Everyone’s a Critic: Reviews of Coriolanus (2011) and Laura (1944)

Welcome to another edition of Everyone’s a Critic! Today we’ve got two special reviews from two different genres, one is a Shakespearean modern adaptation, straight from its BERLINALE premiere (thank you Vanessa, you lucky gal!) and the other an Otto Preminger’s acclaimed classic noir (Preminger was nominated for Best Director Oscar for this film). In regards to Coriolanus, you’ve probably read some of the more positive reviews I posted here, but my friend has quite a different impression about it. Anyway, read on:

CORIOLANUS (2011) – Berlinale Film Festival review

– by Vanessa Weinert of TheMovieNess

A modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus, this film is set in the Rome of today. It is not the beautiful Rome that is usually seen in movies, but rather the run down parts of the city where broken houses are plastered with graffiti. Grain is sparse and “the people” are on the streets protesting. Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes, who also directed this film) is supposed to be the hero of this city but he despises the people. After long demonstrations, he is banished from Rome and finds refuge with his mortal enemy (Gerard Butler) who he fought with, almost to the death, only months earlier.

It is not surprising that this is one of the lesser known Shakespeare plays. The story is all about war and politics, not people. It is also difficult to get involved with any of the characters: Coriolanus is extremely unlikable, his wife and son are weak and boring, his mother too dominant and controlling and his mortal enemy becomes his close friend without a moments hesitation. This leaves us with “the people” but they are too easily manipulated to be taken seriously.

The mix of the modern setting and the old language didn’t work for me in this movie. I think a total adaptation would have been better. There is a huge focus on media. Cell phones and cameras are constantly seen in shots which seems unnecessary. We get that it’s not 400 B.C. It also felt strange seeing Coriolanus being banished from Rome because that just wouldn’t happen today.

Usually I think Ralph Fiennes is a terrific actor but apparently he needs and outside perspective and directing himself was a bad idea. He is giving a theater performance which just looks over the top and silly on screen. What we end up with are two hours of rage and arrogance, which gets boring pretty quickly. Butler has a surprisingly small role in this movie. He looks amazing (of course) and doesn’t overact like Fiennes does, but he is also in a constant state of fury. Overall there is just too much rage in this film.

With a cast like this it is pretty difficult to make a bad movie but Fiennes unfortunately managed to do so. As much as I wanted to like Coriolanus, it didn’t grab my attention at all. The only reason why anyone should see this movie is Vanessa Redgrave’s performance as Coriolanus’ mother. She brings some beautiful moments into this otherwise dull movie. I am not surprised that plenty of people left the cinema throughout the screening.

2 out of 5 reels

LAURA (1944)

by Vince Caro

I had recently watched Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island – with Leonardo DiCaprio (playing a federal marshal) as a somewhat cheap imitation of Dana Andrews’ famous role of detective McPherson down to the faux New England accent and authoritarian scowl. But in sharp contrast to Dicaprio, Andrews could look relaxed even in the tensest of moments (with the help of a little hand held game). While Shutter Island is a respectable technicolor homage to 40s film noir, I couldn’t help but go back to Otto Preminger’s classic whodunit in all it’s black and white glory.

Laura is unique in that it starts off with the title character already dead – murdered in her apartment by an unknown intruder. The film opens with David Raksin’s haunting and memorable score and we see our first glimpse of the beautiful Laura Hunt (played by the stunning Gene Tierney) – a vanity portrait as the main credits roll. In classic noir fashion, we hear the narration of Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb in an Oscar-nominated performance) setting the tone – announcing Laura has just been murdered and he feels to be the “only human being left in New York”. Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is investigating the murder with a slight suspicion of everyone within Laura’s circle. This includes fiancée Shelby Carpenter (nicely played by Vincent Price) as the disreputable playboy engaged to Laura.

The film begins to gather steam as Waldo offers McPherson recollections of how he and Laura met. These scenes are shown in vivid but dreamlike flashbacks. We see Laura as a young gentle ad artist, who charms Waldo out of his cruel and arrogant demeanor. In effect, McPherson paints a portrait of Laura in his mind – a beautiful, doe-eyed, naïve girl and begins to fall for her. He obsessively continues the investigation until a bizarre twist turns the whole case upside-down.

Dana Andrews & Vincent Price

In almost Rebecca-like fashion, the charms of the deceased Laura Hunt go way beyond the grave. The difference here is that Preminger leaves nothing to the imagination, instead serving us the picturesque Tierney, who I’m convinced is one of the most beautiful actresses to ever grace the screen. It is Tierney that keeps us involved in the picture and Webb providing its weight and legitimacy with his high-brow, curmudgeon and darkly humorous performance. Andrews is our everyman in this picture – hard-nosed, blue-collar and an outsider, somebody we would hope Laura would fall for in the real world. With that said, DiCaprio’s emulation of McPherson is honorable, but I can’t see Laura Hunt falling for it. Too much color perhaps?

4.5 out of 5 reels

Any thoughts about either or both of these films? Do share ’em below in the comments.

34 thoughts on “Everyone’s a Critic: Reviews of Coriolanus (2011) and Laura (1944)

  1. Ted S.

    Interesting review of Coriolanus, I’ve been reading some bad reviews about it on some other sites too. Currently it doesn’t have any distributor here in the states so I wonder if any studio will pick it up if it keeps getting more bad reviews. I’ll probably give it a rent.

    Nice review Vince, funny you mentioned Shutter Island, Scorsese mentioned several times that he loves film noir genre so he tried to always pay homage to it in some of his his own films.

    1. Vince

      Thanks Ted. Yes, Scorsese has several outright examples like Cape Fear, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull. Arguably (with the exception of Age of Innocence), all his films have a noir element to it.

    2. Do you have the link to those Ted? A few I’ve read out of Berlinale have been positive, but of course to each their own and something like this probably will garner more of a mix review. Actually The Weinsteins has acquired rights to distribute the film in the US and Asia, I mentioned this last week and this article confirms it http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=74081 Harvey Weinstein has worked w/ Fiennes before on The English Patient and in fact, he’s reportedly been prepping Coriolanus for award season next year.

      1. Ted S.

        I’ll see if I find the links, didn’t know The Weinsteins picked up the rights to distribute it here. I wonder if they’ll release it theatrically if it keeps getting so so reviews, maybe they should take it to Cannes and see how it will perform there.

  2. I really really really really need to watch some Otto Preminger. It’s a gaping hole in what I’ve seen. Combine him with Vincent Price and that’s almost too good to pass up.

    1. Vince

      Yes, this has Vincent Price before his career took a turn for more macabre roles. Very good supporting role. (BTW, I just rewatched Peeping Tom and forgot what an excellent film that is. I might do a write up about it soon.)

    2. Preminger was a great director. I’d start with either ‘The Man With the Golden Arm’ with Frank Sinatra or ‘Carmen Jones’ with Dorothy Dandridge.

  3. Pingback: The world according to Ness » Blog Archive » Berlinale: Coriolanus

  4. I’m a bit surprised with this CORIOLANUS review, since the film got very nice critics over at Berlin Film Festival.
    I personally wasn’t amazed by the film, but I believe everything in it had its role and meaning, including the cameras and communication equipment (which is used to show how modern Western powers use their media for political propaganda in order to show their people false pictures and images and convince them that the world outside those great powers is something it isn’t). I think you need to be outside USA to understand the true metaphor of the film since it is a satire on modern Western politics of colonialism, ruthless politician, and militarism. And a viewer need to watch the film from a much deeper perspective. It’s not an action film, it’s a deep satire.
    To me, personally, Redgrave was the weakest link in the film, while Fiennes and Butler did decent jobs.

    1. It is so interesting that you think Fiennes was better then Redgrave. His acting felt way over the top for me. I did get that it’s a satire and not an action film but still don’t think it was made very well. And showing cameras once or twice is ok but to constantly show them is just too much.

      1. Nope, not in Berlinale, Flixy 🙂 Found it on the Net 🙂
        The film will premiere in Serbia at FEST (Belgrade film festival) this month if I remember correctly.

        when it comes to cameras I think you missed my point, read the comment again. Everything you see in the Western media, especially on the news channels, is usually something that has no connection with reality. The idea was to show what modern politicians are also doing – using media to lead war of information, and using cameras to falsify truth and show the picture of reality they way they want you to see it.

  5. PrairieGirl

    Hi Vanessa, liked your take on C. But when you say protesters these days couldn’t oust a ruler, it just happened in Egypt, so that part of the story suddenly seems eerily current.

    Vince, if Laura is as good as Rebecca, I must see it!

    1. Vince

      It is as good but very different. I probably shouldn’t put the two in the same sentence. Rebecca touches on the Victorian style while Laura is a very stylized American thriller. It is closer to Jules Dassin than Hitchcock. Hope you get to see it. It’s one of my favorites, obviously.

      1. You know I’m so lacking in classic films so thanks for ‘educating’ me Vince! Laura does look intriguing, even just researching for the photos, the cinematography looks beautiful. No wonder the cinematographer won an Oscar for this.

    2. You have a good point there! But it’s the way its shown in the movie. He leaves Rome on foot and apparently walks for months until he happens to stumble upon his enemy (Butler). With all those cellphones and that shown in the movie, surely he would have one and could call up a buddy to pick him up? 😉

  6. Thank you for your honest review, Vanessa! Of course I’d still see this to make up my own mind about it, but it’s nice to have a good balance of good and bad reviews to keep your expectation in check.

    I do echo what Prairiegirl said though that leaders being ousted is not unheard of and given what’s been happening in the Mideast lately, I think the story is quite relevant. I believe Fiennes’ idea is to modernize the Shakespeare tale based on current events.

    I can see how ‘two hours of rage and arrogance’ doesn’t exactly spell an entertaining film, but given the cast’s credence I’d think their performance is what’s fascinating to watch on screen. Your review actually makes me even more curious to see this, too bad I have to wait forever to see this!

      1. Oh I’ll let you know. Well, last I heard the Weinsteins have acquired the rights for US and Asia distribution, but I think the date I’ve been hearing is late 2011… so that’s almost a year to wait! 😦

  7. Love the guest reviews. Ruth, thank you for posting them.

    Vanessa- Love the way you lay it out there. I was hoping for more for Fiennes and Butler in this one. I may still give it a shot on netflix someday…but the modern/past day mix does add some concern.

    Vince- Great review of a classic. I love the old classic and never got to see this one. Your review makes me want to watch it now, but I wonder if I will be thinking of Shutter Island now while watching it….much like Shutter Island made you think of Laura!

    V&V, thanks for the well-written reviews! Nice work!

    1. Vince

      Thanks scarlet! Hope you get to see it sometime. I may have been reaching too much finding a connection with the two movies but it seemed like a good segueway into talking about Laura.

    1. I won’t knock this out just yet Mike, at least wait until the trailer comes out. I’d also read more reviews before making up you mind, see links below under Castor’s comment.

  8. Ooh, I didn’t know there was a movie of Coriolanus. I’m a sucker for Shakespeare. An array of unlikeable characters isn’t unusual for the Bard. And I love a bit of rage. I’ll look forward to this, despite the poor review. 😉

  9. Pingback: JULY 2016 Viewing Recap + Movie(s) of the Month

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