Roman epic's wings clipped but singer Paltrow soars
The Eagle: Cert 12A SO what did the Romans ever do for us? Besides giving us a name, Hibernia, very little actually.
It's a different story with Hollywood obviously and director Kevin Macdonald's (The Last King of Scotland) The Eagle is the latest attempt to extract box-office gold from that era in ancient history when all roads led to Rome.
Legend has it that circa 120 AD, 5,000 men from one of the Rome's most formidable legions, "the mighty Ninth," crossed into Caledonia (now Scotland) and were never seen again. Rome's response to this shock to its supremacy was to draw a line in the heather as it were, erect Hadrian's Wall and declare it to be the end of the known world.
The Eagle takes up the story 20 years later with the arrival in Britain of hunky hero waiting to happen Channing Tatum, aka Marcus Aquila. His father is said to have led the Ninth to their doom and the loss of that legion's talismanic golden eagle has been a source of enduring shame on his family's good name. In order to restore the latter and retrieve the former a journey that only the most monomaniacal would embark upon is required. Think Apocalypse Now without the choppers.
There's even a touch of Brokeback Mountain without the... er... mountain about the budding bromance that develops between Marcus and Esca (Jamie Bell), the trusted slave who guides him on this epic adventure behind enemy lines. Toga-tastic then? Well not exactly. Gladiator it ain't but decent central performances together with convincing fight scenes ensure that those in the market for respectable action adventure fare will get a good return on their investment.
THE twanging accents and syrupy melodies of country music are not for everyone, but don't let that deter you from this robust romantic drama that wears its heart squarely on its sleeve.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Kelly Canter, a troubled star recovering in rehab with the help of nurse and part-time singer Beau (Garrett Hedlund). Husband and manager James (played by real-life country star Tim McGraw) pulls her out of treatment a month early to play some shows. She agrees on the condition that Beau, with whom she's been having an affair, appears as the opening act.
Meanwhile, James picks up pretty but erratic Chiles (Leighton Meester) as another support act, something her old-flame Beau is unhappy about. Nevertheless, they develop a working relationship as a duo before romance blossoms (only once Kelly and Beau have ceased their own tryst). Amid the romantic cat's cradle, a couple of botched performances suggest Kelly isn't quite mended.
Paltrow is effortlessly natural as the damaged celeb at the centre of the entanglement. As with Hedlund and Meester, she has equipped herself with a fine singing voice and the moves to match. The scenes away from the corporate gloss of Kelly's profession, such as the visit to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, are especially potent.
As writer and director, Shana Feste has done fine work. In other hands, Country Strong could have been a cloying lecture about love, music and stardom, but it isn't. Her characters are wisely written; neither virtuous nor outright wrongdoers, they are just careless and passionate people being led astray by their hearts.
REVENGE is a dish served cold, hard and fast in this western-flavoured romp starring The Rock himself, Dwayne Johnson. Faster follows the simple recipe that snarling automobile engines and rock 'n' roll are the only accompaniment needed to watch bad guys get picked off one-by-one by a man back from the dead.
Johnson's character is simply named Driver, the said spirit of vengeance who, on his release from jail, sets about knocking off names on his hitlist. We learn that both he and his brother had been double-crossed following a successful heist, leaving the brother dead and Driver with a bullet in his skull. While Driver exacts his justice on these nasty wrongdoers, he is being tailed by the drug-addled, chain-smoking Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a neurotic and obsessive hitman.
The world created by director George Tillman Jr is dangerous, slick and dog-eat-dog, a modern-day badlands where necks are thicker than craniums, mercy is scarce and sunsets are there to be hastily driven off into. While there are clear flaws -- Killer's character development seems wholly unnecessary, as does Driver's over complicated family history -- Faster works best when it sticks to its gung-ho principles.
Johnson is ideally cast as the stoic, steely Terminator-like antihero. Likewise Thornton, who succeeds in making us and sidekick Carla Gugino feel somehow uneasy about his character's supposed job as a law-enforcer. Skinny, whingey and too "GQ Magazine" to feel threatening, Jackson-Cohen is miscast as a character that Faster could probably have done without in the first place. But all this mightn't get picked up on your radar given the striking car-chase choreography and an overall atmosphere of Mad Max lawlessness.
AT 72, writer-director Jerzy Skolimowski is part of a generation of Poles who has first-hand knowledge of more than just the most recent batch of conflicts and political intrigue, knowledge enough to consider politics "a dirty game". While driving in northern Poland one evening he skidded off the road. Realising he was only 2km from an airfield rumoured to be used by the CIA for rendition flights, a story grew in his mind, if he could skid off the road, so too could a vehicle carrying prisoners.
Essential Killing starts off in a desert in an unspecified country -- probably Afghanistan -- three American soldiers on patrol corner Mohammed (the character is named in the credits but not in the film, Vincent Gallo in brown contact lenses) and he kills them. He in turn is captured, corralled, questioned and stuck on a plane. In transit, in another unnamed but very different country Mohammed is accidentally freed after a traffic accident. His orange jumpsuit offers little in the way of protection from the frigid conditions, and he is torn between different options for survival. But when it comes down to it he is a fighter, flashbacks offer a little insight into how and why, and he does what he deems necessary, to eat and to live.
Rather than engage with the politics Skolimowski uses the situation to look at human nature with no attempt to sway the audience's allegiance.
Gallo's performance is entirely wordless, his face and body deliver all the emotion, and it's a great piece of work, for he moves from prey to predator, with hunger and the need to survive blurring the morality he first based his killing upon.
Not uplifting, it's an interesting human study well executed and delivered, it's also a student's lesson in story slanting, in short, worthy rather than enjoyable.
Opens on Friday
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
SINCE the Chauvet cave was disovered in 1994 more people have been to the top of Everest than have been inside the cavern, so precious are it and its contents deemed to be. Site of the oldest cave paintings ever discovered, Chauvet was locked by a rockslide for some 20,000 years, leaving the art so well preserved as to have been initially thought fake.
But the paintings are at least 32,000 years old and have provided much information not only about the artists' skills but, for instance, proof that the European lion of pre- history did not have a mane, and that horses, woolly mammoths and bison roamed. That the minotaur was by no means a modern idea.
Werner Herzog, a man never daunted by logistics -- a 320-tonne steamship over a hill, anyone? -- was granted unprecedented access by the French authorities to document this amazing place, and Cave of Forgotten Dreams is the result.
Herzog employs that increasingly misused tool 3-D, and shows just how wonderful it can be, showcasing these pieces of art on undulating walls and the caves themselves with their glittering calcite curtains and carpets and ornamental stalactites and mites.
Shot with love, Herzog also collected some very interesting people and viewpoints in his exploration of the theme. However as is so often the case, his passion blurs his vision and art, science and metaphysical musing fuse in what at times becomes just ponderous, with the added irritation of a score of violent violins.
While no-one says what the art was made with, they do shoot off on tangents about the meaning of humanness, is the cave art the beginning of the soul, and albino crocodiles. No Werner, no.
Worth it as a way to see the cave art and er... draw your own conclusions about the cave's role, it does tend to make 95 minutes feel longer than they need to.
Now at the IFI and Cineworld
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