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Tag Archives: Ralph Fiennes

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel film posterSynopsis

Jude Law reveals his past.  Hotel manager Gustave H  played by Ralph Fiennes in a sort of First World War Austro-Hungarian world.  He’s made love with elderly women and is suspected of murdering Madame D (Tilda Swinton) who has left a painting in her will to Gustave and this sets up a partnership with the lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori). Gustave is in jail and is pursued by villainous Willem Defoe.  Other Hollywood stars e.g.Owen Wilson and Tom Wilkinson have walk on parts in this chase comedy which goes through many snowy landscapes and weird hotels.

Review

Fiennes’ attempts at humour are reduced to tedious expressions of the “fuck” word as if we take his usual actorly fastidiousness at face value.  He’s a socially climbing controller and chancer and I’m sure Fiennes models his role on the Pink Panther. I managed to laugh a few times.  There are some embarrassingly stilted attempts at humour that you get in those 60’s caper movies especially Casino Royale (1967) and It’s a Mad Mad World.  We’re supposed to be amused when a well known actor turns up to do his routine until the next star vies for our attention by putting the current star back in his box.  Jerky actorly puppetry and idiosyncratic gurning are made to compensate for a decent story and sympathetic characters as we veer off on one smugly irrelevant tangent after another.  Willem Dafoe is simply a cartoonish thug looking like he’d strayed out of the set of Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.  The hotel and other film scenes are like folding boxes in some stylized performance.  The hotel itself is served up like a First World War cardboard theatre. The chase scenes are so derivative that I kept expecting the director to arrive on set and shout “cut”, but then again that’s what he effectively does.  This is not so much a film as a scissors and cutting its way through any attempt at an amusing and coherent story.  The scenes in the film are certainly vivid to the point where colours seem to drench the set.  This is the Europe of Freud and Kafka but we wait in vain for any kind of wit or literary reference in ths failed nightmare.  A would be jolly romp that flogs to death its one joke of Ralph Fiennes trying to keep up appearances.

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Great Expectations

Great Expectations

Synopsis

From the Dickens story about the coming into fortune of Pip a blacksmith’s apprentice, Magwitch his benefactor, and Estella the love of his life.

Criticism

The film with all others must be compared is David Lean’s 1946 Great Expectations.  That film is in black and white and is threaded with exciting cliff hangers and is reputed to capture Dicken’s spirit;  after all his novels were initially serialised and illustrated in newspapers.  The Lean film is exhuberant and unconcerned with the perils of editing.  This latest film follows on from last year’s BBC adaptation of Great Expectations which starred Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham.  In this film Miss Haversham is played by Helena Bonham Carter who looks like she’s auditioning for an old rock music video.  I’m not sure that Helena Bonham Carter’s twitchiness is apt for this role.  There is great story in Haversham’s ritual of grief and revenge, here we just get a film set trying to approximate to our conventional imaginings from the book, there’s no attempt to get beyond the almost pantomimic familiarities.  She looks like she’s gurning for one of her partner’s films, let’s say Tim Burton’s “The Mad Bride”.

Pip himself is a snob, the fact that it’s easy to understand his social climbing nastiness does not mitigate the offence.  John Mills in the Lean film allows Pip a certain redemption, his gentlemanly conscience subsequently bothers him as he later treats Joe Gargery properly whereas Jeremy Irvine as Pip merely changes his attitude to Gargery because changed circumstances compel a minimal decency.

This latest Great Expectations is populated with actors who try to outdo each other in Victorian weirdness, which is more frenetic than imaginative. Estella also goes through the well worn routines we know from other adaptations, it’s as if she is merely trying to get a bit ahead of us reading the lines for her.  Robbie Coltrane plays Jaggers the lawyer, his lawyer’s office has none of the dense weirdness that Lean’s black and white film showed us.  Minor characters seem to have more freedom than in previous versions.  Sally Hawkins relishes playing the brutalized termagant trapped with the simple Gargery, she lashes out in quotidian frustration (admittedly this is not a demanding role). Jason Flemyng  as Joe Gargery is a bit more complicated than the holy fool played by Leans’ Bernard Miles, he rejects Jagger’s offer of payment for Pip with wounded pride.

The famous graveyard scene in Lean’s film is impossible to beat, the wind bleakly dramatizes the black and whites as Pip gets into a Wordsworthian terror about the surroundings marshlands.  It reminds me of that scene in The Prelude when young Wordsworth steals a boat and his guilt becomes a threatening mountain.  In this latest film this scene looks like museum workers dressing up for a picnic.

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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in All-time favourites, Film Reviews

 

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Skyfall

Skyfall posterSynopsis

Latest Bond film in which Daniel Craig tries to track down a list of his colleagues targeted by an ex-insider Silva (Javier Bardem).  He is shot chasing an enemy agent in Turkey.  He goes into hiding and when Silva attacks MI6 headquarters killing six employees.  Bond returns and fights with his foe from Turkey in Shanghai, and in Macau meets Severine (Bérénice Marlohe).  Silva’s a prisoner, escapes and searches for Bond and Q (Judi Dench) who stays in Skyfall Bond’s Scottish home…

Criticism

I read somewhere that the author of the Bond books, Ian Fleming, overheard his wife and the critic Cyril Connally laughing aloud from a Bond novel.  Then in 1962  Dr No turned up and Fleming did not care for Connery as Bond.  Skyfall is the 50th anniversary film.  From hack lowbrow paperbacks Bond has achieved cultural significance.  From being a working class fantasy the franchise has now become a popular cultural phenomenon yet in content it’s still the same old escapist infantile nonsense.  What’s interesting is how the film has tracked cultural change over the years.  From the ’60s consumerist aspirations we get the jaded effeteness of Moore, then the classier hi-tech Brosnan, and now we get Daniel Craig competing with Batman, Bourne, Bruce Willis and co.  The Bond movie has gone from self parody to self congratulatory self referencing in occasionally poignant ways.  One heart tugging plot of this Bond film is the relationship between M and Bond.  She is his mother, sister, and overall confidante.   M is threatened with retirement by Ralph Fiennes’ Malory, then she is up before a government enquiry into MI6 activities.  She eloquently (if not too convincingly) fights her corner as she explains the changed nature of the enemy: not cold war transparency but the opacity of the terrorist who can be anybody, the case for hi-tech paranoia.  How do you, though, make war on terror if terror is the result of war in the first place?  War makes war on the result of war?  This leads us to the strange business of cold war espionage as such, it is inherently futile since neither side could be allowed to win because both cold war enemies were symbiotically sustaining bureaucracies, mirror images providing a mutual raison d’etre:  M then quotes from Tennyson to illustrate her beliefs then we cut to Silva and his goons intending to kill M (this is borrowed from Coppola’s Godfather christening scene cutting to gangster killings).

Q is now played by Ben Whishaw.  The lab clowning has been replaced by a serious young computer nerd equipping Bond with a gun only he can use.  There are rueful comments on youth and age.  Moneypenny is played by Naomie Harris, she starts out in the field but goes back to the office.  Bond himself has to retrain in MI6’s new underground headquarters.  The icy killing machine of previous films is still there but now he is self lacerating, the human flaws more apparent beneath the flippant thuggish-ness.  The heterosexual athlete of the 20th century is even prepared to admit being gay.  The franchise is in the confessional box even as it continues to wallow in Brit smugness (after its helicopter stunt in the 2012 Olympics).  Javier Bardem as the villain is plausibly complicated, he is wounded by what he sees as M’s capacity for treachery and deceit, the villain-good guy boundaries have become more nuanced and uncertain.

The killer gadgets here are the computer, a tube train, and a Shanghai elevator.  One fight sequence is back-dropped by a giant screen showing a jellyfish, so we go from cold hi-tech to tortured family issues in a grimly austere Scottish house.  I suppose this is meant to be a journey from sin to redemption.  We  get more sentimental referencing as Bond uses the Goldfinger Aston Martin (M makes a joke about being ejected from it).  Nature’s dangers are macho fetishes: the scorpion poised on his hand as he drinks, the fight in a Komodo dragon pit.

There is frantic action enough for the Bond fan, and it could be the best of the lot as it raises a glass of fifty year old malt whiskey.  It is after all directed by Sam Mendes.  Reliable action man nonsense.

Bérénice Marlohe
 
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Posted by on November 14, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2Synopsis

H.P. and chums finally battle the dark forces led by R. Fiennes as Voldemort with Helena Bonham Carter and co.  They attack Hogwarts and there is a final battle in which H.P. seems to die but meets Michael Gambon  and he survives though Voldemort thinks he has killed Potter.  Snape is killed and among the secrets about H.P. is that Snape loved Potters’ mother.  H.P. and co defeat the forces of evil.  At the end the adult Harry, Hermione, and Ron send their kids to Hogwarts.

Criticism

For me this film repeats the limitations of the other films which I’m told, are not as good as the books.  This public school farrago with painted hats once again has actors pointing sticks at each other but this time they bring in some Lord of the Rings type trolls.  Voldemort looks like a latex Quasimodo.  Potter and his cronies look like lottery winners in a special effects bonanza.  I’m bemused as to why this Tom Brown’s Schooldays with Dr Who, has caught on globally.  The franchise has simply grown by a sort of populist osmosis.  Like a house pet it’s been around for years and acquired a cosy familiarity.

It’s all safe and unchallenging, too comfortable with its middle class preening.  There’s nothing disconcerting or innovative.  It’s too rooted in the early 21st century to be able to say anything universal about childhood or our fantasies.  Still, crticizing it makes you feel like the Christmas party pooper, the guy who mugged Santa Claus.

Rowling has become Britain’s Disney and she may do impressive things yet, but these films lack the magic that many of her readers find in her books.  Can’t say I’m sorry to see the end of these films.  This is the last, isn’t it?.

 

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 posterSynopsis

Ralph Fiennes leads a Capone like committee of baddies who are out to get Harry Potter.  We see H.P. himself at his house and he must escape from Fiennes’ pursuit. Lots of pals assume H.P.’s appearance to throw pursuers off the scent.  H.P., Ron and Hermione  disguise themselves as adults to get into the Ministry of Magic where they take a locket. Then they go from place to place and camp out in a tent  Ron gets jealous and quits, leaving H.P. and Hermione to bond. Then H.P. and Hermione turn up at his parents’ on Christmas Eve and are attacked by a snake. Then they’re in a forest and H.P. gets a sword from a frozen pond and he’s rescued by the returning Ron.  They then chat to a sorcerer in his lonely house who tells a story of three brothers.  Then they’re attacked by Snatchers and taken to H. Bonham Carter’s jail where Dobby rescues them and he’s killed by Helena B.C.  Then R. Fiennes steals Michael Gambons’ wand, and we wait for Part 2.

Criticism

If you try to critcize H.P. you feel like a mosquito trying to topple a brick wall.  There are a few enjoyable scenes:  the tale of the three brothers is done like an Indonesian shadow puppet theatre, it reminds me of Regers’ 1950’s fairy tale silhouettes.  The scene in the forest is quite atmospheric, the Forest of Dean in the middle of winter.  The rest is underwhelming.  The three leads are charisma deficient, prolonged scenes with them are an ordeal.  I watched this with a couple of H.P. fans and they told me that new material has been interpolated, other scenes have been changed from the book.  This is curious, since J.K.R. is known as a control addict, one of the reasons she split Book 7 into two films is to get the details from the book.  It seems the romance between Hermione and Harry threatens to elbow aside any fidelity to the text, not that it’s any great loss.

I think I’ve alluded to this before, but the curious thing about a story dependant on magic is that it can undermine narrative development because it pre-empts conflict and its resolution.  When you know you can always escape a situation, then is there any reason for engagement in the first place?  The scenes are disjointed from an overall incoherence so that they do not achieve the cohesion of successive episodes.  They are more like set pieces embellishing the real interest in the story:  the sexual tension between the three adolescents.  After all, the childhood audience for H.P. has grown up with these three leads so that’s the central concern, isn’t it?  If (like me) you don’t read the books then this film does not stand on its own.  There’s cross referencing and reporting back from the other books but the viewer hasn’t got that luxury if he/she watches this on its own.

Another problem with this and other films is the comfortable familiarity of the scenes.  We either get modern British houses, public school Gothic in Hogwarts (but not in this film though) and a lonely ramshackle house in the middle of a bleak moor, a real forest and the Ministry of Magic entered by toilets.  We get jumps from place to place without any underlying continuum (which we get in the Alice books).  There is rationed visual novelty in each scene and what inventiveness there is, gets repeated in all the films:  the moving paintings and newspaper pictures, the Dr Who hi-tech wands, the oversized python.  There is plenty of gloominess which surrounds the eruption into hi-tech jinks which are merely frenetically extra contextual.  The Ministry of Magic looks like a mixture of a Victorian municipal palace and a posh toilet.  Dobby the elf looks like Vladimir Putin as a garden gnome

What. H.P. can offer is the chance for a well known actor to inject some of their own skill into the scene, and that can be a pleasure, although John Hurt only gets a few minutes.  There’s a real shrewdness and sharpness in some of the group dynamics but it gets spoiled by the three leads dumping their amateur acting across scene after scene.  Finally it’s all too much an expression of Britishness in the naughties, and those limitations will become starker as time goes by.  Arthur Mee with 21st century knowingness.

 
 

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