WINDY CITY TIMES
||KNIGHT AT THE MOVIES Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Michael Clayton, Mala Noche DVD
by Richard Knight, Jr.
This article shared 5542 times since Wed Oct 10, 2007
In Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Cate Blanchett continues her thrilling portrayal of England's famed Virgin Queen. For nine long years I've been very bitter about Blanchett being robbed of her Oscar for her first go at Queen Elizabeth I, in Elizabeth. Based on the evidence of her performance in this sequel, however, Blanchett's going to get another chance at Oscar gold.
As the film begins, Elizabeth and her court advisors are dealing with the probability that an attack from Spain, determined to return England to Catholicism, is imminent. Unknown to Elizabeth and her chief advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham ( Geoffrey Rush ) , Spain has found a willing ally in Elizabeth's cousin, Mary of Scotland ( Samantha Morton ) , and many others in the court hierarchy. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has fallen hard for the handsome but impudent seafarer Sir Walter Raleigh ( Clive Owen ) . But she's declared herself married to her throne and won't allow herself the temptation of a physical relationship. There's nothing to stop Elizabeth's closest lady-in-waiting, Bess ( Abbie Cornish ) , from encouraging Raleigh's amorous attentions, however, and a love triangle develops that dovetails with the outbreak of war between Spain and England—signaled by the swelling, blaring music. ( It's an extremely loud movie. )
Elizabeth: The Golden Age is stuffed to the rococo gills with lavish set pieces and epic battle scenes and, though the court intrigue isn't nearly as thrilling as in the first go-round, Walsingham still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve to ferret out the pretenders to the throne. Kapur helps discern the intricacies of the complicated plot through the costumes—the villains all wear black and red, and the good guys appear in shades of blue and green. As war approaches, Elizabeth is shown striding in front of her soldiers dressed in silver armor, looking every inch like Joan of Arc. It's a color-coded epic.
Kapur has given Blanchett a wonderful supporting cast to work with—Rush is marvelous as the conniving Walsingham, Owen is alluring as the bad boy Raleigh and Morton is a great, nasty unrepentant Mary—but it's pretty much her show, and this marvelous actress once again rises to the occasion. Though this stage of the character doesn't have the arc of the original—this Elizabeth is already a woman firmly in command as the film commences—the actress nonetheless finds moments of vulnerability and longing to round out and soften her rousing, tough-as-nails portrayal. When she bellows at the ambassador to Spain, 'I, too have a hurricane in me,' you believe her. Hell hath no fury like this actress in the fullness of her gifts, and it's thrilling moments like these that give Elizabeth: The Golden Age, for all the lush detail and support that Kapur offers, its most memorable moments.
In the highly entertaining corporate thriller Michael Clayton, George Clooney plays the title character, a 'fixer' for a high-end law firm in New York. Clayton's the guy who makes the messy details ( e.g., mistresses or parking tickets ) disappear. Clayton is divorced and broke after investing heavily in a restaurant his ne'er-do-well brother has run into the ground— which keeps him in debt to the firm where he's tired of being the 'go-to guy' for the head attorney ( Sydney Pollack, one of the most natural actors in movies ) . Things come to a head when a class action suit the firm is handling for one of its largest corporate clients goes off the rails as its nearing a settlement. Arthur Edens ( a terrific Tom Wilkinson ) , the brilliant lead attorney from the firm handling the suit, suddenly goes batty and tries to undermine the settlement. Clayton is called to set him straight and regain the confidence of the high-priced client, a maker of agricultural products represented by tough, power-hungry corporate attorney Karen Crowder ( Tilda Swinton ) .
As Clayton attempts to fix the mess, he realizes that there's a good reason why Edens has turned redcoat and an intricate cat-and-mouse plot ensues. Clooney plays a nicely shaded variation on his usual tough guy persona helped immeasurably by writer-director Tony Gilroy's intelligent script. In addition, there's an emotionally satisfying payoff. This is a thriller for adults—smart, stylish and cool— that reaffirms Clooney's star status.
Queer director Gus Van Sant's first feature, 1985's Mala Noche, arrives on DVD this week in a superlative edition from the Criterion Collection. The feature focuses on the unrequited lust of Walt ( Tim Streeter ) , a sardonic liquor store clerk for Johnny, an illegal Mexican immigrant ( Ray Monge ) who makes fun of 'faggots and queers' but is willing to sleep with Walt for $25. But all Walt can scrounge up is $15 so he must make do with Johnny's friend, Pepper ( Doug Cooeyate ) . All the Van Sant signatures are firmly in place in this charming and remorseful debut, and the low-budget movie was shot in murky, grainy black and white, which adds a layer of eroticism to its simple story. ( The film helped usher in queer cinema. ) This director-approved disc has a superb new transfer, a new interview with Van Sant and other special features.
Check out archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter Web site, where there is also ordering information on my book of collected film reviews, Knight at the Movies 2004-2006.
This article shared 5542 times since Wed Oct 10, 2007
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