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Entries in Ralph Fiennes (5)

Friday
Nov092012

Skyfall

James Bond has graced our movie screens for 50 years. From the moment Dr. No was released in 1962, Bond was a hit, and with good reason. Although his appeal certainly reaches further than such a small demographic, he’s the type of suave, sophisticated, fearless ladies man that all guys want to emulate. Despite some sizable bumps along the way (the series is like a roller coaster ride in terms of quality), Bond has hung around for what is now 23 films and if Skyfall is any indication, he won’t be going away for some time. While it doesn’t quite reach the lofty grandeur that many are claiming it does—this is certainly not the best Bond movie ever made—it’s a step in the right direction.

What Skyfall does is take a franchise that has been known to go off the rails occasionally and grounds it in reality. It’s a darker, grittier and more realistic picture than many of its series brethren and it’s all the better for it. It doesn’t feel so much like a popcorn movie like some of the cheesier Bonds do. It instead feels like a drama driven action film with real meaning because the impending danger is more focused. No longer is there an evil entity ludicrously hell-bent on destroying the world. In Skyfall, the evil villain, Silva, played wonderfully by Javier Bardem, is destroying Bond’s world from the inside out rather than as a whole. A cyber terrorist, Silva is cool and calm and he has no intention to rule the world. His intentions are more personal and the consequences of his actions are felt. He happens to have a list of every MI6 agent and is releasing their identities to the world every five days, resulting in their deaths. For every day that goes by in the film, an agent is lost, so the stakes feel higher, despite the narrative reduction from world domination to personal vendetta.

The film, when inspected closely, reveals that it truly is a Bond film, never really deviating from the tried-and-true formula all that much. If you’ve ever seen a Bond film before, you know what to expect—conspiracy, espionage, double crosses and the like—but what matters is how well these aspects are carried out. Luckily, Skyfall contains some of the best executed and most thrilling action scenes this side of The Dark Knight Rises. It’s opening is outstanding, recalling the Casino Royale on foot chase (but this time on bikes) in all the best ways, failing to live up to its predecessor only due to obvious doubles and occasionally spotty CGI, but it’s stand-out moment comes in a Tokyo high rise where the walls are made of glass. As Bond sneaks up on an assassin readying for the kill, digital images dancing in the background, reflecting off the surfaces around them, a silhouetted fight breaks out in front of those very same images and it’s absolutely beautiful to watch. Framed by famed cinematographer Roger Deakins, the man behind True Grit and nearly every Coen brothers movie, Skyfall is perhaps the best looking Bond movie to date. Unfortunately, the visuals surpass its narrative ambition.

Relying on the same old Bond tropes we’ve come to expect really wouldn’t be a big deal (he’s been around for 50 years for a reason) were it not for the way the film sets up certain events, but then doesn’t follow through on them. An example of this comes most notably about halfway through the film. Silva has just escaped from MI6 and is on his way to a location holding many high profile targets, one of whom is vital to the Bond series. The film intercuts between the approaching Silva and the high profile target arguing over the safety of the nation and the necessity of MI6. The way this sequence is edited sets up a dramatic ending, one that could have shaken things up a bit and given the film an unexpected emotional weight, but the film seems to chicken out in doing it. Those aware of the way films are constructed will find this sequence baffling.

The ending is a disappointment as well. It builds and builds with scenes of intensity and excitement only to end with a poof rather than a bang. But on the whole, Skyfall is terrific. Daniel Craig has never been better in the famous role and the film’s willingness to bring the series back to a reasonable belief level is more than welcome (when Q, played by Ben Whishaw, hands Bond his new gadgets, they consist of nothing more than a radio tracker and a gun—they don’t “chip out for exploding pen” types of gadgets anymore, Q explains).

Despite some issues, this is the Bond movie Craig will be remembered for, due almost entirely to the fact that it nails who and what Bond is (and even highlights his vulnerability). Its stumbles are still there, however; they just come from elsewhere. Because of those stumbles, this is not the best Bond movie ever (Goldfinger still holds that spot), but when a movie is as stimulating as this, such hyperbole is to be expected.

Skyfall receives 4/5

Friday
Feb172012

Coriolanus

How do you review a movie that is of top notch production values, features a handful of amazing performances, tells a gripping story and gets nearly everything right, but you just can’t recommend? I wish someone would tell me because Coriolanus is one of those movies. There’s so much good, so many things to admire and rave about, but there is one giant problem with the film and it pervades its entirety. Watching the movie is like eating a gourmet meal where the main course is only slightly overcooked. It shouldn’t ruin the whole thing, but it kind of does. I want to do nothing more than tell you to watch Coriolanus, but my dismay at one of the most ill-advised decisions I’ve seen in a film in quite a long time is keeping me from doing it.

The film is based on the William Shakespeare play from the early 17th century and it stars Ralph Fiennes as Roman general Caius Martius Coriolanus who, after years of duty to his country, is banished and decides to take revenge on Rome with a man who used to be his enemy, Volscian army general, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). It’s a tried and true story, one that is wrought with tension, suspense, drama and meaning that can be tied to modern times in our treatment of soldiers during and after wartime. There is nothing inherently wrong with this story, but the way it’s adapted is a pity.

What Coriolanus does is take an old play that was written over 400 years ago and modernizes it, setting it in the present day and in the current political and societal climates. However, it retains the old Shakespearean dialogue from the early 1600’s and, plain and simple, it doesn’t work. It’s beyond silly to watch a group of soldiers run through the streets with their AKs shooting each other up followed by those same soldiers speaking archaic rhetoric that doesn’t fit the modern time period. Although this decision does allow for some intense monologues, most notably from the terrific Fiennes, these moments only work by themselves and not when analyzed within the overall picture.

Coriolanus is an odd mash-up of two different time periods that don’t work well together and it drags the entire film down because it’s not just one tiny aspect of its production. It’s a major narrative decision, a persistent problem that runs throughout its entire 2 hour length. If writer John Logan wanted to retain that old language, he should have set the film in the appropriate time period. Nobody these days talks like this, about how “thou art lost” and how someone doesn’t hate you, but instead hates “thee.” It’s an artistic decision that is nothing more than laughable.

It’s such a shame because in his directorial debut, Fiennes crafts a beautifully shot film with a handful of outstanding performances that could have made for a powerful experience. He has a distinct visual eye and shoots each scene appropriately within the context of where the story is at that point and he, perhaps because this is an obvious passion project for him, gives what may be his single greatest performance. He’s a sight to behold in this film and the fact that he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar this year is a crying shame.

It’s rare that one bad decision can sour an otherwise solid production, but there you have it. It’s far too hard to blend two different time periods together, your eyes showing you one thing while your ears tell you another, which is most notable in a scene where political pundits argue on the television. Their debate comes off more like gossip between guests at a costume party in 1607 than actual political discourse. Moments like that are indicative of the entire film. Even when you’re watching scenes with breathtaking performances (of which there are many), you can never fully shake how ridiculous the whole affair is. Set this in 17th century Rome and you may be onto something, but as is, Coriolanus is an anomaly: a movie that gets 95% of its content correct and still fails.

Coriolanus receives 2/5

Thursday
Jul142011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

After ten years and eight movies, it’s all finally coming to an end. Harry Potter is going to be put to rest. Truly one of the most popular franchises in film history, the Harry Potter movies have shown how a franchise should be handled. Not all of the films have been amazing, but all (with the exception of The Order of the Phoenix) have been good. If nothing else, it’s a consistent franchise with more heart, whimsy and fantastic fantasy action than many movies even attempt, much less achieve. And it’s going out with a bang. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is hands down the best in the acclaimed series. It will blow the minds of, and bring tears to, even the most casual fans who have little invested in the story and characters. I joked with friends and colleagues before the screening that if the film was anything less than the best of the year, I would be disappointed. And disappointed I am not.

The film begins precisely where the last one left off. Dobby has just died and Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has just found the Elder Wand, the most powerful wand in existence. Meanwhile, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), along with best friends Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), are out to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, each of which carries a piece of Voldemort’s soul. Voldemort will stop at nothing to keep that from happening, which means killing Harry Potter.

As with most of the other Potter films, you will need to be well-versed in Potter lore to fully keep up with what’s going on in The Deathly Hallows Part 2. It’s a movie that would have greatly benefited from a “Previously on Harry Potter” type of opening, especially since this is the second half of one story, not simply a standalone sequel like the others. From the get go, it’s unclear exactly what is happening, but it never suffers under the weight of its own vagueness. All it requires is a little patience while it settles into its own. Confusion is cleared and the story at hand grips you like none other.

It’s a story that has been building for seven films, all of which left open doors and questions lingering to set up the next movie, but for the first time ever, there’s closure. One of my chief complaints of The Deathly Hallows Part 1 was its abrupt ending. It was a story that was intentionally left unfinished and its lack of any type of payoff was to its detriment, but Part 2 rectifies that with a send-off for the ages. The showdown between Potter and Voldemort is an epic, breathtaking, immensely satisfying finale that leaves no stone unturned. What follows is an endearing and emotional farewell to one of the most charismatic characters to ever grace the screen.

The big climax is not the only reason to watch Part 2 of this story, however. The entire film is brimming with action, contrary to the more talkative Part 1, but it’s not there just to be there like in, say, the latest Transformers film. Unlike that mind numbing movie, the action compliments the story, flowing naturally based on what has occurred up to that point. And in the midst of all the chaos and destruction is a brilliant plot twist that forces Potter to face his destiny, which may mean sacrificing himself to save others.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is dark, scary and more violent than many will expect, but it’s also emotionally resonant and beautifully made. Long time fan or Harry Potter cynic, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. It will stick with you long after the credits have rolled and the lights come up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 receives 5/5

Thursday
Nov182010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

The Harry Potter franchise is one of the most consistently engaging franchises in Hollywood. With the sole exception of Order of the Phoenix, I would recommend each and every one. However, all have their faults. While fans and critics alike have praised them as tremendous entertainment, I’ve found most of them to be no more than slightly above average. The newest installment and beginning of the end, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, is no better and no worse than the rest of the series. For everything it fixes, it breaks something and in trying to keep things fresh, it loses much of its charm.

My confusion began as soon as the movie started. Not being a rabid fan of the series, I’ve only seen the other entries once or twice. I haven’t kept up with its extensive mythology and its deep cast of characters left me more than a little befuddled. When it begins, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is left alone after his foster parents move out. Hermione (Emma Watson) has seemingly erased herself from her parent’s memories. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is meeting with his gang of misfits to figure out a way to kill Harry. And then about a dozen other characters pop up to rescue Harry and whisk him away to safety. These events happened quickly and I wasn’t sure why, but credit is due to the filmmakers who make the story that follows manageable even for those who aren’t familiar with the prior movies.

Essentially, the story follows Harry, Hermione and Ron (Rupert Grint) as they attempt to find and destroy a number of artifacts called Horcruxes. However, this plot takes the kids away from Hogwarts and sets them off on an adventure alone. While I appreciate the darker tone of this entry, it’s missing the whimsy of other installments. It has more of a focus on the trio, but part of the fun of the series has always been watching the eccentric teachers and other colorful characters that roam the halls of Hogwarts. This movie has none of them. The large cast of characters that show up at the beginning of the movie disappear until the end (if they even come back at all) and the humor and fun disappears along with them.

What really hurts the movie, however, is its build to nothing. As evidenced by the “Part 1” at the end of the title, this story is being broken up into two movies, so what happens is that it trucks along for two and half hours only to abruptly end without any type of payoff. The setup for the next film is intriguing and I can’t wait to see it, but it doesn’t negate the fact that this story is left unfinished.

As with the previous movies, Part 1 looks good. The assured direction and gorgeous cinematography are wonderful. It carries an appropriately dark, unearthly look. This distinct visual style works wonders for the film and is complimented by an amazing animated segment explaining the origin of the deathly hallows, a welcome change of pace from a scene that would have otherwise been boring exposition.

Although I obviously haven’t seen Part 2 yet, I feel like the two movies will be comparable to Kill Bill: good separate, but something special together. I don’t mind the slow build if you give me a reason for it, but as a standalone movie, which is the only way it can be judged right now, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is satisfying, but fails to transcend into greatness.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 receives 3.5/5

Friday
Apr022010

Clash of the Titans

Something's wrong in Hollywood. It's called 3D. Now, before you naysay my statement, know this. I do not hate 3D. It has a place in film and, perhaps unfortunately, is the next evolutionary step in the future of filmmaking. However, with Avatar still going strong at the box office, Alice in Wonderland still climbing out of the rabbit hole and last week's How to Train Your Dragon enjoying its debut, the last thing we need is another 3D movie, yet here we are with the remake of the 1981 cheese-fest Clash of the Titans. Forget about what those big wig execs up in their ivory watchtowers want you to think. Clash proves that not every movie needs the extra dimension.

What separates this apart from those movies previously mentioned is simple. It was never meant to be in 3D. It was not filmed with that technology, like Avatar, or with the mindset for it to later be converted, as was the case with Alice in Wonderland. No, it was bumped up after the movie studio discovered just how profitable the format could be, considering the extra cost to see one in theaters. Thus, it looks horrid. Some scenes feel unfinished, certain visuals look blurry and at times, the characters seem misshapen with distorted heads and cut off body parts, as seen with the ear in multiple shots. Sometimes, I took my glasses off only to find much of it was barely converted, if at all. I watched whole scenes in crisp clear 2D without the glasses in a supposedly 3D movie. It's a nasty trick by the studio to force you into paying extra money with the notion that you're getting something more. Don't be fooled. You're not.

Regardless of how you're looking at it, you'll most likely wish you weren't at all. Clash of the Titans is an action bombshell, taking the genre and forcefully deflowering it with no regards to style or substance. It uses Greek mythology to prove itself as an epic, but it never does anything to warrant such a title.

Sam Worthington plays Perseus, son of Zeus, played by Liam Neeson. Zeus, a god, mated with a human in an act of revenge, who eventually gave birth to Perseus. Being half-human and half-god, a demi-god if you will, he is thrown into the thick of things when the battle between humans and the gods heats up. You see, the humans have betrayed the gods and Zeus is angry, so he joins with his brother Hades, ruler of the Underworld, played by Ralph Fiennes, to put them in their place. If the people of the city do not sacrifice the beautiful Andromeda, played by Alexa Davalos, a giant Kraken will come and destroy them. Perseus' mission is to figure out how to kill the Kraken and defeat the gods.

Essentially, it's a long winded journey to drably colored locales that all look exactly the same with the hopes of finding the information to take down the giant beast that ends in as boring a fashion as it possibly could. By the time Perseus finally gets to the much talked about Kraken, the creature merely waves his claws around, roars a few times and the movie ends. There's no battle, no showdown and, most importantly, no enjoyment to be had in any of it.

Perseus' journey is never fraught with peril or wonder. It gathers up the extensive history of Greek mythology, but has no fun with it. The PG rated Percy Jackson & the Olympians did more with its source material than this supposed grown-up tale of survival and sacrifice.

And that would be due to the script. This is a very badly written film, with unexplained plot occurrences and dialogue that would be better fit for a fun cornball picture. If you've seen the original film, you know it was a poorly conceived B-movie, yet irresistible in its campiness. This modern update doesn't even reach that status because it takes itself far too seriously.

Going hand in hand are the actors, who all seem half asleep in their performances. Liam Neeson, as established a star as he is, is boring as the god Zeus while Fiennes does little more than channel a less creepy version of Lord Voldemort from his roles in the Harry Potter films. Sam Worthington's banality may be the most egregious, however. He was great in Avatar and Terminator: Salvation despite their mediocrity where he proved himself as an up and coming action star. He was somebody to look out for, but he comes off as a second rate actor from a military commercial here. Sure, he looks strong and menacing, but his goofy way of talking in a loud whisper, not unlike Jack Bauer in 24, is laughable and makes his tough look moot.

Clash of the Titans is a disaster, joining the ranks of big budget travesties like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Land of the Lost. It's one of the worst movies of the year thus far and you should skip it, but if you must see it, take my heed and skip the 3D. Why pay extra when you'll walk out miserable either way?

Clash of the Titans receives 0.5/5