew. Hot on Blackbeard’s tale is Barbossa, now a member of the British Royal Navy, to exact revenge on Blackbeard for sinking the Black Pearl. These two parties are racing against the Spaniards, who also have an agenda of their own.

Take everything you love about the other films in this series, and pretty much get rid of all of them. The Black Pearl and its crew are pretty much not in this movie at all, the Pirate’s Code, Tortuga. Pretty much everything. All we have are Jack Sparrow, Barbossa, and Mr. Gibbs. This movie is kind of like going to a party held by your friend’s friend and only knowing a few people there. Everyone tries to be nice and cool with you, but you just miss your old friends and want to hang out with them instead.

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The only scene that really sticks out to me is the mermaid scene. It had this awesome supernatural/mythological feel to it that makes these movies so awesome. The scenes at the Fountain are also pretty cool, too. Everything else just falls flat, from the action to the other supernatural attempts to make this movie cooler than it actually is. Zombies? Really? Look how far this series has fallen. There used to be cursed crews because of stolen Aztec gold or because their captain failed to escort the dead to Davy Jones’ Locker. Now it’s zombies. Wow…

I love Jack Sparrow as much as the next person, but he having him lead an entire movie is a really bad idea. By the second and third movies, the films are pretty much ensemble pieces. Every character is just as important as the next. Jack’s never really the main character. In this one, he’s front and center and as silly as ever. He’s just not a good leading role. He does plenty of heroic things and has an alright head on his shoulders, but I get sick of him after a while. Luckily this is the shortest Pirates yet, clocking in at only two hours and fifteen minutes.

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If you haven’t guessed, I don’t like this movie. I was entertained in the very beginning, but slowly lost all interest in it. Blackbeard doesn’t stand up to the villains of the past and Jack isn’t a good lead character. The action is flat and the mythology stinks. Do yourself a favor, and pretend that the series ends after the third movie.

So that’s it. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is mostly a success with two great entries (The Curse of the Black Pearl and At World’s End), one pretty good entry (Dead Man’s Chest), and one awful one (On Stranger Tides). Any adventure fans should check these movies out, if by some chance you haven’t already. They’re good fun and remind me of adventure movies of old.

Pirates of the Caribbean Series Review – The Curse of the Black Pearl & Dead Man’s Chest

25 Dec

The Pirates of the Caribbean movies are modern day Hollywood masterpieces that hearken back to an adventurous time of swashbuckling film making. One can not help but think of adventure classics like Sinbad, the Sailor when watching these movies. They’re a lot of fun, but the series itself can be labeled as uneven, so this series review will take a look at the ups and downs of this billion dollar franchise.

Let’s start with The Curse of the Black Pearl.

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The city of Port Royal gets flipped upside down once the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) arrives. After the mysterious Black Pearl attacks the city in search of a missing piece of cursed Aztec gold, the governor’s daughter, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) is taken by the ship’s Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Swann’s love interest, blacksmith William Turner (Orlando Bloom) breaks Sparrow out of jail and the two of them set out to find this cursed crew and save Elizabeth, but as a pirate, Jack has an agenda of his own.

This is one of the most fun movies I have ever had the pleasure of seeing and it seems to get better every time I watch it. I watched it for the first time in a couple years for this review, and it was such a fun ride. The action and comedy play off each other so well with the help of an excellent cast and crew. Jack Sparrow has become one of the most famous characters of all time, thanks mostly to Depp’s fantastic performance. Rush is also a great villain and seems to love saying his ridiculously over the top pirate sayings. Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom do just fine, but nothing within the realms of Depp and Rush.

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The effects are also really fantastic and was made in a very interesting way. Whenever the cursed crew of the Black Pearl enter the moon light, they become these decaying skeletons. In order to get that effect to match the actions of the actual people in the scenes, shots were filmed with the pirate actors and then without them so their skeletons could be digitally added for the final product. A lot of work to match facial features and movement was another challenge that had to be overcome in order to get the best looking animation. It’s a scientific art form that I can’t even begin to understand and it makes me respect this movie and the work that went into it so much more.

The entire tone is reminiscent of modern films like The Mummy. It’s action packed, but it’s light hearted and has good intentions. There are some pretty scary scenes on the Pearl but the movie in entirety is a great family adventure. Hollywood doesn’t produce classics like these all the time any more, at least, not like they used to. This is a fantastic effort by Disney and Bruckheimer Studios of making a big-budgeted classic that nearly everyone can enjoy. If you haven’t seen this by any chance, check it out. I guarantee your entertainment.

Of course, there has to be a sequel to something that makes loads of money at the box office, but this isn’t really a bad thing at all. In fact the sequel, Dead Man’s Chest, is a good movie. The bad news is that even though it is a top notch second entry, it’s plagued with a very big problem.

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Some time after the events of the first film, William Turner and Elizabeth Swann are finally to be married. That is, until Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) arrests them both and sentences them to death unless Will can find Jack and bring his compass back to Port Royal. Will soon finds Jack, but gets caught up in Jack’s mission to kill Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and be free of a debt he made Jones years before. Add Elizabeth and the disgraced Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) and you’ve got a mosh pit of motives that all clash and bring about an end to the solidity of alliances.

This is a very difficult movie to summarize in a paragraph. There are so many characters with different plots and subplots that, if you don’t watch out, you may lose track of. I wouldn’t call this movie confusing, but it is packed. There’s a lot that happens in the broad range of two and a half hours, and even that’s not enough time. This is really the only problem with this movie, but it weighs the movie down big time. Not enough time is spent on certain parts of the story because if it was, then the movie would stretch on for a very long time.

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I will say that everything else about Dead Man’s Chest surpasses its predecessor. This movie is a lot darker and adult friendly. Bill Nighy is absolutely menacing as Davy Jones and really brings the myth to life and more. The CGI and special effects in this movie add to this as well, and not just with Jones. The crew of the Flying Dutchman looks fantastic in their different stages of transformation into whatever it is they are becoming. Barnacles and shells make up most of their bodies giving them a look that I’ve never seen before.

Although I’ve complained about how the story is presented, it is a lot better and complicated than The Curse of the Black Pearl. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have much more time to make their characters more than just the audience’s eyes and ears, and actually get to really be involved in the piracy of the other characters. Like I said before, alliances are shattered and some are strengthened, making this a movie you must pay attention during or you’ll lose who wants what and who is in league with who.

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While Dead Man’s Chest has the opportunity to be the superior movie, the presentation and pacing bear too much weight to surpass The Curse of the Black Pearl. It has a great story and a lot of characters that are getting more and more fleshed out, but it just becomes a mess. It’s certainly not a movie to be missed and is a good effort by Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer, but don’t expect the joy you had watching the first movie.

So we got a start to the series, but we still have two more. Look out for my review of At World’s End and On Stranger Tides.

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.