Archive | December, 2012

A Royal Affair

29 Dec

a royal affair



Director: Nikolaj Arcel

Writers: Bodil Steensen-Leth (novel), Rasmus Heisterberg (screenplay)

Stars: Alicia Vikander, Mads Mikkelsen and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 137 minutes


This subtitled Danish film is the true story of Princess Caroline Matilda of Wales who married into the Danish royal family in the early 1770’s. She was a young British princess and entered an arranged marriage with the Danish King, Christian VII. He was also young, just 17 went he took the Danish thrown in 1766, and his reign was tempestuous due to the scheming of his advisors, but also due to mental illness from which he suffered.

The story of A Royal Affair is both true and fascinating. King Christian recruits a German physician called Johann Friedrich Struensee and then appoints him a minister to his government. Struensee has radical thoughts on government, the distribution of land and wealth and he slowly begins to influence the king and to take a hold of government policy. In attending to the mentally ill king he becomes his key confidante. At the same time the doctor starts an affair with Queen Caroline, a lonely and frustrated figure rarely courted by her eccentric husband. During the course of the film we see both the king and the queen fall under the spell of Struensee.

This is a very well made and interesting film. The acting is strong, the costumes and set design are excellent and the direction is a nice mix of traditional and modern techniques. The story of an illicit affair, a faltering king and political intrigue is gripping, but it is also timeless. The 1770’s was the beginning of the age of enlightenment and the central theme here is of new thinkers clashing with an incumbent and privileged class. It is the poor against the rich. It is the farm workers versus the aristocracy and the church – an early Arab Spring of sorts. Struensee is considered to be a dangerous radical and as such attracts enormous hostility.

I enjoyed this film and it moved along nicely considering that it is over 2 hours, it is subtitled, and it retells eighteenth century Danish history. The script and direction keep it fresh and maximize what I assume was a small budget (lots of interior shots). The acting is high quality with Mads Mikkelsen typically strong as Struensee and with Mikkel Boe Følsgaard (Christian) and Alicia Vikander (Caroline) holding their own. The Swedish actress Vikander is certainly one to watch out for.

The Raven

28 Dec

the raven



Director: James McTeigue

Writers: Ben Livingston (screenplay), Hannah Shakespeare (screenplay)

Stars: John Cusack, Alice Eve and Luke Evans

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 110 minutes


The Raven is a well-known and well-liked poem by Edgar Allan Poe first published in 1845. It made Poe famous. He was an author, editor and literary critic as well as a poet, but that dark and haunting poem is arguably his stand out work and fairly in keeping with a catalogue heavy on mystery and macabre. Poe died in 1849 in Baltimore aged 40. The cause of his death remains unknown and that puzzle forms a key plot point in this gothic thriller from James (V for Vendetta) McTeigue.

John Cusack plays Poe as an angry, antisocial and frustrated writer that drinks too much and that has a knack for putting peoples backs up. Early on he describes himself as “broke and out of control” and we see him thrown out of taverns and upsetting the well-to-do father (Brendan Gleeson) of the girl that he is secretly seeing (Alice Eve). Cusack is good in this role. His round shoulders, black eyes and unkempt hair fit the character nicely and his cocky Poe, not unlike Robert Downey Jr’s recent Sherlock Holmes, irritates and intrigues, but ultimately wins you over.

This is a gothic thriller, but it is also a serial killer movie. Poe’s dark stories of science fiction, horror and mystery are being made real by a maniac prowling the gas lit streets of Baltimore. The killer is the craziest sort of fan and police detective Fields (Luke Evans) has little choice but to add Poe to his task force. Thereafter a game of cat and mouse ensues with the killer seemingly taunting Fields and Poe whilst taking Poe’s girl as a hostage along the way.

There is a fair amount going on in this film, but for the most part it succeeds. There are certainly elements of both Seven and the Saw franchise on show and the overall vibe is similar to a number of films about Jack the Ripper (murky cobbled streets, blacked out carriages, rough pubs on the waterfront etc.) That said, the production design and photography are eye-catching. Cusack holds the film together well and Gleeson, Eve and Evans are all fine. It’s not dazzling, but it is has some thrills, it moves along quickly enough and the whodunit angle is handled well. Not bad at all.

Lay the Favourite

3 Dec

lay the favourite


Director: Stephen Frears

Writers: Beth Raymer (memoir), D.V. DeVincentis (screenplay)

Stars: Rebecca Hall, Bruce Willis and Vince Vaughn

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 94 minutes


British director Stephen Frears has had an interesting career. He has jumped around genres and locations and there have been excellent films such as Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity and Dirty Pretty Things, but also bombs such as Mary Reilly, Tamara Drewe and this latest film. In fact, this one might be the absolute low and in following on from Tamara Drewe it’s a truly awful sequence. In the former Gemma Arterton was strangely miscast and misused and in the latter it is Rebecca Hall, another very capable young British actress, that suffers.

The story of Lay the Favourite, possibly the worst film title of 2012, is that of Beth Raymer. It is her memoir of legal and illegal betting shenanigans on which the film is based. Rebecca Hall plays Beth and we first see her dancing privately for various unsavoury types in Florida. Almost, but not quite a call girl she leaves the state and heads to Las Vegas to find better work. There she hooks up with bookmaker Dink (Bruce Willis), his wife Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and with a collection of other bookies, gamblers, wannabe gangsters etc. Joshua Jackson becomes the new boyfriend and Vince Vaughn is a New York based bookie for who the naïve Beth also finds work.

There is so much wrong with this film it is difficult to know where to start. Rebecca Hall, a fantastic actress who was so good in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and in The Town, is hugely miscast and her girly Marilyn Monroe voice and kooky mannerisms are annoying. The other cast members are equally poor and mostly stand around looking uncomfortable. The script is dire, the direction is uninspired and one cringe-worthy scene follows another. The film has no redeeming qualities at all and director Frears is now on very thin ice indeed.

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