Coriolanus, although beloved of many a hardcore Shakespearean, is also fodder for the theory that Shakespeare wrote vaguely Oedipal, slightly homoerotic potboilers. Beautifully written potboilers, of course. Having had great success with it on stage, Ralph Fiennes has chosen Coriolanus to make his screen directorial debut.
He plays General Caius Martius who is rewarded with the name Coriolanus to mark one of his great victories against the rebel Volscians led by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). With the title goes a political role that he neither wants nor is suited to, for Coriolanus harbours much distaste for the proles. But this is something his glory-mad mother (Vanessa Redgrave) has dreamt of, reared him for.
However, times are bad in Rome with the rich prospering and the rest poor. Led by Sicinius (James Nesbitt) and Brutus (Paul Jesson) they oust Coriolanus. He goes in to exile, abandoning his son and wife (Jessica Chastain), where he gets into cahoots with none other than Aufidius and the Volscian rebels.
Set in modern times and shot in Belgrade it has a Balkan feel although the uniforms look American. The screenplay is adapted by John Logan with CNN-style news bulletins (Jon Snow in rhyming couplets) and ticker tapes acting as a sort of narration.
It's particularly bleak and Fiennes, who plays his role with spit and passion, does a great job with that most unlikeable, yet oddly comprehensible, character. Redgrave is in her element and indeed the whole cast, even Gerard Butler, acquit themselves well. Arguably a little long at 122 minutes, it's a good job but will appeal mostly to hardcore Shakespeareans.
Opens on Friday
Since his mesmerising turn as Bobby Sands in 2008's Hunger, Hiberno-Saxon Michael Fassbender has seemed unable to put a foot wrong. Killarney's man-of-the-moment had a stellar 2011, while this year opens with three Fassbender films in its opening 40 days alone. One of them in particular is destined to stand out for allowing his considerable thespian muscle to flex freely in what is a frame-devouring central role.
Reunited with Hunger director Steve McQueen, Fassbender plays Irish-born New Yorker Brandon Sullivan. A sex addict, Brandon's life is comprised solely of a respectable professional facade and empty, after-hours debauchery in Manhattan's seedy haunts. This lifestyle, so meticulously developed by the protagonist, is up-ended by the arrival at his doorstep of unstable sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan).
Shame is more than just a study on sex addiction itself. McQueen slides the camera back to take in a view of soulless, anonymous life in a yawning, modern metropolis. Protracted scenes show Brandon jogging cathartically through the streets, taking a leak or cruising for smut with cold determination. A sense of emotional dread persists -- this can only end in tears.
Fassbender gives an extraordinarily brave, full-frontal performance that could see the Kerryman pillaging this awards season.
Unforgettable as it is, Shame isn't an entirely loveable movie. Like Brandon, it can feel icy and detached, while McQueen occasionally overstays his welcome at certain junctures in the plot (Mulligan's singing number is an example). National pride is at a premium these days, however, so let's just hope we hear no such complaints from Fassbender's mantelpiece come March.
Inside Job, Charles Ferguson's sobering documentary on the epicentre of this current financial crisis, was an example of cinema's potential for insightful social commentary. Margin Call takes a different, more elusive approach to the same subject, dramatising the house of cards' collapse within the microcosm of a New York trading firm.
We're not entirely sure what's going on at the start. Number cruncher Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) watches from his desk as various colleagues are pulled aside and systematically fired. Among them is his boss Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), a risk manager, who hands Peter a memory stick before he is escorted out of the office. Contained on it, it transpires, is evidence that trading volatility levels are about to go through the roof. In other words, the party's over.
Told over the course of 36 hours, we watch as company heads frantically try to contain the damage that is about to ensue. Getting all the best lines and transmuting the mucky amorality of Wall Street is Jeremy Irons's CEO, who spars excellently with Kevin Spacey's beleaguered head of sales. Elsewhere, Demi Moore and Paul Bettany deliver less spectacular supporting turns.
In its opening 40 minutes, Margin Call is perhaps guilty of overdoing it in its attempts to make things exciting and sexy. The whole is definitely anchored by Irons's arrival for the much better second half where, crucially, the effect on the lives of these company minions is communicated more directly. Such people may be widely vilified these days but, unlike Inside Job, Margin Call reminds us they were only human after all.
Is oestrogen the new testosterone? It remains to be seen whether the world is ready for an oestrogen-charged thriller (as opposed to a testosterone-charged one), but anyone fortunate enough to witness Gina Carana's scintillating performance in Stephen Soderbergh's Haywire, will be left in little doubt that such a spectacle has arrived.
Combining a sprint action that would give Usain Bolt a run for his money with a flair for espionage that out-Bonds James Bond, with this ass-kicking performance, MMA (mixed martial arts) idol Carana propels the concept of what we understand as girl power to the ultimate level.
In a stellar cast that also features Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender, Carana is Mallory Kane, an ace Marine-trained covert operative who becomes embroiled in a global conspiracy that involves the rescue of a kidnapped Chinese dissident in Barcelona.
The narrative is conveyed in flashbacks, but we know something has gone wrong by the dramatic manner in which Mallory is obliged to knock seven shades of shinola out of fellow operative Channing Tatum during the breathtaking opening scenes.
It sets the tone for much of what is to follow and kick-starts an adrenaline-rich thrill-ride in which the streets of Dublin figure prominently and memorably.
The action culminates in Majorca where those who would seek to eliminate this one-woman weapon of mass-destruction are given their final comeuppance.
January is a little bit early to be talking about films of the year but it's difficult to imagine Haywire being bettered in terms of all-round entertainment value.
Fassbender delivers his customary stand-out performance but there's an undeniable star-is-born quality to Carana's turn.
As comfortable packing a punch as she is a punchline, Carana brings a pulsating athleticism to the fight scenes, foot rushes and car chases that is consistently awesome. I think I'm in love. You will be too. Prepare to be wowed.
Opens on Friday
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