Sunday, December 13, 2009

Defiance, Inkheart, Stone of Destiny

Defiance starring Liev Schrieber and Daniel Craig, directed by Edward Zwick (2009): This is a very well-intentioned movie about how the Bielski brothers saved hundreds of Eastern European Jews during World War Two by escaping the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 and establishing a community in the forests of Poland and Belorussia. Director and co-writer Zwick previously dealt with a little-known aspect of war in Glory, which focused on the efforts and sacrifices of African-American soldiers in the Civil War.

Here, he gives us Jews killing Nazis and collaborators and, occasionally, one another in what I'm sure some wag somewhere has described as a real-life version of Inglourious Basterds. It's a grim but hopeful film, marred somewhat by a cliched ending and by its own over-length. Things drag quite a bit in the middle, and about 20 minutes of judicious editing could have made this quite a gripping film. Craig and Schrieber are good as the bickering senior Bielski brothers, while Jamie (Billy Elliot) Bell holds up well as the youngest of the brothers.

The Stone of Destiny starring Charlie Cox and Robert Carlisle, written and directed by Charles Martin Smith (2009): Based on a true story, this amiable, well-acted caper comedy about the attempt of four twenty-somethings to steal back Scotland's Stone of Destiny from the British in 1950. The stone is Scotland's long-standing symbol of royalty, which is why the British walked off with it in the 13th century and never gave it back, instead eventually incorporating it into the British Coronation Throne.

Against a backdrop of rising cries for greater Scottish political independence from Great Britain, a group of college students decide to try to do what others have failed at over the centuries -- repatriate the stone, in this case from Westminster Abbey. Various shenanigans ensue, including problems related to sneaking a 600-pound block of sandstone out of Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve. Short (96 minutes) and to the point. Writer/director Smith was Toad in American Graffiti and Farley Mowat in Never Cry Wolf, and parts of the film were worked on in British Columbia.

Inkheart starring Brendan Fraser and Andy Serkis, directed by Iain Softley (2009): Based on a children's series I'd never heard of until the movie came out and dumped somewhat unceremoniously by its studio in the wastelands of February, this movie is a fairly light-hearted fantasy that's much better than I expected it to be. Fraser plays Mort, a 'Silvertongue' who can read characters and objects out of books if he reads them aloud at the price of sometimes sending something from the real world into a book.

Unfortunately, he accidentally released a number of characters from a fantasy novel called Inkheart nine years previous to the events of the movie, also trapping his wife inside the novel, leaving him to raise their daughter alone. Inkheart is so out of print that he's spent nine years trying to find another copy while the villains, led by Andy Serkis's Capricorn, have been enjoying crime in the real world, and Paul Bettany's somewhat cowardly, fire-starting juggler has been trying to track down Mort with the aid of a highly intelligent ferret to get both of them back into the book.

Various shenanigans ensue in this surprisingly low-key and relatively intelligent movie, as various creatures from mythology and stories (including Toto, the Minotaur and the crocodile from Peter Pan) try to help or hinder Mort in his quest to save his wife and stop Capricorn from releasing the Big Bad of the world of Inkheart, The Shadow, into our world. Not a great movie, but diverting and fairly well-acted by Serkis, Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent as the reclusive author of Inkheart.

No comments:

Post a Comment