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Entries in Vanessa Redgrave (2)

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

Friday
May142010

Letters to Juliet

I don’t have any statistics to back me up, but I’m fairly certain the most abundant genre of film is the romantic comedy. It seems every couple of weeks I’m sitting through one. I also (again with no statistics) believe it fares the poorest. No other genre manages to be as tired as the traditional rom-com. Most merely come up with some far fetched, arbitrary scenario that set it up as unique, but the stories always follow suit. Letters to Juliet is the latest of these examples.

It’s the story of a girl named Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) who is on her way to Italy with her chef fiancé, but once there, his passion for cooking overtakes him and they end up spending their visit apart. While he is off learning the secrets of Italian cuisine, she makes her way to a courtyard where people seek love advice through writing letters to Juliet, one half of the fictional duo Romeo & Juliet. She becomes intrigued by the thought and eventually joins up with a local group of gals who write back, dubbed the “secretaries” of Juliet. But when she returns a letter written 50 years ago, she finds herself face to face with the writer, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her less enthusiastic grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) and embarks on a journey with her to find her one true love.

Really, Letters to Juliet is two stories in one. One is really terrific and the other is painful. Claire’s story of everlasting love, even after being apart for 50 years, is a wonder to behold and Redgrave gives a performance that will instantly consume you. She’s radiant in the role. The other story—the oh so obvious “will she or won’t she fall in love with the handsome grandson?”—is a disaster of proportions I haven’t seen in quite some time. Unfortunately, it’s the centerpiece of the film.

Outside of the unbelievable lack of chemistry between the two stars, the love that develops between Sophie and Charlie feels inauthentic and forced. Charlie, for starters, is a maniacal, self absorbed jerk. The venomous words he spews at Sophie upon first meeting are things you wouldn’t hear life long enemies say to each other. He has become so upset that she wrote back to his grandmother that he holds her in contempt, constantly using his uppity British persona to degrade her at every chance he gets. He’s one of the most unpleasant leading characters I’ve ever seen in a romantic comedy.

Yet she falls for him. If there was ever an argument that girls are into jerks (which you’ll hear occasionally from so called “nice guys”), this is it. Naturally, he changes his tune once he realizes he loves her back, but the flip is sudden with no hint at previous interest. It happened as quickly as a snap of the finger and we’re supposed to buy it. I don’t think so.

It’s really a shame because the underlying story of Claire truly is charming. Had the stories been flipped, Claire’s being the more prominent, I would most likely be giving out a recommendation. But if that story were taken away, you’d be stuck with a handful of decent chuckles and little else.

It’s an odd concoction, a marvelous tale that celebrates love mixed with an abomination that bastardizes it, but there’s simply no other way to describe Letters to Juliet.

Letters to Juliet receives 2/5