Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Fiennes’

At top:  Carey Mulligan, Archie Barnes; below: Ralph Fiennes

“THE DIG” My rating: B- (Netflix)

112 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“The Dig” may be little more than motion picture comfort food…but right now comfort food is what we want.

Though inspired by real events — the discovery in 1939 of the Sutton Hoo site, a 6th-century Anglo-Saxon boat and priceless burial artifacts found  in an English pasture — this Masterpiece-ish effort from director Simon Stone and screenwriter Moira Buffini gets most of its momentum from the  melodrama (much of it made up) surrounding the enterprise.

I mean, excavating ancient treasures one tiny trowel scoop at a time isn’t exactly scintillating cinema. Bring on the heavy breathing.

Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) is a self-taught “excavator” (he wouldn’t presume to call himself an archaeologist) whose nose for buried wonders has been proven on various sites around his native Suffolk.  He’s crusty and cranky — in large part because his efforts are undervalued by the hoity-toity academic types with whom he must often work. (This was an era when archaeologists wore neckties and tweed jackets to dig.)

Now he’s been invited to the estate of widow Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan); she has an ancient mound out in the north forty she’d like to excavate. Basil would actually get to be the boss of the dig.

Along the way the childless fellow will become a father figure to Edith’s young son Robert (Archie Barnes) and befriend Edith’s cousin Rory (Johnny Flynn), who is brought in to help with some of the heavy lifting.  All this warm fuzzy stuff later will become important when it’s revealed that Edith has major health issues.


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Keira Knightley


111 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There are moments when “Official Secrets” doesn’t seem to know just whose story it is telling; others when the dialogue sounds more like speechifying than regular conversation.

Still, there’s something so vital about the material it covers — the British government’s complicity in the Bush White House’s half-assed plan to invade Iraq — that Gavin Hood’s fact-based docudrama demands to be seen.

In 2003 Katharine Gun, an analyst with Her Majesty’s spy service, received an unexpected email.  In this message — also received by all of her co-workers — the American CIA urged everyone to be on the lookout for dirt that could be used to force recalcitrant members of the United Nations Security Council into voting for a US/British invasion of Iraq.

Gun was both surprised that she received the email — her regular gig was translating intercepted Chinese telephone communications — and appalled that the Yanks and her own people were so nonchalantly encouraging the entire apparatus of British intelligence to participate in a blackmail scheme for the purpose of rushing into an unjust war.

So she surreptitiously copied the email and gave it to an anti-war activist friend, who passed it on to a newspaper reporter, who with his colleagues spent months verifying the truth of the communication.

Eventually the story was published, but not without some unexpected blowback.  Before it hit the printed page, an unsuspecting editor ran the copy through Spell Check, which changed all the American spellings in the CIA email to British, thus leading to accusations that this was a British-generated fake document.

Spell Check strikes again.

As scripted by Hood, Gregory Bernstein and Sara Bernstein (from Marcia Mitchell and Thomas  Mitchell’s book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War), “Official Secrets” is essentially a procedural docudrama populated by an A-list British cast.


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Oleg Ivenko as Rudolph Nureyev

“THE WHITE CROW” My rating: B-

127 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Early on in  Ralph Fienne’s “The White Crow” a character observes that Rudolph Nureyev’s dancing is rarely technically perfect but that he compensates with personality and passion.

Ironically, personality and passion are what is lacking in this biopic about Nureyev’s early life.

David Hare’s screenplay adopts a jumbled narrative that leaps between the dancer’s impoverished childhood in the Soviet Union during World War II, his training at Leningrad’s Kirov Ballet and a long visit to Paris that  ends with his defection to the West.

All the makings are here for a compelling real-life tale of an iconoclast (a “white crow” in idiomatic Russian) whose emotional makeup and outsized talent were a poor fit with the do-what-you’re-told culture of Soviet-sponsored arts (“Ballet is about obedience”).  And yet despite a few compelling moments, the film occupies a sort of generic middle ground.

Needless to say, the real Nureyev was anything but generic.

In the end the film’s successes and failures come down to leading man Oleg Ivenko, a dancer talented enough to simulate Nureyev’s astounding leaps (though dance scenes in the film are few and far between) but too limited as an actor to fully inhabit his character.

The film is bookended by the 1961 residency of the Kirov at Paris’ Garnier Opera House. Almost immediately Ivenko’s Nureyev is established as a loner who gets up early to visit the Louvre (just so he can have a few precious minutes of alone time with Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa”) and insists on breaking away from the other Kirov members to explore the city’s vibrant night life with the young French dancers who are the Soviets’ hosts.

His willful flaunting of the rules does not go unnoticed; invariably he is tracked on his nightly perambulations by menacing KGB types who sit dourly at nearby tables sipping the house’s cheapest drinks.


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Matthias Schonhart, Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Ralph Fiennes

Matthias Schonhart, Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Ralph Fiennes

“A BIGGER SPLASH”  My rating: B 

125 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Among the many on-screen personas of Ralph Fiennes are terrifying mob boss, casually cruel concentration camp commander, serial killer and silky aristocrat.

But nothing he’s done has quite prepared us for the acting dervish on display in “A Bigger Splash.”

In Luca Guadagnino’s steamy and visually ravishing display of psychological noir, Fiennes plays Harry, a renowned music producer who unexpectedly drops in on his old flame, rock star Marianne (Guadagnino regular Tilda Swinton), and her paramour, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts).

Marianne and Paul are living in glorious isolation in a hilltop villa on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria, where they lounge about naked and make furious love in any and all rooms. Their choice of a retreat suggests they just want to be left alone, but neither can turn down Harry, a natural-born glad-handing speed freak who guzzles vino, pees where he likes, and is determined to be the life of the party.

For the music mogul was once Marianne’s lover and the force behind her international career. And as their relationship was winding down, Harry groomed Paul, a documentary filmmaker, to take his place in Marianne’s bed.

So suddenly the couple has as  a houseguest the motormouthed Harry, an interloper who seizes control of Marianne’s record collection, buzzing from one topic to another, erupting in rock ‘n’ roll survival stories and doing an insanely cool and ridiculously sinuous open-shirted dance to the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue.”

David Kajganich’s screenplay — an adaptation of the 1968 French film “The Swimming Pool” — centers on the question of just why Harry has shown up at this time.

For Marianne and Paul are extremely vulnerable. She’s had throat surgery to reverse the damage done by her larynx-shredding singing style. There’s no way of knowing if she’ll be able to resume her career; in the meantime she has been ordered not to speak above a whisper.

This prompts the irreverent Harry to ask Paul: “Does she write your name when she comes?”



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Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL”  My rating: B (Opens wide on March 21)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a whopper of a shaggy dog story – or more accurately, it’s a series of shaggy dog stories that fit neatly inside one another like one of those painted Russian dolls.

The film’s yarn-within-a-yarn structure and a delightfully nutty perf from leading man Ralph Fiennes are the main attractions here. I had hoped that “Grand Budapest…” would scale the same emotional heights as Anderson’s last effort, the captivating “Moonrise Kingdom.”

It doesn’t. But there’s still plenty to relish here.

Describing the film requires a flow chart. But here goes:

In the present in a former Eastern Bloc country, a young woman visits the grave of a dead author and begins reading his book The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Suddenly we’re face to face with the writer (Tom Wilkinson), who is sitting at the desk in his study. After a few introductory comments and a brusque cuffing of a small boy who is proving a distraction, the author begins telling us the plot of his novel.

Now we’re in the 1990s in the formerly sumptuous but now dog-eared Grand Budapest hotel in the Eastern European alps. Staying there is a Young Writer (Jude Law) who befriends the mysterious Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). An aged empresario who owns several of Europe’s most luxurious hotels, Moustafa keeps the Grand Budapest running for nostalgic reasons.


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Gerard Butler, Ralph Fiennes in "Coriolanus"

“CORIOLANUS” My rating: B- (Opening Jan. 20)

122 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The rarely-performed plays of Shakespeare pose a problem for film adaptations. Lacking the familiar plots and Bartlett’s-heavy dialogue of a “Macbeth” or “Hamlet,” these minor works force filmmakers to come up with a creative presentational style if they’re to hook a modern audience.

With that in mind, director/star Ralph Fiennes makes of Shakespeare’s Roman play “Coriolanus” a modern-dress political fable about patriotism, loyalty and class warfare.

It’s quite well acted and if the text itself isn’t terribly compelling, the movie’s semi-documentary visual style and the political parallels Fiennes draws between ancient Rome and our own time engage both the eye and the intellect.

The plot centers on the Roman general Caius Martius (Fiennes), who has defeated the rebel forces of Aufidius (Gerard Butler). For his great victory the Senate renames him Coriolanus and names him Consul of Rome. But before getting the job the newly-named Coriolanus must gain the approval of the citizenry.  And that’s no small task, since he’s an aloof patrician who views everyday Romans as worthless rabble. Early in the film we see him turning back starving rioters who have attacked a government warehouse demanding to be fed.


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