"The Young Victoria" and "The Book of Eli"
The Young Victoria – It’s been a recent trend that films have depicted the lives of monarchs in their youth, giving an actress in her twenties a chance to wear a corset and portray a woman living in extraordinary circumstances (Kirsten Dunst in “Marie Antoinette,” Keira Knightley in “The Duchess”). Now it’s Emily Blunt’s turn and she is arguably the most talented actress to do so.
In 1837 as Princess Victoria (Blunt) approaches her eighteenth birthday, a not-so behind the scenes power struggle is taking place in regards to her right to the crown. Raised hidden away from the world by her overprotective mother, the Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson, as always, playing someone generally despicable), Victoria faces constant pressure from her mother and Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong, “Sherlock Holmes”) to sign a regency order in the event of the King’s death. This would put the Duchess on the throne if the King died prior to Victoria’s birthday. Victoria’s uncle, King William IV (Jim Broadbent) makes no secret of his deep disdain for the Duchess and he manages to live just long enough to allow Victoria to reach the throne.
What the screenplay by Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”) is more interested in though, is how Victoria dealt with life before and after her coronation. In the film’s open we see how unique Victoria’s childhood was. She seemed to have been aware from early on that her upbringing was decidedly different from that of other children. How this would affect her worldview is touched on but I would have liked to have seen this more fully explored.
What works very well is the examination of Victoria’s friendship and eventual marriage with Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) of Belgium. Presented in the film as being much more than a royal marriage for political reasons, we see that Victoria and Albert not only love each other but complement each other personally as well as in their royal duties. Blunt and Friend each give terrific performances that are so reserved for so much of the film that their emotional moments carry a much greater weight.
Also of note are the performances of Paul Bettany as Lord Melbourne, an advisor to Victoria with a romantic interest in her until she finally marries Albert, and the all too brief appearance of Jim Broadbent as the King.
Director Jean-Marc Vallee seems to follow a pretty well-worn path in the look and feel of “The Young Victoria.” British dramas in this period of history generally seem to follow the same pace and tone and Vallee doesn’t particularly deviate. It almost seems as though there’s a law mandating that all movies set in Europe between the 17th and 19th centuries include at least one shot of a character sadly peering out of a window while someone enters or exits a coach. I counted two here. Still, Vallee doesn’t really take any notable missteps either.
As a piece of filmmaking “The Young Victoria” is accomplished but plays it too safe. However the performances of Blunt and Friend are strong enough to keep us interested and make us care about Victoria and Albert. 7/10.
The Book of Eli - It's only been a couple of months since the release of the absolutely fantastic "The Road" but apparently you can never have too many post-apocalyptic stories about wanderers trying to reach the ocean.
Eli (Denzel Washington) is all alone as he heads west. From the beginning we see that he can quite literally sniff out an ambush and he is not a man to be messed with no matter how many guys you've got or what weaponry you have. Armed with a sword and a book whose significance is lost upon a generation that never learned to read (Eli states it's "been 30 winters since the flash" which blinded a great many of the few who survived), Eli will not deviate from the path he is on, even in extreme circumstances.
The book Eli carries may be unknown by most who walk the earth, but it is vitally important to Carnegie (Gary Oldman), a villain who at first seems to have more in common with Gene Hackman in "Unforgiven" than most of the villains played by, well, Gary Oldman. This only serves to emphasize the feel of the movie as a post-apocalyptic western. Early in the film, Eli, unaware of Carnegie's hunt for the book, is invited to stay the night in Carnegie's saloon. Carnegie, unaware Eli possesses the book, hopes that Eli will decide to join his crew in the search of it. Carnegie attempts to seal the deal by offering up Solara (Mila Kunis), but Eli isn't interested of taking advantage of the young woman and instead teaches her how to pray, a fact that Carnegie is tipped off to the following morning. When Solara escapes a reluctant Eli allows her to join him on his journey west, with Carnegie close behind.
While it doesn't pack the punch or create the sense of place that "The Road" did, "The Book of Eli" is a very entertaining film with strong action sequences, solid performances from the leads (along with some brief appearances by Tom Waits and Michael Gambon), and actually has more substance than you would expect. Written by first time screenwriter Gary Whitta and directed by the Hughes Brothers ("From Hell"), I actually found myself surprised that modern Hollywood would make this film. It's religious content is evident and unapologetic but it manages to not come across as heavy handed.
It may be the exception rather than the rule, but "The Book of Eli" is no "January junk." 7.5/10.
On another note, Ricky Gervais was brilliant as the host of the Golden Globes. "I like a drink as much as the next man. Unless the next man is Mel Gibson." Every awards show should be hosted by him, Steve Martin, or Conan O'Brien (Lord knows he'll have time on his hands soon).