Friday, September 14, 2007

Yet More from Toronto

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Focus Features, 115mins, PG-13

Written and Directed
by Shekhar Kapur

Here we go again. The Tudors are back. It’s the same old thing plowing the same old ground, generally with the same old people. Now I’m not saying that Elizabeth the First wasn’t a major historical figure, or that her life wasn’t dramatic, but when there’s the fifth or sixth film or TV series in as many years or more, it begins to get a bit much. Since 2005, there has been two miniseries; “The Virgin Queen” and “Elizabeth I” both of which plow pretty much the same ground as this one, and going back in time, there are between 25 and 30 films on the subject of the so-called “virgin queen.”

One can see making a film on a certain subject once every five or ten years, but we’ve been having Tudor overkill, what with these and the Henry VIII miniseries on Showtime® and they keep on going over the exact same ground.

The Spanish King Philip II (Jordi Molla) is extremely mad at English Queen Elizabeth I’s (Cate Blanchett) being an Anglican instead of a Catholic and keeping the former Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) prisoner in a castle, so he sends the Spanish Armada. Meanwhile, spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) is doing his best to frame Mary for treason, while that dashing explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) woos both the Queen and her lady-in-waiting Bess Throkmorton(Abbie Cornish). I don’t know if the Raleigh romance has been done much before, but it seems that like it does. HM’s jealous of Sir So-and-so’s playing around with some bimbo lady-in-waiting as the ships from Spain spread preemptive terror before they inevitably sink.

The film, unlike the first one from 1998, is an epic instead of a slasher film. Kapour spends a lot of money on fancy costumes and sheer spectacle as pretty nothing much happens. While Blanchett has a grand old time, and Owen does his best Errol Flynn impression, no one else has all that much to do, especially Morton, who just sits there looking pissed off.

The buildup of suspense as the Armada approaches is disingenuous, as pretty much anyone who’s interested in a film like this knows how it’s going to come out. We KNOW how it’s going to end, so why waste the money? Her great speech could have been done without the shenanigans. They say one way to damn a film is to praise the sets. Let it be done. The sets are magnificent, the acting is rather good, but the script sucks. Wait until it comes to cable.

Lars and the Real Girl
MGM Pictures, 106mins, TBA

Directed by
Craig Gillespie

Lars Lindstrom(Ryan Gosling) is a shy, sensitive soul, who has a bit of a screw loose. He lives somewhere in either the northern Midwest or central Canada in a bungalow just outside the home of his brother Gus(Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law Karin(Emily Mortimer). He’s not violent or really dysfunctional or anything like that, he holds down a job and all, but he has difficulty relating to people and hates being touched.

Everyone in town, wants to fix him up, but that’s not what he wants, well he does, but not exactly that way. When the coworker in the cubicle next to his (Max McCabe) comes upon a website [—quite genuine], and shows it to our hero, something strange happens. A large box arrives at Lars’ door and he suddenly announces that he has a new girlfriend named Bianca, whom he wants Gus and Karen to host in the spare bedroom. She's a wheelchair-bound Brazilian-Danish nun on sabbatical to experience the world. The pair are thrilled until they discover she’s plastic.

Poor Bianca has some health problems, so Lars and his family take her to see Dagmar(Patricia Clarkson), the local GP, who also has a degree in psychology. Her advice, play along. Soon, the whole town is into it, and Bianca is having more of a social life than Lars is, and our hero is forced into going on a date with coworker Margo(Kelli Garner). Screenwriter Nancy Oliver has come up with something really strange and wonderful. A film about mental illness where no one gets hurt and everyone is actually rather nice.

This is a story of recovery and growth, not a gross-out comedy like many a filmmaker would do nowadays. The acting is top notch, especially Gosling and Schneider, who could have easily been depicted as one-dimensional cartoons instead of real people. It’s refreshing and extremely likeable. This is one of those films which is worth going full price.

Sony Classics, 88mins, R

Directed by
Kenneth Branagh

Back in 1972, Anthony Shaffer adapted his play “Sleuth” to the silver screen, directed by the great Joseph Mankiewicz, and starring the greater Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. This is a classic film of it’s kind, was made by most of the same people who created the stage play, and stands the test of time. So why does this have to be remade? Surely, Harold Pinter, who’s a great writer in his own right, doesn’t need to piss on someone else’s work, and while Kenneth Branagh has had trouble getting a distributor of late for his previous couple of films, remaking a classic surely won’t help his reputation. So why do it at all?

Okay, as we know from the original flick, an actor named Milo Tindle(Jude Law) goes to the home of fabulously rich mystery writer
Andrew Wyke(Michael Caine), to demand that the latter divorce his wife so the former can marry her. This leads to all sorts of fun and games with that with Pinter rewriting all that wonderful dialogue that Shaffer originally wrote back in the day. Okay, while some tweaking is needed, in order to update a timeless work, Pinter does something completely unforgivable. He tacks on a completely new final act.

Now one can say,” But it’s HAROLD PINTER!!!! He’s a giant of the theater!” and that would be true, but, even though all sorts of things can be done with the staging and such, the text is generally held sacred, and a book isn’t a play, and this isn’t James Bond, where only the title makes it on screen, or a project where the first version was so bad that the original material cries out for a better adaptation. No. This is a movie that really has no right to be made, sort of like a remake of “Casablanca,” which by the way, came out in 1983.

As to the film itself, the acting is perfectly fine. Jude Law gives one of the best performances of his career, and Michael Caine, who was in the first version, has a wonderful time doing the other part. The thing is by no means bad. Everyone does a professional job from beginning to end, but this is still nowhere near as good as the first version. Rent that, or wait until this comes out on cable.

Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains
Sony Classics, 125min TBA

A documentary Directed
by Jonathan Demme

When I was 19, I went all the way from Washington, DC, where I was attending college, to Westchester County, New York in order to cast my very first vote in an election. I voted for Jimmy Carter and I’ve regretted it ever since. Jimmy Carter has been a force for evil in the world and his getting the Nobel Peace Prize was a travesty of justice.

Sure, he’s done SOME good during his extremely long ex-presidency, building all those homes for example, but for the most part, he’s spent his life coddling dictators and scolding democrats, making sure that American interests are fought at every step of the way. His victims number in the millions.

Late last year, he spewed out an anti-Semitic piece of rubbish called “Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid” and then went on a book tour. He got famed director Jonathan Demme to follow him while he flew around the country signing books and fighting the perfidious Jews, who generally were insulted by his bogus and bigoted meanderings.

This is a puff piece, a promotional video for the book. The Jews are generally depicted as a bunch of whining, ultra-sensitive losers, who loudly protest whenever their evil Zionist masters give the order. This goes from Alan Dershowitz to some jerk on the phone.

This is of course SAINT Jimmy, who carries his own bags and takes commercial airlines [okay, so he flies first class—he IS a former President, after all], and is polite to one and all, especially those who fawn on the autograph line.

Meanwhile, Israel and the “occupied” territories are depicted as Hell on Earth, using years-old footage juxtaposed with footage from the book tour in order to show that nothing has changed and that Gaza is still occupied by the perfidious Jews who won’t let the terrorists free access to Israel proper. The SHAME!

This is a promotional film. It was always supposed to be a promotional film, and while it may have a place showing at the Carter Presidential Library and Museum, it has no place getting money at the local bijou. Demme should be ashamed of himself.

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