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Review: Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Fred Claus, The Golden Door and Mr. Brooks

By Cinema, Reviews

Elizabeth The Golden age posterAbout a third of the way through Elizabeth The Golden Age, hand­some pir­ate Walter Raleigh arrives at Court bring­ing his Queen gifts from the New World: pota­toes in a box of soil and tobacco (bring­ing to mind that won­der­ful Bob Newhart routine: “Then what do you do, Walt? ha! ha! ha!… You set fire to it!”) But what Raleigh (played by Clive Owen with an old-fashioned movie star cool that he has­n’t mustered before) is really offer­ing Elizabeth is the future; a future of gun­powder, inter­na­tion­al trade, sci­ence and empire. And for anoth­er 400 years Britannia will rule the waves.

Unlike some, I can­’t com­ment too much on the his­tor­ic­al accur­acy of the film – it seemed pretty close to how I remem­ber study­ing it as an eight year old – but abso­lute accur­acy does­n’t seem to be the point. The por­trait of a woman who has to become an icon (super-human and at the same time less than human) in order to pre­serve her people is ripe for a melo­dra­mat­ic Hollywood telling and dir­ect­or Shekhar Kapur and star Cate Blanchett don’t let us down.

This film is a sequel, of course, to the remark­ably suc­cess­ful Elizabeth that launched Blanchett nearly ten years ago. That suc­cess means a big­ger budget this time around – hun­dreds more extras, flash­er sets and a rip-roaring mari­time set-piece – but it is the supremely con­trolled Blanchett that dom­in­ates. As we rejoin the story her pos­i­tion is still insec­ure: chal­lenged from the North by half-sister Mary Queen of Scots and from the South by Philip of Spain, the tussle is between Catholic super­sti­tion (and medi­ev­al bru­tal­ity) and the enlightened reli­gious tol­er­ance that would allow an Empire to flour­ish. No won­der some Catholics aren’t happy with this ver­sion of history…

Fred Claus posterFingers crossed that this year we’ll only get one fat, jolly, red-faced Santa movie after last year’s woe­ful bunch: but if we have to have one I’m pleased to report that Fred Claus isn’t too embar­rass­ing. A fine cast, includ­ing Kevin Spacey and Miranda Richardson, have been gathered to tell the story of Santa’s big broth­er (Vince Vaughan) who left home in a sulk many years ago and is now a cyn­ic­al repo man in Chicago.

Meanwhile Santa (Paul Giamatti) is stressed out as more and more kids are ask­ing for more and more presents (not like the old days when one present per kid was enough). When Fred needs to be bailed out of chokey, Santa sees a chance to bring the fam­ily back togeth­er and get some extra help at the North Pole. The tone of the film is pretty ran­dom and the humour is hit and miss but Giamatti’s per­form­ance as Santa is so fine that, if he rolled it out in any oth­er film, we’d be talk­ing about award nom­in­a­tions. Seriously.

Golden Door posterDiaspora and mass dis­lo­ca­tion is the great story of the mod­ern age – from the Irish flee­ing the potato fam­ine to the mil­lions in Africa dis­placed by war or gen­o­cide. It’s no pic­nic abandon­ing your home and everything you know for the hint of a bet­ter life – ask your taxi driver – and Emanuele Crialese’s Golden Door plays as a worthy trib­ute to all those who have ever taken that risk. His film fol­lows a turn of the (last) cen­tury Sicilian fam­ily escap­ing the grind­ing poverty of their island in the hope of get­ting to Walter Raleigh’s New World where money grows on trees and there are rivers of milk. Once there, they exchange one island for anoth­er (Ellis) where they are prod­ded and tested before being found worthy of America. Crialese’s eye for an arrest­ing image and a lovely per­form­ance from lead Vincenzo Amato make Golden Door one of the unsung art-house films of the year.

Mr Brooks posterMr. Brooks is an odd fish – the film and the char­ac­ter. Kevin Costner plays suc­cess­ful self-made busi­ness­man Earl Brooks; he’s Portland’s Man of the Year but he has a secret. Not only is he a demen­ted serial-killer but he has an ima­gin­ary friend (William Hurt) who sits in the back seat of his car get­ting him in to trouble so its a bit like a grown-up ver­sion of Drop Dead Fred. Costner’s tend­ency to under­play everything means we nev­er get a real sense of the tor­ment under the button-down façade but at least he is con­sist­ently inter­est­ing, unlike the sub-plot involving the cop chas­ing him (Demi Moore) and her divorce.

For space reas­ons, only the Elizabeth seg­ment of this review was prin­ted in the Capital Times, Wednesday 21 November, 2007. For some reas­on they then prin­ted a ver­sion of it again in the Films of the Week sec­tion at the back of the book, instead of some more of my gor­geous prose. I love them like fam­ily, and am intensely grate­ful for the oppor­tun­ity to do this in front of an audi­ence, but would like to point out that I don’t have any­thing to do with the strangely edited  “Films of the Week” apart from provid­ing the raw material.