Tag: geoffrey rush

The Book Thief


The Book Thief (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) were promised two children so they can receive two allowances, but only one makes it through the trip. The girl’s name is Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) and her younger brother is buried en route near the railroad tracks. Their mother is a communist so in order for them to have a chance of living in Nazi Germany, they had to be given up for adoption. Due to unmet expectations regarding pecuniary matters, Rosa does not quickly warm up to her new daughter.

Based on the novel by Markus Zusack, “The Book Thief” is quite large in scope—the story beginning just before World War II and ending when the lead character has passed due to old age—and it does not have enough time to focus on every character or subplot that matters. However, it is an emotionally engaging film for the most part because it is willing to show the horrors of war from time to time even if its target audience is a younger crowd.

The picture does not make a good first impression. Although beautifully shot from the opening scene, it is a challenge to appreciate how certain characters are drawn. A simplistic approach comes across as one-dimensional at times. More specifically, Hans being the nice, supportive figure and Rosa acting like a witch with just about every opportunity she gets. While Watson is effective in the role, the evil adoptive mother subplot, which lasts for about half the film, runs out of steam within the first half hour. However, the screenplay by Michael Petroni proves able to move beyond the mean substitute mother storyline in an elegant fashion as the horrors of Hitler’s reign move front and center.

Many might argue that the most heartwarming relationship in the film is shared between Liesel and Hans, especially with the latter’s attempt to make the girl’s transition easier. But I was most interested in Liesel’s friendship with her next door neighbor named Rudy (Nico Liersch), a boy with whom the narrator, Death (wonderfully voiced by Roger Allam), refers to as having lemon-colored hair. Liesel and Rudy’s scenes are sweet, amusing, at times funny, and it is easy to root for them to make it through dark times. It is most disappointing that Rudy disappears for a good chunk of time somewhere in the middle.

Another important connection that Liesel makes in the Hubermann household is with a Jewish man named Max (Ben Schnetzer). However, the script does not delve deeply enough into why this relationship is special. We are given repetitive scenes of Liesel reading to Max when he is not well and a few acknowledgments with regards to both of them being targets of the Nazis. Although the scenes where Liesel helps to take care of Max appear touching, I did not buy into it completely. For a smart young person like Liesel, I did not believe that they are not able to have more meaningful conversations about the war and mortality.

I wished, however, that the picture had managed to show more evil actions done by the Germans—not the Nazi soldiers in uniforms and carrying guns but of fellow neighbors who genuinely believe the war’s causes. Some of them probably feel they must support the war. After all, their sons and husbands are participating in it. It would have added a layer of truth or complexity and the dramatic tension might have been more palpable.

Despite its shortcomings, “The Book Thief,” directed by Brian Percival, is worth watching for all-around good performances, beautiful interior shots of small homes and palatial manors serving as contrast against monstrosities happening outside one’s walls, and the score by John Williams. The combinations of these will almost surely tug at the heartstrings.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Fearing the Spanish would get to the mythical Fountain of Youth first, King George (Richard Griffiths) assigned Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to lead a British crew to where it was located. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Gibbs (Kevin McNally) happened to know exactly where it was. Gibbs was captured by Barbossa and just when he was about to get killed, he revealed the map and immediately burned it. He evaded certain death because he informed Barbossa that he had memorized the map by heart. Meanwhile, Sparrow bumped on Angelica (Penélope Cruz), a former flame, whose father, Blackbeard (Ian McShane), was also on a quest to find the fountain. Blackbeard heard of a prophecy of a one-legged man taking his life and he believed that drinking from the fountain would give him eternal life. Directed by Rob Marshall, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” was painful to sit through because it was essentially a compilation of lackadaisical dialogue and uninspired action sequences. Sparrow made a comment about the journey being more important than the destination and I wish the writers kept that advice in mind. The highlight of the picture was the first thirty minutes. When Sparrow impersonated a judge, we were reminded why we fell in love with watching a pirate who acted drunk and loved to make wisecracks during the most dire situations. Impersonating a judge was an act of poking fun of a justice system and its unchanging, sometimes unfair, rules. Being a pirate meant being a rebel and there’s a rebel in all of us. I also enjoyed the scene that came after when Sparrow tried to escape from the hands of British guards while half of his mind was focused on grabbing a cream puff. However, when all the key characters boarded their respective ships, it was downhill from there. The mermaids were interesting because they weren’t just there to look pretty. They could actually defend themselves. Unfortunately, the momentum came to a screeching halt when the romance between Philip (Sam Claflin), a cleric, and Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), a mermaid Blackbeard’s crew captured, began to take center stage. I didn’t care about either character. The romance was predictable and out of place. Given that a mermaid’s tear was requisite for eternal life, it was transparent that Philip had to suffer in some way. With the way Blackbeard treated the mermaid, she wouldn’t give up her tears so easily. There should have been more meaningful scenes between Sparrow and Angelica yet they were reduced to meeting in secret, arguing, flirting, and talking about their past. It was like being in a room with two lovers and we weren’t in on any of their jokes. “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” was unnecessary, at times, excruciatingly, for a lack of a better word, boring. It made me wish there was a wind strong enough to let a hefty two hours and twenty minutes fly by.

The King’s Speech


The King’s Speech (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Prince Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) had a speech problem so he and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) tried to find a speech therapist who could “cure” the future King George VI’s condition. After seeing many medical practitioners to no avail (the doctors actually encouraged the prince to smoke cigarettes), Prince Albert’s wife hired Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a man with, at the time, unconventional ways of dealing with stuttering. As Prince Albert and Lionel spent more time together, they were successful at taking small steps forward. But each step meant Prince Albert was that much closer to becoming king, due to his father’s (Michael Gambon) death and older brother’s (Guy Pearce) abdication from the throne, and leading his people in World War II. I don’t know much about British history, but I was very engaged with what was happening. Most importantly, it didn’t feel like a history lesson. The film was a classic character study about a man who was capable of being great but a speech impediment held him back greatly. There was a positive feedback between his lack of confidence and his fear of being judged by his people. We may or may not stutter but most of us share an anxiety when it comes to public speaking. I didn’t expect the picture to have such a great sense of humor. When the characters talked about sex, they were packaged in little suggestions through wordplay and euphemisms. The actors were sublime in delivering the humor without actually winking at the camera. The joke was in the words followed by their body movements and the awkward looks they sent each other’s way. Stuttering and other speech disorders are serious issues but the material dealt with it in a fun but always respectful way. Lionel’s view that a speech disorder was not necessarily always directly related with the machanics of the mouth and facial muscles but might have sprouted from a deep psychological trauma was interesting. Although reluctant at first, Prince Albert eventually opened up about a heartbreaking childhood experience. I looked forward to their sessions because there was a division of class and that division was challenged by the slowly growing trust between the doctor and his patient. That trust between two men coming from different worlds was crucial because the future king would eventually have to make an encouraging speech to his people, a symbol that he was qualified to lead their kingdom, and announce that they were at war with Adolf Hitler. Without Rush and Firth’s strong but subtle acting, aided by Tom Hooper’s assured direction, the material could easily have been heavy-handed. Or worse, it could have been about the speech disorder itself instead of the man who happened to have it. “The King’s Speech” reminds most of us how much we take simple things for granted like being able to speak without having to worry about whether or not our mouths will form the right words.

Intolerable Cruelty


Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
★★ / ★★★★

Joel Coen directs this story about a gold-digger (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a divorce lawyer’s (George Clooney) mind games. The two seemingly like each other despite their bickering but it is really difficult to define their relationship because they always have something up their sleeves (sometimes with the aid of lucky coincidences). I did enjoy the first half of this picture because it was silly and it embraced its screwball nature. However, somewhere in the second half, I grew tired of it mainly because the once astute two lead characters became simple caricatures not worth liking. I kept trying to convince myself there was something more about them other than their scamming ways but I was disappointed that there wasn’t. I know that the Coen brothers have a proclivity for irony but there is such a thing as too much irony. This film is a fine example of the latter so it became convoluted instead of focused, smug instead of welcoming, unfunny instead of dryly funny. I did, however, enjoy the supporting actors such as Cedric the Entertainer, Edward Herrmann, Richard Jenkins, Billy Bob Thornton and Geoffrey Rush. But their presence alone did not save this heavy-handed movie about two bickering infantile adults who have nothing better to do than to make each other’s lives miserable. I liked Zeta-Jones and Clooney’s acting during the first half because it was easy to tell that they were having fun with their characters. However, in the second half, I believe they crossed the line between being funny and trying too hard to be funny but actually failing at it. In the end, I wondered what happened to the power the Coen brothers usually had in their films. But I suppose great directors have their failures as well. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad movie. It’s simply a mediocre product given the expectations that usually come in a Coen brothers picture. It was too quirky for its own good when it really should have been working on its substance.

Elizabeth


Elizabeth (1998)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth” moved me in a number of ways and I found it to be strange because I find that to be a rarity in most historical films. Queen Elizabeth I (played by the ever-talented Cate Blanchett) must quickly take control of England and the lands it possesses after the death of her half-sister Queen Mary I (Kathy Burke). But it proves to be a clincher of a task because England was divided by religion, increasing poverty, a lack of men to form a proper army to defend itself from those who were hungry for power, and not to mention those who wanted to assassinate her. I really felt for Blanchett’s character because I saw her change from this warm, free-spirited woman who was open to love and idealism into a fierce queen who learned how to set her heart aside and make difficult decisions. Blanchett was the perfect actor to play the role because I’ve always seen her as warm but having the capacity to turn in an ice queen in a second. I enjoyed how the picture managed to balance the romance between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), the insidious affairs of the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston), and the eventual revelation of the secretive Sir Francis Walshingham’s (Geoffrey Rush) intentions. I was so engaged with the story because each scene had a purpose and something crucial was always at the forefront. Aside from the acting, I admired the picture’s use of lighting (especially the scenes inside the palace during the day), stunning set pieces and wardrobes. I cannot believe “Shakespeare in Love” won against this film because this one is far superior in every respect. I did enjoy “Shakespeare in Love” in some ways but it did not quite take me in a rollercoaster of emotions as “Elizabeth” did. This is far more complex especially with the issues it tried to tackle such as feminism during a time when men dominated the scene and how religion was often used as an excuse to justify sinful actions (in the least). While I do admit that I do not know much about the history of Queen Elizabeth I, I am now that much more curious to read up on her accomplishments.