Tag: miranda richardson

Spider


Spider (2002)
★ / ★★★★

Spider (Ralph Fiennes) is recently released from a mental institution and has been assigned to live in a transitional residential facility manned by Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave) to determine if he, in fact, is cured. When not interacting with the residents, he spends his time unintelligibly writing on a journal, followed by flashbacks of Spider as a boy (Bradley Hall). He loves his mother (Miranda Richardson) but he is convinced that every time his father (Gabriel Byrne) visits a pub for some drinks, he is actually having an affair. But why Spider is committed to a mental hospital?

“Spider,” based on a novel by Patrick McGrath, comes off too controlled and calculated, every step a contrivance, so rarely do we get a chance to truly connect to the disturbed main character. Though Spider is a curiosity some of the time, the heavy-handed images, like the attempt to complete a jigsaw puzzle which is supposed to reflect his broken memories, neither ring true nor add weight to the material.

There are too many symbolic images designed to convince us that there is still something wrong with him. They are unnecessary. We can easily see for ourselves just by looking at Spider’s appearance, like his neglect for hygiene, talking to himself when no one is around, and the tremors, that he should not yet have been released. It was as if the screenwriters had seen too many uninspired thrillers and made a checklist of what makes someone with mental problems so scary. Instead of narrowing down what feels right for their story, everything is thrown at the wall.

The material might been more effective if the filmmakers refrained from judging the lead character so consistently that we end up being forced to think a certain way. Why not allow us to think for ourselves and weigh what is possibly happening? Back in the day, people with abnormal psychology were not fully understood so they were treated with animosity and violence. I wished the filmmakers have attempted to find a way, without being heavy-handed, to convey that message. Turning someone into a villain is easy; creating a figure worthy of our sympathy and interest requires a bit of insight and effort.

Moreover, the flashback scenes are not as effectively executed. A handful of details are messy, confusing, and frustrating. For example, how can adult Spider have images of what his father did with a local prostitute if young Spider was not in the same room with them at the time? With this example, among others, the lack of logic is astounding.

Directed by David Cronenberg, “Spider,” despite its many ideas, a few of them quite smart, feels too thin and drawn out. The unexplained holes make it seem like the ending depends on a coin flip, usually a sign of a weak picture, instead of a defined inevitable conclusion. At one point I wondered if the film would have been stronger if the ending had been shown in the first scene so we know what signs to look for that lead up to it. In any case, it is still a complete mess.

The Apostle


The Apostle (1997)
★★ / ★★★★

Sonny (Robert Duvall) is a Pentecostal preacher who had recently caught his wife, Jessie (Farrah Fawcett), having an affair with Horace (Todd Allen), a youth minister. During a softball game, Sonny comes to take his children but Horace approaches Sonny to say he is sorry that Sonny had to find out about the adultery. Sonny, consumed with rage, takes a bat, swings it to Horace’s head, and the man is unconscious. The preacher runs away before the police arrives. Circumstances and kind strangers lead Sonny to Louisiana where he plans to start a new church.

I understand that “The Apostle,” written and directed by Robert Duvall, is supposed to be a story of a person seeking redemption from succumbing to rage and putting a man into a coma, but it ultimately feels like attending church. It is like enduring a punishment at times. There are far too many dispensable scenes where Sonny delivers very enthusiastic speeches about the word of God and how His word can ameliorate suffering and prejudices when one or two extended but powerful speeches is more than enough.

I wanted to know more about people who befriend Sonny in his time of need. Given that the film is a story of attaining redemption through learning to connect with others, emphasis should have been placed on the people who help him get there. For instance, there is Blackwell (John Beasley), a retired preacher, who takes Sonny to an abandoned building and helps him realize that his goals are closer than he thinks. Elmo (Rick Dial), a local radio station owner, gives Sonny a voice without having to show his face–critical because he is on the run from the cops. Finally, there is Toosie (Miranda Richardson), a secretary in the radio station, who serves as Sonny’s new love interest. She is a symbol of the fact that Sonny’s heartache and anger toward his wife can heal over time and with the right mindset.

It is most disappointing that the screenplay does not do much with the three supporting characters. Not enough time is spent on each of them because speeches take precedence over meaningful character development. When the camera is on them, they smile and deliver knowing or caring glances. They do not feel like real people. Sure, they function as agents that will inspire a change in Sonny but they do not have to be perfect. I wanted to know about their flaws and why they are drawn to helping a complete stranger, reasons that go beyond his title and piety.

Duvall’s electric performance keeps the movie somewhat afloat. There is a lot of yelling inside the church, but what I found most captivating are of his character’s quieter moments. I loved the first scene when he and his mother (June Carter Cash) decide to stop their car after seeing a wreckage in the middle of the road. Sonny steps out of the vehicle, looks for the victims of the car crash, and provides comfort and a prayer for the young man who is minutes away from death. The scene shows that even though Sonny is far from perfect, he is capable of a lot of goodness.

“The Apostle” only works as a showcase for Duvall’s sublime acting. However, as a movie that supposedly uses paradoxes to unearth or unveil our humanity through our good and bad actions as individuals as well as our ability to relate and connect with others, it lacks genuine insight. It is neither entertaining nor particularly moving.

The Young Victoria


Young Victoria, The (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.

Chicken Run


Chicken Run (2000)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park, “Chicken Run” was about a determined British chicken named Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha) who wanted to escape from a chicken farm owned by the greedy Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson). Tired of making small profits and investing time for the chickens to lay eggs, Mrs. Tweedy decided to buy a machine that could create pies made out of chicken for a quick buck. Despite Ginger’s many failed attempts from escaping the farm, her hope was renewed by the sudden appearance of a chicken who could fly (Mel Gibson). This time around, the chickens tried to escape over the fence by means of flight. The first time I saw this movie in the early 2000s, I didn’t care much about the story because I was too mesmerized by its stop-motion animation. At the time, I’ve never seen anything like it–the characters undoubtedly looked like clay but it felt like they had an extra dimension to them, something that was different from most animated films at the time. But watching “Chicken Run” for the second and third time, I was more into the story and I was very entertained by its jokes and ironic touches. I thought it was creative, focused and very energetic. What I thought was so smart about it was the fact that the whole movie was about planning and trying to escape instead of throwing around random jokes from pop culture in order to generate the more generic laughs. The comedy comes from the extreme personalities of the chickens and the increasingly desperate situation they were in. I loved the chicken who thought that chickens who stopped laying eggs were taken by the humans so that the chicken could “go on a vacation.” In reality, chicken that stopped laying eggs were deemed useless and nonprofitable so they were killed and served as food. A particularly strong scene was when Ginger and the American chicken got caught up in all sorts of trouble in an oven. That scene was exciting, suspenseful and amusing all rolled into one, which I thought embodied the general feel of the movie. The picture also knew how to capture a sense of adventure and therefore engage their audiences. Despite a somewhat slow middle portion, “Chicken Run” still gets high marks from me because of the final product’s level of imagination and the amount of time the filmmakers must have put into the project. There were a plethora of complex action sequences and I could only imagine how difficult it was to move one element shot after shot to create an illusion of actual movement.