Films featuring
Judi Dench

Skyfall

This movie was a long time coming, in more than one sense of the term. First, the financial woes that plagued MGM held up production for a couple of years. The legendary studio was only a shell of it’s former self, little more than a logo and a name with echoes of Hollywood’s bygone era, but it was unclear if the venerable film series would have to go onto the auction block in order to settle a bankruptcy.

In another sense, Skyfall represents a visual return to the Bond movies of the Connery/Moore era. By the end of this movie, they have ditched the high tech look of M’s office and MI6 headquarters that started with the Brosnan era and brought things full circle.

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J. Edgar

The crimes we are investigating aren't crimes, they are ideas.

Back in 2004, Martin Scorcese released The Aviator, a biopic about a larger-than-life, but enigmatic 20th century figure, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, while that movie was handsomely produced and impeccably acted, it failed to get inside the head of Howard Hughes.

Seven years later, Clint Eastwood releases J. Edgar, a biopic about a larger-than-life, but enigmatic 20th century figure, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, while that movie was handsomely produced and impeccably acted, it failed to get inside the head of J. Edgar Hoover.

Seriously, when major directors are shooting biographical movies about major figures and failing to come to grips with their subject, it appears that their first instinct is to call DiCaprio’s agent.

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Henry V

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Just 29 when he made this, Kenneth Branagh fired a shot across the bow of no less a figure than Laurence Olivier, who had, forty-five years earlier, also directed and starred in his own adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play. Olivier’s version, made in wartime, was intended as a patriotic rallying cry for a weary nation. Branagh’s grittier, more ambiguous version is no less accomplished, although it could stand to be slightly better paced.

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Hamlet

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When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.

One might call this the Spinal Tap adaptation of Shakespeare’s greatest play, because everything about it most definitely goes to eleven. The first film of the unabridged text of Hamlet and the last film shot in seventy millimeter as of today, Kenneth Branagh’s brazenly, foolishly ambitious project will be the shortest four hours you ever spent in front of one movie. A broad cast of both veteran Shakespearean actors and many who you would not expect in this kind of film wring both drama and raw emotion out of words often calcified under the dreary mantle of “literature.”

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Casino Royale

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You can tell right from the start that Casino Royale is cut from a different mold than the previous twenty James Bond films. For one, the pre-credits sequence features a brutal, drawn-out fight scene that is very atypical for the film series, which usually prefers its violence more stylized and sanitized. The credit sequence also breaks with Bond custom, which usually emphasized the female nude in discreet silhouette, this time depicting violence against male figures without a single naked girl in sight.

Daniel Craig’s first outing as Ian Fleming’s classic super-spy feels like they tore down a Trump casino and built an army barracks in its place. Continue reading

Pride & Prejudice

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Jane Austen’s 1813 novel has almost been anointed as the “mother of all romantic comedies.” Certainly, its plot, in which the two protagonists disguise growing affection behind barbed language and outward contempt for each other, is now a well-trod path and was so even in Austen’s day. Lizzie (Keira Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) are very much spiritual descendents of Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

It also has to be one of the most adapted novels in cinema history, with eight film versions, including this one, and three television adaptations. Joe Wright’s 2005 film manages to do a masterful job of compressing the novel’s plot into a reasonable two-hour running time. The movie manages to do justice to the film’s characters, Austen’s language and major themes within the confines of a feature length film.

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