Tag Archives: Ralph Fiennes

The Duchess

While the children are outside playing, Georgiana (Keira Knightley) and Charles (Dominic Cooper) among them, Georgiana’s mother is inside, brokering her daughter’s marriage to a man she’s met but twice. She’s not 18 yet but the match will make her a duchess, and by her mother’s standards, that’s more than enough.

Georgiana is so young that she’s actually surprised when the marriage to the much older Duke (Ralph Fiennes) turns out not to be filled with warmth and happiness. He only cares that she produces a male child, and her failure to do so is an embarrassment. Meanwhile, he saddles her with children he’s conceived elsewhere, the least well-kept secret in all of England. And though she’s turned a blind eye to every indiscretion, when he beds her only friend and moves her into their home, it all gets to be a bit too much. With no other option, Georgiana must tolerate it, as she tolerates all else. None of her hats and dresses can make her happy so she does the only thing she can: she takes a lover. Remember childhood friend Charles? Georgiana certainly does.

I saw this streaming on Netflix and was surprised I hadn’t seen it. Now that I have, I’m less surprised. I didn’t need this in my life. It’s not bad, it’s just very generic. It feels like a movie I’ve seen before and it even, in some ways, reminded me of another Keira Knightley film, Colette. It’s a period drama with a very slight feminist bent. She discovers sex! Turns out, it’s not all about your husband raping you until pregnant. Sometimes it even feels good. There. I spoiled it for you. Sorry/not sorry. It’s a literal bodice ripper (and such a shame, the hair and costumes are the only real thing this movie has going for it) – if it was a book it would be a Harlequin, with Fabio on the cover, and I’d feel much more embarrassed about having read it. Instead I’m mostly just mildly annoyed. Georgiana is apparently a distant relative of Princess Diana so the film was marketed using the Diana angle as heavily as it could (“There were three people in her marriage”) for a movie that has absolutely nothing to do with her. Shameless, of course, but when your film’s this bland, what else can you do? Ralph Fiennes’ stockings aren’t exactly selling tickets.

 

Holmes & Watson

How old am I? I laughed at Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly all the way through Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby in 2006. And then I did it again 2 years later for Step Brothers. They were such a charming duo in their way. But here we are in 2019 and I can’t find one spare giggle for their reunion in Holmes & Watson. How old have I gotten that I don’t find these two funny anymore? Or perhaps the better question is: why are they still making the same movie when they’re both now in their 50s?

In fact, upon closer inspection, Holmes & Watson is NOT the same movie. The first two are birthed at the hands of Ferrell and Adam McKay, with just a magical sprinkling from Reilly. Holmes & Watson is written and directed by Etan Cohen, who is also responsible for Idiocracy, a movie which I find vile and deeply unfunny, so perhaps it’s no wonder at all that this one isn’t for me either.

The world is saturated with Sherlock Holmes stories and we didn’t need another, but I believe we would have made room for it if the movie warranted it. Benedict Cumberbatch has already staked an icon take on the role, and the writers on the show go MV5BM2Q0Y2UyNDEtODE1NC00ZTUyLTgzY2EtNjliM2VjNDk3NTZjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTMyMjYwNTA@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,888_AL_to great lengths to honour his brilliant mind and the world’s most esteemed detective. Will Ferrell’s Sherlock is also supposed to be brilliant, but Cohen can’t find a way to express that while still being funny. The result is a rim shot – you know, when the basketball can’t decide whether to score or not, so it just sort of hobbles around in midair, keeping everyone in suspense? Only the movie’s tone is the basketball, and it circles the rim for so long that you’d rather just walk away in disgust than find it whether it eventually lands.

As far as I can tell, most of the humour is derived from Holmes and Watson supposedly accidentally inventing things far before their time, like a selfie with the Queen (it’s Queen Victoria in the movie, even though at the time of Titanic’s sail, which is when the film is set, King George would have reined), and a telegraphed dick pic

Holmes & Watson is a blemish to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s memory, and a bruise for modern cinema, which it really didn’t need. It’s not just an unfunny comedy, it’s also a shockingly bad movie. When Sony realized it had a real stinker on its hands, it tried to just sell it off quietly to Netflix, and Netflix said: no thanks. So if you’re still wondering How bad can it be?, remember that you’ll have to pay a $5 rental fee to find out, and after reading this review, if you pay it, it’s not so much a rental feel as an idiot tax, and maybe you deserve to pay it after all.

Kubo And The Two Strings

A little dark, and a little melancholy for kids, but for me, near perfection.

Kubo is a little boy with a magical, ancient Japanese banjo. Well, technically the banjo wasn’t ancient at the time – he lives in ancient Japan. And the banjo isn’t actually a banjo, it’s a shamisen. When he plays his magical shamisen, his origami comes to life and helps him tell awesome stories about warriors and samurai. He’s busking, essentially, and the captivated crowd rewards him with a few coins – a good thing because he provides for his sick mother, who lives outside the village in a cave.  When she’s not in a trance, she’s adamant that Kubo always return before sundown. It was surprisingly sound advice from the mentally ill because THE ONE TIME he doesn’t, hell breaks loose. Ancient Japanese hell.

kubo-and-the-two-strings-530x298Turns out, Kubo’s grandfather is some sort of Moon God. Grandfather has already “stolen” one of Kubo’s eyes and wants to get his hands on the other – in blindness, his grandson can join him in immortality, ruling the sky. He sends his 2 creepy daughters to do the dirty work while his 3rd daughter, Kubo’s mom, struggles to protect him with what little magic she has left.

The movie is a grand adventure with more beauty in any random 30 seconds than The Secret Life of Pets has in its entire running time. As usual with Laika productions (they brought you Coraline), there are darker feelings at play, a sometimes ominous and foreboding tone unusual in a children’s movie, and yet the kids in the audience seemed to tolerate it better than they did Pete’s Dragon. It’s a glorious act of story-telling that feels like something genuinely passed down for generations. Every time Kubo picks up his shamisen, be prepared for some of the loveliest music you’ll hear at the movies. It sweeps you up into the magic of his origami, and the whole thing feels alive and vibrant, steeped in a culture filled with divine tradition.

Kubo And The Two Strings is surprisingly well-balanced tonally, able to incorporate gags meant Kubo-and-the-Two-Strings-just for kids between bouts of horror, humour, and yes, tragedy. It’s quite brave, when you think of it. Suicide Squad pulled back on the Joker’s villainy, and Ben-Hur rewrote some of its savagery. This, a meticulously animated piece of art, has the backbone to trust children with some rather heavy themes. And it does it while also being the most visually arresting thing I’ve seen at the movies this year. It’s a spectacle, and a technical triumph. Having no wordly idea how they pulled some scenes off just adds to the magic. Laika is no stranger to Oscar nominations for animation, and is sure to earn another, but this movie demolishes even their own high bar. Laika doesn’t have the cachet of Pixar so politically, beating Finding Dory will be difficult. But the proof is on the big screen: it is undoubtedly the better film.

Strange Days

What do you get when you cross Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett with Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron?  A Blade Runner wanna-be that doesn’t get over the hump but is not even close to the worst thing you can find on Netflix, as long as you can get past how dated the movie feels.

Given that Strange Days was co-written by James Cameron, it’s very odd that the
technology central to the movie feels so old-fashioned.  Even if the effects don’t hold up, Cameron’s near-future technology usually does, from Terminator to Aliens to the Abyss.  Not here.  I shuddered every time a character waved around a mini-CD containing a clip of someone’s memories (literally a first-person-view replay of whatever the person experienced).  Because I’m so over CDs; I’m a vinyl guy.  That means I shuddered a lot while watching Strange Days, because the plot of the movie revolves around those little plastic relics – they’re everywhere!

While it may be silly to criticize a movie set in the year 2000 for using CDs, that sort of logic is not going to stop me even for a second.  Any world that has the technology to record and replay memories in the year 2000 must also have invented storage technology that is far better than CDs, right?  Who’s with me?

The acting is dated as well – it’s from the silent era.  Watching these characters experience other people’s memories is entertaining for all the wrong reasons.  The facial expressions, the moaning, the anguish, it’s all way, way, WAY too much.  I didn’t need to see those reactions even once but just like the omnipresent CDs, we get at least one shot of each main character overacting when they plug into a SQUID (which, unfortunately, is what the memory recorder and player is called).

In particular, Ralph Fiennes’ off-the-charts overacting and general greasiness in the film makes it surprising that he ever found work again.  I think in order to enjoy Fiennes’ catalog from now on, I will have to pretend that the star of Strange Days was actually Bradley Cooper.  Which probably won’t be that hard since they may be the same person.

So if you’re a fan of the English Patient, you should probably skip this one.  On the other hand, if you are a more a fan of cheeseball 90s sci-fi than cheeseball 90s romances, then Strange Days will be right up your alley.

Strange Days gets a score of five unrealistic Y2K parties out of ten.

Just off the Top of O-Ren Ishii’s Head: 10 Death Scenes I Will Never Forget

I’m not really a Final Destination kind of guy but with stock dwindling at my favourite video store just two weeks before it closes, I settled on a movie that my friend had been trying to get me to watch for months. Final Destination 2- so far left on the shelves by eager shoppers looking to take advantage of the store’s Everything Must Go policy- has a death scene that apparently I just had to watch.

Watching the movie, I couldn’t be sure which scene she meant. There were a lot. Could it be the lottery winner who slipped on some spaghetti and got his head smashed in by a falling fire escape? Or the grieving mother who was decaptiated when she got her head caught in an elevator door? Turns out I should have been watching for the teenager who was crushed to death by something- what exactly I can’t be sure, things happen fast in this movie- while chasing away some pigeons. Apparently, if you watch closely, he explodes long before anything falls on him. How does she know? She’s watched it in slow motion. Several times.

final destination

While I may not have even been temptedc to check the tape on that one, it got me thinking of my favourite on-screen passings. After all, we just saw some real beauts in Mad Max: Fury Road on Friday. Here’s my attempt at a Top Ten. I left out a lot out, I know. How about you? What are some of your favourite scenes that I might have missed?

10. Count Laszlo de Almásy  The English Patient (1996)

English Patient

One of the movies that I am most likely to meditate on the finality of death after watching. Once we’re gone, everything we’ve felt, everything we’ve feared, everything we’ve loved die with us. It’s painful to watch Ralph Fiennes suffer from his burns throughout the movie and when Juliette Binoche’s Hana agrees to help him end his agony once and for all, I could almost feel his last breath. Even though, technically, the scene ends before Laszlo does. Before this act of mercy, Hana reads him this.

“We die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have entered and swum up like rivers, fears we’ve hidden in like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. We’re the real counttries. Not the boundaries drawn on maps, the names of powerful men”.

9. Phil Groundhog Day (1993)

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Condemned to live a bad day over and over until he gets it right, Phil (Bill Murray) uses this opportunity to try new things without having to wake up with any consequences. He makes a move on the girl he likes and punches the guy he doesn’t. He runs around town playing hero. He even gives dying a try. His suicidal phase is one of the funniest and darkest parts of the movie. (I haven’t seen the movie in awhile so I can’t remember if it’s made clear to us whether Phil is counting on waking up the next morning or hoping not to).

Before my favourite of said suicide “attempts”, Phil calmly walks into the lobby ignoring the pleasantries of the hotel staff and steals their toaster. Phil calmly prepares himself a nice hot bath and takes the toaster in with him. This scene would also make my list of Top Ten Reasons I Love Bill Murray.

8. Captain Frye The Rock (1996)

the rock

Ed Harris’ General Hummell is a madman but he really does think he’s doing the right thing. It’s the mercenaries he brings with him to sieze Alcatraz Island that make me nervous, especially Captain Frye. Played with his usual sneer by character actor Gregory Sporleder, there’s just something not quite right about this guy. He always seems to be wishing he was pushing an old lady down a flight of stairs.

A lot of these guys die for their cause in spectacular fashion but director Michael Bay saves the best for last when chemistry geek/action hero Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) shoves a vial of sarin gas in his mouth and smashes it with his fist. Neither Bay or Cage have gotten much right since but they did good here. This guy had it coming.

7. Sydney Barringer Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia

P. T. Anderson gets our attention right from the start and manages to hold it for Magnolia’s entire three-hour running time. Seventeen year-old Sydney Barringer jumps from the roof of his nine-story apartment building only to have his suicide attempt interrupted both by a safety net installed by some window washers and by a shotgun blast from a sixth floor window that killed him instantly. His unsuccessful suicide became a successful homicide when his own mother accidentally fired a shot while threatening his father during a heated argument.

Anderson didn’t come up with this story on his own. It’s an adaptation of a sort of urban legend that had been circulating for years but it sets up the strange events that follow perfectly.

6. Guy in elevator Drive (2011)

Drive

Ryan Gosling is a charmer. He swept Rachel McAdams off her feet both on and off screen and even taught Steve Carrell how to be a smooth talker. Just don’t get on his bad side. This guy’s not fucking around. He understands the golden rule of action movies. When someone’s giving you trouble, sometimes you’ve just got to stomp on their face until they’re dead. He doesn’t carry a gun much in Drive but why would he? He’s got his boot.

5. Edward Bloom Big Fish (2003)

Big Fish

The deathbed scene in The English Patient inspires me to meditate on death. Big Fish inspires me to reflect on life. Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) finally understands the value of myth and the key to good storytelling while seeing his father (Albert Finney) through his final moments. For most of his adult life, Will stubbornly told stories with “all of the facts, none of the flavour” but, when his father asks him to tell him “how he goes”, Will ad-libs a fantastical story fit for Ed’s remarkable life- one that undoubtedly touched so many others, even if the details are a little embellished. I still get chills when I watch it.

4. Cecilia Shepard Zodiac (2007)

zodiac

I feel crass talking about an on-screen depiction of something that actually happened in the same post as the twisted thrills of Drive but there aren’t many scenes in 21st century American film that are more effective. All the recreations of the Zodiac killings in this movie are almost impossible to watch without some temptation to look away but this one at the beach is the most chilling. I felt a wave of anxiety every time I found myself anywhere secluded for weeks after watching this movie. The Zodiac killer was never caught or named but this faceless killer- now probably long gone- still haunts me.

3. Elle Driver Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

kill bill

I only allowed myself one Quentin Tarantino entry on this post and I could have easily done one just on the Top Ten Tarantino Death Scenes. He’s the guy that knows how to do it, whose mind seems to take him to to places most of us wouldn’t dare. Daryl Hannah’s Elle puts up quite a fight against the Bride but the fight’s pretty much over when Uma Thurman’s antihero plucks out her only good eye. Adding insult to injury beyond anything I can imagine, poor Elle hears a sound that can only be Uma crushing it beneath her feet. Good and pissed but with nothing much she can do about it, Elle thrashes about unitl a poisonous Black Mamba finishes her off.

Elle Driver was an assassin and a bit of a sadist but I can’t help but feel just a little bad. What a way to go.

2. Spider Goodfellas (1990)

spider

Everyone has a favourite scene here and I could have probably done a Top Ten just on this one movie but Spider (Michael Imperioli) really gets a raw deal. After finally being able to get back to work after being shot in the foot by Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), the poor waiter finally stands up for himself and tells Tommy to fuck off. Tommy’s gangster buddy love it and tease Tommy until he loses it and empties his clip into the poor guy, shocking his buddies. “What the fuck, Tommy?goodfellas We were just kidding around”.

Tommy’s a funny guy (yes, sort of like a clown) and I sure did miss him after he gets whacked. But he really was a mad dog. It’s probably for the best that he never got made.

1. Lester Burnham American Beauty (1999)

american beauty

This also made my list of Movie Moments That Took My Breath Away. Lester makes it very clear from the start that he won’t survive the movie and the final moments are filled with tension as we wait for something to happen. Writer Alan Ball presents us with three suspects and we’re not sure until after the killing shot is fired who murdered Lester Burnham.

The murder is beside the point anyway. The tragedy is that Lester dies in pretty much the instant that he finds inner peace. His life flashes before his eyes as he reflects on all the beauty  in the world. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry. You will someday”.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Full disclosure: I am Wes Anderson’s twin sister, and thus, incapable of impartial movie reviews.

Fuller disclosure: That was a bold lie. I’m just an uber-fan, but upon reflection I don’t want to accuse myself of impartiality. Yes, I love his movies fervently, I wish to live in them, but my esteem is earned. Wes Anderson never takes a night off. He earns it every time.

I was going to watch something new, and maybe I was going to like it, but this little delicacy presented itself as an alternative, and therefore it was the only alternative.

budapestWes Anderson introduces us to Gustave H, a legendary and well-perfumed concierge at the famous Grand Budapest Hotel, and Zero Moustafa, the humble lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft (and recovery) of an invaluable painting and the battle over a will and a vast family fortune.

Immediately Anderson’s aesthetic draws you into this world, the colour palette is sumptuous and alive, and it’s like stepping into someone’s well-appointed dream. As always, the details are meticulously executed: the hotel’s shabbiness, the gritty grout, the choice of fonts, the embroidery, the mustaches, both real and drawn-on, the crest worn by Edward Norton and his army men of a little fox head greatly resembling a certain Fantastic Mr. Fox.

The movie is shot with three different aspect rations to help the audience differentiate between the time periods. The adventure is rapid-fire and the dialogue is virtually spat out.  In fact, the rapid gunfire of dialogue is a problem when viewing the movie in a theatre: the laughs are so close together it’s sometimes hard to hear whatever comes next.

The characteres are vividly drawn and always so much fun to get to know – in this case, Ralph Main Quad_AW_[26611] Grand BudapestFiennes plays a character playing a character who makes pretension feel absolutely charming. Tilda Swinton makes a grand dame indeed in her voluminous old age spots, old lady lipstick, and ridiculously piled hair. There are actually so many stars jam-packed into this movie that I’ll never be able to name-check them all. The enjoyable thing is that these cameos rarely (if ever) feel forced, instead it’s intoxicating and energizing.

It’s a caper-y type film and the plot covers a lot more ground than most of Wes Anderson’s films. But the crime is nestled within a sumptuous frame work and the whole film eats like one of Mendl’s delicious little cakes that are turned our so perfectly that Saoirise Ronan, who plays Agatha, said that making those little pastries convincingly was by far the hardest stunt she’s performed in any movie.

I’d like to say that this is possibly Wes Anderson’s best movie to date, but I feel that such an assertion would be a betray of sorts, like choosing my favourite among my dogs (which reminds me – great little Anderson in-joke moment: after killing a dog in nearly every other movie, Anderson finally sticks it to a cat in a manner so abrupt and cruel it can’t help but get a big, suprised laugh). It’s hard to find a movie that’s this entertaining, this varied and layered, and even if you watch it as a George Clooney edition of Where’s Waldo, you can’t go wrong.

 

Stay tuned for more Wes Anderson reviews – I won’t be able to resist.

The Hurt Locker

Like everyone else, I watched The Hurt Locker the year it came out. It was dutiful, really. The subject matter didn’t interest me but its female direction was like a monkey with a typewriter. That sounds awful, I know, but honestly, it was a bit of a sideshow. Just 10 years ago, you rarely if ever heard about a female director, period, let alone one who was taking on a project so classically masculine. A war movie, for christsakes. But Kathryn Bigelow didn’t just ‘take it on’, she was so fucking good at it, even boys had to admit it was great. “A near perfect movie,” one had to admit. “A full tilt action picture” said another. Gosh. It was so undeniably good that the biggest consortium of white men ever, the Acamedy, could do nothing but award in 6 Oscars (of 9 nominations), including Best Picture AND Best Director for Ms. Bigelow. Fuck yeah!

But I didn’t like it.

MV5BNzkzZDFhZTUtMWQwYi00MzNhLThiODItNmRlMDhlODZjZDMzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTIzOTk5ODM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Rewatching it, I get why. Jeremy Renner plays hot shit Staff Sergeant William James, a…bomb guy. Pretty sure that’s the technical term. He gets all dressed up in a quasi-astronaut outfit and defuses bombs (ideally). His unit has only about 30 days left in their Iraq rotation when he’s assigned to them (their last guy got blown up) and they immediately want to throw him right back. He rushes into combat like he’s got a death wish, and worse, he puts his fellow soldiers at risk too. Sergeant Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), his subordinate, is particularly disturbed to be working so closely with what appears to be a straight-up crazy, reckless person.

This movie is rife with unapologetic toxic masculinity, and it was fucking hard as hell for me to make it through. In the army you don’t get to choose not to follow a whackerdoodledoo into combat, but from the comfort of my bed (it’s on Netflix atm), you betcha I was yelling obscenities at my TV.

Grudgingly, I can appreciate some of the craft in this movie that I was probably willfully blind to a decade ago. Bigelow uses hand-held cameras and an incredible 100:1 shooting ratio to make this film feel real – almost like a documentary. It’s also relentless. One scene barely ends before the next bout of trouble is upon us, usually already in motion.

I like the ending, what it reveals of James’ character – namely, that he’s happiest when he’s staring a ticking bomb in the face. But that’s essentially also my problem with the film. That his disregard for his own life is going to get everyone else in his company killed along with him. That their only move toward self-preservation is to kill him. Imagine being in Baghdad and contemplating that. That his risk taking and complete indifference to the rules somehow make him this bomb cowboy action hero when in fact, in real life, it makes him a moron and a liability. Personally I rooted against this guy, this “hero” because as much as I don’t really love watching people get turned into jam, at least it would give the rest of this unit a fighting chance. War is tough enough as it is. We don’t need to “up the ante” on a bomb squad in an active war zone. That should have been enough. Crazed war junkies intent on obliterating themselves likely would have been weeded out back in basic. The Hurt Locker is just punishing, and I get that the Academy didn’t want to give Best Picture to Avatar (I haven’t seen that one at all), but, ahem, I do believe Up was also in the running that year.