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The Conspirator: A Fascinating Historical Courtroom Drama
The Conspirator is a dramatization of the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. All of the assassins except for one were rounded up and hauled off to jail. Lumped in with them was the mother of the assassin that got away, Mary Surratt (Wright). Charged with conspiring to kill the President, Vice President and Secretary of State, the plot focuses on her trial.
The film starts off really strongly. Within the first twenty minutes, we have a clear idea of Aiken (McAvoy), Surratt’s lawyer and the film’s main character, especially in regards to his social standing and his Yankee ideology. So, Abraham Lincoln has been murdered and most of those implicated in the assassination have been tracked down. It’s an awesome way to start the movie. And while that constitutes pretty much all of the action in the film, the courtroom dramatics keep you every bit as hooked and glued to the screen. The trial’s depiction is interspersed with bits showing its effect on Aiken’s social life, his talks with his client and her daughter and flashbacks illustrating the witnesses’ testimonials.
The Conspirator revolves around McAvoy’s character Aiken. A former Yankee soldier in the civil war, he has as much contempt for the group of southerners that killed his president. Forced by his boss, who has a big problem with civilians being tried in a military court, to defend Mary Surratt, he reluctantly takes on the case, thinly disguising his feelings for his client. His inner idealist rears its head however, when he becomes aware of just how scanty the evidence is against her and how much of a sham the trial is. He gradually becomes fully invested in preventing the state from using Surratt as a scapegoat and putting an end to this blatant disregard of the constitution in the name of state security.
Except for Bledel who played Aiken’s partner and appeared terrified at the prospect of saying her lines, the acting here was uniformly strong. Particularly commendable was Wright as Mary Surratt. Her son’s actions have put her in a situation where he is on the run and she is facing a death sentence for his crimes. Her only chance is to implicate her son in the assassination which she completely refuses to do and is torn when her lawyer and daughter pin the blame on him in any way to save her life. Her maternal feelings battle with her sense of self preservation, all the while never losing her sense of dignity and faith in God.
The film’s issue with military trials for civilians, while highly relevant for us nowadays, is dealt with in a very black and white way. Aiken is the idealist who categorically refuses the idea that the constitution can be overturned in times of instability. On the other hand Stanton, the secretary of war and the man who is pretty much in charge of the country, is the complete opposite. In his opinion, the greater good trumps any lesser evils even if the lesser evil happens to be executing an innocent woman. In this reviewer’s opinion, Aiken, as a devoted Yankee soldier, should have been able to see the issue from Stanton’s point of view and struggle with the duality in himself. While McAvoy gives a great performance, he comes off as a bit too idealistic for a guy who just got out of a four year war against the very people he’s defending.
The Conspirator is a period courtroom drama with a fascinating story and great acting from a laundry list of some of the best actors and seasoned actors in Hollywood today. Perfect for history buffs.
Marking the fifth instalment in the Underworld franchise, Blood Wars rests in the hands of a first-time feature director, Anna Foerster who, although managing to create a few notable moments of action, fails to bring any ingenuity or freshness to its now exhausted vampires-versus-werewolves narrative.
The story begins with a brief recap of events from the last four films where we learn that everyone’s favourite vampire death dealer, Selena (once again fully embraced by the leather-clad, forever sulking Kate Beckinsale) has been betrayed and banished by her kind.
Still trying to cope with the pain of having given up her vampire-werewolf hybrid daughter Eve for everyone’s safety, Selena is surprised to be summoned back into the vampire community - now led by the scheming Semira (Pulver) - who wish to make use of her skills in order to train the new generation of fighters, while still escaping her own chasers and searching for her daughter.
Taking quite a bit of time to get going, Blood Wars – written by Cory Goodman – is filled with lots of politics and nonsensical dialogue between characters who seemingly have a hard time in conveying any emotion, thus, making it all that difficult for the viewer to get invested in what they have to say. Drenched in a seemingly cold, metallic-blue tint, Blood Wars – although certainly not heavy on the action front – does manage to offer a couple relatively exciting action set-pieces. However, considering that this is a vampires-verses-werewolves kind of a movie, there just isn’t enough of that that specific mythology to set it apart from any other action movies – no wooden stakes or silver bullets to see here folks, just plenty of swirling swords and guns that can’t hurt anyone.
Another problem here is that the mythology behind the franchise in general – something the keeps spinning around aimlessly with no real focus or ending in sight – is a little hard to take seriously.
All of the characters, including the PVC-wearing Kate Beckinsale, who thinks that scowling her way through the scenes will get her anywhere, are all without an ounce of charm or personality – which sadly, brings us to a conclusion that there is no fun to be had in this rather forgettable cinematic offering and generic continuation of a franchise which, perhaps, might be ready now to close its doors and call it a day.
What can you say about the seemingly unstoppable force that is Nicolas Cage that hasn’t been said before? A magnet for the most troubled, muddled and just generally exasperating films to hit cinemas in the last five years, his latest work in USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage does nothing to change his fortunes.
Despite being based on one a true story that has all the makings of a war epic, the Mario Van Peebles-directed USS Indianapolis bleeds all and any gravitas and emotion out of its incredibly dramatic source material.
The story goes as thus: the eponymous US Navy cruiser delivered the first parts of the atomic bomb that would go on to devastate Hiroshima, before being torpedoed by the Japanese navy, leaving some 300 of the 1000-plus crewmen dead and the rest stranded in shark-infested waters. Said sharks, along with dehydration and salt water poisoning, leave just over 300 survivors to be rescued.
At the centre of the ensuing hubbub is Cage’s Captain McVay, who many, very unreasonably, blame for the death of the 700 or so victims – so you see, it’s a very complex story, but one that very quickly descend into and exercise on how not to make a war film.
The occasional laughable CGI aside, Cage is oddly sedate, bordering on placid, in his role – yes, the central character is possibly the flattest element of the film, while seasoned actors, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Jane, are given little to chew on in their respective roles.
While starting exactly as one would expect a war film to, the wreckage part of the film turns into cheap disaster movie, before turning into a courtroom drama in the final act. It’s a muddle of a film that fails to really drum to the beat of McVay’s potentially brilliant arc as a firm commander that eventually buckles under the unjust pressure he receives back at home.
Bad CGI, a mammoth two hour-plus running time and Nic Cage can be forgiven, but what’s at the heart of this film’s mess is the script. Jumping from event to event, plotline to plotline, at a whim, with Cage’s soft murmured speech used to pave over the transitions, USS Indianapolis’s pacing is that of a film hurrying to stuff as many ideas and threads as possible – expect that’s not the case. Van Peebles tries so hard to build the layers of an epic, when, actually, all he needed to do was tell this simple but stirring story as it is.