Judi Dench

Henry V (1989, Kenneth Branagh)

Director (and adapter) Branagh splits Henry V into three sections. They aren’t equal, they don’t match the act changes (usually); Branagh lets photographer Kenneth MacMillan open up the film to (outdoor) light while Patrick Doyle’s score becomes essential. The first outside, daylight sequence–Branagh (as Henry) gives his troops a rousing speech–defines the rest of the film. Even when it gets dark and violent in the subsequent, breathtaking battle sequence, there’s still a lot of light. That light carries over into the finale, which is light comedy featuring Branagh bantering with his betrothed-to-be Emma Thompson.

The problem with that finale is it requires Branagh’s Henry to be a likable character in a way Branagh’s never been concerned about. He’s a king, not a bashful suitor. It’s an odd conclusion, with Thompson not speaking English and coming off like a possession to be had. With Branagh’s strange comedic handling, the whole thing is off.

Until Derek Jacobi, as the modern day chorus, guiding the audience through the film, gets in the last word, Henry is almost in trouble. Not a lot, but more than one would expect given how Branagh goes from being expert to sloppy in one scene.

Branagh’s excellent. Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Michael Maloney, Christopher Ravenscroft, all astounding. Branagh gets these beautiful performances in long, usually close-up takes. And gives a great one of his own with the same treatment.

The battle scene is an amazing intersection of artifice and reality.

Real good stuff.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kenneth Branagh; screenplay by Branagh, based on the play by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Kenneth MacMillian; edited by Michael Bradsell; music by Patrick Doyle; production designer, Tim Harvey; produced by Bruce Sharman; released by Curzon Film Distributors.

Starring Kenneth Branagh (King Henry V), Brian Blessed (Duke Thomas Beaufort of Exeter), Paul Gregory (Westmoreland), Nicholas Ferguson (Earl Richard Beauchamp of Warwick), James Larkin (Duke John of Bedford), Simon Shepherd (Duke Humphrey of Gloucester), Charles Kay (Archbishop of Canterbury), Alec McCowen (Bishop of Ely), Fabian Cartwright (Earl Richard of Cambridge), Stephen Simms (Lord Henry Scroop), Jay Villiers (Sir Thomas Grey), James Simmons (Duke Edward of York), Christopher Ravenscroft (Montjoy), Paul Scofield (King Charles VI of France), Michael Maloney (Louis the Dauphin), Emma Thompson (Princess Katherine de Valois), Geraldine McEwan (Alice), Harold Innocent (Duke Philippe of Burgundy), Edward Jewesbury (Sir Thomas Erpingham), Danny Webb (Gower), Ian Holm (Captain Fluellen), John Sessions (Macmorris), Jimmy Yuill (Jamy), Judi Dench (Mistress Nell Quickly), Robert Stephens (Auncient Pistol), Richard Briers (Lieutenant Bardolph), Geoffrey Hutchings (Corporal Nym), Christian Bale (Robin the Luggage-Boy), Michael Williams (Williams), Shaun Prendergast (Bates), Patrick Doyle (Court) and Robbie Coltrane (Sir John Falstaff). Derek Jacobi as Chorus.


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).


GoldenEye (1995, Martin Campbell)

I love Goldeneye’s plotting. It’s clear they plotted the film to be most enjoyed the first time through, but in terms of reveals and action sequences. The opening sequence doesn’t work particularly well in the end, though, a problem I had the last time I watched the film as well. It’s simply not interesting on video—we know James Bond is going to make it and without the spectacle, it doesn’t work.

Goldeneye excels on two levels. Campbell’s direction is magnificent; he’s able to alternate between the grand, third person Panavision action and setup direction, but also some incredibly personal moments. Combined with his ability, Eric Serra’s score just makes Goldeneye an audio-visual delight. Campbell’s an excellent Panavision action director and generally traditional in those scenes. But Serra’s music is very revisionist. It changes the film’s feel, without affecting the tone.

The other level is Pierce Brosnan and Izabella Scorupco. While Brosnan’s great as Bond, it’s not like he’s achieving much. There’s only so much he can do. But Scorupco is able to humanize him. She’s not a damsel in distress, instead she’s an active participant (one wonders if a better film might not have featured her as the lead and a Bond-like character as her sidekick). She’s fantastic.

The supporting cast has highs and lows. Famke Janssen, Robbie Coltrane and Gottfried John are all good, John especially. Sean Bean and Alan Cumming are weak. Judi Dench and Joe Don Baker are in between.

It’s a solid film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Campbell; screenplay by Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein, based on a story by Michael France and characters created by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Eric Serra; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson; released by United Artists.

Starring Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Sean Bean (Alec Trevelyan), Izabella Scorupco (Natalya Simonova), Famke Janssen (Xenia Onatopp), Joe Don Baker (Jack Wade), Judi Dench (M), Robbie Coltrane (Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky), Gottfried John (General Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov), Alan Cumming (Boris Grishenko), Tchéky Karyo (Defense Minister Dmitri Mishkin), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny), Michael Kitchen (Bill Tanner) and Serena Gordon (Caroline).


The Third Secret (1964, Charles Crichton)

Between Crichton’s fantastic CinemaScope composition and Douglas Slocombe’s wondrous black and white photography, it’d be hard not admire The Third Secret. It’s an engaging enough thriller, though it does run into the problem of having one ending too many.

Stephen Boyd plays an American television journalist working in London–one of the lovely things about the script is how little is explained, we find out very little about Boyd’s life before the present action of the film–and he investigates the death of his psychologist. Joseph’s script has some problems with that subject, the topic of analysis needing lots of exposition and reminders there’s no shame. It hurts the film at times, but not significantly.

Boyd’s performance is impressive, since he’s adapting a character performance for a lead role. The friendship between him and Pamela Franklin (she plays the dead psychologist’s daughter) is touching and quite well executed. Franklin’s performance is great.

The rest of the supporting cast is solid. Diane Cilento and Paul Rogers are standouts.

A lot of time is spent developing Boyd’s character and the friendship with Franklin so the mystery aspect suffers. The two surprise endings are both pretty boring. The first one seems a little more believable–and there are some hints to a possible third ending they didn’t include.

The film, with Boyd and Franklin’s performances, should be a lot stronger. The mystery isn’t compelling, which seems like a conscious choice. Unfortunately, the attention the wanders, instead of focusing on the film’s successes.

But worth a look.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Charles Crichton; written by Robert L. Joseph; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by Frederick Wilson; music by Richard Arnell; production designer, Thomas N. Morahan; produced by Joseph and Hugh Perceval; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Stephen Boyd (Alex Stedman), Jack Hawkins (Sir Frederick Belline), Richard Attenborough (Alfred Price-Gorham), Diane Cilento (Anne Tanner), Pamela Franklin (Catherine Whitset), Paul Rogers (Dr. Milton Gillen), Alan Webb (Alden Hoving), Rachel Kempson (Mildred Hoving), Peter Sallis (Lawrence Jacks), Patience Collier (Mrs. Pelton), Freda Jackson (Mrs. Bales), Judi Dench (Miss Humphries), Peter Copley (Dr. Leo Whitset), Nigel Davenport (Lew Harding) and Charles Lloyd Pack (Dermot McHenry).


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The World Is Not Enough (1999, Michael Apted)

Denise Richards is not convincing as a nuclear physicist. That statement made, Apted might get her best performance ever in this film. It’s still awful. Her lack of charisma is painful; one has to wonder how Brosnan and Apted were able to put up with it, given the rest of the film’s considerable accomplishments.

The World is Not Enough probably has ten great action sequences. Something about Apted’s direction lets him ground the general Bond absurdity and create these transfixing sequences. Not all of these scenes are important–there’s a couple for pure padding purposes–but Apted makes them work. Given he’s not known as an action director, it’s interesting to see his sensibilities translate so well to the genre.

Besides the direction, the film’s got a pretty solid script. It’s got some goofiness–it’s not particularly believable Judi Dench is a sentimental moron–but it’s fine. There’s some smiles, if not laughs, and it moves well.

And besides Richards, the supporting cast is excellent. Sophie Marceau gets the primary female role and does well with it. The other principle is Robert Carlyle, who gives one of his great, chameleon performances here. While it might have been simpler just to mimic his Trainspotting performance, he instead creates a nearly sympathetic, utterly evil villain. And Robbie Coltrane’s back. He’s hilarious.

The film survives Richards mostly thanks to Brosnan, who carries the weight of their scenes all himself. But he’s also just very assured here.

Still, I can’t help wondering who else auditioned for Richard’s role.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Apted; screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Bruce Feirstein, based on a story by Purvis and Wade and characters created by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Adrian Biddle; edited by Jim Clark; music by David Arnold; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Sophie Marceau (Elektra King), Robert Carlyle (Renard), Denise Richards (Dr. Christmas Jones), Robbie Coltrane (Valentin Zukovsky), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), John Cleese (R), Maria Grazia Cucinotta (Cigar Girl), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny), Michael Kitchen (Tanner), Colin Salmon (Robinson), Goldie (Bullion), Serena Scott Thomas (Dr. Molly Warmflash) and Judi Dench (M).


Die Another Day (2002, Lee Tamahori)

Fun. I’m trying to think–besides the Ocean series–of fun Hollywood blockbusters these days. It seems like fun is out. Certainly with James Bond. Die Another Day is a lot of fun. In fact, unlike some of the other Bond movies–the ones I can remember well–it seems to be more concentrated on being fun than anything else. I avoided it when it first came out for a couple reasons. Halle Berry and the title. It’s one of Berry’s best performances because, well, she’s supposed to be having fun and apparently she can (or can emulate it). As for the title… I mean, if Sony is going with Quantum of Solace… I don’t think I can hold Die Another Day against the now-gone MGM.

So, anyway, I tried it out….

The movie opens with James Bond surfing, which I thought was going to be too much, but wasn’t. Even though Lee Tamahori has some minor problems with hipster editing, for the most part he does a fantastic job. Die Another Day is a special effects extravaganza and the CG and practical mix very well. The film’s long and packed–the action moves from North Korea to China to Cuba to England to Iceland to North Korea again and there’s a decent action sequence in each location. In fact, I don’t think Tamahori even started messing with the editing until Iceland.

I suppose the movie’s a fine enough close for the original series (I mean, the pre-Sony series) and it’s a decent one for Brosnan. He’s having a good time and he and Berry work very well together. The rest of the cast is so-so. Toby Stephens is fine, but Rosamund Pike is lame. As the bad guy, Rick Yune leaves a lot to be desired… and the less said about Madonna and Michael Madsen, the better. Brosnan and Judi Dench work really well together in this one. As usual, the rest of office staff is good… Colin Salmon has nothing to do, but he’s good. Samantha Bond has one of the best Moneypenny moments.

Oh, the song. Madonna’s opening credits song is dreadful. One of the worst, maybe even the worst. It’s just terrible.

But it’s an incredibly fun outing, original song and lame supporting cast aside.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lee Tamahori; written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, based on characters created by Ian Fleming; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Christian Wagner; music by David Arnold; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Halle Berry (Jinx), Toby Stephens (Gustav Graves), Rosamund Pike (Miranda Frost), Rick Yune (Zao), Judi Dench (M), John Cleese (Q), Michael Madsen (Damian Falco), Will Yun Lee (Colonel Moon), Kenneth Tsang (General Moon), Emilio Echevarría (Raoul), Mikhail Gorevoy (Vlad), Lawrence Makoare (Mr. Kil), Colin Salmon (Charles Robinson) and Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny).


Casino Royale (2006, Martin Campbell)

I had read somewhere Casino Royale wasn’t going to be chock-full of CG like the recent Bond films, but maybe I misread it. As a series, the Bond films are supposed to be about stunt work and explosions. Casino Royale is actually light on explosions and practically absent of stunts. There’s lots of stunt-looking stuff, but it appears to be CG composites. Terrible CG composites, much like director Martin Campbell’s previous Bond film, Goldeneye, which at least had the excuse of being an early CG-adopter. I can find one nice thing to say about Casino Royale–maybe two. Daniel Craig is not bad. He’s fine, actually. He’s not playing James Bond–because after so many actors, Bond is a shell of a character. He’s made by certain trivialities, which make an amusing couple hours in exotic locales filled with foreign actors speaking English and explosions and stunts. Casino Royale, I’m sure it’s more pretentious supporters would say, serves to deconstruct said trivialities, which leaves the film empty. I sat and waited for one exciting scene and it never came. The other good thing was Giancarlo Giannini. He’s amusing in a self-aware performance. A lot of Casino Royale’s performances feel as though Campbell has just called “action.” The performances are all very stagy. But I’ll get to them in a second. First I need to say something about Campbell’s direction. It’s not just uninteresting or boring or predictable–adjectives to describe David Arnold’s atrocious score–Campbell’s direction is actually a new step in DVD-market mediocrity. I sat and watched scenes composed for people’s HDTV’s. Sony HDTV’s, of course, since Casino Royale is a two and a half hour advertisement for Sony productions. Campbell actually repeats certain scenes–ones to humanize Bond–from Goldeneye, lifts them straight out. Except Goldeneye was technically competent.

I guess I can’t escape the performances. Eva Green is awful, Mads Mikkelsen is amusingly awful, and Jeffrey Wright is unspeakably bad. It’s a new level of terrible from Wright, who manages to give the same performance over and over again, but worse each time.

The writing is something special. It manages to bore to new heights. James Bond isn’t the film’s central character for much of the film, he’s the subject, which is not a working arrangement for something known as a… James Bond film. This distance serves to introduce the audience to a fifty-year old character. It’s quite useful in wasting time. I kept wondering if I could say the film has twenty endings, but instead it has no ending for quite a while. Casino Royale breaks the traditional three act structure and replaces it with nonsense. Campbell doesn’t have the directorial chops to work it, Craig’s fine but he’s not a miracle worker–he just keeps his head above water in a drowning pool–so it goes on and on and on. At least if it had been a trick ending, it would have been bad and funny, instead it’s just bad.

James Bond films have always been well-reviewed, at least since I’ve known about movie reviews. The distaste for them comes later–I remember Dalton being well-reviewed for example and there were astoundingly positive reviews for the worst of the Brosnan films. I didn’t to go Casino Royale hoping it would suck so I could be bemused at the state of artistic appreciation in the world today. I went to be amused by stunts and explosions and I didn’t even get those.

Something needs to be said about the terrible song, but hopefully someone else can say it. I’m bored with thinking about Casino Royale already.

Wait, one last thing. Sony appears–from the trailers I saw for their new films, from this film–to be making the worst mainstream films today, which is quite a thing to be able to say.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Campbell; written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, based on the novel by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Phil Méheux; edited by Stuart Baird; music by David Arnold; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Daniel Craig (James Bond), Eva Green (Vesper Lynd), Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre), Judi Dench (M), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter) and Giancarlo Giannini (Mathis).


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