Tag Archives: Jeremy Irons

My thoughts on: The Merchant of Venice (2004)

When you hear about Shakespeare being adapted to film, you generally think of three plays: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth. And to be fair, there have been several outstanding film adaptations of all three plays over the years. But allow me to draw your attention to one of Shakespeare’s comedies that was brought to the big screen in 2004: The Merchant of Venice.

The story is lesser known today compared to some of the other plays (this is the first time the play has ever been adapted specifically for film) but the story is no less powerful. Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) is an impoverished nobleman in love with the wealthy Portia (Lynn Collins). Portia is bound by her late father’s will to marry whoever chooses which of three caskets contains her picture. To get the money necessary to woo her, Bassanio uses the credit of his friend Antonio (Jeremy Irons) to borrow money from the Jewish moneylender Shylock (Al Pacino). Shylock is one of Shakespeare’s great villains and in this film he is played to perfection by Pacino as not only a villain, but also a tragic figure.

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The first part of the film revolves around Bassanio as he plans to woo Portia and several suitors who attempt to win the heiress for themselves only to choose the wrong casket. As this is a comedy, naturally when Bassanio arrives he chooses the correctly and Portia is his. It all seems too easy, but I think it’s meant to be that way to provide the audience with some happy, romantic moments before the drama unfolds. The latter part of the film deals with Antonio’s trial before the Duke of Venice. When Shylock lent the money to Bassanio, it was under the condition that, if Antonio could not pay it back, he would have to give up a pound of his flesh in recompense (hence the phrase “He took his pound of flesh.”) I don’t think Shylock actually intended to follow through…at first. But after his daughter Jessica (Zuleikha Robinson) runs away to elope with Lorenzo (Charlie Cox), the moneylender has turned very bitter and is determined to have revenge on Antonio no matter the cost.

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Al Pacino really brings his acting skills to bear in the trial scene, where he (as Shylock) persists in demanding the letter of the law be fulfilled, even when Bassanio returns with twice the money necessary to repay the loan. Shylock firmly believes that the law is on his side (even if his actions are morally reprehensible). Underneath his bitterness however, you can see that Shylock is deeply hurt that his daughter has left him. Unable to accept that his daughter is happy with a Christian man, Shylock firmly sticks to his demand of a pound of flesh from Antonio (I have to point out that Jeremy Irons delivers an excellent performance in this scene as a man who is trying very hard to steel himself for the inevitable but who deep down is terrified of the painful manner in which he will die).

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As this is a comedy, the story ends well for everyone except Shylock. Due to a careful reading of the law, not only does he not get his pound of flesh, but he also loses his wealth and his place in the Jewish community. Despite being the nominal villain of the story, you can’t help but feel bad for Shylock at the end. He pursued vengeance and lost everything in the process.

The film uses Shakespeare’s flowery language but please don’t let that put you off. The play contains two of the best monologues ever written (“The quality of mercy” during the trial scene and “Hath not a Jew eyes?”) and if you give the story a chance I believe you’ll fall in love with the story as I have. I also want to highlight the music of the film, there are several examples of late Renaissance music throughout the film, with lutes, guitars and singing. I really hope you give this film a try, you won’t regret it.

And those are my thoughts on The Merchant of Venice. If you’ve seen it, what did you think of the film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

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My thoughts on: Red Sparrow (2018)

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*warning, spoilers follow! You have been warned!

Red-Sparrow

Given the wide range of reviews this film has gotten, I wasn’t sure what to expect going in to see Red Sparrow last night. Would this be a clone of Black Widow’s origin story as many accused it of being? Was the story as messy as some led me to believe? The answer, I believe, is no (to Black Widow) and not quite (as to the messiness of the plot). Actually, I found myself enjoying the movie for the most part. It follows Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) as she goes from being the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet to a “Sparrow,” a spy trained in the art of seducing targets to retrieve information.

Dominika’s story intersects with that of American CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). Nash is the handler for a high-ranking Russian mole code-named “Marble.” Russian intelligence is aware of Marble’s existence, though not his true identity and Dominika is assigned the task of getting close to Nash and worming the secret of Marble’s identity out of him. Failure will result in Dominika’s execution.

That in essence is the bulk of the plot, though the film takes far too many turns for my liking to reach its conclusion. In fact, I think the biggest weakness of the film is the would-be romantic sub-plot between Dominika and Nate. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time the story stuttered to a stop every time they got together. Cut out the possibility of romance blossoming between Nate and Dominika (as well as the filmmaker’s attempt at “is she or is she not in love”) and the story would have flowed much better I think.

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Another weakness is the length of the story. I think most of us can agree that the film ran at least 30 minutes too long. There were several points that I felt the end of the story was at hand only to move on to another scene (I actually caught myself thinking “What, are we still going?” not long before the climax). Of course once we actually got to the climax the payoff was enormous, but I still think the last portion of the film before that scene was mostly unnecessary.

Now for what I liked about the film:

One of my favorite parts of Red Sparrow is Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Dominika. She absolutely owns this role and you literally can’t take your eyes off her. Lawrence runs a huge gamut of emotions: despair, seduction, flattery, love (for her mother), it’s a very impressive performance. Another highlight is the all too brief role played by Jeremy Irons. I’ve been a fan of his work for years and he didn’t disappoint here, I actually wanted to see more of him!

I was correct in thinking that James Newton Howard’s score would be the highlight of this film. In fact the music is part of why I enjoyed Red Sparrow as much as I did. My favorite musical moments are Dominika’s ballet scene at the beginning (before THAT moment, you know the one I mean) and the climactic scene where she’s traded back to the Russians in exchange for the mole (more on that in a moment). In both scenes, I love the way the music swells up and around you, lending gravity and a musical fullness to each moment. Moments like this are why I love film music as much as I do.

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The last part I want to discuss is the aforementioned exchange scene. (Again, spoilers follow!) Prior to this scene, Dominika is met at the hospital by General Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons) who reveals that he is Marble. He tells Dominika that the only way she’s getting out of this alive is to turn him in to Russian intelligence which will make her a hero to the state and place her beyond suspicion (and thus allow her to continue feeding intelligence to the Americans in his place). It seems Dominika has no choice, and for a moment I actually thought she was going to commit suicide and thus “take back the power” by making a choice for herself (to end her life). Thankfully they didn’t go that way because what happened is so much better.

 

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The night of the exchange comes and the Russians pull out a hooded figure from a helicopter. When the Americans ask for the hood to be removed so they can confirm Marble’s identity…the hood is taken off to reveal Dominika’s scheming uncle, the man who forced her to be a Sparrow in the first place! In fact, I suspect that up until the end her uncle manipulated the entire story, including the “accident” that broke Dominika’s leg and ended her ballet career (but that’s just my speculation). It turns out that everything Dominika has done since has been to get revenge on her uncle for ruining her life and career. Upon this revelation, everything made sense to me: Dominika had not only gotten revenge on her uncle by falsely outing him as the mole, but she’d also found a way to keep Marble in his place (and alive!) Considering everything her uncle had done (and how sleazy he’d shown himself to be), I found this moment to be very satisfying.

And those are my thoughts on Red Sparrow! Overall I enjoyed the film despite its weaknesses, though I don’t think I liked it enough to get a copy on DVD. Let me know what you thought of Red Sparrow in the comments below! Have a great day!

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Soundtrack Review: Red Sparrow (2018)

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Soundtrack Review: Red Sparrow (2018)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

Red Sparrow is an American spy thriller film directed by Francis Lawrence and based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews. The film tells the story of a Russian intelligence officer, Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), who is sent to make contact with a CIA agent and possible mole. The film also stars Joel Edgerton, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeremy Irons. It released to theaters on March 2nd, 2018.

The score for Red Sparrow was composed by James Newton Howard, one of the film industry’s most versatile and honored composers, with a career spanning over thirty years and encompassing more than 130 film and television projects. His myriad film credits include the Oscar®-nominated scores for Defiance, Michael Clayton, The Village, The Fugitive, The Prince of Tides, and My Best Friend’s Wedding, as well as Oscar® nominated songs for Junior and One Fine Day. Howard also received Golden Globe nominations for his scores for Peter Jackson’s blockbuster remake of King Kong and Defiance, as well as the aforementioned songs.

James Newton Howard’s score for Red Sparrow is, in a word, beautiful. Howard’s scores have always been among my favorites, but this one might just be one of his best. For a start, the score begins with a proper overture which came as a very pleasant surprise to me. Overtures in film music are typically, in my experience, associated with the golden age of cinema, when many films contained an overture and an intermission like a stage play or an opera. And like those overtures, Howard’s overture sets the tone for the entire soundtrack: it’s a haunting string melody, mixed with woodwinds, that gently draws you into itself until you’re lost in the rising and falling sounds. Appropriately enough, there are faint overtones of Russian-styled music in the melody, which makes sense given where the film is set. However, this sound does not dominate the overture, it is a hint of “Russian-ness” and nothing more.

Most of the score follows the lyrical example of the overture, especially the last track before the end titles which is listed as “Didn’t I Do Well.” This last piece is more upbeat than the overture and actually put me in mind of a ballet number, which may be deliberate since Jennifer Lawrence’s character is *minor spoiler* a former ballerina. I say it reminds me of ballet because the leaps and quick changes in the melody are reminiscent of the steps a ballet dancer takes.

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However, some of the tracks in the score depart from the style featured in the overture and “Didn’t I Do Well” and lean closer to a more modern feel, with electronic sounds and a faster paced, more “jagged” melody. Examples of this include “Take Off Your Dress” and “The Steam Room.” The latter especially could be considered the most “violent” sounding piece in the entire soundtrack (I have my theories as to why but I’ll need to see the film to know for certain) but I enjoyed listening to it because it stood in marked contrast to the other pieces surrounding it in the score.

In conclusion, Howard’s score for Red Sparrow is a gorgeous listening experience and I can already tell it will be the highlight of the film (even if the rest of the film disappoints, which I hope it doesn’t). I think you will definitely enjoy it.

Let me know what you thought of Red Sparrow’s soundtrack in the comments below. 🙂

This soundtrack review was actually posted a day in advance on the blog’s Patreon page. From here on out, patrons of the blog will have early access to my newest film and soundtrack reviews. The first tier for becoming a patron is $2/month which grants early access. The second tier is $5/month and gives you the right to commission one film or soundtrack review from me per month (provided it’s one I haven’t reviewed already) as well as early access.                                                                                                                         You can become a patron of the blog at: patreon.com/musicgamer460

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See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

My thoughts on: Red Sparrow (2018)

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The Lion King “Be Prepared” (1994)

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In case you hadn’t noticed, I love talking about Disney villains. The more devious they are, the better I like them, and there are few more devious, more conniving and more loathsome than Scar, Mufasa’s evil brother in The Lion King (1994).

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Scar (voiced to perfection by Jeremy Irons) holds an eternal grudge that Mufasa is King of Pride Rock instead of him, and when the birth of Simba makes it certain that he’ll never be king, Scar decides to take matters into his own hands. First, he simply tries to get rid of Simba by tricking him into visiting the elephant graveyard (which also happens to be the home of the hyenas, and a place Mufasa had warned the young cub to never go).

After Mufasa saves Simba and Nala in the nick of time, the battered hyenas reconvene in their lair and are shortly joined by a disappointed Scar. The cubs had been perfectly set up to be killed, but the hyenas still blew it. However, as the hyenas are quick to point out, there wasn’t much they could do against Mufasa, did Scar expect them to kill him too?

The Lion King “Be Prepared” (Film scene) (1994)

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Shenzi, Banzai and Ed: continuing a long tradition of smart villains having dumb henchmen

Well as a matter of fact, yes that’s precisely what Scar wants. He proceeds to lay out his plan, which is the basis of “Be Prepared” (one of my favorite villain songs ever!!)

The Lion King “Be Prepared” (Soundtrack only) (1994)

Before I get started with the song itself though, I have something of a bombshell to drop. I’ve heard two versions of how this song was recorded, but they both equal the same thing: that is NOT Jeremy Irons’ voice once the song begins (not for all of it at least).

The first version of the story I heard is that Jeremy Irons DID record a portion of the song, but threw his voice out after the line “You won’t get a sniff without me!” And the rest was subsequently recorded over by Jim Cummings (noted voice artist extraordinaire). However, several months ago, I read an article about dialogue dubbing and Jim Cummings told the story of how he recorded the ENTIRE “Be Prepared” song because (no offense to Jeremy Irons), the final product was simply not that good, so they asked him to dub it over and so he did. As Cummings as no reason to lie, I’m inclined to believe that this version of the story is probably the true one. Who knew???

 

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Anyways, back to the song. Scar has apparently been planning this for years, looking for his best opportunity to take Mufasa (and now Simba) out of the picture, leaving him as king. Scar won’t be able to do it alone though, he needs the help of the hyenas, and he has the perfect inducement for them to join him: “Stick with me” he says “And you’ll NEVER go hungry again!” The hyenas are thrilled, and in a shocking moment, the camera reveals that there are actually HUNDREDS of hyenas, all cheering “Long live the king!” (We’d previously only seen Shenzi, Banzai and Ed). With an army of hyenas at his command, the odds are squarely in Scar’s favor. And speaking of Scar, the conniving lion is promising these hyenas the moon and then some, telling them everything they’ve ever wanted to hear. They’ll have more food then they’ve ever had before, but they’d better stick with him or they won’t get anything!

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It all sounds good, except what Scar is proposing will completely destroy the balance of the Pride Lands (and lead to the dire conditions seen later in the film). The hyenas aren’t aware of this though, so they happily pledge allegiance to King Scar, rejoicing in all the food they are about to enjoy. The song ends in a grand display of flames and hyenas, all villainously laughing over their impending victory (“Be Prepared” is the recurring theme of this song, as well as its title). Scar clearly loves to put on a good show, and he talks a really good game. And deep down, I’m sure Scar truly believes that he’ll be the best king ever (the final verse includes a line about how Scar will be “seen for the wonder I am.”)

And the whole time I watched this in the theater (20 + years ago), I was thinking that there’s no way Scar was going to get away with this. That somehow, Mufasa was going to figure it out and put a stop to everything (I was five, I was really naive). Of course Scar’s plan is going to work, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a plot *sighs.*

“Be Prepared” is a great Disney villain song, relatively short and to the point. It establishes Scar as one of the more despicable Disney villains (I mean plotting to kill your own brother and nephew is pretty dastardly) and is all around really enjoyable. I hope you like listening to it.

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For more great Disney songs and films, check out the main page here: Disney Films & Soundtracks A-Z

For more of The Lion King, see also:

The Lion King “Hakuna Matata” (1994)

The Lion King “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (1994)

The Lion King “The Circle of Life” (1994)

The Lion King “Under the Stars” (1994)

The Lion King “To Die For” (1994)

The Lion King “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” (1994)

The Lion King “King of Pride Rock” (1994) Pt. 1

The Lion King “King of Pride Rock” Pt. 2 (1994)

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*all images are the property of Walt Disney Studios

Random Thoughts on High-Rise (2015)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

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After waiting months and months, I finally got to watch Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise on Friday night. Starring Tom Hiddleston, the film centers around life in a brand new 40 story high-rise building (the first of a planned 5) located on the outskirts of London. The newest resident of the high-rise is Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston), a doctor specializing in physiology, with no family (it’s mentioned that his sister has recently died). Moving into Apartment 2505, Laing is over halfway up in the social order that exists in the building. He’s much higher than the families that live on the lowest floors, but not quite high enough to be “good enough” for the rich snobs that inhabit the very highest floors. On the floor above him lives single mother Charlotte and her smarter-than-average son Tobey (very unusual, since “proper” families all live on the lower floors). Laing also makes the acquaintance of filmmaker Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) and his heavily pregnant wife Helen. Floor 40, the penthouse, is inhabited by Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), the architect of the building, and his incredibly snobby wife (who has turned the roof into a fantastical country garden complete with a sheep, a horse and lots of trees).

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This is one of my favorite images in the film

From the beginning, things seem “off” about the building (and Laing himself, if I’m honest). He openly admits at a party that he’s not very good at “this sort of thing” and seems to prefer keeping to himself. Though the building is brand new, nothing seems to work properly very long. The lights begin to flicker in the supermarket, and the food is seen to be going bad very quickly (with no one bothering to replace it). The trash disposal system doesn’t work very well either, with bags of refuse quickly piling up.

The building is meant to be a self-contained world in and of itself: there’s a school, a swimming pool, supermarket, squash court, every luxury imaginable. As mentioned before, the rich live on the upper floors, and residents become increasingly poorer the lower the floor becomes (even though everyone (according to Wilder) pays the same rates to stay in the building). Tensions are already thick between rich and poor when Laing moves in, and the disparity between the two is obvious as can be seen with two parties. The first, held in Charlotte’s apartment, is a relatively “normal” party with loud music, lots of drinking (implied sex) and casual “getting to know you” things. Then there’s a party given by Royal’s wife (Laing is invited by Royal) which turns out to be an 18th century costume party complete with a string quartet. Laing (who is unaware of it being a costume party and showing up in normal clothes) is unceremoniously thrown out and humiliated, especially by Munrow, a fellow colleague at the school they work at. Determined to get revenge, Laing lies and tells Munrow that a brain scan has revealed a mass in his brain (even though the scan is perfectly normal). Distraught, Munrow later commits suicide by jumping from the 39th floor and Laing is deeply guilt-ridden as a result.

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To think it all started so well…

From that point on, things get….weird (that’s the only word I have for it). How things go from tension-filled normal to post-apocalyptic, I’m still not quite sure, but what I do know is it happens very quickly (the film only covers a three month period of time). Events devolve into a class war between the rich (huddled in the penthouse) and the poor (the lower floors of the building). Most of the women end up joining a “harem” in the penthouse. The utilities (power, water, etc.) eventually stop working (the swimming pool is briefly seen as a place to wash clothes), and a lot of residents wind up dead. Laing spends a great deal of time holed up inside his apartment, having apparently lost whatever remained of his sanity. I think that because he spends so much time locked away from the fighting, this is partially what allows him to move so freely between the “rebels” on the lower floors and the rich up top.

 

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One big secret comes out towards the end of the film: Tobey is actually the son of Anthony Royal because of an affair he had with Charlotte some years back. Royal himself ends up shot dead by Richard Wilder (who is in turn killed by the “harem” of women). By the end of the film, a weird sort of “normal” has taken over what remains of the building. The women have established order from the penthouse and Laing is content to wait with Charlotte until the same thing happens to the next completed high-rise tower (in which event he will be happy to welcome them to the “new world.”)

I think I would have understood the film a little better if I’d been able to read the source novel beforehand (I’d still like to read it at some point). Even though parts of the film were weird and slightly confusing, that didn’t stop me from enjoying the story. I loved the 70s vibe of the film (the original novel is set in the 1970s) and the look of the building was just wonderful.

Everyone seemed well-cast, particularly Jeremy Irons as Anthony Royal. He’s so good at playing the “elder statesman” sort of role, and I enjoyed any scene he appeared in. Hiddleston….was good for the most part…but a few of the “awkward” scenes were almost too awkward, if that makes sense. I think Hiddleston might have been trying too hard at times. Luke Evans was believable as hot-headed Richard Wilder. His devolution into an enraged maniac is somewhat frightening (especially before a particular scene involving Charlotte) and a good example of what can happen to the “everyman” when they’re pushed too far.

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Jeremy Irons is magnificent as always

I wish some of the characters had been more fleshed out. Many of the “rich” characters sort of blended together in my mind and I didn’t know much of anything about them (even the “famous actress” character became unrecognizable by the end of the film, I didn’t realize it was her until she said a line about giving her autograph). As for James Purefoy’s character, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t tell you his name, even though I know it was mentioned at least once.

These problems aside, I still enjoyed High-Rise very much and would happily watch it again.

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*all images are the property of StudioCanal