Friday, July 15, 2011

It All Gabs...

Wise: Hello, Werth!

Werth: Howdy, Wise!

Wise: Do you have your wand, cape and broom ready?

Werth: Are you referring to the premiere of the final Harry Potter movie, or a janitorial drag show?

Wise: It's hard not to get swept up in the Potter Hype that's going on.

Werth: The completion of the film series is a great accomplishment, but I have to say I'm a little perturbed at how some of the stars are "Hogwarting" the spotlight.

Wise: I know!  Sure Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are the stars of these films, but let's talk about the adult actors who invest J. K. Rowling's fantastical world with humor and life.

Werth: Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon—

Wise: Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, Gary Oldman—

Werth: Robbie Coltrane—

Wise: John Hurt—

Werth: Warwick Davis.

Wise: And let's not forget the man playing the biggest baddie of them all, Ralph Fiennes who brings a seductive serpentine malevolence to the role of Lord Voldemort.  

Werth: Oops! You mean He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.  

Wise: It's totally worth naming Fiennes' work in these films because the frigid menace of his characterization counterbalances the everyman nobility of Harry, Hermione and Ron.  But Fiennes hasn't always played cold-blooded villains.  In fact, his work in The English Patient is lush, romantic as well as deeply tragic.  

Werth: And he gets to keep his nose.  

Wise: But, oh, what a nose!  Cinematographer John Seale photographs Fiennes' face with with all loving attention he also brings to the Italian hills and the golden terrain of the desert, finding in each a landscape of passion.  Fiennes plays Count Lazlo de Almásy, a Polish geographer who travels to the Sahara only to fall in love with Katharine (Kristin Scott Thomas), the wife of the expedition's sponsor, Geoffrey Clifton (Colin Firth).  Their torrid romance leads first to sensuous heights, but eventually devolves into fights, plane crashes, and betrayal to the Nazis.  

Werth: Nazis always ruin torrid romances.  

Wise: Based on the novel by Michael Ondaatje and adapted for the screen and directed by Anthony Minghella, the film honors the slipstream poetry of Ondaatje's prose, but literalizes the action without destroying the book's eloquence.  The film begins in Tuscany in the waning days of World War II with the Count confined to bed, scarred head to toe by fire and unable to remember his past life.  
Under the care of his nurse Hana (Juliet Binoche in a luminous, Oscar-winning performance), his memories emerge in a series of flashbacks.  

Werth: Flashbacks where his face isn't burned off, thankfully.

Wise: Woven into the narrative are a series of subplots including Hana's love affair with a bomb-diffusing Sikh (Lost's Naven Andrews) and the thief Caravaggio's (Willem Dafoe) hunt for those who double-crossed him.  But it is Fiennes' romantic, otherworldly yet fully grounded performance that prevents the film from falling into an overblown mishmash and allows it to emerge as a beautiful tone poem of love, loss, regret and devotion.  

Werth: The other Potter baddie who gets short-shrift at the red-carpet extravaganzas is the scrumptiously droll Alan Rickman.  

Wise: His Professor Snape combines villainy with a soupçon of sexy.  

Werth: Throughout his long career Rickman has used his haughty sneer and distinctly British disdain to create some of the screen's most lovable campy villains in films like Die Hard (1988), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).  
But one of my favorite Rickman performances allows him to be a hero instead of a ne'er do well, 1999's sci-fi comedy, Galaxy Quest. Now I know what you're thinking—  

Wise: That watching any non-Pixar movie starring Tim Allen is like poking a dull, fiery stick into your eye over and over and over?  

Werth: Normally, yes. But Galaxy Quest is different. Dreamed up at Dreamworks, Galaxy Quest poses a fun premise: What if aliens in a galaxy far, far away were getting re-runs of Star Trek, but thought it was a "historical document" instead of a TV broadcast? 
Enter the cast of the hit show Galaxy Quest, washed-up and sold-out as they go to conventions to eternally re-play hackneyed sci-fi archetypes for a rabid, costumed fanbase.  

Wise: Somebody needs to keep the geeks out of trouble on weekends.  

Werth: When a strange group of bobbed, perma-smile groupies (look for a young Rainn Wilson) approaches them and tells them they need their help to fight off an alien invasion on their homeworld, the actors go along thinking they are going to wind up in yet another convention hall to collect another meager paycheck. Instead they are transported to a spaceship and a world where everything they've done on TV has been taken as gospel and created for reals.  

Wise: But without all the duct tape and desperation basement-dwelling superfans most frequently use.  

Werth: This premise could be milked for either geekery and/or preciousness, but with the superb cast, this movie goes beyond spoof to genuine fun. Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shaloub and Sam Rockwell have a field day playing bad actors who have to literally live their parts. 
And leading the charge is Rickman who plays Alexander Dane, the Shakespearean actor who has become trapped by his Spock-like role of Dr. Lazarus, cringing and rolling his eyes at his prosthetic makeup and his catchphrase, "By Grapthar's Hammer!" Every look and gesture is pure derision and frustration, and it's marvelous.  

Wise: How is Tim Allen?  

Werth: They should have gotten William Shatner. But Galaxy Quest is an enjoyable cinematic send-up, both laughing at and paying tribute to a phenomenon that has become part of our culture's lexicon.  

Wise: Speaking of cultural lexicons, we'd better go get in line if we want to see HP7P2.  

Werth: Let me go get my broom. I might need to smack some wizards who can't keep quiet during the movie.  

Wise: Tune in next week for more film magic at Film Gab!

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