Tag Archives: samantha morton

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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Synecdoche, New York – Review

1 Apr

Here’s a movie that the late, great Roger Ebert called the best film of the decade back when it was released in 2008. This is Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. Before this film, Kaufman established himself as one of the greatest modern day story tellers with his screenplays of Being John MalkovichAdaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He’s a writer like no other, and the puzzles that his movies present are proof. That being said, Synecdoche, New York comes off as his most personal and most challenging work yet.

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Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater director working in New York City. His most recent play is a success, but life at home couldn’t be worse. First, Cotard begins to suspect that he’s suffering from a degenerative disorder that’s practically shutting his body down. To make matters worse, his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) takes their daughter to Berlin for an art show, but never return. To cope with this, Cotard begins working on a personal and extremely realistic piece of theater by constructing a replica of New York City inside a giant warehouse with thousands of actors playing real life people acting out situations that have happened in day to day life. As the line of Cotard’s fiction and Cotard’s reality begin to become one, he begins to lose all track of time and control on his other relationships with multiple women in his theater group.

Anyone who is familiar with Charlie Kaufman’s work knows that he is not afraid to put our minds through a cinematic blender. Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich subscribed to a set of rules that seem only to exist in Kaufman’s mind. Things don’t have to make sense or follow any linear design as long as his story is there and he gets across what he’s trying to say, even though you may not get everything the first time through. You can’t really say that with most directors, but Kaufman makes it work. Unlike the other movies I’ve mentioned, the story in Synecdoche, New York completely goes off the rails leaving time and space to be a minor footnote to a work that’s much more important.

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Aside from being mind boggling in story, Synecdoche, New York also succeeded at boggling my emotions. This is one hell of a heavy movies despite how completely off the walls it is. There’s so much stuff to find hilarious in this movie, for example doctors who do their best to give their patients as little insight as possible, a psychiatrist who doesn’t seem to be even listening, and a character who buys and lives in a house that’s perpetually on fire. However, and this is a huge however, once the movie starts getting into its later scenes and I began to realize more and more the message of the movie, I found myself getting hopelessly sad in a way that a movie hasn’t done to me in a while. So, yes, the movie is really funny in many scenes, but it’s overall quite upsetting, but upon closer inspection it may give you a surge of great joy.

With the huge emotional response and the fact that this world Kaufman has made exists outside the realm of conventional rules, it’s safe to say that watching this movie just once is a bad idea. Going back and thinking about this movie more has made me realize all of the little clues, themes, and symbols that I completely failed to notice the first time through. It’ll almost be like watching the movie for the first time all over again now that I know how much it really plays with your mind. The only complaint I can possibly have about this movie is that it seemed to go on and on. For a movie as strange as this with all of its complicated storytelling, it is a little bit long and I felt it necessary to take a little break in the middle.

Going back to what Roger Ebert said about Synecdoche, New York being the best movie of the decade, I wouldn’t go that far in my opinion. It is still a truly remarkable movie that feels very personal to Kaufman, but also works great as a movie that exists to figure out the meaning of the story and piece together all the clues that seem to be subliminally sneaked into the movie. Still, this movie is not for everyone. It’s so complex and difficult that the casual movie watcher may not be interested. For the nice audience that it is directed too, however, this is a fascinating and original film that fits perfectly into Charlie Kaufman’s filmography and succeeds especially as his debut film.

The Messenger – Review

18 May

As war and turmoil rages on in the Middle East, smaller and more personal battles continue on the home front as families are torn apart by the worst news possible. Hearing that a loved one has died one the battlefield is terribly difficult to hear, and this drama is wonderfully captured in The Messenger, with a few dramatic curve balls thrown in.

Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) is a war hero who has been assigned with a job that he is not particularly happy about. Along with Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), he is given the task to notify families about their loved ones who have been killed in action. One particular widow (Samantha Morton) draws Montgomery close into her personal life, and he finds himself slowly falling for her, which is strictly against protocol.

This summary doesn’t really do this film justice, since its more of a character study than a traditional story driven narrative. At the end of The Messenger, nothing much has really changed. The war still goes on and people are still dying, but the characters in the film have progressed even if it is only slightly. That’s what is the true strength of the movie. The audience is meant to care more about the characters than what the story is. If one was to focus just on the story, the film would probably feel pretty hollow and boring, which it is not.

The screenplay for The Messenger is really marvelous with true to life dialogue that is never melodramatic and was nominated for an Academy Award for best Original Screenplay. There are a few lines that seem out of place like calling kids “green with envy” or some forced “good bye(s).” Other than that every line is appropriate. There is even a really good monologue said by Ben Foster towards the end of the movie that never sounds forced. The handheld camera work is also subtly fantastic at giving the film a more realistic feel. One shot in particular is eight minutes long and full of dramatic and emotional change.

Seeing Ben Foster in a role where he doesn’t have to shoot or hit anyone was a nice change. It’s been established with movies like 3:10 to Yuma and The Mechanic that he can play a tough talking badass just fine, but now it is known that he is perfectly capable of playing a deep character who makes a great change throughout a movie. Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton are also above average which also earned Harrelson an Academy Award nomination.

The Messenger came out the same year as The Hurt Locker, which is also about the tragedies surrounding the war in Iraq. Although the same themes are explored, they are done so in polar opposite ways. Deciding which film is more effective would be a very difficult task. Both do a great job, but I felt more impacted by the dialogue in The Messenger than the often flashy and violent material in The Hurt Locker, but this could just be because The Messenger is fresh in my mind.

This was a quietly intense and emotional film that strikes many different cords. I’d like to see The Messenger defined as a classic in a number of years because of its presentation. I really enjoyed this movie a lot, and would recommend it to anyone.