Michael Gambon

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).


Sleepy Hollow (1999, Tim Burton)

For the majority of the running time, at least Sleepy Hollow isn’t boring. Burton gets in an event every ten minutes, which keeps it moving. It often gets really stupid and watching Johnny Depp’s histrionics get tiresome after the first five minutes, but at least it moves. Until the finale, which drags incredibly. Since the film is constructed as a mystery, once the villain’s identity is revealed, it becomes a lot less interesting. Burton could have done something better, but not much in Sleepy Hollow suggests he cares enough to bother.

Besides the supporting cast and the production design—and Emmanuel Lubezki’s photography, which is lovely—there’s nothing special about the film. For a lot of it, Depp is running around with costars Christina Ricci and Marc Pickering, looking like their babysitter. Ricci’s playing the love interest though, which would come off as odd if Depp was for one moment trying to create a believable character. Watching him primp around—his facial expressions could power a small town alone—is mind-numbing.

But the supporting cast features some excellent performances—Michael Gough, Ian McDiarmid and Richard Griffiths are all wonderful. Michael Gambon doesn’t do well though, neither does Jeffrey Jones. Miranda Richardson has some good moments and some awful ones.

The script’s stupid, but it’s unclear if any of the problems are Burton’s fault. His sensibilities—besides the production itself—are reined in. He even rips off a moment from Total Recall.

It’s a lame, worthless movie… but not intolerable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, based on a screen story by Kevin Yagher and Walker and a story by Washington Irving; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Chris Lebenzon and Joel Negron; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Scott Rudin and Adam Schroeder; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Ichabod Crane), Christina Ricci (Katrina Van Tassel), Miranda Richardson (Lady Van Tassel), Michael Gambon (Baltus Van Tassel), Casper Van Dien (Brom Van Brunt), Jeffrey Jones (Reverend Steenwyck), Richard Griffiths (Magistrate Philipse), Ian McDiarmid (Doctor Lancaster), Michael Gough (Notary Hardenbrook), Marc Pickering (Young Masbath), Lisa Marie (Lady Crane), Steven Waddington (Killian), Claire Skinner (Beth Killian), Christopher Lee (Burgomaster), Alun Armstrong (High Constable) and Christopher Walken (Hessian Horseman).


Open Range (2003, Kevin Costner)

Because I’m a cynic, I have to point out the following–in order to revive the Western, that most American of genres (sort of), Costner had to film Open Range in Canada.

It’s hard to think of a more traditional Western than Open Range. But the way Costner films it, it’s nouveau-Technicolor–the sky impossibly blue, the prairie impossibly green. There’s a subtle thread running through Range about progress and participating in it and not participating in it… but the film’s not about that collision.

Instead, it’s a straightforward Western–some drama, some action, some comedy. There’s even Costner putting in an unexpected Waterworld reference, as Michael Jeter swings around.

Most of the film takes place over a day and a half. It’s not real time, but there’s a deliberate pace and Costner’s able to keep every plot development significant. It makes the film speed through its two hours and twenty minutes. The first act, with this delicate introduction to Costner, Robert Duvall, Diego Luna and Abraham Benrubi, is exceptional filmic storytelling.

The acting’s all great. Costner and Annette Bening have their gentle romance–the most un-Western thing about the film is Costner casting someone his age as his love interest. Then there’s Costner and Duvall’s friendship–these two awkward, asocial men bonding–it’s all very thoughtful and very special. Luna’s good as their sidekick.

Plus, James Russo is fantastic as the corrupt marshal.

Open Range is a quietly spectacular film; it’s tragic Costner’s not recognized for it.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Costner; screenplay by Craig Storper, based on a novel by Lauran Paine; director of photography, J. Michael Muro; edited by Michael J. Duthie and Miklos Wright; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Gae S. Buckley; produced by David Valdes, Costner and Jake Eberts; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Robert Duvall (Boss Spearman), Kevin Costner (Charley Waite), Annette Bening (Sue Barlow), Michael Gambon (Denton Baxter), Michael Jeter (Percy), Diego Luna (Button), James Russo (Sheriff Poole), Abraham Benrubi (Mose), Dean McDermott (Doc Barlow) and Kim Coates (Butler).


The Book of Eli (2010, Albert and Allen Hughes)

I guess if The Book of Eli were a bigger hit, someone would have told Nick Cave composers Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross and Claudia Sarne ripped off the beginning of his “In the Ghetto” cover and turned it into the musical score’s theme.

Someone else might let Kevin Costner know about the… ahem… similarities between Eli and The Postman, but… those are the only good parts of Eli, so maybe don’t.

For about half the movie–it’s so split there should be a title card reading “End of Part One”–The Book of Eli is real good. It’s Denzel Washington doing an action movie, but one where he gets to play his age, and also a samurai. There’s Gary Oldman playing the boss of an Old West town, only in a post-apocalyptic future. It’s solid. It’s good.

I mean, the Hughes Brothers can direct. Their action sequences in this film, undoubtedly tied together with CG, are astoundingly good.

So what goes wrong? A couple things. First, Mila Kunis. She’s more convincing as a voice on “Family Guy” than actually giving a full performance. She’s incredibly weak and it’s not believable Washington’s hardened road warrior would have let her tag along, much less become emotionally attached to her.

Second, it’s got a moronic, “affecting,” “real” ending. I’m sure the filmmakers thought it was honest or something.

But it’s not honest to the good parts of this film, so it must be being honest to something else.

Total waste of time.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes; written by Gary Whitta; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Cindy Mollo; music by Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross and Claudia Sarne; production designer, Gae Buckley; produced by Joel Silver, Denzel Washington, Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove and David Valdes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Denzel Washington (Eli), Gary Oldman (Carnegie), Mila Kunis (Solara), Ray Stevenson (Redridge), Jennifer Beals (Claudia), Tom Waits (Engineer), Frances de la Tour (Martha) and Michael Gambon (George).


Layer Cake (2004, Matthew Vaughn)

I tried. I really did try.

It’s absurd, in a lot of ways, to even give Layer Cake any kind of chance at all. It’s one of these hipster British crime movies.

I don’t remember why I thought it might be all right–there was no empirical evidence to influence that thinking. The direction is CG aided Tarantino–well, Tarantino of the 1990s. I doubt Tarantino is as static as his emulators. He really ought to get a cut of any hipster crime movie.

What’s so crappy about Layer Cake is it pretends it’s something original. It lifts lines and scenes from Scarface–made some twenty years before–and thinks its revolutionary. And these aren’t the popular Scarface scenes, these are the drab procedural scenes–which means “The Streets of San Francisco” probably did them eight years before Scarface.

Now, I love a lot of British cinema. Well, I like a lot of it and I love some of it. A bit of it. But the lack of originality is distressing. Did every British director from 1992 on try to make something so Miramax would pick it up for U.S. distribution?

Layer Cake makes me wish Panavision had never been invented, much less popularized. Vaughn’s a pretentious director, but he’s nowhere near as atrocious as the narration.

Yes, get the author of the hipster novel to write the script of the hipster movie. It works out so well.

I loathe this film.

I loathe myself for giving it twenty minutes.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Matthew Vaughn; screenplay by J.J. Connolly, based on his novel; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Jon Harris; music by Lisa Gerrard and Ilan Eshkeri; production designer, Kave Quinn; produced by Adam Bohling, David Reid and Vaughan; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Daniel Craig (XXXX), Colm Meaney (Gene), Kenneth Cranham (Jimmy Price), George Harris (Morty), Jamie Foreman (The Duke), Sienna Miller (Tammy), Michael Gambon (Eddie Temple), Marcel Iureş (Slavo), Tom Hardy (Clarkie), Tamer Hassan (Terry), Ben Whishaw (Sidney), Burn Gorman (Gazza), Sally Hawkins (Slasher), Dexter Fletcher (Cody), Steve John Shepherd (Tiptoes), Louis Emerick (Trevor), Stephen Walters (Shanks), Paul Orchard (Lucky), Dragan Mićanović (Dragan), Nick Thomas-Webster (Dragan’s henchman), Nathalie Lunghi (Charlie) and Jason Flemyng (Crazy Larry).


The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004, Wes Anderson)

The problem with The Life Aquatic reveals itself quite clearly in the final act, as the cast all gives Bill Murray shoulder squeezes of support. The scene is supposed to mean something profound. It’s Murray confronting not just his Moby Dick (a quest for vengeance lost in the film, maybe because they knew it was a silly idea as a major plot point), but also himself. His mortality, his place in the world, you know, the yada yada. And it is the yada yada, because the viewer isn’t watching Murray’s character confront himself, he or she is watching Murray play a character confronting himself. The Life Aquatic manages to create a particular suspension of disbelief–the little stop motion undersea creatures are exquisite and fully part of the film’s reality–but it never manages to convince (or even try to convince) the viewer he or she isn’t watching a construct. A hipster event picture. It’s a great hipster event picture, maybe the best (since who makes decent hipster pictures except Anderson), but there’s no depth to it. It’s a fake.

The Life Aquatic wasn’t expensive by Hollywood standards–it was pretty cheap actually, considering the cast, effects and water shooting–but it’s a huge Wes Anderson picture. There are action scenes–Anderson’s pretty good at them too, incorporating both his self-aware style as well as the action scene necessities. There are huge sets–Mark Friedberg’s production design–is wonderful. There’s always something to look at in The Life Aquatic, which is good, because the film frequently gets boring.

Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach think swearing is funny. Swearing can be funny and some of the swear-based jokes in Life Aquatic are okay (they don’t get belly-laughs, but they’re okay), but they rely on them all the time. Or uncomfortable situations. It’s like Anderson sat down and watched the trailers to Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums and thought he should make a feature-length trailer. There’s not an honest human moment in the entire film, as the actors deliver their lines to the camera, not to each other. Owen Wilson–who really should have co-wrote the picture instead of acted in it–is the worst. His Kentucky fish out of water is an affected performance, with the whole hook being him being Owen Wilson acting in another Wes Anderson movie. None of his scenes are bad, but seeing him opposite Willem Dafoe, who hurls himself head first into his role as an insecure German crew member, is painful. Dafoe pushes through to the other side with his performance, while Wilson’s happy with staying celluloid.

After Dafoe, Cate Blanchett gives the film’s second-best performance, even though she has little to do… watching Blanchett act–even in a shallow character–is great. Murray’s fine, so is Anjelica Huston. Jeff Goldblum’s okay, playing the standard post-Jurassic Park Goldblum standard. Bud Cort’s got a great small part.

The Life Aquatic is a frustrating film. As filmmaking, it’s masterful and exciting. As a fiction, it’s a complete waste of time. There’s more insight into the human condition in mediocre fortune cookies.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Anderson, Barry Mendel and Scott Rudin; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Bill Murray (Steve Zissou), Owen Wilson (Ned Plimpton), Cate Blanchett (Jane Winslett-Richardson), Anjelica Huston (Eleanor Zissou), Willem Dafoe (Klaus Daimler), Jeff Goldblum (Hennessey), Michael Gambon (Drakoulious), Bud Cort (Bill Ubell) and Seymour Cassel (Esteban de Plantier).


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