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Coriolanus: Updated Shakespeare Tragedy
Taking cues from films such as Baz Luhermann’s Romeo + Juliet, Coriolanus is a Shakespearean tragedy, set in modern times. It may require a bit more concentration than regular films but it’s a treat hearing the prose just roll off of the tongues of trained actors.
The film takes place in Rome and tells the story of an army general by the name of Caius Martius Coriolanus (Fiennes). Stern, violent and anti social, he was nonetheless considered a hero by the people of Rome. When he decided to run for Consul however, his detractors used his rigidity against him and sparked a riot that had him banished from the city. In revenge, he teams up with his mortal enemy, Aufidius (Butler), leader of the Volscian army, to wreak havoc on the people who dared deem him a traitor.
Maybe because he isn’t hidden behind a ton of makeup and because this time around he has a nose, but Fiennes is more deranged in this role than he was as Lord Voldemort, and that’s saying something. He has an intensity that poor Butler, as his adversary, just can’t hope to match even though he does do a pretty good job regardless. In fact, the acting here is uniformly strong, but Fiennes is simply phenomenal. The only people capable of going toe to toe with him are Chastain, who plays his wife, and Redgrave, who plays his brutally chilling mother.
On the one hand the film analyses the connection between what the public wants from their politicians and the personas that said politicians present to them. Unlike every other politician in Rome, Coriolanus refuses to sugar-coat his words and openly declares his loathing of the people. His stubborn, idealistic nature greatly complicates his transition from the battlefield to the senate much to the chagrin of his mother - who’s probably even colder and more terrifying than he is. He’s a very ambiguous character and it’s this that gives the film much of its depth. He’s a bloodthirsty tyrant just like his mother yet also a bundle of intense emotions, be it love or disdain.
The film is a complete blood bath which shouldn’t come as a surprise in a film about an army general, but the intensity pervading the film takes the fights to another level. The Romans and Vulscians have a ‘fight or die trying approach’ to war directly inspired by their leaders’ complete contempt for their own lives. And while the cinematography captures the fight scenes really well - Aufidius and Coriolanus’ one-on-one fights are particularly thrilling - it does even better with the rest of the film. The protest scenes feel utterly contemporary and give the film a sense of immediacy; no mean feat when you’re speaking in Shakespearean English.
It’s not a perfect film but it's close and the acting, Fiennes in particular, is as close to perfect as you can get. Despite that though, the film’s main strength lies in the fact that it updates the play and makes it completely relevant to modern audiences. The themes that the play covers are ones that play out in our political arenas every day and it makes for absolutely riveting viewing.
Rowan Joffe’s latest psychological thriller – based on S.J Watson’s nail-biting 2011 page-turner – is, sadly, anything but thrilling. Poorly-constructed and emotionally shallow, Before I Go to Sleep starts off with an absorbing premise, but fails sustain the intrigue needed to do its source material justice.
Having suffered a terrible car accident ten years ago, Christine Lucas (Kidman) wakes up every morning not knowing who or where she is. As a result of a severe head injury, the forty year-old suffers from a form of post-traumatic amnesia, which erases her most recent memories every night she goes to sleep.
Unable to recognise her own husband, Ben (Firth), she wakes up every morning in fear while her long-suffering partner sits on the edge of the bed patiently explaining – through a collage of pictures taped to the bathroom wall – who he is and who they are to one another.
Psychiatrist, Dr. Nash (Strong), calls her every morning, encouraging her to keep a video-diary. Convincing her to join an experimental treatment designed to jog her memory, Christine’s understanding of her life is put into doubt when she begins to unravel the real truth about her past and the fact that not everyone in her life is who they say they are.
Set somewhere in the UK – the exact location of which is never specified or visually depicted –Before I Go to Sleep starts off relatively strong and, for what it’s worth, Rowan Joffe manages to create a genuine sense of mystery surrounding his fragile protagonist from the film’s very first scene.
However, the story quickly begins to lose its edge – and focus – when Christine starts digging deeper into her past, quickly falling into clichéd thriller territory. That’s made all the worse with a few too many inconsistencies and far-fetched scenarios, all coming together to render it shallow and uninvolving.
It’s a darn shame, because the three main actors are all capable of delivering outstanding performances and both Kidman and Firth are convincing enough for the most part, though even they as characters seem detached to what should have been a complex and taxing plot.
Many have pointed to Christopher Nolan’s groundbreaking thriller, Memento, and even Adam Sandler comedy, 50 First Dates, as two films that, despite being at opposite ends of the spectrum, deal with similar plot devices in much more decisive ways. Before I Go to Sleep has neither the intelligence of the former nor the comic relief of the latter and, in the end, really just has nothing.
Peter Jackson’s fourteen-year-long Middle-Earth adventure has finally come to a close with the third and final instalment Bilgo Baggins’ journey with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies; a slightly bloated, but generally successful, finale that boasts plenty of action and technical superiority over its immediate predecessors.
Hitting the ground running and wasting no time in plunging audiences in the deep-end, The Battle of the Five Armies begins exactly where the second film left off, with Smaug (once again voiced superbly by Cumberbatch) setting Lake-town ablaze as Bilbo (Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) and his army of loyal dwarf-followers watch from the Lonely Mountain.
After escaping imprisonment, Bard (Evans) slays Smaug, leaving the endless treasures of the mountain unguarded for Bilbo, Thorin and co. to continue their quest. But as news spreads of Smaug's demise, the lure of the mountain's coveted riches triggers an inevitable path to war.
A With a running time of just over two hours, The Battle of the Five Armies is the shortest of all of The Hobbit entries, though it’s also the most ambitious and visually-creative of the lot. The cinematography is exquisite and the CGI techniques seem to have been pushed to their very limit.
The cast is, as always, steadfast and dependable with Armitage delivering a blockbuster performance as Thorin, though Freeman’s usual whimsical nature and superb comic timing is, surprisingly, underused. Similarly, the rest of the cast, including Lilly as the she-elf, Evans, as the newly-emerged leader of Lake-town, and McKellen take a back-seat.
With this being the finale, it plays out like a climax and is heavy on the action and not much else – as a standalone film, it may feel a little hollow for some, but for fans, it's a fittingly spectacular conclusion to the series.