Archive for Ralph Fiennes


Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , on October 22, 2012 by alexlarman

The first thing to say about Sam Mendes’ tremendous Skyfall is that it makes its predecessor in the James Bond series, Quantum Of Solace, look even worse. Whereas the first film of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007, Casino Royale, was one of the very best Bond films, Quantum was dull, uninspired and gave every indication that Marc Forster didn’t have the first idea how to direct an action sequence or co-ordinate an interesting plot. With further havoc caused by the temporary cessation of MGM, who own the Bond rights, it looked for a while as if Craig’s excellent, engaged interpretation of Bond would, like Timothy Dalton’s, be left at two films, one good and one poor.

Thankfully, all was made right, and the resulting picture is an exhilaratingly brilliant romp that simultaneously furthers everything Casino Royale did right and cleverly redefines James Bond for the 21st century. The plot – a revenge saga, mainly set in London – is beautifully simple, containing no spaceships, world domination or plots to take over oil franchises. Instead, it contains a near laundry list of good things, from one of the best baddies in the series in the shape of Javier Bardem’s blonde, insinuating psychopath with a very personal grudge against Judi Dench’s stalwart but also fragile M, to Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography which makes this not just the best-looking Bond film ever, but also one of his finest works.

A fantastic cast, including everyone from MI6 mandarin Ralph Fiennes to gutsy field agent Naomi Harris, is given a very strong script to work with, which judges the fine line between seriousness and playfulness just right – it’s a good deal less intimidatingly sober than Craig’s previous two films. It isn’t perfect – the climax is somewhat underwhelming after the brilliance of many of the other set-pieces (including an Istanbul set-to and explosive destruction on the London Underground) and a scene in Macau casino involving giant lizards feels like it’s come out of another film – but it proves, inter alia, that a cerebral director like Mendes can make this sort of pulpy fun both serious and seriously entertaining. Expect it to be a massive, massive hit, and don’t bet against many of the same team returning for the next one.



LFF 2011 – a round up

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2011 by alexlarman

So, the LFF draws to a close. As usual, there are several big films (A Dangerous Method, The Artist, The Descendants, The Deep Blue Sea) that timings didn’t allow me to catch, but no doubt there will be other screenings before too long. However I did see a few others, and my thoughts in brief are below.

There was a plethora of starry attendees this year, but the sense remains that the London Film Festival is remarkably low on genuinely unique premieres – most of the hottest films on display had already screened at Venice, Cannes or elsewhere, and those that did appear first tended to be extremely low-key. Still, there’s no denying the quality of much of what did appear, such as:


Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut is bold, an effective precis of one of Shakespeare’s most difficult and demanding plays, and, in its Balkan setting, makes some grimly effective parallels between a failing Roman empire and modern-day Eastern Europe. An obviously extremely low budget stifles its ambition to some extent (Fiennes was very candid in a post-film Q & A about the near-impossible strictures that he was working under), as does Fiennes’ inexperience behind the camera, but excellent performances from a committed cast (including Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave and, surprisingly, Gerald Butler) and the essential strength of the material carry it through.


I didn’t like Roman Polanski’s last film, The Ghost, at all, and was amazed at the positive response it got. He’s on far safer grounds with this adaptation of Yazmina Reza’s play about two sets of warring New York couples, one of whose child has injured the other. It’s very stagey, but not in a bad way, and it’s impeccably acted by Jodie Foster (as an anguished, impotent liberal), John C Reilly (as her boorish husband) and Kate Winslet (as an uptight control freak). What skews the material is that Polanski’s sympathies clearly lie with Christoph Waltz’s sardonic corporate lawyer, forever tied to his mobile and coming out with cuttingly Albee-esque one-liners when he’s not. His best (to Foster) is ‘I saw your friend Jane Fonda on TV the other day. It made me want to go out and buy a Ku Klux Klan poster.’ And, at 79 minutes, it’s blessedly short.

The Ides Of March

Clooney does politics. That will no doubt be recommendation enough for many, but this well-made, sensitively written and excellently acted film suffers from a certain flatness and ‘is that it’ quality, in its account of the shenanigans behind the choice of the Democratic presidential contender. As the conflicted campaigner, Ryan Gosling is as good as ever, and Clooney does wonders with a small role as the candidate who might be considerably less upright than he appears, while a reliably excellent supporting cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei) all bring their A-game. But one longs for something more bitingly satirical and complex.


I didn’t see Madonna’s apparently dire W.E, but in terms of unremitting tosh there can’t be anything else at the festival to touch Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous. Revolving about the Shakespeare authorship question, the film takes it as a given that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans,tormented) was the author of the greatest canon of drama in the Western world, and that Shakespeare (Rafe Spall, playing the part like he’s in a comedy) was a boorish, barely literate drunk. Fine – an examination of the relationship between the two men, each mutually symbiotic, could have been a nice little chamber piece about talent and jealousy. But Emmerich makes BIG FILMS and so there’s an enormous conspiracy theory plot that explains why, precisely, de Vere had to keep his real name schtum. It’s ludicrous from start to finish, mostly pretty enjoyable if you’re in the mood for this sort of hokum, and Edward Hogg as the hunchbacked villain Robert Cecil deserves some sort of award for keeping a straight face beyond the call of duty.

Hunky Dory

Here we go again – ‘inspirational teacher puts on a show with various troubled pupils against the wishes of the stuffy authority figures, and the pupils have their own issues’. But Marc Evans’ film offers something genuinely fresh and rather affecting amidst the myriad cliches and the odd twist – the headmaster, for instance, is mostly supportive of the maverick teacher, even down to taking the lead role in the play. The main action revolves around the staging of The Tempest complete with 70s songs performed by a school orchestra and band, which offers glorious renditions of classics including Life On Mars, The Man Who Sold The World and Strange Magic, amongst others. Minnie Driver, as the teacher, offers a very affecting rendition of the Carole King standard Goin’ Back at the end. It might be worth skipping the film, but the soundtrack will be one to pick up.