Category Archives: Ancient & Historical

Review – Suffragette (12a) [2015]

Suffragette - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Sarah Gavron – Brick Lane, Village At The End Of The World

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The right to vote is an emotionally charged subject. In the UK, the right to vote is a birth-right for citizens of eighteen and above. But we must not forget that this was not always the case, and women had to fight harder to acquire this right.

Suffragette - Maud and her husband in the factory

Maud (Carey Mulligan) working in the grimy laundry factory with her husband, Sonny (Ben Whishaw).

At the turn of the twentieth-century, most men could vote in the UK but women could not. Rightly, this caused tension and gave rise to the Suffragette movement, headed by Emmeline Pankhurst. The Suffragettes used ‘direct action’ to bring attention to the injustice of women being unable to vote. Suffragette focuses on this movement, and the consequences these women suffered to bring the injustice of women being denied the right to vote to the forefront of the world’s attention. But, sadly, none of it is done particularly well.

Suffragette is set in London between 1912-13. It is based around real events but our protagonist, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), is fictional. Maud works in a laundry factory, struggling to make ends meet. Appalled at the working conditions and the treatment of women by her boss, Norman Taylor (Geoff Bell), Maud joins the Suffragettes and gradually becomes more and more involved in the movement, despite the consequences of doing so.

Suffragette is a surprisingly bland and uninteresting film. The movie starts off with a funereal drum beat, plus some misogynistic quotes from British politicians taken out of context. This sets the tone for a highly unsophisticated, puerile and uneventful outlook of the era and the movement. Alas, the film does not improve as it goes on. Worse, the film becomes sterile, making its 106-minute run time seem considerably longer.

Maud at a demonstration for women's right to vote with Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff, left) and Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter, right).

Maud at a demonstration for women’s right to vote with Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff, left) and Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter, right).

For all the film’s sterility, Suffragette grapples well (and not so well) with some of the issues plaguing the era. The film successfully shows us that conditions in factories were horrible back then; that people were much more patriotic back then toward the monarchy and the country compared to nowadays; that women, their offspring and their properties were controlled by their (abusive) husbands; that the Suffragettes adopted dubious, violent, and borderline-terrorist methods to get their message heard; and that the Suffragettes were treated harshly in prison. This gives us some insight into the mindset and workings of pre-World War I British society, which is interesting.

But, alas, all of the above is tackled only at a shallow level in the film. Moreover, by the end of Suffragette, one learns little else about the era, other than that all the men were ignorant, misogynistic, lying, woman-beaters, and that all the women were heroines monolithically united in their struggle to get the vote. This is woefully unrepresentative of the era and unacceptably simplistic. If anything, this tells us more about script-writer Abi Morgan than about the era she wishes to portray. It is almost as if Morgan is more interested in imposing her opinions (propaganda) upon her audiences than portraying history fairly. Then again, this is not the first time that Morgan has imposed her views on viewers and portrayed history unfairly. She did it in The Iron Lady by riding roughshod over Margaret Thatcher. So should viewers really have gone into Suffragette expecting an honest portrayal of the Suffragette movement and the era, with Morgan having written the movie?

The lack of objectivity in the film means that the cast of Suffragette have one hand tied behind their backs from the outset. In spite of this, however, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff and Natalie Press (who plays Emily Davison) all perform decently. Also, Meryl Streep puts in a solid cameo as the fire-brand Emmeline Pankhurst.

Maud being counselled in custody by Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson).

Maud being counselled in custody by Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson).

Nevertheless, the cast are further let down by clunky dialogue and by the lack of depth in their characters. Both of these have the knock-on effect of rendering the cast unsympathetic and lifeless. And when a predominantly female cast comes across as unsympathetic and lifeless about a subject as emotive and justifiable as the right for women to vote, something is seriously wrong with the film.

Over-all, Suffragette is a very disappointing movie. Yes, the film effectively highlights that women in the UK did not have the right to vote at the turn of the twentieth-century and that the Suffragettes brought the issue to the world’s attention with their antics. All the same, though, the film portrays the era and the Suffragette movement in an inexcusably one-dimensional, immature manner. Consequently, the movie is dull and if it wasn’t for the cast, the movie would have been duller still.

Considering that the issue Suffragette deals with has such emotion behind it, it is stunning how little emotion Suffragette evokes. This is an injustice to the women (Suffragette or otherwise) who put their lives on the line back then to win the right to vote in the UK; and it is an injustice to all women in the world who still put their lives on the line to win such rights today.

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Review – Macbeth (15) [2015]

Macbeth - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

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To look back is a double-edged sword. To look back upon one’s achievements, mistakes and losses in order to grow as a person and to build a better future is important and valuable. Nevertheless, to look back longingly fetters an individual. Justin Kurzel’s take on Macbeth illustrates how looking back longingly can manifest itself in a variety of negative ways on people and impair them.

Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), bloody and filthy, in the heart of a battle.

Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), bloody and filthy, in the heart of a (cloudy) battle in the Scottish Highlands.

Kurzel’s Macbeth is based on the play, written by William Shakespeare. Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor (Michael Fassbender), receives a prophecy from three witches. They tell him that one day he will become King of Scotland and that no man of woman born will be able to kill him… although, they do warn him to be wary of Macduff (Sean Harris). Consumed by ambition and urged on by his manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), Macbeth acts to fulfil the prophecy. But at what cost?

Macbeth is a compelling and gripping film. Central to this are the performances. David Thewlis as Duncan is decent, and Sean Harris as Macduff is very good as usual. Yet, it is the two main performers that stand out. Both Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are riveting. One may not always understand what they say since the movie is in Shakespearean English. But due to the strength and rawness of their performances, viewers can feel the emotion behind their words and, therefore, understand their actions.

It helps that audiences can empathise with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth straight from the off. Macbeth begins with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffering a tragic loss, and this loss never leaves them. No matter what they achieve, they are always looking back upon this loss and it devours them.

That this scene is not in the original script that Shakespeare wrote should not be of concern, even to play purists. In the play, this tragedy for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is mentioned, so it is part of the story. But by showing the event and making it the opening scene of the film, Kurzel gives the event a gravitas that is lacking in the original play.

Macbeth greeting Duncan (David Thewlis) upon the latter's arrival at Cordor.

Macbeth greeting Duncan (David Thewlis) upon the latter’s arrival at Cawdor.

This alteration from the source material is not the only instance in which Kurzel plays fast and loose with Shakespeare’s version of the story. Nonetheless, for play purists to put too much stress on the alterations would be to miss what Kurzel keeps and enhances from the original play. What’s more, unlike other adaptations which have given Macbeth a more modern slant (for example, the 2013 London theatre production starring James McAvoy as the titular character), Kurzel has made his 2015 film adaptation more medieval. Consequently, the movie is bloody, grisly and muddy; all of which is fitting for the story.

In addition, with the Scottish Highlands for the main setting, Kurzel has increased the authenticity of the play. The landscapes are apt and wondrous (perhaps even worth fighting for). Yet, the weather is grim, windy and rainy. These conditions breed miserable, nasty people who are devoid of humour. Indeed, the entire movie is devoid of humour and somehow that feels right.

Indeed, Kurzel gets much right. However, his version of Macbeth is not without its flaws: the movie should have been longer than 113-minutes, and some key scenes are missing; the first twenty minutes are heavily edited, to point that one could easily believe that Kurzel has ADD; the battles are underwhelming, difficult to see, and rely too much on (300-style) slow-motion followed by super-fast, killer moves; and the final scene is jarringly out of sync with medieval times.

Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) trying to soothe her now kingly husband at Bamburgh Castle.

Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) trying to soothe her now kingly husband at Bamburgh Castle.

Nevertheless, even in the scenes where Kurzel does not get everything right, one can still be overcome by the music. The score has been written by Justin’s brother, Jed, and it resonates deeply with audiences. The music enables one to feel Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s triumphs. Yet, in the same beat, it also enables one to feel as if the couple are looking back longingly at the loss that they cannot get over.

Over-all, Macbeth is a really impressive film. The movie is not without its problems as it should have been longer, while the first twenty minutes and the last scenes should have been handled better. All the same, there is much to admire about Kurzel’s Macbeth from its gritty realism of Scotland in the late-medieval period, to the alterations that Kurzel has made from the original source material, to the astonishing performances of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

Undoubtedly, Fassbender and Cotillard make up the best elements of the film. They depict the strength and ambition of the two characters, as well as their tragic natures. They do this by presenting what can happen to us if we look back longingly for something we’ve lost. Fassbender and Cotillard show us that this loss will eat away at us and undermine everything we achieve, even if we achieve all that we desire and more.

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Review – Les Misérables (12a) [2013]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

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At the beginning of 2012, audiences were treated to the silent film, The Artist. It was unexpectedly charming and something different in an age of formulaic, clichéd blockbusters. A year on, and audiences are treated to something different once again in the form of the marvellous Les Misérables.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), looking like a scraggy vagabond, as a convicted criminal about to be released on parole.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), looking like a scraggy vagabond, as a convicted criminal about to be released on parole.

The storyline is based upon the 1862 historical-fiction novel by Victor Hugo and the subsequent theatre production. It loosely centres round Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Javier (Russell Crowe). Jean Valjean is a convicted man, who breaks his parole and seemingly vanishes in his bid to start a new life. Javier, the Inspector, upon discovering what Jean Valjean has done, is determined to find Prisoner 24601 and bring him to justice.

The plot for Les Misérables is more detailed and layered than that, especially as it has a large cast all with roles to play before the story ends. Unlike the stage version, the film does a good job of keeping the narrative understandable and easy to follow, despite having to take out chunks from the book. This is no small achievement, considering that more or less the entire movie is sung. Credit should rightly go to Tom Hooper for this, as well as for successfully turning a theatrical play into an Oscar-nominated film. (It should be borne in mind that The Woman In Black was the last time a director attempted to translate a play into a movie, and the less said about that film the better!)

However, in spite of Hooper cutting out sections of the book, the film still seems too long and somehow bloated at 158 minutes. The Artist, it should be noted, is only 100 minutes and, consequently, does not feel over-stuffed. Part of the reason for why Les Misérables feels this way is due to the numerous sub-plots taking place throughout the story, many of which have only questionable importance to its outcome.

Inspector Javier (Russell Crowe), wearing almost the identical garb of the former (and now fallen) Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte I, on the lookout for Jean Valjean.

Inspector Javier (Russell Crowe), wearing almost the identical garb of the former (and now fallen) Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte I, on the lookout for Jean Valjean.

Yet, more significantly, does the story actually matter? When one watches Les Misérables in the theatre, one is more likely to be awed by the music and the mechanics of the stage, than taken in by the (slightly contrived) narrative. But the movie does not have an innovatively-devised podium. Additionally, it suffers from a cast that, while stellar in name, generally lack the powerful vocals of their stage counterparts.

Russell ‘wannabe-Napoleon Bonaparte’ Crowe and Hugh Jackman, the two leading men, are particularly guilty of this. It is not that their performances are bad, it is just painfully obvious that they are actors first and singers a distant second. One might argue that this is what Hooper desired as he claimed to want the vocals ‘raw’ and conversational, rather than melodramatic. (Then again, he could have been saying this as a defence of his cast, in hindsight, after realising that he should have used stage actors instead of Crowe and Jackman.)

Also, the more one sees and hears the supporting cast, the more Crowe and Jackman are shown up; in particular, against Anne Hathaway. Hathaway, as Fantine, might look pale and terribly thin with her skin, bone and flesh emaciated a la Natalie Portman in Black Swan, but she most certainly can sing. In Rio I, Hathaway showed that she can sing well and nicely. But in Les Misérables she takes her talents to a new level, acquiring immense vigour in her voice, despite clearly lacking in nourishment.

No-one else looks starved like her, but Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks, as the rebel Marius and Éponine, respectively, have very good voices; Amanda Seyfried, as Cosette, illustrates that she’s a better singer than actor (and that she can exist without her incongruous pink lip-gloss, unlike in the medieval-themed Red Riding Hood); while Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, respectively, show us that they may not have noteworthy vocals, but that they can still make us laugh whilst in tune.

Jean Valjean, now all cleaned up and living a new life under a false name, holding a poorly street-woman, who just so happens to be Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

Jean Valjean, now all cleaned up and living a new life under a false name, holding a poorly street-woman, who just so happens to be Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

Yet, if one is truly bothered about the singing not being up to scratch with the stage performers, one can still admire the sceneries and the visuals. Cinema, as opposed to theatre, is not limited by the area of a stage (however impressive the mechanics of it may be), and Hooper uses this to his advantage to give viewers a true feel for the (miserable) neighbourhoods that our characters come from in a way that the theatre perhaps can’t convey as deeply.

All-in-all, Les Misérables is very impressive theatrical production-cum-film. The cast’s vocals may not be as strong as those actors on the stage, and the movie lacks some of the charms of the theatre. Nevertheless, like The Artist, Les Misérables is something different, and it should be celebrated that an operatic-style film can be delivered in such a superb and entertaining manner.

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Review – Wrath of the Titans 3D (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

The poverty of Clash of the Titans was so blatant, it was embarrassing. Yet, after making an astonishing near-$500million, Hollywood has (rather unsurprisingly) made a sequel. And with Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls, Battle: Los Angeles, Ninja Turtles) replacing Louis Leterrier as director, Wrath of the Titans is a marked improvement on the first in the series.

Perseus (Sam Worthington), the mortal son of Zeus, taking on a one-eyed giant. Perseus’s hand must be stronger than it looks to hold the giant’s strength at bay.

Wrath of the Titans takes place in ancient Greece, ten years after Perseus defeated the kraken. With his wife now dead, Perseus (Sam Worthington – Clash of the Titans, The Debt, Drift) has to bring up his son, Helius (John Bell – A Shine of Rainbows, Battleship, The Hobbit I-II), alone.

It is then that Zeus (Liam Neeson – Star Wars I, Clash of the Titans, The Dark Knight Rises), Perseus’s father, comes to Earth to warn his son that the gods need the help of the ‘half-gods’ to defeat the storm that is coming in the form of the vengeful titans. With treachery afoot in Tartarus, the underworld in which Hades (Ralph Fiennes – Clash of the Titans, Harry Potter VII(ii), Skyfall) is lord, it is only a matter of time before Cronus, the leader of the titans, unleashes his fury. Perseus will need the help of Hephaestus (Bill Nighy – Pirates of the Caribbean II-III, Harry Potter VII(i), I, Frankenstein), Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike – Die Another Day, An Education, Gone Girl) and her men, as well as the last of the gods and the ‘half-gods’ to defeat the evil that is to strike at ancient Greece.

Yes, the storyline is as ludicrous as that. When a film opens up with a narrator saying that the ancient world was ruled by “gods and monsters,” one has a fairly good idea that he/she is not going to be watching a classic, intellectually-stimulating film (to say the least).

Hades (Ralph Fiennes), the younger brother of Zeus and Lord of the Underworld, holding his pitch fork. Will he side with the evil titans?

Nonetheless, Wrath of the Titans is far from a hundred minutes of painful viewing. To make up for the plot’s (abundant) deficiencies, the film has many fighting scenes and a plethora of pretty good special effects to keep viewers entertained. The clockwork-like structure of the city of Tartarus has been put together exceptionally well, with much creativity and imagination. If there is one redeeming feature of the movie, it is Tartarus. (And it would have looked even better had the producers bothered to put some effort into the 3D.)

In addition, Wrath of the Titans is surprisingly accurate when it comes to informing its audience on certain aspects of ancient Greek mythology, such as how Hades became Lord of the Underworld; and who made his forked-pitch, as well as Zeus’ bolt and Poseidon’s triton.

However, the parts of the movie that have been done well are likely to be forgotten amidst the paucity of the rest of it. The music sounds like a contrived version of the uplifting score used in Transformers I-III. And if the music and the storyline aren’t bad enough, the acting and the dialogue are wooden and shallow. Sam Worthington, Rosamund Pike, Edgar Ramires (The Bourne Ultimatum, Carlos the Jackal, Zero Dark Thirty), playing Ares, and Toby Kebbell (Match Point, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, The East), playing Agenor, are all seemingly unfit for their respective roles (and it’s not as if Worthington hasn’t played a hero before either).

Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) looking good as a warrior queen in boiled leather. Will her army rally to her cause to save ancient Greece from the destruction that will be unleashed with the wrath of the titans?

Moreover, one must wonder why Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and, to some extent, Bill Nighy, who reprises his bizarre Scottish accent that he used in Pirates of the Caribbean II-III, would accept such roles. One almost doesn’t want to see them in these sorts of films as they can only humiliate themselves by doing so. (Seriously, do they need the money that much?)

All-in-all, Wrath of the Titans suffers from similar insufficiencies as Clash of the Titans. The film has a ludicrous storyline, a cast that plays poorly, and an appalling script. Nonetheless, Wrath of the Titans is quite entertaining and an upgrade on the first in the series. Not that that is saying much.

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Review – Coriolanus (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 4/5

<<guest review by KJF>>

William Shakespeare and the filmed medium have an uneasy relationship. Over the years many film-makers have attempted to bring his plays to the silver screen but not all have been successful, with some versions feeling staid and flat. For all the glories of Laurence Olivier’s trilogy of adaptations, in more recent years there have been Kenneth Branagh’s Love Labour’s Lost (2000) and As You like it (2006), which were both poorly received. Ralph’s Fiennes’ Coriolanus bucks the trend, providing an inventive, violent and gripping take on one of the Bard’s later tragedies.

Coriolanus, blood-soaked, in the heat of battle.

The original play is set in the ancient world, during one of the Roman Republic’s endless wars against a neighbouring tribe. Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List, Harry Potter VII(ii), Wrath of the Titans), is Rome’s greatest general. Having just scored a bloody victory against the rebellious Volscians, he returns to his home city and is given the honorific name ‘Coriolanus’, in recognition of his battle prowess at the Volscian city of Corioles. At Rome the populace are starving due to a grain shortage. He tends to hold the people in contempt, and when his election to the consulship collapses, and he gets exiled, the disgruntled general defects to the Volcians and plots his revenge.

Here the story is updated to a modern Balkan setting which is very effective, recalling the wars in the 1990s following the collapse of Yugoslavia. The battles between Romans and Volscians are fought on bomb blasted streets, strewn with the wrecks of cars and buildings with terrified civilians being caught in the crossfire-scenes so reminiscent of modern urban warfare. The bleak, withered, Balkan landscape is a particularly effective back-drop to the bleakness of Coriolanus’ fate in the latter part of the film.

Fiennes in directing mode with Gerard Butler, playing Tullus Aufidius

All the events of the story are told through the prism of rolling news footage, with newscasters and pundits (naturally) spinning everything. (Even Jon Snow gets a look in!) When the grain protests in Rome are depicted, this allows for some fortuitous contemporary resonance as we cannot but think of the Arab Uprisings, particularly all the protesters massing on Tahrir Square. That all the political debating on show is done in the glare of television cameras instantly broadcasting into countless households feels particularly right. In Republican Rome, many political debates were held in public in the Forum.

Fiennes is following in the grand tradition of both Olivier and Branagh as both actor-director, and this is very much his film. The camera likes to linger on his battle-scarred, shaven, bullet-shaped head, which in the heat of battle gets spattered in blood. One needs no convincing that this is a serious warrior. When faced with dealing the people of Rome he so despises, his icy contempt for them is tangible. Fiennes is supported by a fine cast. Vanessa Redgrave (Mary, Queen of Scots, Letters to Juliet, Song For Marion) as Volumnia, Coriolanus’ formidable mother, is truly magnificent. She is a civilian but her martial bearing and control she exudes over her son is emphasised by the military dress she mostly wears. The seemingly ubiquitous Jessica Chastain (The Help, Take Shelter, Zero Dark Thirty) acquits herself admirably as the other woman in Coriolanus’ life, his doting wife, Virgilia. Gerard Butler (300, P.S. I Love You, London Has Fallen) plays a brooding Tullus Aufidius, the leader of the Volscians and nemesis of Coriolanus. There is, perhaps inescapably a touch of Leonidas about his performance but he very much proves the match and the mirror to the Roman general. The Roman politicos here are a conniving bunch, all decked out in slick, expensive suits and Brian Cox (Troy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dog Fight) brings much style to his portrayal of the loquacious, fawning senator Menenius Agrippa, supporter of Coriolanus’ family.

Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) pleading with Coriolanus not to go back to war.

The faults with the film reflect back to the play itself. Coriolanus is the most unsympathetic of Shakespearean ‘heroes.’ He is no Hamlet or King Lear to draw much pathos. We rarely see behind his front of arrogance and hauteur and his loathing of people power, to what makes him a human being. The play itself can be heavy-going at points, punctuated with very long-winded speeches. Thankfully here, Fiennes in collaboration with his screenwriter, John Logan, has done some merciful pruning, to make everything more palatable.

Thus, Fiennes should be commended for bringing a less popular and less well-known Shakespearean play to a much wider audience. Indeed the vigour and imagination on display makes the film a rewarding and thought-provoking experience.

KJF

Review – Immortals 3D (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

300 and Conan The Barbarian had much in common. Both were the ultimate guy’s film, with plenty of action, swordplay and spilt blood (and for women, there were hulking men with CGI-enhanced torsos). Immortals follows the same theme, just being an inferior version of the two aforementioned movies.

Theseus (Henry Cavill), all ripped and ready to throw himself into the thick of the action.

Set in Ancient Greece, the Heraklion King of Crete, Hyperion (Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler, Iron man 2, The Courier), is hell-bent on destroying the gods, since they failed to answer his prayers to save his family from illness. To do this he needs to unleash the Titans from Mount Tartarus. But he can only set them loose with the Epirus Bow. Yet, the bow is missing and only the gorgeous virgin oracle, Phaedra (Freida Pinto – Miral, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Black Gold), knows of its location. Thus, King Hyperion marches upon the holy site where she dwells in order to extract the information.

En route, and almost simultaneously, Hyperion’s army pillages a small village where a young peasant, called Theseus (Henry Cavill – Red Riding Hood, The Tudors, Man of Steel) lives with his mother. Theseus has been trained since childhood by an ‘old man’ (John Hurt – Harry Potter I, VII(i) & VII(ii), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, In Love With Alma Cogan), who is really Zeus (Luke Evans – Clash of the Titans, Tamara Drewe, The Hobbit I & II) in human form, for a war that will make him immortal. Before long, only Theseus’s abilities will be the barrier between Hyperion and his awful ambitions.

The storyline is simple and easy to follow. One may not come out with a greater understanding of Ancient Greek societies (other than their belief in polytheism), and at 117 minutes Immortals might be a little long; nevertheless, one is unlikely to become bored during the movie. Like in 300 and Conan, it may not be intellectually stimulating. But there is more than enough fighting and bloodshed to keep viewers occupied, even if the combat and battle tactics appear very similar. (And what is it about this genre and men walking around and going into battle bare-chested?)

The beautiful Phaedra (Freida Pinto), dressed for a dinner-date, tending to Theseus’s wounds. Perhaps if he had worn some body armour, his injuries may have been avoided?

However, there is much that Immortals lacks in comparison to those other two films. First, it lacks the (far from subtle) political connotations of 300, entailing that the film has no hidden message (in fairness, nor does Conan). Second, the dialogue in Immortals might be less crude than in 300 and Conan, but it is more contrived, less amusing and more predictable, which never bodes well. (At least the dialogue in the atrocious Season of the Witch was so terrible it was funny!) Third, Immortals lacks the strong, massive main character that Gerard Butler and Jason Mamoa respectively portrayed, and which is needed in a film like this. Despite a muscular (and painted) six-pack, the relatively-small Henry Cavill gives a pitiful and unconvincing display as the hero, Theseus. This does not augur well for him, considering that his next major role is in the upcoming Superman film, wherein he plays the eponymous man of steel himself.

The rest of the cast, in the main, are no better. Worse, they all take their roles seriously, which exacerbates the poverty of their performances, to the extent of making the supporting cast in 300 look like professional warriors. The exception to this in Immortals is Mickey Rourke, since he takes his role as a joke. Consequently, Rourke comes out with some credit, as he puts across Hyperion’s shallowness character and incalculable cruelty well in equal measure. Although, the price Rourke pays is the risk of Hyperion becoming slightly pantomime, in a similar manner to Rodrigo Santoro as Emperor Xerxes in 300 or Stephen Lang as Khalar Zym in Conan. Not that it matters, since none of these movies can be taken remotely seriously.

King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) pontificating to a defector, before inflciting inhumane cruelty upon him or her. If one looks carefully, one can see the scars over his left eye.

The acting in Immortals may be generally pathetic, but the film has some attributes that are not utterly terrible. The director, Tarsem Singh (The Cell, Mirror, Mirror), has put the movie together smoothly; the music may not be memorable, but it is still fitting for the scenes; and just like with 300 and Conan, one doubts how much of the background sceneries are real in Immortals, but the special effects are quite decent (even if the 3D is virtually non-existent).

On the whole, even those who like the genre may well be disappointed with Immortals. The film may have some worthwhile CGI and combat scenes; nevertheless, one is more likely to go away remembering the weak acting and dialogue. In short, Immortals is just a poor man’s 300 and Conan The Barbarian.

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Review – The Help (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

John F. Kennedy (JFK), President of America (1960-63), proclaimed in 1963 that “moral courage is a more rare commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence.” He was referring to the civil rights movement in America, when African-Americans, particularly in the south (now known as the ‘Bible-belt’), were discriminated against and did not have the right to vote. The Help magnificently brings to light the inequality that African-Americans suffered in Mississippi in the early-1960s, and that there were some people with the moral courage to put an end to it.

Eugenie ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone) out for a meal with friends, looking fabulous.

The Help is based on the book with the same title, written by Kathryn Stockett. It is not a true story. The film revolves round the aspiring young author, Eugenie ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone – Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Friends With Benefits, Birdman). At a time when the civil rights movement is picking speed in America, Skeeter has become uneasy by the way her friends treat their African-American maids, and so decides to write a book about it. She decides to write her book from the angle of the help in order to highlight Caucasian maltreatment to them in the home.

Skeeter approaches Abileen (Viola Davis – Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Eat, Pray, Love, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), the maid of her friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard – The Village, Spiderman 3, 50/50), for her opinion and experiences. Abileen is a middle-aged woman who has spent her entire life raising Caucasian children, almost from birth, only to see them turn into their parents. Despite being initially reluctant to speak out, due to the fear of violent reprisals, Abileen lets Skeeter interview her. Soon, Minny (Octavia Spencer – The Soloist, Herpes Boy, Girls! Girls! Girls!), another African-American maid, tells her stories too. Then, many more do the same to give Skeeter an all-round picture of what life is like for African-American maids in Caucasian homes.

The Help may be a very slow and far-from-intense film; yet, it is powerful and emotive. The movie may not be factual, but it is based on much truth and reflects the period accurately. In the same way that the works of Charles Dickens and Theodore Dostoyevsky are seen to be more representative of their respective eras than historical narratives, so too can The Help be seen in the same vein. Despite a few minor historical inaccuracies, such as segregation, one could probably learn more about the innate levels of Caucasian racism towards African-Americans in the Bible-belt in the 1960s from this film, and the variety of ways it manifested itself, than from most factual history books.

Abileen (Viola Davis) eavesgropping on a conversation wherein she hears a torrent of racism towards African-Americans.

But for a film about racism, The Help is surprisingly honest. It shows all sides to be human, meaning that all the characters, whether Caucasian or African-American, have decent and defective qualities. This should be applauded since it would have been easier for the director, Tate Taylor (Pretty Ugly People), to have made one side inherently ‘good’, the other side inherently ‘bad’, and one or two instances of crossovers as a cheap façade. That Taylor doesn’t do this makes The Help plausible.

The realism of the film, however, would not be possible without the actors putting in exceptional performances. Indeed, the entire cast, and their accents, are flawless. The pretty Emma Stone demonstrates that she can play intelligent roles with vigour, enabling her to grow more beautiful and appealing in the process. Viola Davis performs so well, viewers can empathise with Abileen’s predicament and cry because of her awful experiences.

Octavia Spencer may not make audiences weep like Davis does; nevertheless, she too plays marvellously as the feisty, loud-mouth and funny Minny. Furthermore, one can even appreciate the performances of the horrible, racist women, portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard, Ahna O’Reilly (Herpes Boy, House Under Siege, Girls! Girls! Girls!), Allison Janney (The West Wing, Pretty Ugly People, A Thousand Words), and the other ladies, or the silly, naive Celia, played by Jessica Chastain (Jolene, The Debt, Take Shelter), as they are all performed with brilliant consistency.

A first day at work for Minny (Octavia Spencer) at the house of the over-excited Celia (Jessica Chastain).

Like the quality of the acting, The Help has been put together superbly. At 146 minutes, the film might feel drawn out, but the choreography has been stitched together smoothly and the cinematography is apt for the locations of the movie. What’s more, the music has been chosen well to enhance the scenes, particularly the heart-rending ones.

All-in-all, The Help might drag, but it is an excellent, touching film. The acting is remarkable and the movie epitomises well the attitudes of people, whether Caucasian or African-American, living in the deep-south of America in the early-1960s. In 1963, JFK proclaimed that the struggle for civil rights “will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetimes on this planet. But let us begin.” The Help, therefore, enables us to measure how far we have come in almost fifty years because of people like JFK and Skeeter who had the moral courage to start changing people’s attitudes towards African-Americans.

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