Colin Firth

The King’s Speech (2010, Tom Hooper)

There’s a lot of fine direction in The King’s Speech. Hooper does exceedingly well when he’s showcasing lead Colin Firth’s acting or showing how Firth, who starts the film as Duke of York and ends it King of England, moves through the world as this sheltered, unawares babe. Of sorts. These successful sequences would stand out even if there weren’t Hooper’s really, really, really questionable distorted camera lens thing he does when he’s trying to show how uncomfortable Firth feels existing with his stammer. The film’s about how Firth, as the man who would be King George VI, gets help with his stammer leading up to him becoming the king as well as the country going to war with Germany. There’s a prologue set in the mid-twenties, the first time Firth has a public speaking engagement—in addition to everything going on with Firth’s complicated ascension to the throne, the Nazis coming to power, there’s also the radio revolution (David Seidler’s script does bite off a lot to chew)—with most of the film set in the middle thirties, as Firth starts working with speech therapist Geoffrey Rush.

The film gets a lot of humor playing Firth and Rush off one another. Rush is this patient, thoughtful, compassionate guy while Firth’s prince (most of the film occurs before he’s king) is sullen, quick-tempered, but incredibly gentle-hearted. Rush’s Australian doesn’t go in for the pomp and circumstance when it comes to treating royals, whereas Firth doesn’t have any idea how to interact with anyone not breaking their back coddling him. The film’s already established Firth’s gentle nature—with this devastating scene (for Firth anyway) where he tells his daughters a story, working his way through his stammer, the frustration and regret and adoration all over his face. Firth’s performance is magnificent. Rush’s great and all—so’s Helena Bonham Carter as Firth’s wife—but Seidler doesn’t give them great parts. Firth doesn’t even have a great part. He just gets to have this great performance. Speech is all about the change in Firth’s character and the resulting development of the performance. It’s all about the acting, even if the part itself is fairly thin. Yes, he gets to show vulnerability and Speech even goes as far to imply emotional abuse and bad parenting caused his nervous condition, which in turn caused his stammer, but the movie never gets too far into it. Speech avoids a lot. Like delving too deep on Firth, or giving Bonham Carter anything to do except fret about him, or continue Rush’s subplot—he gets more to do in the first act than anywhere else. The rest of the time he’s just Firth’s sidekick.

There are a lot of familiar faces in the supporting cast, some more successful than others. Michael Gambon is great as Firth’s father, Derek Jacobi isn’t as the archbishop; Timothy Spall’s in between as Winston Churchill. Guy Pearce plays Firth’s brother, first in line for the throne but willing to throw it all away for married American girlfriend Eve Best. Pearce is in some weird makeup, which does most of the acting for him. Sadly it doesn’t do a particularly good job of it. Best is merely ineffectual more than anything else. She’s not in it enough. Like many of the subplots, she and Pearce just disappear from the film when they stop being useful. You get through Speech seeing all these major events—some for everyone, some just for the royal family—without ever getting Firth’s prologued reaction to them. He’ll bitch to Rush about Pearce, but finding out Best is a Nazi sympathizer has no substantial effect. Because Seidler’s not willing to get into Firth’s head too much. Speech is the inspiring tale of an unlikely king who managed to overcome a not insignificant disability. Seidler or Hooper never do anything without that purpose in mind.

Including all the distorted camera lens.

Other than not telling Hooper those shots are a bad idea and simultaneously condescending and insipid, cinematographer Danny Cohen does an excellent job. Hooper has got a handful of really excellent shots, which Cohen executes flawlessly. There’s one great exterior shot of Firth walking where I kept waiting for it to cut away but Hooper kept holding it, every second making it better. Because even though the lengthy shot is unlike a many of Hooper’s other shots, it showcases Firth’s performance, which Hooper does a superb job with. Except when the lens are distorted.

The only other significant supporting cast member is Jennifer Ehle, as Rush’s wife. It’s a too small part, with Ehle not getting anything much to do when she’s in the film, but she’s good and rather likable. It’s a shame Speech didn’t take more time with Rush. Not even once he and Firth form a sincere friendship; it’s all about Firth, not about Firth and friend. So certainly not about Firth’s friend’s family life. Other than the occasional sweet scene.

The film looks great—sets, costumes—sounds great; even though Alexandre Desplat’s score is a little bland, the sound design itself is outstanding. It’s a good production.

The King’s Speech showcases a spectacular performance from Firth, which is basically all it needs to be a success (as far as its own ambitions go). Rush and Bonham Carter both being excellent as well—Bonham Carter and Firth are lovely together—doesn’t really matter. It’s a shame Seidler and Hooper weren’t more ambitious but they still got that phenomenal Firth performance.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Hooper; written by David Seidler; director of photography, Danny Cohen; edited by Tariq Anwar; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Eve Stewart; costume designer, Jenny Beavan; produced by Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, and Gareth Unwin; released by The Weinstein Company.

Starring Colin Firth (Bertie), Geoffrey Rush (Lionel), Helena Bonham Carter (Liz), Guy Pearce (David), Jennifer Ehle (Myrtle), Derek Jacobi (Archbishop Lang), Timothy Spall (Churchill), Eve Best (Mrs. Simpson), and Michael Gambon (King George V).


The Importance of Being Earnest (2002, Oliver Parker)

Oliver Parker takes an interesting approach when it comes to adapting The Importance of Being Earnest from play to screen. He doesn’t worry much about opening up the film; at the beginning of the film, he showcases late nineteenth century London and later does quite a bit with Colin Firth’s country estate… but during the lengthy, dialogue-heavy scenes, he just lets the dialogue do its work.

The playfulness of the dialogue, the combination of sincerity and humor the cast imbues in it, makes Earnest seem open even when it’s closed. Tony Pierce-Roberts’s sumptuous photography and Charlie Mole’s playful music help quite a bit–and there are some distinct, memorable outdoor sequences (not to mention a singing montage). It’s quite an interesting adaptation.

Of the two male leads–Firth and Rupert Everett–Everett gets to have more fun. It’s appropriate, because of their love interests–Frances O’Connor for Firth and Reese Witherspoon for Everett–O’Connor gets to have more fun. It all balances out.

The film moves through a few phases, with the focus switching between Everett and Firth, before it becomes their dual effort to win back their love interests. That structure also allows for some nice scenes with O’Connor and Witherspoon. O’Connor and Everett are outstanding.

There’s some nice support from Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Massey and Edward Fox.

As the film winds down and the contrivances stack up, it does appear a little flimsy. Luckily, Parker saves some good jokes for the finale and recovers.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Oliver Parker; screenplay by Parker, based on the play by Oscar Wilde; director of photography, Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Guy Bensley; music by Charlie Mole; production designer, Luciana Arrighi; produced by Barnaby Thompson; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Rupert Everett (Algy Moncrieff), Colin Firth (Jack Worthing), Frances O’Connor (Gwendolen Fairfax), Reese Witherspoon (Cecily Cardew), Judi Dench (Lady Augusta Bracknell), Tom Wilkinson (Dr. Chasuble), Anna Massey (Miss Prism) and Edward Fox (Lane).


Devil’s Knot (2013, Atom Egoyan)

There are plenty of things one simply cannot do in two hours; if Devil's Knot is any indication, one cannot try to tell the story of the trial of the West Memphis Three in two hours. Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson's script seems to do quite a bit well–for the first third of the film, the horrific nature of the crimes has the film sympathizing with the police officers (Robert Baker in particular), only to later reveal incompetence and corruption on these characters' parts.

Then, once the script's obviously manipulative nature becomes clear, it's hard to take Knot seriously. The deception makes little sense, since the film's written for people familiar with the case (as there's no explanation why Damien Echols isn't executed at the end).

As for second-billed Reese Witherspoon, who plays a grieving mother looking for the truth, her arc's incompetently handled. At least Colin Firth doesn't have an arc or character development. It may very well be historically accurate, but it's far from dramatic.

There are some excellent performances. Kevin Durand and Alessandro Nivola are both good as suspicious fathers. Amy Ryan has a nice scene. Firth isn't bad. Witherspoon eventually gets a little better–but it's too little too late. Much of the supporting cast and some of the principals are weak. Especially James Hamrick as Echols.

Mychael Danna's score is manipulative and derivative. Director Egoyan does an insincere job. It's tepid, vaguely incompetent and Oscar-desperate.

Its compelling nature has nothing to do with the filmmaking.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Atom Egoyan; screenplay by Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson, based on the book by Mara Leveritt; director of photography, Paul Sarossy; edited by Susan Shipton; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Phillip Barker; produced by Elizabeth Fowler, Richard Saperstein, Clark Peterson, Christopher Woodrow and Boardman; released by Image Entertainment.

Starring Colin Firth (Ron Lax), Reese Witherspoon (Pam Hobbs), Dane DeHaan (Chris Morgan), Mireille Enos (Vicki Hutcheson), Bruce Greenwood (Judge David Burnett), Elias Koteas (Jerry Driver), Stephen Moyer (John Fogleman), Alessandro Nivola (Terry Hobbs), Amy Ryan (Margaret Lax), Robert Baker (Det. Bryn Ridge), Kevin Durand (John Mark Byers), Michael Gladis (Dan Stidham), James Hamrick (Damien Echols), Martin Henderson (Brent Davis), Kristopher Higgins (Jessie Misskelley Jr.), Brian Howe (Detective McDonough), Matt Letscher (Paul Ford), Seth Meriwether (Jason Baldwin), Rex Linn (Inspector Gary Gitchell), Kristoffer Polaha (Val Price) and Collette Wolfe (Glori Shettles).


Mamma Mia! (2008, Phyllida Lloyd)

The first act of Mamma Mia! practically kills the entire thing. The goofy proposition of a musical set to ABBA songs engenders a lot of curiosity (one starring Meryl Streep provokes a lot more), but the first act–when it tries to be a narrative–is a disaster. The attempts at narrative and summary storytelling are atrocious. The first act would have been more successful if the movie had just started by playing the trailer to establish itself. There’s also the problem with Amanda Seyfried, who’s awful when the story centers around her. Luckily, it’s only for that first act. Later on, when Seyfried’s supporting, she’s better.

The movie starts getting entertaining–and Mamma Mia! is nothing but entertaining, the joke of it being the presence of Streep and Pierce Brosnan, both of whom are established, undeniable movie stars. It’s fun watching them have fun (I suppose Mamma Mia! is a low rent Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen as it were). Anyway, it gets entertaining when Julie Walters and Christine Baranski arrive. Once the film gets those two and Streep together, it’s a lot of fun. Baranski’s the only cast member who I’d expect to see in Mamma Mia! Watching Julie Walters in the movie is almost more disconcerting than seeing Streep in it.

I’m unfamiliar with modern musicals, so I don’t know if this “style” is the norm, but Mamma Mia! is absurd as one of the Muppet movies. It tries for humor in the same way (a line of the song leads to some amusing, literal sight gag), which is a lot different than presenting a narrative set to music. The failed first act never established itself as acknowledging its absurdity, something Seyfried’s ever-pensive performance doesn’t help.

At times with Streep and Brosnan–mostly with Streep, because Brosnan seems perfectly aware his presence in the film is silly and can’t stop grinning–there’s the implication the movie’s format is wasting its cast. Maybe Streep should have made a movie with Brosnan about middle-aged romance or one with Seyfried (well, not Seyfried, but some other young actress) about letting go of an about-to-be married daughter. But then Streep sings and brings her superior acting ability to it. Streep’s not a good singer (but better than I would have thought, ABBA songs lend themselves to enthusiasm over ability), but her performance makes it not matter. It makes the super-pop songs all of a sudden of the greatest human import. All because of Streep.

The rest of the cast is fine. Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård get the heave-ho once the focus shifts from Seyfried to Streep but it’s hard to miss them. Seeing Pierce Brosnan break out into song–he seems to be trying to turn ABBA into Irish folk songs–obscures their absence. Mamma Mia! is one of the first times it becomes clear what a good movie star Brosnan has turned into–quite a turnaround for someone who was doing direct-to-cable movies twenty years ago.

The direction–which is essentially a string of music videos strung together–is occasionally annoying, as is the digitally enhanced cinematography. But it’s a fine enough hour and forty minutes… with the last number making any problems more than worth enduring.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd; written by Catherine Johnson, based on her original musical book, originally conceived by Judy Craymer based on the songs of ABBA; director of photography, Haris Zambarloukos; edited by Lesley Walker; music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, some songs with Stig Anderson; production designer, Maria Djurkovic; produced by Craymer and Gary Goetzman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Meryl Streep (Donna), Pierce Brosnan (Sam), Colin Firth (Harry), Stellan Skarsgård (Bill), Julie Walters (Rosie), Dominic Cooper (Sky), Amanda Seyfried (Sophie) and Christine Baranski (Tanya).


Love Actually (2003, Richard Curtis)

Richard Curtis–I think–said he wrote Love Actually from all his unused ideas. Just threw them into the oven and baked them together. To some degree, it shows. Unlike the usual big cast films, with lots of incidental meetings and relationships (as P.T. Anderson wrote, these things “happen all the time”), Love Actually is very loose. The characters are connected by thin contrivances and a school play. Curtis is very visibly not working with themes here or making any insightful observations into the human condition.

Amusingly, though its thesis is… well, love is all around and people in love are filled with superhuman perseverance and fortitude, Love Actually… actually disproves its own thesis. In a couple ways. The most visible is the breaking marriage between Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. Rickman’s got a wandering eye and, strangely, Curtis never tells the viewer how wrong he goes… which means it’s impossible to know where he or Thompson are at the end of the film. It’s intentional and cheap and, if either character were particularly effective–except the Thompson composing herself to Joni Mitchell scene–it would hurt the film. The second is more discreet. An utterly wasted Laura Linney is caring for her mentally ill brother. And how does she end up? How does Mr. Right respond to this news? By being a twerp. Curtis seems to have noticed too, because he just abandons Linney at the end.

Of all the stories–there are, I guess, eight–the most effective (as in, worthy of feature length treatment… something other big cast, lots of story line films never suggest) are Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon and Colin Firth and Lúcia Moniz.

The Grant and McCutcheon story is awesome–Grant’s the new prime minister, she serves him tea. It’s got Hugh Grant dancing to the Pointer Sisters, it’s McCutcheon’s wonderful delivery of unintentional curses; it’s touching and their chemistry is wonderful. Throw in some more political turmoil and it’s a feature.

Firth and Moniz–he’s a lovelorn thriller novelist and she’s his maid (he’s in France writing, which looks incredibly civilized)–have a bit more comedic story going. Neither speaks the other’s language and, while the humor’s cheap, it’s very funny. Firth’s perfect in the role. So, figure he has a funny editor waiting for the novel and a family who would like a Portuguese daughter-in-law. Another feature.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, it’s hard to tell how it’d be much different), Curtis cheaps out big time on the Liam Neeson bonding with his stepson following the mother’s death. It’s the best work Neeson has done in years, but the story quickly becomes about the kid impressing a girl at school and Curtis gives Neeson the biggest copout ending in the world.

I suppose Bill Nighy, in a crazy, hilarious performance as an old rock star deserves his own paragraph but he’s not going to get one. The Nighy story is great, giving the film some much needed texture (the other characters watching Nighy on TV, for instance, ring a lot truer than the convenient school musical). There’s a lot more stuff, both funny and not so much (Curtis frequently confuses sincerely touching and melodramatic).

It’s a solid film, lots of problems, lots of good things, but it’s very unambitious. I’m left wanting more Firth and Moniz, more Grant and McCutcheon and… a) unlike Curtis’s other romantic comedies, it’s a weeding to see either again and b) I really shouldn’t be wanting them. It’s just another sign the film is not a successful ensemble picture, it’s just a bunch of disparate elements, good and not so good, strung awkwardly together.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Richard Curtis; director of photography, Michael Coulter; edited by Nick Moore; music by Craig Armstrong; production designer, Jim Clay; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Duncan Kenworthy; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Alan Rickman (Harry), Bill Nighy (Billy Mack), Colin Firth (Jamie), Emma Thompson (Karen), Hugh Grant (The Prime Minister), Laura Linney (Sarah), Liam Neeson (Daniel), Martine McCutcheon (Natalie), Heike Makatsh (Mia), Rowan Atkinson (Rufus), Lúcia Moniz (Aurelia), Martin Freeman (John), Joanna Page (Just Judy), Andrew Lincoln (Mark), Keira Knightley (Juliet) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Peter).


Apartment Zero (1988, Martin Donovan)

Starting Apartment Zero, I couldn’t remember why I’d wanted to see the film. I had a feeling it was going to be something I’d since dismissed and it was–Apartment Zero is David Koepp’s first screenwriting credit. He co-wrote the film. Koepp’s an odd person to look for, since his writing is so vanilla and indistinct, regardless of quality, it’d be like looking for William Goldman. There’s actually a lot of personality to Apartment Zero, but I imagine it came from the director (who co-wrote with Koepp). There’s very little to say in terms of the writing. While there’s some funny stuff, most of its success comes from the direction (the director’s name is Martin Donovan). Donovan has decent composition, but does great work with movement–both moving subjects and moving cameras. There’s a hilarious chase scene and then there’s some other good, fast camera work. The humor in the script tends to fail–except maybe the characters lifted from “Fawlty Towers.” Near the end, most of the humor is in the dialogue and it all falls flat.

Besides the direction, the film looks fantastic. Buenos Aires is apparently a wonderful place to shoot a movie. It looks warm and foreign, but still somehow familiar. The cinematography is perfect, with the low budget, grainy film stock creating a mood. Also on the technical end is the sound design. Apartment Zero has great sound.

As for the performances, Colin Firth and Hart Bochner… Bochner’s visibly familiar since he’s the jerk in Die Hard, but his performance in Apartment Zero is actually quite good for much of the film. Firth is not any good, but it’s barely his fault. His character–and the film in general (at the beginning, it reminded me–ha ha–of Delicatessen)–has no depth. It’s absurd, in the waste of time sense of the word. It’s also one of those wonderful films where, once it finds its below average level, it still manages to get worse in the last five minutes. It doesn’t exactly have a surprise ending, but it’s got something close. Whatever it’s called, it’s damn lame.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Donovan; screenplay by Donovan and David Koepp, story by Donovan; director of photography, Miguel Rodriguez; edited by Conrad M. Gonzalez; music by Elia Cmiral; production designer, Miguel Angel Lumaldo; produced by Donovan and Koepp; released by Skouras Pictures.

Starring Hart Bochner (Jack Carney), Colin Firth (Adrian LeDuc), Dora Bryan (Margaret McKinney), Liz Smith (Louise McKinney), Fabrizio Bentivoglio (Carlos Sanchez-Verne), James Tefler (Vanessa) and Mirella D’Angelo (Laura Werpachowsky).


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