Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword directed by Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) is just the latest in what has been a long Hollywood fascination with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Consider the following.
The Sword in the Stone(1963) This animated Disney classical musical concentrates on Arthur’s boyhood. Young Arthur is a lonely twelve year old orphan known as Wart, under the care of his foster father Sir Ector and serving as squire to Ector’s brutish, bullying son Kay. One day a chance meeting brings him to the cottage of Merlin who declares himself Arthur’s tutor and insists on coming home with him. Thus begins a charming and delightful coming of age story based on part one of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Of particular note is Merlin’s magical duel with arch-nemesis Madame Mim.
Camelot(1967) John Logan (South Pacific) directed the film adaption of the Tony Award-winning musical of the same name. King Arthur (the one and only Richard Harris) prepares for a battle against his dearest friend Sir Lancelot (Franco Nero of Django fame) and sadly reflects on the circumstances that have brought them both to this point. A young Vanessa Redgrave plays Guenevere. It was nominated for five Academy Awards and won three including Best Musical Score. It was also nominated for six Golden Globe Awards and won three including Best Actor for Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Richard Harris.
Lancelot du Lac (1974) Renowned French filmmaker Robert Bresson (A Man Escaped, Mouchette) wrote and directed this take centering on the doomed love affair of Lancelot and Gwenivere. Like most of other Bresson’s films he used a cast of unknowns for the roles and his depiction of the Middle Ages emphasized blood and grime over magic and fantasy. It won the FIPRESCI prize at the Cannes Film Festival and has a fresh rating over 90% on the Tomatometer.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail(1975) This British slapstick comedy parodying the Arthurian legend was the source material for the blockbuster musical Spamalot. With such classic bits as the Knights Who Say Ni, the Rabbit of Caerbannog, and the coconuts…dear god the coconuts. It was the highest grossing British film released in America that year, has a 97% fresh rating on the Tomatometer, and is universally considered one of the most hysterically funny movies of all time. Do NOT try to drink anything while watching!
Excalibur (1981) John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance) wrote, directed, and produced this bloody and brutal British Fantasy drama based entirely on Thomas Malory’s writings of the Arthurian legend. Shot entirely in Ireland with an Irish cast it helped launch the careers of such performers as Gabriel Byrne (Uther Pendragon), Ciaran Hinds (King Lot), Helen Mirren (Morgana), Corin Redgrave (Duke of Cornwall), Patrick Stewart (King Leondegrance) and Liam Neeson (Gawain). The main love triangle is played by Nigel Terry (The Lion in Winter) as Arthur, Cherie Lunghi (King David) as Gwenivere and Nicholas Clay (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lionheart) as Lancelot. It was nominated for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards and Boorman was nominated for two prizes at the Cannes Film Festival winning for Best Artistic Contribution.
The world is not the same as it was, Charles. Mutants they’re gone now.
Logan, co-written and directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, Girl Interrupted), is an X-Men movie in that it takes place in the mutant universe with familiar characters like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier. But in most other senses it doesn’t feel like an X-Men movie at all. It’s the first such film where we never see the beloved Westchester Mansion, but rather Charles and Logan have been reduced to living in shacks and water tanks in Mexico. With a great deal of the movie taking place around the Mexican and Canadian borders, the film’s setting invariably feels incredibly topical.
The reduction in Charles’ and Logan’s living standards speaks to their reduction in other areas. Logan is slowly dying, poisoned by the metal inside him. His every gesture shows a combination of rage, sorrow, and inexpressible weariness. Charles is sliding into dementia. Both Jackman and Stewart give absolutely heartbreaking performances here; if this wasn’t a comic book franchise people would be talking about Golden Globes and possibly Academy Awards. Their caretaker and ally Caliban (Stephan Merchant of Cemetary Junction in an awesome scene stealing turn), is an albino tracker who literally must hide from the light. Their ill health echoes the fact they are a dying race; no new mutants have been born in over twenty years.
But new hope appears for the mutant race and for Logan and Charles in particular with the arrival of Laura (fantastic child actress Dafne Keen) a mutant born and bred in a lab and now on the run. Made with Logan’s DNA, she has both his abilities and his striking lack of social skills. Despite Logan’s own reluctance and the very bad men pursuing them, Logan, Laura, and Charles manage to forge a surrogate family on the road that provides some of Logan’s most affecting moments, between the inevitable spurts of violence.
And what violence it is! Logan is rated R, and unlike previous X-Men films it doesn’t shy away from what it means to do battle with metal claws. Blood spurts, limbs are severed, heads literally roll…and not all the people who die aren’t all bad either. This may be a ‘comic book’ movie but it’s far from escapism and in fact its themes of infirmity, poverty, ostracism, prejudice, genocide, aging, and entropy seem more vital than ever. Like the Western classics, Logan pays homage to, the film’s greatness lies in its embrace of both hope and heartache.
Top photo: Laura (Dafne Keen), Charles (Patrick Stewart) and Logan (Hugh Jackman). Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
With Dr. Strange coming out Friday, (the buzz says that it’s the trippiest Marvel movie yet), inevitably the mind turns to other magicians, wizards, witches, and sorcerers supreme who’ve dazzled us on screen. As the following examples show mastering the Dark Arts is a veritable cinematic tradition.
The Wizard of Oz(1939) This technicolor, musical-comedy-drama-fantasy, based on the beloved Frank L. Baum masterpiece, represents the best of Golden Age Hollywood with Judy Garland in the performance that made her an icon. While (spoiler alert) the titular wizard is a fraud, the powers of Elphalba the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda the Good Witch are very real and propel much of the events of the plot. It was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture but lost to Gone With the Wind. Initially something of a box office disappointment, it would later go on to become one of the best known films in American history and a cultural landmark.
Excalibur(1981) Directed, produced, and co-written by John Boorman (Deliverance and The Tailor of Panama) Excalibur retells the classic legend of King Arthur primarily from the viewpoint of Merlin played with grandeur by Nicol Williamson (Hamlet, Inadmissible Evidence). From the days of Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne in the role that launched his career) to Arthur’s final showdown with Mordred, Merlin steals the show. And this is among a truly great cast including Nigel Terry as King Arthur, Helen Mirren as Morgana Le Fay, Nicholas Clay as Sir Lancelot, Cherie Lunghi as Gwenevere, a young Patrick Stewart as King Leondegrance, Liam Neeson as Sir Gawain, and Corin Redgrave as the Duke of Cornwall. It was all filmed in Ireland, and holds up as one of the best Arthurian adaptions of all time.
The Witches of Eastwick (1987) Directed by George Miller of Mad Max fame and based on the John Updike novel of the same name. Alexandra (Cher), Jane (Susan Sarandon), and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer), are three women all living in Eastwick, Rhode Island who share two things in common. One, they’re all single having lost their husbands. Secondly, unbeknownst to them, they are all witches, and wittingly they start a coven and start practicing spells. Soon the mysterious Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) comes to town and that’s when things start to get freaky. It was nominated for two Academy Awards and holds an over 70% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) Directed by Chris Columbus. No such list would be complete without including the movie based on the best-selling book series that kicked off one of THE most successful film franchises in history. It helped that to do justice to Rowling’s vision they put together an all-star cast as well including Maggie Smith, John Hurt, Robbie Coltrane, and the dearly departed Alan Rickman. Billions of dollars later, Hogwarts has become a cultural landscape that all children secretly dream of being invited to attend, Dumbledore and Snape are now household names, and it launched Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe’s careers into the stratosphere.
The Witch (2015) Newcomer Robert Eggers wrote and directed this historical period supernatural horror tale that came seemingly out of nowhere to become an indie hit that grossed $40 million on a $3 million dollar budget. A puritan family is banished from their old settlement and builds a new farm by the woods. But beginning with the disappearance of their youngest child infant Samuel it soon becomes clear they are being terrorized by a powerful witch. It has an over 90% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and Stephen King said the movie “scared the hell out of me.”
“We’re not keeping you here. You’re just staying.”
I missed Green Room when it was out in theatres but now that its available online, I have nothing but praise for this brutal, bloody, nail-biter of a film written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Murder Party). My brother used to say there were two kinds of punks; the clean “poseur” kind who always have their family’s cash to fall back on, and the dirty, gritty kind who barely survive. Young punk band the Aint-Rights who have to siphon gas for their van are distinctly in the latter category. Which is why even though none of them have any use for skinheads, they agree to play at a skinhead bar in hopes of getting enough cash to make it home. They can’t resist doing a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s Nazi Punks F—k Off as their opening number, which gets them threats and thrown bottles before winning over the crowd with their own original music. Sadly, all this turns out to be the least of their problems when they accidentally witness a murder backstage that puts the entire band into a life and death struggle with the bar’s vicious owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart, playing against type here in a tour de force of a performance that is both terrifying and mesmerizing), determined to wipe out all witnesses.
As Darcy will soon learn, the Aint-Rights are a helluva lot tougher and more resourceful than he ever could have imagined and the body count keeps increasing with the tension. It’s a 90-minute intense nightmare of guns, blades, and dogs that does not let up. But half the reason it works so well is because unlike so many horror movie characters we actually like and care about the Aint-Rights. There’s green-haired optimistic lead singer Tiger (Callum Turner of the War & Peace mini-series); band leader and certified bad-ass Reece (Joe Cole of Peaky Blinders); and, hard rocker gal Sam (Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development). Imogen Poots (Jane Eyre, She’s Funny That Way) is virtually unrecognizable as former skinhead, Amber, who has to join forces with the band. But the main protagonist and the movie’s heart is the late Anton Yelchin as bass player, Pat. Seeing how he was able to navigate both sensitive vulnerability and the heights of feral desperation and trauma during the film makes the loss of this promising young actor all the more poignant. RIP Anton.