Posts Tagged ‘Ben Chaplin’

The Royal Courts of Justice

The Children Act

Director: Richard Eyre

Cast: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead, Ben Chaplin

Notes on a Scandal director Richard Eyre adapts an Ian McEwan novel The Children Act featuring another Oscar worthy performance by Emma Thompson who plays a British judge Fiona Maye who has to decide the complex case of Jehovah Witness teenager who has leukaemia and whose parents are refusing to allow the hospital to give him a blood transfusion which is against their religious beliefs.

Dunkirk star Fionn Whitehead plays the young seventeen year old boy Adam Henry who takes a shine to the supposedly impartial judge Maye after she visits him in hospital to determine how critical his medical condition really is.

The Children Act is masterfully directed by Richard Eyre and ably supported by an articulate screenplay by Ian McEwan who adapted it from his novel.

At the centre of The Children Act is a superb performance by Emma Thompson who is not only having to deal with legally and morally complex court cases but has to grapple with the failure of her marriage to English lecturer Jack Maye wonderfully played against type by American actor Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada).

Thompson who cut her teeth in some early Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare film adaptations including King Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing, has come into her own as a respected British actress.

She later blossomed under the artful direction of now Oscar winner James Ivory, who at age 88 adapted the screenplay for the superb 2017 film Call Me by Your Name. Emma Thompson starred in two major Merchant Ivory productions Howards End and Remains of The Day both opposite Anthony Hopkins. She won an Oscar in 1992 for Best Actress for portraying Margaret Schlegel in Howards End.

In later years, Thompson has not really featured in many complex roles but her turn as Fiona Maye in The Children Act has redeemed her star quality which peaked in Ang Lee’s handsome film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility opposite Kate Winslet, for which she picked up another Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Children Act is a sophisticated British legal drama about the moral boundaries of the law and the psychological impact such judgements can make on those suffering from terminal diseases. An intelligent handling of a complex and deeply polarizing subject matter, held together by a flawless performance by Emma Thompson.

The Children Act gets a film rating of 8.5 out of 10 is highly recommended viewing for those that prefer substantial British dramas which are not easily weighed down by melancholy or prejudice.

 

 

 

The Exotic and the Brave

The Legend of Tarzan

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Director: David Yates

Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou, Ben Chaplin, Jim Broadbent, Osy Ikhile, Antony Acheampong

British director David Yates who was responsible for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows returns to the director’s chair headlining a re-imagining of the mythical Tarzan, in the new visually astounding film, The Legend of Tarzan, featuring Swedish hunk Alexander Skarsgard in the titular role.

Tarzan, also known as Lord Greystoke, John Clayton is accompanied by his beautiful and vivacious wife Jane, wonderfully played by Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) and an American emissary George Washington Williams played against type by Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Kingsman: Secret Service). The villain in Legend of Tarzan is played by none other than Austrian Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Spectre, Django Unchained) who portrays the evil and repugnant Leon Rom. The year is 1884 and the colonization of Africa by European powers is gaining rapid and unparalleled momentum.

Set in the beautiful and vast Belgian Congo, when King Leopold was rapaciously raping the Congo of its mineral wealth, particularly diamonds using slave labour and devious means including turning warring local tribes against each other. One such tribe headed by Chief Mbonga muscularly played by Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) wants Tarzan’s head on a plate and makes an unlikely pact with the unscrupulous Rom, who will stop at nothing to complete his reigning monarch’s ambitious colonial plans.

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John and Jane Clayton are persuaded to leave the comforts of late Victorian England behind and head for the exotic and wild plains of the Belgian Congo, where they soon confront the evil Leon Rom and his multitude of force publique officers who are out to enslave and enforce the will of the Belgian monarch upon the unsuspecting locals.

What really makes The Legend of Tarzan worth seeing is the brilliant incorporation of superb visual effects using performance capture technology for a vivid portrayal of the wildlife featured in the film, mainly the gorillas, lions and hordes of wildebeest. The brilliantly featured gorillas are a highlight. These creatures of the wild, raised baby Tarzan as one of their own, teaching him the laws of the jungle and how important it is to respect the hierarchy of the Animal Kingdom.

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Whilst Skarsgard’s performance of the iconic Tarzan is not perfect, he certainly has the muscular and gorgeous body to pull off this particularly physical role. After all the success of casting a male actor as Tarzan depends entirely on his physique. The well chiselled Skarsgard is naturally born for this role.

Margot Robbie breathes new life into Jane, as a feisty independent American woman who has attitude and her best scenes ironically shine through when played opposite the scheming villain Rom. In terms of dialogue, the best scene is between Robbie and Waltz as they dine precariously together on a steamer travelling down the Congo River, in a visual reference to The Heart of Darkness.

The Legend of Tarzan is better than anticipated, with magnificent visual effects elevating the film out of cinematic parody. It’s a well plotted, action filled and entertaining film, a worthwhile trip to the cinema where audiences can delve into a real adventure story which features the exotic and the brave.

In this version, the shirtless Tarzan swinging in the proverbial jungle should keep many swooning for years to come.

When the Glass Slipper Fits…

Cinderella

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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgaard, Derek Jacobi, Holliday Grainger, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell

Shakespearean actor and director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, King Henry V) vividly recreates the famous tale of Cinderella in a live action film which despite its sumptuous production design does not match up to other recent onscreen fairy tales most notably the brilliant Snow White and the Huntsman and the equally impressive Maleficent.

Downton Abbey’s Lily James takes on the title role of Cinderella and although she is gorgeous to watch onscreen, the famous narrative arc of her tale is not given any particular depth or subliminal meaning. But then again this is a Disney film and the age restriction is parental guidance, with the target audience being young little girls. Judging by the packed cinema on a Saturday afternoon that target market was spot on.

Branagh’s Cinderella is lush, gorgeous and beautiful to watch with a spectacular production design by Dante Ferreti and fabulous costumes by Sandy Powell, Oscar winner for her costumes in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.

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Oscar winner for Blue Jasmine and The Aviator Cate Blanchett is wonderful as the wicked stepmother and so is Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech, The Wings of a Dove) as Cinderella’s quirky fairy godmother who on the evening of the ball given by the crown prince of their kingdom, Cinderella’s dress, transportation and footmen are sorted for her great entrance at the Ball.

The Ballroom scene is simply amazing and is undoubtedly the high point of the film, but in a similar vein to the gorgeous reproduction of Anna Karenina, the script and acting for Cinderella suffers under the weight of its own expectation.

One almost gets the feeling that the actors were slightly bored going through this famous fairy tale with the exception of the brief scenes by Blanchett and the cameo by Helena Bonham Carter, Cinderella fails to lift audiences beyond its very light and fluffy message – which is for all young girls to find prince charming and live happily ever after.

Prince Charming in this case is played by British actor and Game of Thrones star Richard Madden, bulging codpiece and all, and his penetrating blue eyes do the acting. Director Branagh strictly keeps this traditional Cinderella aimed at the young children’s market obviously upon the instruction of parent company Disney.

Nevertheless, the costumes and the production design are superb and should garner some awards in those categories. Whilst Cinderella lacks the edgier darkness of Snow White and the Huntman and Maleficent, it is still fun to watch especially all those character actors making an appearance from Hayley Atwell, Stellan Skarsgaard and Derek Jacobi.

Disney’s Cinderella is recommended viewing for those that loved Mirror Mirror and for all parents who need to take their daughters to see some serious glamour on the big screen. In this case the fabulous glass slipper fits too comfortably and Cinderella and her prince charming do live happily ever after.

 

Eternal Portrait of Vanity and Decay

Oscar Wilde’s novella The Picture of Dorian Gray published in the summer of 1890 marked the age of aestheticism in the declining years of Victorian England. Wilde at the time of publication wrote `To become a work of art is the object of living’.

A Decaying Image but an Eternal work of Art

In Dorian Gray, the 2009 film version, Gray a wealthy aristocrat sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for eternal youth.  As the young Dorian drifts languidly into a world of debauchery, opium dens, orgies and uncompromising excess, the portrait first painted of him as a beautiful young lord soon reflects the ugliness of Dorian’s actions whilst the character retains his flawless beauty. There is an almost vampire quality to Dorian’s sordid adventures as he slowly but surely delves deeper into the darker spheres of human action from seduction, temptation and ultimately to murder, manipulating all those around him with the exception of his primary influencer Lord Henry Wotton, a brilliant performance by Colin Firth who shines in this part.

Ben Barnes who shot to fame in Prince Caspian and the 2009 film adaptation of Noel Cowards play Easy Virtue, struggles with a character as complex and compelling as Dorian Gray. Barnes portrayal whilst beautiful is bordering on flaccid and his inability to capture the fall from innocence of Dorian Gray is only illuminated by the razor sharp supporting performances of Firth and the remarkably brilliant Rebecca Hall of Vicky Christina Barcelona fame, illustrating that as an actor, Barnes is beautiful to look at but does not have the requisite skill and theatrical maturity to master a complex character like Dorian Gray.

Whilst Oliver Parker’s Victorian Gothic version of  Dorian Gray is fascinating and at times horrific to watch, it falls short as a brilliant work of cinema simply because there has never been a successful screen adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray as the novella is as much about literary symbolism, an ironic portrayal of aestheticism as a means in itself, as it is about decrepitude and vicious narcissistic menace, even resulting in seducing the artist Basil Hallward who paints Dorian’s portrait, a wonderfully brief but vivid performance by Ben Chaplin. Jude Law who starred as the vain and spoilt Lord Alfred Douglas in the film version of Oscar Wilde’s later life, Wilde opposite a fantastic Stephen Fry in the title role, would have been a more suitable Dorian Gray as his skill as an actor would have captured the weaknesses of a character entirely devoted to his own vanity and basking in the fascination that youth, wealth and beauty can cast on an infinitely corruptible society.

Oscar Wilde – either the wallpaper or myself have to go!

Think of Jude Law’s Oscar nominated performance in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley. Law would have been perfect in Dorian Gray.

For literary enthusiasts Dorian Gray is a film worth watching as a point of discussion on how life imitates art and eventually as with all lovers of aestheticism, art survives above life for art’s sake, far out living those corpses decaying in a murky grave. Images outlive the subject and the portrait however beautiful will remain eternal. For vanity and debauchery, as the Duke of Rochester so magnificently portrayed by Johnny Depp in The Libertine shows, those that yield to an abundance of temptation ultimately perish by the pursuit of their own desires.

As for what Oscar Wilde would comment on a 21st century Dorian Gray, words far exceed those merits of a celluloid image.

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