THE KING’S SPEECH: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE KING’S SPEECH (Dir. Tom Hooper, 2010)

When Prince Albert, the Duke of York, steps up to the microphone to deliver the closing speech at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1925, we sense his extreme trepidation.

As portrayed by Colin Firth, the Duke is a dignified yet nervous man – nervous because he’s suffered his whole life with a debilitating speech impediment.

His audience at Wembley cringes at his painful attempts to oratate in which the awkward gaps between words (or more accurately word fragments) seem to stop and start time.

The Duke’s wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) desperately wants to help her husband and after much looking for a qualified speech therapist finds Geoffrey Rush as the erudite and sharply eccentric Lionel Logue.

Rush, who doesn’t make house calls, doesn’t want to take on the patient until he finds out who it is.

Firth is also hesitant thinking that his stammer is beyond repair, but after a short session is convinced otherwise because of Rush’s recording of the Duke speaking almost normally while music plays through his headphones.

When the Duke’s brother Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) abdicated from the throne for marrying a twice divorced American woman (Eve Best), Prince Albert becomes King George VI and is set to give a crucial radio address as war is looming.

Although it has a highly capable supporting cast including Michael Gambon as King George V, and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, it’s mainly Firth and Rush’s show. As good as Bonham Carter is here she’s considerably just decoration on the side.

Firth dives into Rush’s treatments involving breathing exercises, untangling tongue twisters, and a hilarious spouting out of a string of profanity in a scene that alone gives the film its R-rating.

Even as it can be seen as largely a filmed play (much like FROST/NIXON) there’s an elegant film surrounding the 2 excellent actors.

It’s mostly set in Rush’s study, but director Hooper allows for a nice amount of visual splendor. In a rare break from the indoors the therapist and his royal patient take a walk together in a sunbathed park that fades behind them. It’s arresting imagery that draws us closer to the leads and greatly enhances our emotional investment.

An investment that really pays off.

Firth takes on a difficult role – that of a stuttering man of stature – and infuses it with a living breathing fully realized performance, but it’s Rush who truly steals every scene he’s in. Rush is an absolute delight as the confident commoner speech therapist who fancies himself an aspiring actor.

A winner in every way, THE KING’S SPEECH was made for awards season, but unlike with such Oscar bait as “Conviction” that’s so not a bad thing.

It’s witty, wise, and wonderful – well deserving every bit of recognition it will definitely get.

It feels cheesy to use such clich├ęd critical accolades as “uplifting”, “inspirational”, and God forbid “the feel good movie of the year”, but dammit if the shoe fits…

More later…

The Wrong Alice Indeed

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Dir. Tim Burton, 2010)

I had forgotten that in my review of SWEENEY TODD (January 13th, 2008) I had joked that I was only going to see Burton/Depp productions at Movies At Timberlyne in Chapel Hill. Since I now live in Raleigh, I’m so glad that wasn’t a strict vow because this really wouldn’t have been worth the 40 minute drive.

This is exactly what I thought it was going to be – another CGI fueled fantasy fest with Depp dancing around like a maniac as dark yet ostensibly beautiful imagery bombards the viewer.

We all know the basic story here so I’ll try and keep it brief. A 19 year old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) in Victorian times escapes from her oppressive family and the unwanted marriage proposal from a chinless Bourgeois doofus of a suiter (Leo Bill) into a magical land. She encounters, you know, a White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen), a Blue Caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman), a Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), and twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both voice
d by Matt Lucas).

For villainy’s sake there is the Red Queen – Helena Bonhma Carter (you knew she’d have to be here somewhere) with a disturbingly huge head, who has stolen the reign of the land from her sister, the blindingly White Queen (Anne Hathaway) – who strangely has little presence. Also there’s Crispin Glover, who doesn’t look like he likes working in ginormous budget world, plays Stayne Knave of Hearts, the ominous head of the Red Queen’s army.

But of course most folks won’t care about any of that stuff – they care about Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter.

For some reason his make-up with his green eyes and fiery orange hair made him look like Madonna at times. His patently wacky performance will surely please hardcore Depp fans, but his take on the character, much like his turns in previous Burton work as Willy Wonka and Sweeney Todd, has that not so fresh feeling.

I personally feel that Depp and Burton should be separated for a decade. If they want to come back then and make another Disney re-imagining of something that’s been done to death in the past, so be it. But give us, or at least me, a break for a bit!

The film builds to a big battle climax which too greatly resembles the terrain and aesthetics of the STAR WARS prequels. The humorless execution and the distinct lack of charm made the third act particularly hard going.

Still, I can’t completely slag it off. On the whole it’s a well made and reasonably entertaining movie that I think a lot of people will enjoy. There are inspired flights of animated fancy and some close to great Gilliam-esque visual splendor.

I just felt overall that as played by Wasikowska, Alice was too much of a blank slate, Depp was too weird, Glover not weird enough, Bonham Carter not as amusing as she’s supposed to be, and the whole remake enterprise ambiance was a bit off.

All through the first half of the film, seemingly every character says that Alice is the “wrong Alice.” I’m not going to spoil why it is they say that, but of the dozens of adaptations out there in which to experience Lewis Carroll’s immortal story, it’s an apt statement because this sure isn’t the right one.

More later…

The Pre-Summer Season Soldiers On With TERMINATOR SALVATION


Warning: This review contains Spoilers!

You want to know how to begin what proposes to be an “event” motion picture? You first see the edges of ginormous letters that form the film’s title shrouded in black or standing in space (or both). They are either shining metallic silver or beaming black like they are made out of the same alien substance as the monolith from 2001. They are so huge they at first can not be contained by the silver screen. They look as if as if they will collide but they glide into place as we pull back to see them in their entirety. They, with the booming bass section on the score, announce that this is a big blaring blast of a movie that demands your attention up front. That’s how you begin an “event” motion picture and that, like every other piece of the franchise blockbuster formula,

As the fourth entry in THE TERMINATOR series,
SALVATION doesn’t intend to surprise or re-write any former history, it just intends to be a solid entertaining action film and on that level it succeeds enormously. It opens in 2003 with an odd appearance by Helena Bonham Carter as a doctor representative for a large corporation trying to persuade a death row inmate (Sam Worthington) to donate his body to what, of course, is an ominous project. From there we jump forward 15 years (surprisingly that’s the only time jumping we do – the rest is set in 2018) with Christian Bale as the intensely determined John Connor leading the resistance in the massive war against the machines across the definitively apocalyptic terrain. There’s no reason to recount any more of the plot – it’s a series of bombastic set pieces with tons of physical violence, devastating destruction, and ginormous explosion after explosion. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

As one of the most capable actors working today, Bale is as ferocious in the iconic part (he’s the fourth actor to take on John Connor) as he was in his infamous on-set rant. Worthington, possibly the real protagonist of the piece, is stoical and restrained with the right tone as he jumps from cyborg fight to cyborg fight. Many genuinely scary (or at least extremely jarring) moments abound with no wasted scenes or unfocused direction. The former TERMINATOR movies are referenced in a non-offensive manner – Linda Hamilton’s picture and voice on the tapes that Bale reviews for clues, the now set in cinematic stone “I’ll be back” line, and (I warned you about Spoilers!) the face of Arnold Swartzeneger via CGI on one of the Terminators in factory production.

Is this movie, which counts as both a sequel and a prequel (but then what franchise entry doesn’t these days?), really necessary? Well, my first thought is no. James Cameron’s first 2 TERMINATOR movies really had all these themes and the patented style of relentless action covered. TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES seemed like just an excuse for one more go around before “Ah-nold” took command of California, and I don’t even know how the TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles fits in to all of this. However, perhaps there is a need for a finely tuned franchise like this to keep going. As dark and desperate as it gets, we know the humans will survive against the machines and we like to see that over and over on the big screen with the best effects possible, booming sound, and folks of all ages gasping around us. Most likely I’ll be back for that next time too.

More later…