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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Roth’

Long-term readers may recall the somewhat bad mood I was toppled into by a succession of movies early last year, all of them clearly pitching for awards recognition, which seemed to me to be overplaying the worthy-doom-and-gloom card a tad. Maybe you will recall some of them yourself: the Mandela movie, Dallas Buyers Club, and above all 12 Years a Slave. Whatever else you might say about this year’s gong contenders, there is a bit more light and shade going on: the films seem intended to be thought-provoking rather than outright depressing.

That said, this year’s particular awards controversy is the recognition, or otherwise, of Ava DuVernay’s Selma. If nothing else, the academy has made trouble for itself by nominating Selma for Best Picture but not nominating DuVernay for Best Director. Presumably they think the quality of the film is just an accident for which DuVernay had no responsibility, I don’t know. This is a recurring problem created by the necessity to give directors and producers separate Oscars, I suppose: The Two Towers, still to my mind the best of the Lord of the Rings films, fell into the same hole.

There is also, of course, the wider issue that this year all the acting nominees, across the board, are – how can I put this? – mono-ethnic. There is a hefty discussion to be had here concerning the different roles and responsibilities of AMPAS and the major movie studios, which I do not propose to go into again, but one of the big questions is this: is the academy executing a snub by not even nominating David Oyelowo for his performance here?

selmaposter

Oyelowo does not play someone called Selma, in case you were wondering. He plays Martin Luther King, who at the start of the film is being en-Nobelled for his role in bringing about the end of institutional segregation in the USA. (The film is set in the mid 1960s.) This does not stop him being a thorn in the side of Tom Wilkinson’s character, who is likewise not called Selma: he is Lyndon Johnson, the President at the time. King’s new cause is to fight for the rights of black voters in the southern US: the film features a powerful scene in which an elderly black woman not called Selma (played by Oprah Winfrey, who also produced the movie) attempts to register, but is denied the franchise by a racist functionary on outrageous grounds.

King and his fellow leaders of the civil rights movement head to Alabama, where this has taken place, judging it a good place to make a stand and raise public awareness of the issue. Set against this are a number of bigoted white officials, key amongst them Tim Roth: also not called Selma, he is playing the state governor George Wallace (he of ‘boo hoo’ fame). And so the stage is set for a momentous battle of wills between King and his supporters, and the establishment which – for various reasons – opposes them. The battleground is a small Alabama town called Selma, which if nothing else solves a mystery.

Well, the first thing I have to say is that I found Selma to be rather more to my taste than 12 Years a Slave. I hesitate to say that I genuinely enjoyed it, because it’s clearly meant to be an informative, almost ‘improving’ film, rather than a piece of honest-to-goodness entertainment. But, rather than simply being a guided tour of atrocities and horrors, it attempts to be a serious portrait of a still-iconic figure, as well as touching on some of the complexities of the civil rights movement not usually paid much attention.

There is, for example, an examination of the somewhat factionalised nature of the movement itself, with King and his followers being treated warily by other local groups in the Selma area: their complaint is that King’s group is all about publicity and headlines, rather than the long haul of grass-roots activisim. The antipathy between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X is also touched upon (the latter appears briefly as a character). So the film is not simply about heroic African Americans standing up to the Man (although there is, inevitably, an element of that). Nor is Dr King himself presented as a flawless living saint: Oyelowo does a fine job of capturing King’s remarkable oratorical style, but also depicts him as a man struggling to bear the burden of expectations placed upon him. The film touches gently upon the issue of some of King’s personal frailties, too.

That said, you could hardly call this an impartial portrait, nor would you really expect one, and the film reserves its anger for the forces of prejudice which King and the others must confront. The film constantly reminds the audience that the civil rights leadership was under non-stop FBI surveillance at this time, with King himself described as a ‘political and moral degenerate’ by J Edgar Hoover in one scene. Tim Roth, who really isn’t in the film very much, doesn’t seem to be making much attempt to find the humanity in Wallace, although Tom Wilkinson does his best to make Johnson understandable, if not entirely sympathetic.

This is a well-made film, thoughtful, with some good performances in it. But I suppose we must ask ourselves if it has itself been the issue of a racially-motivated snub: should it have been the subject of more critical praise and awards nominations? Well, obviously, it’s a hellishly subjective issue. Simply posing the question means you’re discussing the answer in a somewhat charged atmosphere.

To be honest, I think it’s quite brave of the academy not to nominate David Oyelowo for his performance, for playing Dr King is exactly the kind of role you would expect someone to get nominated for, provided they do a good job: not unlike Idris Elba for his performance as Nelson Mandela, in fact. One might almost get the sense that the academy would like to give awards to Mandela, or Dr King, or Stephen Hawking themselves, but they have to settle for awarding them by proxy instead. I am cynical enough to suspect that the main benefit of this for the academy is that it makes them look good, which is why, as I say, the decision not to nominate Oyelowo isn’t necessarily a bad one… but then again his performance is pretty impressive. It is, as I said, difficult to say.

To be honest, I think it may just be a case of bad timing: the academy clearly likes to appear to be a progressive and open-minded institution, but it doesn’t want to look like it has a fixation on a particular subject, and coming only twelve months after 12 Years a Slave probably hasn’t done Selma any favours. Giving top awards to two civil rights-themed films in succession isn’t the academy’s style.

And we have to ask ourselves whether we want awards to be given out based on principle, or achievement? Selma isn’t a bad film by any means, and its credentials and message are utterly laudable. It tells a story about an important moment in recent history, one which is still relevant half a century on. But I don’t think that in itself should be enough to guarantee the film nominations. This is a serious and heartfelt film, without any obvious weaknesses: but at the same time, it never quite soars, never completely surprises you. It’s a good film, and worth watching, if only for its insight into still-too-recent history. But a great film? Regrettably, no.

 

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2014 has, so far, proved to be a pretty good year cinematically, with genuinely great films of all kinds never seeming that far away: the first few months alone have seen the release of Under the Skin, The Raid 2, The Winter Soldier, and 12 Years A Slave (hey, I didn’t like it much, but as usual I’m in the minority). So it is only right and proper that the balance be somewhat restored by the unleashing upon the world of a complete dog.

So, then, to Olivier Dahan and his Grace of Monaco, another stab at the ever-popular celebrity biography movie. Or possibly the recent-history true-life drama genre. The family of some of those depicted in this film have kicked up a bit of a fuss about it, however, which is presumably why it opens with a caption carefully making it clear that this film, though based on historical events, is a work of fiction. A statement of artistic intent, or just an attempt to avez le cake et mangez it aussi? You decide, mon braves.

grace

Anyhoo, things get underway with the retirement of Oscar-winning actress Grace Kelly (Nicole Kidman) and her marriage to Prince Rainier (Tim Roth), ruler of the principality of Monaco. Five years on, Grace receives a visitation from Alfred Hitchcock, who wants her to come out of retirement and appear in Marnie opposite Sean Connery. Grace has been finding palace life a bit oppressive and is tempted, but there are wider concerns: Monaco’s status as a tax haven is rubbing their French neighbours up the wrong way and an international incident looms, with a blockade and potential invasion on the cards…

What follows is a multi-stranded narrative, with all the stories focussing on the Princess to some extent: there’s the wider, political crisis, with the attempt to persuade de Gaulle to back down and allow Monaco its independence, and then there’s some stuff about court intrigue in the House of Grimaldi and a possible traitor amongst Grace’s staff. Finally, there is the most personal story, about Grace struggling to reconcile her celebrity past and natural free spiritedness with the demands of her royal role. There’s a lot going on here, and Dahan does an impressive job of keeping it all balanced: all the elements are equally banal and exasperating.

It’s not just that this is a film which basically requires you to care about the fate of an ancient Mediterranean tax haven. Nor is it the not terribly subtle way in which the film is coded: it’s about a young blonde woman from a relatively humble background who marries into a royal family and finds it an oppressive experience – it may be Princess Grace’s name on the script, but we know whose story they’re really interested in. The real problems with Grace of Monaco arise from its clumping, banal script, peculiar casting and performances, and bizarre directorial choices.

There’s no life or sense of surprise to any of it, really: the dialogue is stilted and obvious. This film features a large number of very fine actors, everyone from Frank Langella to Derek Jacobi, and none of them makes very much impression. They are either stereotypes or completely inert. Tim Roth plays Rainier rather like a harassed bank manager – his Latin nature indicated primarily by the fact that he possesses a very thin moustache and always has a tab on the go.

And as for the direction… well, Dahan’s most obvious little trick at moments of key emotional importance is to park his camera about three inches away from Nicole Kidman’s face, so close that you can’t actually see it all at once. From here it wanders around as the situation demands – is she expressing emotion through her eye? Up goes the camera to take a look. Is she about to deliver some dialogue? The camera jerks down to cover her mouth, just in case. This gets very wearisome very quickly. Thankfully, he restrains himself during the climax of the film, which is essentially a speech from Kidman which goes on for what feels like ages, delivered practically straight down the camera lens. Even so, this just leaves us with a string of platitudes containing no real force or insight.

At least the cinematography is quite nice. I might even venture to say that Grace of Monaco is pretty and looks quite expensive, but is really much smaller and less interesting than it first appears – and that as such it really has quite a lot in common with Monaco itself. Whatever. Grace of Monaco is a movie which takes a relatively obscure period of recent history, uses it as the basis of a story, and in the process makes you realise how dry and tedious these events actually were.

 

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published July 3rd 2008: 

Friends, I have a confession to make. Mild mannered though I may appear, a terrible monster lurks inside me. I try to control it as best I can because I know the terrible suffering it can create when it runs out of control… but sometimes, no matter how I struggle, events conspire against me; a horrible mist obscures my vision, and I just… feel the urge… to REVIEW! Rarrgh! Awix review!!! Awix reviews everything in sight…!!! …until the critical ire of the beast is exhausted and I can relax and watch a Milla Jovovich movie without fear of an aneurysm.

Well, as luck would have it, today I found myself watching a film about a man with a similar problem, to wit The Incredible Hulk, directed by Louis Leterrier. This movie is a bold new concept as far as a wannabe summer blockbuster goes in that it’s a special-effects-laden adaptation of a classic American comic book. A bit of a gamble, I know. Who comes up with these crazy ideas?

Anyway. Edward ‘You’re Not Just Hiring An Actor, Even If That’s All You Actually Want’ Norton plays Bruce Banner, a fugitive scientist with anger management issues, who has fled the US and is hiding out in Brazil, presumably so he can get a tan, not because the other Bruce Banner (played by Eric Bana) ended up there at the end of the first Hulk movie (this gets complicated. Stay tuned). He is hiding out from the Army, and in particular General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross (William Hurt) and his moustache. This is because Banner has, rather nonchalantly, blasted his own brain with high-powered gamma rays (fairly unusual behaviour for a brilliant scientist, but bear in mind this is a Marvel movie), which means every time he gets ticked off or even just a bit excited he goes green, grows to about nine feet in height and demolishes everything in a two-mile radius. Banner can do without this, probably because the need to control his heart rate is wreaking havoc with his love life and there’s a very cute chick (Debora Nascimento) in his building who has a bit of a thing for him. However, the US Army, committed as ever to the precise and proportionate use of force, thinks that an army of berserk super-strong invulnerable ogres is just what they’re looking for and would quite like to talk to Banner about his giving a blood donation or twenty. As Ross is too American to be villainous enough for this kind of movie, he has recruited special forces expert Emil Blonsky to help him out in this department. Despite his name, Blonsky is British, mainly because it saves Tim Roth, who plays him, from having to do an accent. An inevitable freak accident, involving an even more inevitable cameo by Stan Lee, alerts Ross and Blonsky to Banner’s whereabouts, and off they go to Brazil to bring him home…

As you may recall this is Marvel’s second crack at a Hulk movie: the first one came out five years ago, was directed by Ang Lee, was rather overpraised by your correspondent at the time, and did rather indifferent business, probably because it was slow and talky, and the Hulk didn’t really start doing his stuff until the last forty-five minutes or so. The decision to do another movie may well come as a bit of a surprise then, but only to someone who’s forgotten the enormous name recognition and strength of the Hulk brand. (And it took Stan Lee two goes to get the comic right back in 1962, so it would be churlish to grumble.) This time, Marvel aren’t taking any chances as this is machine-tooled to be an absolutely mainstream blockbuster with some jokes, a proper bad guy, lots of stuff exploding, and absolutely no lingering close-ups of clumps of lichen growing on rocks.

This extends to completely ignoring the events of the first film, for all but that this starts roughly where that finished. The Hulk’s origin is retold in the opening credits and has been redone to be much more like the one in the TV show. The whole movie has been structured so as not to confuse people who only know the Hulk from the small screen – even Ed Norton’s hair has been redone to be much more like Bill Bixby’s (Bixby played Banner on the telly) – while still catering to purists who prefer the comic version. The movie covers all its bases to the extent that, at one point, Jack McGee and Jim Wilson (supporting cast from different parts of the franchise) cameo in the same scene. Their appearance, like that of Doc Samson (bear with me, normal people), is pretty much an in-name-only affair, solely calculated to push fanboy buttons.

Now that Marvel have their own film studio they have much more latitude to do this sort of thing. The main example of this in this movie is the way in which the origin of the main bad guy, the Abomination, has been redone. No longer is he just an evil version of the Hulk! No, now he’s a hybrid of an evil version of the Hulk and an evil mutant version of a recently deceased Living-Legend-of-World-War-Two (who’ll be getting his own movie soon, I shouldn’t wonder). It’s something to give Marvel Comics fans a nice gosh-wow moment, while not being so obviously geeky as to repel mainstream audiences. The same goes for the very final scene, which has all the hallmarks of something originally intended to run after the credits, presumably shifted into the movie proper on the grounds that you don’t put Robert Downey Jr (ooh, what a giveaway!) in the one bit most people aren’t going to bother to watch. Speaking as a comics fan, it’s a very cool moment, even if it does seem to be setting up a movie that’s still at least four or five years away. (The one time the movie oversteps the line when it comes to playing to the fans is when it foreshadows the – Box Office willing – ‘proper’ Hulk sequel. I ‘got’ the scene introducing Hulk 3‘s probable villain, but I doubt many normal people will.)

Enough fanboy wibbling! You want to know if it’s any good. Well, as I say, I overpraised the first Hulk at the time, which makes me cautious when it comes to this one. I will say Yes, it’s pretty good, in an unpretentious, CGI-heavy way. There are nice performances from Norton and Liv Tyler as his sweetheart, some amusing gags about stretchy trousers, and – as connoisseurs of the sublime Transporter series will know – while Leterrier may struggle a bit when it comes to character scenes and, to be honest, dialogue, he absolutely knows what he’s up to when it comes to doing action sequences. (Part of me thinks it’s a shame that Jason Statham isn’t in this movie, too – on the other hand, the Hulk’s hard, but he’s not that hard.)

However, Tim Roth’s part is atrociously underwritten, to the point where he can do literally nothing with it. His dialogue is simply terrible. It makes his role in the rubbish version of Planet of the Apes look like a masterpiece of character development, and I’ll bet now more than ever he’s regretting turning down the role of the Half-Blood Prince back in 2000. Purists may also complain that, for most of the film, Thunderbolt Ross is a bit too close to being actually evil, rather than the good-intentioned but thick-headed pain in the neck he generally is in the comic. And, for all its narrative flaws the Ang Lee Hulk had clearly had a lot of money thrown at it – the CGI here is impressive, but it seemed to me to lack the verve and scale of the action sequences in the earlier movie, as well as their primary-coloured comic-bookiness. Things are a little bit darker and more restrained this time round.

On the whole, though, The Incredible Hulk is solidly entertaining stuff which deserves to find an audience in a way the previous film didn’t. If you’ve encountered any version of the Hulk before and enjoyed the experience, there’s probably something here for you too. If you haven’t – well, it’s an efficient fantasy-action film, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the Marvel Universe shadings of the movie that make it truly distinctive, though, and after the very-much standalone Iron Man (seemed okay to me, but I saw it in Italian, alas) it’ll be interesting to see which direction Marvel Studios opts for with future projects.

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Should anyone be wondering, this is the very first of my online film reviews from August 2001, without which this blog probably wouldn’t exist. I have resisted the temptation to rewrite it:

The Statue of Liberty casts a long shadow. If this year’s blockbuster remake of Planet of the Apes was the first film to bear that title, it’s likely it would’ve received much better reviews than it actually has. That’s simply because, as modern day summer blockbusters go, for the most part this is rather good.

Mark Wahlberg (Marky Mark for those of us of a certain age) plays Leo Davidson, a sort of zookeeper for the USAF (Johnny Morris obviously not being available for the role). His job is to train chimps to pilot space probes. By far the greatest suspension of disbelief this movie will require of you is the concept of the USAF either wanting or being permitted to make use of our simian cousins in this manner. Anyway, Marky Mark’s favourite chimp gets shot off into a blue swirly thing in space and our hero disobeys orders to go and rescue him.

Things perk up considerably after the blue swirly thing deposits Marky Mark and his pod over a mysterious unknown planet. The pod crashes and in the jungle he comes face to face with a savage, hairy, beastlike figure… yes, it’s Kris Kristofferson playing a semi-feral human. Marky Mark, Kris, and some other actors who haven’t been singers get captured by – intelligent apes! Because this is, like, their Planet, right? – and dragged off to the Apes’ city to be sold to a comic-relief slave trader orang-utan who sounds as if he’s played by the late Jimmy Stewart. Marky Mark gets on the wrong side of nasty chimpanzee Thade (played by an unrecognisable Tim Roth) and makes friends with liberal human-loving chimpanzee Ari (an alarmingly recognisable Helena Bonham-Carter, who gives an extremely eccentric performance). Helena helps Marky Mark and his not-very-funky bunch of fellow humans escape and they all head off into the wilderness so our hero can rendezvous with his mother ship. Tim and his ape army pursue and the scene is set for a big battle and plot-twists by the dozen.

Like I say, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The ape makeup is, for the most part, stunning, though not as much of an improvement over John Chambers’ original work as you might think (Michael Clark Duncan on horseback cuts a particularly fine figure). The plot is also pretty good, but I don’t really want to give away any of the really nice bits so you’ll have to take my word on that. Marky Mark’s performance is a bit subdued, but he’ll doubtless improve in the sequel. There is much visual splendour and the sight of the ape army on the march is enough to warm the heart of any Apes fan.

So why is this movie ultimately disappointing? Well, because it’s called itself Planet of the Apes. That’s a title with a lot of baggage attached to it, it’s the title of a 1968 movie that’s a tough act to follow. Not much of POTA 1968 survives through into the new version. It keeps the basic concept and some of the iconography but that’s about it. POTA 2001 seems to be inviting comparisons, though, by sampling the most memorable dialogue from its’ forebear and reinterpreting it. This backfires badly as it reminds you of all that was great about the ’68 version and all that’s missing from this one. Oh, and Charlton Heston pops up in a brief uncredited cameo – the actor taking time out from his campaign to make home ownership of cobalt-cased nuclear missiles legal under the Second Amendment, no doubt.

Where POTA 2001 falls down in comparison to the first one is in its’ moral complexity, and this arises from the changes inflicted upon it. The human characters are more human – they can speak (though not many of them do) and have a rough sort of society. The apes, on the other hand, are more bestial and, well, apelike, which inevitably makes them seem less intelligent. Whereas the first film was partly about animal rights (the apes treat the dumb humans no worse than we treat dumb apes), and presented complex moral issues without comment, here we just have clearly-in-the-wrong apes enslaving poor (but noble) humans. If anything the subtext is racial in nature – apes sneer at the possibility of humans having their own culture, one (coloured) character describes another who serves the apes as a ‘house human’. It’s not a subtext that appeared in the original series until the third sequel and there it was the downtrodden apes who rose up against the oppressive humans in a very morally ambiguous tale.

The other big problem with POTA 2001 is the ending. Anyone who knows about movies surely knows about the magnificently powerful twist ending to POTA 1968. All the original movies have startling or powerful conclusions and the new version is placed over a barrel by this. It can either neglect to do some kind of twist ending completely and be criticised by comparison as a result, or it can try to do a twist ending in a film where a) everyone’s expecting it and b) knows what it’ll be anyway. Apparently five endings were shot, and if the one they used is the best then I weep for Hollywood. It’s hugely unoriginal, adds nothing to the storyline, is (slight pun coming up) monumentally silly and doesn’t make sense in the context of the movie. Ironically, it’s also almost the only bit of the movie that remotely resembles Pierre Boulle’s original novel.

The original Planet of the Apes was an intelligent movie that held up a mirror to the concerns and moral issues of its’ time. Its’ ultimate message was that man is a violent, ultimately self-destructive savage beast. This time the mirror is cracked. The big messages are that slavery is wrong (well, thanks for the scoop, guys) and that you should never go chasing after a chimp no matter how fond you are of it. It’s full of sound and fury but signifies very little indeed, and anything calling itself Planet of the Apes should be so much more than that.

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