Thursday, February 21, 2008

Elizabeth: The Boring Age. (*****5/10)

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a sequel to Elizabeth, which was a very good movie from 1998 that netted Cate Blanchett her first Oscar nomination. I suppose Oscar feels as though they ought to nominate her again, if her first performance in the same role was Academy-Award-worthy, then so too must this one be, right? Wrong. Not that Blanchett is bad. But last year, Helen Mirren was exquisite in her role as this very same queen, Elizabeth the First. And Mirren showed exactly what that role should be. She defined it. And one of the main reasons is - and much as I hate it when actresses do this - they uglied her up. If history tells us anything through pictures about Queen Elizabeth I, it is that she was fairly ugly. Mirren put on a fake nose and made herself look less attractive than she actually is. Charlize Theron did the same for Monster, and that was OK too. They were both playing real people. Real, ugly, people. Cate Blanchett is not ugly. She is, in fact, striking and beautiful. That this is historically inaccurate is insignificant. But if she were to look like Helen Mirren did, it would add a certain weight to the role that is just not present here.

Oh sure, she's good. In fact, she's great, and has been in every movie in which she has appeared in her illustrious career. But deserving of an Oscar nod she is not. Aside from the occasional mood swing and enraged outburst, little is required of Blanchett here except to have a pale face and appear queenly. The movie itself is not that good either. The first one was a breath of fresh air, it looked like something fairly new when I saw it back in the 90s. But now this sequel feels like just another period piece, like Becoming Jane which was also just released, and countless others. "Period piece" basically means people dress up in old-timey clothes and talk old-timey talk and do stuff that must have happened in old-timey times. Some are magnificent, Elizabeth: The Golden Age is not. There is of course, the prerequisite love story, this one between Blanchett and Clive Owen, who plays the famous adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh. Owen is decent in that role as well, bringing charm and old-timey manliness to the role, and Geoffrey Rush is terrific as always in his supporting role, that of Sir Francis Walsingham. But the whole movie feels a little forced.

And when it finally ends, and there is a bit of action, it feels tacked on, and too-little-too-late. The rest of the film had just plain bored me by then, and I didn't care what happened to our heroes. Elizabeth: The Golden Age does what a period piece should do - have great costumes and convey the feel of that time period. But it does little else. And so does Cate Blanchett.

I have been attempting to watch as many Oscar-nominated movies as possible in the week leading up to the Big Event, but I have managed only to see those that are on DVD. And I have seen everything that is on DVD so far that is up for an award. Which means I have still missed out on dozens of films. I have seen all the Best Actor movies except for the likely winner, There Will Be Blood. I have seen only two of the Best Picture nominees, No Country For Old Men and Michael Clayton. In point of fact, the only categories where I have seen all five nominees are Sound Editing, where one of them is Transformers, and makeup, where one of them is Norbit. And I have seen only three of the Best Actress nominees. So far, I am rooting for Julie Christie to win Best Actress for Away From Her, simply because it's slightly better than Marion Cotillard's job in La Vie En Rose. But really, I am hoping for Anyone But Cate Blanchett This Year. She will certainly win others in her career, since she has that Meryl Streep thing going for her - she will be nominated for every movie she does for the rest of time - and she may well win Best Supporting for I'm Not There (another film that I regret to say I have yet to see), but she does not deserve it for this one. At least there's a category for Costume Design. Oh, the prestige!

Speaking of costume design, and by extension period pieces, here is a brief list of the ten best period pieces ever made (and by brief, I mean ten items long):

10. The Piano (1993)
9. Raise The Red Lantern (1991)
8. Once Upon A Time in America (1984)
7. The Seventh Seal (1957)
6. Rashomon (1951)
5. The Duellists (1977)
4. Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World (2003)
3. Once Upon A Time In China (1991)
2. The Untouchables (1987)
1. The Seven Samurai (1954)

Hmm...two Robert DeNiro, two Harvey Keitel, two Toshiro Mifune. Maybe I need to diversify my taste some. But anyone who insists that Titanic should be on that list should be kicked in the leg.

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