Coriolanus

April 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox
Directed by: Ralph Fiennes (debut)
Written by: John Logan (“The Aviator”)

Social and economic inequality set the cinematic stage in “Coriolanus,” a highly-inspired adaptation of William Shakespeare’s early 17th century play, which, in many ways, parallels the protest movement against governmental power tripping that began in New York City late last year and has since spread across the U.S. While some literary pundits would call the original text one of the more minor tragedies written by Shakespeare (or whomever, for all you Anti-Stratfordians), first-time director and two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Ralph Fiennes (“Schindler’s List”) builds a fascinating modern-day narrative on familiar themes including political corruption and blood-lusting revenge and drills it straight into a belief system that rebellion is the only way to save a threatened democracy. It’s a stark depiction of war and societal oppression complemented by a frighteningly intense performance by Fiennes as the title tragic character who gives Coriolanus its impressive scowl.

When scarred and stern-faced Caius Martius Coriolanus (Fiennes) steps out from behind a line of shielded soldiers and toward a riotous mob that is demanding the government provide them food, the seething look he gives them only hints at the depth of the the Roman general’s loathing (though he’ll soon be seeking support from those same detractors during his transition from despised war hero to demeaning political figure). His hatred, however, is mostly concentrated toward the Volscian army and his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), who he later joins forces with to get revenge on Rome when its citizens banish him from the impoverished city.

As Coriolanus’ prideful mother Volumnia, Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave (“Julia”) is a standout, as is Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (“The Help”) in a smaller yet significant role as his concerned wife Virgilia, and Brian Cox (“Red”) as Senator Menenius, an ally who keeps the pendulum swinging steadily in Rome before Coriolanus shoves it over violently. It’s Fiennes, however, as both the visionary debuting filmmaker and lead that deserves the most credit for taking Shakespeare’s distinct language and allowing it to flourish in a contemporary setting and from the tongues of proven actors. While the decision to stay committed to the original text might turn away some viewers who would’ve rather seen “Coriolanus” set in a high school starring Zac Efron, perhaps, purists can take solace in the fact that Fiennes’ ambitious interpretation of Shakespeare’s work is well executed and unsettlingly relevant even after four centuries.

Letters to Juliet

May 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, Vanessa Redgrave
Directed by: Gary Winick (“13 Going on 30”)
Written by: Jose Rivera (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) and Tim Sullivan (“Jack & Sarah”)
 
Would someone please set a romantic film in the City of Detroit? While the areas of urban decay might not send hearts fluttering as much as, say, the medieval architecture in Verona, Italy, at least it’s different. Instead, “Letters to Juliet” follows the trend set by predecessors from “Roman Holiday” to “Under the Tuscan Sun” and does it rather blandly.
 
While it may not be as feebleminded as the romantic comedy “When in Rome” from earlier this year, “Juliet” cheats by yanking out as many obvious plot devices from the narrative as it possibly can before relying on its picturesque setting as a crutch. There are only so many chateaus and vinyards one can handle before it feels like you’re watching an over-produced travelogue.
 
In “Juliet,” Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia!”) stars as Sophie, a fact checker for the New Yorker who aspires to be a journalist. During her “pre-honeymoon” honeymoon to Verona with her emotionally-detached chef fiancé Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), Sophie stumbles upon a 50-year-old love letter hidden inside the walls of a courtyard where heartbroken women from all over the world come to write to William Shakespeare’s Juliet of Verona in a symbolic demonstration of hopeless romanticism.
 
When she finds out a group of women known as the “Secretaries of Juliet” actually answer all the letters left in the courtyard, Sophie decides she will reply to the letter Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) wrote decades ago. The correspondence ultimately connects Sophie with Claire and her disapproving grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) who set off on an adventure across Italy to find Claire’s long lost love Lorenzo Bartolini (Redgrave’s real-life husband Franco Nero, who could be a stand-in for the Dos XX Most Interesting Man in the World).

Despite despising each other from the start, it’s evident Sophie and Charlie will begin to fall for each other although screenwriters Jose Rivera (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) and Tim Sullivan (“Jack and Sarah”) don’t want to take the innocence out of the relationship by having Sophie jump into bed with Charlie while ignorant Victor is off gallivanting at wine tastings and auctions. There no real chemistry between the two anyway.

The real human emotion comes from Sophie’s connection with Claire. Redgrave carries her own as a woman who has never forgotten her first love. Seyfried follows as closely as possible without looking too lost. Egan is dead weight without an ounce of likeability even when he transforms from snobby English jerk to perfect English gentleman.

Aside from the inconsistency in acting, what director Gary Winick (“Bride Wars,” “13 Going on 30”) fails to do is inject any romance into the subplots of the story, which weigh down Claire’s quest for happiness. It might seem easy enough to do especially when you have Shakespeare to work with, but Winick wastes the literary passion by pandering to the women in the theater who have a tissue box in their lap.