But I will rise there with so full a glory
That I will dazzle all the eyes of France,
Yea, strike the Dauphin blind to look on us.
And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his
Hath turned his balls to gunstones, and his soul
Shall stand sore chargèd for the wasteful vengeance
That shall fly with them
We have reached the end of The Hollow Crown saga, and the end is bittersweet. These plays have a lot to say about power, royalty, duty, war, betrayal, and justice. Familial duty, sovereignty, and divine right. These adaptations had some tough choices to make when they were envisioned, about what to emphasize and how to make these narratives a sweeping 4-part epic. Within the first fifteen minutes of Henry V, it struck me how great a project this undertaking was and how near to perfect it was realized on screen. I read somewhere that before embarking on watching The Wire, you have to keep in mind that you will not realize its greatness until you reach the third season, maybe even the fourth. It is then that all of the knowledge you have compiled, all the characters you have slowly come to know payoff and make you realize how wonderful the experience has become. While not as dramatic with The Hollow Crown (you can most assuredly enjoy the various parts as standalone), the experience of watching the four adaptations strung together as a continuing series gives the story a chance to breathe, and the audience gets comfortable in the time period. By watching the various parts, you come to appreciate the whole and in this case the meaning of The Hollow Crown series. Prince Hal is the primary link here: we go from Bolingbroke asking after his wayward son in Richard II, to his exploits in Henry IV Parts One and Two, and we get to follow into his role as King in Henry V. A fascinating trajectory.
I felt that before experiencing The Hollow Crown version, I should take a look at Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 version, just to do a bit of comparing. There are many differences (thankfully, as their should be) and in the end, watching both gives you an even greater picture of the play than the two alone. The first difference is the treatment of the Chorus. In Branagh’s treatment, we have Derek Jacobi dressed in modern garb acting as Chorus. In this version we have the disembodied voice of John Hurt (until he shows up to close out the series). First off, these guys are both greats. I was very pleased to hear and see John Hurt, as I was not expecting it. I did like this usage slightly better because without a physical Chorus forcing your attention on their speaking, a voice over allows more sweeping scenes of our characters as they go about their lives and tasks, according to what the Chorus is telling us.
The story begins with a funeral, Henry V’s to be exact. Here is where more bittersweet comes in. We are about to witness his greatest triumph, and yet, we know that it will be short lived. The final Chorus of the play makes it impossible to ignore the fact that this will happen, and soon, but Branagh’s version ends on the happier note of England and France united as the Chorus informs us. But the funeral gives not only further context to the ominous news of Henry’s death but it also gives us an epilogue to The Hollow Crown. We close out our Harry story fully told, thereby allowing us to see the ends of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V.
I think the King is but a man, as
I am; the violet smells to him, as it doth to me; the
element shows to him, as it doth to me; all his
senses have but human conditions.
But before we get into the story, we see that for all intents and purposes, Harry has retained his joie de vivre. He rides on horseback, seemingly late for his meeting, just in time to grab his crown and saunter in. Unlike how we last saw him, in his coronation attire, he is wearing the same outfit from when he was merely a prince. Cinematic as always, the film allows Shakespeare to breathe, moving us from various scenes and shuffling bits of dialogue to suit its purpose.
Branagh’s version is more typical of what I consider a direct input from stage to screen. This is by no means knocking Kenneth Branagh. The guy is unparalleled when it comes to contemporary takes on Shakespeare. But The Hollow Crown had a different vision, and his film has been given a lot of room to breathe since 1989. And again, I feel like I have a stronger grasp on the character, as played by Tom Hiddleston, to know where certain moments in Branagh’s version wouldn’t necessarily work in the other incarnation. Thus The Hollow Crown’s Harry sounds more like how I envisioned his tone while I read the play, but that may be due to already seeing Tom Hiddleston’s version of the character. For instance, his speech to the ambassador is more as I imagined it (toying with him) than in Branagh’s slowly rising of his voice to the point of malice.
We must bear all. O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath
Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing! What infinite heart’s-ease
Must kings neglect that private men enjoy!
The adaptations differ in other ways than mere line deliveries. Branagh’s includes a scene where Harry confronts three traitors, THC does not. Instead, THC finds a way to incorporate a bit where (in disguise) the King challenges another soldier and they exchange gloves, whereas Branagh’s excludes it. Branagh’s highlights the boy (as played by Christian Bale, little cutie) and the slaughter of all the boys as the impetus for the King ordering that all of their French prisoners be killed. THC focuses on the death of York as the impetus for this action, and does not include the slaughter of the boys at all, and “the boy” is not killed. Most interesting, in Branagh’s we get all of Henry V’s famous speeches either from horseback or at some height, as he addresses his soldiers and the major of Harfleur. In THC, all of his speeches are more personal; he addresses select groups of his soldiers, only his brothers and aides, or only small gathered crowds. In my view, this gives the speeches more resonance and strips them of their typical battleground rally premise.
I loved one more thing from Tom Hiddleston’s performance and that was his scene with Kate, his bride-to-be. Branagh (so I have read) has said that the key to this scene is to play it as if these two are falling in love. And that is every bit as he played it in his film version, so although he was saying it was hard for him to woo ladies, he was imploring her for love all the while, obviously smitten. But he missed one aspect that was glaringly obvious to me as I read it: the start of this courtship is overwhelmingly awkward at first. The awkwardness pervaded my mind and made me squirm. And Tom Hiddleston played it like that at all of the necessary moments. It was brilliant.
- In Branagh’s version, he makes the execution of Bardolph much more painful for the King: he is forced to look into his eyes as he is hanged. The Hollow Crown spares Harry from even seeing the execution, only the aftermath, leaving his feelings on the subject guarded.
- I like the scenes that explicitly show how weary the English are becoming on their march across France. We see soldiers being carried, some sick, and some being left for dead (or already dead) on the road.
- One scene that elevates this adaption belongs to the night before the Battle of Agincourt: both Harry and the Dauphin are looking up at the moon. The Dauphin is anxious for morning because he is ready to fight; Harry looks fearfully at it, knowing the morning could bring much bloodshed to his people.
- Unfortunately, both versions excise a speech from the Queen of France that occurs at the end. Most scholars find it unnecessary, as she is a character that shows up only for a few lines. But they are either given away to Burgundy or excluded wholly. This is definitely a feminist take on it, but it is a shame that her character gets the short shrift, especially as she advocates peace and good will.
- Finally, this version puts greater emphasis on the aspect of religion: the King crosses himself every time he mentions God. Crosses are prominently displayed on soldiers, shields, murals. And before the battle, Henry explicitly prays while he explains how he has attempted to rectify what was done to Richard II.
I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers.
The most important thing about Part Two? I finally realized what this project is trying (very deftly) to accomplish: a very smooth, cohesive narrative from these history plays (excepting perhaps Richard II, which suffers from being the most cutoff from the rest of the action). There is an age-old argument over whether Henry IV Parts One and Two are meant to be accepted as two separate, divorced narratives or an over-arching 10-act play. This adaptation is attempting the latter, with my guess being that the cohesiveness will continue into Henry V.
Play vs. Adaptation
For my money, I am a huge fan of Part One and sort lukewarm towards Part Two. Both plays mirror each other (Hal messes around, the threat of rebellion looms, confrontation, King Henry and Hal reconcile) but Part One is much more successful while Part Two ends up being a weaker re-hash. All of the action in Part Two feels like filler, keeping time until the king dies. It is as if Shakespeare was looking for any excuse to utilize Falstaff again (and in this case, 50% more) as well as recapture some of the main antagonism from Part One. If you don’t like Falstaff, this play is a problem. Like a case of “too much of a good thing” gone literary. While the formula for Falstaff was perfect in Part One, the sequel fails to harness the same appropriate level. What this leaves us with is a Part Two where less than half is significant in the long run.
The film adaptation attempts to fix some of the errors of the play while also shining the edges to make it fit better as a continuation. And talk about continuity from Part One to Part Two: Hal still has visible injuries from the Battle of Shrewsbury; where he is stabbed in the shoulder is still clearly nasty and unhealed, his lip scabbed over. It benefits not only from the emphasis on making it flow as an actual sequel to Part One, but it also juggles around a few scenes to make it more balanced. For instance, in the fourth act of the play, King Henry IV inquires after the whereabouts of Prince Hal (who is supposed to be hunting) and discovers from Hal’s brother Clarence that he is actually at the tavern; Hal shows up soon after this exchange. In the film, this exchange shows up about 15 minutes in, thus making the scene follow more logically while also balancing out the representation of various main characters: the next scene involving Hal places him in a position that will directly lead to him to the tavern, confirming his brother’s information and making the story flow significantly better.
It also makes more sense in the film because the story and actors strive to make the audience see Hal’s changing perception and feelings toward Falstaff. Warwick (Iain Glen, who inevitably pops up in everything I watch) defends Hal after the King learns he is at the tavern and his analysis of Hal’s behavior (that he is studying his tavern friends) is proven more or less to be true by the final act. At the end of Part One, you can help but imagine that Hal must feel palpable resentment toward Falstaff for taking the credit of killing Hotspur. So in Part Two, Tom Hiddleston’s Prince Hal is much more guarded and curt with Falstaff. His jabs seem meaner and cold, setting us up for Hal’s rejection.
I spake unto this crown as having sense,
And thus upbraided it: “The care on thee depend-
Hath fed upon the body of my father.
Therefore, thou best of gold art worst of gold.
Other, less fine in carat, is more precious,
Preserving life in medicine potable,
But thou, most fine, most honored, most renowned,
Hast eat thy bearer up.”
The fundamental piece to making these two plays work as one is eliminating a portion of Part One where Hal saves the King’s life and they reconcile. I was upset at the removal (especially due to its status as a pivotal moment in the play) but because this process is basically repeated in Part Two, this is more evidence for the plays being two separate entities. To correct this, the adaptation removed this crucial bit in order to make their eventual reconciliation in Part Two flow better and remove the redundancy that would have occurred otherwise. Although I much prefer Hal saves the King’s life in battle vs. Hal is accused by the King of stealing the crown. Oh well.
To conclude, the BBC did Henry IV Part Two all kinds of favors by treating it as a true sequel and ironing out many of the kinks that make the play less successful at the same story. It made the experience more enjoyable, and the actors were definitely up to the task of presenting the ever-changing moods and emotions of Shakespeare’s characters.
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend to make offense a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.
Okay, this was pretty awesome. This adaptation was leaps and bounds better than Richard II. I felt like I was actually watching a film as opposed to a play that was staged on real sets. It gives more life to scenes of Prince Hal at the tavern than a play version ever could and lets the action breathe a little with these glimpses into everyday people’s lives. More so than in Richard II (where they utilized this trick a little), this adaptation endeavored to represent some of the most important monologues as INNER monologues. In many plays, you do get the sense that you have been awarded temporary telepathy to access these private character observations. A voice over takes this to the next logical level, showing the viewer that we are privy to something no one else is hearing. To be fair, Henry IV Part One is much more fun than Richard II could ever be; the plays really shouldn’t be compared tonally. Henry IV is gifted with many entertaining scenes and is downright hilarious but at the same time packs an emotional punch whenever those scenes turn to the serious matters at hand.
The cast: I love, love, love Jeremy Irons. In my eyes, he can do no wrong. Shakespeare from his lips seems as natural as breathing. Who else do I love? Our Lady Mary, Michelle Dockery. She certainly managed to breathe life into a character (Lady Percy) that I only gave cursory regard to while reading the play. Among a plethora of fantastic character actors, I have to single out Harry Lloyd as Mortimer. Mainly because this is literally the first time I have not felt an overwhelming urge to punch his character in the face. Re: as Viserys in Game of Thrones, annoying-weird side-grin posh kid from Doctor Who’s “The Family of Blood” and “Human Nature.”
But the spotlight must be put on Tom Hiddleston. Yes, I am a super fan of his and I am dangerously close to devouring his entire filmography but, Prince Hal is also a literary character close to my heart. And Tom somehow perfectly captured all of the emotions that resonate the most for me when it comes to the character. Best moment: when the king calls Hal to court and the news reaches him at the tavern where he had just been toying with Falstaff over their latest caper. Hal’s face falls at the weight of the news that war is brewing: on his face I read this is it, the time for games is over, I must now become the person I have been running from…but before he sinks into his despair we get a glimpse of Falstaff’s worth as well. He knows the way to cheer Hal, to put on an impromptu scene where they both get to play at being King Henry. This serves for a while but sooner than he’d like Hal’s thoughts return to the problem at hand: the end of passively playing his role as Prince. I think everyone (even those that are not the crown prince) can find some commonalities with Hal. He’s just a young dude trying to ignore the fact that he already knows what his destiny is by having a bit of fun. But when the time comes to step up to the plate, he realizes that there is no way to ignore destiny; what matters is how you handle yourself when that time comes.
For every honor sitting on his helm,
Would they were multitudes, and on my head
My shames redoubled! For the time will come
That I shall make this northern youth exchange
His glorious deeds for my indignities.
The juxtaposition of Hal with Hotspur is another excellent thing about Henry IV Part One. The way Shakespeare writes it (and not necessarily the way history would have it) Hal and Hotspur are just two young guys who don’t get the privilege of making youthful mistakes. Hotspur cannot undo this rebellion and Hal cannot undo the fact he is Prince of Wales. At the outset, King Henry bemoans the fact that Hal is his son and not Hotspur; Hotspur has numerous achievements in battle under his belt and a doting wife while Hal has Falstaff and the hunt for constant amusement. They are both the talk of the country: Hotspur for his prowess and Hal for his tavern-hopping. The difference between the two being that for Hotspur, his activities must end in his death and for Hal, he must sacrifice what he enjoys to live up to his title. And similarly to Richard II, I started out being largely annoyed by Hotspur but by the end I had heaps of sympathy for him; it is particularly heartbreaking that he never hears the king’s pledge to stand down. Yeah, obviously I am not naive enough to believe he would have been able to get out of his rebellion unscathed (or even alive really) but he deserved to know that he received the king’s love on the battlefield.
If I had one gripe, it would be the particular brand of fighting they used to stage the final battlefield scene: it was of the blurry, no idea what is going on variety. And when you really want to know what is going on, that is frustrating. I assume it was budgetary but yeah, frustrating. But everything else I loved. The humor, the heartbreaking moments, and especially all of the great character moments that make up the play. Hotspur challenging the crazy beliefs of Glendower, the rapport between Hotspur and Lady Percy, Hal and Poins tricking Falstaff, every quiet Hal moment encompassing his acknowledgement of the outrageous life he leads to the point where he sees just how his behavior has affected his father’s opinion of him. Great, great stuff. On to much heavier stuff (namely, betrayal!) in part two.
At first, I struggled to come up with any kind of post for The Avengers other than “Joss Whedon is my hero; Loki is the best character ever, the Joss-iest moment was Agent Coulson…or the threat of higher authority!” blah blah my usual rants. But then as I watched Game of Thrones “The Old Gods and the New” I was inspired to compare Loki and Theon and the circumstances that led them to make choices that were…regrettable. And the kicker: the main issues for both are identity and power. To not know your place in the world, to constantly question your purpose: that is a heartbreaking hand to be dealt. And there are multiple avenues to take; you could go soul-searching à la an Eat Pray Love quest or you could lash out, even attack. Unfortunately, Loki and Theon decide on the latter. The greatest tragedy is that for the viewer it is easy to see that Theon has, if not a real brother, a true friend in Robb and that Thor has never stopped loving Loki.
I naturally hone in on the “evil genius/criminal mastermind type,” especially if redemption is possible. It is no accident that I love Ben Linus from Lost, Petyr Baelish from Game of Thrones and Sylar from Heroes. That whole undiscovered capacity to be good thing is sort of like catnip to me. (And separate from my other Strange Attractor, unattainable men: the Doctor, Sherlock…). These guys range on a scale of evilness and I admit the evil thing is part of the attraction (I would have included Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds except he is completely unjustifiable.) But I guess due to his lack of demonstrated finesse, I don’t find Theon as redeemable, just tragic. Loki, on the other hand, loads of potential redemption. And admittedly, this post is weighted heavily toward Loki, but you know, Theon is sort of a lost cause in his current state (not counting what happens in A Dance with Dragons). My discussion will include plot points up to episode 6 of Game of Thrones season 2 and both Thor and The Avengers.
The tragedy of Theon Greyjoy is that he truly belongs nowhere, due to no fault of his own. He is taken from Pyke before he is old enough to get the gist of what it means to be iron born. He is still malleable. He is taken in as a ward at Winterfell and raised amongst the other Stark children, including another outsider: Jon Snow. Catelyn Stark seems to take issue with anyone who is not her own child but other than that it appears the Starks raised Theon well. Robb regards him as a brother and takes him into his confidence, especially on the battlefield. But upon his return, Theon realizes that being raised a Stark means no longer fitting in with the Iron Islanders back home. From here it is a train wreck in slo-mo as Theon decides to side with his father Balon Greyjoy in waging war against Robb and the North. Hoping to impress his father and prove his worth, “The Old Gods” finds Theon capturing Winterfell, and in way over his head.
Theon’s Brief Moment of Clarity: Lacking conviction in words and actions is one thing, but the realization that things would be so much better if time could be rewritten is another. For Theon this realization happens as he finds himself pulled between the competing parts of his identity: the Starks have taught him that the disrespect Ser Rodrik shows by spitting in Theon’s face warrants a trip to the dungeon, but on Pyke, the same prisoner would be executed. At the risk of looking weak, he must execute Rodrik, even as his face deceives his conviction that this is the right call. With Bran, Rickon, and Maester Luwin all pleading for him to do otherwise, you can see how very much he wants to listen to them; to take their advice. Earlier in the episode, Bran asks Theon, “Did you hate us the whole time?” and he looks conflicted even then, probably knowing that the answer would make him dredge up suppressed memories, making the siege of Winterfell unbearable. I am glad this scene with Bran was included in the series; at this moment in the book I felt beyond betrayed: if only Theon had the capacity to see that Bran also regarded him as family, as a friend. Waking up to find Theon in his rooom was disorienting to Bran but not unwelcome.
I think Theon hoped the blending of his two identities (Winterfell and Prince of Pyke) would result in a new sense of purpose that would illuminate the right path for his life to take. He could serve up Winterfell as a show of his merits while being surrounded by familiar faces and fortifications. But when he realized there was no way to back down from executing Rodrik, he had to acknowledge how far out of his depth this plan reached. Those familiar faces at Winterfell were going to suffer because of his actions. Arguably, a person with a keener mind (the Littlefingers and Tyrions of Westeros) could have spun events to spare Ser Rodrik but alas, the tragedy of Theon is his utter lack of ability. This may be giving him too much credit, but I hope Theon also realized (as he chopped and chopped at Ser Rodrik) the siege was a mistake because Winterfell was more of a home than Pyke could ever hope to be. Robb is the closest thing to family he cultivated in this world and he squandered it. And boy, this is a lesson Theon is going to learn again and again. Quick! Someone time-turn this narrative back a few years, give Theon a hug with some encouraging words and then let’s see what happens.
If I could characterize a way for you to read my feelings on Theon, it would be disappointment and a sad sense of finality. Loki descriptions, on the other hand, will probably be projected with undying love and understanding. Theon got a rough start in life, leaving him with a skewed sense of identity. Loki (as depicted in Thor) is initially only messed up because of sibling rivalry and an inferiority complex. Those pesky identity conflicts crop up later. Odin raised Thor and Loki together, even though it is sort of obvious Loki came out the black sheep. Thor is the golden boy and seems predestined to reign on the throne of Asgard. In his oafish manner, Thor also expects the throne but fails to see the jealousy of his brother. In the first of many ill-contrived plots, Loki decides to hatch a scheme that ruins his brother’s coronation by letting Frost Giants into Asgard; this in turn prompts a trip to Jotunheim where Loki begins to suspect his true parentage.
Finding out you are really a Frost Giant is a shocker (but probably somewhere he suspected he was, well, different) but thanks to his pre-existing jealousy, this information makes Loki go officially off the deep end. Odin and Thor make it explicit how much they love and care for Loki but this doesn’t register. Odin hopes that Loki will see his higher purpose in the idea that he was taken to unite Asgard and Jotunheim in peace. Instead, Loki schemes to conspire with his father Laufey: he lets Laufey into Asgard to murder Odin, only to actually save adopted daddy Odin (by killing real daddy Laufey) and prove to him and Asgard that he deserves the crown as well. Here it becomes obvious that being a Frost Giant was never the issue for Loki. It was that damn sibling rivalry and competition for Odin’s attention. After all these machinations, Odin comes to stop the final fight between Thor and Loki, leaving Loki dangling off the rainbow bridge. Odin refuses to accept Loki’s excuses and Loki lets go of Thor, falling into the abyss.
- Loki: You know, it all makes sense now, why you favored Thor all these years, because no matter how much you claim to love me, you could never have a Frost Giant sitting on the throne of Asgard!
- Loki: I never wanted the throne, I only ever wanted to be your equal.
- Loki kills Laufey: And YOUR death came by the son of Odin! [Even here his identity issues seem firm again, power and the throne trumping origins]
- Thor: Brother, however I have wronged you, whatever I have done that has led you to do this, I am truly sorry. [Loki never gets a pass from Thor; his love is unconditional]
- Thor: Why have you done this? Loki: To prove to Father that I am a worthy son! When he wakes, I will have saved his life, I will have destroyed that race of monsters, and I will be a true heir to Asgard! [Loki perceives that Thor has overshadowed him in their father’s eyes. He is desperate to prove himself to Odin, and the throne is just one spoil of that]
- Loki: I could have done it, Father! I could have done it! For you! For all of us! [This is where Odin replies “No, Loki” providing the ultimate and final rejection to Loki’s sense of purpose]
Sadly, (at least for me), Loki goes through a sort of seven circles of hell experience where he probably over paid for his transgressions in Asgard and emerges as a guy whose “brain is a bag full of cats.” He meets up with the Chitauri and sees an opportunity to come back with a vengeance, but actually he becomes a pawn in their acqusition of the Cosmic Cube and to orchestrate an invasion of Earth. In a chilling scene, the Chitauri leader lets Loki know that if he messes this up, there is nowhere in the universe to hide. So now he is definitely in too deep, if let’s say, later he realizes this whole thing is one giant mistake.
My favorite parts from The Avengers are the scenes where we get to see Thor attempt to reason with Loki; after all, Loki is the reason that Thor is taking part in these proceedings. (Thor: “Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother…”) While they discuss the fact that Thor did mourn for him, it does not compute to Loki that Thor is happy to find him alive. Yet Thor still refers to him as his brother even if he is “adopted.” But if he is tempted by Thor’s offers to come home, his hands are already tied. Loki’s Moment of Clarity happens right at the end: it seems as if Thor has gotten through to him; he wants Loki to switch sides and help the Avengers protect the Earth. You can see in Loki’s eyes that yes, he wants this because he does lack the conviction to carry through with this war but the THREAT that he will be hunted down and what it would mean to concede becomes his driving force. And he has another threat to worry about, as Tony Stark mentions: “There is no throne, there is no version of this where you come out on top. Maybe your army will come, maybe it’s too much, but it’s all on you.” Loki, like Theon, wavered at his lack of conviction but circumstances led him here: he had to carry through to the end, no matter how much he might want to convey “oops, let’s rewind” to his brother’s team.
Some very eloquent misguided Lokisms from The Avengers:
- “Freedom is life’s great lie. Once you accept that in your heart, you will know peace.”
- “How desperate are you that you would call upon such lost creatures to defend you? [Tom Hiddleston’s line reading of this is perfect]…Ooh, it burns you to have come so close, to have the Tesseract, to have power, unlimited power. And for what? A warm light for all of mankind to share? And then to be reminded of what real power is…”
- “Your ledger is dripping, its gushing red, and you think saving a man no less virtuous than yourself will change anything? This is the basest sentimentality. This is a child at prayer- pathetic. You lie and kill in the service of liars and killers. You pretend to be separate, to have your own code, something that makes up for the horrors; but they are a part of you, and they will never go away.”
Loki is desperate to prove his worth, to be regarded as superior. And if he can’t do that with Thor, at least he can wield his power over the human race (not including the Hulk, okay?):
- “ENOUGH! You are, all of you, beneath me. I am a god you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by…”
- “An ant has no quarrel with a boot.”
- “Kneel before me. I said… KNEEL! Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.” [I really like this quote because bits of autobiography slip in: mad scramble for power, for identity…um Loki, welcome to your life]
And the Oscars felt no need to talk about Kevin, highlighting only one problem among a multitude of issues. The ceremony provided little respite from the doom and gloom I have felt since the nominations were announced. The Academy Awards do tend to give out at least one surprise, or upset, if you have been following awards season closely. But the “surprise” upset came in the Best Actress category. Where one would have expected Viola Davis or even Michelle Williams. Instead Oscar gives it to the one person you would expect them to favor: Meryl Streep.
I started watching red carpet coverage around 5:30 and watched the awards to their conclusion around 11:40. And although I attempted to live blog it, I mainly followed Twitter reactions; below represents the few moments before and during the ceremony that highlight the lens I watched the ceremony through—to avoid a massive pit of utter disappointment.
6:23 The red carpet provided its first truly interesting moment: Jessica Chastain’s delight at meeting Ryan Seacrest. You could see in her face how initially absurd the moment seemed as perhaps the idea of where she actually was started to sink in. (Although how did she miss him at the SAGs?) I definitely love her. Side note: for the second year in a row, the tie breaker question for Entertainment Weekly’s Oscar pool asked you to guess the color of Michell Williams’ dress. Last year I guessed correctly with white. This year I guessed the same but she showed up in coral. So curious to know if anyone got that.
7:15 Perhaps the most memorable moment of the night came before the telecast: Sacha Baron Cohen dumping Kim Jong Il’s “ashes” all over Ryan’s suit. While people are generally describing Ryan’s reaction as “peeved,” I thought he took the entire thing in stride (well as in stride as possible) and I can certainly imagine some people who would have had a major meltdown if the same occurred to them. But as harmless as it was, I do think it was two things 1) Cruel and unnecessary: Ryan was a good enough sport to interview him in character, the dumping (especially during such a formal event) was distasteful, even for him and 2) a cop-out: Ryan was an easy target: very visible yet removed from the main ceremony. He got the attention he wanted, but he went for the easiest and safest target in the area.
8:51 21 minutes into the broadcast I spot Bret McKenzie in the audience. Would have been nice to see him interviewed but then how could the world go without a Nick Nolte interview where he mumbles along confusedly until he realizes the hard hitting question was about his pet crow. Sigh. ABC makes E! look good, and this is the world we live in.
9:09 Christian Bale comes out to deliver Best Supporting Actress and his accent sounds incredibly thicker than usual. Is he going method as usual? I also remembered The Fighter…and how much better the nominees were last year. Couldn’t wait for all of last year’s winners to come out and taunt me.
9:40 Billy Crystal’s jokes start leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I semi-tolerated the one about driving outside of Beverly Hills in order to find a black woman but ageist attacks on Christopher Plummer and Max von Sydow? Celebrated actors? Especially with Plummer as the favorite? It definitely came across as disrespectful to me; hopefully as a newly minted Oscar winner (and yes, the oldest ever for actor) these shenanigans did not ruin his win.
9:41 Robert Downey Jr. comes out to present for documentary films with Gwyneth Paltrow. While this shtick wasn’t the best I have seen from RDJ he constantly proves to be an MVP of awards shows: well spoken, good with timing, and generally entertaining. He may be too “movie star” for a hosting gig but we can add him to the list anyway.
10:01 Melissa Leo arrives on the scene to hand out the Best Supporting Actor award to Christopher Plummer. Per usual, Christopher makes special mention of Ewan McGregor, that “superb artist” and even mentions he would share it with him if he had any decency (he doesn’t but that is understandable).
10:18 Bret McKenzie wins for Best Original Song and I rejoice. He didn’t really have stiff competition but the way this telecast was going, it felt like everything was going to lead to disappointment. Hopefully we will only hear more and more from Bret, either through songwriting or acting (preferably before The Hobbit in, gulp, December). Various tweets reported that Jason Segel was crying and/or looked awkward for not being thanked (I say it’s the camera’s fault for lingering on his face as the only other recognizable presence from The Muppets).
10:30 One of the toughest categories (for me) Best Original Screenplay is given out. I had my money on Midnight in Paris (it won) but was secretly hoping for a surprise win for either Bridesmaids or Margin Call. At least I was rewarded with my first glimpse of Zachary Quinto (I guess he was also too unimportant for an interview on the red carpet? And for that matter, I really wish JC Chandor went more recognized for Margin Call).
10:41 Someone shouts Scorsese while the Bridesmaids cast is on stage (they should have hosted jointly! Oscars solved) and surprise airplane bottles of booze appear like magic. Excellent callback.
10:52 Michael Sheen appears on screen during one of the categories where Midnight in Paris is nominated and attracts my attention for a few seconds. Meanwhile I am anxious about how long this will run into the 11 o’clock hour, since I really want to catch some of The Walking Dead. Because obviously I have to watch The Talking Dead or risk missing out on my Chris Hardwick fix for the week. (Don’t worry, I pieced together most of the episode before The Talking Dead came on. Also Michael Zegen from Rescue Me and now The Walking Dead as the new guy was on the show…anyone? So glad I got to watch it live.)
11:12 Patton Oswalt appears in one of the hundred million montages. If he appeared before that clip I totally missed him but he was a refreshing face nonetheless, and a sad reminder that no one even mentioned Young Adult.
11:16 Natalie Portman awkwardly introduces nominees for Best Actor and Gary Oldman’s clip is perhaps my favorite scene from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It also includes Benedict Cumberbatch prominently: the little things are keeping me going during this Oscars.
11:27 Colin Firth (ah, once again I am reminded how much I enjoyed last year’s winners) appears and, while all of his speeches are exquisite, you can tell his clear favorites: he waxes poetic with Meryl Streep about Mamma Mia and I love him for it. And he reminisces about working with Michelle Williams when she was 11.
11:34 I finally decide to notice that Tom Hiddleston was in TWO of the films nominated for Best Picture (Midnight in Paris and War Horse). And Benedict Cumberbatch was featured again in the War Horse clip! “Be Brave!!” Once again, the periphery presence of the likes of BC, Tom Hiddleston and Ewan McGregor help me pretend I am watching an awards show in an alternate universe where all the people I obsess over are being recognized.
11:36 The Artist wins. THE DOG?! (Yes, I know his name is Uggie) joins the producer on stage. I give up on the world. Thus endeth the 84th Academy Awards but not necessarily my Oscar streak: just because I didn’t see Best Picture doesn’t mean I didn’t predict it (like everyone else, seriously it wasn’t a shocker….unfortunately) and I learned that Hollywood loves Hollywood more than race relations. Although there will never be an acceptable explanation for how Crash won.
Today The Avengers official Twitter page hosted a live Twitter Q&A with some of the stars and Joss Whedon. Even though Buffy is one of my favorite all-time television shows, it wasn’t enough to sway me. Until I saw that Tom Hiddleston was also joining in (I didn’t even know he was on Twitter!) I had to get in on the action. Of course neither Tom nor Joss answered my tweets (oh well) but it plunged me straight back into my Loki obsession while I was at work.
I won’t go into my strange attraction to misunderstood evil masterminds (hello, Benjamin Linus), at least not in this post. But the combination of Loki possessing this trait and Tom Hiddleston’s penchant for long character-essay discussions during panels make an irresistible draw for me. I am just so psyched that Loki is the villain in The Avengers and I am way more interested in him than most of the others combined (well, I am anxious for more Jeremy Renner).
Seriously, if you watch any panel where Tom is involved, the majority of questions go to him and he just…knows exactly what to say; he is definitely as emotionally invested in Loki as I am. And his answer-tweets were a treasure trove of Loki insights and teasers.
Some highlights from the chat:
What was your biggest challenge in playing Loki in the #Avengers ?
- @twhiddleston: The biggest challenge was magnifying his menace without losing touch of his emotional truth. Keeping his chaos honest!
In Thor, you had lots of emotions. In #Avengers, was there a day where you were devastated emotionally after “cut”?
- @twhiddleston: In all honesty, yes. Sometimes you wake up feeling warm and sunny, but the scene requires hatefulness and spite. You have to reach deeper. And stay aware of the fact that the emotions are true, but they’re not mine.
Might we see a more mischievous (rather than mostly just evil) Loki in the #Avengers ?
- @twhiddleston: ENTIRELY. More mischievous. More evil. More hubristic. More delusional. More damaged. More badass.
In the end of “Thor”, we see that Thor still loves his brother and misses him a lot. Does Loki feels the same?
- @twhiddleston: The opposite of love is not hate but indifference. And Loki hates his brother.
Shakespeare quote to describe Loki?
- @twhiddleston: “O beware my lord of jealousy, it is the green eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feeds on.” (Othello) … Or: “Stand up for bastards!” (King Lear)
Other choice tweets from @twhiddleston:
- Who are these Avengers? They were made to be ruled.
- He doesn’t want revenge so much as identity. Belonging. Purpose. Self-esteem. Through delusional dreams.
- MARGIN CALL was sensational. Smartly written, impeccably performed, utterly compelling. Chilling, brilliant, terrific.
Why, between Margin Call being .99 cents on Amazon today and this glowing review, I think I am watching Margin Call tonight! (Maybe I am not the only one who stalks the daily deal on Amazon Instant?)
I have to admit: I went into War Horse with fairly low expectations. Yes, Spielberg is a favorite, but after age ten I haven’t been able to get invested in films that largely revolve around an animal. I expected to go in, suffer a bit through “oh, I surely love my horse so much” parts and enjoy some quality time with Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch. Surprisingly for me, I gleaned much more enjoyment from the film overall than I anticipated. So here is my breakdown of the film (into its piecemeal way of storytelling) and what I liked/liked less as well as the obligatory Downton Abbey comparison. (I am talking explicit plot points here, but just in case let me say in my best pirate: THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD.) The past few months have been steadily increasing my knowledge of the Great War, especially with Downton and Boardwalk Empire. I say, keep it coming!
Part One: When you covet thy neighbor’s colt….
…..your father foolishly outbids his landlord and pays an extravagant price for a thoroughbred when your family really needs a strong plough horse. Granted, this portion was necessary for set-up; they only stress it in a million different ways but just in case you don’t get it, “Joey” the horse is special. He’s different, stronger and smarter than the average horse. Albie (…
the racist dragon) trains him to come with a special owl call (like he read in a book about Injuns) and Joey somehow overcomes all obstacles to plow the stony field when surprise! Rain makes the earth more pliable. Other notables: Albie’s dad is an alcoholic with a gimp leg, both legacies of his time in the Boer War. Albie has a goofy-grinned best friend Andrew and a rival, David (son of their evil landlord), who is the “only boy in the village that can drive.” Unfortunately for this wunderkind, the girl he is trying to woo with his driving skills is much more impressed with Albie’s horsepower (literally) (har har). Due to a freak storm, the precious turnips are ruined and Albie’s dad goes to plan b: sell poor Joey to an army captain before he marches off to the front. DOWNTON PARALLEL: If you live in Devon (or a place that looks like Hobbiton) you get your war news via the town Paul Revere. If you are the Earl of Grantham, you can conveniently announce the news at your garden party, in front of your closest friends, relatives, and servants. Luckily for Albie, his dad sells him to the kind blue eyes of Tom Hiddleston’s Captain Nicholls who promises to return Joey to Albie at the end of the war if possible (anvil clang).
Part Two: If you are cool enough to be the horse of either Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston, you must, by necessity, become the best of horse friends
Finally, for me, the gears of the movie (and war) started turning. It proved to be very difficult for me to focus my energies when both Benedict and Tom were on the screen. (BC won usually). But luckily Tom had a few scenes sans Benedict’s Sergeant Jamie Stewart. What a good natured character was Tom’s Captain Nicholls! He sketches! Jamie leads the men into a German camp via a cavalry charge with disastrous consequences: honestly, I thought Jamie was sure to perish. Why? Not sure, but probably because his presence in the trailer led me to believe Tom Hiddleston had a larger role. WRONG. As the Germans reached their hidden machine guns, the recognition of their unavoidable slaughter crept into Tom’s baby blues. I can only express my sadness by listening to/watching Black Swan Song. Oh well, I have The Avengers to look forward to, this Comic-Con panel to keep me entertained, and my Thor Blu-ray. Benedict went off to POW land, never to be seen or heard from again. DOWNTON PARALLEL: The male population of the UK was absolutely decimated during the Great War. Just ask Sybil: “Sometimes it feels as if all of the men I’ve danced with are dead.”
Part Three: The guy from The Reader and his brother commit a No-No
In memory of the precious few minutes we got of the Benedict/Tom bromance, Joey and Topthorn (BC’s horse) remain together in the German camp. And because Joey is special you guys, he shows Topthorn it is okay to be harnessed, ensuring both of their survivals. The appearance of the boy from The Reader as Gunther (David Kross) resulted in me listening to his speech patterns; I was trying to decide if he actually knows English now rather than just memorizing some consonant sounds. Lucky for him, he is really good with the horses; so much so that he gets to stay behind and care for them. His 14-year-old brother gets his orders to go to the front, and despite his protests, Gunther grabs him from the line of marching men and they flee to a nearby windmill (aka the most obvious hiding spot within a 20 mile radius). It is a gamble that in the end is not worth the risk: we all know what the punishment for desertion is….DOWNTON PARALLEL: One cannot help but think of poor Mrs. Patmore’s nephew MIA and later revealed to have been shot for cowardice. TORCHWOOD PARALLEL: Poor Tosh’s out of time semi-boyfriend Tommy, who was doomed to death once he returned to his appropriate timeline because of his PTSD (or shell shock) which, in the eyes of officers, was cowardice on the battlefield, and resulted in execution.
Part Four: A Sickly Girl Meets Two Horses (Interlude)
This was probably my least favorite chapter in the story of Joey. I was truly enjoying the battlefield so to be torn away so abruptly into this farm setting was a little boring (especially if you are expecting an Inglourious Basterds type situation). A little girl, Emilie, living with her grand-père, falls in love with the two horses she magically finds in their windmill. All she wants to do is go riding, but she suffers from brittle bones.She wants to know about the death of her parents and he wants to talk about some pigeons. In the end, the horses are found when Emilie is allowed to ride Joey on her birthday and sent back into the field.
Part Five: Its 1918, Welcome to The Somme, Albie
Poor Joey and Topthorn are now employed with the wrenching work of moving heavy artillery up and down embankments. While we know this is something THE MIRACLE HORSE Joey is capable of, Topthorn is already struggling.
MEANWHILE at the Battle of the Somme we see a familiar face: Albie! As one could have guessed, no able-bodied boy from Devon could escape conscription when his age allowed (but he was probably eagerly awaiting the day he could begin the Joey search, if Captain Nicholl’s sad little sketchbook and death notice did not dissuade him too much). Andrew is alongside Albie as well as Mr. I Can Drive David. The boys raid No Man’s Land, except Andrew is in charge of giving any cowards a bayonet to the stomach. Albie saves David halfway across the stretch of war-torn land (making me search my brain for what this reminded me of: The Pacific? Of course not…ahhh yes, the Doctor Who episode where the mean popular kid becomes friends with the little scrawny Love Actually boy when they are in the Great War–and his vision from the Doctor’s fob watch allows him to save them both on the battlefield). DOWNTON PARALLEL #1: In the second season, they sure do beat us over the head about how war changes everything, war is the great equalizer, etc: Matthew: “War has a way of distinguishing between the things that matter and the things that don’t.” And similarly, the fact that David got to drive around a pretty girl and their dad’s hate each other matter a lot less to Albie in the middle of combat. Andrew cannot bayonet his friends when they scramble back into the trenches and instead he leaps onto the field to join Albie. This made me wonder: would he have been accused of cowardice himself, for refusing to kill the cowards? Time wouldn’t tell because dear old goofy Andrew succumbed to mustard gas in the enemy trenches. DOWNTON PARALLEL #2: I did half expect to see Matthew and William preparing to go out on a raid.
BACK TO JOEY. Topthorn is completely spent; he lays down and will not get back up. With fighting breaking out, Joey is able to escape, only to leap around the trenches and get stuck in No Man’s Land, caught in barbed wire. This leads to one of my favorite scenes of the film: the cooperation between the British and German soldiers who cut Joey free. That both sides would break for Christmas celebrations or football matches and other such tales is one of the most heartwarming and heart-wrenching aspects of the Great War. The British soldier wins the right to take Joey back to his camp, thus setting up….
Part Six: A boy and his horse reunited
As storytelling allows, Joey and Albie end up in the same vicinity. TWIST! Their reunion is made all the more difficult by Albie’s temporary blindness due to the mustard gas. However, the fateful owl call he taught Joey as well as his perfect description of his features spare Joey yet again. There was only one obstacle left: Joey was going back to his beginnings—the farmer’s auction. While all the soldiers chip in to help Albie, the grandfather of the little girl appears and pays an astronomical price for Joey, recognizing that the miracle horse was being sold. He has his reasons for wanting him: his granddaughter is dead, and he wants the one piece of her that the war didn’t take. (And thus the whole little interlude in the middle of the movie wasn’t a complete departure from the plot). Albie mans up and says goodbye but Joey is reluctant; the old man pulls out Albie’s father’s regimental pennant from his pocket (that traveled from Albie to Joey to the old man) and he finally realizes the horse belongs with Albie. Albie returns home with Joey to his parents and I sit in wonder at how a movie can end so happily. The father isn’t even dead? Wow, and one of my friends thought for sure Joey would be heading to “The Glue Factory” by the end.
Let’s just hope that Albie doesn’t end up like his father or poor Jimmy Darmody on Boardwalk Empire, forever haunted by his experiences.
In between finally watching Boardwalk Empire (SIGH, thanks for the recommendation and heartache, Dad) and the double whammy of Downton Abbey/Doctor Who, I was in serious movie watching mode over the holidays. It started with Shame and ended with Final Destination 5, both of which necessitated me to post my ramblings separately. But what about in between? Through a mixture of theater-going, Netflix, and Amazon Instant Video I took in: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Midnight in Paris, The Trip, Mission Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), Hatchet II and Four Rooms.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes stretched my imaginative capacity a little too far as I found the subject matter just too far-fetched (sorry to all the fans of the franchise). I enjoyed Midnight in Paris more than I expected, and this fella’s involvement certainly helped matters:
I found I could stretch my ability to believe way more in Midnight in Paris than in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Time travel? YES. Talking apes taking over the world? NO. Plus, I feel like the message resonated more with me: the idea that so many people long for the golden age when people at that time were longing for a time even further back.
The Trip was pretty fantastic: it probably helps if you are obsessed with either Steve Coogan or Rob Brydon. I enjoy Rob Brydon in Gavin and Stacey and I think I love him now after seeing this. I will never think of Michael Caine impressions the same way. Plus it is gorgeous in HD.
I saw MI: IV in IMAX; it was a good choice. Every scene was so much fun. Benji’s scenes were the best and I am so happy they included his character again; caveat, I love Simon Pegg. Everything he did and said stuck out to me. When he took out a bad guy at the end, swooooon. The comic relief and still kick-ass. Jeremy Renner achieved the opposite: kick-ass with good comedic timing. And to think, he used to be “the guy that played Jeffrey Dahmer.” And I was immediately shippin’ a bromance between him and Tom. Immediately.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was an interesting experience. I don’t even know what to think at this point. I read the book and saw the Swedish film version and I feel like I know the core of the story by heart. I think making Anita really be Harriet was a good call, but very rushed. I think in this case Fincher should have adapted the ending differently because while it works in book-form, it falls a little flat in the cinema. It is hard to separate how I see the movie with how people who are just getting exposed interpret the film. My friend said it was fairly confusing at some parts. I can definitely see how that is possible. But, Rooney Mara was fantastic.
Hatchet II is what you would expect if you have seen Hatchet. A very mindless 80-something minutes.
Fate did converge on New Year’s Eve to lead me to Four Rooms on Netflix. I was browsing Netflix via the filmography option. I went from trying (and failing) to look up Christoph Waltz to landing on Quentin Tarantino somehow. And lo and behold, there was Four Rooms. I love Tim Roth so it was almost a done deal. And then I saw the film takes place on New Year’s Eve and of course, duh, I had to watch it.