The King’s Speech: A BAFTA breakdown

Posted on February 17, 2011. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , |

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed a lack of awards chatter on the blog this year.  This is for two reasons. Firstly, having written posts the last two years I’m not sure there’s anything new I can bring to the party when it comes to debating the differences in the British and American voting systems; and secondly, I’ve been completely useless at getting to the cinema since I started my new degree and so have seen very few of the nominated films

Last night however, I finally managed to get myself to Leicester Square again for a long overdue appointment with The King’s Speech. As one of the last people in the universe to see this film, I thought rather than write you a straight review repeating what everyone has already said about how this really is a groundbreaking piece of cinema, I’d break it down in terms of last week’s BAFTA sweep, with one eye on the coming Oscars at the same time.  Kind of two birds with one stone.

Best Film (and Outstanding British Film)

Well, this one is a bit of a no brainer.  The King’s Speech is not a film I would ordinarily seek out, but the trailers caught my eye and once the critics started going insane about it I knew I had to get to the cinema.  I think the best thing about this film is the way it focusses a very down to Earth problem in an impossibly ostentatious setting.  Not being able to express yourself is one of the most frustrating feelings, and combatting that as someone who is supposed to speak for the nation is a very strong starting point for a story.  It could have worked just as well as a film about a normal man with a stammer, but the fact that he is a kind of second-choice King brings a grounded humanity to the character which has the audience really rooting for him.  It’s a testament to both the direction and the performances (more on that later) that we can feel a connection with a family who are as far removed from the common man in the cinema as you can possibly get.

An undeniably deserving BAFTA win, but I’m not sure it’ll repeat the success at the Oscars.  I’d like it to, but I have a feeling True Grit or The Social Network might take it.

Original Screenplay

It’s a very British screenplay: filled with emotion but in an incredibly understated way that suits the tone of the film perfectly.  There are some, now infamous, scenes which will probably stick in the collective memory for a long time, but some of the more subtle moments are what gives this film its class.  Two particular moments for me were when Bertie (if Lionel can call him that so can I!) is coming to terms with the fact that he’s going to become King, and the final scene where he delivers his speech.  That last movement is so wrought with tension it shows just how much we’ve invested in the characters.

As far as the Oscars go, I can’t call this one.

Original Music-Alexandre Desplat

I’d spotted this win before I went so I was keeping one ear on the music while I watched.  It’s a gracefully understated score, with simple piano and strings mirroring the drama in a totally non-invasive way.  I’m definitely going to have a listen to it again now that I’ve seen the film to properly admire the work that went into it. He’s in with a shot at the Oscars, but Zimmer might just beat him to it.

Supporting Actor-Geoffrey Rush

For me, Rush very nearly steals the film out from underneath Firth.  He is instantly likeable and wonderfully down to Earth.  His complete lack of reverence for the monarch is fantastic, and r elatable in our increasingly non-royalist culture.

I went in expecting to see a knock out performance from Firth, but Rush really surprised me.  I shouldn’t have been shocked really, he’s always good in eveerything he does.  I really hope he gets the recognition he deserves at the Oscars.  If he doesn’t I think it might go to Bale.

Supporting Actress-Helena Bonham-Carter

I can go either way with Helena Bonham-Carter.  I’m never quite sure what I think of her but she tends to be better than I expect her to be.  That’s definitely true in this case. She gives an very strong performance with just the right amount of dry wit and tenderness.  I think she’s got serious competition from Hailee Steinfeld at the Oscars but I’m glad she got the British award for a classically British character.

Leading Actor-Colin Firth

Well, this is what everyone is talking about isn’t it?  In the last few years, Colin Firth has remembered that he is an actor and a very good one at that.  He’s finally got out from under the shadow of the RomComs and Mr Darcy and started making films where he gets to play someone other than the uptight Englishman.

His portrayal of King George feels like it is coming from someone who really knows the man.  He shows both the sensitivity and the strength in his character as well as capturing the exasperation of someone who has a lot to say but cannot say it.  It’s a very respectful depiction, but it’s fearless enough to show him as a human being rather than an untouchable.

He’s in with a very good chance at the Oscars. And I really hope he wins, because he deserves it.

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Alice in Wonderland

Posted on January 12, 2011. Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , |

I know how much Ross and Ross need their regular updates of why Tim Burton is amazing so I couldn’t watch this movie without putting a few words online for their benefit.

Once again we have the holy trinity of Burton, Elfman and Depp which is usually a good indicator of a decent movie, and while this one did get some stick from the usual naysayers I think it’s a well made film.  Elfman’s unmistakable score brings you straight into (W)Underland with the trademark ethereal quality that he does so well, and the film looks quite spectacular, with an amazing depth I’m sure was intended to heighten the cinematic 3D but leaves the 2D version just as impressive.

Rather than a remake of the various other Alice in Wonderland films, Burton has gone for a sort of Return to Oz style movie, with a more grown up Alice returning to the place she thought she’d made up in a dream.  What I enjoyed most about the film was that as well as taking parts of the original Alice books (including Through the Looking-glass) a substantial proportion of the plot comes from the Lewis Carroll poem Jabberwocky.  It’s  one of my childhood favourites and makes a great basis for a film, weaving in nicely as a prophecy of Alice’s return.  Essentially, what Burton has made is Alice in Wonderland 3; the one that comes after the two books.

Alongside Depp, there is a huge ensemble cast of talented, predominantly British, names including Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whiteouse, Timothy Spall, Christopher Lee…oh and they had to get Helena Bonham Carter in there somewhere.  The best performance though is from Mia Wasikowska as Alice, who captures a kind of restrained sense of adventure and our heroines “muchness.”

The live action has all been overlayed with CG and retouching, meaning it blends seamlessly with the entirely CG characters, to the point that it wasn’t until halfway through the film I remembered I was watching a half-live half-cartoon movie.  The slightly strange appearance of the Underland inhabitants fits well with the dreamlike quality of the film, as well as making it undeniably Burton to look at.

Even though I’m an infamous Burton fan, I went into this film with low expectations after reading a lot of bad reviews.  I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised, finding the film orignal, beautifully designed and, most importantly, entertaining!

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Burton+Depp+Elfman=Gothic Genius

Posted on February 3, 2009. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Most people know that Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have collaborated on a lot of films, I can count six but I’m sure I’m missing some .  Often forgotten though is the addition of the incredible Danny Elfman-composer of The Simpsons theme tune, but also author of a number of Burton’s scores.

Tim Burton has become so much of a cult figure that you can now use “Burton” to describe a genre rather than a person.  The defnining feature in this back catalogue is  The Nightmare before Christmas, a Disney film, believe it or not, which uses stop animation to tell a grinch-like story that is much darker than anything coming out of the studios before (or since).  The iconic character of Jack Skellington adorns the merchandise of many an EMO kid, providing a pretty good example of Burton-design.  Nightmare is also one of the best examples of Elfman’s work, distinct in its use of layered voices which have become a trademark of his composition


Other classic Burton films include Beeteljuice, which I desperately need to see, two of the Batman series and even Big Fish which had a bit of a limp impact on the world, probably because its just that little bit too weird, but its still worth a watch.  The best Burton films though, have Johnny Depp cast in the leading role.  Somehow, the pair seem to bring out the best in eachother, and have often remarked in interviews how easily they can interpret eachothers ideas.

I’m not sure which of these collaborations is my favourite, but Edward Scissorhands has got to be near the top.  Featuring a young Depp desperately trying to shake the “pin up” image, Edward is a twisted fairytale set in an exaggerated steriotypical suburb which is both child-like and intelligent.  Elfman’s score is magical (you can currently find it being sacrificed in the Dancing on Ice adverts) and supports the cinematography of the film perfectly. Like Depp, he seems to know exactly what effect Burton is going for, and produces it to the letter.edward_scissorhands

Creating “kids films” that aren’t quite for kids seems to be a talent of Burton’s, following Nightmare and Edward with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a much creepier version of the story than the original film, but a lot closer to Dahl’s book.  Again Elfman’s score makes the film, taking on the Oompa Loompa songs single handedly by singing each harmony line himself and layering the recording.  Even better, each song takes on a different musical genre- I  particularly love the hard rock cautionary tale to Mike TeeVee.

Depp’s portrayal of Willy Wonka is also far removed from Gene Wilder’s first characterisation.  Said to be based on Michael Jackson, (take from that what you will) he plays him as a Peter-Pan-boy-who-never-grew-up, and Burton supplies a backstory not given in the book to try and develop this.  Both Wilder and Depp give the character a darker side, but while Wilder’s is a scarier angry side, Depp’s is more naive.


Elfman also donates his vocal chords to “Bonejangles” the scat singing skeleton in The Corpse Bride the long awaited “sequel” to Nightmare, where Burton returns to stop animation, this time to tell a story of thwarted love and murder (so another one for the kids).  Depp also got in on the act, providing the voice for Victor, our hapless groom.   The film is filled with ghosts and ghouls, but takes a completely light hearted approach to death as shown by the lyrics to Elfman’s upbeat Jazz track  “Remains of the Day”:

Die! Die! We all pass away!

But don’t be afraid ‘cos it’s really OK

You might try to run, and you might try to pray

But we all end up the remains of the day!

The most recent of Burton’s films lacks the last member of the Trinity, but replaces him with the formidable Steven Sondheim, resulting in what might be the ultimate Gothic film: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

I was painfully excited about this film being made, as a long time fan of Depp, Burton and Sondheim, and I was not disappointed.  Using practically no colour except red was a master stroke, and the casting was perfect.  At times, I’d argue that Helena Bonham-Carter is somewhat oeverused in Burton films, I’m sure having nothing to do with her long term relationship with the director, but in Sweeney Todd she is the ultimate Mrs Lovett, better even than Angela Lansbury’s Broadway original.lovett


I was annoyed by the rumblings of the film being too gory, because to me Sweeney Todd is on a level with Burton’s earlier horror film Sleepy Hollow, where the “horror” part is used more as humour than anything else; done in a stylised way so that it is deliberatley unreal.  All the way through Sweeney Todd there is a dream (or nightmare) like quality which puts it on an ethereal level and therefore removes any realism or true horror.  That’s not a criticism, it’s a clever device by Burton which makes his films so instantly recognisable.

Burton is the master of the Gothic Fairytale.  Of course, the original fairytales were never as cute as one might think, but Burton has created a new genre of dark tales with a true emotional heart.  When Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman are added to the mix, something pretty special is created.  I don’t have time to review them all here (this post is already incredibly long!) but suffice to say that the formula above is pretty much guranteed to give you a great night at the cinema.

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