Tag Archives: Ralph Fiennes

Two for One

The King’s Man

by Cat McAlpine

When Orlando Oxford’s (Ralph Fiennes) wife dies in front of him and his young son Conrad, his life is irrevocably changed. No longer is he a brave action taker. His life revolves around protecting his young son and respecting his wife’s dying wish. Naturally, this leaves an older Conrad (Harris Dickinson) desperate to prove himself as a man and meet danger at the front lines of WWI.

That’s the first five or so minutes of The King’s Man.

Director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn returns for his third entry in the franchise with something darker and sillier, plagued with tonal whiplash.

What made his first two Kingsman films so successful was their absurd violence, over-the-top villains, and classic spy premise. This prequel goes without those key elements for almost an hour. Instead, we get a tense father-son drama about how war calls to all young men.

The narrative of the first half of the film is punctuated with plot, plot, and more plot to explain the growing tensions leading to the world’s most gruesome war.

When the Oxfords decide their only hope is to assassinate Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), I laughed out loud. It’s the same absurdity that made the rest of the series so enjoyable, but the ensuing hijinks were at odds with the movie I’d been watching.

Most odd of all, The King’s Man’s two most disparate scenes are its best.

One features Ifans — fantastic as Rasputin, both horrifying and hilarious and perfectly suited to the series. In stark contrast is a night-time knife fight in no man’s land. Conrad’s experience at the war front is heart-wrenching and filled with equal parts hope and horror. Then Vaughn rips us right back into plot, plot, and more plot. Emotional arcs are completed with single, short scenes and we are finally delivered into the nonsensical action we expect, well into the film’s second hour.

With The King‘s Man, Vaughn has made two films. The first, a period war drama. The second, a Kingsman prequel. Both films are well done and enjoyable but squashed together they become difficult to keep up with.

Dolittle Jones

Dolittle

by George Wolf

Man, when I was a kid I wanted a Pushmi-Pullyu so bad.

I would try to get all the way through “If I Could Talk to the Animals” without messing up a lyric, and imagine how fun it would be to get one of those mythical Pushmis delivered in a crate, just like Rex Harrison in 1967’s original Dr. Dolittle.

Over thirty years later, Eddie Murphy ditched the tunes for a more straightforward comedic approach in two franchise updates, and now Robert Downey, Jr. steps in to move the doctor a little closer to Indiana.

Jones, that is.

But’s it’s Indy by way of Victorian-era Britain, as Young Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) calls on the famous animal-taking doctor with a dispatch from Buckingham Palace and an urgent plea to help the deathly ill Queen Victoria herself (Jessie Buckley).

As suspicions arise about Royal Dr. Mudfly (Michael Sheen) and the true nature of the Queen’s ills, Dolittle and friends (some human, most not) set sail on a grand adventure to acquire the cure from King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas), who just happens to be the father of Dolittle’s dear departed Lily (Kasia Smutniak).

Plus, there’s a big dragon.

Director/co-writer Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) re-sets the backstory with an animated fairy tale, then ups the ante on action while letting Downey, Jr. and a menagerie of star voices try to squeeze out all the fun they can.

From Emma Thompson to John Cena, Octavia Spencer to Rami Malek, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes and Kumail Nanjiani to Selena Gomez and more, the CGI zoo juggles personalities, while Downey curiously chooses a whispered, husky delivery that sometimes makes his Do a little hard to understand.

But, of course, he still manages to craft an engaging character, even centering the Dr. with a grief just authentic enough for adults without bringing down the childlike wonder.

This is a Dr. Dolittle set on family adventure mode, with plenty of talking animal fun for the little ones and a few clever winks and nudges for the parents. But as the start of a possible franchise, it’s more of a handshake than a high-five. It may not leave you with belly laughs or tunes stuck in your head, but it’s eager to please manner doesn’t hurt a bit.

You Can Dance if You Want To

The White Crow

by Brandon Thomas

When I think about ballet and film, I drift toward the easy ones: The Nutcracker, Billy Elliot and The Red Shoes. Of course it’s also fun to throw Black Swan and Suspiria into that mix as well. The visual lullaby of those films is present in The White Crow, but with a dash of political intrigue.

Rudolf “Rudy” Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) has poured hours of blood, sweat and tears into crafting himself as one of Russia’s premier ballet dancers. A prestigious tour of France gives Rudy his first glimpse of life in the mysterious “West.” All at once, this arrogant, naive and inquisitive dancer is thrust into a culture that opens his eyes and reinforces his already rebellious nature. Despite having no concern for his home country’s politics, Rudy is forced to make a contentious choice when those same politics threaten to destroy his career and his life.

On paper, The White Crow sounds like pure, unadulterated Oscar bait. It has all of the trappings: a scrappy young protagonist, a period setting, an actor as director and, most importantly, it’s set in Paris! Thankfully director Ralph Fiennes (yes THAT Ralph Fiennes – Voldemort himself!) has more on his mind than that short golden statue.

On a character level, The White Crow succeeds at diving right into Rudy’s laser-focused psyche. Dance is Rudy’s life and everything else – including people – exist only on the periphery. He claims to not care what people think, yet he fishes for praise from his renowned dance instructor (Fiennes himself). Rudy’s drive and the enormous chip on his shoulder are born out of his ultra-humble beginnings in rural Russia, and the sense of inadequacy this has instilled in him.

Casting Ivenko, an already famous Ukrainian dancer, adds a level of authenticity that would be missing had Fiennes gone another route. The long shots of Rudy dancing allow the audience to buy into the character’s self-proclaimed skill. The passion and emotion behind his movement pour off the screen.

Fiennes shows a sure and steady hand behind the camera. The movie jumps back and forth in time, and the filmmaker uses this to present each period in a different aspect ratio and style. The scenes depicting Rudy’s youth are shot in “scope” widescreen and use a more classical, static approach. The cold, stark landscape of his youth is brought to life with minimal emotion, but heightened visuals. This is contrasted with Rudy’s story as it moves into adulthood and his travel to France. Fiennes isn’t afraid to let the camera get close – or allow it to become more intimate.

The balance of visually impressive and focused filmmaking, along with deep character analysis, makes The White Crow one of the most interesting dramas of the year thus far. 

It’s Only Make Believe

Hail, Caesar!

by George Wolf

Coen Brothers films can be brilliant (No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man), or not (The Ladykillers, The Hudsucker Proxy), but they’re always crafted with interesting ideas. Hail, Caesar! offers a few too many of those ideas and not enough places for them to fully take root.

The setting is Hollywood’s “Golden Age” of the 1950s, when Hail, Caesar! is the new “story of the Christ” epic being produced by Capitol pictures, and starring their biggest asset, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney).

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the square-jawed, no nonsense Capitol studio “fixer,” which means he’s the one dealing with kidnappers who are demanding 100,000 dollars for Whitlock’s safe return.

But there’s more.

Swimming-pool starlet DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johannson) is facing a scandalous pregnancy, singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is having trouble adjusting to his new image makeover, and communists may have infiltrated the studio!

Looks like Eddie picked a bad week to quit smoking! No, really, he promised his wife he would quit, and his tobacco guilt is just one of the issues that makes a regular in the confession booth.

Crisscrossing situations combine for a madcap romp that homages various classics of the era, including musical numbers recalling Gene Kelly, Esther Williams and Roy Rogers. The Coens’ writing is as witty and eccentric as ever, but save for two specific bits, rarely more than amusing.

Eddie’s consultation with a roomful of religious elders about the studio’s depiction of Jesus leads to some nice one-liners, while Hobie’s struggle to wrap his cowboy drawl around more refined dialogue finally turns funny after how-long-can-this-go-on repetition and the growing disgust of Hobie’s proper English director (Ralph Fiennes).

Like Fiennes, more famous faces (Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill) come and go quickly, all beautifully framed by esteemed cinematographer Roger Deakins, but the parade of glorified cameos only makes the film’s eccentricities seem more disconnected.

Still, Hail, Caesar! is a fine looking swing that just misses. Beneath all the old Hollywood glamour is familiar Coen territory: faith, folly, finding your purpose and just trying to live a good life.

They’ve done it worse, but they’ve done it better.

Verdict-3-0-Stars