Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Movie Review: Flags of Our Fathers

Flags of Our Fathers

In Brief: What's Good

  • Some of the visuals are excellent, especially the brief naval scenes. Any shot that includes a view of the Pacific Fleet is breathtaking.

  • Somewhat informative about the invasion of Iwo Jima and the hype and controversy surrounding the raising of the flag.

In Brief: What's Not So Good

  • The movie's pace tends to be slow and gets worse closer & closer to the end.

C+ Story
B Acting
B Directing
A Visuals

Clint Eastwood directs this epic war movie that is a little more about the people back home than the people in the field. The movie tells the story of the World War II battle for Iwo Jima and the inspiring photograph of six soldiers raising the American flag on the island's highest peak.

After the island is taken, the story centers around three of the six men who raised the Iwo Jima flag. One is a Native American and an emotionally scarred alcoholic who feels guilty for gaining fame for the flag raising despite having had little impact in the battle. One is a young soldier who respects his role as an American hero without it quite going to his head. And the other is a naval corps doctor who may be the most heroic of the three for all he did to help heal and save the lives of dying soldiers. The story is told from the point of view of the doctor's grown son who is writing a book about his father's experiences and from the point of view of the veterans the author is interviewing.

Much of the story takes place back home. The American economy is hurting, and the government is having to sell war bonds to raise money for the military. The photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima is helping to inspire the American public, and the military decides to take the three soldiers on tour where their appearance helps with the fund raising.

I have mixed feelings about the visulas in the movie. The scenes of the battle at Iwo Jima are very muted, with almost everything except muzzle fire and explosions appearing as shades of grey and green. It's not a subtle choice and makes the scenes appear a bit overprocessed.

On the other hand, I was blown away every single time the U.S. naval fleet appeared on screen. I don't know if there were really that many ships at Iwo Jima. I wouldn't have thought there were that many in the whole U.S. navy. But, seeing the dozens, if not hundreds, of ships from the perspective of Iwo Jima's mountain peak, is breathtaking. The battle scenes were also well choreographed but also very chaotic. I would have been interested in the strategy behind the assault, but the American invasion force was ambushed so badly, I'm not sure strategy was well maintained.

Overall, Flags of Our Fathers is a somewhat interesting story, even educational. Where the story falls a bit short is in the very slow pace that gets worse toward the end. Several times when you think the movie is about to end, it just keeps going. You might say that the movie doesn't really end, it just dwindles away.

Oscar Awards

  • Nomination - Best Sound Editing

  • Nomination - Best Sound Mixing

Fun Fact from Wikipedia & IMDb

The Japanese government would not allow filming of battle scenes on the actual island of Iwo Jima, so those scenes were shot in a part of Iceland that has black sand similar to that of Iwo Jima.

Movie Review: Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa

In Brief: What's Good

  • Even if you've never seen another Rocky movie (like me), the movie stands on its own pretty well and does a good job making you like & understand the Rocky character.

  • The end credit sequence contains video of various random people running up the famous Philadelphia steps imitating Rocky's run up the steps when he's training. It's somewhat funny. Stay for the credits.

In Brief: What's Not So Good

  • The first half of the movie is a little slow.

  • The background piano music is a little sappy and overly noticeable at times.

B- Story
B Acting
B Directing
B- Visuals

I've never seen another Rocky movie, and I don't like boxing. I had plenty of reason to not like this movie, but it turned out to be a really nice story about courage and determination.

Until this movie came out, I never knew that Sylvester Stallone wrote all the Rocky movies and directed all but two. You can tell from the way the movie is made that this character and the story are close to Stallone's heart. Stallone and Rocky go hand in hand.

The concept for Rocky's comeback is done really well. A computer program highlighted on ESPN simulates a fight between the current undefeated champ and a younger version of Rocky still in his prime. In the simulation, Rocky actually beats the champ.

Still depressed about the death of his love Adrian and the emotional distance his son (Milo Ventimiglia) puts between them, Rocky fills the hole in his life by accepting the offer to fight the current champ in a real-life exhibition fight in Las Vegas. The champ doesn't like the idea. If he wins, he looks bad for beating up an old man. If he loses he looks bad for getting beaten up by an old man. When Rocky gives in to the idea, the champ's managers talk him into the fight.

What follows is Rocky's training montage, set to the Rocky theme song. Somehow, I'm guessing this is an element present in most, if not all, of the Rocky movies, but I actually liked it.

Another subplot involves Rocky befriending a local bartender and her teenage son. This is a nice subplot. In a typical hollywood movie, it'd be easy to set up the bartender as Rocky's new love interest and the teenage son as jaded and unaccepting of Rocky's old man ways.

Instead, the subplot takes a more subtle, mature, and realistic approach. Rocky is just trying to be a nice guy to this woman and her son, without ulterior motive. That really cemented Rocky as a likable and generous guy in my book.

For a movie about a boxing champ, Rocky Balboa is a very pleasant & refreshing movie. It's very well made, guilty only of being unspectacular, or else I may have given it a higher grade.

From people who have seen the other Rocky movies, I've heard that Rocky V was a major disappointment, even to Stallone himself. I would say Rocky Balboa redeems the franchise for the fifth installment and is a worthy way of wrapping up the long career of the movie's titular character (unless, of course, they do a seventh movie).

Fun Facts from Internet Movie Database

The movie contains flashbacks from all the other Rocky movies except Rocky V, which even Stallone himself admits is the weak link in the series. Allegedly, there is a fight scene that uses background images from an actual match that Stallone attended himself; and consequently, you should be able to see Stallone simultaneously as himself in the audience and as Rocky in the ring.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Movie Review: Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth

In Brief: What's Good

  • Great cinematography, special effects, and makeup.

  • Great performances were obvious even though the film is in Spanish.

In Brief: What's Not So Good

  • Hyped as a "fairy tale for adults" but feels like 25% fantasy / 75% reality. Too much Spanish Civil War aftermath; not enough labyrinth.

  • The movie does seem to drag in spots.

In Brief: Warnings

  • This movie is pretty violent, and a few scenes are gruesome. There are also scenes of fantastic creatures that may be creepy or even disturbing to kids. If "fairy tale for adults" is the description you hear or read about this movie, don't take the "for adults" part lightly. It is rated R for violence and language.

  • The movie is in Spanish with English subtitles (another reason it's not great for little kids).

B- Story
A- Acting
A- Directing
A Visuals

In the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in the mid-1940's, a girl named Ofelia occompanies her mother to her new home with Captain Vidal, her mother's new husband and father to Ophelia's unborn step-brother. Ofelia, who is obsessed with fantasy and fairy tales, meets a faun named Pan in a labyrinth near Vidal's estate.

Pan tells Ofelia that she is the immortal princess of the underwold, and that if she completes certain tasks, she will be returned to the mythical world from which she originated. On top of these tasks, Ofelia must also keep in balance the care of her ailing mother, the protection of her little brother from the cruel and murderous Captain Vidal, and keeping the secret of guerilla rebels hiding in the woods nearby.

Pan's Labyrinth is definitely an original story told with obvious love and care from its screenwriter and director Guillermo del Toro. After a few minutes, I didn't mind at all having to read subtitles to understand the dialogue, and it was easy to tell how good the performances were, despite the language barrier. The fantasy portions of the film excel with superb makeup, costumes, and special effects, and the war elements are intensely delivered with a sense of harsh realism.

However, if I had to nitpick about this movie, I would say that it does not have quite the story you might expect nor one that is being publicized by the media. The movie is being marketed as a "fairy tale for adults" and as having some of the same elements that made Lord of the Rings so popular. But, I felt that too much of the movie centered around the story of Captain Vidal and the remaining civil war rebels hiding near his estate, such that the fantasy portion had only a small fraction of the scope and wonder of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

If images of Pan, the Pale Man (the faceless creature with eyeballs in the palms of his hands), fairies, spooky gnarled trees, giant frogs, magical books, etc., make you want to go see this movie, be sure you also prepare yourself for gun fights in the woods, torture scenes, multiple executions by gunshot to the face, and a scene of someone stitching up their own major facial laceration. Some elements may be inspired by fairy tales, but a hefty portion of the film is still based in a cold, violent reality.

Oscar Awards

  • Win - Best Cinematography

  • Win - Best Art Direction

  • Win - Best Makeup

  • Nomination - Best Foreign Film

  • Nomination - Best Original Screenplay

  • Nomination - Best Original Score

Golden Globe Awards

  • Nomination - Best Foreign Language Film

Fun Fact from Wikipedia

Ivana Baquero, who plays Ofelia, is a few years older than screenwriter/director Guillermo del Toro had envisioned for the character. After casting Baquero, del Toro re-wrote the script to adjust for the age difference.

Fun Facts from Internet Movie Database

Doug Jones, who plays Pan and the Pale Man, was the only person on set who was American and did not speak Spanish. Jones learned his lines in Spanish and memorized Baquero's lines for Ofelia in Spanish as well because the machinery inside the Pan costume was so loud, he could not hear her lines. Del Toro thought he'd never get the story told because he once left his books of notes & drawings about the story in a cab. However, the cab driver found them, thought they were important, and at his own expense, tracked del Toro down to return the books. Del Toro took this as a blessing and was even more determined to make the movie.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Screen Actors Guild Awards

I'm more behind on my movie reviews than I would like. In addition to The Queen, Children of Men, and Dreamgirls, I've also seen Pan's Labyrinth, Rocky Balboa, Flags of Our Fathers, The Departed, and Babel. I hope to review those soon.

Until then...

The SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Awards were last night. I didn't watch, but I caught up on the nominations & wins from the internet this morning. I still have a few gaps in my movie viewing that I hope to catch up in the next two weeks (Volver, Notes on a Scandal, The Last King of Scotland, Letters form Iwo Jima, Blood Diamond, Little Miss Sunshine, and United 93), but here are the list of SAG nominees and winners with my opinions on what I've seen so far.

Best Motion Picture Cast

  • Babel

  • Bobby

  • The Departed

  • Dreamgirls

  • Little Miss Sunshine -- Winner

I saw The Departed on Friday and Babel on Sunday. I think both movies, overall, aren't as good as their hype, especially Babel. However, The Departed did have good performances from an all-star cast. I rented Little Miss Sunshine on DVD but haven't watched it yet, and I don't plan on seeing Bobby. To me, Dreamgirls has had the best ensemble cast I've seen so far, this award season. I wish they had won.

[Updated 12:35AM Sat 03 Feb 2007: I just watched Little Miss Sunshine on DVD, and it's official... Dreamgirls got robbed in this category!!! Little Miss Sunshine had some fairly decent performances, but nothing compared to the performances in Dreamgirls. Plus, the cast of Dreamgirls was given far better material to work with too. I was actually pretty disappointed in Little Miss Sunshine.]

Best Motion Picture Lead Actor

  • Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond)

  • Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson)

  • Peter O'Toole (Venus)

  • Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness)

  • Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) -- Winner

So far, I've only seen The Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith was good enough to get nominated but not quite good enough to win. I plan on seeing The Last King of Scotland soon, soley on the hype of Whitaker's performance, and I may force myself to go see Blood Diamond even though I'm not thrilled to do so.

Best Motion Picture Lead Actress

  • Penelope Cruz (Volver)

  • Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal)

  • Helen Mirren (The Queen) -- Winner

  • Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada)

  • Kate Winslet (Little Children)

The Queen is the only one of these five I've seen so far, but I'm really happy Mirren won. She was awesome in her role. I plan on seeing Volver and Notes on a Scandal soon too, but I'm guessing no one can outshine Mirren.

[Updated 11:55PM Sat 03 Feb 2007: I just saw Volver and Notes on a Scandal back-to-back this afternoon. Both Penelope Cruz and Judi Dench were really good, so I'd say they deserved their nominations. In fact, in a normal year, Dench probably would have deserved to win. But, she had the misfortune of going up against Helen Mirren this year, and I still think her performance in The Queen was the best.]

Best Motion Picture Supporting Actor

  • Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)

  • Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed)

  • Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children)

  • Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond)

  • Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls) -- Winner

I'm really glad Murphy won. From this list, I've only seen Dreamgirls and The Departed so far. I can see how DiCaprio would deserve the nomination, but really, so did Matt Damon.

Best Motion Picture Supporting Actress

  • Adriana Barraza (Babel)

  • Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal)

  • Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)

  • Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) -- Winner

  • Rinko Kikuchi (Babel)

Jennifer Hudson was another lock for this award, and I'm happy to see her win. Adriana Barraza was pretty good in Babel, but I think Rinko Kikuchi is a bit over-rated. I think a big part of her nomination was her willingness to appear fully unclothed in several scenes.

[Updated 12:58PM Sat 03 Feb 2007: Now that I've seen Notes on a Scandal at the theater this afternoon and watched Little Miss Sunshine on DVD last night, I can say that Cate Blanchett would have been my 1st choice and Jennifer Hudson my 2nd. After that, it'd would have been Adriana Barraza 3rd, Abigail Breslin 4th, and Rinko Kikuchi last.]

Best TV Drama Ensemble

  • 24

  • Boston Legal

  • Deadwood

  • Grey's Anatomy -- Winner

  • The Sopranos

I'm happy with Grey's Anatomy's win. The only other show in these five that I watch is Boston Legal. That's got a great cast too. However, the standout material is usually given to James Spader, William Shatner, and Candice Bergen, with everyone else just along for the ride (especially the tragically under-utilized Rene Auberjoinois). So, with Grey's Anatomy being a more balanced cast, they do deserve the win.

Best TV Drama Actor

  • James Gandolfini (The Sopranos)

  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)

  • Hugh Laurie (House) -- Winner

  • James Spader (Boston Legal)

  • Kiefer Sutherland (24)

Very happy that Hugh Laurie won and that James Spader was at least nominated. They're two of my favorite TV actors right now.

Best TV Drama Actress

  • Patricia Arquette (Medium)

  • Edie Falco (The Sopranos)

  • Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU)

  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)

  • Chandra Wilson (Grey's Anatomy) -- Winner

The only show I watch from these five is Grey's Anatomy, but I'm happy not only that Chandra Wilson won but that she was the one from her cast nominated in the first place, rather than one of her younger colleagues.

Best TV Comedy Ensemble

  • Desperate Housewives

  • Entourage

  • The Office -- Winner

  • Ugly Betty

  • Weeds

I'm disappointed that Ugly Betty did not win this one, but I've heard good things about The Office. At least Desperate Housewives didn't win.

Best TV Comedy Actor

  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock) -- Winner

  • Steve Carell (The Office)

  • Jason Lee (My Name Is Earl)

  • Jeremy Piven (Entourage)

  • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)

Best TV Comedy Actress

  • America Ferrera (Ugly Betty) -- Winner

  • Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives)

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (The New Adventures of Old Christine)

  • Megan Mullally (Will & Grace)

  • Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)

  • Jaime Pressly (My Name Is Earl)

Very happy to see America Ferrera win another award (she already got the Golden Globe). Felicity Huffman would have been a good choice too. Even though Desperate Housewives isn't what it used to be, Huffman's performance is still one of the show's few saving graces. Megan Mullaly? Was it in 2006 when Will & Grace was in its final season? Seems like ages ago.

Best TV Movie or Miniseries Actor

  • Thomas Haden Church (Broken Trail)

  • Robert Duvall (Broken Trail)

  • Jeremy Irons (Elizabeth I) -- Winner

  • William H. Macy (Nightmares & Dreamscapes)

  • Matthew Perry (The Ron Clark Story)

Best TV Movie or Miniseries Actress

  • Annette Bening (Mrs. Harris)

  • Shirley Jones (Hidden Places)

  • Cloris Leachman (Mrs. Harris)

  • Helen Mirren (Elizabeth I) -- Winner

  • Greta Scacchi (Broken Trail)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Movie Review: Dreamgirls


In Brief: What's Good

  • Excellent acting & superb singing, especially from Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy.

  • Excellent settings, costumes, wigs, and hair-dos (with a few frightening exceptions).

  • Excellent final scene. I'm big on endings & closure, things coming full circle, etc. This movie does great in that respect.

  • Scenes from the movie and concept drawings for the costumes are intercut with the closing credits. Stay for those.

In Brief: What's Not So Good

  • The dialogue that is occasionally sung instead of spoken temporarily robs the movie of cinematic feel and reminds you that it's a musical adapted for the screen. There's more than enough music in the scenes where characters are performing, recording, or practicing actual songs, so the conversations set to music seem like overkill.

  • A rather obvious cameo from John Lithgow as a slimey movie producer (as well as the guy who plays Jim on The Office as Lithgow's assistant) was a bit jarring. The scene would have been less distracting with a lesser known actor.

  • In the same scene with Lithgow, Beyonce drops the F-bomb, the only time that the F word is uttered in the whole movie. The movie was doing fine without it, and this too, felt out of place.

B+ Story
A Acting
A- Directing
B+ Visuals

Dreamgirls is an epic musical about African-American singers and music producers that spans the 1960's & 1970's. With an all-star cast that has earned the movie several acting nominations and awards, Dreamgirls contains excellent performances from Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson (American Idol), Anika Noni Rose, Sharon Leal (Boston Public), Danny Glover, Keith Robinson, and Hinton Battle.

Based on a Broadway play (that I confess I've never heard of), Dreamgirls centers on the struggles, professional successes, and interpersonal relationships of a female soul trio called the Dreamettes. The movie begins showing the Dreamettes starting at the bottom, and it's probably not revealing too much to say the rest of the movie portrays their gradual rise to stardom. Like many successful musical groups, there are disputes, divisions, and reunions, and the men in these women's lives are the producers, song writers, and fellow performers that work with them.

Of course, this movie has already gained massive attention for the performance of Jennifer Hudson, a virtual unknown actress who is most known for being one of the middle finalists on a season of American Idol. While this movie has an extensive ensemble cast, Hudson's character could probably be considered the central character, and frankly, I thought her singing sounded better than Beyonce.

Beyonce automatically gets hype for having already been a famous singer in real life, and she puts in a good acting performance here too. However, I felt just as good about the performance of Anika Noni Rose, the somewhat overlooked third member of the trio who occasionally serves as the movie's comic relief. Although she wasn't given much focus in the movie, I was also really glad to see Sharon Leal, familiar to some as the beautiful teacher in TV show Boston Public, later join the trio. Another fellow Boston Public alumni, Loretta Devine, also makes a memorable cameo later in the movie (see Fun Facts from Wikipedia below).

I've heard some refer to Jamie Foxx's performance as more understated than usual, but I would say he was just as impressive as Eddie Murphy who has already earned a Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination in the Supporting Actor categories. Danny Glover has a nice but small role, and I also liked the acting & singing of Keith Robinson who played a songwriter in the movie. I could have sworn Robinson was the actor who used to play the young neighbor on the Cosby Show, but according to Internet Movie Database, he actually got his start on Power Rangers (let's all overlook that, shall we; just pretend I didn't mention it).

This is a movie with a ton of heart and soul. With a cast this good and such careful attention given to the writing, music, and visual aspects, it's no wonder this movie is racking up award nominations and wins. In an Oscar season full of dark and violent movies (like The Departed, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, etc.) it's nice to have a movie of equal or greater quality that also happens to be refreshing, uplifting, and appealing to a wider audience.

Oscar Awards

  • Win - Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson

  • Win - Best Sound Mixing

  • Nomination - Best Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy

  • Nomination - Best Original Song: "Love You, I Do"

  • Nomination - Best Original Song: "Patience"

  • Nomination - Best Original Song: "Listen"

  • Nomination - Best Art Direction

  • Nomination - Best Costumes

Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Win - Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson

  • Win - Best Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy

  • Nomination - Best Motion Picture Ensemble Cast

Golden Globe Awards

  • Win - Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture

  • Win - Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson

  • Win - Best Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy

  • Nomination - Best Musical or Comedy Lead Actress: Beyonce Knowles

  • Nomination - Best Musical or Comedy Original Song: "Listen"

Fun Fact from Wikipedia

Anika Noni Rose is only 5'2" tall, and most of her co-stars are significantly taller. For much of the movie she had to wear shoes with 4" & 5" heels.

Fun Facts from Wikipedia

Jennifer Hudson is said to have gained 20 pounds to play her role of Effie White. Also, Loretta Devine, who made a cameo in the movie, originated Anika Noni Rose's character of Lorell Robinson in the original Broadway production.

Movie Review: Children of Men

Children of Men

In Brief: What's Good

  • Noticeably excellent directing, cinemtography, stunts, pyrotechnics, etc.

  • Some scenes utilize mind boggling camera work and carefully choreographed action.

  • Story is simple & straight forward but also has an undertone of religious symbolism.

In Brief: What's Not So Good

  • A bit too violent for anyone who's squeamish.

  • Some traits of the main character make him not so likeable in the beginning.

  • The ending could have used more closure.

B+ Story
B+ Acting
A+ Directing
A+ Visuals

Children of Men stars Clive Owen as Theo Faron, a jaded office worker in London in the year 2027 who stumbles into a situation of monumental importance to the future of the human race.

One of the many strengths of the movie is how well it follows the cinemaitc rule of "show, don't tell." It is through news reports, billboards, newspaper headlines, graffiti, background action, and very organic dialogue that we learn of this post-apocalyptic world's backstory.

In the year 2008, a pandemic has wiped out all children everywhere and made all women infertile. Adults grieve over the recent death of a teenager, known to the whole world as earth's youngest human, until now. Grief and despair has thrown nations into chaos and nuclear war. Somehow, the only country left with some hope is Britain, now a magnet for international refugees but also a nation plagued with overpopulation, poverty, violence, and corruption. Hope comes in the form of a young woman named Kee, pregnant with the earth's first new child in decades. It is left to Theo to accompany the young woman and her unborn child to safety.

This is, quite possibly, the most visually stunning movie I've seen in a long time, outside of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Instead of relying heavily on flashy explosions or obvious computer graphics, the director, Alfonso Cuaron, chooses to use special cameras and the art of cinemtography to film scenes you wouldn't think would be possible to shoot. Many scenes take place (or at least *appear* to take place) in one continuous shot, a technique I happen to really appreciate whenever it's used in film or TV. Often, the camera follows the action so closely and for such extended lengths of time, it sometimes feels as if you're viewing the action through the eyes of someone in the movie that none of the other characters can see.

Two scenes especially stand out in my mind. In one scene, five actors ride in a car and the camera pans around to see each actor in perfect focus as well as a myriad of action happening outside the car. You see action occur through the windshield and windows as if the cameraman were a little person sitting on the armrest between the driver & passenger seats. In a later scene, the camera follows characters through a warzone, into a building, and back out of it. The scene involves multiple gunfights, people ducking in and out of alleyways, bullets flying through walls, and even a tank--all in one seemless shot!!! According to trivia about the movie at Wikipedia, that scene was actually done in about five separate takes and stitched together using computer graphics. If so, you can't tell it.

Not only is this a visually stunning movie, but the performances are excellent too. I'm usually not a Clive Own fan, but he's very good in this movie. While I wasn't thrilled about his character's smoking habit or excessive profanity, one should definitely sympathize with his character for all he goes through in protecting his pregnant companion. In fact, there are times you feel Owen and the other actors may have been in geniune danger filming the movie, considering how real the action is. In a welcome supporting role, the always impressive Michael Caine plays a reclusive hippie and loyal friend to Owen's character. Julianne Moore also appears in the movie as someone from Theo's past who enlists his assistance in her dire mission.

The story for this movie is simple yet powerful and poignant. The movie contains obvious biblical overtones with the pregnant Kee representing Mary (although Kee is not a virgin like Mary), Theo being a protective figure the way Joseph was for his wife, and Kee's miraculous child being a Chirst-like figure. Personally, I would have liked a little more closure to the story, but instead, the movie leaves the future up to the imagination and assumptions of the viewer. Also, the political overtones can get a little confusing at times, as there seem to be corruption and hidden motives behind every faction, but that does not get in the way of the backbone of the story which is the protecting of Kee and her child.

Oscar Awards

  • Nomination - Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Nomination - Best Cinematography

  • Nomination - Best Editing

Fun Fact from Wikipedia

In the first part of the movie, British Homeland Security personnel carry Heckler & Koch XM8 rifles, which are currently experimental.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Movie Review: The Queen

The Queen

In Brief: What's Good

  • Helen Mirren's performance is just as good as everyone says it is. She deserves the nominations & awards that she's getting.

  • Very tight script. Virtually every scene is either dramatic, informative, or symbolic. There is little, if anything, that happens in the movie that isn't important to the overall story.

  • Excellent sets, natural scenaries, costumes, and the hair & make-up required to make Mirren look like the queen.

In Brief: What's Not As Good

  • Despite being only 97 minutes long, the movie seems to have a couple false endings--spots where you feel the movie could end on an emotional peak only to be followed up by more story material and a rather restrained final scene (possibly to reflect the restraint of the family the movie is based on).

A Story
A+ Acting
A- Directing
B+ Visuals

The Queen is a docudrama about the British royal family and how they and their country reacted to the death of Princess Diana back in 1997. It stars Golden Globe winner Helen Mirren in the role of Queen Elizabeth II.

The movie examines the British monarchy from all angles. Predominantly, the movie portrays the royal family as being cold and distant, especially when it comes to their handling of Diana's death. Queen Elizabeth believes that Diana's divorce from Charles makes her death less relevant to the monarchy and that the grieving of her grandsons William and Harry should be a completely private matter. She's baffled by the sadness that British people and the rest of the world feel toward Diana's death and the malice that they feel to the monarchy for not making a public statement.

The queen's husband Prince Phillip, played by James Cromwell (Star Trek: First Contact), reacts even more coldly. He gets angry over the fuss that the world is making over Diana and is much more interested in "stalking" (hunting) a wild stag near the royal family's Balmoral estate. He thinks that any grief that Princes William & Harry may feel over their mother's death can be solved by going stalking with him. The Queen Mother comes off as being less cold but still representing an "old school" style monarchy that was instilled in her daughter a long time ago. In contrast, Prince Charles is painted as a sympathetic and progressive character, plotting behind his mother's back to make Diana's funeral more public so that the rest of the world can show their respects.

Throughout the movie I occasionally wondered how much of the movie was accurate and how much was creative license. Considering the privacy and reverancy of the real royal family, I doubt they were consulted or interviewed about what went on behind the scenes during that week of Diana's death. I have a feeling that to get the movie made the makers were required--or made the choice on their own--not to focus on the reactions of Princes William & Harry, as they are barely seen in the movie and have no speaking roles.

In contrast to the royal family, Michael Sheen plays then new Prime Minister Tony Blair who is more prorgressive and in touch with the emotional reaction of the British people. While the royals are villafied in the press, Tony (as he likes to be called) is painted as a hero of the people. I was a little worried in the first few scenes of Tony that Sheen was playing him as a bumbling characature. I think that was more from his nervousness in his first meeting with the queen as a fresh, new prime minister. As the movie progresses, Tony becomes a more powerful force, using his position to influence the queen, instead of the other way around, but doing so with restraint, respect, and cautious articulation. He can easily become one's favorite or 2nd favorite character in the whole movie.

The queen, herself, is not painted as wholly uncaring. Further into the movie, there are moments where Elizabeth shows some emotional vulnerability and some doubt about the role of a monarchy in a modern society. There are also some scenes between the Queen and the Queen Mother showing that in some ways, Elizabeth is still a little childish and naive, despite her age and influence. Having become a ruling monarch at such a young age and taking a role that is believed to be destined by God, Elizabeth definitely did not have a normal childhood or adult life. To a certain extent, one almost feels sympathetic towards her, realizing that her emotional distance and naivite are unavoidable in a role she is forced into by heredity and tradition.

Considering how the royal family seems obsessed with their hobby of stalking wild stags, it's nice to see the brief role of one stag in the movie symbolize the life of Diana. It draws a nice analogy between the hunters and the paparazzi that chased Diana to her death. The queen's reaction to the life and fate of this stag makes one hope she saw the analogy herself. If she didn't, it only reinforces people's perception of a monarch out of touch with her people. If she did, it shows that perhaps Diana's death actually touched her in some way and made her a better queen.

Oscar Awards

  • Win - Best Lead Actress: Helen Mirren

  • Nomination - Best Picture

  • Nomination - Best Directing: Stephen Frears

  • Nomination - Best Original Screenplay: Peter Morgan

  • Nomination - Best Costumes

  • Nomination - Best Original Score

Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Win - Best Lead Actress: Helen Mirren

Golden Globe Awards

  • Win - Best Lead Actress in Drama: Helen Mirren

  • Win - Best Original Screenplay: Peter Morgan

  • Nomination - Best Director: Stephen Frears

  • Nomination - Best Motion Picture in Drama

Fun Fact from Wikipedia

This is the third time Helen Mirren has portrayed a British queen. She earned an Oscar nomination as Queen Charlotte in the film "The Madness of King George" (1994) and earned both an Emmy and a Golden Globe as Queen Elizabeth I in the TV mini-series "Elizabeth I" (2005).

Fun Fact from Internet Movie Database

When "The Queen" premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Helen Mirren's performance earned her a five minute standing ovation.