Skip to main content

Put that in one of your plays!

Anonymous
(2011)

Roland Emmerich tends to get a rough ride for his endless appetite for lowbrow, overblown action/disaster fare. But now, his chance to prove the critics wrong! I haven't minded his movies too much, even the hilariously stupid-by-his-own-standards 10,000 BC. He deserves some credit for being one of the few directors working today who shows an understanding of geography in action movies, and also one of the few who has an eye for lending special effects a sense of physicality. If only he could bring that acumen to a decent script.

John Landis and Terry Gilliam (who has discussed the director in the past, mainly with regard to the debt his style owes to Spielberg) riffed on his latest film in the excerpt below. Landis also singles out John Cusack outdriving the San Andreas fault in 2012, and it is indeed one of the funniest, most ludicrous scenes in recent memory (anyone, Landis included, wondering how unaware Emmerich was of his mirth-inducing potential should note the old lady Cusack tries to overtake).

As for Anonymous, visually it's as sumptuous as you'd expect. And as a conspiracy movie it is engaging, if "kitchen sink" in trying to trace as much political intrigue of the Elizabethan court as possible back to "real" Shakespeare's door. Or, rather, the Earl of Oxford's. But the script comes up short in a number of respects, chief of which is a lack of wit. Indeed, the results are sometimes unintentionally hilarious, such as Oxford's wife's scornful pleasure in the misfortune of her husband. "Put that in one of your plays!" she mocks. Shakespeare in Love worked so well because it weaved the playwright's work humorously and intelligently into its plot; a love of the material shone through in the characters and dialogue. John Orloff's script for Anonymous is populated with characters who lack sparkle and erudition. As a result Emmerich must rely on his cast to breathe life into the story. Orloff also falls victim to a common failing in these sorts of films, imbuing characters with banal foreknowledge of the enduring legacy of the artist's work.

I don't know a great deal about the Oxfordian versus Stratfordian theories on the authorship of the plays, but I agree in principal with Orloff's justification for historical inaccuracy/fudging in the film.

Ultimately, Shakespeare himself was our guide. The Shakespeare histories are not really histories. They're dramas. He compresses time. He adds characters that have been dead by the time the events are occurring. He'll invent characters out of whole cloth, like [Sir John] Falstaff in the history plays. First and foremost it's a drama, and just like Shakespeare we're creating drama.

It is rather setting yourself up for failure to put yourself in the same ballpark of success with approach as the Bard, however. What is most important is how well the created drama works. While the main plot threads involving drunken actor William Shakespeare assuming the identity of author of the plays and machinations over who will inherit the throne from Elizabeth are engaging, the flashbacks to the relationship between the younger Oxford and Elizabeth stumble. This element was at Emmerich's instigation, who felt they were needed to give a grounding for both characters. I suspect there could have been better ways to achieve this, but the problem is more that there too prevalent and add too little. There's also rather too much of Ben Johnson raging over what a tosser Shakespeare is being. We got the message quite quickly.

Thesps-wise, Rhys Ifans is very good as Oxford. He's been cast against type to an extent, but the actor's innate unconventionality is well-served playing a more refined character than he's used to. In contrast, doe-eyed Jamie Campbell Bower is a vacant presence as the younger Oxford. He's as miscast as he was as Arthur in Camelot. Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson are affecting as Elizabeth of different ages, but the former is most compelling. Rafe Spall's unremittingly loutish Shakespeare is at times quite amusing, but Spall plays these oafish types so frequently that I'm beginning to think he may just be playing himself. A number of relative newcomers also turned in accomplished performances. Sebastian Armesto gives it his best as Ben Johnson even if the character is one-note at times. All-but stealing the film is Edward Hogg as hunchbacked Robert Cecil. He reminded me slightly of Christopher Guest's Count Rugen in The Princess Bride, both in manner and appearance. Oh, and Derek Jacobi bookends the film. Seemingly as himself. If Derek Jacobi tells you something about Shakespeare, it must be true.

***


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams.

Ridley Scott Ridders Ranked
During the '80s, I anticipated few filmmakers' movies more than Ridley Scott's; those of his fellow xenomorph wrangler James Cameron, perhaps. In both cases, that eagerness for something equalling their early efforts receded as they studiously managed to avoid the heights they had once reached. Cameron's output dropped off a cliff after he won an Oscar. Contrastingly, Scott's surged like never before when his film took home gold. Which at least meant he occasionally delivered something interesting, but sadly, it was mostly quantity over quality. Here are the movies Scott has directed in his career thus far - and with his rate of  productivity, another 25 by the time he's 100 may well be feasible – ranked from worst to best.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

This is it. This is the moment of my death.

Fearless (1993)
Hollywood tends to make a hash of any exploration of existential or spiritual themes. The urge towards the simplistic, the treacly or the mawkishly uplifting, without appropriate filtering or insight, usually overpowers even the best intentions. Rarely, a movie comes along that makes good on its potential and then, more than likely, it gets completely ignored. Such a fate befell Fearless, Peter Weir’s plane crash survivor-angst film, despite roundly positive critical notices. For some reason audiences were willing to see a rubgy team turn cannibal in Alive, but this was a turn-off? Yet invariably anyone who has seen Fearless speaks of it in glowing terms, and rightly so.

Weir’s pictures are often thematically rich, more anchored by narrative than those of, say, Terrence Malick but similarly preoccupied with big ideas and their expression. He has a rare grasp of poetry, symbolism and the mythic. Weir also displays an acute grasp of the subjective mind-set, and possesses …

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.