Risen (2016)

 

Released: February 19, 2016. Directed by Kevin Reynolds. Starring Joseph Fiennes, Tom Felton, Peter Firth. Runtime: 1hr 47 min.

Risen is a Biblical tale that, if you can forgive the wordplay, rarely rises to the occasion.

We all know the story of Christ in some shape or form. Appreciatively, the writers understand that and immediately start the storyline on the day of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. It saves the runtime considerably and is because this version of the tale is told from the side of the Romans. It breathes a bit of fresh air into an ancient narrative.

The Roman is Clavius, played by Joseph Fiennes, who is a Tribune and the right-hand man to Peter Firth’s Pontius Pilate. He is tasked with finding out what happened to the body of the missing Jew that was just crucified three days ago. He is skeptical that the Jew simply rose from the dead, even though that’s what disciples tell him on the way to find the missing corpse.

It’s a bit of a journey of self-discovery for the Roman. But the character has little depth and the plot isn’t handled in an interesting manner. It is all about the manhunt and less about the miracles that Jesus performs.

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Joseph Fiennes as Clavius in Risen. (Source)

Heck, when he’s supposed to walk on water and give his disciples fish, he just shouts from the shore, “Check the right side!” and voila! There are fish. It’s like an uninspired budget cut or something. The other miracles aren’t special, either.

It feels as if Jesus takes a backseat to the film about His tale. This is mostly because we are delivered right into the narrative at the time of His crucifixion. He’s on a cross at the beginning, and then He comes back to life three days later. The bulk of the film is spent trying to find the dude and he disappears a lot, so his screen time is limited. But Cliff Curtis (TV’s Fear the Walking Dead) is effective as Him, all the same.

And in this version of the film he is not called Jesus, but Yeshua, apparently the name that He was called by friends. It doesn’t feel like they’re stripping at the identity, but it might be a bit of a change for those who aren’t familiar with the name.

On a side note, if I was crucified and then came back to life three days later, I’d take advantage and get revenge. Picture it: Jesus could be a man on a road to vengeance, looking to smite those who wronged Him. Instead of taking away leprosy, He can give it to those who crucified him. The Biblical thriller could be called Crossed. I’d watch it…

I am so going to Hell.

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Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton in Risen. (Source)

There are a few good scenes throughout, especially one where the Disciples give the enemies the old slip-a-roo. That was an entrancing scene, well-directed by Kevin Reynolds, that was good enough to work as the climax.

But that, in itself, poses a problem of pacing and how the film felt like it could have ended at any point.

There are scenes that are supposed to be brimming with action, but really it isn’t written well enough to be great. The score is used as a crutch to breathe action into those scenes through music.

Performances redeem the film, even if a boring screenplay cannot. Fiennes offers a good performance as Clavius, even though the character is nothing special.

Tom Felton (Harry Potter) is strong as Clavius’ right-hand man, Lucius. Alas – Felton doesn’t seem able to shake the connection to his Malfoy roots, as the patriarchal Malfoy was named Lucius. And now he’s basically acting alongside Lord Voldemort’s brother.

What really works against Risen is its impassionate filmmaking. Nothing inspires awe and it all feels like it goes through the motions. It’s as if telling it from a non-believer’s perspective was its limited ceiling, omitting any relative emotion from the picture, save the last 20 minutes. There are stints that feel as flat as a pancake. Still: It’s better than Son of God, which has to count for something.

3 outta 5

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Hail, Caesar! (2016) review

Released: February 5, 2016. Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson. Runtime: 1hr, 46 min.

I love the work of Joel and Ethan Coen because of their sense of humour and great tales. The pair of directors follow up Inside Llewyn Davis with a period piece set in the 1950s, Hail, Caesar!

The film follows a day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a fixer at Hollywood production lot Capitol Pictures. He navigates through arising issues, like a production needing a new star actor.

He also has to navigate through the rare kidnapping of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of the production company’s biggest movie of the year, Hail, Caesar!

It’s a cool commentary on the capitalism of Hollywood in the 1950s. There’s lots of communism in the film, and a group of communist writers, especially David Krumholtz, are quite amusing. It’s a good companion piece to their 1991 film Barton Fink, also set in 1950s Hollywood.

Caesar is mainly notable for its hilarious moments. From clever banter between Ralph Fiennes’ character Laurence Laurentz and Alden Ehrenreich’s wild west actor Hobie Doyle to a fun discussion between religious figures of how to properly portray Christ in the film; these stand as memorable scenes.

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George Clooney as Bair Whitlock in Hail, Caesar! (Source)

There’s also an entertaining musical number featuring Channing Tatum. He steals multiple scenes in the entertaining romp. It might be surprising to hear a Coen film described as a romp as they’re known for darker humour.

The Coen brothers resist and don’t go nearly as dark as they could have, which is atypical but likely necessary since it is just a harmless comedy musical with a bit of mystery (but nonsensical mystery).

But it seems to be their first feel-good feature, in the traditional sense. Simply because with what may seem like a caper doesn’t amount to much.

I saw the film on Feb. 7 and I’m still trying to decipher what the heck the point of the film is. That’s why I think it’s a good companion piece for Barton Fink, because I didn’t think that one made a hell of a lot of sense, either.

It feels like the point of the film was to keep you entertained throughout so you wouldn’t notice that the actual story-line is as fragile as one of Hobie Doyle’s spaghetti lassos. But the laughs are the only thing saving the film from a near-disaster.

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Scarlett Johansson in Hail, Caesar! (Source)

Josh Brolin gives a fun performance as Eddie Mannix, where he goes from sneaking cigarettes and confessing at Church to him getting a job offer so he doesn’t have to make long hours or solve problems for the Hollywood types.

He navigates through getting director Laurence Laurentz (Fiennes) a new star for his drama (in the form of Hobie Doyle, who can only act on a horse) to helping save the reputation of a starlet, DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson).

It’s an episodic story-line, but the laughs offered throughout make it well-worth it. Caesar is also stunningly shot by Roger Deakins, using a 35mm film to shoot the period piece. Some scenes are more breathtaking than others, notably the aforementioned Tatum dance scene.

But my favourite, in terms of cinematography, was the scene with Scarlett Johansson as a mermaid in an aquatic dance number, surely emulating a scene from 1952’s Million Dollar Mermaid.

The said scene is shot with a live orchestra – though, it doesn’t have nearly the same mesmerizing effect as when it was matched with Jamie N Commons’ Rumble and Sway in the film’s trailers. The score by Carter Burwell is good.

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Channing Tatum in his big musical number in Hail, Caesar! (Source)

Tilda Swinton appears in an amusing dual role as identical twin gossip columnists trying to get the scoop on the daily on-goings of the studio. They want to run a column on an on-set story about Baird Whitlock on the set of On Wings as Eagles (amusingly, the title’s utterance cues an eagle’s shrill).

Clooney is funny as Whitlock and the ensemble cast is great. Alden Ehrenreich is also a lot of fun as the B-movie Western actor Doyle. Michael Gambon (Harry Potter) offers soothing narration, and Frances McDormand and Jonah Hill are good in their one-scene appearances.

Despite the fact that Hail, Caesar! has sporadic greatness, it is a blemish in the Coen canon because of how average it can be. By the end of the rather anti-climactic film, I couldn’t help but ask: “That was it?”

3.5 out of 5

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

 

The Grand Budapest HotelReleased: March 28, 2014. Directed by: Wes Anderson. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe. Runtime: 100 min.

Wes Anderson’s films are an acquired taste. It is a taste that I am starting to like after two of his films. I think 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom is good, but boring when the laughs weren’t there. This isn’t the case with The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s a consistently funny film that boasts a phenomenal ensemble cast. The film follows the adventures of a legendary concierge named Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) at a popular hotel in Eastern Europe called the Grand Budapest Hotel. It also follows closely his relationship with his lobby boy Zero (a funny Tony Revolori, making his film debut), who becomes a trusted friend. 

The comedy at hand might not work for everyone. Some of the comedy might be dry to some, but I think it’s witty. Take for instance: While this film made me laugh at least 20 times, I never once heard the woman sitting in front of me laugh. At points I was almost convinced she fell asleep – but she kept moving. I’m really not sure why she stayed the whole way if she wasn’t laughing very often. Anyway, the reason the film’s comedy works is because of the pure lunacy of everything on-screen. It’s a compelling crime caper with a lot of situational comedy.

Anderson directs the film with his signature signature, which some accuse of being just style over substance. I think the story at hand is engaging, if a bit bizarre – but that’s what is so entertaining about it. Why have a car chase when you can have a sled chase? The vastly different landscapes also make this worthwhile, as the settings are always as beautiful as the exquisite cinematography that captures it. The visual style is also great, and so is the set design. One thing I do not like about the film: A bit of an uninspired animal death to get a laugh or two. Now, this scene did make me laugh, but Anderson takes the situation too far for my tastes.

I like the narration by both Jude Law and F. Abraham Murray. Murray plays an adult Zero, who shares his and Gustave’s experiences to a Young Writer (portrayed by Law), who later writes about the man’s experiences. I like the poignancy of Zero wanting Gustave’s approval. I think they have a great chemistry together, and a realistic relationship. Gustave is a peculiar character but Ralph Fiennes brings him to life so well with a hysterical, energetic and flamboyant portrayal that is beyond charming. I think the fact that he has a palette for older women is weird – he states he’s had women older than the age of 84 – but perhaps he’s only searching for the approval of a grandmother figure; and I think it works into the story’s favour in other ways, by using it as a character device. Due to this it’s not as strange, but little oddities are part of this film’s charm. 

The chemistry shared between Saoirse Ronan (portraying Agatha, who has a “birthmark shaped like Mexico”) and Tony Revolori portraying Zero is lovely. Revolori shows promise in his first outing, and takes to the subtle humour like an expert. Willem Dafoe also has an amusing performance as a maniacal character. Adrien Brody plays his villainous character well, and Anderson makes some good musical decisions when he’s on-screen. Many of Anderson’s favourites have small roles, including Edward Norton as a main investigator. Thanks to great storytelling, and the performers’ fun performances, it will make your stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel enjoyable. I would like to check in again soon.

Score80/100

[Sort of] Quick Review: In Bruges (2008)

In Bruges

Release Date: February 29, 2008

Director: Martin McDonagh

Stars: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes

Runtime: 107 min

Tagline: Shoot first. Sightsee later.

Martin McDonagh brings us a great action comedy in his first feature film endeavour.

Colin Farrell portrays a hitman named Ray. Ray is currently in a bad state, because he is guilt-ridden because of a job gone wrong, where he accidentally killed an innocent bystander. He and his partner in crime, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) get put in a small bed and breakfast in Bruges, Belgium. They are told to wait there by their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), who tells them to sightsee and enjoy the scenery. Ken’s all up for it, but it’s not particularly something that interests simple-minded Ray. Once Harry finally gives the job to Ray, he isn’t sure if he can go through with it – and must have an internal fight of morals to make his final decision.

McDonagh has a real knack for making the seemingly worst of people, like in this film hitmen, and turn them into great and fairly likeable character. Ray is likeable, despite his constant pessimism and irritability. In McDonagh’s most recent film, and second feature film, Seven Psychopaths, he makes a set of psychopaths into likeable characters.

His unique character development is great because you can easily get emotionally invested into these colourful characters. Each character is pretty great.

There are quite a few gruesome scenes, but they are pretty fun to watch, especially if gruesome action is your forté. The comedy is pretty great, I was chuckling in a few scenes and was laughing uncontrollably in others. If you do love this sort of gruesome action and McDonagh’s brand of comedy, it’ll sort of be an action-comedy styled Heaven.

Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jérémie Renier, Jordan Prentice, Thekla Reuten, Mark C. Donovan, Zeljko Ivanek, Eric Godon and Rudy Blomme star in this film.

In Bruges is a great cinematic experience that is unique and definitely deserved that Best Original Screenplay nomination. Some of the comedy is really far between, and some scenes aren’t as memorable as others, but that’s really its only flaw. I don’t think I’ll rush back to watching it, but I’m glad I did, because it was pretty fun and had some great characters with great layers.

75/100