Geoffrey Rush

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Posted by: |

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Once again Disney sets sail with another installment in the hugely popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. With their fifth film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush reprise their roles as Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa, respectively. Also staring are newcomers to the franchise, Javier Bardem as Armando Salazar, Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner and Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth. Also featuring Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, following their absence from the fourth installment, On Stranger Tides.

pirates-of-the-caribbean-dead-men-tell-no-tales-5 Read On

Comic Issues: Green Lantern Review

Posted by: |

Comic Issues: Green Lantern Review

Despite lackluster romantic chemistry and self-depreciating special effects, an attractive cast, excellent writing, and just the right amount of cheese shines together in time to save Green Lantern from it’s greatest fear: bombing the box-office. The film is a refreshing change from the usual cynicism of contemporary film, a rarely enjoyable experience due uniquely to its goodness in nature, something most filmmakers have been out of touch with for quite a while. The central plot revolves around the fight between light and dark, represented by the power of “will” and “fear,” a perspective rarely done in film.

In general, Green Lantern presents itself well. Although some performances leave little to the imagination, the movie’s casting for look-a-like talent is spot-on, and its volley between immaturity and seriousness are clear triumphs. However, the real victory of Green Lantern is in its humor — this movie is never lacking in clever one-liners that keep an audience chuckling. Add that to a proven winner of a story plot and who could go wrong?

Read On

The King’s Speech

Posted by: |

The King’s Speech

King’s Speech, The

Full Price Feature

What a superb film. Colin Firth plays the Duke of York, son of George V (Michael Gambon) brother of King Edward I (Guy Pearce), and future King George VI. Bertie, as his family calls him, has a life-long, debilitating stammer. I did knot know about the upbringing of the father of Queen Elizabeth II, but as you watch him with his royal family, his disability is no surprise. Firth listened to recordings of the man he plays, retraining his confident and witty vocal instrument to stick in his throat and choke him. To listen to him struggle with such labored strain, it’s almost unbelievable when he finds his voice. Firth is fantastic. He balances the childhood wounds of the forgotten, abused son with the inborn sense of entitlement and detachment of a royal. Watching him juggle his self-esteem extremes and his plosives with such facility is a wonder.

He is aided in his treatment by Australian Geoffrey Rush — esteemed and successful in his field, yet subject to the merciless dialect snobbery of that country which was depicted with such humor in My Fair Lady. Rush’s character Lionel Logue recognizes the psychological, rather than mechanical, origins of such conditions, and breaks down Firth’s not-inconsiderable barriers to achieve his goals. A wonderful aspect of this story is not just the peek of a royal into the common world, nor the intellectual joys of seeing two actors ply their craft so masterfully — it’s how very funny The King’s Speech is. With all the high stakes and deep sympathies and swinging-pipe power plays, ultimately the treatment relationship becomes a jolly friendship and meeting of minds.

Guy Pearce plays David (King Edward I to you) the dissolute heir to Gambon’s throne. Pearce looks healthier than he has in years, and I delighted in his mincing Royal elocution, particularly around his flat native Australian tendencies. Gambon pulls out a formidable tyrant from his acting toolbox, making you forget all about his sweet hippie Dumbledore, and causing you to stammer a bit yourself. Jennifer Ehle (once Elizabeth Bennett to Firth’s Mr. Darcy) plays Rush’s wife in only a few small scenes, but she reminds those of us in non-monarchist America just how different the royals always were. David Bamber, who played Mr. Collins in that same production of Pride and Prejudice, has a small role here for us geek girls out there.

The acting is fantastic. Danny Cohen’s photography is gorgeous (a fact I felt compelled to keep reminding myself of in my notes), and the period equipment is spectacular. Radio was such a new technology in the 1925-1939 period during which this story takes place, we forget in our 24-hour news cycle how vital basic showmanship is to a public figure. It’s such a given that anyone hoping to be taken seriously in the public eye be able to speak clearly, it’s nice to dip back into time when it was a rarified talent. As television kicked Nixon in his debate with Kennedy, so does the radio weaken the public’s faith in a monarch whose choked “EK” noises ring out over the hushed and embarrassed crowd. The weight of history rests on the shoulders (and diaphragm) of the man who became George VI of England, and Firth shows us every ounce. Do see it.

MPAA Rating R-language
Release date 12/17/10
Time in minutes 111
Director Tom Hooper
Studio Weinstein Company

The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

Posted by: |

The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

Matinee with Snacks

I went into this movie with pretty low expectations. The previews are gorgeous, but what computer animated film has any excuse not to be gorgeous these days? The whole thing seemed like something Elijah Wood would headline (and by that I mean Happy Feet and not Lord of the Rings). Well, it’s more like Lord of the Rings than you might imagine, and well worth the 3-D surcharge at that.

Read On

Comments Off on Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Posted by: |

As the sequel to 1998’s lauded movie Elizabeth, this film could perhaps have been called Elizabeth I: II: Liz Harder. She’s established herself as powerful, and this time, it’s personal. It’s 1585. She’s 52 (a well-preserved sexy Cate Blanchett of a 52) and has been on the throne for 27 years and is on the brink of a holy war with Spain. The Protestant queen, protecting her Protestant and Catholic citizens from being forced to live under the rule of one faith, wrestles with her defiance of society’s ideals of a leader (male), a woman (married and baby-making), and a warrior (bloodthirsty).

The modern parallels are inescapable: a religiously-led military force seeking to consume a pluralist kingdom for daring to be progressive. History is history – theocracies wax and wane and a monarch who does not persecute or prosecute believers of different faiths commands loyalty and strength in exchange for her respect. Elizabeth herself was on the receiving end of that persecution when the tables were turned, and we forget that this iconic figure suffered immense personal losses under the tyranny of the Catholics in Britain.

The film follows the dual fronts of Mary, Queen of Scots trying to assassinate her cousin Elizabeth and take the British throne in the name of her Catholic god, as King Phillip II of Spain is hurling his Inquisition forces at her depleted nation. The stories in this film are far easier to follow than the political labyrinth of the original Elizabeth film, which blithely assumed its viewers were all familiar with the intrigues of her day. It is not often that a complex art-house darling gets a chance at a blockbuster sequel, but the woman herself merits many tales. Oh, and the movie also has Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, and Clive Owen. Heard of them?

Blanchett inhabits the Virgin Queen with her customary iron and fire. She is vulnerable and willful, lonely and fierce, stressed-out and brave. It’s a great performance. It would be easy to bill and coo over this film, heavy with prestige and import as it is, bursting at the scenes with costumes and finery of the period. It is not the greatest piece of cinematic art ever made, to be spoken of only in the hushed and reverent tones of James Lipton, but it is very enjoyable. It’s primary attraction is Cate, filling the room and the screen with one of the most impressive monarchs of any sex the world has ever known. She conveys Elizabeth’s battles with male scorn and Catholic indignance with equal passion. Clive Owen, an actor to whose charms I am typically immune, strides into Elizabeth’s controlled sphere, causing chaos (and other things) to spread. He brings his open-shirted, ripply-necked Walter Raleigh to court to steal the queen’s favor but absconds with ours as well.

Director Shekhar Kapur brings the same meticulous detail to his actors’ environment as with the original film, but his cinematographer Remi Adefarasin occasionally lights or frames things very strangely. This created awkward sensations as mentally you beseech the actor to just scoot over a bit or step forward just a foot so you won’t be distracted from the scene by the weird bits. He did have huge, gorgeous overblown Oscar montage shots to make up for it – silhouettes and swirling camera perspectives, deep focus close-ups, all very interesting. And who can beat Liz on a white horse, her red Celtic plaits streaming down her gleaming silver armor, a real-life moment made grander through cinema. It’s an enjoyable film, and this time, you won’t have needed to do your homework ahead of time.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 10/12/07
Time in minutes 114
Director Shekhar Kapur
Studio Universal Pictures

Comments Off on Intolerable Cruelty

Intolerable Cruelty

Posted by: |

Intolerable Cruelty lacks the sublime satire of the Hudsucker Proxy, or the loving character sketches of Fargo, the shrewd retelling of O Brother Where Art Thou, or even the wacky, semi-surreal comedy of Raising Arizona. Cruelty is a bizarro “standard” romantic comedy which was rendered bizarro by a hybridization of the Coen’s deft skill with making unlikeable people likeable, and the over test-marketed standard of Imagine Entertainment. I think if it had been made by anyone else, I would only have been a little frustrated. But my standards have to be higher.

I love the Coen Brothers, and when they are left alone and allowed to do what they do best, they rarely, if ever, disappoint. I have been anticipating this release for some time, and I am very sorry to say that this is one of those rare times. I rate this film Rental because to see George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones snap crackle and pop on screen is the main pleasure this film affords, and when it is happening, it is divine. So I want you to see that!

However, the magic between them was so bogged down by story and character issues I just wanted to cry. As did my companion. Clearly this movie was tested to death, or at least, to the death of the Coen’s trademark magic. The film begins with the pleasant surprise of Geoffrey Rush, driving home to a sideline plotline that should have been snipped excet for its usefulness to establish Clooney as a crack divorce attorney. The film middles with another pleasantventure (and too little used) with Billy Bob Thornton, and leaves that behind too quickly and without using it to the story’s advantage. Then the crackling grinds to an end and the crazy, cheesy parts start cropping up more and more frequently. When I laughed, I laughed a lot. When I swooned, I swooned but good. But the rest of the time was spent wishing I could be laughing and swooning.

Carter Burwell and Roger Deakins, Coen vets, provide their usual level of mastery and skill to the tale, and no actor can be faulted for how much or how little he or she was afforded on screen. Clooney and Zeta-Jones dive head first into their roles and play them so fervently you almost are exhausted from the effort; but they are given empty words to speak when they should be the most meaningful, and over-ponderous claptrap right when we should be moving along.

Cap that with a “WTF” ending and you have one unhappy Coen lover in the audience. I still love them, I love the actors, I love the idea, even, but somewhere in partnering with all those extra screenwriters and producers, they lost what makes them special.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 10/10/03
Time in minutes 100
Director Joel Coen
Studio Universal Pictures

Comments Off on Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Posted by: |

At first I thought, “Really? Full Price Feature? That seems extreme.” Then, when I sat down to tell you, Constant Readers, about the film, well, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I had a great time and immediately want to see it again. That’s pretty much the definition of Full Price Feature, isn’t it? And yes, full price in this economy! It should also be noted that Gore Verbinski is officially my favorite director. His gift for amazing set pieces continues here, aided by his unique (and that of his cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski) eye for composition. Don’t scoff when you peruse his filmography; this man knows how to tell a story and how to show it. It’s 143 minutes long and it flies by!

A few movies have managed to be based on absolutely nothing, and make absolutely fantastic feature films. One very clear example is Clue, based on the Parker Brothers board game. Conversely, movies based on a long, deep oeuvre of material sometime manage to come out pretty much content-free…for example, Star Trek Nemesis. Thankfully, Pirates follows the Clue model. Yes, yes, I know the ride has a plot of some kind, almost impossible to follow what with the 36-year-old recording playing under the noise of the ride. Forget all that. You’ll get your sly nods to the ride without really depending on it at all. The movie is fun to watch and funny as well.

Orlando Bloom is sweet, lovelorn Will Turner, who loves lady fair Keira Knightley of old. Their lives were joined by fate and piracy, and it is fate and piracy (in the form of hilariously cocky Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow) that keeps them together. Watch for Jonathan Pryce as well. The triangle avoids most conventional narrative traps, thankfully, and the dynamics between the trio balance and tilt just so to keep you awake and amused. The film hearkens back to the pirate films of yore, when it wasn’t about dressing up a conventional action movie in gunner coats and a tricorn, but about adventure, really about pirates as a group. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. would have truly enjoyed watching this movie.

Depp reported in an interview that he was channeling Keith Richards in his performance, and I have to say, it works. He’s always a joy to watch and this film is no exception. Geoffrey Rush sheds his joyless Quills persona and camps it up as the captain of the Black Pearl, and my god, he’s fun again at last. Bloom and Depp are both terribly swoony boys, as most ladies with a pulse know, but they also have great onscreen chemistry and clearly are having great fun. When the cast has fun, we all have fun – and it doesn’t hurt that we have a fun story, super extra groovy cool evil pirates, and a zombie monkey! Who doesn’t love a zombie monkey?

And finally, ILM puts its best foot forward with a truly amazing climactic scene involving the damned pirates and the requisite cave of booty. It’s *fantastic* and I really can’t wait to see it again. I loved it.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/9/03
Time in minutes 143
Director Gore Verbinski
Studio Walt Disney Pictures

Banger Sisters

Posted by: |

On the outside, this looks like a Boomer-driven chick flick on the flip side of the Thelma & Louise coin: free spirit Suzette who still lives in her wild 60’s groupie heyday on some level reunites with her old partner in crime Vinnie. Vinnie is now Lavinia, married, with children, with a wealthy husband with political aspirations, cornerstone of a conservative family. Suzette (Goldie Hawn) and Vinnie (Susan Sarandon) were the Banger Sisters, proclaimed Frank Zappa one sex-drenched day in the past, and while they do happen to be Boomers, they could be anyone. The film is blessed by dispensing with the Boomers “we made the world” egotism and goes straight to the heart of the matter, which is who you were informs who you are, and if you deny yourself the chance to be who you are, you will stifle.

It does seem predictable that both ladies’ perspectives will teach a lesson to the other, that responsibility and spirit can co-exist and make life worth living, and don’t be fooled for one minute that that won’t be in there. But the tone of the film is drastically altered (for the better) by a third character, who acts not as a catalyst, but as a sort of muse in reverse. Geoffrey Rush plays Harry, as lost in his past as Suzette. For him, the past chokes him, keeps him back and hiding safely. Vinnie looks only to the future, forgetting herself. Suzette lives for now, but treasures her past as well. The three people interact and their stories never intersect as a threesome, but they find truths in the others’ lives and in their own. It is Harry that makes the movie interesting.

Harry is fascinatingly bizarre, like Niles Crane or Billy Bob Thornton’s character in Bandits, and diverts the film away from an adult After School Special. He keeps Suzette from reverting too strongly to her past in reaction to Vinnie, and he keeps Vinnie from being afraid to explore herself within her beige, starched shell. Casting Hawn as Suzette is not much of a stretch – energetic sexy wild child, unafraid of who she is, but longing to connect somewhere. Hawn’s vulnerability plays beautifully against Sarandon’s intrinsic strength. Lavinia makes Tipper Gore look slutty, but of course we know Susan has the wild child within. They’re foxy old broads, playing much younger than their actual ages to their credit, and you have to love them.

In addition to Harry, the tapestry of these women’s reunion is deepened by Lavinia’s kids, played fantastically by Erika Christenen and Eva Amuri. They are mini-versions of where Suzette and Vinnie have found themselves, with no past and all future, bringing out the mom in Suzette and the child in Lavinia. It’s not the greatest film of the year, but it feels nice to watch the clash between arrested development and nouveau establishment be smoothed out by something as great as the love of two girl friends who shared a lot.

MPAA Rating R for language, sexual content and some drug use.
Release date 9/20/02
Time in minutes 98
Director Bob Dolman
Studio Fox Searchlight

Comments Off on House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill

Posted by: |

This is one of those movies that is most like Chinese food: while you are watching it, it is viscerally captivating, but as soon as you leave, and the harsh light of reality and intelligent conversation intrudes, it is actually not very good. It gets a higher rating than Rental mostly because of the beautiful house and effects and the thrumming, stomach churning bass. This movie is, almost transparently so, the child of The Haunting (from earlier this year, previously titled the Haunting of Hill House!) and Jacob’s Ladder. But if you can only catch it on a dinky screen with dinky speakers, you might as well watch it at home.

Geoffrey Rush seems so enamored of his delicious role as Casanova Frankenstein in Mystery Men, that he has basically grown a John Waters mustache and continued the trend. He is the thrill-maker scare master and the whole thing is his baby. The film is based on a Shirley Jackson story (she wrote The Lottery, you may know that one better) but even though I have not read it, I suspect the screenwriters sort of neglected to keep the plot fully cohesive. The atmosphere is grand, actually, with long creepy halls (but not as gorgeous as the ones in The Haunting), beautiful women skittering along them in fear (but not as gorgeous as the ones in The Haunting – though Taye Diggs….!), creepy freaky surreal imagery that could be hallucinations or it could be ghosts or it could be demons (a la Jacob’s Ladder but not as upsetting)…basically it’s an also-ran next to these two movies, which were not exactly tour de forces themselves. Pity. My personal fear of rollercoasters actually rendered the first bit of the film (shot on The Joker at Magic Mountain) waaay scarier than the well-designed spookfest later.

Oh, Geoffrey! He could have acted out what the effects and the script could not – but perhaps it was the effects that outshined him (pun and error intended). That weird monkey guy (I refuse to know the name of any of the cast members) from Saturday Night Live was actually pretty amusing (but consider the rough in which I found his cubic zirconium) – I have hopes for him if he can wrench himself away from Lorne Michaels’ demented grasp and make a real movie. Maybe one of those Adam Sandler rejects. He’s got the bitterness thing down!

Sure, I watched the screen, fascinated, even nervous, as the cast wriggled their way repeatedly through the most dangerous underbelly of the house when clearly, the safe place to hang out and wait to be killed downstairs was in the parlor. Okay, fine, I jumped a couple of times, or was afraid I would see something that would really bother me later. I was interested in the idea of the story and will probably check out the actual source and just set it in another place altogether. But overall, it was kind of…watchable. Nothing to write a hundred or so strangers about, but at least it inspired me to say more than Three Kings did. So that’s got to say something.

MPAA Rating R-horror violence /gore, sexual images &language.
Release date 10/29/99
Time in minutes 96
Director William Malone
Studio Warner Brothers

Comments Off on Mystery Men

Mystery Men

Posted by: |

As is the trend this summer, I have not read the original source material from which this movie was based. I can’t imagine that I would want to, now – Mr. Furious limned by anyone other than Ben Stiller would be wrong; anyone but William H. Macy giving voice to The Shoveler would be criminal; and any other interpretation of the Blue Raja than Hank Azaria’s would set me to crying. Mystery Men is one cheeky, clever movie, with plenty of silliness and lots of great gags and basically, some of the best comedic minds of our decade running around getting to be comic book characters of wanna-be superheroes. How can you beat that? The management of the Nice Theatre In Town (The Gateway) had shoved Mystery Men down in a little puppet theatre at the edge of the building – one screen! Needless to say, midway through opening day they moved it to a larger screen – the audience was there and we were rarin’ to go!!! I was pleased but not surprised to see such a good turnout – it’s always so much more fun with a large, enthusiastic audience. And we laughed and we laughed!

Oscar nominee Greg Kinnear is perfect as the smarmy sell-out superhero that our sub-par heroes need to save. Multiple (?) Oscar nominee William H. Macy is one of this band. Multiple Emmy nominee and possible Oscar nominee Ben Stiller is another; Janeane Garafalo another; shunned television genius Paul Reubens is yet another. They go up against Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush as the hilariously named Casanova Frankenstein in a fantastically designed Champion City. Homage to all forms of comics and comic-based movies and sci fi extravaganzas abound: Champion City is part Gotham City, part Metropolis, and part the bleak multicultural sprawl of Blade Runner’s city. Mystery Men is packed with peanuts and really satisfies.

First time director Kinka Usher played around with tone – the opening scene is a weird, City of Lost Children super surreal party at an old-folk’s home, but overall the movie is smooth and silly and fun and funny! She has a wowser of a cinematographer – Stephen Burum did Snake Eyes, Mission Impossible, The Shadow, War of the Roses, The Untouchables, Body Double, Something Wicked This Way Comes…I mean, this guy knows what he is doing! And it shows – lots of kooky comic booky angles which in a way seem kind of amateur until you realize how difficult they are and how they are not distorted or badly lit – the guy is a genius. Plus, you know, it’s based on the Dark Horse comic books so of course, you see these angles in the artwork. Kirk M. Petruccelli (also production designer for Blade, another comic book adapted to life with great success) built a gorgeous, wonderful Champion City – lots of cool details and really nice work. Modely-looking models, but so what? Maybe someone should give Kinka and Stephen and Kirk the next Batman movie so we don’t have to watch Joel Schumacher ruin that franchise any further.

Screenwriter Neil Cuthbert apparently has done this, Hocus Pocus, and a TV movie. You would never know it – the dialogue is so snappy I wonder if he just wrote a scene outline and let the SuperGenius cast work it out. They don’t even make fun of goofy comic speak (well, except when Mr. Furious is about to RAGE), it’s really amusing, natural funny talk. Plenty of great digs at the hysterical conventions of comic book herodom – you know, Clark Kent hiding behind his glasses, or Bruce Wayne chatting with Batman on the phone. There’s even some nice fart humor for the kids. And Tom Waits. Why are you at the computer, go see it now!

Ensemble comedy is best when it’s done with people familiar with the genre – Reubens is kind of a soloist (no pun intended) and Kel Mitchell (Invisible Boy) is the up-and-comer kid, but the rest of the team bicker together like old friends. It’s marvelous. For those of you who just don’t know, Hank Azaria is the one of my two future boyfriends in MM (besides Ben Stiller) who does a large variety of voices on the Simpsons – more voices than you think, probably. I love him! Helen Hunt, your forehead is too big! You have an Oscar – give me Hank! And, like no one says “whoa” like Keanu Reeves, no one can pull off “golly” like William H. Macy. Ben and Janeane, well, they are the perfect non-couple. It’s very very very funny, tongue-in-cheek but still an homage, like Airplane was an homage to disaster movies. Go see it! And then see Muppets From Space if it’s still playing!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8/6/99
Time in minutes 121
Director Kinka Usher
Studio Universal Pictures

12