Monthly Archives: May 2011

Review: The King’s Speech (2010)

After watching it start out small, grow in momentum, and become a gargantuan success that swept through award season, I, at long last, have now seen The King’s Speech. So, you know, never mind all those critics and all those awards … the most important opinion of all is now available. Are you ready? Probably not. Ahem.

The King’s Speech is a historical drama about the events leading up to and immediately following the coronation of King George VI of England. Prince Albert (Colin Firth), Bertie to his family, is the younger brother; he’s second in line to the throne behind his brother Edward (Guy Pearce). As such, he isn’t really interested in his share of the limelight although it is often thrust upon him by his father the king (Michael Gambon). See, the problem is, Bertie stutters. And for a public figure expected to speechify upon occasion, that’s a problem. Bertie’s been through every speech therapist in the country, practically, and has given up. His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter), however, is more determined, and seeks out an unorthodox practitioner named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Lionel and Bertie struggle through a working relationship amidst King George V’s death, Edward’s rise to the throne and subsequent abdication, and Bertie’s being crowned George VI. The culminating moment of the film is King George VI’s radio broadcast on the day that Britain goes to war with Germany at the beginning of World War II.

First things first: did you get a load of that cast? Fabulous! Add in the absolute perfection that is Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, and Jennifer Ehle as Logue’s wife, and the movie is just a dazzling who’s who of British (or British-ish) acting talent. Obviously, any movie starring the triumvirate of Firth, Bonham-Carter, and Rush is going to be excellent, and The King’s Speech is indeed excellent. It is a very intimate piece: emotional, humorous; overall an excellent depiction of the inner life of royalty, and at its core the story of a friendship. The relationships are indeed the movie’s greatest strength. Bertie and Elizabeth’s marriage is seen as truly loving and supportive, and the relationship between Bertie and Logue, while often a struggle, is one ultimately built upon mutual respect and affinity.

Colin Firth is absolutely amazing in this movie. It’s hard to believe that he doesn’t stutter in real life, and his wry delivery is really enjoyable. Bonham-Carter is a fascinating mixture of warmth, depth, and that stereotypical stiff British upper lip. Geoffrey Rush was, for me, the emotional center of the piece. His Lionel is unfailingly positive, capable, and determined in his methods. His refusal to treat Bertie as royalty is so uncomfortable to watch, but is ultimately the key to the king’s success. The chemistry between the two actors is really spectacular, and obviously the supporting cast makes no missteps either.

In case you haven’t picked up on this vibe yet, the acting is what makes this movie. It’s also very well-directed and filmed, with interesting use of close-ups to convey the pressure and comfort level of Bertie, in particular. Period costumes are always enjoyable, and I have nothing bad to say about a score that makes such use of Beethoven. But the story itself, and the pacing of the film, leave a little to be desired. It’s a little slow sometimes, and there are points where the scene and action shifts, and the viewer has to make a bit of a leap to catch up. In particular, the skip from King George V being hale and hearty and yelling at his son to being mumbling, confused, and close to death was rather jarring for me. I think it’s just a failing of this type of close drama: there’s not a lot of action, so it’s harder to keep things moving at a comfortable pace. It detracts only slightly from the film overall, since it’s all about the performances, but it’s still there.

As such, my husband and I both looked at each other at the end, and said “Hmm. The Social Network should have won Best Picture.” Yes, I know, neither of us is a voting member of the Academy. But there it is. They’re very similar movies in some ways: both based on real events and people, both more talk and less action. But the tightness and cohesiveness of The Social Network is far greater than that of The King’s Speech. The story of Facebook’s founding, which sounded so boring to me prior to seeing the film, is somehow rendered fascinating and riveting through Aaron Sorkin’s writing and David Fincher’s direction.I won’t go on and on about it, (you can read my review here), but that’s the opinion of this random denizen of the internet. The King’s Speech is far superior in terms of acting (which is not to say that TSN wasn’t well-acted), but as a film in its entirety, it’s not as impressive. Does that mean I don’t think you should watch it? Absolutely not! It’s a really, really enjoyable film, certainly one of the best I’ve seen recently. You should totally see it. It’s touching, funny, intense at times, and educational. What more could you want? Colin Firth? There you go!

Musical Moment

Because today would’ve been Audrey Hepburn’s 82d birthday. Don’t need any more reason than that for this lovely moment from the classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Did you know that this song, written by Henry Mancini especially for Audrey Hepburn and this film, won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1962?

The movie: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
The song: Moon River

Weekend viewing: Capsule reviews

Last week we’d intended to watch two silly movies, but suddenly got busy and ended up only watching one. So, the second had to wait for this weekend. They were indeed silly.

Ella Enchanted (2004)
This early Anne Hathaway vehice, based (apparently quite loosely) on a YA novel, is essentially a slightly updated version of the Cinderella story, with some interesting twists.

At her birth, Ella of Frell (Hathaway) is “gifted” with obedience. Essentially, she is compelled to do anything that anyone tells her to do. You see where this could be a problem, right? She manages to keep this trait a secret until she’s a teenager, and her new stepmother and stepsisters arrive. Stepsister Hattie (Lucy Punch, whom I love) quickly figures out what’s what, and abuses her power accordingly. Meanwhile, Ella meets Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy, meh) who is returning to the kingdom to take over from his uncle, the unctious Edgar (Cary Elwes, hysterical!). Ella and Charmont meet and he is instantly smitten, much to the dismay of Hattie. Ella, however, blames Charmont for all of the bad things going on in the kingdom, like the persecution and subjugation of elves, giants, and ogres. This is, of course, all the fault of Edgar, but Charmont is blind to his uncle’s true motives. Ella sets off on a quest to rid herself of her “gift,” and ends up working to end Edgar’s tyranny alongside Charmont. Think they fall in love? Please.

So it’s a cute movie. Anne Hathaway is at her most earnest and toothsome, Lucy Punch and Cary Elwes are fabulous, and all of the “modern” twists are amusing, if a bit much at times. The musical selections are kind of painful, although the ensemble number at the end is cute. It was fun to sort of note all the other fairy tale movies that are vaguely referenced throughout, most notably Edgar’s sidekick Heston, a CGI snake clearly based on Disney’s Robin Hood’s Sir Hiss. Entertaining. Sure to delight the kiddies.

National Treasure (2004)
You’re probably thinking, “Geez, she’s just now getting around to this one?” But here’s the thing. In my other life I am a rare book librarian. So the plot of a movie that involves an important document like the Declaration of Independence just makes me cringe. The husband wanted to see this one, so I decided to sit in. Husband’s take: “Wow, that was so much worse than I thought it’d be.” My take: “That was about as bad as I thought it would be.”

Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) has been brought up believing in a conspiracy theory that involves the Knights Templar turning into the Freemasons, who, during the nascent years of the United States, hid away a treasure of untold riches. With the help of a rich benefactor, Ian Howe (Sean Bean; gee, you think he’s going to end up the bad guy?) and Riley, a snarky computer geek (Justin Bartha, the film’s saving grace), Ben goes in search of the first clue, which leads them to the discovery that the treasure map is on the back of the Declaration of Independence. In invisible ink, natch. Here the explorers meet their parting of the ways, with Ian determining to steal the document, and Ben being far too patriotic for that. However, when Ben and Riley soon realize nobody’s going to help them, so they decide to steal it first. To keep it safe. Of course, it all goes awry, and suddenly, the lovely Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger, sufficient) gets involved in the race to be the first to discover the Masons’ secret. Ben’s disbelieving dad (Jon Voight) and an FBI agent (Harvey Keitel) are also drawn into the action, which sends our heroes racing through some of the country’s most historic cities to follow the trail of clues.

Seriously, this is not a good movie. For a group of people who are generally acknowledged to be pretty good actors, the whole thing is so amazingly wooden. And as for the plot, I think I was at least a step ahead the whole time. I mean, I’ve read a couple of Dan Brown novels, you know? There wasn’t even enough real action to entertain. It was all Nic Cage furrowing his brow and wracking his brain to come up with the next answer to the puzzle. With hilarious asides by Bartha. And Sean Bean doing what he does best, which is glower menacingly. We will not be watching the sequel, despite the addition of another Oscar winner (Helen Mirren) and nominee (Ed Harris). Thanks, but no thanks.

So yes. Silly movies. BUT. Tonight, I am so excited, for we are going to see, finally, The King’s Speech! Yay!! Hopefully, it really is “all that”. And you, dear readers? What did you see this weekend? Do tell!