Sunday, February 13, 2011

Capsule reviews: King's Speech, Tai Chi Master, The Town

The King’s Speech (2010, Tom Hooper)

Tom Hooper’s historical drama sees the Duke of York, soon to be King George VI (Colin Firth) overcome his considerable speech impediment via tutelage and even emotional support from a unique dialogue coach, Aussie Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Helena Bonham Carter is the Duchess.

The King’s Speech is a crowd pleasure. I was part of a crowd who sat to watch it and was consequently pleased with the results. Directed with a nice sense of style, shot setups put economical emphasis on characters relations to their surroundings and among each other, Hooper makes the movie visually interesting, apart from just costume and set design, two elements I think many people ‘expect’ to be beautiful anyways in period pieces. Firth gives a solid performance, if one that gets a bit old maybe by the time the movie is over (he stammers all the way through until..he doesn’t stammer anymore at the end). Rush is having a whale of a time as the sarcastic, charismatic dialogue coach who enjoys finds pleasure in helping a king. Carter is brilliant as the Duchess.

No surprises, but that was to be expected I assume. Anybody hoping someone was going to die unexpectedly or reveal they were secretly gay? Yeah? Oh, King’s Speech is not down your alley therefore. Much hoopla about its numerous Oscar nominations, but again, should we be honestly surprised? It’s perfectly fine entertainment. The scenes in which profane language abounds are hysterical.

Tai Chi Master (1993, Yuen Woo-Ping)

Martial arts extravaganza from a time when Jet Li was at the apex of his physical capabilities as an action star. He and Siu-hu Chin are monks evicted from their monastery, with each going their separate ways: Li becomes part of a rebellion in a province under the rule of a violent viceroy, while Siu-hu Chin’s lust for money and power leads him to join the latter group.

Like so many of these martial arts bonanzas, the story reserves only precious few surprises (there were a couple moments that I honestly did not see coming however), but with these kinds of movies, one revels in the beauty of the fights. What beauty there is to behold! Yuen Woo-Ping has garnered a significant fan base in the West and for good reason. The fight scenes in Tai Chi Master are inventive, exciting and violent. The lone complaint is the mysticism and semi-fantastical tone that film adopts just before the climax, but all in all this is very enjoyable for fans of the genre. Michelle Yeoh, who plays one of the rebels, not only kicks butt but shows some comedic timing as well. Knowing her mostly from the 007 film Tomorrow Never Dies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this was a nice surprise. There is a bizarre sequence when Jet Li, as a result of shock, becomes crazy. I didn’t think Li could be funny, but he ‘sort of’ pulls it off here. Sort of. Yeah, strange movie, but fun.

The Town (2010, Ben Affleck)

A crime drama which has a great many storylines intermingle. Affleck is the leader of sorts of a small group of bank robbers, a group that includes hi brother, played by Jeremy Renner. Rebecca Hall is a bank clerk with whom the protagonist falls in love with without her knowing his real ‘job’ and John Ham is the F.B.I. agent hunting him down.

With Gone Baby Gone and now The Town, Bostonian Ben Affleck has shown some serious directing talent. Tension, action, getting great performances out of a cast…he’s getting pretty good at all of that. On a personal note, I am in love with the Bostonian accent, so the film already had that in its favour, but the finished product is quite good, if somewhat by the numbers. I think it is a movie where one should not pray for some truly unique twists, but rather enjoy the ride and the effectiveness of the storytelling. It is ironic that this happens to be a Warner Bros. film, because so many of the classic cops and robbers movies were from the same studio. For that reason, and because of the quality of the movie we have here, it almost feels like the studio is continuing a proud tradition. The acting is great all around, with special mention for Hall, who is splendid. Now that I think of it, John Ham gets lost in the mix. His character is not as strong as the rest.

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