Editor's note: Newer readers of this blog may not know that from 1997 to 2005, I reviewed movies online. After starting with the now-defunct Virtual Urth, I started my own site in 2000 and then teamed up with then-fellow-Online Film Critics Society member Gabriel Shanks to form Mixed Reviews, the archive of which is still online here. Periodically we'd get together for a movie, then get together at the nearest diner or coffee bar to talk about the movie. These days this is at best a once-a-year event, and this week we took in The King's Speech at the Edgewater (NJ) Multiplex, followed by coffee, tea, and scones at Panera Bread.
JILL: It is Tuesday, December 28, and this is our first of what used to be Critics over Coffee (well, ONE of us having coffee) --
GABRIEL: Right. Now we're older, so only one of us is having coffee so now it's Critics Over Tea.
JILL: Old Farts over Tea.
GABRIEL: Do Brilliant at Breakfast readers know the history?
JILL: Do you want to give an intro?
GABRIEL: Well, before she was the Web's most vitriolic political blogger, Jill was a film reviewer...
JILL: Now I think of myself as a ranteuse.
GABRUEL: -- ...at Cozzi Fan Tutti and then at MixedReviews.net, where we started this series and it's actually old home week, because I don't know if your readers know, but we used to be part of a group called Cinemarati, which was a Web critics' alliance and it went out of business, but recently, someone formed a Facebook group, and so all these Web critics from ten years ago are finding each other again, and it's kind of Old Home Week. So now we have this Critics over Coffee where you and I would go see a movie and then complain about it bitterly, usually, and now after two years we've seen a movie together again. So we get to do this. And we've just seen The King's Speech, the incredibly Oscar®-baity film by Tom Hooper.
JILL: Whom I believe is a first-time movie director.
GABRIEL: It stars an entire rogue's gallery of Masterpiece Theatre for the 21st century.
JILL: Yes, everybody who isn't doing Harry Potter is in this movie.
GABRIEL: Except Michael Gambon, who seems to be in both. But it's got Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, that actress playing the mother who we both know but can't remember her name [LATER NOTE: Claire Bloom], and Timothy Spall, who is playing Churchill and holding his face in a very Churchillian way. So what did you think of it?
JILL: Well, aside from the fact that it's not a Renaissance-era costume picture, and that I'm not really an Anglophile of that particular period, I thought it was more engaging than I expected it to be.
GABRIEL: It's a crowd-pleaser, for sure.
JILL: I think the script is clever; I'm not sure it's quite as clever as it seems, or if Geoffrey Rush is just that good.
GABRIEL: I certainly felt that way. I felt that the screenplay was good, made better by the acting of the ensemble. It's pretty conventional, it's the triumph-over-adversity -- King George VI stutters and enlists a speech therapist to help him, and surprise, surprise -- he gets over the stutter.
JILL: And the speech therapist is very unorthodox and witty --
GABRIEL: I guess I should say "spoiler alert" before that, but really, if you're going to this movie --
JILL: The history is out there, and if you consult Teh Google, you'll know the story.
JILL: So, there's elements of a lot of movies in this. It's very thematic, very conventional -- the troubled man and the loyal woman who stands next to him...and this is a nice change for Helena Bonham Carter, getting away from the Goth Grrl thing that she seems to be doing in her middle age. I think this movie will do very well because there isn't a woman in America that isn't madly in love with Colin Firth. And his Colin Firthiness is on full display in this movie in that he manages to do the tortured, brooding English male without being the archetypal scrawny, pathetic, brooding English male.
GABRIEL: Well, on the Colin Firth score, it's such a companion piece to A Single Man last year; both of which are kind of "tuxedo porn". Colin Firth wearing suits is better than most men naked. He wears incredibly tailored tuxes and suits in this, and he looks great. The movie looks great. The whole thing has a sort of blue vintage filter on the lens so it feels "important". It has all this Oscar-baity stuff that you wnat from a British costume drama, especially a British historical drama. It looks rich. It's a satisfying experience for a matinee. You're going to get a story. It's not a story that's going to throw you a lot of curve balls, you have a protagonist you can pull for, and it's not so rigid in its form, thanks to the acting ensemble, that you become completely irritated by the clichés. There's a lot of clichés in the filmmaking, but as opposed to something like The Fire where it's so derivative that it just reeks of cliché and convention, this has an acting ensemble that is surprising, that is continuing to keep you in the moment.
JILL: Well, it's very familiar. There are strong elements of My Fair Lady to this, only in reverse. You have this very conventional, rigid man and this unconventional therapist. And the unconventional therapist is a theme that repeats in movie after movie. The sports movie equivalent is obviously Rocky --
GABRIEL: The disability movie....
JILL: Right. But the other thing that makes this Oscar-baity for Colin Firth, is that -- and this is interesting that this time it's Geoffrey Rush playing the one without the disablity -- that if you want to win the Oscar®, and Colin Firth has done so much good work for so long, some of it in dreadful movies, that finally, it seems as if he said "Oh, the hell with it. Let's do the disability movie and get the damn statue already.
GABRIEL: Yeah. I think in terms of the Oscar race, it will be hard to fight the fact that he is good in this movie, and that he has a track record of being good in a lot of movies. He's very rarely bad, and I believe that Hollywood probably thinks he's due, in a way that James Franco, say, in 127 Hours, is not yet due.
JILL: And besides, Franco is hosting.
GABRIEL: You think about Jeff Bridges coming out of nowhere last year for Crazy Heart -- a lot of that was fueled by the sense that the Oscar has become something that is bestowed on a career, rather than an award for a particular performance. And in that regard I think that helps Colin Firth a lot, because he is probably one of the few -- five or six actors -- who have never won but probably should have by now.
JILL: What I liked about this movie almost more than anything else was -- and I'm not sure if this is just what is happening to Geoffrey Rush's face of if this is done with lenses, but they made him look like a cartoon character. Every line in his face seems to be deeper, and he's sort of bug-eyed, and he has that interesting marcel wave in his hair. But in every shot, he looks like a cartoon, and that helps to lighten the proceedings. Because otherwise it could be somewhat ponderous for all that it's interesting to see -- I guess today, with British royalty being more on the table in terms of what the family's neurosis is, but to see this man's serious issues with his father and his brother, all the issues in this family -- this is a side of this family that we have not seen before, in that we all know about the abdication, but I don't think many people are aware of just how much of a role of Designated Family Shithead this man had to bear, for all that at the end, and in the movie we find out, and the father says this, that he has more guts than any of the other brothers.
GABRIEL: Yes, And the parents are definitely hard on him in a way that they aren't hard on the other children. But it's a movie about people who have expectations and either meet them or don't. I think Guy Pearce's performance as Edward VIII is certainly interesting in that regard, ans so is Geoffrey Rush's, who has the expectations of an entire nation on his ability to do this particular job, and without giving away too many plot points, there are some interesting revelations about Geoffrey Rush's character that play into that. One of the things that the movie doesn't do very well, which I would have enjoyed, is having a discussion of class. Lionel Logue is not only not nobility, or landed gentry, he is working class and he's also Australian, both of which are Very Big Deals that the movie brushes past in the story. But certainly a commoner being invited into the inner circle of the king could be a fascinating story in itself. You get a great scene, with -- is it Jennifer Ehle playing his wife? I think it is; her hair threw me off, she usually has this HAIR and it's very compacted in this movie -- that great scene with her where she realizes who her husband's client is, and you get this brief brush of the way you treat royalty vs. the way you treat "regular people". And I would have enjoyed seeing more of the difficulties of that divide.
JILL: Unfortunately, that's a different movie that would have required more than the hour and a half that this movie runs. I'm not sure there's a lot to say about it. It's entertaining, it's well-cast, it's an engaging afternoon at the movie. Given the quality of many of the movies that have come out this year, I think it's about all you can ask. As we head into the end of the year, into Oscar® season -- it used to be a big deal for us, to me it's almost insignificant now -- because the only other movie I've seen in a theatre is The Social Network, which I thought was terrific, whether or not it's the true story of Facebook.
GABRIEL: I thought The Social Network was a good movie, I think it's a bit overpraised, just because it's so of the moment and au courant, that I think it has captured the zeitgeist in a way it doesn't deserve. But the performances are good. But I'm with you -- stepping away from blogging, not blogging for Modern Fabulousity anymore, not blogging for Mixed Reviews anymore...I think Oscar® has a more healthy place in my life than it used to have. I 'm not quite as furious this time of year to see all the releases and gauge them against one another. But I saw The Social Network last fall and I thought it was a good film, hoped it would be better, I have seen better. I think The King's Speech is award-worthy for some of its performances but I'm not sure I think it's award-worthy in the Best Picture category. But I do think there have been some films you should see this year. Luckily some of them are playing on instant Netflix and On-Demand right now, so we're in a good place for that.
It's been a good year for documentaries. I liked Exit Through the Gift Shop very much, I liked Client 9 very much, I enjoyed Restrepo very much. Even some films that aren't going to be nominated, like Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work was kind of fascinating in some way. But I see many fewer movies than I used to and I'm excitedly happy about that.
Next up: Jill and Gabriel talk about some of the quality television that's out there right now, the future of film criticism in the context of social network, about blogging, and where in the political system is there a place for progressives to go.