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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.
Justin Reardon’s feature-length directorial debut, Playing it Cool, sees an attempt at bring some freshness and originality to the rom-com genre falling into the same old clichés.
Dreaming of one day becoming a successful action screenwriter, the main character of the piece – simply referred to as ‘Narrator’ and played by Chris Evans – isn’t all that enthusiastic about being handed the task of scripting a romantic comedy. See, he’s never been in love – a side-effect from his mother’s abandonment when he was only a young boy – and therefore, he’s unable to see himself writing something that he ‘doesn’t believe in’.
Enter ‘Her’ (Monaghan); a beautiful young woman he meets at a charity event. Sparks fly and he is instantly smitten; however, she’s already engaged to be married to handsome and aloof Brit, ‘Stuffy’ (Gruffudd). Powerless to get her out of his mind – a place filled with a vivid, and often dramatic, writer’s imagination – emotions soon spiral out of control and, well, you know the rest.
Desperately trying to swerve away from the lovely-dovey trappings of the genre, Playing it Cool is the kind of film that’s really difficult to pin-down. Is it a rom-com parody? Or, is it just another movie that begins by dismissing the very notion of romance before eventually falling into the very hole it’s been trying to avoid from the beginning? We’ll go for the latter. Already drawing comparison to movies such as Amelie and 500 Days of Summer – a notion that’s awfully difficult to grasp to begin with – the story lacks the charm, focus and the overall substance that made the aforementioned movies the cinematic success they are.
In fairness, though, the two leads do share some genuine onscreen chemistry; however, the movie’s relatively unexciting script is not smart, strong -or creative enough to take advantage of the fact. Monaghan is the stronger of the two; her charm is infectious and it’s easy to see why any guy would fall for her while Evans, who just doesn’t seem right for the role, tries his best to stick it out. However, just like the story itself, he just doesn’t seem comfortable in his own skin – stick to being Captain America.
Essentially, the problem here is that this is a film that tries too hard to be unique, quirky, ironically, doesn’t play it cool one bit.
Rough around the edges and not as ‘focused’ is it could be (ha!), the team behind entertaining, but flawed, 2011 rom-com, Crazy, Stupid, Love, apply the comedy treatment to action flick, Focus.
This is not by any means an intellectually challenging film, but, no matter how predictable and fluffy its premise may be, it still boasts plenty of energy and holds enough charm to maintain engagement.
Jess Barrett (Robbie) is an inexperienced grifter, who – after trying and failing to con the ultimate conman himself, Nicky Spurgeon (Smith) – insists that he take her under his wing.
As Jess slowly proves herself, she is recruited by Nicky and his crew, though their business relationship briefly turns into a romantic one; but after a successful one million dollar heist during the Super Bowl in New Orleans, they part ways, leaving Jess heartbroken.
Three years down the line, the story moves to Buenos Aires where Nicky is preparing another huge con – so huge in fact, that he seeks out Jess once more.
Slick and glossy, Focus is best enjoyed if you don’t think too much about its inner-workings; if you do allow yourself to get way inside its shallow mechanisms, however, you’ll almost certainly walk away feeling a little underwhelmed with the entire experience. The dialogue is quite often sharp and witty, but the film isn’t in the same mould as the recent heist-clicks like Ocean’s Eleven; there’s more of a focus on the two main characters and their evolving relationship and it can be argued that this is one of its biggest mistakes for the simple reason that there just isn’t enough room for complex arcs in a film that brings a very particular type of action movie together with comedy.
Despite this, there are still plenty of memorable set-pieces and, as the dexterous and charming Nicky, Smith is his usual magnetic self, though he doesn’t stray far from his usual routine. Standing strong by his side is his equally magnetic Aussie co-star, Margot Robbie, who once again proves that she is capable of holding her own amongst some of Hollywood’s biggest names. The pairing, though seeming inapt at first, carries the film through to be a one-hundred-and-four minute of easy watching – it’s a typical cinema-and-popcorn movie that doesn’t try to be more than it is.