REVIEW: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

10 05 2017

Let’s have a little thought experiment, shall we? Think of an action movie in the last decade or so that you enjoyed. Say, “The Bourne Ultimatum” or “The Lord of the Rings” franchise. How would you like to see that movie … but medieval?!

That’s pretty much the gambit on which Guy Ritchie stakes his entire film “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” Observers of the director know to expect a certain cheekiness and self-awareness from the rebellious Brit. But here, Ritchie crosses a line. He’s self-aware to an almost Seth MacFarlane-esque self-referential point.

His “Game of Thrones” fan fiction film doubles down on all the worst qualities of his “Sherlock Holmes” films and discards most of the team chemistry that made them great. Ritchie has always been one to show the strings, making you aware of his stylistic baubles every time he brandishes them. Given his post-modern, ironic sensibilities, the aesthetic butts heads with anything set before the mid-20th century. The effect is always one of removal from the film itself, reminding us of the dissonance between the subject and its presentation.

His take on the Camelot myth, pitting a paranoid King Herod-like Vortigern (Jude Law) against a messianic sword-wielding Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), brings little to the round table other than zippy editing and flashy VFX. Hunnam does little to liven up “King Arthur” as well; he looks more likely to be headed to a rugged Scotland-themed GQ shoot than into serious battle. But I don’t mean to reduce the film to mere appearances in order to dismiss it. Let me put it simply: this is the same superhero origin story of dead parents and internal power struggles we’ve been forced to endure for about 15 years now. But medieval. C

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REVIEW: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

11 08 2015

Director Guy Ritchie got to where he is today – directing major studio action films – by never shying away from style.  At times, this tendency manifested itself in an almost enfant terrible fashion by flashing pizzaz when not necessarily required.  This was the Achilles’ heel of the “Sherlock Holmes” series, which suffered under the weight of his excessive flourishes.

Ritchie’s latest film, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” finds the writer/director on his best behavior.  Along with a gaggle of other writers, he adapts 1960s television series for the screen in a manner completely fitting for a Cold War-era property.  It has subtle modernizing twists but always feels like a throwback to a bygone age of unimaginable suaveness.

Leading the charge, perhaps more than Ritchie himself, is leading man Henry Cavill as CIA operative Napoleon Solo. From the second he first struts across the frame, Cavill radiates an old-school electricity. He owns the screen, and he knows it. Cavill’s Solo feels cut from the cloth of debonair screen legends, and coupled with his completely self-assured booming vocal inflections, he excitingly recalls a Cary Grant or a Humphrey Bogart.

The film sees him paired with an equally formidable force, Armie Hammer as the sculpted stoic KGB agent Illya Kuryakin.  Trained to remain unmovable and unflappable, Kuryakin makes a worthy counterpoint to Solo.  The two are archrivals by nature of their countries’ ongoing diplomatic stalemate yet must become buddy cops by necessity to prevent the last holdouts of the Nazi regime from activating a nuclear weapon.

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REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

4 01 2012

I was largely against popular opinion with my disappointed ambivalence towards Guy Ritchie’s first “Sherlock Holmes” film, writing two years ago that “it fails to captivate and engross like detective stories are supposed to do.”  I then went on to make a statement that is now quite ironic: “I do look forward to seeing the sequel which was clearly set up in the ending, hoping in the meantime that Ritchie and his team can figure out a way to get me more engaged.”

Well, here we are, two years later, and I’ve seen “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” Ritchie’s follow-up.  As I sat in the theater and each interminable minute passing felt like five times as long, I wished I could have been sitting in the first movie.  Everything wrong about the 2009 reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective series was multiplied and magnified, and most of what was done right was gone entirely.  Robert Downey Jr. is now skating on thin ice with me as I’m now almost totally averse to his pompous smugness.  It was awesome in “Iron Man,” amusing in “Sherlock Holmes,” annoying in “Iron Man 2,” and it’s just acrid in “A Game of Shadows.”

He’s suffering from what I’ve dubbed “Johnny Depp syndrome” – a performance and a persona dubbed iconic will eventually become an imitation and a mere shadow of its former self if repeated multiple times.  And with a movie this poorly plotted, Ritchie needed Downey at his A-game … and wound up getting probably about a C or a C minus-game.  His Holmes, this time around, feels jaded and bored, which makes me wonder if it’s the character or the actor who we are really seeing reflected on the screen.

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REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes

6 01 2010

Robert Downey, Jr. is one lucky guy.  His brilliantly dry wit has earned him the privilege to play two iconic smug heroes: Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) and the titular sleuth of “Sherlock Holmes.”  He brings plenty of his trademark enthusiasm to the role, yet it still feels a few notches down from Stark and “Iron Man.”  He doesn’t get any help from director Guy Ritchie, whose excessively stylized contemporary approach clashes with the intricate Victorian sets, costumes, and jargon.  His “Sherlock Holmes” is not bad, but it fails to captivate and engross like detective stories are supposed to do.

Downey Jr. is not bad either.  It was particularly amusing to watch he and Jude Law, who plays the famous sidekick Dr. Watson, get into their bickering and bantering.  They feel like an old married couple, which they practically are given the amount of time that Watson spends tending to Holmes’ needs.  On the opposite side of things, Rachel McAdams’ Irene falls victim to some atrocious writing.  Her character pops up without explanation and no real motivation is ever given to her.  McAdams does her best to make up for it with some passion, but even that is not enough.

As for the story, I wasn’t expecting a connect-the-dots mystery.  I have read one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Holmes tales, “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” and it was somewhat frustrating to feel so helpless to piece things together.  However, this screenplay doesn’t even grant us the privilege of seeing that there are any dots at all.  As Holmes probes London to find the seemingly resurrected occult leader Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), he stumbles upon many clues and red herrings.  But the filmmakers refuse to assign any sort of significance to any of these, and we are completely unaware that these mean anything.  In essence, we are traveling this road with Holmes.  He, however, has a clue where it might be leading; we don’t.

All in all, “Sherlock Holmes” is a pretty fair piece of entertainment.  I wouldn’t describe anything about the movie as being  spectacular or rememberable, but I do look forward to seeing the sequel which was clearly set up in the ending, hoping in the meantime that Ritchie and his team can figure out a way to get me more engaged.  B- /





What To Look Forward To In … December 2009

14 11 2009

What is in my mind the finest month for the movies is almost here!  Let Marshall guide you through the best and steer you away from the worst, but most of all enjoy!  The studios have been holding back their best movies all year to dump them all here, where they can get serious awards consideration.

December 4

A major Oscars wild-card is “Brothers.”  No one really knows what to make of it.  If the movie hits big, it could completely change the game.  But it could just fly under the radar like most expect it to now.  However, the trailer makes it look as if it the movie could be absolutely mind-blowing.  Directed by Jim Sheridan, who has received six Academy Award nominations, “Brothers” follows Grace Cahill (Natalie Portman) as she and her daughters deal with the loss of her husband, Sam (Tobey Maguire), in war.  Sam’s brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to live with Grace to lend a helping hand.  But romantic sparks fly between the two at precisely the wrong time: the discovery that Sam is alive and coming home.  With the two brothers both tugging Grace’s heart for their share, a different type of sparks fly.

You have heard me say plenty about “Up in the Air.”  If you haven’t read my Oscar Moment on the movie or heard my bliss at the release of the trailer, let me give you one more chance to hope on the bandwagon.

But the movies don’t stop there.  “Armored,” an action-drama that is tooting its own moral horn, starring Matt Dillon and Laurence Fishburne.  “Everybody’s Fine” appears to be a holiday movie, so that might be worth checking out if you’re in the spirit.  The movie, a remake of a 1990 Italian film by the same name, stars Robert DeNiro as a widower who reconnects with his estrange children.  And “Transylmania” looks to cash in on the vampire craze sweeping the nation by satirizing it, but I doubt it will be financially viable because it is being released by a no-name studio and without any big names.

December 11

The highlight of the weekend for many will be “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to the traditional animation by hand musical.  The movie looks to capitalize on what we know and love Disney musicals for, adding some catchy tunes to a fairy tale we have known since childhood.  Anika Noni Rose, best known for her role as Lorrell in the film adaptation of “Dreamgirls,” lends her talented voice to the princess Tiana.  As a huge fan of “Dreamgirls” during the winter of 2006, I couldn’t think of someone better equipped to handle the sweet, soft Disney music (which isn’t designed for belters like Beyoncé or Jennifer Hudson).  That being said, the music won’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard from a Disney fairy tale.  It is being scored by Randy Newman, not Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” etc.), and will have a jazzy feel much like its setting, New Orleans.

This week also boasts the opening of three major Oscar players. Two have been featured in Oscar Moments, “Invictus” and “A Single Man.” The former opens nationwide this Friday, the latter only in limited release. I’ll repost the trailers below because they are worth watching. But read the Oscar Moment if you want to know more about the movies.

According to the people that matter, “The Lovely Bones” has all the pieces to make a great movie. But for summer reading two years ago, I read the source material, Alice Sebold’s acclaimed novel. I found it dreadfully melodramatic and very depressing without any sort of emotional payoff to reward the reader for making it through. But maybe Hollywood will mess up the novel in a good way. If any movie could, it would be this one. With a director like Peter Jackson and a cast including Saiorse Ronan (“Atonement”), Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon, it could very well happen.  It opens in limited release on this date and slowly expands until its nationwide release on Martin Luther King Day weekend in 2010.

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