Tag Archives: Rhys Ifans

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Amazing Spider-Man</strong> (2012)

(On Cable TV, March 2013) Here is the key to this film’s seemingly-pointless existence: A long time ago, before it took ownership of its characters’ movies rights (a process that eventually led to The Avengers), Marvel sold the rights to the Spider-Man character to Fox studios, with a clause saying that movies about the character had to be produced every few years, otherwise the rights would revert to Marvel.  Combine that with the fact that the original cast members of the Spider-Man trilogy have all gone out of contract and into a much higher income profile and you get a perfect excuse for a reboot, whether you like the idea or not.  Ten years is a long time when it comes to the teenage audiences at which the Spider-Man films are aimed.  So it is that The Amazing Spider-Man is nearly a plot-beat-per-plot-beat rethread of 2002’s Spider-Man.  You’d think that modern audiences, familiarized with superheroes through fifteen years’ worth of such films, could be spared another origins story… but no.  Still, a reboot may be a disappointment, but it’s not necessarily a substantial knock against the finished film: it’s all about the execution, and a deft take on familiar ideas can outshine plodding originality most of the time.  Sadly, the biggest problem with The Amazing Spider-Man is that it can’t be trusted to present a satisfying version of the Spider-Man mythology.  It doesn’t do much with the expected elements of the Spider-Man origins story, and by strongly suggesting that non-nerdy Peter Parker is meant to become Spider-Man, it seriously undermines one of the charms of the everyman character.  This, added to evidence of late tampering with the script (as in: the trailers show more than what’s in the finished film) and the obvious non-resolution of enough plot-lines to point the way to a film trilogy, make The Amazing Spider-Man such a disappointing experience.  Oh, it’s not as if the film is worthless: The two lead actors are better than the previous trilogy’s lead actors even when they’re not given equally-good material (poor Emma Stone doesn’t have much to do than show off her knees), director Marc Webb has a good eye and the wall-to-wall special effects show how much the industry has improved in ten years.  This Spider-Man has better quips (one of the characteristics that establish him as a distinct alter-ego from Peter Parker), Rhys Ifans is intriguing as the mad-scientist villain and the film is slickly-made.  Still, from a storytelling standpoint, it seems as if all the worst choices were made in the service of a mechanically-conceived piece of pop-culture merchandizing.  It’s entertaining enough, but it could have been so much better…

Anonymous (2011)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Anonymous</strong> (2011)

(On Cable TV, October 2012) My appreciation for Anonymous is severely limited by my lack of interest regarding the Shakespeake Authorship question.  Call me a Stratfordian, if you think I care: I’m not a good audience for conspiracy theories, and the one featured in this film is so ludicrous that it repeatedly challenges any suspension of disbelief.  But let’s give Anonymous the benefit of its premise, which is to say that Shakespeare’s plays were truly written by a nobleman who wished to conceal his identity:  How well does the film manage to execute this idea?  At first, not very well: while the film begins with a superb framing device seamlessly taking modern audiences back in time, it quickly hobbles itself with confusing character introductions, blunt nestled flashbacks five-then-forty years earlier and a lack of grace in the way it sets up its plot elements.  Fortunately, the ride gets smoother once the premise is established and the pieces finally start moving in the direction of a political thriller.  Still, the ending will challenge viewers, as every-harder-to-accept revelations are piled on until credulity snaps and even viewers without deep knowledge of the period will understand that it’s all fantasy.  (For a so-called virgin queen, Elizabeth I in this film had enough illegitimate kids to keep a daycare facility busy.)  While the structure of the plot is distinctively unusual, there are still a lot of unpleasant edges in the script that could have used some polishing.  Fortunately, Anonymous isn’t all about the writing: The biggest thrill of the film is a gorgeously presented Elizabethan-era London, including a convincing re-creation of the Globe theater.  Director Roland Emmerich may have issues with scripts (see; well, his entire filmography) but his eye for striking cinematography remains intact.  He also lucked out with a few capable actors in key roles: Rhys Ifans becomes a fascinating Edward de Vere, a complex figure who never manages to reconcile his desires with what is expected of him as the Earl of Oxford. (He gets the film’s best lines as he explains his compulsion to write.)  Elizabeth I is also cleverly incarnated by a mother/daughter pair: Vanessa Redgrave as the elder queen comfortable in the power of her station, and Joely Richardson as her red-hot younger self.  It amounts to a surprisingly engaging film despite the imperfect, perhaps fundamentally flawed film.  Anonymous works quite a bit better as a gonzo historical fantasy than an attempt to tell a true story –you don’t have to look long to find accounts of historians laughing themselves to tears over the film.  Historical accuracy aside, it’s a film with a surprisingly strong list of assets, and I won’t let my basic disagreement about its premise blind me to its merits.  Have a look… but don’t believe a single word of it.

Mr. Nobody (2009)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Mr. Nobody</strong> (2009)

(On-demand video, March 2012) I like to think that I’ve got a pretty good knowledge of the past few years in science-fiction movies, but some things can still slip through the cracks. Missing out on a big-budget experimental SF movie shot in Montréal with tons of special effects, and featuring at least four name actors, is a pretty big oversight. Granted, Mr. Nobody is a very unusual kind of Science-Fiction film: It’s about a 118-year-old man reminiscing, circa 2092, about all the lives he’s led. Most of those occur between 1980 and 2010, meaning that most of the film takes place in contemporary times. Still, there’s little that’s ordinary about this 140-minutes meditation on fate, choices, happenstance and a rewinding universe. Mr. Nobody hints at a multiplicity of lives by showing the protagonist in three different marriages and about as many other fates. The first few minutes show a far future psychiatry station, a spaceship breaking apart, as well as the protagonist getting shot, and drowning in at least two different ways. Don’t hope for a tight movie, though, because in-between the SF framework, Mr. Nobody sometimes takes a lot of time to make its dramatic points: The first fifteen minutes are a fast-paced montage of marvels and the last ten wrap up everything very well, but in-between the film can dawdle for a while.  Still, the result is often pure cinematic joy.  Jared Leto makes the most out of a complex role(s) and the cast of character around him include names such as Diane Kruger, Sarah Polley and Rhys Ifans. Director Jaco Van Dormael has an ambitious agenda with this film, but he seems equally at ease with big ideas and small character moments –the film is packed with inspired moments even when they don’t quite sustain critical scrutiny.  (Many SF-related details look good but are wrong, and let’s not even get into the role of coincidence in the story.)  What is perhaps most impressive from the film, from a critical SF perspective, is how the SF devices are used in support of what the story is trying to tell about the human condition –that’s a textbook-perfect definition of what Science Fiction does in the best of circumstances.  For a film that got nearly no attention in North America, Mr. Nobody really isn’t too bad: I hope more people get to see it, even as flawed as it is because its strengths are considerable.  Few films are good and meaningful enough to make one viewer happy about life, but this is one of them.