Elizabeth: The Golden Age


In anticipation of the sequel, Marcy and I rewatched the original 1998 movie, a solid historical drama with a healthy Godfather finish and an astounding performance by Cate Blanchett. The new film, also directed by Shekhar Kapur, picks up the story where it left off and sees the Virgin Queen through to the defeat of the Armada in 1588. As spymaster Walsingham, Geoffrey Rush is once again trying to outplot the Spanish. Abbie Cornish plays the maid with the bursting bodice who has the “ear of the Queen” and makes love in front of sundry fireplaces. Samantha Morton gets to stick her neck out as Mary, Queen of Scots. And Elizabeth once again suffers for her country, unable to pick a husband or escape — like Helen Mirren’s QEII — from the constraints of her office.

Yes, there’s a good deal of soap opera in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, but by the time the fire ships appear, this movie has become something quite different. The beacons of England are lit (cf. Return of the King), a CGI fleet is tossed about in a storm (cf. 300), the Queen harangues the troops on a coiffed horse, and Clive Owen, as the raffish pirate Sir Walter Raleigh, does some honest-to-god swashbuckling. Forget the soap: we have reached the emotional pitch of opera.

Kapur’s sweeping spectacle forgoes all musty pretensions of middle-brow edutainment, and if you expected a history lesson you’ll emerge from the theater deaf and dumb. Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the work of a director who is intoxicated with the power of cinema, and as an aficionado of Revenge of the Sith, I felt right at home in his world. Visually, it’s as overstuffed as any of the Star Wars prequels, bombarding us with new colors, angles, sweeping vistas, and scenery-chewing performances. The soundtrack is every bit as overwhelming as John William’s famous fanfare, and Padme Amidala would have killed for this Queen’s hairdos and extravagant costumes. Elizabeth: The Golden Age opens on October 12.

Elizabeth. Shekhar Kapur, 1998. ***
Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Shekhar Kapur, 2007. ****

The trailer:

Four More Festival Reviews

I took a break from the festival today to catch up with reviews. Here’s a quick rundown:

I’m Not There

Todd Haynes’s Dylan picture only truly takes off when a Dylan song is playing, and that should tell you something. Cate Blanchett is great fun, but I liked her even better in tonight’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age. More on that soon — and I’ve got video of the press conference with Haynes, too.

Paranoid Park
I saw this strictly out of professional curiosity, and Gus van Sant did not disappoint: yet another artful bore.

The Man From London
Everybody seems to be digging out their favorite “on drugs” lines for this year’s NYFF, so here goes: The Third Man on Ambien.

Secret Sunshine

Once again, my festival favorite (at least so far) comes from South Korea. No distributor yet, but you can get Lee Chang-dong’s Oasis and Peppermint Candy on DVD.

I’m Not There. Todd Haynes, 2007. ***
Paranoid Park. Gus van Sant, 2007. *
The Man From London. Béla Tarr, 2007. ***
Milyang. Lee Chang-dong, 2007. *****

The Lord of the Rings

After over a year of exile from Middle-Earth, the itch was getting too strong to resist. Much too much has been said about these movies already, so here are just three thoughts: (1) If you’re going to do a marathon, I strongly recommend the theatrical versions over the extended edition. You want the epic span of the story, but you don’t want all the buttnumbing footnote scenes. Sorry, purists. (2) In retrospect, The Two Towers is the weakest of the series. Gollum is terrific and the film’s climax offers good payoff, but the subplots about Faramir, Rohan, and Treebeard just aren’t nearly as interesting as the major storylines in the other two movies. (3) Return of the King has such a wealth of incredible visuals and is pitched at such an intense level of drama that it’s bound to remain a milestone for a long time to come. It also makes King Kong seem especially pointless–everything that movie was supposed to do, Return of the King had already done much better. As epic genre film, as ensemble melodrama, as special effects extravaganza, and as literary adaptation, The Lord of the Rings still reigns supreme.

The Fellowship of the Ring. Peter Jackson, 2001. *****
The Two Towers. Peter Jackson, 2002. *****
The Return of the King. Peter Jackson, 2003. *****

[tags]the lord of the rings, fantasy, hobbits, peter jackson, viggo mortensen, sean astin, elijah wood, cate blanchett, orlando bloom, ian mckellen, tolkien, adaptation, trilogy, marathon, film, 5 stars[/tags]

Notes on a Scandal

Drama about a teacher in a frustrated marriage (Cate Blanchett) who begins an affair with a 15-year-old student, and the bitter old spinster (Judi Dench) who develops an unhealthy crush on her. It’s all told in the voice of Dench’s journal entries, which provide a cynical counterpoint to the slightly pathetic front she puts on. But whoever wrote this thing (Patrick Marber, based on a novel by Zoe Heller) takes Dench’s character much too far into the schlocky B-movie territory of Fatal Attraction or any number of insane-babysitter movies. We’re left with a very well-acted popcorn flick, ripped, I’m sure, from some headline or other. Opens December 27.

Notes on a Scandal. Richard Eyre, 2006. **

[tags]2 stars, film, drama, england, judi dench, cate blanchett, bill nighy, teachers, kids, affairs, obsession, richard eyre, zoe heller[/tags]

The Good German

I fully support all of Steven Soderbergh’s cinematic experiments, whether it’s highly personal weirdness (Schizopolis), big-budget romps (Ocean’s 11), remakes of Russian scifi classics (Solaris), or minimalist melodrama (Bubble). So when he makes a 1940s noir with period technology, I’m very much there. The Good German is set in the heart of what’s called “the Zone” in Gravity’s Rainbow: bombed-to-rubble Berlin in 1945, which is a place very much like Casablanca a few years earlier. Nobody can be trusted, everybody’s for sale, and everybody wants to get the hell out. Clooney comes in as war correspondent, Tobey Maguire plays a hometown boy who might not be as apple-pie as he seems, and Cate Blanchett is the German dame with a mysterious history. It all looks fantastic, and what Pynchonite wouldn’t be a sucker for a plot that involves rocket scientists, the Potsdam conference, and the Mittelbauwerke?

But The Good German has a deadly weakness, and it’s the script. We don’t feel for Clooney, we don’t understand Blanchett, there is little chemistry between them, the tangled plot is so confusing you have to figure it out over dinner afterwards, and Maguire (the best thing about the movie) leaves the story much too early. It’s ok if noir doesn’t make sense right away (Raymond Chandler famously had no idea who killed one of the characters in The Maltese Falcon), but at least the emotions have to be readable. In The Good German, it’s all a blur.

Finally, there are the Casablanca references, which overwhelm the movie. Sure, other films are also alluded to (The Third Man, Psycho), but The Good German starts as faithful recreation of a period movie with contemporary attitudes (more sex than they showed in ’45 etc), but by the end you feel like you’re watching just another post-modern pastiche–and by god, as much as I love Casablanca, it’s been copied, ripped off, and parodied enough. 

The Good German. Steven Soderbergh, 2006. **

[tags]steven soderbergh, film, 2 stars, noir, crime, berlin, germany world war ii, george clooney, cate blanchett, tobey maguire, the maltese falcon, thomas pynchon, rocket science, casablanca, psycho, the third man, raymond chandler, postmodernism, pastiche[/tags]