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.
Like Minds (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Gregory J. Read, “Like Minds” or “Murderous Intent” was about two boys in prep school who had a complex relationship. One ended up dead (Tom Sturridge) and the other was sent to jail (Eddie Redmayne) because evidence suggested murder. It was up to a forensic psychologist (Toni Collette) to figure out what really happened between the two and to try to gather evidence that could potentially allow the surviving boy to be released from jail. The film was something I had not expected. I’ve seen a number of movies about prep school and murder but I did not expect this one to be so involved in history and psychology. Since I had studied the latter subject, it was relatively easy for me to grasp what was happening on the surface. However, since my weakest subject was history, I found the discussion of the past somewhat confusing so I don’t think I fully saw the big picture. Having said that, the movie was full of tension and had a knack for delivering the unexpected. I thought it did a great job establishing the twisted relationship between Sturridge and Redmayne; they were interesting together but it was creepy at the same time trying to deal with a roommate from hell who had a penchant for dissecting dead animals. However, I wished that the picture had more scenes of Collette doing her own investigation instead of relying on the surviving boy’s stories. One of the best scenes was the climax in which she finally stumbled upon some evidence because she delivered subtleties on her body movements and facial expressions that went beyond the fact that she was scared and she wanted to get out of the situation as quickly as possible. What did not work for me was the detective (Richard Roxburgh) in charge of the strange deaths. I thought he served no purpose to the overall picture and he was the most one-dimensional character. Instead of helping out Collette’s character, he kept on wanting to get together with her and it was very distracting. “Like Minds” may be a small film and somewhat uneven at times but the mystery fascinated me and there was an intelligence behind the storytelling. The two boys did a great job playing predator and prey, especially Sturridge’s ability to shift from intense and piercing glares to blank but evil eyes. He reminded me of a more versatile and magnetic version of Robert Pattinson which amused me because I found out later that they were good friends. Fans of creepy, slow, sometimes disturbing psychological thrillers will most likely find “Like Minds” pretty enjoyable.
The Young Victoria (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Future Queen Victoria’s (Emily Blunt) mother (Miranda Richardson) and stepfather (Mark Strong) desperately tried to convince their daughter to sign away her power until she was 25 years old before she turned 18. However, Victoria wanted to run her empire despite her age and inexperience. Meanwhile, she also had to deal with Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) who craved more power and Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) who was sent to court Victoria in order to gain political advantage. I am somewhat torn about this film because while I did admire its consistently strong acting (particularly from Blunt) and it had an unconventional feel in terms of telling a period picture, I felt like it did not have enough gravity to really get me to be interested in its history. Perhaps period movies are just not my cup of tea. However, I really did try to get into the conflicted characters and the difficult circumstances that plagued them. For instance, I empathized with Victoria’s mother but at the same time I wanted to shake her because she chose her current husband over her daughter time and time again. I understood her fears of not being wanted in a society where aging women were dispensable so she clung onto people that could protect her. I related to her because wanting to be valued is a universal feeling. Furthermore, I had a feeling that the film had a hard time balancing Queen Victoria’s political decisions and the repercussions of her actions (and inaction) alongside her romance with Prince Albert. Just when one of the two became interesting, it switched gears and I was left frustrated because I wanted to feel more involved. Since I did not know much about England’s history, a lot of the plot was a surprise to me. The scenes were elegantly shot particularly the scenes during and after Victoria was finally crowned, the dinner scene in King William’s court (Jim Broadbent) when everybody had to try to be polite even though not everybody liked each other, and the extreme close-ups when Victoria and Albert were face-to-face after not seeing each other for extended periods of time. “The Young Victoria,” directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, needed more focus in terms of Queen Victoria’s role in politics. In the end, I did not feel much growth from her in terms of managing her empire; the feeling I got was she needed a man to help her run her empire. If it were not for the title cards in the last two minutes, I would have came to a conclusion that Queen Victoria was not an effective leader of her people.
Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
This sequel to the highly successful “Night at the Museum” finds Ben Stiller, once a night museum guard in the first film, as a thriving businessman. But after he gets ahold of the news that the museum where he met the historical-figures-turned-to-life is to be closed, he feels like he must do something in order to repay them for inspiring him to do something better with his life. More conflict ensue when Stiller gets a call from Jedediah Smith (Owen Wilson), obviously in danger because Kahmunrah (the hilarious Hank Azaria) and his Egyptian army wants the artifact which turns everything in a museum into life to pursue his dream of world domination. Like the first installment, what I love about this picture is its energy. It’s not afraid to put disparate and random elements into the picture so it constantly surprised me. If I were to pick highlights from the film, I would definitely pick any scene when Stiller and Amy Adams (as the charming Amelia Earhart) would talk because they do have genuine chemistry. By the end of the movie, I wanted to know what would happen between them even though we all know that she’s going to turn into a statue when the sun rises. I would also point out that one scene when the both of them decided to jump into a popular photograph (a soldier/sailor and a woman kissing during the end of a war) and everything turned into black and white. During those scenes, I felt like I was watching more than a family-friendly film with funny one-liners. Having Azaria and his Axis of Evil (Steve Coogan as Octavius, Christopher Guest as Ivan the Terrible, and Jon Bernthal as Al Capone) was absolutely brilliant because of his well-timed sense of humor. Every time he spoke (lisp and all), I couldn’t help but laugh because of that one scene where he (too enthusiastically) declared, “I have… come back… to life!” That bit when he tried to decide whether Darth Vader and Oscar the Grouch were evil enough to join his team was pretty darn amusing. Still, I wished that Rami Malek (as Ahkmenrah) was in it more because he really was very funny in the first movie. His increased appearance would’ve also made sense because his older brother (Azaria) was the main villain here. Yes, the slapstick is still present (though in lesser amount compared to the first) but I really didn’t mind it because everything was happening all at once. The historical and pop culture figures may have been portrayed in a cliché manner but I think that’s half the fun of it. I say this one is just as good as the original even though it feels like it doesn’t have a profound story, just one funny scene after another. If they do make a second sequel, I’ll still be interested in watching it.
Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Intended to be a trilogy, “Mongol,” directed by Sergei Bodrov, painted a beautiful but often complex picture about a man’s (the future Genghis Khan played by Tadanobu Asano) journey on how his experiences from when he was a child shaped his ideals and eventually came to a decision to force such ideas to all Mongolian people. I don’t know much about the history prior to Genghis Khan’s ascension to power so I’m not the right person to ask about whether or not it’s historically accurate. Instead, I’ll review this film from a tabula rasa perspective. After reading some of the critics’ reviews, I finally decided to watch the movie and had high expectations. While I did expect scenes that consisted of ferocious bloodbath, I got exactly that and more. I was surprised by the amount of heart that this film had to offer. I liked the fact that it showed more of Genghis Khan’s failures than his victories. Despite his unfortunate circumstances, he kept getting up and wanting to fight again so it was not difficult at all to root for him. There’s something truly inspiring from watching a person’s inner drive accumulate in spite of extremely difficult situations and be able to pull through. What didn’t work for me, however, were the mythical scenes. I found it frustrating whenever the picture would cut the scenes whenever Genghis Khan’s life was in danger. It would then jump to another scene when he would be perfectly okay and somehow evaded the situation. I get that faith was an important aspect of Genghis Khan’s life (and the fact that this film was being told in a first person point-of-view, which, as we all know, is not always objective) but I felt that there were too many of those scenes and it took me away from the situations. Regardless, there are still a lot to see here such as the stunning background imageries and well-defined (as well as graphic) battle scenes. If one is into historical epics that humanize a warrior’s journey to power instead of glamorizing it while at the same time dealing with issues such as the fragility of alliances, this is definitely the film to see. It goes to show that an epic film doesn’t need to come out of Hollywood as long as it is ambitious, while at the same time still able to deliver the elements that ultimately convince the audiences why they should care for the lead character.
★★★★ / ★★★★
This is one of the most important and best told movies ever made and I do not say that lightly. Every scene is memorable and presented in such a sensitive way, but it’s never judgmental because it lets the images speak for themselves. There’s a scene in this film involving Ralph Fiennes’ character (Amon Goeth) about removing or changing a certain part of history; this movie is a perfect example why that character cannot be any more wrong. Liam Neeson is tremendous as Oskar Schindler because he is able to effectively show Schindler’s evolution as a businessman-turned-humanitarian. Fiennes is also amazing in this even though his character is a monster. Both actors share a certain complexity that is extremely difficult to come by nowadays. As for Ben Kingsley, at first I didn’t recognize him but after trying to figure out what his character was all about, I realized that he really looked familiar and recognized him after about five minutes of contemplation. If that isn’t a mark of a great actor, I don’t know what is. Many consider that this as Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece (among many) and I cannot agree more. Even though it spans for about three hours and fifteen minutes, I didn’t feel like I was watching it for that long. In fact, I felt like I was watching a documentary because of how real everything looked and felt; I felt like was really there. Spielberg’s decision to show this movie in black and white is nothing short of perfection. It allowed me to notice Spielberg’s techniques, such as presenting two completely different factors when something is apart but when those two are put together, they seem to complement or go with each other. Aside from the use of black and white, other examples include Schindler and Geoth’s personalities and ideals; one train heading toward a safe haven while the other heads toward hell; fusion of two, or sometimes even three, different scenes–one showing pain and misery while the other one showing happiness and celebration. The craft alone is enough for me to give this film a four-star review, but it managed to go beyond that. The one scene that really made me want to cry was near the end when Schindler regretted not selling his car or his valuable pin in order to save more lives in front of more than a thousand Jewish people he saved. It really got to me because he lost everything he had yet he was still sorry he couldn’t have done more. I remember watching this film back in high school but I didn’t understand and did not appreciate it as much. In my opinion, this is the kind of movie that should be required to show in schools when the students are learning about World War II. Spielberg has given the world a gift–a reminder of one of the darkest times in history and why we should prevent it from happening again. “Schindler’s List” is one of the reasons why movies are made.