The Green Mile

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.

Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) was the head prison officer at Cold Mountain Penitentiary’s Death Row, known as the Green Mile, in 1935. Along with having a crippling urinary infection, Paul and his team of good men must also deal with their snivelling bastard of a colleague Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), the governor’s wife’s only nephew, and the various inmates that come through their doors on the way to the execution chair. The most recent of whom, John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), is a towering, muscle-bound mountain of a man, but with a simple, child-like mind, and something a little special about him that makes Paul doubt whether Coffey has any cause to be on the Mile at all.
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The Queen

Well it’s a bank holiday this weekend over here in Blighty, because our reigning monarch has succeeded in not dying for 60 years on the throne, and doesn’t deem any of her offspring worthy enough to take her crown whilst she has enough life in her hands to grip onto it, so what better way of celebrating than by watching The Queen?
Diana, Princess of Wales, divorced wife of the Queen Elizabeth II’s son Prince Charles and mother of her grandchildren Princes William and Harry, is killed in a car accident in August, 1997, causing uproar throughout the UK, not least for the royal family and the recently elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). In the aftermath, the royal family take a period of mourning in their Scottish residence, whilst Blair remains in London to almost take advantage of the situation.

First off, the performances in this film are mostly excellent. There was never any doubt that Helen Mirren would make a perfect choice as QE2 (the monarch, not the boat), and she gives a repressed, buttoned down portrayal of a woman few know personally. Sheen, too, is at his best when playing a real person (see also The Damned United, Frost Vs. Nixon, half of his CV) and James Cromwell is good as the Queen’s cantankerous husband Prince Philip. It is only really Alex Jennings as Charles who goes too far. The rest of the cast limit how much of an impersonation they are making of their subjects, whereas Jennings tries too hard to mimic Charles’ more exaggerated mannerisms and persona already expanded upon in the media, as though he’s performing a sketch show impression rather than showing just enough for us to know who he is.
This is the kind of film that lives and dies by it’s script. The West Wing covered a similar theme on a weekly basis, and succeeded not just because of the stellar cast and direction, but mainly due to Aaron Sorkin’s masterful way with words. Here we have a good cast and a slightly above average director in Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons), but the script is written by Peter Morgan, whose CV is littered with other mediocre biographies lifted only by acting talents (The Last King of Scotland). Had this film had a punchier script, with some rat-a-tat dialogue and an entertaining turn of phrase, it’d be a much better piece. As it is, the story isn’t terrible, but it is largely forgettable.
Being English, you’d think I’d be well versed in the goings on around such a recent major occurrence, even if I was only 10 at the time, but alas I’ve never known an awful lot about the events both before and after Diana’s death. Much that occurs in the film came as a surprise to me. I’d obviously heard of Diana, dubbed the People’s Princess by Blair, but knew very little of her exploits or the reasonings behind her tabloid headlines. I’ve never paid much attention to the royal family, to be honest. It’s not that I’m anti-monarchy, it’s just that I really don’t care about them. The most I’ve seen of the jubilee celebrations was some highlights I caught whilst channel surfing this evening, and were we not having family over to visit I’m sure I’d have been writing posts or watching something off the List, so would have missed it completely. This film has done little to nothing to increase my interest in the royals, though it has provided an insight behind the closed doors of their world.
The movie seems to take a fairly pro-Blair stance, as he seems to be the most considerate character in the film, especially when compared to his far more callous spin doctor Alastair Campbell (Mark Bazeley). The relationship between the Queen and Blair is nicely played out – she kicks off his first day in power by reminding him that he is her 10th Prime Minister, with the first one being Winston Churchill, so he has a fair amount to live up to. There are some nice comedic touches – in her death, Diana is still proving an annoyance to the royals, including the Queen Mother (Sylvia Syms, Helena Bonham Carter’s character in The King’s Speech), whose funeral arrangements Diana has pilfered. It’s very bizarre to see the Queen calling someone Mummy, and even more so to see this usually confident figure spending much of the film deliberating and worrying, as she finds herself in the middle of a major royal event with complete and utter media coverage.
Not much of the film has stayed with me after watching, other than Mirren performance, which is especially spot on during the Queen’s address. I’ve had a little royal history filled in for me, but it was never anything I really cared about anyway.
Choose life 6/10

L.A. Confidential

In 1950s Los Angeles, mob boss Mickey Cohen has been put away, and rival crime factions are warring for his place. Against this backdrop, three very different cops are following three very different cases; brutish Bud White (Russell Crowe) despises wife beaters and is more than willing to frame a suspect in the name of justice as he works as hardman for James Cromwell’s kindly police chief. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the straight-laced, ambitious son of a deceased police hero, investigating a multiple homicide at greasy spoon the Nite Owl, whilst Kevin Spacey’s smooth headline-hunting NARC Jack Vincennes traces a lead found on a drugs bust, uncovering a ring of hookers cut to look like movie stars. Throw into the mix Danny DeVito’s sleazy journo, David Straithairn’s oily businessman and Kim Basinger’s high class whore with a strong resemblance to Veronica Lake and you’ve got a top notch cast all bringing their A-game in a stunning film with tight script and direction. Spacey especially is sublime, stealing every scene in a movie full of memorable ones. The little moments are the finishing touches – Exley removing his oversized glasses and pouting for a photographer, Vincennes bumping into a man he put away on the set of TV show Badge of Honor where he acts as technical adviser, but the big scenes – the masterful interrogation of 3 suspects, several showdowns and a final act with all guns blazing are the parts best remembered. Credit of the month: Ginger Slaughter.

Choose film 10/10

The Artist

That’s right! I’ve been to the cinema twice in 5 days! Haven’t done that since I was single! Anyway, I managed to convince Aisha to come with me to see the Artist, the modern made silent film about the birth of the ‘talkies’, currently bothering awards ceremonies and set to win big at the Oscars next month. The film was excellent; it didn’t overplay the silent gimmick, even using it for some well timed and perfectly executed comic beats, and the performances were flawless, especially from leads Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, and the adorable dog Uggie.
The plot was a tad predictable, concerning Dujardin’s silent movie star losing his way amid the encroaching sound-laden future, whilst Bejo’s struggling extra finds spoken dialogue could lead to a promising career, but then the plots of silent movies often were, especially by today’s standards, where 99% of stories are entirely made from previous pictures. The supporting cast of well known or know-the-face actors, including John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle and Malcolm MacDowell, was a little off putting, as many had wordless roles I was waiting to crop up again, but other than that this was a near perfect film that’s my current frontrunner for best picture.

Choose film 9/10
 

Babe

The film that made James Cromwell a perfect secret bad guy (see L.A. Confidential) and converting many meat eaters into vegetarians after seeing the consequences of the odd sausage roll, Babe tells the story of a pig, won by a farmer at a country fair, who learns to become a sheep-pig after being adopted by the farmers dogs. As a child, I remember greatly enjoying this film, especially the exploits of clumsy, prophetic duck Ferdinand who has aspirations of becoming a rooster to prevent being cooked in an orange sauce, but now I just find the whole thing tiresome. Especially the mice. What is the deal with the singing mice? I’m guessing they were probably used to introduce the various chapters in Rudyard Kipling’s book, but having them occasionally pop up and sing the chapter title, even though it’s written on the screen directly above them, just seems silly, and I’m sure they’re too small in comparison to the rest of the animals. If they were the inspiration behind the recent films of Alvin and the Chipmunks then woe betide anyone with a hand in bringing them onto the screen.
Choose life 5/10