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Posts tagged “Ralph Fiennes

90’s Showdown: Ralph Fiennes


I know this is a conflict of interest because I vetted for Juliette Binoche last week, but vote for her or for Ralph Fiennes here as the better performance of the 90’s at Encore’s World. Now to my write-up…

Ralph Fienneslets his audience fill in the blanks to his character in Schindler’s List Amon Goeth, subverting our assumptions about Nazis, despite the latter’s necessarily constrictive place within the movies boundaries of good and evil. At first glance there’s no way he could have gotten his job as an SS captain without nepotism – just look at how incompetently decadent he is. On the other hand, a man who has that posture, with or without riding a horse, cannot possibly belong in the upper levels of old Germany.

The way he looks at entrpreneur and eponymous hero Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), like an older brother who drives him to both jealous admiration and protective fascination can hint to either provenance (Here’s his reaction when Oskar kisses a Jewish girl). Maybe he’s piling on his daddy issues towards him, whether it’s the father who thinks he’s never right or the one he never had.

A sequence in the movie’s second half takes us to three locations within a concentration camp in Plaszow. A Jewish couple gets married. A Polish singer performs and sets her eye on Oskar. But the encounter we’re going to focus on is between Amon and his maid/punching bag/ sex slave Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz, the Princess of Accents, in a performance that should have guaranteed a better career). Amon talks to or talks at her, a logic-defying four-minute monologue.

I keep trying to place him in different contexts, like if both wars didn’t happen. His awkward creepiness with make him barely survive my context. But his flustered way of speech is opposite of his supposed evil nature. It’s easy to prove that he’s evil – he just played target practice on a bunch of Jews. The one-on-one encounters, however, show his humanity.

The sequence’s shot-counter shot relationships shows Amon’s real place within his mangled relationship to Helen. He extends his arm the same way the singer does to Oskar, making him a less successful seducer than the Polish woman. The kissing and the glass breaking symbolize how he cannot consummate his relationship with Helen and deflects his lust to more destructive emotions.

Let’s go back to the monologue, seeming to have of different emotions, conveying waves instead of arcs. A lesser actor would have said his lines quickly and jarringly, it’s the first instinctual conclusion that we might see on paper.

Fiennes, however, delivers the transitions smoothly because he sees just one emotion instead of many. He sees disgust, its many syllables and its many targets. It’s disgust towards himself, towards the world that has both joined him and Helen and has been violently keeping them apart, disgust towards her. Only Fiennes can see not just love as the opposite of hate but within hate.


Ne’erending XMas: Prince Of Egypt


This is a blog post equivalent of Febulights, where I talk about a movie about the emotionally draining festival weeks after the fact. And this isn’t even about Christmas or a non-Christian holiday that also coincides with it. Why can’t the channel I tuned into broadcast one about the Maccabean revolt? I’m sure there’s many of those. Instead, we get the pre-Shrek Dreamworks offering called The Prince of Egypt. It’s a curious title that also hints at the complexities within the Biblical hero, Moses (Val Kilmer) who also happens to be the adopted brother of slave driving Pharaoh Ramses II (Ralph Fiennes). Fiennes lends his voice to a villain contending against the laws of nature, the latter of which is a force powered by good. Ramses also wears a lot of make-up and campy costumes and is sexually and species ambiguous like every other Fiennes character. Anyway, they still have contend with their relationship despite of the ethnic division wedged between them. Ramses is still in close contact with Moses, allowing the latter in his son’s wake, a sign of compassion from both ends. But Moses’ presence is still a reminder of the transaction that must take place in order for his kind of racist God to stop ravaging Ramses’ country.

There are some conventionally sub par parts in the animation like how hair, as beautiful as it looks, is fashioned in clumps as opposed to of strands. How gold looks more yellow. When light or fire comes out of the sky, which looks awesome yet artificial. Speaking of artificial, how about when it’s trying to replicate camera movement? The same artificiality also affects the scene with the parting of the Red Sea, looking like a tenth grade computer assignment. However, that part redeems itself when we see silhouettes of a whale trapped in the water while the Israelites pass through, showing us what they would have seen in this moment. It doesn’t distinguish itself from Disney although Disney movies will almost never have a predominantly dark-skinned characters and will never have Jewish protagonists. There are some new touches  like recognizing Orion or how objects touch light or vice versa. But I mainly like how old school the movie looks, where the rocks or buildings are rugged on the foreground but looking painterly as they recede. Or during the Exodus when the Israelites, their carts and tents placed within the picture through brushstrokes. This movie also features the greatest looking eyes ever.

I will always remember this movie for how Moses has more sexual chemistry with his sister Mariam (Sandra Bullock) than with his taller and skinnier wife Tzipporah (Michelle Pfeiffer). The way their big eyes look at each other with the almost sighing expression, different from my experiences of friendly enmity that I see in other siblings. They are estranged and there have been other examples in other movies where people in that situation have the same reaction towards each other or more. Although personally I like the simpler looking Mariam better, Tzipporah looking too glamorous for me, even though her jewellery is a sign of class division within the enslaved Israelites. I don’t know what that says about my preferences about but enough about that.

And because this is an animated musical, Moses and the crew sing a song after being victorious against Ramses. Mariam and Tzipporah sing ‘When You Believe, made more famous by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, who are not the singing voices in the movie. The real character voices sing an octave higher than, what I imagine, the A-list actors would sound like. It’s not necessarily frustration and animation companies, under the veil of their drawn creations as opposed to real actors and sets, can hire as many people as they like to play a character. At the same, I never bought the ‘we chose a different singing voice to fit the character’ argument, even when MGM musicals of yore used the same justification. If they could express emotion through speaking, they can and should be able to do the same in music, and vice versa. I still want to know what Bullock and Pfeiffer’s voices sound like.

The movie ends with Moses with the Ten Commandments, bypassing the Golden Calf section because that scene would have soured the movie’s mood.


Bad-ish Movie: Wuthering Heights


I read Emily Bronte‘s Wuthering Heights, about the titular estate where the multi-generational drama of the Earnshaw family unfolds, when I was in Grade 12 (?) and as with public (Catholic) school education, we watch clips from a movie adaptation after reading the book, or at least when our teacher expects most of us to have read the book. She chose the 1993 version, with Anne Devlin’s script and directed by Peter Kosminsky. The other class, however, saw the Olivier version, which I’ve run into on TCM and changed it because there was a ball scene where every character wears the latest fashions. I changed the channel. It’s as if the studio system only knew one way of dressing and setting up period movies. And they keep putting ball scenes in these fucking movies.

As much as it got carried away with the thunder, lightning and beating branches on a window thing and although it also feels like more an adapted Harlequin novel, the Gothic tone is still present, the smell of old wood and the texture of the walls. Kosminsky pushes the camera back, his colours lighter and subdued. Ryuchi Sakamoto‘s score is great, although it would have been more memorable in a better movie. It has the grand scale that maverick director Andrea Arnold’s newer and cramped version doesn’t.

This version also has a lot in common Arnold’s movie. Both adaptations lack in evoking Emily Bronte’s storytelling and multiple perspectives. Although this one has Sinead O’Connor narrating, using words like ‘fire,’ ‘ice’ and ‘wolfish’ taking me back to Bronte’s image-heavy prose. But they see a portrait to a stunted childhood that I never did, Heathcliff (Ralph Fiennes) and his adopted sister/love interest Catherine (Juliette Binoche) playing in the dangerous moors, their characters hardened by the violent prehistoric creation of this unique rocky English landscape.

When they decide to sneak into the Linton family-owned Grange, some guard dogs attack Catherine, she stays in the manor to heal while throwing out Heathcliff the gypsy. This separation becomes more symbolic, Catherine becoming a mature English woman while Heathcliff  stays the same. She even chooses to marry Edgar Linton over Heathcliff. What does this mean then if they’re placed against each other in a binary of adulthood and arrested development? Never has the place Wuthering Heights seem like a child-friendly Arcadia nor Heathcliff seem innocent to me either in the book or the three adaptations. He’s narcissistic but he’s also more destructive than tantrum-y, and this is one of the most restrained Fiennes characters I’ve ever seen. And I always thought that their relationship ended because factors have wedged them as opposed to growing apart.

If there’s a binary between them it’s the superficial ones like class and gender, Heathcliff being the more masculine outcast surprisingly has a stronger chance of survival. That’s mostly because of the upper class’ decadence that lead to their decline. Heathcliff, clinging to opportunities like his adopted brother Hindley’s (Jeremy Northam) gambling debts, becomes cunning. He preys on Edgar’s sister and ruining the innocent young woman’s life, becoming the villain that Hindley and to a certain extent, Catherine have painted him.

Arnold’s draws out the childhood scenes and skips the years between Heathcliffe’s disappearance while Kosminsky keeps the playtime down to 10 minutes or less, then shows Catherine’s marriage to the Lintons. But it’s not so much better here as the movie has a ‘this happened and this happened and this happened,’ trying to give every part of the novel justice while losing any of the chapters’ immediacy.

Despite Binoche’s competent handle of the English accent – giving her an advantage from any French actress within twenty years of her – and her elegance in dresses designed by James Acheson, watching her giggle and hum her way out makes Catherine look insipid. I prefer to know what characters are laughing at. It’s  like watching a 40-year-old Norma Shearer play Juliet and Marie Antoinette, although comparing Shearer’s worst to Binoche’s worst is an insult to the former. She, like we do, gets a raw deal with a passive character but she doesn’t pull out the tragic side of Catherine in later scenes. Even then can she only process one level of emotion at a time, like a scene when she discourages her sister-in-law against Heathcliff, hating him as if she never loved him, if that makes sense. I’ve praised Binoche’s chops many times here but she got this role too late in her career and keep in min that this is her starting out.

It’s a dealbreaker for this movie and nor does Fiennes, relying on his dark make-up and hair pieces – like most of the cast – more than his own talent, falls short in a role that others have loved. Both have been in great movies during the same year this was released and it’s fortunate that they’re known for those instead of this hot mess. Although I don’t think I’ve ever heard Kosminsky’s name attached to any major project after this. Also starring in the film is the younger version of Janet McTeer as the maid and Catherine’s clear-headed best female friend Nelly.


Cold Hot: Constant Gardener


‘How’s…Gloria?’

ph. Focus

He says Gloria’s fine then asks Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) about Tessa (Rachel Weisz), which means he’s nervous but we won’t find that out why yet.

‘That’s bullshit. That’s bullshit. You have to take responsibility. You are being paid to apologise for this pathetic country of Britain, and he can explain to us why we burned our diplomatic credentials and why, why we’re killing, you know, thousands of innocent people…just for-just for some barrels of oil…and a photo opportunity on the White House lawn. Why?’ And more journalists walk out.

Not to take away from Weisz’ Oscar winning performance, but if this was the audition piece, Kate Winslet would have gotten a closer chance in becoming Tessa. I also wanna find out how her campaign went, seeing that one of Weisz’ competitors is Michelle Williams for Brokeback Mountain, another Focus Features release. Yes I’m the last gay person to see the latter film so of course I can’t compare the two performances, but I wonder if Focus went full engine on Brokeback or if they focused on getting acting wins in their other movies while paying more attention to getting picture and directing wins for Ang Lee.

And no matter, Tessa and Justin will make up eventually.

I love you.

Every other movie reminds me of every other movie. Like how Fernando MeirellesThe Constant Gardener differentiates some of the Britain scenes and the African scenes by showing the former with a grayish blue tint and the latter with yellow, just like Traffic did. But this movie does it better, more crisp, despite the shaky cam. And it doesn’t do the colours too often.

Or how the paid assassins riding into the village like apocalyptic horsemen, like the raid scene in The Searchers, but this time the focus is on the victims and not the horsemen. Like the John Ford film, white characters are mixed in with the natives but this time it’s paid African militia men killing their own kind, hoping to get Justin with them.


Harry Potter and the Deathly…


Oh hai, Mrs. Dursley (Fiona Shaw), staying in the car and not waving goodbye to her movie nephew Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe)! Oh hai, in this second to  British acting royalty hanging on to this adventure for one more installment.

Since I already talked about the casting I might as well talk about how they performed. The good guys (Order?) are better actors than the bad guys (Death Eaters?). Maybe it’s because the Death Eaters are played by familiar faces from whom I expect more. Bellatrix (Helena Bohnam-Carter) and Voldemort (Raph Fiennes) behave so animalistically, like the snake crawling in the room, ending up in the wrong side of camp. Bellatrix is probably the most prominent Malfoy featured in this movie, since father (Jason Isaacs) and son (Tom Felton) only have a line or two, and that’s the conundrum of the rest of the supporting cast in their good or evil side. There are countless other actors listed on the iMDb page who didn’t even make an appearance in the movie.

The cameos for the good side include Neville Longbottom, telling the Death-Eaters who hijacked Hogwarts Express that he isn’t on the train. There’s Ron’s (Rupert Grint) mom (Julie Walters). Apparently we have to wait till July to hear her say the best line J.K. Rowling’s ever written. Brendan Gleeson also has a character here, except that he’s awesome – which is really code for I’m not tired of him yet. There’s nothing remarkable from the two male leads. But while hiding from Voldemort (Fiennes) and his fellow Death-Eaters, Emma Watson’s Hermione revisits her memories of urban and rural Britain without overdoing it. She’s just as busy freaking out over Harry’s safety, roaming the British countryside that’s better lit than it is in other movies. This backdrop also serves as the hiding places for the Horcruxes that they have to find and destroy before Voldemort finds them.

The big three also fight while they’re roaming the country, naturally as friends. It’s the most intense, ad hominem fight that they’ve ever participated on, but they’re gonna kiss and make up. As Ron says in one of the scenes in the beginning, the battle between Harry and Voldemort is bigger than just those two characters. The subtle script didn’t elaborate, thankfully. Harry is on the good side but, through the complex nature of his relationships with his friends, he isn’t virtue’s consummate symbol.

Norman Wilner called the film confident, explaining, like others who have written about the film, how it delves into the dark subject instead of looking into how quirky their magical world is. And the literally moving portraits that are the staple of the Hogwarts world and earlier films, but  Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and Harry are targets of these magical photographs. Dumbledore has to hide, closing some doors. While Harry, targeted under a new Ministry of Magic where Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) rules, is looking weary in a picture showing him as Public Enemy number one. There’s something sinister about magic now, or what it’s become.

Instead of the singular outlook that the earlier films have produced, this adaptation of Deathly Hallows tells the story through four lens at the most. There’s CGI-heavy artifice to show the spacious magical world, close-ups that feel handheld when the main characters are being emotional – the most memorable example is when Harry and Hermione do a little dance, darker shades showing flashbacks and a glossier cinematography when the three kids are chased into the forest. The transitions among these four aren’t jarring but they are distracting.

I’m the last person to see this movie, buying my ticket at the Carlton. Being almost late, I sat at the back, having to listen to the rickety projector that sounded like birds chirping. That fit well with the rural scenes. There was also a homeless drunk guy, who started banging his bags on the floor and yelling incoherently at the screen. The audience was relieved when he left.