When commenting on a piece of Shakespeare I’m tempted to grab a volume off the shelf and fill the blog with apt Shakespearian quotes, but I’ll leave that to people better positioned to do so.  I have to give credit to Ralph Fiennes, there would be far easier projects to use as a directorial debut than Shakespeare and even other of the bard’s work which would lend itself to a first timer, but he pulled it off.

So what is it about? Essentially it is about a less than popular patrician general who even though is crowned in battle glory is hated by many of the people. This does not particularly bother him as he views the vulgar populous as rabble and to say he has any affection or love for them would be lies. The Rome of this setting is a dystrophic place where the good general is well employed keeping the masses in their place, when not in foreign fields adding to the city’s “glory”.

There is a certain brutality to his moral stance and unique honesty.  His mother the family matriarch (played fantastically by Vanessa Redgrave), wife and family friends as well as obsequious fellow patricians and senators propel him to Consulship of the city but some of those tribunes who are not under his spell and realise that it is the people to whom they must turn for power plot his removal and banishment.  Dejected and feeling betrayed he  goes into exile and, judging by his hair growth, after an Homeric odyssey finds himself in front of his arch enemy, Aufidius, leader of the Volscian forces (played by Gerard Butler), who over the course of his, Coriolanus’, thrice times six battles, has fought him hand to hand five times and been bettered by Coriolanus each time. They join forces and march on Rome. Entreaties by former comrades and  his mentor Merenius (played by Brian Cox) come to nothing. Eventually his, mother, wife and son go to him and after much anguish he agrees a peace. The treaty signing reminded me of the counterpart scene in Brannagh’s Henry V (1989). Aufidius, jealous of Coriolanus’ popularity among his Volscian troops renders on to him a death best delivered on the ides of March – sorry I couldn’t resist.

Why does Coriolanus work as a Shakespearian interpretation and as a piece of cinema? Well probably because Fiennes, having played the part over 10 years ago, knew what he was getting into. He also partnered with people who knew what they were doing. He and his co-writer, John Logan, managed to cut back the wording of Shakespeare’s second longest play to a time manageable for modern cinema without losing the  value of the play.

Barry Ackroyd’s photography also captures the violent essence and rather smartly allows a movie, shot on a budget to appear far larger than it was. The detail of the settings and props is flawless and use of handheld cameras adds to the starkness of the play. This is not a nice sanitised rendition of one of the bard’s harder works but a full spirited delivery by people who believe in the strength of the work.

The cast is brilliantly picked with performances which I would not have expected from some and typical of others.  I generally try to get some Shakespeare each year in Edinburgh as part of the Fringe festival, the interpretations range from fresh to agonising, it will be interesting to see how many people think they can add their vision to this classic next year. The Royal Mile could be an interesting place!

Rating 9/10 – a few extra pounds might have found a use.

Sherlock Holmes: A game of Shadows

Opinion is divided on the Guy Ritchie interpreation of Conan-Doyles’ work. Personally I like when the first one came out I re-read the books and I thought they captured the essence of the original, rather than the politically correct Basil Ratbone snob accompanied by a bubbling Watson. Sure Watson does not have the analytical mind of Holmes, but he has the good sense and pragmatism his friend lacks.  Again the RD-Jr.  and Law partneship works.

There is the cartoonish feel to this movie as with the previous one and some of the novelty of the original is lost we we get used to the style but it is still greatly entertaining in its larger than life view of the world. These films are not reproductions of the books but rather interpreations of the character drawing from the written volumes – Gang of Four and A Scandal in Bohemia  as well as others are the plot basis here.

The arch villan of Conan-Doyle’s work is of course Professor Moriarity, a shadowy figure who comes out in to the daylight in this offering. This is perhaps a slight weakness as I like my Moriarity as a dark figure, but this is a matter of interpretation. I’m also not sure about Mycroft, Sherlock’s older brother who is actually the smarter one of the two who essntially has an unidentified role in Whitehall  esnuring the safety of the empire and the running of the country. Equally as odd as sherlock he seems just a little front and centre for me, but that said, I think nicely played by Stephen Fry.

The nearest to any timeline here is Watson’s upcoming nuptuals, again Law plays the gambling war-hero with the flaws and strengths of the original. Quietly saving Holmes from himsellf – and others- along the way.

I mentioned some of the books earlier, and indeed the key one is he Final Problem, the book where Conan-Doyle tried to kill-off his creation via the Reichenbach falls, this coming in the second movie of the franchise was a surprise but Ritchie worked well with it – I’m saying no more on that aspect.

When all is said and done it is light-hearted entertainment, just as the original weekly stories were. Holmes has always been open to reinterpretation and reinvention and this series of films is no different.

I’ve come to like Guy Ritchie’s work and this is no different, if you want to spend some time with most of your brain parked outside (retain some mental faculties to keep up with Sherlock!) the cinema and be entertained then this movie will work for you. Not perfect but the flaws perhaps add to it.

6/10 – a solid 3 star movie which earns the ticket price.

Underworld: awakening

Pure shoot-em-up pulp, but that’s what we like about The Underworld series. Kate Beckinsale is back as the Lycan hunting vampire who seems to spend as much time up against her fellow blood suckers as the wolves.

This is the fourth movie in the series and to my mind possibly the weakest, that said it is works as an action movie. Like all action movies there needs to be a bad guy and Stephen Rea plays this part nicely. His usual understated manner hides a darker side which comes out as the movie progresses.

It does not have the same gothic feel as the earlier movies where the metropolis had a more China Mieville or dystopic  feel. It should be noted that like the previous offerings in the franchise, despite the free availability of vampires and werewolves, sorry lycan, it is not a horror (if you want a horror, watch Twilight – scary!).

The movie starts with a summary and update on the situation regarding humanity, the lycan and the vampires. I’m not going to say too much about the story line except to say, this time round there is not much of Michael, but Selene does have a daughter which she acquired thanks to the wonders of modern science and Mr. Rea.

One of the features of the previous outings was the weaponry and not only the design and imagination of the weapons used but also their total inability to run out of ammunition.  Rather than have this as an embarrassing  prop/direction failure, the directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein make it a feature.  Speaking of features, I’m generally not a fan of 3D as it usually does not work and leaves me with eye strain but this time it actually worked…in the important places. What this movie shows is the importance of planning for 3D and not just using it as an anti-pirating/novelty device. I’m still not converted to the dark side, but this was one of the better 3D offerings. The fight sequences are still the set-pieces which we have come to expect.

As with the previous outings the cast is a mix of big-draw names like Charles Dance and Stephen Rea supporting Ms Beckinsale  but also relative new comers to the movie stage like Theo James (young –relatively- vampire) or India Eisley, who plays her daughter “Eve” – perhaps not the most original name given the story line. Kris Holden-Ried, fresh from Lost Girl, plays the Ubber-lycan

What is the matter with “Eve” as a name you may ask, well not much except for the DNA work and genetic splicing which are the background plot devices for the movie and so you see not the most original name, but one which perhaps travels trans-nationally and causes no confusion.

Without giving the game away, the ending clearly acts as an advertisement for Underworld: (insert tag) or simply Underworld 5. There are worse franchises and I will probably find myself in the cinema for the next one.

Rating = 6/10 it does the job, but call me old fashioned – I still like my vampires to have that gothic feel to them 🙂

The Iron Lady

Okay, so there is baggage with this movie, but leave the baggage at the door and go watch a couple of great performances.  I often have a hard time watching Meryl Streep in roles as I usually just see her as Meryl Streep playing a character; here however I saw a portrayal of a character and I was watching that character. Jim Broadbent as Denis Thatcher adds to the strength of the offering. Watching Broadbent reminded me of his role in Iris (Richard Eyre, 2001). There are many similarities to both movies. Great minds suffering from a mental decline and old age which contrasts with their achievements in earlier life. Now both are totally dependent on others.

The Movie opens with the “Iron Lady” shuffling about unrecognised (or ignored) is a small corner store buying milk.  Later we see one of her (heavily armed) security officers getting a dressing down by her nurse for letting her out of the building; this is typical of the subtlety of the movie which get the offering across.

Divorcing ourselves from the history many of us grew up with, we see an elderly woman missing her dead husband and taking cues from many ordinary life events to  return to a safer, warmer world with her dear husband beside her.  Like Citizen Kane there is a narrative of flashback and like Kane they are not chronological or meant as historical lessons but rather her view looking back at memories.

In this movie we see how a woman, once perhaps the most powerful women in the world, is now a virtual prisoner in her own home and perhaps her own mind. What we have here is a study of how power is taken away but the way in which that power affects the person continues.  Is she suffering from dementia or simply surrendering back into her memories and living in a time past.

Streep deserves to be recognised for her efforts here. Like Clooney in The Descendants (see blog entry) she is the central plank of the movie and if she fails, the movie fails, She did not fail. This is not a historical biopic, the historic events within which Mrs. Thatcher had a role are viewed through the prompts which are about the house or arise through conversations, this is about here now, not then. Another aspect of the film is of course the flashbacks, again they work. W.E. is an example of where this does not work, clashing and jarring with the narrative (poor as it was in the first place). I mentioned Iris earlier and there, like The Iron Lady, the flashbacks give us another view to the narrative, adding to the overall story.

The weakness in the movie is the under use of the fantastic supporting cast, even though the temptation might be to over use supports like Richard E. Grant, John Session or Nick Dunning etc. the temptation was so strongly resisted it took away, perhaps, from what they could have added. That said if they had done so it might have been a completely different movie.  I still would have liked to have seen them used more.  If you are going to use prominent actors, you should be prepared to use then for more than wallpaper.

Rating 6/10

Army of Shadows (L’Armée des Ombres, 1969)

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, a man described as the god-father of modern French New-wave cinema, the movie without doubt deserves the title of “Classic”. Why so? Watching the movie you see how it has influenced the art of film making since then – and you get completly drawn in to the story being told.

Set in France during World War Two, it tells the story of Philippe Gerbier (played in a brilliently calm and understated way by Lino Ventura), originally an engineer who is now a senior member of the Resistance. We see the resistance as a small group of people who must be weary of their fellow citizens, the people they fight for, in order to avoid capture and death.

One of the most noticeable aspects of the film is the lack of actual physical warfare. Typical of European and indeed French cinema; there is much effort devoted to characterisation and mood. Rather than take away from the end product this very much adds to it. The first acts of the movie show us a careful thinking man capable of sizing up those around him and choosing just who to interact with.  The scene at Gestapo headquarters  or the activities in Marseilles show us a cool calm thinking man not given to panic.

You could argue that “Shadows” was itself influenced by Roma, Citáa Aperta (Rome Open City, 1944) by Giorgio Summary and there is nothing wrong with that, but it is still stylistically novel in its own right. The camerawork after the escape from the Parisian Gestapo HQ shows him running down empty Parisian streets with the flowing camera shots is now a typical element of new-wave  cinema.

Melville is able to show cinematic humour, the camera-work at the train station as he arrives and waits, build up suspense but the single spanning shot that follows him to his seat. Does he disappear behind the passing train?

We see the dual roles of people, quite and quiet ordinary people on the outside and heroes fighting with their lives for what they believe in.  But these are not self-important egos, these are people who believe in what they are doing and risk all.

One thing you don’t see a lot of is trooping German soldiers, but you get the danger and suspense. The London scenes in the sub-urban street and the ad-hoc night club during the bombing raid show how a hero in one setting can be like a fish out of water in another. There are many types of bravery.

Melville and Joseph Kessel (who wrote the original novel) were both Resistance members and you can’t but feel they transferred the impact of those experiences to this work.

Rating 9/10

Watch other Melville offerings like Un Flic (The Cop, 1972) or Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle, 1970) to see how movies can quietly build to a crescendo.