Jennifer Ehle

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).


RoboCop (2014, José Padilha)

RoboCop is terrible. It’s long, it’s poorly directed, it’s badly acted. One almost doesn’t want to acknowledge it because then it has to be discussed. At least in how it does contain some subjects ripe for discussion. Like how a badly doctored script can create frustration at missed potential. Missed potential, however, being a euphemism for “a little better than excruciatingly bad.”

Because RoboCop manages to outdo itself. It’s worse in its whole than in its parts, which is quite an accomplishment given the fractured script styles. The film is so disjointed, so cobbled together, it’s like no one bothered writing bridging scenes. Because it can’t be a stylistic choice of director Padilha; he’s got zero personality (unless he’s the unlikely reason for the film’s multiple Tron and Tron 2 nods). The action scenes in the film are exceptionally unimaginative. It’s like Padilha is directing video game cut scenes; he’s entirely divested in the film’s sets. Though a lot of it appears to be green screens, which doesn’t help any of the actors.

The film has a lot of actors I like. Michael Keaton, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jackie Earle Haley, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jennifer Ehle, Zach Grenier, Jay Baruchel. Yes, Jay Baruchel. With the exception of Ehle, all of them are terrible. The film’s script, as far as dialogue goes (because it does have better plotted sequences), is awful. All of it. There’s not a single good moment. It’s Keaton as Steve Jobs and they fumble it because the script with the political stuff doesn’t get to overshadow the script with the “man wakes up a robot cop” script. It’s like watching multiple television pilots, all shot with the same cast and the same bored director, cut together.

It’d be hilarious if there really was a tortured history to the RoboCop remake, full of reshoots and weird test screenings, but there isn’t (at least not according to IMDb). Someone intentionally made a movie this crappy. Here we go. Let’s do a synopsis.

Joel Kinnaman plays a Detroit cop, he talks like he thinks he’s Vin Diesel and struts like he thinks he’s Paul Walker. Yes, I just made that statement. I just referenced The Fast and the Furious and my unlikely familiarity with the franchise. Does Orson Welles get a lot of callouts? No. I just called out Fast and Furious. RoboCop: The New Movie has brought me to that low point. But RoboCop rides a lightcycle from Tron in this movie. How can anyone possibly take it seriously? It’s a guy in a rubber suit. The RoboCop suit is inept. It doesn’t just look like rubber, when Abbie Cornish hugs RoboCop (she’s his wife), her head leaves an impression on the rubber. It’s all so incredibly lazy.

Though if Luc Besson had made it with Bruce Willis as RoboCop, Gary Oldman playing his role with some enthusiasm and camp (it couldn’t be worse than his Robin Williams impression here), Milla Jovovich as Jackie Early Haley, Chris Tucker as Samuel L. Jackson (he’s awful), maybe Ian Holm as Williams (I’m starting to stretch) and Luke Perry as Keaton’s tech visionary… well, it’d be awesome. If Besson had turned a RoboCop remake into a Fifth Element rehash, it’d be awesome.

But RoboCop isn’t sort of a success where you can see the potential for more success. It’s a zero. Paul W.S. Anderson would’ve turned this thing down. It’s not even competent enough to be a Lifetime movie (and a Lifetime movie about a woman who signs away her husband’s rights so he can become a man-cop robot, but who the film treats like he’s not just a few chunks on the coroner’s table, except one hand so he can touch his family and really feel again, would be amazing).

Kinnaman and Cornish are terrible. Padilha’s direction of them is terrible, but their performances are terrible too. Kinnaman’s entirely miscast, entirely out of his depth. Cornish doesn’t have a good part, can’t even do the scenes she does get.

RoboCop is that wonderful, rare animal. It’s so commercial, it won’t try anything. It thinks doing Samuel L. Jackson as Bill O’Reilly as Samuel L. Jackson will be seen as edgy. It’s not even committed enough to try to be edgy.

I can’t even say I “hate watched” it; it’s immediately not worth any investment whatsoever.

Oh, and one more thing. Guns, guns, guns. Action movies with questionable philosophies about fascist police states can’t be action movies with questionable philosophies about fascist police states without loving guns. It’s true. You can do a war movie without loving guns and many have, but you can’t do a movie about “super cops” shooting up the bad guys without gun fetishization.

It’s a no brainer and Padilha drops the ball on it, just like everything else in the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by José Padilha; screenplay by Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, based on the film written by Neumeier and Miner; director of photography, Lula Carvalho; edited by Peter McNulty and Daniel Rezende; music by Pedro Bromfman; production designer, Martin Whist; produced by Marc Abraham and Eric Newman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joel Kinnaman (Alex Murphy), Gary Oldman (Dr. Dennett Norton), Michael Keaton (Raymond Sellars), Abbie Cornish (Clara Murphy), Jackie Earle Haley (Rick Mattox), Michael Kenneth Williams (Jack Lewis), Jennifer Ehle (Liz Kline), Jay Baruchel (Tom Pope), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Chief Karen Dean), Zach Grenier (Senator Hubert Dreyfus), Aimee Garcia (Jae Kim), Douglas Urbanski (Mayor Durant) and Samuel L. Jackson (Pat Novak).


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