Netflix Movie of the Week #11: Coriolanus

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The Bard may not have spent much time playing Call of Duty, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the 2011 film adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known-but-still-better-than-I-could-do works, Coriolanus. Coriolanus follows the rise and ultimate fall of Roman general Coriolanus (Fiennes) as he is betrayed and banished from his homeland. In anger, he turns to his sworn enemy, the Volscian general Aufidius (Gerard Butler), to help him avenge his punishment. The film, which has been adapted to modern times and is set in modern-day Rome, is director and star Ralph Fiennes’ first time in the director’s chair. Fiennes obviously set out to bring the story’s ever-present violence and betrayal to an audience that perhaps doesn’t connect with the more subtle elements of the Bard’s works.

And this film is certainly anything but subtle. The performances, production, and cinematography all work to heighten the tension, and I can safely say that it’s one of the more intensely-acted films I’ve seen in recent years. Though, from a pair of leading men best known as Lord Voldemort and Leonidas, what else could I expect? It’s been said that no actor could ever play Shakespeare’s words as well as they are written, but Fiennes and Butler certainly come pretty close. The cinematography looks great, and really lends itself to the intensity of the plot.

The film’s being set in the present-day definitely makes the incredibly complex Shakespearian verse clear and relatable. The only real fault I could find with this movie had to do with some plot points that seemed pretty out of place in the modern adaptation. It’s a little far-fetched to see soldiers dressed in full modern military gear running from room to room gunning down tactical targets like something out of a video game while calling each other “knaves.” In one scene, Coriolanus and Aufidius drop their weapons, have their men step back, and have themselves a good-old-fashioned knife fight, mono-a-mono.  Nitpicky hangups aside, Fiennes makes the plot flow smoothly and keeps things easy to follow.

Adapting a Shakespeare play to the modern era may seem, at this point, a tired cliché. Over the years, Hollywood has thrown at us dozens of less than phenomenal adaptations, perhaps most notably director Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo & Juliet, starring a (shockingly) baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. But, although many of the problems that have plagued other modern-day adaptations can be found in Coriolanus, this particular adaptation manages to stand out for its intense cast and generally top-notch direction. It’s certainly worth your time.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Competing Reviews: The Great Gatsby

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The Good: By Joe Holley

There’s a reason Gatsby has become arguably the most iconic American tale of the last hundred years, and Baz Luhrmann has shown just how remarkably well the themes of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most acclaimed novel still resonate in modern times. Luhrmann’s adaptation captures what is the story’s most essential element: the riotous, hysterical extravagance of an era. An especially strong turn from Leonardo DiCaprio as the idealistic Jay Gatsby underpins a refreshing take on a timeless classic.

Luhrmann’s directing was by no means perfect, but he takes some ambitious risks that added a fresh flavor to what might have otherwise been a stuffy meat-and-potatoes adaptation. I’ll admit to mixed feelings on some of the CGI included in the film (there’s no real reason to put text from the book on the screen as it’s being read), but visually Luhrmann highlighted the fast paced lifestyle of West Egg. Although many critics thought Luhrmann was “too present” in the movie, I found the new style refreshing and poignant. The soundtrack, which included original music by Jay-Z, brought a new edge to what some might consider a rather tired tale.

Performances overall were top notch. DiCaprio’s Gatsby managed to create the mixed sense of empathy and disconnection that makes his character so unique. Though it probably won’t win him the Oscar he so craves, DiCaprio is to be commended for his work here. Toby Maguire also played one of the best performances of his career, as narrator Nick Carraway. Maguire’s Carraway is just the right amount of whiny and idealistic to make him mesh with Gatsby, though at times his narration leaves something to be desired. Carey Mulligan plays a delightfully foolish Daisy, and Joel Edgerton’s turn as Tom Buchanan was spot on. Casting for Gatsby can’t be faulted.

The film stays remarkably true to the novel, including all the major symbols and even using much of the novel’s exact wording. Doing so demonstrates Luhrmann’s respect for the novel, and Fitzgerald’s classic story. The unique visual style, coupled with some very strong performances, make Gatsby a must-watch for this year.

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

The Bad….

Eh, let’s just skip right to the Ugly, because there isn’t much else here: By Gabriel Vogel

To put it simply, I detest this movie. While I can agree with you that The Great Gatsby is a remarkable and essentially american tale, there is simply no world in which I can agree that Baz Luhrmann’s direction does anything but obstruct that greatness. I guess I can agree that he marks the film his own particular sense of “style”, but I have trouble calling that “style” anything but a blight on an otherwise compelling work. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that everything in the film that Luhrmann adds greatly reduces it’s effectiveness. Luhrmann tries to establish a sense of absurd excess in the film by giving us sweeping CGI shots of everything and playing Kanye West, but instead his attempt comes off as fake and obnoxious. He throws his patently annoying style in our faces every other minute and ends up just obstructing everything that made the original novel great. In fact, the only bearable moments of the film were when Luhrmann just let the actors deliver the story unperturbed.

Now some of the problems here are less Luhrmann’s fault and more just problems that come with adapting something like Gatsby. For example, his handling of Nick Carraway. the Nick Carraway of the novel is a simple character just content to watch for the most part, but as we go through the book we gain a sort of connection to him and begin to see him as a real character through his constant narration. He’s the singular lens through which we see the content of the novel. We hear what he sees and what he thinks and therefore we see who he is. Luhrmann attempts to capture this characterization by giving Nick’s narration throughout the film, but this only serves as a pale imitation of what we receive throughout the novel. Film is just not the kind of medium were we can effectively build a character through techniques like that. Unfortunately, he never realized that and tried to emulating Nick instead of adapting Nick, and in turn we ended up with a piece of cardboard instead of a character.

While Luhrmann certainly botches his adaptation quite thoroughly, even he’s unable to completely destroy every compelling aspect of this great American novel. Blessedly, every now and then the source material shines through the muck of shit that some people call style and we’re able to see a glimpse of something interesting, but it simply isn’t enough to make this film worth even a second of your time. Please, if you feel like revisiting the story or visiting it for the first time just read the book. It’s fantastic, and if you’re really jonesing for a film adaptation than just watch this trailer instead (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2N1f0z5zwA&feature=youtu.be). You’re welcome.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Joe’s Top 5 Films of the 21st Century

These films were selected because of their cinematic significance, watchability, skill of production/direction, and strength of the cast. We’d love to hear your opinions as well!

5. The Master (2012)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s unquestionable skill as a director shines in 2012’s The Master. From its compelling visual style, to its remarkable performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, to the enigmatic yet fascinating storytelling, every moment of this film brings something new to the table. It’s most certainly the type of film that requires multiple watches: and I’ll be more than happy to do so.

4. No Country For Old Men (2007)

2007’s No Country For Old Men presents the viewer with something few have been able to achieve in cinema: true suspense. Tension is, for most of these films, the reason they’ve earned their places on this list, and no film is a better example of it than this. Arguably one of the greatest villain performances in recent cinema comes from Javier Bardem’s portrayal of Anton Chigurh, the relentless assassin who often embodies Death itself. Themes of fate, absurdity, and greed are all explored in what will surely become an American landmark in cinema.

3. Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)

While all of the credit for the creation of Lord of the Rings goes deservedly to legendary fantasy novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, there’s no doubt that Peter Jackson’s film adaptation set the standard for the modern epic film. In many ways, Lord of the Rings became to mainstream audiences in the 2000’s what Star Wars did for the 1980’s: defining the hero epic for a whole generation of people, young and old. And Jackson’s unwavering faith to canon will leave even the most hardcore of Hobbits satisfied. The cast is overall excellent and Jackson’s three year struggle to adapt the classic novels resulted in smashing success, both in the box office and in cinematic quality.

2. Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

Few war movies have broken new ground in terms of storytelling since the landmark Saving Private Ryan. But in 2006, Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima brought Americans a new perspective: that of the enemy. The heart wrenching tale of several Japanese soldiers and their struggles between their strict code of honor and their desire to survive the horrors of Iwo Jima and return to their homes, the exceptional acting and fantastic direction by Eastwood make this, together with its companion film Flags of Our Fathers, the must-see war movie of the modern century.

1. There Will Be Blood (2007)

What can I say about 2007’s There Will Be Blood that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over? It’s little surprise that Paul Thomas Anderson makes this list twice, and that he’s achieved my utmost respect as the director of what I firmly believe to be the most fully realized film in twenty years. There Will Be Blood is one of the few films I’ve seen that I would call a masterpiece without hesitation. Daniel Day Lewis’ greatest performance of his utterly remarkable career comes as Daniel Plainview, one of the most compelling and definitively human characters in recent film. So much is told in the film’s opening sequence without dialogue that the first time we hear Plainview speak, it’s almost shocking. Every second is calculated, planned, and executed in utmost style; there are moments of directorial brilliance that still bring me something new with every watch. Truly, There Will Be Blood is a landmark in modern filmmaking, and for that, it has earned its place as my top film of this century.

The Expendables 2 Review

There’s something to be said about a movie that lives up to expectations. Sometimes, it’s the simple pleasures that make for the best experience. To that end, Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables 2 will appeal to its target audience quite well. I don’t think anyone was expecting either this film or its prequel to turn any critics’ heads, but I can tell you that you’ll get what you pay for: The Expendables 2 brings fans yet another action thriller that manages not to take itself too seriously.

The rather predictable plot once again features mercenary group The Expendables as they slash, shoot, and explode their way towards vengeance on another generic Eastern-European baddie (Jean-Claude Van Damme). The plot was never the film’s strong point. Where the film shines, though, is in the complexity of the well-choreographed action sequences, and some truly excellent performances by the cast. The original concept for the Expendables, a movie that brings together all of the major American action film stars, once again serves as a great evening’s entertainment. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren, and with cameos from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Chuck Norris, Expendables once again throws audiences into a fast paced action thriller that knows exactly who its target  audience is.

The script has a surprising quip, and the obligatory inclusion of all the stars’ respective film references (“I’ll be back” must have found its way in three or four times) happens in such a way that no one has to take this film too seriously. In fact, the surprisingly well-developed characters’ back and forth banter is one of its high points. Nan Yu’s turn as Maggie adds some much needed variety, and Stallone is careful not to let the script get bogged down in cheesy sub plots and the like. The obvious camaraderie among the cast benefits the movie to a great extent.

It’s certainly nothing that you weren’t expecting. If nothing else, it’ll get your testosterone flowing. Can audiences really ask more of a Stallone film than that?

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Campaign Review

Too often, topical comedies become bogged down in biased subtext, and end up preaching rather than entertaining audiences. The political views of the director, writers, or studios superimpose themselves on the final product, so that it seems you aren’t watching a film so much as sitting through a lecture.

Not so with the latest raucous flick from Jay Roach, who most famously directed Mike Myers’ Austin Powers series. Featuring a fantastic comedic pairing in Will Ferrell and Zach Galifinakis, The Campaign manages to make a clear statement on the American electoral process without an overbearing bias towards any particular political viewpoint. The plot centers on the Congressional election between big-headed incumbent Cam Brady (Ferrell) and challenger Marty Huggins (Galifinakis), a simpleton family man who just so happens to be the son of a political giant and whose campaign is funded by the billionaire Motch brothers.

It really says something about Will Ferrell’s “lone-wolf” brand of comedy that most of his work can be summed up by simply saying, “You know, it’s another one of those Will Ferrell movies.” However, it seems that he’s finally met his comedic soul mate in Galifinakis. The two play off each other exceptionally well, and they take a moderately funny script and bring out just about every possible laugh. Although the supporting cast provides several great moments, none compare to the measured back-and-forth between the film’s stars. Roach has pulled off the difficult task of bringing together two stand-alone comedians to brilliant effect. Very few bits completely fall flat, and most scenes bring out at least a chuckle or two.

Much to the script’s credit, no specific politician or political party is called out directly ridiculed, save for the not-so-subtle jab at the real life Koch brothers, conservative financial giants known for discretely funding political action committees. Any movie in which politics are the central issue walks a thin line with audiences, lest they take offense at a particularly pointed joke, but The Campaign has few, if any, questionably biased moments. For the most part, it’s just another setting in which to place two excellently created characters and let hilarity ensue.

Part ribbing political lampoon, part slapstick comedy in traditional Will Ferrell style, The Campaign offers audiences a simpler kind of social satire in often hilarious fashion.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Dark Knight Rises Review

The superhero flick has become a bit of a redundant genre in the past ten years. Since the turn of the century, countless iterations of caped crusader films have hit Hollywood, a great number of which were forgettable CGI-based action thrillers.

That is, until director Christopher Nolan (InceptionMemento) got his hands on the Batman franchise. Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) helped redefine the superhero thriller with highly cerebral themes and a clear layer of subtext. Not to mention, Heath Ledger’s Academy Award winning turn as the Joker in the saga’s second installment has been hailed as one of the best supporting performances in film history. The Dark Knight Rises concludes the trilogy in tremendous form, living up to the prequels with a phenomenal cast, excellent writing, and great direction.

The film seems to be more of an ending to the trilogy rather than a stand alone sequel like Dark Knight. The addition of Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) brings a fresh element to the series. Rather than focusing on Batman’s “lone wolf” persona, Nolan chooses to make him a part of a much greater effort against the film’s major antagonist, Bane (Tom Hardy). The script, while not the masterpiece that the second film was, is very strong. Catwoman’s character regrettably feels underdeveloped at times, and I found myself occasionally wondering whether she was there only to add variety or whether her character was actually essential to the development of anyone else. The major conflict of the film is pretty standard, featuring a masked maniac intent on destroying Gotham city, and the many cameo appearances by characters from previous films makes for a complex and intelligent plotline. Nolan’s directorial genius shines through, with well choreographed action sequences and cinematography on par with the first two films.

Christian Bale has always seemed like a strange choice for Batman, but he has used his intensive Method style to bring the character of Bruce Wayne full circle. Anne Hathaway brings Catwoman to life more than anyone who has played her previously. The supporting cast features Joseph Gordon Levitt in a little advertised but highly prominent role as a young police detective, and brings back Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine to serve as Bruce Wayne’s faithful associates. Tom Hardy’s Bane is both intimidating and vindictive.

The trilogy’s conclusion ties up loose ends nicely. Most characters reach an emotional climax (though, again, Catwoman’s role as far as plot development is concerned seems questionable.) Audiences will enjoy the nod to the comic books, and the addition of some key batman figures adds depth and variety. Nolan has done it again: a dark Batman thriller that always has substance below the surface.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ted Review

Seth MacFarlane’s particular brand of irreverent humor translates well to the big screen in this raucous summer flick. Fans of MacFarlane’s monolith comedy series Family Guy, American Dad, or The Cleveland Show will find the world of Ted just as filled with off-color topical references and random cutaway gags as any of his other works. The fairly predictable plot focuses on late-twenties burnout John (Mark Wahlberg), as he tries to balance his relationships with girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis), and Ted (voiced by MacFarlane), the teddy bear he wished to life as a child.

For a movie that could have relied heavily on teddy-bear sex humor and immature comedy, Ted has a surprisingly acerbic wit that makes the occasional use of such humor a little more forgivable. The film’s best moments often come from the fanatical friendship between John and his best friend, and some cameos from Sam Jones (Flash Gordon) and Ryan Reynolds had me laughing out loud. Wahlberg seems to have been typecast a bit for this role, but his delightful turn in Ted more than justifies it.

MacFarlane has stated that he wanted to take the CGI effects mastered by James Cameron and Ridley Scott and implement them to make a live-action comedy, and the results here are superb. Wahlberg’s performance meshes extremely well with Ted’s animations, as evidenced by an uproariously funny hotel room fight scene. In fact, it’s surprising at points how well MacFarlane’s humor translates from animation to live-action.

With any luck, other live-action comedies will look to Ted as an example of how to use animation effectively: not as a means for easily overblown humor, but as a way to add depth to a story by creating characters that are genuinely funny. MacFarlane’s obvious mastery of this concept is likely what has endeared his work to television fanatics all over the world, and its use in Ted is refreshing and welcome.

Anyone who’s familiar with MacFarlane’s other work and enjoyed it will love Ted. A strong showing from the cast, combined with a smart and witty script, make this film  worth an evening out.

Rating: 4 out of 5