Ralph Fiennes

Quiz Show (1994, Robert Redford)

Quiz Show is a story about pride and envy. The film’s main plot is about the quiz show scandals in the fifties–big media taking the American public for a ride–and I suppose it could be seen as a loss of innocence thing. But it isn’t.

It’s about pride and envy.

John Turturro’s working class Jewish guy doesn’t have much pride (though he’s gloriously proud of it) and he’s got lots of envy. But not so much for the WASPs, but for more successful Jewish guys. So Rob Morrow’s middle class Jewish guy. Morrow’s character has pride and envy; in this case, it’s envy for the WASPs. Like Ralph Fiennes, who’s got not so much pride but envy. In his case, it’s for his dad–Paul Scofield in a wonderful performance.

There’s a lot about class, there’s a lot about masculinity (the women get what’s going on and try to get their husbands to recognize it to disappointment), there’s a lot about the time period. And screenwriter Paul Attanasio brings it all together beautifully. Quiz Show has an incredibly complex structure, something director Redford and editor Stu Linder fully embrace. Even in its stillest moments, the film is always in motion.

Gorgeous Michael Ballhaus photography too.

The leads–Turturro, Morrow and Fiennes–are all excellent. Nice support from David Paymer, Hank Azaria and Allan Rich. Ditto Johann Carlo and Mira Sorvino. Redford’s use of prominent actors and filmmakers in cameo roles works great.

Quiz Show is a phenomenal film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Redford; screenplay by Paul Attanasio, based on a book by Richard N. Goodwin; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Stu Linder; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Michael Jacobs, Julian Krainin, Michael Nozik and Redford; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring John Turturro (Herbie Stempel), Rob Morrow (Dick Goodwin), Ralph Fiennes (Charles Van Doren), David Paymer (Dan Enright), Christopher McDonald (Jack Barry), Elizabeth Wilson (Dorothy Van Doren), Paul Scofield (Mark Van Doren), Hank Azaria (Albert Freedman), Mira Sorvino (Sandra Goodwin), Johann Carlo (Toby Stempel) and Allan Rich (Robert Kintner).


The Hurt Locker (2008, Kathryn Bigelow)

When The Hurt Locker gets predictable, it gets into trouble. Of the super predictable events, there was only one thing I didn’t get right. The Hurt Locker, which uses its recognizable faces in bit parts better than any film in a while (I don’t know the last time Ralph Fiennes was so good–he ought to do a spin-off), eventually falls victim to its traditional, melodramatic narrative.

It’s too bad, because as it plays out in vignettes, The Hurt Locker is incredibly impressive. Maybe it hiccups too when Brian Geraghty’s character, who’s something of discreet protagonist (he gets his own scenes while Anthony Mackie does not), exits. While Jeremy Renner turns in a fantastic performance in the lead, it’s a flashy, movie star performance.

The film succeeds because of Renner, Mackie and Geraghty and their relationship with one another. Except when it draws attention to those relationships developing, then it runs into a lot of problems–Bigelow and writer Mark Boal don’t set up the film to allow for big melodramatic expositional reveals so when the film concludes on them… well, it feels icky.

There might not be a good way to end the film though, since it is such a haphazard collection of events–much of the film revolves around the bomb squad unit’s missions and once it doesn’t, well, it’s a signal flare of the end of the second act and the beginning of the third and it’s all downhill from there.

It’s still an impressive work.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow; written by Mark Boal; director of photography, Barry Ackroyd; edited by Bob Murawski and Chris Innis; music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders; production designer, Karl Juliusson; produced by Bigelow, Boal, Nicolas Chartier and Greg Shapiro; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Jeremy Renner (Staff Sgt. William James), Anthony Mackie (Sgt. J.T. Sanborn), Brian Geraghty (Specialist Owen Eldridge), Ralph Fiennes (Contractor Team Leader), David Morse (Colonel Reed) and Guy Pearce (Sgt. Matt Thompson).


Red Dragon (2002, Brett Ratner)

It’s hard to know what to think of Red Dragon. While it’s an adaptation of a novel, it’s also a remake of Manhunter, whether the film wants to acknowledge it or not. It’s got Danny Elfman doing the score, so it’s scary (though he does seem rather influenced by early 1990s Morricone) and director Ratner works in the opposite direction of what Mann accomplished in Manhunter.

It also features Edward Norton’s worst performance. I watched it wondering what he used the money on and apparently he used it to finance 25th Hour, which makes sense. It’s a bunch of Academy Award winning or nominated actors turning in lousy performances. Ralph Fiennes is goofy as a serial killer, Emily Watson barely holds her accent, Philip Seymour Hoffman is atrocious–it’s the kind of movie where if Harvey Keitel were drinking through the whole thing, it’d be funny. Instead, he’s not and it’s not. It’s depressing.

I think the worst served has got to be Mary-Louise Parker, who’s so boring as Norton’s wife, her outfits have more personality. Anthony Hopkins is crappy, but in his unspectacular way he’s crappy. He’s top-billed on a conductor-less train wreck.

There should be something to recommend Red Dragon–it’s an immensely watchable (at least once) curiosity, just because it’s so lousy and such a drab remake of Manhunter. It’s supposedly more faithful to the source novel–no surprise, Mann made some significant improvements.

Norton looks about fifteen in it, wearing his dad’s suits.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Brett Ratner; screenplay by Ted Tally, based on the novel by Thomas Harris; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Mark Helfrich; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Hannibal Lecter), Edward Norton (Will Graham), Ralph Fiennes (Francis Dolarhyde), Harvey Keitel (Jack Crawford), Emily Watson (Reba McClane), Mary-Louise Parker (Molly Graham), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Freddy Lounds), Anthony Heald (Dr. Frederick Chilton), Ken Leung (Lloyd Bowman) and Frankie Faison (Barney Matthews).


The Constant Gardener (2005, Fernando Meirelles)

With two major exceptions, The Constant Gardener is defined by what it is not rather than what it is… It is not a thriller, it is not a mystery, it might not even be a narrative. It is a (justified) condemnation of Western pharmaceutical companies–with Western government’s express permission–treatment of sick African peoples. It’s also a masterfully made film; Fernando Meirelles probably makes two errors throughout. Besides the wonderful cinematography, the editing is exquisite (possibly the first time I’ve ever described editing with that word). But, mostly due to the presence of Ralph Fiennes and some physically realized daydreams, The Constant Gardener comes off a lot like The English Patient, only relevant.

The film, rather interestingly, so inhuman, so vile, a James Bond villain would be taking notes. These villains–played wonderfully by Danny Huston and Bill Nighy (Huston’s just magnificent)–are, of course, members of the British government. While the film could be an exploration of evil men who do evil things but still play cricket with their children in filmic moments meant to bring attention to that contradiction, it is not.

The first forty minutes are Rachel Weisz playing Joan of Arc. It’s possibly Weisz’s best (or only good) performance, but since she is playing the finest human being ever to walk (or possibly levitate above) the earth, Meirelles would have to be incompetent to not get such a performance out of her. And Meirelles is far from incompetent. He gets more humanity out of Fiennes, with his stylized cinéma vérité in domestic situations, than anyone else ever has. Following Weisz’s death (it’s not a spoiler, the film opens with it then awkwardly goes into flashback for forty minutes), Fiennes takes over on his investigation into her death. His investigation being the most boring investigation I can ever remember seeing in a film. It’s long and boring and predictable (there is no mystery to be solved really) and the film’s filled with scenes for edifying the audience in regards to what’s going on in Africa with drug companies.

I would have said it was a preaching-to-the-choir film, but then I remembered when it was out and I know a lot of dumb people who went to go see it, so hopefully it did inform. Hopefully it did make some really ignorant people realize what’s going on.

But as a film? As a story? Meirelles goes so far as to mimic a bunch of English Patient shots. Like shots from the poster.

Without the politics, The Constant Gardener would have been–well, it wouldn’t have been. But all there is to the film is the information and the emotional effect of seeing it. Weisz’s death, the supposed impetus, is as useless as the miscarriage her character suffers for no reason other than to introduce a character, a mystery, and kill some time, make the audience feel even sorry for Joan of Arc.

Pete Postlethwaite shows up for a bit and it’s nice to see him. Gerard McSorley is good.

The film does succeed (I mean, I’m referring to it as a film, aren’t I?) on some levels–and maybe it succeeds on all the ones it’s trying to succeed on–but it’s lack of narrative ambition is startling and somewhat distressing.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fernando Meirelles; screenplay by Jeffrey Caine, based on the novel by John le Carré; director of photography, César Charlone; edited by Claire Simpson; music by Alberto Iglesias; production designer, Mark Tildesley; produced by Simon Channing Williams; released by Focus Features.

Starring Ralph Fiennes (Justin Quayle), Rachel Weisz (Tessa Quayle), Danny Huston (Sandy Woodrow), Bill Nighy (Sir Bernard Pellegrin), Pete Postlethwaite (Lorbeer), Hubert Koundé (Dr. Arnold Bluhm) and Gerard McSorley (Sir Kenneth Curtiss).


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007, David Yates)

I’m out of touch. I realized I saw three blockbusters this summer, something I hadn’t done since 1999 or so. When the opportunity to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix presented itself, I leapt at it. I figured I could get a good sense of the state of the Hollywood blockbuster. Amusingly, I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t get up and walk out when Phoenix got too bad… which was immediately following the stylized Warner Bros. logo. Oh, my God… it wasn’t shot on DV. It was shot on film. Wow. Now, I’m not sure. Did they film everything against green screens and insert the backgrounds or is Slawomir Idziak really the worst working cinematographer today? Wow. I mean, Phoenix is ugly looking, but I figured they had a technical excuse. Obviously, director David Yates wasn’t going to fix it, because he’s terrible, but wow.

What else… I mean, there’s no point in talking about something so absurdly god-awful, but these big budget movies and the effects are on par with The Last Starfighter for CG and Superman IV for flying effects. Where’s the money go?

I only saw the first half of the first Harry Potter movie, back when Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson were kids and had be judged by kid-level acting. They’re not kids anymore and they’re both awful. It’s a toss-up who’s worse. Rupert Grint’s fine, so’s Evanna Lynch (except her direction probably consisted of “act weird”), most of the adults are terrible–except Alan Rickman. Gary Oldman’s performance suggests a pirate movie, which makes him amusing I suppose, but certainly not worthwhile. Imelda Staunton’s particularly terrible as the villain, but the role’s so bad, what what she going to do? I imagine Yates as bad a director of actors as he is of cinematographers.

I hear from Harry Potter fans, or from one anyway, the adaptation is particularly bad in this case. Michael Goldenberg’s script is heinous (I don’t remember having any serious adverse reaction to Steve Kloves’s script for the first one, or the half I saw).

It’s unbelievable. I reminded of a certain line from Aliens and I’m actually to type it but, I imagine, someone familiar with that film would know the line of which I am thinking. Ripley with the company suits. That line.

Wow, what an ugly movie. It’s so poorly lighted, it’s like a poorly lighted Peter Hyams movie. But four blockbusters in one summer? I think, given the note I’m ending on, it’ll be another eight years.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Yates; written by Michael Goldenberg, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling; director of photography, Slawomir Idziak; edited by Mark Day; music by Nicholas Hooper; production designer, Stuart Craig; produced by David Heyman and David Barron; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid), Warwick Davis (Filius Flitwick), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort), Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Maggie Smith (Minerva McGonagall), Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Emma Thompson (Sybill Trelawney), Julie Walters (Mrs. Weasley), Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge), Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Katie Leung (Cho Chang) and Harry Melling (Dudley Dursley).


Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005, Nick Park and Steve Box)

So how does Nick Park do feature-length? He does really good.

The Wallace and Gromit adventures are always good (is there one that’s less than the rest, I think so, but can’t remember which one), so I wasn’t worried about The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in that way. Maybe I wasn’t worried about Were-Rabbit at all. I suppose, during the endless previews for shitty “family” movies, there was a tingling of possible badness, but it went away during the the opening credits of Were-Rabbit.

Wallace and Gromit are audience proprietary… people show you the Wallace and Gromit movies. When you meet another person who loves them, you sort of nod. There’s no secret handshake, but it’s implied. I suppose that’s the worst worry of Were-Rabbit, that it would somehow fail and Wallace and Gromit would then fail. Nick Park’s done an amazing thing–he’s managed never to disappoint and Park’s got a really varied audience.

I don’t know, necessarily, that I want another Wallace and Gromit feature, though. I want the same methods in making it applied to short films, just so we get more stories. Still, it’s amazing how much Park got away with–he assumes the audience has a real familiarity with the characters, something you probably aren’t supposed to do with films of this nature, something I’m sure DreamWorks had went into a fit about (they also wanted to replace Wallace’s voice).

I don’t really know what else to say about it.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nick Park and Steve Box; written by Box, Park, Mark Burton and Bob Baker; directors of photography, Dave Alex Riddett and Tristan Oliver; edited by David McCormick and Gregory Perler; music by Julian Nott; produced by Claire Jennings, Carla Shelley, Peter Lord, David Sproxton and Park; released by DreamWorks Animation.

Starring Peter Sallis (Wallace), Ralph Fiennes (Victor Quartermaine), Helena Bonham Carter (Lady Campanula Tottington), Peter Kay (P.C. Mackintosh), Nicholas Smith (the Rev. Clement Hedges) and Liz Smith (Mrs. Mulch).


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