Today will be London Film Festival Blog lite. It was a Sunday, and while I did attend two screenings, I tried my best to take it easy — there’s a very busy week, packed full of movies, starting tomorrow.

First up was a press screening for the Sunday evening gala, Coriolanus, the directorial debut from the legendary Ralph Fiennes. As seems to be the case with all galas, the press version gets underway at 9.15am, meaning we have to turn up around 8.30am to be guaranteed a place. Today, however, was unexpectedly different. I got on the tube at my usual 7.45am — having completely forgotten that it was Sunday and that there was no rush hour — and when I arrived there were only a handful of people outside the Odeon West End.

Turns out that Coriolanus clashed with the first press screening of The Adventures of Tintin, Spielberg’s new motion-capture update of the classic comic book. Most people had ventured to the latter, and while the turnout was still healthy for the former, there were plenty of empty seats. On with the review…

Coriolanus (dir. Ralph Fiennes)

A modernised adaptation of the overlooked Shakespeare play, Coriolanus boasts some strong acting and a few hair-raising moments. It’s clearly Fiennes’ film; he is absolutely brilliant as the headstrong and volatile Martius Coriolanus, warrior and defender of Rome but no friend of the city’s people. His direction is also fairly good, but it suffers from a few setbacks: initially, the film is never rooted in one setting; at times it appears to be set in the Italian Capital, at other times it’s all over the place — they’d have done better to make a firm decision and to update the setting along with the context.

The film follows the battle between Martius and rebel opposition leader, Aufidius, played by Gerard Butler. Casting the bearded Butler in a Shakespeare adaptation always seemed like a strange move and unfortunately there is no miraculous turnup — he spits out his lines, which are all unaltered fron the original text, as if they were hieroglyphics. It’s not his fault though; he’s just miscast.

Jessica Chastain, Brian Cox, James Nesbitt and Vanessa Redgrave make up the supporting cast and they are all superb — there is, however, a noticeably eclectic mix of accents, once again detracting from the spectacle.

The above may not seem crippling, but the main issue with Coriolanus is something far more of a potential hinderance to its success — who’s going to watch it? It’s extremely loud and bloody, which is likely to put off most Shakespeare fans, and it’s Shakespeare, which is likely to put off most non-Shakespeare fans.

One aspect of it that does work surprisingly well is the modern context. The guns-for-swords change is seamless and there are a few nice touches, e.g. when newsreader Jon Snow comes on TV to report on affairs in fluid thespian verse. Remarkably, Shakespeare’s play still seems as culturally relevant today as it must have done when he first wrote it, a testament to the timelessness of his work.

Coriolanus is a strange vessel. Intense and upbeat in the first half, and at times in the second, the film shines when Fiennes’ presence overpowers the screen. There is however, a distinct lack of audience potential. Considering it’s far from a perfect film, especially in the latter half, I worry that it’ll fail to find a niche.

Upon leaving the cinema I was bought a coffee by the editor of EatSleepLiveFilm.com — a lovely chap who runs a cracking website. Afterwards, I made my way to my temporary residence to catch up on some work (including our latest competition; check it out!).

It was a good while later that I emerged for my evening film, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. Early in the week I’d missed the press screening of this film (I was back in the Midlands covering the Nottingham Beer Festival) so I had requested a public ticket, which I was granted.

Recently I have become an intrigued and newly-fledged Takashi Miike fan. The brilliant Ichi The Killer had whetted my aptetite in particular, and I was highly looking forward to Hara-Kiri, his latest outing. The film was in Vue Leicester Square, which is not a bad cinema at all. They made us queue all the way outside (ridiculous considering we had assigned seats) but we filtered in with plenty of time for it to begin. Did I mention that it’s in 3D..?

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (dir. Takashi Miike)

Bluntly putting it, Hara-Kiri was a disappointment. The narrative is unimmersive and badly paced, relying heavily on flashbacks to map out its story. The characters are well written but are used to play out a plot that feels almost completely empty. It’s a cynical commentary on the way of the Japanese warrior, in particular Seppuku, the art of taking your own life to save honour; on the surface it seems interesting, but it wears thin pretty quickly. If anything, Hara-Kiri needed more sword fighting, even if it wasn’t trying to be that kind of Samurai film. It isn’t Rashomon; it isn’t 13 Assassins. It falls into the grey area between those two types of films, resulting in a viewing experience that is neither intriguing nor entertaining.

I also have to talk about the 3D; there’s just no avoiding it. To my shock, one thing did work — the subtitles. Finally we may have found an appropriate use for 3D. Subtitling works when there’s depth to the image; it feels separate rather than plastered on top. The rest of the film, however, is completely brutalised by the use of 3D. The entire piece is overly dark and lacking in any real vibrancy — a couple of shots of flowers are pleasing on the eye but they feel like demos, pointless in the grand scheme of things.

Hara-Kiri is not a total disaster, and while it may well appeal to others more than to me, I was left feeling very dissatisfied.

That wraps up Sunday. Tomorrow, barring any problems, I will be seeing four films including the much-talked-about We Need to Talk About Kevin. Check back then for a hopefully meaty blog (I promise to include some original pictures).

Tom Grater

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