Where would we be without history?

I watched The Young Victoria over the weekend.  Finally.  I’ve been wanting to see it since I first heard about it.  I was not disappointed.

The Young Victoria is about Queen Victoria of England, in the years before she became queen and the first few years of her reign.  I thought Emily Blunt did a wonderful job as Victoria.  She was able to portray her youth and exuberance, as well as her growth into a good and loved monarch.

Much of the movie is devoted to Victoria’s growing romance with Prince Albert, for whom she had a life-long passion, even after he died.  Rupert Friend did an excellent job of portraying what it would be like to love a woman to whom he could not propose, a woman whom he had to obey.  (And people think they have relationship difficulties today!)

Perhaps the most interesting part of the movie was the image of what it would be like to have politicians trying to influence you and direct you.  The two main ones in this movie are Mark Strong as Sir John Conroy and Paul Bettany as Lord Melbourne.  Conroy is the trusted advisor of Victoria’s mother, and they think they can rule her together.  Victoria does not listen to them because Conroy tries to frighten her into submission.  She never forgives him for that, and therefore never listens to him.  She even holds a grudge against her mother.

Lord Melbourne is the exact opposite and, therefore, the more dangerous of the two.  And he does gain too much influence over Victoria.  He does it by telling her what she wants to hear and slowing turning her mind to his way of thinking.  He comes across as much more sinister than Conroy.  Conroy is brusque, rude, and honest.  Melbourne is insinuating, pleasant, and manipulative.

Victoria frees herself from such advisors simply through the passage of time, and because she allows herself to trust Prince Albert to share the burden of her work.  They work together for the good of England and become some of the best-loved monarchs in history.

The Young Victoria is like a breath of fresh air.  It is a movie of understated beauty.  The costumes, set, and scenery are all beautiful.  And yet, the actors are so good that they don’t let the sets dominate.  They move through them as if they really lived there, as if they were who they are pretending to be.  It’s a movie well worth watching.

I recently watched Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes again, and enjoyed it just as much as an in-theater viewing. The movie is not much like the stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of which I’ve read quite a few. Doyle’s Holmes is obsessive, clever, silent, morose, and unstoppable. Ritchie’s Holmes is manic, obsessive, depressive, brutal when necessary, wheedling, offensive, and charming. This combination is actually enhanced by having Robert Downey, Jr. portray this character. Downey has been plagued with issues in previous years, and his resolution of these problems seems only to have made him a stronger actor. I was a little nonplussed at the choice of Jude Law as Watson, but since the movie is so unlike any previous Holmes incarnation, the oddity seems to fit.

And yes, Ritchie did make Doyle’s genius detective into an action star of sorts, but the movie is so brilliant that it works, especially since the essentials of Holmes’s eerie perception and foresight are kept intact. Also, the London that viewers are shown looked like the drab, classic, dirty, teeming London of the Victorian age, seen in such detail through authors like Charles Dickens.

I do have a few criticisms. One is that Downey’s accent gets a little mushy and hard to understand at times. The other main one is about the plot. Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong, is not a Holmes-worthy villain. The lack has nothing to do with Strong’s acting ability–I will defend Mark Strong’s acting over many well-known and lauded actors–but more with the weakness of the character. It is quite evident that Blackwood is only a stop-gap to get to the real villain, Professor Moriarty. (Which, of course, means that we will be seeing a Sherlock Holmes 2 at some point in the future.) Strong’s abilities were wasted in such a role, although he gives it his all. And his diction is excellent. (It’s the stage training, I tell ya!)

Eddie Marsan also did an excellent job as Inspector Lestrade. He was able to play the part of a man who is always a few steps behind Holmes without turning it into a comic farce. One gets the impression that he’s a good policeman–after all, he is an Inspector–who has the fortune or misfortune of having to work with Holmes, who always upstages him.

Oh, and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is excellent! I love the sort of demented piano theme running through the movie.

At last; I finally watched Robin Hood.  I wasn’t deterred by the negative reviews it’s been receiving, but I did have to wait until I had an evening free.

The legend of Robin Hood is quite well known, so Brian Helgeland, the writer, and Ridley Scott, the director, took the story in as different a direction as they could.  Even though Russell Crowe is older than some of the other incarnations of Robin Hood, he is supposed to represent Robin Hood at the beginning of the legend.  That certainly makes for a unique twist on the story.

However, the story-line was somewhat lacking in cohesion.  All of the characters that one expects to see where in the story, but the story itself was a bit fragmentary.  There were some very nice parts, though.  Sir Walter Loxsley, played with quiet exuberance by Max von Sydow, was an excellent addition to the story.  Cate Blanchett was also superb as the ‘reinvented’ Lady Marion.  After all, the list of what Blanchett can’t do would be much shorter than the list of what she can do.  But I digress.

Oscar Isaac was sufficiently distasteful as Prince John; and Matthew Macfadyen stepped away from the brooding romantic type he plays so well to become the smarmy, despicable Sheriff of Nottingham.  The main addition to the story was Sir Godfrey, played by Mark Strong, who is a double-crossing friend of Prince John.  Strong brings his usual intensity to the role, making him seem much more the dangerous villain than the tantrum-prone Prince John.

Was the movie worthwhile, considering all the changes to the story?  I found it to be an entertaining and enjoyable movie.  After all, who doesn’t like the idea of a common man standing up against tyranny?  The fight scenes were well-done and exciting, especially the use of archery.  I found Robin Hood to be enjoyable, despite the lack of cohesion.  It was a good story about people who would rather be left in peace, yet will fight oppression if they must.  In other words, the naysayers are wrong about this movie.

At last; I finally watched Robin Hood.  I wasn’t deterred by the negative reviews it’s been receiving, but I did have to wait until I had an evening free.

The legend of Robin Hood is quite well known, so Brian Helgeland, the writer, and Ridley Scott, the director, took the story in as different a direction as they could.  Even though Russell Crowe is older than some of the other incarnations of Robin Hood, he is supposed to represent Robin Hood at the beginning of the legend.  That certainly makes for a unique twist on the story.

However, the story-line was somewhat lacking in cohesion.  All of the characters that one expects to see were in the story, but the story itself was a bit fragmentary.  There were some very nice parts, though.  Sir Walter Loxsley, played with quiet exuberance by Max von Sydow, was an excellent addition to the story.  Cate Blanchett was also superb as the ‘reinvented’ Lady Marion.  After all, the list of what Blanchett can’t do would be much shorter than the list of what she can do.  But I digress.

Oscar Isaac was sufficiently distasteful as Prince John; and Matthew Macfadyen stepped away from the brooding romantic type he plays so well to become the smarmy, despicable Sheriff of Nottingham.  The main addition to the story was Sir Godfrey, played by Mark Strong, who is a double-crossing friend of Prince John.  Strong brings his usual intensity to the role, making him seem much more the dangerous villain than the tantrum-prone Prince John.

Was the movie worthwhile, considering all the changes to the story?  I found it to be an entertaining and enjoyable movie.  After all, who doesn’t like the idea of a common man standing up against tyranny?  The fight scenes were well-done and exciting, especially the use of archery.  I found Robin Hood to be enjoyable, despite the lack of cohesion.  It was a good story about people who would rather be left in peace, yet will fight oppression if they must.  In other words, the naysayers are wrong about this movie.

A new take on a classic?

As promised (whether you want it or not), here is a little review of the the new BBC miniseries Emma.  One might wonder why people are still making adaptations of Emma, since a number of them have been done already.  Not only does Austen seem to be gaining in popularity, however, but some of the adaptations of her books were done in the ’70s and ’80s (or earlier) and seem very dated.

I do have to say, however, that this new miniseries is still not as good as the 1996 version of Emma–I’m talking about the A&E version and not about the one with Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma.  Perhaps the reason for the superiority of the 1996 A&E version is the screenwriter, Andrew Davies.  He seems to be able to capture the essence of novels, even when he has to seriously condense them.

There were moments in the new miniseries when I felt like the actors were acting.  Well, of course they were, but their movements, speech, and actions often felt too studied and prepared.  There were genuine moments as well (most of them from Michael Gambon), but the main characters too often fell into "acting" rather than "reacting."

So I’m still where I was before I watched the new Emma: Kate Beckinsale is the best Emma Woodhouse and Mark Strong is the best George Knightley.  They engage in Austen’s dialog and dance through Davies’ screenplay with a charm that can’t be matched.

I still haven’t seen Crazy Heart.  Now that it’s out for rent, my only excuse is that I haven’t had time.

Just got my hands on the newest miniseries version of Emma.  I haven’t watched it yet.  I’m still disappointed that they choose a blonde.  Just because Alicia Silverstone was blonde in Clueless does not mean that Emma is really supposed to be blonde!  But I digress.  More to come on Emma.

I’m looking forward to the new Robin Hood movie, even though I think Russell Crowe is an odd choice for Robin Hood.  And I’m almost starting to get annoyed with Mark Strong being cast as all the Hollywood villains.  Almost.  He’s such a good actor that it’s always a pleasure to see him, even if he is playing someone evil.  I’m a big fan of Strong’s excellent diction.  Did anyone else notice that even though he played a lower-class British thug in RocknRolla, every word he spoke was clear and understandable?  It must be the theatre training.

I find it surprising how many of Henry James’s novels and stories have been made into movies.  James is not known for happy or easy endings, which seems to be Hollywood’s forte.  However, his stories have a depth and interest that seems to keep drawing people in.  Perhaps it’s also because he wrote about the conflicts between Europeans and Americans.  And who knows? Maybe James was attempting to be the "American answer" to Anthony Trollope.