King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

For F*** Magazine

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD 

Director : Guy Ritchie
Cast : Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou Jude Law, Aidan Gillen, Eric Bana, Mikael Persbrandt, Lorraine Bruce, Hermione Corfield, Annabelle Wallis
Genre : Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 2h 6min
Opens : 18 May 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Brief Coarse Language)

Mythical monarch King Arthur rears his head in not one, but two big-budget summer movies this year. Before Transformers: The Last Knight, we get this origin story. Orphan Arthur (Hunnam) has led a hardscrabble existence on the cobblestone streets of Londinium, unaware of his royal heritage. Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon (Bana), was deposed by Uther’s brother Vortigern (Law), who has become a power-mad sorcerer. Only Uther or his direct progeny can pull the sword Excalibur from the stone. When Arthur accomplishes this feat, he becomes the target of Vortigern’s fury. Arthur is assisted in his quest to defeat Vortigern by his friend Wetstick (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Uther’s loyal advisor Sir Bedivere (Hounsou), skilled archer Goosefat Bill (Gillen) and a mysterious woman who wields control over animals through magic, known only as the Mage (Bergès-Frisbey). Arthur must achieve mastery of Excalibur, as he and his allies fight to reclaim the throne that is rightfully his.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is the first in a planned series of six films. Legend of the Sword morphed continuously throughout its development: David Dobkin was originally set to direct a King Arthur film starring Kit Harington in the title role and Joel Kinnaman as Lancelot. Then, Colin Farrell was attached to the Arthur part, with Gary Oldman cast as Merlin. Under Guy Ritchie, it’s become Snatch meets Lord of the Rings. There have been countless big screen permutations of the Arthur legend, and this version smacks of a desperation to put a new spin – any new spin – on a public domain tale with name recognition. Legend of the Sword wants to be a superhero movie, a street level crime film, and a Game of Thrones-style epic of palace intrigue and high fantasy. Alas, it ends up being all those things and none at the same time; Ritchie struggling but failing to meld these disparate elements into a cohesive whole.

As with any legend so old and so widespread, there is no one true version of the King Arthur story. As evidenced by the floating fireballs and myriad outsized CGI animals, this isn’t intended to be “historical” in any sense. The screenplay by Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, rewritten from a draft by Joby Harold, attempts to distil several elements from various versions of the myth, but they wind up convoluting things in the process. Narrative gymnastics make the Sword in the Stone the same sword as Excalibur, when in earlier tellings, they were separate swords. As expected from Ritchie, there is a combination of flash and grit. James Herbert’s editing often makes this difficult to follow. Not only is it jittery and arrhythmic, but there are multiple sequences that cut between Arthur and co. discussing a plan, then enacting said plan – or maybe it’s a hypothetical scenario of how the plan will unfold. It’s supposed to make things interesting, but renders them confusing instead.

Hunnam is a fine leading man, and got into spectacular shape for the film, packing on the muscle. Hunnam wanted the role so much that he declared to Ritchie that he would physically fight Henry Cavill and Jai Courtney, who were also being considered, for the part. For all Hunnam’s effort, Arthur is borderline boring. It’s a standard hero’s journey, rejecting the quest, accepting the quest story. He’s Oliver Twist 13-14 centuries early (there’s a pickpocketing montage) who grows up to shoulder the burden of destiny. Despite Ritchie’s stylistic trappings, Arthur emerges as a standard, serviceable hero – nothing more than that.

Before Law dons Dumbledore’s robes, he plays a far less benevolent wizard. Vortigern is characterised as a mafioso, usurping power and stabbing those close to him in the back – often literally. He slouches in his throne, disrespectful of the seat of power. There’s little nuance to the part, and while Vortigern is appropriately treacherous, he’s never truly scary.

Arthur’s associates in this film are proto-Knights of the Roundtable – Bedivere served King Uther, while Wetstick grew up on the streets of Londinium alongside Arthur. There’s an attempt to make this an eclectic bunch – we don’t know of another Arthurian movie featuring a Chinese martial artist named George (Tom Wu), who trains young Arthur in combat. While there’s the veneer of personality, the supporting characters are insufficiently defined. Gillen is fun to watch, owing more to his own flair as a performer than to the writing.

Bergès-Frisbey’s character is apparently Guinevere, though she’s only called ‘the Mage’ in the film. As the female lead, one would expect Bergès-Frisbey to get more to do, beyond issuing ominous warnings and standing offscreen as digital critters do her bidding. Speaking of the digital critters, the menagerie of elephants, snakes, eagles, wolves, bats and other beasts aren’t nearly as awesome (or as believable) as the Rabbit of Caerbannog from a certain other Arthurian movie.

Bana is in precious little of the film, and his appearance made us wonder what a King Arthur movie starring him would be like (probably better). Thankfully, the David Beckham cameo isn’t nearly as goofy as we feared.

While the Welsh and Scottish shooting locations are breath-taking, Legend of the Sword feels like a spectacle movie that is markedly unspectacular. For better and worse, but mostly worse, it is unmistakably a Guy Ritchie film. Ritchie’s sensibilities fail to coalesce with the mystique and grandeur he wants this film to possess. Perhaps with the origin story out of the way, the sequel will be more entertaining – but hoping for six of these is just giddy optimism.

Summary: Legend of the Sword is a flashy but somewhat incoherent remix of Arthurian myth that is caught in limbo between street-level grit and full-on fantasy.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Finest Hours

For F*** Magazine 

THE FINEST HOURS 

Director : Craig Gillespie
Cast : Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Holliday Grainger, Kyle Gallner, John Magaro, John Ortiz, Josh Stewart
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 118 mins
Opens : 18 February 2016
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences)

Venture into the tumultuous waters of Cape Cod to witness of one of the most harrowing rescues in maritime history in this historical disaster drama. It is February 1952 and the S.S Pendleton, a T2 oil tanker, is caught in a severe storm off the Chatham coast, breaking clean in twain. Bernie Webber (Pine), a newly-engaged Coast Guard crewman, is dispatched by Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Bana) to take his tiny lifeboat out to sea to rescue the Pendleton’s crew. Bernie takes Richard Livesey (Foster), Andrew Fitzgerald (Gallner) and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) with him. Aboard the severed stern section of the Pendleton, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Affleck) is forced to take charge, devising a method to keep what’s left of the ship afloat as long as possible. Bernie’s fiancé Miriam Pentinen (Grainger), along with the townsfolk of Chatham, await the safe return of Bernie, his crew and the men of the Pendleton, as their odds of survival grow slimmer by the minute.

            The Finest Hoursis based on the book of the same name, subtitled “The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue”, by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman. Director Craig Gillespie has delivered a resolutely old-fashioned adventure drama, harking back to the days “when men were men”, so to speak. While there’s definitely a certain dignity to The Finest Hours in its celebration of heroes who aren’t widely known to non-maritime history buffs, it’s also something of a drag in parts. There are individual sequences that are genuine nail-biters featuring convincing visual and special effects work, but in between those, there’s a curious dearth of momentum or urgency, particularly since this revolves around a time-sensitive rescue attempt. In fact, it’s only around 45 minutes into the film that Bernie and his crew actually get into their lifeboat and set sail.

            
While Pine is more Abercrombie pretty boy than Old Hollywood rugged, there’s a matinee idol quality to him that makes him an ideal candidate to portray the determined, courageous hero in a period adventure piece. That “Bawston” accent he’s attempting is iffy, though. The film doesn’t begin on the high seas, but rather by establishing the romance between Bernie and Miriam, hoping that this will be the emotional anchor. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly compelling romance and this element of the film has been dramatized the most from how things really unfolded. Miriam is portrayed by Grainger as a headstrong, proactive woman, but when she charges into Cluff’s office to demand that he makes Bernie turn the lifeboat around, it comes off more as an annoyance than a loving act of concern. The trope of the worried significant other back home pining for our hero’s safe return is often unavoidable in films of this type, and the attempts to add to this are generally unsuccessful.

            Casey Affleck’s demeanour is not as traditionally masculine and heroic as that of his older brother Ben, but he does sell the role of someone who has to think fast and work hard under pressure. As the boss from out of town who is not generally well-liked, Bana has sufficient gravitas but noticeably wrestles with the character’s southern accent. The performances are generally serviceable but ultimately, there isn’t enough to distinguish most of the crew members of the Pendleton, or the men with Bernie in the lifeboat, for that matter.

            Michael Corenblith’s production design and Louise Frogley’s costume design bring a level of authenticity to The Finest Hours and in the grand scheme of movies billed as “based on a true story”, The Finest Hoursmakes relatively minor deviations from established history. This is director Gillespie’s second film for Walt Disney Studios, following sports drama Million Dollar Arm, also based on a true story. While The Finest Hours is Gillespie’s most ambitious film on the technical front, it pushes no boundaries in its narrative. The startlingly intense and immersive scenes of the tiny lifeboat getting ravaged by immense waves are thrilling, but the film never quite reaches the rousing, inspirational heights it’s aiming for.



Summary:Harking back to the disaster dramas of yesteryear, The Finest Hours has its riveting moments but the story, as remarkable as it is, ends up insufficiently impactful.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong