Tag Archives: The King’s Speech

W.E.

A deeply odd film, it is a struggle to work out exactly who the audience for W.E. is supposed to be – unless it’s Madonna herself. If you don’t happen to be Madonna, you are likely to find it fundamentally unsatisfying. A strange attempt to blend King’s Speech style costume drama with The Hours and Drop Dead Fred, it doesn’t reach the high points of any.

The film flits between the stories of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), the American divorcee for whom King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) gave up the throne of England, and Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish), unhappily married in the present day to a wealthy shrink (Richard Coyle). Wally is named after Wallis, and is obsessed with her story, spending hours hanging around the Sotheby’s exhibition of her soon-to-be-auctioned personal effects.

Madonna not only directed the film (and quite competently, actually, though perhaps a bit heavy on the homages); she also co-wrote it, with Alek Keshinian (director of the Madonna documentary In Bed with Madonna). And it’s the screenplay that’s the problem. It contains a fairly high level of bemoaning the difficult lives of the wealthy and privileged – much is made of Wallis’ sacrifice of privacy for her Royal affair, being endlessly pursued by the press, to the point that you feel Madonna is bringing her personal baggage to the table. Which does feel like a bit of an overstatement; they may have married in a castle, but Guy Ritchie was hardly royalty.

We are left to consider to what extent the historical sections are intended as a ‘true’ story (in the way that The King’s Speech, say, is presented as a ‘true’ story) and to what extent they are Wally’s fantasy versions; this is particularly pertinent in a party sequence which sees Wallis and her society chums dance with The Sex Pistols on the soundtrack. Is Wally adding her own preferred soundtrack to her image of what Wallis’ life might have been like? Or is the scene there because Madonna has seen Sofia Coppolla’s Marie Antoinette and thought, I’ll try that?

The major difficulty with the dual storyline is that Wally is not particularly interesting. We know she has a fascination with Wallis and is in a crappy marriage, but that seems to be about all there is to her. Attempts to draw parallels between their lives are pretty superficial, so her sense of connection is never convincing. At the end, as Wally tells Wallis she no longer needs her, I had to stifle laughter. It felt as emotionally true as an episode of Ghost Whisperer.

The film is generally well acted and put together, but the shallow screenplay dooms it. It’s not the cataclysmically dire film some reports have claimed, but it never feels like much more than a vanity project.

Advertisements

My Oscar predictions

This year’s Oscars have a pretty good selection of films up for awards; it’s so good, in fact, that I worry a bit that the next six months will see nothing but crap released (bit of a worry when you run a cinema).  Whereas the Golden Globes were reduced to nominating The Tourist, and the BAFTAs managed to miss the fact that Winter’s Bone had even been released, the Oscars have managed to avoid any obvious omissions, and are pretty low on undeserving nominations.  I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees except The Kids Are All Right, so I’m having a crack at predicting the results of the major awards.
I’ll start with the no brainers.  Natalie Portman clearly has Best Actress in the bag, and that’s in a year when she had a lot of strong competition (after Edinburgh this year I was certain Jennifer Lawrence had already nailed it).  She’s the perfect candidate in that great things have been predicted for her since Leon, but she’s never really given the performance everyone thought she was capable of (possibly because the right role just hasn’t come along).  Black Swan itself may be love it or hate it (I loved it myself) but most would agree this is a triumphant turn by someone who always seems like a nice person.  I don’t think anyone (well, maybe Annette Bening) would begrudge her the award.
Similarly, it seems pretty clear that it’s Colin Firth’s turn.  He’s come close before, so he’s shown patience and earned his spurs.  And he is genuinely very good in The King’s Speech. 

As for the rest, I would like to see The Social Network run off with the bulk of categories.  However, it’s facing the twin threat of a reliable, very well made, traditional British costume drama on one side and a reliable, very well made, traditional American costume drama on the other (King’s Speech and True Grit).  I might be wrong, but I suspect the Academy hive mind will share the awards out between these two, though I wouldn’t want to guess which will get Best Picture, with a smattering for the others.  Aaron Sorkin should get something for the screenplay, but that could well be the lot.
The Supporting Actor/Actress awards are tougher to call.  This is The Fighter’s best chance of picking up an award (well, unless it gets Best Sound Editing or one of the others that nobody really cares about) so it’s supporters may well decide to concentrate their votes here.  However, I will be actively enraged if Christian Bale gets something for his manic, scene hogging turn.  I don’t care how close he is to the real person he’s playing; it’s too big for the film.  But they love giving Oscars to people who play real people, and Bale is generally seen as Oscar worthy.  Just not for this one, please.  Similarly, though I’ve been a fan of Melissa Leo since her time in Homicide: Life on the Street, her turn in The Fighter is pitched to match Bale’s, and therefore becomes part of the problem.
I would rather see John Hawkes rewarded for Winter’s Bone, and Hailee Steinfield for True Grit (even though she’s playing the lead and should not, therefore, be in this category).  But I wouldn’t be totally surprised if the King’s Speech juggernaut takes these as well.
For director I would pick David Fincher, but the Coens will probably take it, leaving Original Screenplay for The King’s Speech.  Not an ideal split, but at least the nominations are fairly spread over a good selection of films, so everyone will have something good to put on the DVD covers.

Some stuff I saw over the weekend

A big weekend of films meant I saw rather more Helen Mirren and Guy Pearce than is average for me.  Some of the 10 titles I managed to fit in weren’t that great, or offered little unexpected to say – yes, The King’s Speech was excellent and is certainly highly recommended, but that’s hardly a surprise at this point – but there were some unexpected treats too.
Chief among these was Catfish.  I went in knowing little about it, and what I did know turned out to be wrong (I’d been mixing it up in my head with a different film).  This turned out to be the best way to see it, and I’d advise doing the same if at all possible. 
It’s a documentary that follows photographer Nev Schulmann, his filmmaker brother Ariel and their collaborator Henry Joost after Nev strikes up an online friendship with a talented child artist (who has painted a copy of one of his photos and sent it to him).   He also becomes close to her family, particularly her older sister.  At times it’s fairly uncomfortable viewing, and left me feeling that I was watching something that should have been left private.  You can’t help but question the filmmakers’ motives for continuing with the production, though Nev is seen to act with considerable sensitivity and dignity in the later scenes.  Some may also wonder if the fly on the wall material is genuine (certainly one person at the screening believed the whole thing to be a scam, not an opinion I share).  Either way, it’s a fascinating story.
If you though the only thing wrong with The Reader was that it didn’t have enough guns and fights, then John Maden’s The Debt is very much the film for you.  Helen Mirren gives some serious accent as Rachel Singer, an ex-Mossad agent whose daughter has written a book about her most famous mission – the capture and killing of a notorious SS war criminal.  Cue flashbacks, plot twists, betrayals, the works.
I’d heard bad things about this one, so my expectations were low enough that I actually enjoyed myself.  It’s a potboiler, and a rather self-important one, but entertaining for all that.
Mirren also had her classical hat on for The Tempest, Julie Taymor’s latest Shakespeare adaptation, playing the renamed Prospera in a gender swap that works perfectly well.  Most of the rest of the cast are good as well: you get that nice Felicity Jones as Miranda, classy US types Chris Cooper and David Strathairn, plus Russell Brand.  Brand looks just like he always looks, but is fine in the comic role of Trinculo, and manages (like Mirren) to make Shakespeare’s lines sound like normal dialogue.  The only weak link is Reeve Carney as Ferdinand, who really is extraordinarily wet.  Given the play’s subtexts though, I’d be interested to know if Taymor thought long and hard before casting Djimon Hounsou as Caliban.  I’m not saying it was a bad idea, I’m just interested.
The film looks spectacular.  The locations – it was filmed in Hawaii – are stunning, and various scenes are augmented by CGI, most extensively with the transformations of the spirit Ariel (I was reminded of Dave McKean’s film Mirrormask at several points).  But you never get a proper sense of the geography of the island.  Instead, various groups of actors step out onto the stage, do their scene, and are replaced by others – always a risk with theatrical adaptations, of course. 

Finally, another highlight – David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, an excellent Australian crime drama following Josh (James Frecheville), a 17 year old who is taken in by his criminal family when his mother fatally overdoses.  Already you can see that the odds are not in his favour, and soon he’s being drawn into his relatives’ nefarious activities – which are notorious enough to draw the attention of the ruthless Armed Robbery Squad.  These relatives and their associates range from reasonably decent (Joel Edgerton as Barry, Luke Ford as Darren) to dangerously unpredictable (Ben Mendelsohn as Pope), headed by the thoroughly loathsome mum from hell Janine (Jacki Weaver). 

Frecheville plays Josh with a blank-eyed reserve that could initially be mistaken for woodenness, but is in fact a very good portrayal of an inarticulate and confused youth.  Guy Pearce is also in there as the cop trying to persuade Josh to stay on the straight and narrow.  There’s considerable doubt over which path he’ll take.  It’s a terrific feature debut from Michôd.