Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Denzel Washington’

Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand

“THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH” My rating: B+ (At the Screenland Armour, AMC Town Center)

105 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Has there ever been a more visually ravishing “Macbeth” — or any Shakespeare film, for that matter — than this new version of “the Scottish play” from Joel Coen (half of the famous Coen Brothers in his first solo outing)?

Here’s a case where every element — from acting to the drop-dead gorgeous black-and-white cinematography to the brilliantly conceived production design — come together to reinforce the play’s haunting themes of human desire, fate and inevitability.

Denzel Washington makes a fine Macbeth, while Frances McDormand (aka Mrs. Joel Coen) is even better as his force-of-nature-manipulative Lady.
The lesser roles have been precisely cast and captured for the screen.

But a character unto itself is the brilliant look of the production.  Filmed by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel in a 1:33:1 frame ratio (the classic “Academy aperture”), with settings by Stefan Dechant and costumes by Mary Zophres, the film manages to be simultaneously stripped down and abundantly evocative.

The influence of great German expressionist films like the silent “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is found everywhere.  The yarn unfolds in a sort of nonspecific Medieval world, but one presented with a minimum of period detail.  

The castle walls are looming, smooth and white; there’s none of the grime and wear-and-tear of a realistic rendering. When late in the film the cold hard lines of Macbeth’s throne room are softened by fallen leaves blowing across the stones, the contrast delivers an almost visceral shock.

Like one of those Busby Berkley musical extravaganzas that ostensibly take place in a nightclub (a nightclub that would have to be the size of a football field with an Olympic-sized swimming pool tossed in), this “…Macbeth” might be a gigantic stage production unhampered by the limitations of an actual theater. 

The perfect artificiality of the presentation actually emphasizes and amplifies the play’s dramatic elements; against these stark backdrops human faces take on additional power. 

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail as to plotting. I figure if you’re reading this you’re familiar with the basics (oh, OK…Macbeth and the Missus conspire to kill the king and take his crown, then have to keep murdering to keep it).

But Coen’s screenplay does work a few interesting changes.  For example, the character of Ross (here played by the impossibly slender and slinky Alex Hassell) is typically a spear carrier with a few lines.  Coen has made him a semi-sinister Machiavelli whose allegiance is always in question.

Kathryn Hunter

The biggest departure is in the depiction of the “three weird sisters,” the trio of witches who predict Macbeth’s rise to power.  At the beginning of the film there is but one witch, a twisted crone (Kathryn Hunter) whose old bones contort into a human knot that moves like a crab. In one dazzling shot her image is reflected in a pool of water…but not one image: Two.  So now we have three of her.

Hunter’s performance is scary and riveting.  At times she resembles a fallen bird; at others she dons a cloak and hood, looking a lot like Death in Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal.”  Of all the images seared into my brain by this movie, Hunter’s gnarled form is the most haunting.

Indeed, a case can be made that this “Macbeth” is more satisfying visually than verbally. That’s not a knock against Washington, McDormand and their co-stars (among them familiar faces like Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Ineson, Harry Melling and Stephen Root as the drunken porter).

It’s just that the picture is such an overwhelmingly visual experience.

| Robert W. Butler

Read Full Post »

Denzel Washington, Rami Malek

“THE LITTLE THINGS” My rating C (HBO Max on Jan. 29)

Running time:  127 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Were there an Oscar for frustrated expectations, John Lee Hancock’s agonizingly moody “The Little Things” would clearly take home a statuette.

I mean, the elements audiences expect from a police-hunt-a-serial-killer drama are not only denied us in this instance, but obfuscated in a haze of existential navel-gazing.

Good thing the film features three — count ’em, three — Oscar-wining actors. The star power provided by Denzel Washington, Rami Malik and Jared Leto keeps us watching long after that nagging voice kicks in wondering where this sucker is going.

Following a prelude in which a teenage girl is stalked along a highway by an apparently murderous stranger, the film cuts to a northern California burg where Joe “Deke” Deacon (Washington) serves as a uniformed deputy.  At the outset he’s sent by his boss down to Los Angeles to pick up some evidence needed for a case.

Deke is reluctant to make the trip. He was once a celebrated detective in the big city, but left five years ago after some sort of breakdown that ended his marriage and his career.  Apparently he went a little bonkers trying to solve the case of a killer preying on young prostitutes.

By some fantastic coincidence, he arrives in LA in the midst of a new murder spree apparently perpetrated by the same never-apprehended fiend. In charge of the case is Jim Baxter (Malek), a dedicated cop and family man who has hit nothing but dead ends.

Figuring the killer Jim is looking for is probably the same one that got away from him years earlier, Deke decides to take a little vacation time to unofficially poke around the investigation.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington

“FENCES” My rating: B+

138 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington has  never given — and may never again give — a performance as deep and revelatory as he does in “Fences.”

This screen adaptation of August Wilson’s 1987 Pulitzer-winning drama — directed by Washington — offers the ideal match of performer and part, allowing the actor to sink his teeth into a role so  perfectly  balanced in subtlety and grandiosity as to reduce most film acting to the level of cardboard cutouts.

The dialogue is rendered in a sort of mid-century black urban dialect, but the effect is nothing short of Shakespearean. In its power and complexity “Fences” feels like an African American “King Lear.”

Set in the late 1950s in a black neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Wilson’s drama centers on Troy Maxson (Washington), a man fiercely determined to keep his dignity while fighting his own set of demons.

A minor star of baseball’s Negr0 leagues, Troy was too old to benefit from Jackie Robinson’s integration of the majors, and that missed opportunity still rankles him. Now he works as a city trash collector and is noisily wrangling for a position as a truck driver, a gig usually restricted to whites. Troy sees that discriminatory policy less as a social injustice than as a personal affront.

Smooth talking but essentially combative, Troy nurses old hurts that gnaw at his manhood. He can be outwardly friendly and garrulous, a raconteur and an entertainer. But he can turn on a dime if the wrong button is pushed, and then his belligerent, dark side flashes. Troy  invariably has a loquacious argument to justify his transgressions, but push him too hard and the dominating and intimidating side of his personality steps up to slap down his critics.

Wilson’s screenplay (actually it’s his stage play, with the addition of just one line of dialogue) provides Troy with an assortment of friends and family members who serve as his audience and occasional victims.

His wife Rose (a stunning Viola Davis) is a friendly, outgoing woman who  has learned how and when not to push her explosive spouse. Often they seem true equals; at other times it’s obvious that Rose must walk on eggshells around her man. (more…)

Read Full Post »

“SAFE HOUSE”  My rating: C+ (Opening wide Feb. 10)

115 minutes | MPAA rating:R

“Safe House” is of interest mostly for the films it borrows from, mainly the “Bourne” series and “Training Day.”

Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds

Like the former, it’s a spy movie about one guy’s attempts to survive while exposing a conspiracy within the CIA. Like the latter, it offers Denzel Washington in award-winning charmy/scary mode.

Washington plays Tobin Frost, a legendary American agent who went rogue a decade ago and has spent the last few years selling the secrets of the world’s big espionage agencies to the highest bidder. An international fugitive, Frost is viewed almost as superhuman – smarter, creepier and more deadly than just about anyone else.

Fleeing a small army of well-armed assassins, Frost takes refuge in an American consulate in Capetown, South Africa. He figures he’ll be safer in custody than on the street.

(more…)

Read Full Post »