Tag Archives: voldemort

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

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Review – Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part I (12a) [2010]

Star Rating: 3/5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final part of the Harry Potter series (albeit split into two films), was going to have to be a climactic masterpiece if it was to reach the unrealistic expectations of fans and critics alike. That it looked darker and more ominous than the previous six films merely added to the hype.

Film seven kicks off where the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, left off. The time has come for Hogwarts’ prodigal apprentice, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter I-VII(ii), The Woman In Black), to leave the comforts of his school. Now, he must find and vanquish the Hawcruxes, since this is the only way he will have a chance of defeating his eternal nemesis: the ever-more-powerful Dark Lord, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes – Schindler’s List, The Reader, Harry Potter IV, V & VII(ii)). Joining Harry will be the young spell-mistress of her generation, Hermione Grainger (Emma Watson – Harry Potter I-VII(ii), My Week With Marilyn); and their goofy friend and below-average wizard, Ron Weasely (Rupert Grint – Harry Potter I-VII(ii)).

Against them stands an awesome array of Voldemort’s allies, including Belatrix (Helena Bonham Carter – Fight Club, Harry Potter V-VII(ii), The King’s Speech), the Death Eaters, Professor Snape (Alan Rickman – Die Hard, Harry Potter I-VII(ii), Alice in Wonderland), Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton – The Borrowers, Harry Potter I-VII(ii), Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and his father, Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs – The Patriot, Green Zone, Harry Potter II, IV, V, VII(ii)); not to mention countless others who are willing to assist the Dark Lord with his evil plans. Voldemort aside, these are the same villains who killed Albus Dumbledore, Harry’s master, in the previous film. Now, it is up to the precocious, but unready Harry to somehow deal with them as they relentlessly hound him.

Harry, Ron and Herminone working out where to next in their search for the Hawcruxes

How Harry and his friends were going to take on the villains was always going to be the key to the plot. But the plot is slow. At times, it is tedious to the point of disinteresting. (Unless, of course, you are a die-hard fan of which I am not.) Just like in the Half-Blood Prince, the director, David Yates (Harry Potter IIIVII(ii)), focuses more on the relationship between Harry, Hermione and Ron rather than the storyline. Again, the film is dominated by the ever-worsening sexual tension/frustration that the three main characters suffer. (One almost wants them to do it and get it over with just so the story can move on.)

But this is not the only thing that Harry, Hermione and Ron have to endure. They look lost away from their safe bubble-world of Hogwarts. Tiredness and helplessness is never far from their faces. But aside from this, the quality of the acting from the three main actors is, in general, far from great. Radcliffe and Grint remain more or less the same poor, two-dimensional characters they’ve always been. Emma Watson, at least, gives a slightly more mature performance than in previous films. She also has more of a leading role this time around; possibly even eclipsing Radcliffe. But apart from looking pretty, the role of Hermione still does not come overtly naturally to Watson. She tries too hard and takes herself too seriously.

Voldemort, the Dark Lord, unleashes some of his frightening dark powers. It is a pity that we see so little of him throughout the film.

In contrast, the villains do not take themselves seriously. For most other films, this would be a source of ridicule for the actors. However, Fiennes, Carter and Rickman skilfully pull off their roles. The great shame is how little they appear on-screen. This is a tragedy, since the Deathly Hallows should be about the villains as much as Harry. One even sees more of the Ministry of Magic, whose interior looks like a larger and more advance form of the Houses of Parliament (with a superficial Orwellian/1984 feel); and Lucius Malfoy’s mansion, which appears to be a real-life version of the enchanted castle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, than the villains.

The choreography of these and other places, plus the special effects throughout the film are well done. Indeed, they are so good one could mistake the computer generated images (CGI) for being real. This is no mean feat for a fantasy film. Many films, and not just from this genre, fall at this hurdle.

The scenery throughout the movie is equally as impressive and well chosen; whether it is of a forest, a hill-top or an open plain. The landscape and weather always seem to fit in effortlessly with the mood of the scene. Yet, unlike for example in the Lord of the Rings, the landscapes and the choreography are not equalised in the Deathly Hallows by the quality of the acting or the grip of the plot. By the end, one only has a rough idea as to how the ‘Deathly Hallows’ is even relevant to the story.

However, despite these flaws, does Part I leave us wanting to see Part II? Without a doubt: yes. After-all, we have followed Harry for so long how could we possibly miss out on witnessing his duel of destiny with Voldemort?

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