Kevin Reynolds was a big deal at exactly the same time Kevin Costner was a bankable lead, directing or helping Costner out in massive budget fare like Dances With Wolves and Robin Hood (they fell out over Waterworld, with Reynolds remarking that Costner “should only act in movies he directs. That way, he can work with his favorite actor and director”). It’s been a decade since Reynolds last helmed a Hollywood feature, but with Risen, he manages several minor victories that amount to a pretty compelling religious/historical procedural.
Jesus is on the cross and Pontius Pilate’s right-hand tribune, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is dispatched to hurry the process and smooth out the disposal of the body. When that body disappears, due it seems to the drunken inattention of Clavius’ guards, the politics of the situation (a pressed Pilate, furious Pharisees) finds Clavius embarking on an investigation and a manhunt for the apostles. In an era when big budgets and sweep are expected in “mere” television (see Game of Thrones), Reynolds does a nice job of minimizing the scope of the film while projecting authenticity. Shot on location in Malta and Spain for $20 million, the picture looks right.
Reynolds also effectively communicates the religious message (the previews for Risen include numerous films that share a common Christian theme that God is here, with us, saving kids from illnesses, showing them heaven, etc.) Naturally, Clavius has his own religious conversion, but it is not a momentous, eyes-shimmering thing. Fiennes is understated and quite moving as he grapples with what he cannot believe. While the end is anticlimactic (Jesus appears to his disciples and then he’s off), it had to be, unless we were going to follow those apostles to their eventual, gruesome ends (11 of the 12 died ugly; only John died of natural causes).
It’s not perfect. The script is a little thin and the one battle scene between the Romans and the Zealots feels tiny, but all-in-all, this is a game effort.
A taut and frightening blend of Misery, Room and War of the Worlds, this is great fun, made even more memorable by John Goodman’s “is he crazy or is the most sane man in the world?” performance. A plot synopsis would drain too much fun from the whole endeavor. Enjoy.
David O. Russell’s American Hustle was an over-heralded, stream-of-consciousness mess, but it was nominated for Best Picture, and I was a huge fan of Silver Linings Playbook, so the watching of Joy was obligatory. It was not an altogether unpleasant experience given Russell’s command of the camera and his early sense of pace. Russell briskly lntroduces us to Joy Mangano, a little girl and then a young woman destined for great things, if only she weren’t consistently thwarted by her lunatic family, a coterie of misfits and weirdos so peculiar they veer into Tim Burton territory. Still, with her one big idea – a self-wringing mop – she perseveres to become queen of The Home Shopping Network, though her journey is an exhausting “one step forward, two steps back” ordeal so arduous, even Jennifer Lawrence’s pluck and a kick ass Rolling Stones song (“Stray Cat Blues”) can’t make the resolution tolerable. One gets the sense Russell knows his audience is bored, because he appears to get bored, veering off into a resolution so off-kilter (Lawrence faces down her business foe in Texas, cutting her hair and donning leather, after reviewing some documents in a “Voila!” moment) it is laugh out loud funny.
Semi-compelling in its melding of the English countryside circa 1812 and brain-eating undead, this film has its moments. In particular, Matthew Smith (an old Dr. Who) as Parson Collins and Lena Headey (Ceirse Lannister in Game of Thrones) as Lady Catherine de Bourgh get the joke, stealing every scene they are in with wink and nod mugging that acknowledges the levity of this venture. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast actually seems to be struggling with the delivery of Jane Austen in the middle of a zombie outbreak and choose to treat the latter as a catastrophe that demands some degree of solemnity. Worse, director Burr Steers finds it necessary to inject the tiresome physicality of a kung-fu movie, which is one ingredient too many for the stew. Still, this is pretty decent fun.
And those stars go to Alfred Hitchcock’s deft hand and Cary Grant’s irrepressible charm. Grant plays a society cad who gloms on to spinster Joan Fontaine, who impulsively marries him out of rebellion and passion. She soon learn Grant, charming though he may be, is a liar, a thief and a lay-about gambler, and his debts may be propelling him to more capital crimes. The essential tension, however, is wasted. The deck is so stacked against Grant that when he professes “it was all a misunderstanding”, you’re left disappointed at the expenditure of time and contemptuous of Fontaine, who just seems like a ninny. If Grant could not commit the capital crime, the studio sure did by insisting their star male lead could not play a wife murderer.
The film was nominated for Best Picture, Fontaine won Best Actress for her very delicate, frail but stagey performance which does not travel, and in an interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock summed it up when he reported the actions of a producer who initially took every scene out that indicated Grant was a murderer, leaving a 55 minute product.
Anyone interested in Truffaut’s interviews with Hitchcock, enjoy.