Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Anonymous is a richly staged movie about a theory as to who really penned Shakespeare's plays and sonnets.
The drama becomes a drama only because the screenplay weaves the succession of Queen Elizabeth -- and the Essex rebellion against her -- into the story.
Believe it or not, the comic relief in the play is Will Shakespeare, a device meant to convince us that Will, a commoner with little education, couldn't possibly have written what is generally regarded as the world's best plays. If we believe what the film shows us, we would heartily agree. He's pictured here as an uncouth, unscrupulous, greedy Englishman, with no talent at all except for extortion.
So, who did write these plays? The film works to persuade us that the plays and poems commonly attributed to William Shakespeare are actually the work of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. And the film (and some scholars) makes a valiant effort, if not completely plausible, towards this end.
Casting isn't as compelling. Much of the film is seen through the eyes of bitter Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto), but he isn't much of a focal point for the film. The Earl of Oxford, supposedly our muse, is portrayed by Jamie Campbell Bower (young) and Rhys Ifans (older), and they're both excellent. Unfortunately, the older Elizabeth as portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave is highly emotional and seems to have forgotten all of her life's lessons in this one. However, considering how many people went to the Tower of London during her reign, this situation may be evidential. Still, she's never quite regal enough.
It's a complicated story, a bit too complicated at almost every step. It's good to already be acquainted with the historical characters before you dive in. But it's richly illustrated and fun for those a little interested in the history. Thumb's up.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Argo is a dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA and Canadian operation to extract six figitive American diplomats who hid in the Canadian embassy when Iran experienced their revolution. The results were classified secret until the president released the details of the operation in 1997.
And amazing the story is. Thankfully, director and star Ben Affleck recognized its worth, and changed the balance of the humor and drama in the screenplay so that it would work.
The comedy? The fact that U.S. operatives actually put together a dummy movie operation to convince Iran officials that they were scouting locations for a bad sci-fi movie instead of rescuing diplomats (called "houseguests" in the movie).
The movie is terrifically staged so that we see the conflict, the drama, in both the U.S. and Iran, as this daring operation moved forward.
I knew all about the hostages, probably the reason Jimmy Carter lost the presidency, a frightening time in American politics, but I did not know about the six diplomats hiding out in the Canadian embassy, knowing sooner or later that Iranians would figure out who was missing from their group of hostages, and where they might be. The Canadian ambassador and his wife took a great personal risk (and international risk for Canada) by agreeing to harbor them when two other embassies had turned them down. While the movie doesn't show their plight in seeking asylum, you have to wonder the fear as they went from door to door, seeking asylum.
This is a low-budget movie, and thankfully has wonderful actors to keep our interest and move the story forward. Besides Affleck, there's Victor Garber (best known in "Alias" with Affleck's wife, Jennifer Garner) as the Canadian ambassador, and the marvelous Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as Affleck's character's boss. Add to that character actors like Alan Arkin as a Hollywood producer and John Goodman as a make-up artist, and you have a star-studded but quietly developing, thrilling drama
Thumb's up.

Friday, October 05, 2012


We love time travel stories. We’re not including Memento in this group hug, however, because that was just impossible to follow. But, you know, gentle time travel stories that explain everything to us – or enough to not drive us completely batty – are welcome. Some movies work really well, like Midnight in Paris, Next, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Star Trek: First Contact, Source Code, but then there are the badly written ones like Prince of Persia, Uncertainty, 17 Again. The trick to making a good time travel movie is to bring something different, a well-written script that makes us think and care.
We have one in Looper, one of the most unusual films you’ll ever see. The first scene, of a hit man waiting for his mark to appear from the future, sets up the entire movie and warns you just how violent this journey is going to be. A “looper” is a professional hit man who kills hooded and tied mob men sent back to his past so that he can instantly shoot him. The twist this time is that the man Joe confronts to kill is his own self, the Bruce Willis older version of Joe.
I did a double-take when I saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt (you know, the young boy in Third Rock from the Sun, all grown up and doing dazzling work) for the first time. There was something different about him. His nose, especially, had been changed. I finally realized that Joe has been made up to look like his “older self,” played by Bruce Willis. In fact, Gordon-Levitt nails a younger impersonation of Willis, complete with clipped speech and that little smile at the corners of Willis’ mouth. He must’ve watched “Die Hard” 30 times.
This is a thriller of a movie, and following the story line this intricate takes some work but is highly satisfying. Thumb’s up for an unusual time travel story.