Tag Archives: Gary Oldman

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990, Tom Stoppard)

I’d heard of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, of course. I’d probably even meant to see it at one point, probably around the time of Branagh’s Hamlet, which is when I first got big into Shakespeare. But it was only available on VHS and I was already addicted to widescreen. Oddly, this viewing–at the wife’s request–was widescreen. I thought all the DVD releases were pan and scan. So waiting worked out.

More, it worked out because I probably wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the film as much ten years ago as I am able today. The characters trapped in the confines of a narrative, realizing they’re free of agency–well, I’m familiar with it from Breakfast of Champions. But Rosencrantz & Guildenstern goes a little further in discussing the drama as a whole.

It took me a while, I’ll admit, to realize what Stoppard was doing (at the beginning, I just figured they were dead and reliving the experience of Hamlet in some afterlife). Once I did, I appreciated it.

But, honestly, not as much as I appreciated the updating of “Who’s on first?”

Tim Roth and Gary Oldman are both fantastic. It’s stunning to see Oldman in such a well-written role. It’s been a long time since he’s been concerned with acting (kids, swimming pools, et cetera, I imagine).

Stoppard’s direction is excellent. It’s understated and profound.

Richard Dreyfuss is great in a somewhat unexplainable role. Iain Glen and Ian Richardson are good in the Hamlet sections.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Stoppard; screenplay by Stoppard, based on his play and a play by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Peter Biziou; edited by Nicolas Gaster; music by Stanley Myers; production designer, Vaughan Edwards; produced by Michael Brandman and Emanuel Azenberg; released by Cinecom Entertainment Group.

Starring Gary Oldman (Rosencrantz), Tim Roth (Guildenstern), Richard Dreyfuss (The Player), Joanna Roth (Ophelia), Iain Glen (Hamlet), Donald Sumpter (Claudius), Joanna Miles (Gertrude), Ljubo Zecevic (Osric), Ian Richardson (Polonius), Sven Medvesek (Laertes), Vili Matula (Horatio) and John Burgess (Ambassador from England).


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The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)

Before I get into the meat of this response, there are a few things I want to get out of the way. First, I was really glad when I heard some guy talking about how he didn’t like the movie as everyone filed out. Second, I have a problem with showing movies like this one (which feature inventive psychopaths) to morons like the one sitting next to me. This guy thought the Joker was just so cool for the ways he killed people. It made me a little sick (sort of like seeing a five year-old in line for the movie did as well). The last bit… The Dark Knight is leagues better than Batman Begins and a wholly watchable–albeit exceptionally boring in parts–movie. It’s not a worthless narrative. It’s not worth much, but it’s not worthless.

I also need to mention, once again, Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer steal part and parcel from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One without crediting Miller. Here it’s a Bruce Wayne, motorcycle-man, a SWAT team fight and Gordon’s family in danger. But Nolan also lifts–and updates for modernity–quite a bit from Batman Forever.

One thing keeps The Dark Knight going and it’s Heath Ledger. He’s unbelievably good. Nothing you can read in a review can prepare you for his performance. It’s singular and exceptional. Simply, Ledger makes The Dark Knight–as absurd a prospect as Alice in Wonderland–pass for legitimate. Seeing what he’s going to do, how he’s going to deliver a line, move his eyes, makes the movie worth the rest of it.

Let’s just go through the performances, actually. It’s probably the easiest thing… first the actors, then the production.

Christian Bale is, once again, perfectly fine. He’s not so much the protagonist in The Dark Knight as a supporting player. At times he even comes behind Gary Oldman in narrative importance. There are some real problems, however, mostly with his voice. Bale’s Batman voice is awful (had they brought in Michael Keaton to dub over it, the movie would have been significantly better). He’s also not visibly fit enough to be Batman. Nolan makes a point of showing off Bale’s physique and it’s not one of a guy who drops fifty stories without twisting his ankle. But Bale’s kind of perfect for Nolan’s Batman movies. I wouldn’t want anyone particularly good to embarrass himself in them.

I’m trying to stay moderately positive (hey, it’s the biggest hit of all-time or something, right? That means it must be good… not just a side-effect of American high school graduates getting progressively less educated every year), so I’ll mention Morgan Freeman. Freeman’s shameless with what he’ll add to his filmography these days and The Dark Knight is no different. He turns in his standard, wise but still sharp old guy performance and it’s fine.

Michael Caine’s character is still poorly written, but he’s in this one less and is, therefore, better than he was in the first.

Cillian Murphy’s funny in his cameo. If Nolan had given his scene more weight, the movie would have been better. But given what Nolan thinks he does well, it’s no surprise he doesn’t actually recognize when he has a good scene going.

Maggie Gyllenhaal isn’t awful. She’s not any good, but a lot of it has to do with her scenes. The Dark Knight‘s approach to the American legal system is sillier than the Adam West television program would have portrayed. Gyllenhaal’s in the middle of that setting for the first act, when she’s not trying to do the love triangle stuff (with Bale and Aaron Eckhart). Gyllenhaal has zero chemistry with either. The only time she’s believable is when she’s talking to them on the phone. All gossip aside, it’s no wonder Katie Holmes didn’t come back for this one. The character isn’t just the worst written in the movie, it’s one of the worst written female characters in a long time. After–in the first movie–being a strong female character, here Gyllenhaal plays second fiddle to Eckhart. It reminds me of a professor telling women to become lawyers instead of paralegals… Nolan takes the character from being a lawyer and demotes her.

Now to Eckhart. I haven’t seen a worse performance out of someone since Nicole Kidman in Malice. Similar to her performance, here Eckhart’s hair does most of the acting. He’s exceptionally bad. In fact, he’s silly. If it weren’t for the overbearing music and the constant, weighty pretension, I would have laughed through every one of his line deliveries. Luke Perry would have been better….

Gary Oldman, on the other hand, actually ruins the movie. It’s not all him–Christopher Nolan’s (hang on, I need to check a thesaurus) putrid dialogue helps. I can’t figure out why the Joker writing is so much better than the rest of the material. Maybe someone good did a rewrite. But seriously, Oldman does ruin the movie in the end. He’s never for one moment convincing. Not just as a police officer or police lieutenant–Oldman’s cop wouldn’t be taken seriously on “Barney Miller”–but as an American. Oldman affects a strange, semi-Southern accent and it’s clear he’s just cheaply covering his own. He’s also revealed to be, at best, a drooling idiot (thanks to Nolan’s cavernous plot holes).

Suffering through Oldman and Eckhart for Ledger basically sums up the experience of The Dark Knight. Nolan’s choice in cameos is bad–Eric Roberts is particularly bad, but Anthony Michael Hall isn’t much better. The Tiny Lister cameo at the end is just funny. It sort of shows off The Dark Knight for what it really is… a movie with Tiny Lister as a big mean black guy in it.

Nolan’s a lousy director, incapable of filling a Panavision frame with any content. Oddly enough, there are some great action scenes in the movie. I don’t know how Nolan managed to conceive of such great set pieces–probably from reading Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One–but there are a number of them. Those excellent action scenes make the movie a lot more watchable, even though Ledger’s present in most of them so they’re covered. There’s one particularly good car sequence he isn’t in though. Most of the credit belongs to Lee Smith, who does a great job (a look at his filmography reveals he’s worked with good directors on occasion).

The much lauded opening bank robbery scene is moronic, however. And that idiocy is the real problem with Nolan and his Dark Knight. It’s not realistic. Trying to make it realistic just makes it seem stupid. The court room scenes play less realistic than “Night Court.” The mayor’s wearing eye shadow for some reason. The city is completely overrun with crime, on an inconceivable scale. It’s ludicrous, made far worse by Nolan’s pretentiousness. My wife’s only seen this one so I had to tell her it was actually less pretentious than Batman Begins and The Dark Knight is probably the most pretentious movie I’ve seen since I saw Begins. Nolan’s totally and utterly full of shit.

Luckily, he’s got Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard back scoring the movie and, wow, is their collaboration terrible. One of the worst side-effects of 28 Days Later is everyone mimicking the way that film used its score. Zimmer and Howard’s score seems like it’s for the video game version of 28 Days Later. Calling it derivative doesn’t begin to cover it–The Dark Knight uses the music to drown the viewer in its self-importance. There isn’t a single subtle note in the duo’s score.

When I got done with Batman Begins, I figured that film would result in a better sequel. And it has. The Dark Knight is idiotic, but it’s still not as dumb as the first one. Ledger’s performance will likely get me back to the theater see it again; probably get me to buy this dumb movie on disc. But–again stealing from Frank Miller, I think from Dark Knight Returns–the film’s conclusion is a bit of a pickle for a sequel. Can the next one be even better–maybe even approach being good? It might… there’s still some of Batman: Year One to plagiarize. But will Nolan recognize the good material and curate it?

No, he won’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Nolan; written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer and DC Comics characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne), Heath Ledger (The Joker), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Michael Caine (Alfred), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel), Gary Oldman (Gordon), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Monique Curnen (Detective Ramirez), Ron Dean (Detective Wuertz), Cillian Murphy (The Scarecrow), Chin Han (Lau), Nestor Carbonell (the mayor) and Eric Roberts (Salvatore Maroni).


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The Fifth Element (1997, Luc Besson)

The last time I saw a Luc Besson movie and thought it was really good, I tried watching Joan of Arc. Then I stopped exploring his filmography. This time, therefore, I’m prepared. I haven’t seen The Fifth Element in years and I’m not sure why. Considering its cast, it’s something of a breath of fresh air. Ian Holm has either disappeared from cinema in the last five years or I’m just no longer seeing movies he acts in anymore, which is entirely possible. So it was really nice to see him (I feel terrible, like I’m suggesting he’s turned in to Brian Cox or someone–I’m sure he hasn’t). Bt the film also features Chris Tucker’s incredibly annoying, which is the point, performance and I remember it made me wish he’d do other supporting roles like it. then he got really big so it’ll never happen. Too bad.

But the film also features a great Bruce Willis performance. It’s so much fun–Willis has his action hero schtick, but Fifth Element finally lets him do it in a comedy and a good one. The most impressive thing about the film, besides Eric Serra’s music maybe, is Besson’s understanding of timing. for a film with major pacing issues (more in a second), The Fifth Element is perfectly timed. Willis and Milla Jovovich really work well together in the film because Willis is able to alternate from a caring, paternal figure (gee, wonder if the age difference has anything to do with it?) and the romantic interest and because Jovovich’s character is an alien, his concern works. I don’t think he’s ever done so much work as a romantic lead as he does in this one and he’s great. Jovovich is also quite good–and not for the female action star reasons she’s good today, which suggests Besson just directed her well and maybe the role wasn’t very hard. But she’s good.

Now for the two problems. First, whoever they got to do the voice of Bruce Willis’s mother on the phone was the wrong choice. His character doesn’t work with an annoying mother. Maybe if he had an Uncle Leo, but not a mother. every time it comes up (three times, I think) it wallops the film with an aluminum baseball bat.

The second problem has to do with the pacing. Like I said, the film is perfectly timed–it’s one of those “hang out” movies Tarantino says he wants to make and never seems quite able to pull off–but it’s too slight. It’s too fast for everything going on and needs another fifteen minutes throughout. The ending is great in a way I’d see more Luc Besson films if I didn’t know better, but it’s not as good as it could be… the material before it doesn’t deserve it.

Willis… Jovovich… Holm… Tucker… I need to say something about Gary Oldman. Oldman’s gotten to be something of a punch-line (well, not really something of one) in the last ten years, but he’s fantastic as a villainous French (?) industrialist who speaks with a Texas accent. Either he had a great time doing it or he faked it really well. He is fun to watch in the film, just to see what he’s going to do next, which no longer describes his acting at all.

Maybe I’m just in the mood for long films right now, but I didn’t want The Fifth Element to end. I was enjoying it too much (Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, who write terrible action movies together, somehow turned in a fantastic script).

But, still… I must remember… never, ever try to watch Joan of Arc.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Luc Besson; written by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, based on a story by Besson; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Sylvie Landra; music by Eric Serra; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Patrice Ledoux; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Bruce Willis (Korben Dallas), Gary Oldman (Zorg), Ian Holm (Cornelius), Milla Jovovich (Leeloo), Chris Tucker (Ruby Rhod), Luke Perry (Billy), Brion James (General Munro), Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister (President Lindberg), Lee Evans (Fog), Charlie Creed-Miles (David), Tricky (Right Arm), John Neville (General Staedert), John Bluthal (Professor Pacoli) and Mathieu Kassovitz (Mugger).


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Batman Begins (2005, Christopher Nolan)

Well, now, I’m surprised. Batman Begins is not terrible.

It’s not good either. Not good at all. It has damning faults in three areas, and since this film is the first critically praised one I’ve thrashed–at least the first critically praised one currently still in the theaters–this post is going to be a little more “formal” than we’re used to around here.

I’ll get the good stuff out of the way. Christian Bale is good. Now, that’s not actually the biggest surprise–though I imagined it would be since Christian Bale has long been my candidate for the worst working “serious” actor (Hayden Christiansen or someone like him doesn’t count). For evidence, I offer Velvet Goldmine and Shaft. Still, I’m not surprised, since I thought as much from the trailers. Bale might belong in this sort of film–something big and emotionally empty. Whenever he tries to act “real,” he as convincing as … oh, Samuel L. Jackson. No, the big surprise of Batman Begins is Katie Holmes. She’s good. She has some terrible lines and the way she says “Bruce” is annoying, but she’s actually quite good.

Nolan’s direction is adequate. The “epic” shots of Bruce Wayne in China are between annoying and stupid. Never knew so many Chinese people spoke English, I guess those recent college graduates who go over to teach English really get into the boonies. There are a few excellent shots in Batman Begins, but the direction is in no way superior to Tim Burton’s take on the material and I don’t even like Burton. Nolan shoots Batman really well. The costume, in the publicity shots, is incredibly silly. It might not have nipples but it obviously has limited motion. Nolan hides it in the dark.

Now for the damning faults. I made notes during the film, so let’s see if that provides any structure (I doubt it).

Firstly, the guy who plays Bruce Wayne’s father. He sucks. The kid who plays young Bruce Wayne, he sucks too. I hated him. I wish the mugger had shot the little British twit who couldn’t keep his accent. And what was the deal with the mother? She had three lines. For the entire movie, it’s all about Papa Wayne. Apparently, Bruce didn’t love his mother very much. Oh, and there’s some awful exposition explaining Gotham City to young Bruce and the audience (in the film’s only incredibly offensive CG portion). If the Adam West TV show did an episode about the death of the Wayne parents (it didn’t, but if), it would have done a better job.

Damn, I wanted to segue into the next point from that one, but I got all caught up in Adam West’s tighties… Basically, Gotham City is the most important city on the face of the globe. Everything that’s anything is all about Gotham City. And, conveniently, Wayne Enterprises or Industries or whatever the movie calls it, is the world’s most important company. Batman Begins has no concept of scale. Robocop took place in Detroit, but managed to convincingly set-up the huge corporation effecting the film’s world. Batman Begins doesn’t do any such convincing. In fact, it goes so far to tell the viewer Wayne Inc. is the huge corporation that effects everyone. In dialogue.

But for such a huge metropolis, again, Gotham City seems to have only one neighborhood, just like in the other movies. There’s the skyline, of course, which looks a lot like Chicago on a bright day, but the only neighborhood where anything ever–visibly–happens is called the Narrows. And it’s small. But Batman actually doesn’t need that much space to play with. Because he doesn’t actually fight crime. He fights corruption and he fights masterminds, but only if it’ll further the plot along. Batman’s first fight is the drug importers who clue him in to the larger scheme at work, his next fight is to save Katie Holmes, who he makes his wary ally–who’s being attacked by agents of said importers’ boss. I think the next fight is with the film’s only supervillain, the Scarecrow, a psychologist gone evil.

There’s no “first night out,” which shows the audience the hero doing all sorts of heroic shit. Superman is the perfect example (and where the name for the sequence comes from). Batman doesn’t show any concern for the people of Gotham themselves. He doesn’t beat up any spousal abusers or average muggers, it’s all got to be about furthering the lame story. And it is a lame story. Batman Begins is all about Bruce Wayne “becoming” Batman. Well, we all know he’s going to become Batman. Somewhere along the line, shouldn’t it be a choice? Shouldn’t we think, oh, not everything is predestined, that there’s a living, breathing, thinking character at work here? Not just someone who can be an action figure and be slathered on underwear… But there’s not and that’s one of the major reasons Batman Begins fails. It asks the audience to take the character seriously, then refuses to do so itself. Would Bruce Wayne have become Batman if he didn’t have body armor or finding the “batcave?” The film never convinces us he would. It’s all about synchronicity.

Did I mention the annoying little kid he meets in the bad neighborhood who reappears later in the film? Because Gotham City–though the world’s sparkling jewel and the only place a serious terrorist would attack–has a limited number of SAG card-carrying citizens.

Now for the actors. Let’s call them the Pork Pack. I though the Ham something or other, but couldn’t think of a second H-word. I didn’t want to give this one away at the beginning, but Bale and Holmes turn two of the five acceptable performances in the film. Liam Neeson is awful. Michael Caine is slightly less awful. Gary Oldman (who’s got terribly written scenes) is bad too. These three suck, nicely put. They’re silly. Neeson in particular is giggle-inducing. Morgan Freeman is fine but has nothing to do. Rutger Hauer does good. He has shit to do, but he spins it interestingly. Mark Boone Junior (anyone else remember this guy, he was great in Trees Lounge) has a small role and is a welcome breather. Cillian Murphy (Christopher Nolan’s great discovery) sucks. Tom Wilkinson sucks too. Most of the Brits in the film playing Americans can’t hold their accents the whole way through, I think Bale is the only one who does…

The film has some nice sequences. I’m not wild about the entire car chase, but some of it was good. There was no weight to it, of course, it was just an excuse for them to use the Batmobile. The end is particularly hilarious, because the whole thing boils down to an over-the-top Steven Seagal Under Siege movie (just without the good acting). There’s a bomb on a train business. What else… Oh, the DC logo at the beginning. This addition is the saddest. Warner’s is doing it to counter the familiarity of the Marvel logo before their movies. Warner is doing it, not DC. Batman belongs to Warner Bros. From 1989 to 2002–with that first Scooby-Doo teaser–audiences around the world have associated Batman with the Warner Bros. logo. And now they’re supposed to associate it with the new DC logo? Why, because the DC logo will be on the underwear? Because no one who sees Batman Begins and is unfamiliar with the comic books is going to find anything they like in the comic books. If you want to read a Batman comic book, you’ll have to spend a few hundred bucks just to understand what he’s talking about–reborn Robins, brainwashing and whatnot. Batman Begins has little to do with the comic books and nothing to do with the spirit of the current Batman character. Anyone who says otherwise is either stupid, a salesman, or an deliberate liar.

Batman Begins tries to present the audience with a Batman we can identify with. A “realistic” Batman to identify with. Because the whole thing about identifying with Michael Keaton’s pains and human struggles, well, to hell with all that, he can’t compete with Tobey Maguire. And there are moments when Batman Begins almost succeeds. Unfortunately, none of them are when Bale’s in costume (though he’s fine as Batman too) and most involve Katie Holmes being around.

Except, it’s not called Tom Cruise’s Fake Girlfriend Begins. And, yeah, the title is lame. At best it’s a sentence fragment, at worst it’s a grammatical offense to the language Coca-Cola’s ad department (the people who said that the average American doesn’t understand the difference between “everyday” and “every day”) would appreciate.

Oh. I forgot to mention the shitty music. It’s really shitty.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Nolan; screenplay by Nolan and David S. Goyer, based on a story by Goyer and characters created by Bob Kane; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard; production designer, Nathan Crowley; produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven and Larry J. Franco; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred), Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes), Gary Oldman (James Gordon), Cillian Murphy (Dr. Jonathan Crane), Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone), Rutger Hauer (Richard Earle), Ken Watanabe (Ra’s al Ghul) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox).