Watch the Bard Week: Coriolanus

Coriolanus is currently available on instant Netflix

One-Line Review: Excellent updating of Shakespeare’s play.

CoriolanusCoriolanus (2011) – Rated R

Actor Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut with this modern update of Shakespeare’s tale about the arrogant general who is banished by the republic he has protected at all costs, provoking him to ally with former foes and wreck a bloody revenge.”

He that will give good words to thee will flatter beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs that like nor peace nor war? The one affrights you, the other makes you proud. He that trusts to you where he should find you lions, finds you hares; where foxes, geese. Who deserves greatness, deserves your hate.”

We initially started to watch Coriolanus some time ago but had to quickly stop it because of our granddaughter. We had not noticed the R rating when it came on – be assured this movie is quite violent and not for the kiddies. We finally got a chance to watch it recently, sans child.

During the 90s, Ralph Fiennes quickly shot up the acting charts, landing the romantic lead in Wuthering Heights and being nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. He received a Best Actor nomination as the romantic lead in The English Patient and this would normally have cemented him as a leading man. Unfortunately the science fiction epic Strange Days and attempted blockbuster The Avengers (1998) were complete bombs at the box office and Fiennes was relegated to smaller films, smaller roles, and voiceover work.

In 2005, he landed the plum role of Voldemoort in the Harry Potter series. Unfortunately, when he was cast as Hades in Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans, they essentially made him redo Voldemoort. Perhaps this is what caused him to move into directing with Coriolanus.

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s more obscure plays. Fiennes updates it, making it a modern conflict and using the play to say a lot of things about politics and the media. In this it succeeds quite well, once again showing the Bard as relevant as ever. The combat is handled impressively, albeit on a small scale. Coriolanus has a nice crowd-turning scene a la Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar.

Ralph Fiennes is quite impressive as the arrogant Caius Martius Coriolanus. Gerard Butler acquits himself nicely as his foe, Tullus Aufidius, in both the action sequences and the dialogue. Brian Cox, James Nesbitt, and Paul Jesson engage as politicians. Vanessa Redgrave shines as Volumnia, mother to Coriolanus. Jessica Chastain has less to do as Virgilia, Coriolanus’ wife.

The majority of Coriolanus was filmed in Serbia. If you read the credits, most of the non-speaking roles are filled with names ending in ‘vic’. It is somewhat ironic as Coriolanus details strife between the Romans and the Volsces. The industrial look found in most Serbian films is found here as well but it works quite well in context.

Fiennes’ direction is assured. Cinematography is excellent. Action sequences are exciting and Shakespeare’s marvelous language survives intact. This is the counterpoint to Taymor’s dreadfully campy Titus Andronicus.

Coriolanus has been on Netflix for a while so catch it before it disappears.


Red – Seeing Red week

I am not now nor have I ever been a communist but this is Seeing Red week. Red is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Red (2007) – Rated R for violence and language.

“When it becomes apparent that the three teenage miscreants who murdered his dearly loved dog, Red, wont be held accountable for their senseless deed, the normally reclusive and affable Avery Ludlow (Brian Cox) resolves to take matters into his own hands. Trygve Diesen and Lucky McKee direct this disquieting thriller that also stars Tom Sizemore, Robert Englund, Richard Riehle, Noel Fisher and Amanda Plummer.”

“I learned one thing during the war: that you fight with whatever you have got, whatever you can lay your hands on… and you never stop. The minute you do, that is the minute the world rolls right over you.”

First let me say that I have not read any of the Jack Ketchum novels. From what I have seen of the movie versions of The Lost and The Girl Next Door, Ketchum seems to specialize in all the ugliness of the world. Cannibalism, child abuse, rape – everything that makes me feel uncomfortable.

I can certainly see the market in this. These are topics that are way scarier than the Stephen King stories I love because they can really happen. On the other hand a huge part of why I love horror, fantasy, and science fiction so much is because it is not possible (or not possible yet for science fiction). This is much the same as how you can enjoy a rollercoaster (the illusion of danger without actual danger) but not a runaway car with no brakes.

The advantage of the Ketchum tales is that they seem firmly rooted in realism. Suspension of disbelief is not hard because the background to the stories is true. The Girl Next Door is a good film but it is not a pleasant one.

Lucky McKee was originally hired to film this adaptation but was fired after a few weeks (reason not given) and replaced with Trygve Allister Diesen. At the same time Angela Bettis was replaced as Carrie with Kim Dickens. Both Lucky McKee and Trygve Allister Diesen are given credit as director. Trygve is also a producer on Red.

Red works so well because of Brian Cox. He is a great character actor but almost always only has small parts (X-Men 2, The Ring, The Bourne movies). Here he has to carry the whole film on his shoulders. He does a marvelous job. He has to convey determination, fear, anguish, bravery, and bewilderment and manages all of them.

Robert Englund and Amanda Plummer are excellent in very straight roles. They do a very admirable job of avoiding the camp that is usually present in their roles. It is actually a shame that their roles are so brief.

Tom Sizemore does a fine job as Mr. McCormack but it is his normal role. He can sleepwalk through a sleazy role so well that that seems like all he is given any more. His real life antics often amusingly reflect those of some of his characters.

I recommend this grim little revenge thriller for both the realism and the leading performance by Brian Cox. The climax is a little anti-climactic and rushed but overall the film is well done and the portion of the denouement that is not telegraphed is very well-handled.

People Watch: Mrs. McCormack is played by Ashley Laurence. Ashley was Kirsty in Hellraiser, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and the more recent straight-to-video Hellraiser: Hellseeker.

People Watch 2: Did you know that Brian Cox played Dr. Hannibal Lecter/Lecktor long before Anthony Hopkins? Cox has a supporting role as Lecter in Manhunter.