Michael Sheen

Timeline (2003, Richard Donner)

Timeline is really bad. The opening sequence starts Donner regular Steve Kahan in a terrible bit part but at least there’s the stunt casting; the rest of the poorly edited sequence has ER doctors and anonymous law enforcement looking into the mysterious death of a man who appeared in the middle of the highway for Kahan to almost hit. Of course, we the viewers know he’s somehow travelled through time because we see a knight on horseback about chop him down before cutting to Kahan in the desert.

That opening shot of the knight cutting down the time traveller should be a trailer shot, should have some kind of major visceral impact… it’s got squat. The shot’s boringly composed—somehow Donner manages to suck all the life out of his wide Panavision frame, ably assisted—unfortunately—by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, who’s never got any interesting or thoughtful lighting. Timeline looks boring, with its “renaissance village at a Six Flags” not even a Medieval Times, much less renaissance faire production design or the laughably bad costumes. The knights all look like they belong on a White Castle commercial and the time traveling heroes look like they’re trying to prove cosplay can be macho. Gerard Butler’s outfit is something else.

Though Butler is something else too. Donner apparently gave Butler two directions—make it more Scottish and play it like 80s Mel Gibson. Shirt off, hair wild, soulfully love the ladies (in this case, Anna Friel, who manages to be the only person outside Billy Connolly, who’s exempt, not to embarrass or humiliate themselves it some point during Timeline).

See, Timeline, which is about locable eccentric old archeologist Connolly going back in time through Michael Crichton-stereotype modern megalomaniacal rich recluse scientist David Thewlis’s time machine. Only he gets stuck back in time and so his team—Butler, Frances O’Connor, plus Connolly’s son, bro Paul Walker, who’s around the dig site because he’s got the hots for O’Connor and trying to tempt her away from her work to apparently quit her job and marry him and pump out babies. O’Connor’s real bad in Timeline, which sucks because O’Connor’s great, and it’s not all Donner’s fault, it’s not all the script’s fault—okay, a lot of it’s both Donner and the script’s fault, like, wow, terrible character. But O’Connor’s still bad. She’s not as bad as Walker, but she’s close, although bad in an entirely different way. If the film embraced its spoof potential—bro Walker going back in time to save his dad, Indiana Jones wannabe Butler, the silly battles, Thewlis’s mad scientist–it might’ve been… good. I was going to say amusing, but I really think about the only way you could make Timeline work is to do it as a comedy of itself. Albeit with a different script, cast, director, composer, cinematographer, production designer, and costume designer. Anna Friel and Billy Connolly can stay too if they want, Friel because she’s got the ability to—if not rise above—at lease not drown. Connolly because it’s Billy Connolly, who cares if he’s any good.

At the beginning, when Connolly’s lecturing, for a moment I thought he got the part because it was going to be “Head of the Class,” which too might’ve saved Timeline, if it were actually a “Head of the Class” spin-off. But no, then Butler’s Scottish burr dominates and it seems like it’s been dubbed it’s so over the top and you don’t realize yet what you’re in for with Butler. Even when Butler’s not particularly bad he’s disappointing because of how the film positions him. It keeps giving him chances to “breakout” and Butler never takes them. O’Connor seems to understand what a mistake she’s making, Walker can’t be bothered to care, they literally have him bro-hugging fifteenth century knights and whatnot, everyone else seems to at least get they’re in trouble. But Butler keeps it together throughout. He’s a trooper.

Who gives a risible performance.

Some spectacularly bad acting from Matt Craven and Ethan Embry. Neal McDonough is quite bad. He’s the ex-Marine security guy who takes the dreamy nerds back in time and immediately loses his cool and they have to compensate. Michael Sheen’s the evil English lord. He’s bad. He’s funny but he’s bad. Sheen might get to stay for the spoof, but only if his already hilariously big armor gets bigger.

Marton Csokas is the evil guard with a secret who becomes everyone’s nemesis at one point or another. He’s awful. He and Butler’s big fight scene actually gets put on pause—with the guys passing out stunned—so the movie can catch up with Walker and O’Connor, who get paired together for a third act mission where Walker’s got to trust the smart woman and it turns out to be a bad idea because she’s just an emotional silly. Truly bad part for O’Connor, can’t emphasis it enough. Especially for 2003 or whatever. There are better female parts in male-targeted medieval action movies from the 1950s and 1960s. I’m not sure how many because it’s not a good genre, but there are at least a few. Because it’s really bad for O’Connor here.

It doesn’t help she and Walker’s romantic chemistry is at the visibly uncomfortably disinterested miscasting error level. Though Butler and Friel’s rapport isn’t much better. It’s just not as bad in such bad ways.

There is one “must be seen to be believed” sequence in Timeline. When they travel back in time, for about fifteen seconds all the actors have to make faces to show brief, unimaginably intense pain. It’s horrible but wonderfully so.

Otherwise… I mean, I knew better than to watch Timeline. It’s on me. But did those involved in its production also now better than to be involved with it; most of the experience of watching Timeline is wondering who the hell thought this something or that something was a good idea when said somethings are so obviously terrible.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Jeff Maguire and George Nolfi, based on the novel by Michael Crichton; director of photography, Caleb Deschanel; edited by Richard Marks; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Daniel T. Dorrance; costume designer, Jenny Beavan; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Richard Donner, and Jim Van Wyck; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Gerard Butler (Andre Marek), Frances O’Connor (Kate Ericson), Paul Walker (Chris Johnston), Neal McDonough (Frank Gordon), Rossif Sutherland (François Dontelle), Anna Friel (Lady Claire), Michael Sheen (Lord Oliver), David Thewlis (Robert Doniger), Matt Craven (Steven Kramer), Ethan Embry (Josh Stern), Lambert Wilson (Lord Arnaut), Marton Csokas (Sir William De Kere), and Billy Connolly (Professor Johnston).


Alice in Wonderland (2010, Tim Burton)

Alice in Wonderland has a number of balls in the air at once and director Burton–though he does show a good sense of them each while in focus–can’t seem to bring them together successfully. The potentially unifying elements–like Danny Elfman’s score or Mia Wasikowska in the lead–both fall short. For whatever reason, Burton doesn’t have Elfman design the score to be memorable; even when it’s competent, it just reminds of better Danny Elfman scores. As for Wasikowska, who’s utterly phenomenal whether she’s in nineteenth century England or the titular Wonderland, the film loses her too often.

And that loss of Wasikowska, even though it’s always to bring in the assorted cast of Wonderland, kills the film’s momentum. Alice has a very standard plot–Wasikowska has an unpleasant future waiting for her in reality, will her experiences in Wonderland somehow edify and empower her to deal with them? Even though it’s Alice in Wonderland, it often feels like Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton wish they were making Dorothy in Oz.

But when Wasikowska is on screen, she’s able to sell Wonderland’s generic journey. She’s got able assistance too. Johnny Depp turns the Mad Hatter into a wonderful character, acting against his makeup, and Helena Bonham Carter is fantastic as the Red Queen. Both Anne Hathaway and Crispin Glover are painfully affected but they’re always opposite someone great so it doesn’t matter too much.

Wonderland’s a moderate success, but should have been a much greater one.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Linda Woolverton, based on novels by Lewis Carroll; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; produced by Richard D. Zanuck, Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd and Jennifer Todd; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice Kingsleigh), Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen), Crispin Glover (Stayne), Anne Hathaway (White Queen), Matt Lucas (Tweedledee and Tweedledum), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat), Timothy Spall (Bayard the Bloodhound), Michael Sheen (White Rabbit), Barbara Windsor (Dormouse) and Alan Rickman (Absolem the Caterpillar).


Tron: Legacy (2010, Joseph Kosinski)

Tron: Legacy is a little better than the first one (though the first one is so bad, it would be hard not to be). It does, however, share a very common trait–it’s best when the music is blaring. The Daft Punk score is wondrous and when the music’s going, Tron: Legacy works. Another asset is director Kosinski. His sense of composition is excellent and he incorporates the big special effects beautifully.

The smaller CG effect–slapping a young Jeff Bridges face on some stand in–fails. It looks like a rubber mask. They might have been better off with a rubber mask, actually.

Two more strong elements. First, production designer Darren Gilford. The film looks amazing. It might get a little less amazing for the finish, but the last scene has that other strong element. Olivia Wilde is fantastic. Her role is difficult (because it’s silly) but she turns in an easily likable performance while suggesting a lot of depth.

Lead Garrett Hedlund starts weak but gets better once Bridges shows up. Bridges is clearly cashing a paycheck here. Then there’s Michael Sheen… Kosinski apparently told him to play a cartoon character.

Unfortunately, the script’s dumb; the plot twists are idiotic and contrived.

Much of the action is lifted from old blockbusters (lots of Star Wars and even the original Burton Batman). Kosinski might not be original, but he executes his plagiarism effectively.

I’m loathe to say it, but Tron: Legacy is worth seeing. If just to look at it and hear.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph Kosinski; screenplay by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, based on a story by Kitsis, Horowitz, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal and on characters created by Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird; director of photography, Claudio Miranda; edited by James Haygood; music by Daft Punk; production designer, Darren Gilford; produced by Sean Bailey, Lisberger and Jeffrey Silver; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Kevin Flynn / Clu), Garrett Hedlund (Sam Flynn), Olivia Wilde (Quorra), Bruce Boxleitner (Alan Bradley), James Frain (Jarvis), Beau Garrett (Gem) and Michael Sheen (Castor).


Underworld (2003, Len Wiseman)

I was looking for something stupid to watch—something mindlessly diverting—so I tried Underworld.

Wiseman’s action scenes are fine. It’s when Wiseman tries to direct story he falls apart. And there’s a lot of story in Underworld. Lots of needless scenes, complications, complexities. It’s not a surprise a former stuntman wrote it (Danny McBride—not the actor). It’s a bit of a surprise, though, the filmmakers found a studio to greenlight it without a literate person doing a rewrite.

Beckinsale’s performance occasionally suggests she’s able to hold herself in check. Other times, she’s clearly contemptible of the material. To some degree, it might work for the character… but it really doesn’t. It leads to her having negative chemistry with her Romeo, played by Scott Speedman.

Speedman’s not terrible. He’s not entirely believable as a med student, but he’s nowhere near as bad as I assumed.

Then there’s Michael Sheen. I knew he was in it, but I never really believed it. After seeing him, it’s even harder to believe. He’s awful.

The rest of the supporting cast is spotty. Shane Brolly is really bad. Sophia Myles and Wentworth Miller aren’t terrible. Kevin Grevioux, who co-wrote the story, he’s bad.

There’s some odd homoeroticism to the werewolves, which is mildly interesting; usually the vampires have it. It’s just not interesting enough to make one care.

Cut down to forty or seventy minutes of action scenes… it might’ve work. But with its attempts at character developments and narrative, Underworld‘s awful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Len Wiseman; screenplay by Danny McBride, based on a story by Kevin Grevioux, Wiseman and McBride; director of photography; Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Martin Hunter; music by Paul Haslinger; production designer, Bruton Jones; produced by Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg and Richard S. Wright; released by Screem Gems.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Selene), Scott Speedman (Michael Corvin), Michael Sheen (Lucian), Shane Brolly (Kraven), Bill Nighy (Viktor), Erwin Leder (Singe), Sophia Myles (Erika), Robbie Gee (Kahn), Wentworth Miller (Dr. Adam Lockwood) and Kevin Grevioux (Raze).


Frost/Nixon (2008, Ron Howard)

Once upon a time (in Hollywood), there was a bald director (who always wore a cap) who first got famous on television as an actor, then as a director of comedies, who then started making excellent mainstream Hollywood pictures. Then he started making mainstream crap and then it got worse.

The question of Frost/Nixon is the question of Ron Howard’s (mainstream) artistic solvency. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t quite so simple–oh, Howard does a fantastic job and would certainly be on the road to a new artistic period if it weren’t for a couple things. First, the trailer of his Da Vinci Code 2 played before this film. Second, if Howard could always turn off the crap-production–if he could recognize good material for the screen (he and writer Peter Morgan were on NPR talking about how Howard jetted to London for the play’s opening and snapped up the rights immediately), if he could not use scripts from Akiva Goldman–why hasn’t he done it before now? Did the critical drubbing of Da Vinci force him to prove he was competent? These are all valid questions, but they do distract from the film. So enough.

Frost/Nixon finds Richard Milhous Nixon, as usual, to be a fantastic character for examination. During the film’s third act, with Nixon laid bare–Frank Langella’s performance is so utterly captivating, talking about it in depth might get boring–creates one of cinema’s greatest antiheroes. His humanity–his recognition of his shortcomings and his bottomless regret–it makes Frost/Nixon a significant achievement. There’s a great argument scene–between Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Matthew Macfadyen and Oliver Platt–early on about the goal of the interview–to make Nixon look sympathetic or to make him accept responsibility for Watergate. The beauty of the film, which I suppose anyone familiar with the interviews would already know, is Nixon is never more sympathetic than when acknowledging his criminal culpability. And that early scene never foreshadows that possibility. Howard keeps the film surprising from each scene to next, even though–until the coda–the direction is muted.

As Frost, Sheen oscillates between being the film’s protagonist and a passenger. This transition happens at odd times too–the film is never, after the first fifteen minutes, about David Frost… it just takes the film a while to recognize it. But that condition is one Sheen works with beautifully. He can be the lead, he can be supporting, he can be off-screen. He’s fantastic. The most stunning part of Sheen’s performance is when the film gets to the interviews, watching his on-camera persona and trying to reconcile it with the off.

Rockwell, Macfadyen and Platt are all excellent. Rockwell’s got the most to do–and the film’s most difficult task of turning a boring character into an engaging one throughout. Rebecca Hall, who has a thankless female role–she’s only in it so Diane Sawyer isn’t the only female character–is so great, she makes it seem like an essential facet. Kevin Bacon’s good. Toby Jones has a fine small part.

I can’t ignore Langella any longer. His performance is heartbreaking. The complexities he achieves, in a role rife with laughter-producing dialogue (I don’t think anyone’s ever portrayed Nixon with more self-aware humor… in fact, he’s usually portrayed without it), are amazing. See, I told you it’d be boring.

I left Frost/Nixon elated. It’s great mainstream Hollywood cinema, something it seems this century has been, so far, lacking.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; screenplay by Peter Morgan, based on his stage play; director of photography, Salvatore Totino; edited by Mike Hill and Daniel P. Hanley; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Michael Corenblith; produced by Brian Grazer, Howard, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Frank Langella (Richard Nixon), Michael Sheen (David Frost), Sam Rockwell (James Reston Jr.), Kevin Bacon (Jack Brennan), Matthew Macfadyen (John Birt), Oliver Platt (Bob Zelnick), Rebecca Hall (Caroline Cushing) and Toby Jones (Swifty Lazar).


The Queen (2006, Stephen Frears)

Glibly, I can say the most amazing thing The Queen does is humanize Tony Blair, seeing as he’s been decency’s biggest quisling in recent memory. But seeing a sympathetic portrayal of politician–one still in power when a film is released–is uncommon. Michael Sheen really creates a Tony Blair, certainly a Tony Blair one wishes the real person measured up to. And royalty is often sympathetically portrayed, just not modern royalty, which is where The Queen becomes rare. I had assumed the screenwriter adapted a book, something with some non-reporter-like confirmation (apparently, the screenwriter got independent confirmations of specific facts)… because The Queen then becomes a fictionalization of a real person, but a fiction striving for truth… is a truly exceptional attempt for a work.

I watched this film with tears in my eyes for much of it, because it made me privy to something private. An autobiography isn’t private, it’s published. I don’t like considering the impetus behind a film’s creation–it’s money, almost always, unless the film’s really cheap (and then it’s usually the desire for future money)–but this film mustn’t have easy to make in that regard and–I’m losing my train of thought. My film review vocabulary isn’t geared for admiring people’s intentions. Anyway.

Superficially glibly… James Cromwell. Cromwell’s been a ham for a good ten years or so. The Queen really rescues him from it. The role lends itself to ham and he doesn’t do it. Alex Jennings is also excellent as Charles. Some of The Queen‘s easy effectiveness comes from the majority of the characters being privately conflicted, unable to release it. Sheen acts as a bit of a release valve, getting to vocalize frustration, which the other main characters cannot do.

As for Mirren–being disinterested in the history of the Windsors, my fiancée proved invaluable in explaining certain details to me (the film would work just fine without the knowledge, of course)–but I did find it odd, back when I heard about the film, the quintessential British female actor (from the American perspective anyway) playing the quintessential British female. I assumed it would be an easy fit, but Mirren–a little differently from Sheen’s Blair, since Blair isn’t a world figure in the same way–creates the Queen. Through her interactions with her staff, from assistant to groundskeeper, Mirren gradually establishes more than a visible humanity, but really makes the audience understand more her feelings than the response to her actions.

In terms of handling–storytelling handling–if The Queen were an absolutely fictional piece, it’d be good but not revolutionary. It’s a somewhat standard structure, two main threads, one secondary one, but, again, the subject matter and the handling of it–I love the scenes Frears cuts a little short, in the middle of dialogue, when the Queen ceases listening and then so too must the audience–makes the film a particular achievement. Oddly, the only other thing I can think of to even compare this film to is… Bubba Ho-Tep, but whereas that film brought deep feeling to the fictionalized life of a real person, The Queen brings it to the real life of a real person. It’s really something.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Frears; written by Peter Morgan; director of photography, Affonso Beato; edited by Lucia Zucchetti; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Alan Macdonald; produced by Christine Langan, Tracey Seaward and Andy Harries; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Helen Mirren (The Queen), Michael Sheen (Tony Blair), James Cromwell (Prince Philip), Sylvia Syms (the Queen Mother), Alex Jennings (Prince Charles), Helen McCrory (Cherie Blair), Roger Allam (Sir Robin Janvrin) and Tim McMullan (Stephen Lamport).


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