The King’s Speech

The King’s SpeechKings_speech_ver3

Its Oscar time once more and try as I might, there are just too many films to see – and not all are available to watch.  My wife and I really wanted to see this one though.  I enjoy drama when it focuses upon historical material most of all, as “The King’s Speech” did.

The film follows the speech-impaired “Bertie”, known to history as the father of the current Queen of England and as King George VI.  Bertie was thrown into his kingship at the advent of WWII, when England sorely needed a strong leader.  His father passes away and the throne passes first to Bertie’s older brother, Edward VIII.  Alas, poor Edward wants to marry Wallis Simpson an American divorcee.  His impending marriage threatens the stability of the Empire and Parliament will not stand for it.  So, Edward abdicates the throne in favor of Bertie.

The film chronicles the events well, and shows us the attempts made by the once-Duke and Duchess of York to cure his stammering.  The nation wanted someone that could speak for them, and this man had a big problem in that very department.  I found the film to treat the material with grace and kindness, which I would expect since this is an English film.  But it was the actors that made this movie Oscar material.

Colin Firth may very well win at the Academy Awards for his portrayal of the Duke of York as he ascends the throne.  Helena Bonham Carter was also superb in the film.  These two would have been enough to make the movie a smash hit with the critics, but it was the addition of Geoffery Rush as the Duke’s unorthodox speech therapist that seals the deal.  Rush is positively brilliant in the movie and he makes Colin Firth shine all the more in the scenes with just the two of them.  Firth has always been a very talented actor that never seemed to be cast quite right.  In “The King’s Speech”, his talent is showcased and I have a hard time imagining anyone else playing the role so well.

Carter’s portrayal of the Duchess of York is subtle and very sincere.  You believe her as a wife that cares so much for her husband that she’d do anything to help.  She and Rush both seem to do just the right amount of support for Firth, who in turn delivers a stunning performance.  How on Earth anyone can fake a stammer and a little lisp that is so subtle as to be almost inaudible is beyond me!  Kudos to the Director of the film, Tom Hooper, for utilizing such a fine cast with such a deft hand.

So, without having seen a lot of other Oscar-nominated films, I can’t say “the King’s Speech” is a sure winner for Best Picture.  However, I CAN say that Firth, Carter, Rush, and Hooper are all extremely strong candidates for winners in all their respective categories.  I highly recommend this film to anyone with an interest in speech therapy, history, or just drama.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

 

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Valkyrie

Valkyrie”  Valkyrie_poster

Sometimes you wish the best for certain directors because they seem to possess a real gift.  Bryan Singer is one of those for me.  Since “the Usual Suspects”, I have been rooting for Singer.  When I heard he was doing “X-Men”, I was thrilled.  I also wasn’t disappointed.  He proved himself quite adept at handling the super-hero genre.  Heck, he managed to direct a sequel that was as big – if not bigger – than the original in “X-Men 2”.  He may have been misguided when he ditched on the 3rd X-Men movie to make “Superman Returns”; the film was such a dud that even DC Comics admits to thoughts of remaking that film already.  So, when I heard that Singer was getting a crack at “Valkyrie” – a film based upon the real events surrounding the assassination plot against Hitler by his own officers – I thought it would be a slam dunk of a success.  When I heard the talent discussed as being in the film, I was even more excited.

I should have expected the inevitable outcome though.  I mean, after all, we know that Hitler was not assassinated.

The talents of the actors in this film are impressive.  Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy (whom I absolutely love!), Kenneth Branagh, and the enduring Terence Stamp are all just phenomenal!  These men are just plain brilliant actors.  No matter what they do, they always leave an impression.  Their resumes are HUGE and exceedingly wondrous.  Even Tom Cruise can be fairly brilliant, depending on the movie: I look no farther than “Born on the 4th of July”, “A Few Good Men”, and “The Last Samurai” for proof of that.  I saw “Valkyrie” as a chance for Singer to get back up to where he belongs.  I wanted him to have another killer of a hit.

I love WWII films.  I eat them up.  (Ask anybody that knows me how many times I have watched “Band of Brothers” for proof.)  I may be one of but a few folks out there that can actually watch “the Longest Day” again and again.  It’s very exciting subject matter to me for many varied reasons.  If there is a film centered on WWII out there that I have NOT seen then it is a RARE film.  Needless to say, I thought the combination of Singer as a director, the storyline, and the amazing cast was a perfect combination.

Sadly, the film doesn’t live up to my expectations.  It wasn’t a bad movie.  It just wasn’t a great movie.  It lacked something.  Maybe it was the story?  The plot fails, Hitler lives.  Rats.  Then again, we already knew that – since that’s what really happened.  Was I simply looking for too much from this film?  Maybe so.  You have to admit though, it sure sounded good.

When it is all said and done, I will continue to root for Bryan Singer in hopes that someday he will achieve another critical success like “The Usual Suspects”.  “Valkyrie” may not have been it, but it wasn’t a bad movie.  I suppose I was just expecting more.  A note to all directors out there though: if you have Kenneth Branagh in you movie, don’t limit his screen time to 15 minutes.  That is infuriating.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

  • Valkyrie (cinemaglimpses.wordpress.com)

Robin Hood

Robin Hood” (2010) Robin_Hood_2010_poster

I am sure many of you know about my private obsession with the legendary tale of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.  I own every version of the story on DVD (save for the silent film version, and “Robin & Marian” starring Sean Connery & Katherine Hepburn) – and I have seen ALL of the renditions of the tale.  Yes, I am a proud fan of Robin Hood – and it has nothing to do with wearing green tights. 😉  On a historical note, did you know that the love story of Robin and Marian is the very 1st world-wide love story to be presented on stage and in song?  That’s right folks: this love story was known throughout Europe centuries before Romeo & Juliet.

I am also a huge fan of Ridley Scott.  Truthfully, I have yet to see a film of his that I didn’t like!  So, when I heard that one of my favorite stories was getting a fresh new look at the hands of the great Mr. Scott, I was more than a little excited.  I waited for this to come to the “cheap” theaters, and then missed my opportunity to see it!  Sadly, I was forced to wait until it was released on DVD.  For my birthday, “Robin Hood” arrived and I immediately had to watch it!  (My family really knows how to make me a happy man!)

Ridley did not disappoint.  This version of the tale is a somewhat grittier version of the legendary archer and his struggle against tyranny.  A couple of key points I would like to make about this version of the story: 1) Ridley paints a most unflattering picture of Richard “the Lion Heart”, and 2) Ridley presents a wider view of the events surrounding Prince John and his ambition for the throne of England.  The film starts with the Crusades, which is more looting and pillaging across France (via Richard) than any heroic battles against the “infidels”.  I believe that Richard’s fame was always a little overblown, and I know that several historians have tried to discredit the so-called great king of England over the last several years.  Granted, this is all conjecture.  I don’t know if he was the great king or not, but history does say that the facts are pretty solid concerning his war-faring ways.  So, maybe Ridley wanted to present a different version of King Richard than the usually heroic view.  It’s different and I liked it for that reason.

As for the events surrounding Prince John and his quest for the throne of England, Ridley paints a larger view of the world with John having conflict and issue with King Phillip of France.  I think this helps the story a bit more because it paints John in both a slightly sympathetic light and it presents the arena of politics.  This latter part is almost completely ignored in most films about Robin Hood.  I believe it is due to the murky nature of the politics of the age.  That and I don’t know how much fact can be ascertained about that time period.

I know that some people will say that Cate Blanchett is not the prettiest Maid Marian, but honestly, I felt she was perfect for the role.  She is an exquisite actress, and she is English which allowed the accent to fit perfectly.  As for Russell Crowe as Robin, it was a decent fit.  Crowe is a fine actor, but he just isn’t what I imagine for the look of Robin Hood.  Regardless, he carried the role with ease.  And, as a bonus, Ridley portrays Robin as a Welsh yeoman.  In other words, Robin is more of a common man, an archer in the militia and has a vaguely Scottish or Irish accent.  Crowe depicts Robin to be a rogue, a kind of clever misfit that is a little more larcenous than the usual depiction of the character.  I liked this presentation of the two main characters because the story unfolds more naturally – as does the romance between them.

Too many times in other versions of the tale, Robin and Marian seem to fall in love at 1st glance and then he spends the rest of the movie trying to save this damsel in distress.  The story is so well known that you often feel like everything you are about to see is a foregone conclusion.  I didn’t feel that way with this treatment of the story.  I really wanted to see how Marian and Robin developed into a relationship.  Ridley conducts this element of the story with such grace and the actors do an INCREDIBLE job and easing into it that I was cheering for them by the end of the movie.  Yes, it takes the entire movie for them to finally get together!  I loved that too!  It wasn’t rushed and thus was allowed to develop as gradual as you can do in a 2 ½ hour stretch of film.

Ridley did a nice job creating a background story that seems more plausible than a noble deciding to become an outlaw just to thwart tyranny.  In this “Robin Hood”, the hero sort of falls into his role – partially by bad decisions and partially due to politics.  The line of “rise & rise again until lambs become lions” is poorly integrated into the story with some lame back story of how Robin’s father was executed for being a political activist.  In my opinion, Ridley should have had Robin learn about the meaning of the phrase through interaction with the other characters.  (Speaking of which, they were a plethora of colorful supporting characters that were acted extremely well in this movie!)  Regardless, the movie moves so quickly past this that it doesn’t detract from the film as a whole.

So, with much enthusiasm, I highly recommend this different take on the mythic tale of the bandits of Sherwood Forest.  I am also excited to say that this is the 1st film in a trilogy!  This is not a commercial Hollywood bland rendition of Robin’s tale.  Instead, it is a more realistic look at what may have occurred to inspire such a legend!  It’s not a history lesson and there may be discrepancies.  However, I dare say that NO ONE knows what really happened.  Was Robin only partnered with Marian or was there a Chlorinda?  Was Richard actually King during Robin’s tales, or was it Edward?  Was Robin the Earl of Huntington or not?  Who knows???  My advice: grab some mead and sit down to relish in the extraordinary vision of Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood”!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

Miracle at St. Anna

Miracle at St. AnnaMiracle_at_St._Anna_film_poster

This was just an interesting idea: Spike Lee combined with WWII history.  It sounds different, right?  It sounded different enough to me to make me want to see this one.  Another recent film by Spike Lee caught me completely by surprise.  That film was “Inside Man” with Denzel Washington – fantastic film, by the way.   I am always proud to admit that Spike Lee’s films always resonate with me.  These are movies you remember, or at least I do.

So, I thought maybe “Miracle” would be another surprise movie.  It was, but it wasn’t nearly as good as I hoped.  There are some memorable characters and some pretty riveting action scenes, but overall it wasn’t quite an EXCELLENT movie.  It was good and certainly worthwhile to watch – just don’t be in a hurry to catch this one.  I think the only real problem with the film was that it was sort of all over the place.

The film starts by showing a sad WWII vet watching “the Longest Day” on TV back in 1983.  He reminds the Duke that “we found for this country too, Pilgrim”.  Suddenly, we follow this gentleman into his work day and he meets someone at his window in the post office that compels him to draw a German Luger and shoot the man dead!  Fast forward into a young reporter trying to interview the man in jail to get his story, where he cryptically says “I know who the Sleeping Man is”.  From here the film zips into full-blown flashback.  The film from here on out takes place back in WWII when the Buffalo Soldiers where fighting in Italy.

I would say that there are probably at least 4 different subplots going on during the WWII portion of the film.  There is the little boy Arturo.  There is the mysterious “Butterfly” and the Nazis who hunt him.  There is Ludevico and his political alliance to Mussolini.  Of course, there is also somewhat of a racial background story involving all the soldiers.  Really though, the subplots take away from the in-depth exploration of these issues.  It gets confusing quickly.  I wish Lee had paced it out longer; I think that would have helped the film.

As I said, it’s a good movie that is longer than it needed to be and had too many subplots going on within it.  The acting is very good – Derek Luke shines.  The writing is also done pretty well – though I have to admit, I was a little confused by the massive use of subtitles.  If you are interested in WWII history, then this film certainly is worth a watch.  It gives you a least a snapshot of an aspect of the War that is hardly ever talked about.  It this way, it reminds me of “Windtalkers” and the American Indians who fought in WWII.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

Michael Collins

Michael CollinsMichael_collins_dvd

So here it is St. Patrick’s Day once more, and being the nutty Irishman that I am I thought I would review this slightly older film that has sadly been passed over.  What’s new about that though?  I mean, America has been ignoring the Irish plight for forever any way.  I have great sympathy for the Irish and specifically for the Irish Republic.  I also admire Michael Collins, who – at the age of 31 – had brought the British Empire to its knees.  He did what no man had ever dreamt of: he got the British government to acknowledge the Irish plight for freedom.  The tragedy of his life is beautifully retold in this film.

The film stars Liam Neeson as Michael, and he looks disturbingly similar to the heroic figure.  Aidan Quinn also stars as Collins’ right hand man, Harry.  Quinn is wonderful as he brings this character to life.  Julia Roberts also stars as the woman caught in the middle of the strife of the Irish Republic and the British Empire.  She’s perfectly fit for the part, though I do believe more could have been done with the character – a fault on the writer’s end.  The film is directed by Neil Jordan whom so few people ever recall as a director.  Jordan has director several films that I believe require a very delicate hand.  Those films include “Interview with a Vampire” and “the Crying Game”.

The real let down of this movie is Alan Rickman, whom is far too British to play an Irishman – especially one as complicated as “Dev”, Eamon De Valera.  I love Rickman, but this is not a good fit for him.  Neeson on the other hand does a fantastic job of capturing the passionate oration of Collins.  However, I was a little disappointed by Jordan’s treatment of Collins.  He continuously is portrayed as this brute of a man from West Cork: a “bog man”.  However, in real life, Collins was an astute businessman and financier.  Collins raised a TON of money for the cause of the Irish Republic and he did it while on the run from the Brits.  As with most biopic pictures, there is often a gap in the true story in lieu of making a “more interesting” film.  I disagree with that approach, but I understand the need to shorten some aspects of a life to the point of omission for the sake of run time conservation.

The film may not be entirely accurate to the real story, but I can forgive these gaps because this film is very, very good.  It is a tr

Lincoln

“Lincoln” Lincoln_2012_Teaser_Poster

If you enjoy history, particularly American Civil War history – then you should enjoy “Lincoln”.  Steven Spielberg is at it again and bringing one whopper of drama into theaters just in time for Award Season.  “Lincoln” is filled with greatness.  I overheard some folks that are familiar with the business fuss about the technical aspects of the movie.  WHATEVER!  Folks, do yourselves a favor and go see “Lincoln”!  Every American should watch this movie, really.  Probably the greatest criticism I can give to this film is that I didn’t feel like I was watching a movie.  I felt like I was watching history unfold.

Daniel Day-Lewis is astounding as Honest Abe.  He is without question the frontrunner in every award race this season for best actor.  His performance is so good, that I would rank it right up there with anything that Meryl Streep has done.  Yeah, his performance is THAT good.  If he doesn’t win Golden Globe/Oscar/SAG award, then the movie industry is just plain imbalanced.  His mannerisms are so natural that I was swearing to myself that surely that is what Mr. Lincoln must have sounded like.  His walk, his voice, his hand gestures – everything about him seemed so right!  I wondered if the stories he tells in the movie were really anecdotes that the President actually said.  The line between fiction and reality is so wonderfully blurred by Lewis’ performance that I wanted to give him a standing ovation at the end of the film!

The film is a dramatic piece and it focuses on the political proceedings surrounding the amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery forever.   It is part Civil War “West Wing” and part courtroom drama.  Both appeal to me, so it was all good.  The best part about the story was seeing how close we came as a people to shelving this crucial Amendment.  It was Lincoln that altered that course of history and every time I read about his choices as President I am simply astounded.  Abraham Lincoln was truly a great President.  You want to know what a magnificent leader he was?  I suggest you watch this movie!  I know a lot of films like to embellish the truth a little (or a terrible amount, depending) to make a better movie.  I get it; it’s fiction – not a documentary.  Still though, “Lincoln” seems to give it to you straight as well as handing you the periphery storylines concerning some of the other key players.  Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (played by Tommy Lee Jones) was one such tale.

I saw so many wonderful other performances in this film too. James Spader is fantastic, and so too is Sally Field!  Tommy Lee Jones is fairly brilliant as well, but that could also just be chalked up to GREAT casting.  Sally Field as Mrs. Lincoln was just simply perfect; I don’t think anyone could have done a better job with that role.  Hal Holbrook, Jason Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce McGill, and Jackie Earle Haley, and Jared Harris (that’s Moriarty!) are all brilliant in the film as well.

I can say that without question, this film is a masterpiece.  It is utterly realistic and wonderfully executed.  Kudos to Speilberg once more!  This is a holiday treat worth every penny and at 2 hours, 30 minutes, it makes you feel like you have truly gotten your money’s worth.  BRAVO, Mr. Daniel Day-Lewis!!!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE