Monday, June 24, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

Joss Whedon places Shakespeare's language in a contemporary Napa-esque setting, cutting some of the dialogue, but changing it very little. Thus, the originality in this version of the play comes from the direction, blocking and line delivery. Unlike Richard III (1995) I wouldn't say that Whedon uses today's world to put a deep twist on old lines (i.e. "My kingdom for a horse") but by switching fashion, locale and sometimes gender (Riki Lindhome plays Conrade who is romantically involved with her co-conspirator) there are enough creative and different elements to make this 400 year old story new.

Additionally, it's fun to see members of Whedon's repertory theater reunited, not only the big players like Denisof, Fillion and Acker but Tom Lenk too (as Verges, Dogberry's fumbler in crime).

To begin with, the sexism in Much Ado has always bothered me much more than in Taming of the Shrew. I can never fully get over the outrageous treatment of Hero to find much pleasure in the story's high comedic points. What troubles me most is that the callous conclusion to Hero's betrayal is not just a product of its time (1598). When you contrast Hero with the independent Beatrice, you see that female outspokenness and self-respect was not uncommon. Neither Leonato or Antonio (who is not included as a character in this movie) think Beatrice is a horror. Antonio seems quite pleased with his daughter, whether she marries or not and Leonato is an indulgent uncle, who remarks on her sharp tongue and harsh judgments, but never asks her to change. Of course, he hopes his own daughter, Hero, will comply with her father's will, but even when Beatrice advises her to obey only if it pleases her and to say "father it doth not please me," when she objects, Leonato does not argue. And even after Beatrice admits her feelings for Benedick and promises to change so that he will not fear revealing himself to her, in the end her defiant spirit is not altered and it makes her more lovable to Benedick, not less so. I get the feeling that even if the abuse heaped upon Hero was not exceptional for the day, to some, to those who knew and loved her, it should have been (and remained) unacceptable.

The friar, Beatrice and Benedick all believe in Hero and think her wrongly accused, no matter what the proof against her. Of course, Benedick was wooing her cousin, so it's impossible to say how that colored his reactions. If he hadn't been trying to please Beatrice would his feelings have been as charitable? I think so. Because that is what makes Beatrice and Benedick the leads, destined for one another, their wit, yes, but their common wisdom as well. Well, they're wise in all things except one another.

So, I know that Shakespeare could distinguish between good and bad character and that the prejudices of his time did not blind him to misogyny, because Beatrice resists it. That makes the Hero fallout all the more frustrating, because the writer knew the extent to which she was wronged, but glosses over it. That makes the ending of this story feel shameful, rather than happy. Happy would have been if Hero abandoned both Claudio and her father and went to live with her newly-wedded cousin, whose loyalty and love never failed her.

I suppose there are two ways to cast Claudio and Leonato to make their conduct credible. They can be portrayed as either mercenary or stupid. Whedon goes with stupid -- and also makes Leonato a bit of a drunk, to boot. I'm not sure exactly what Shakespeare intended their character flaws to be, if any. Perhaps, the bard meant to present them as people who "sinn'd I not but in mistaking" (as Claudio says). Other than a grievous mistake they are supposed to be received as reasonable and kind, rather than unforgivable. I can't buy that.

The movie makes Claudio, Pedro, Leonato, John and the gang more like politicians than princes and lords. I suppose it's easy enough to imagine Claudio Governor of California (sort of like Jerry Brown) rather than Governor of Messina and perhaps Don Pedro and his attaches (like Claudio and Benedick) are federal powermongers, with whom Claudio hopes to curry favor. At any rate, they all show up at a party wearing suits. They are also professionally photographed by those in their entourage, often posing for the photo opp.

Claudio tells his associates that he wants to marry Hero. As in the original play, I'm not sure why Don Pedro suggests that they have a masquerade party where he pretends to be Claudio and woos Hero himself and then when he has won her over, he will hand her to Claudio. I'm not sure if it's a Cyrano de Bergerac ploy or not. Claudio admits that he is nervous and cannot express himself well, so is Pedro speaking for him, because Claudio is tongue-tied? There's no proof that he's especially shy or stuttering throughout the rest of the play. As far as eloquence goes he and Pedro are pretty equal. So, I don't understand the plot device. It serves to get everyone in disguise, which helps to further the story and, I suppose, it also illuminates something about Claudio.

Later, when due to the manipulations of Pedro's jealous brother, Don John, he is told that Pedro has tricked him and intends to keep Hero as his own fiancee, Claudio readily believes it (but Benedick does too, so his error doesn't prove that Claudio is stupid). Claudio is petulant, but makes no move to demand justice or to win Hero back. He just sulks. It tells me he's passive, that he's easy prey for Don John's tricks and can be quite readily pitted against those he purportedly loves. I appreciate that foreshadowing, but since Claudio is repeatedly proven to be a useless fop, I wish he was treated like one in the end, rather than rewarded.

Pedro quickly corrects Claudio's first mistake by handing Hero over and proving that he won her hand in marriage for Claudio, not himself. Everyone rejoices over the coming nuptials. At the gathering, when Beatrice utters the line "we must follow the leaders," she says it as she joins a weaving conga line, giving the conclusion, "if they lead to any ill, I will leave them at the next turning," a double meaning.

Whedon uses the "hey nonny nonny" lyrical passages from the play as the words to background songs during the party scenes, making it fun to ferret out the Stratford underpinnings of this 2012 world.
But doing the reverse is also very entertaining. My favorite move in the film is the backstory given to Benedick and Beatrice. In the play, we know that they have a history, because Beatrice mentions that she lost her heart to Benedick in the past: "he won it of me with false dice." So, she feels used by Benedick, once burned, twice shy. The play never explains what passed between them, but the screenplay opens with Benedick leaving Beatrice's bed. She's still asleep as she dresses. His countenance is tender, not bent on escape. He wants to stop and say something to her, but hesitates. We see that she is only pretending to be asleep. To me, it looked like she wanted him to go and wanted to avoid conversation. I see her as relieved, rather than hurt, when he does. But I guess if she was willing him to leave silently, it was only because she was afraid of what he might say. Rather than declaring his love after a sexual encounter, maybe he would push her away instead. This reminds me of the scene in Gone With the Wind when Scarlet awakes cooing her affection to Rhett, only to revert to hostility when she finds him cold after their (forced) tryst, not loving. Of course, the audience knows that Rhett is only curt with Scarlet because he assumes she will reject him again. If he'd known she wouldn't, everything would have taken a different turn. So it is (and so it eventually does) with Benedick and Beatrice. Benedrick wouldn't have tipped out of Beatrice's room without waking her, if he'd thought he'd been welcomed with an embrace upon doing so.

I appreciated Whedon giving us this glimpse of their past. Neither is at fault. Fearing they are unrequited they just misunderstood each other. It's in keeping with their exchanges in the play, but also neatly explains why Beatrice thinks Benedick used her (making her feel like a one night stand), but my making him a victim too, not the bad guy that she believes him to be. And Whedon achieves this all in a 2 minute flashback. No words, no exposition needed. Expert.

Of course, the cool facades Beatrice and Benedick present to the other crumble immediately as soon as their friends plot to unite them by falsely telling each that the other has confessed their love. The fact that they are both ready to love back within seconds of hearing the news proves that they were quite besotted all along. Benedick overhearing what he believes is a secret conversation between Claudio and Pedro provides the most hilarious scene in the film. He is clearly visible to all, but thinks his outrageous acrobatics are concealing him completely. His stunts work so well that when Beatrice uses similar tactics to overhear Hero and Margaret discussing Benedick's love for her in the kitchen, her antics feel lackluster and repetitive by comparison, rather than humorous. I wish that Whedon could have invented a way for Beatrice to conceal her presence that was less derivative of Benedick's.

Once confident that they will not be spurned, Beatrice and Benedick admit their love in short order. Meanwhile, Don John plans to throw a wrench into the marriage that his half-brother, Pedro, has arranged by telling Claudio that Hero has been unfaithful. He arranges for Claudio and Pedro to see silhouettes on the shade of Hero's bedroom having sex, so that Claudio will believe Hero has been unfaithful and denounce her. The speed with which he believes the worse is as ludicrous here as it is in the play. In the movie, the house is crowded with guests. They are all rooming together, so why would anyone jump to the conclusion that Hero is one of the lovers that is seen only from a distance. She actually shared a room with Beatrice and it is only after Claudio has already denounced Hero at their wedding ceremony that he bothers to verify that it wasn't Beatrice he saw (she says she had slept with Hero for a year, but not been with her that night). Of course, if he had inquired even further than Beatrice, he would have found the woman he saw was Hero's maid, Margaret. But he didn't. He was so quick to castigate Hero and to do it publicly, so as to cause her permanent ruin that no apologies would have undone the damage he caused. Yet, in the end, he makes few apologies at all and still ends up smelling like a rose, from the story's viewpoint. Certainly not mine.

It's even more maddening to me that Claudio also immediately blames his daughter, all while lamenting that he loved her so much. He couldn't have loved her at all, to turn on her so savagely, so quickly. He wishes her dead and even complains when she arises from a faint, wishing she had died. Whedon tries to mitigate his abuse by having a moaning, delirious Claudio hold Hero, even while he threatens to tear her apart. We're meant to see that he's bark not bite and his angry outburst was just a kneejerk reaction, which did not change his underlying and constant love for the girl. However, a true father's kneejerk reaction would be to attack those who accused his child first and to then verify her innocence later. Claudio sides with those who wrong her at once and never does much to uncover their lies. Instead, she is exonerated by others.

The friar who was to marry Claudio and Hero smells something fishy and instructs Claudio to pretend that Hero has died of shame, to make Claudio and Pedro deeply regret their calumny. Claudio obeys. Now, if Claudio's grief at Hero's "death" had been expressed, whether or not she died guilty, then I would have suspected he truly loved her underneath all the recriminations. Then, I would know that his harsh words only masked heartache. I think this sorrow from her detractors, even if they'd rightly disparaged her, is what the friar envisioned would occur, when he suggested the death hoax, but Hero's accusers don't seem that sorry to learn she's dead at all. They strug, figuring she deserved it for embarassing them. It's only when those who set her up are apprehended by the local police (Fillion turns in a scene-stealing comic performance as the incompetent, vain -- and portly -- Dogberry) that Hero is cleared. Of course, Dogberry thinks the culprit's greatest felony was in calling him an ass, rather than in debasing the lady.

Proving his love for Beatrice who is the only one rightly angered by what's been done to Hero and the only one who has attended to the girl's wounded heart, Benedick has reluctantly agreed to a duel with his old friend Claudio. I don't think it's fair of Beatrice to make this demand of Benedict and to withhold her love if he should refuse to die or kill his friend for her cousin. It's a fickle and insensitive move on her part and is asked of him in sincerity, not as part of the ongoing banter between them. So, it troubles me, but as a rule, I think the gals in her family have been more sinned against than sinning, so I'll let it slide.

Learning that Hero is innocent, Claudio tells Claudio he doesn't want his life. He wants a public apology from him and his promise to marry Leonato's other niece, sight unseen. Claudio agrees. I know that Leonato was pranking Claudio but I actually think that if Hero really had been dead, he would have been appeased if Claudio had committed to marry anyone else from whose nuptials Leonato could likewise profit. He and Claudio seem to have just wanted marriage of their interests for their own networking sake and not for any reasons having to do with Hero. If this is true, there would be nothing unique about their motives. Marriage was largely a property transaction at that time. But moneygrubbers are usually treated as such in Shakespeare. At the very least they are obvious buffoons. Here, Claudio and Leonato are treated as honorable, but deceived men. In the law, there is something known as gross negligence, where no harm was intended, but the perpetrator acted with such reckless disregard of the probability that his irresponsible conduct would cause harm, that he is still criminally liable for the result. Whether he intended it or not. I'd like to impose this sentence on Claudio, Leonato and Pedro. They may not have intended to hurt an innocent, but all a woman has is her honor and they stripped her of that in such an open and degrading way, without making the slightest inquiry into the truth, that they should pay for her pain somehow. They don't.

Leonato tells Claudio all he has to do is declare Hero's virginity in a public square and then show up the next day to marry his niece and all will be right as rain. Claudio is happy to do it. Of course, like those teeny tiny retractions in the newspaper, Claudio's proclamation of Hero's virtue lasts only 1/10 as long as his humiliating tirades against her did. That's more than good enough for her dear old dad.

He appears at the wedding the next morn and assures Leonato he will wed anyone Leonato wishes, even "were she an Ethiope." I thought Whedon would remove that line, but instead he has Claudio say it while standing in front of a black wedding guest and it's quite humorous. Being that I saw this movie the same week that Paula Deen's deposition testimony felled her cooking empire, Leonato's unthinking words spoken just inches away from someone who would likely be offended by them, didn't even seem at all unlikely.

Claudio learns that Hero's's not dead when he whips up her wedding veil with the words, "and when I liv'd, I was your other wife: and when you lov'd, you were my other husband." I wish she would have added that in her heart her other husband is the one who is now dead and she wants nothing to do with the man Claudio has turned out to be, but once again my hopes are disappointment. The story always ends the same way.

In a contrived turn, Beatrice and Benedick briefly deny their love for each other again, but their friends find the love letters they have both written, establishing the truth and they witness "our own hands against our hearts". They run to the altar eagerly, though both insisting it's only out of pity, because the other loves him/her so desperately that they will surely die if they are not wed.

They kiss as husband and wife and, as someone once said, all's well that ends well.

Whedon's non-verbal enhancements to and interpretations of this play were mostly delightful and the performances of Acker, Denisof and Fillion were charming. I just have to keep reminding myself that Much Ado is, after all, a comedy and find a way to tolerate those who destroyed Hero in that vain.

The Woman in Black (2012)

As horror movies go, this one wasn't as ridiculous as it could be. It might have been improved if it had gone chiefly for mood, rather than offering a predictable selection of cheap thrills and starts (as when unexpected animals bound onto the screen or mechanical toys come to life in moments of greatest tension). And it might have helped if the heroine -- the woman in black, herself -- had kept her shrouded distance to preserve her mystery, rather than flying into our faces and shrieking as only the most wanton ghosts would. She's most effective as an unclear image in a window, sensed more than seen.

Daniel Radcliffe drew me to the film and his understated pain and earnestness adds believability, but it also helped that is a period piece, pulling you more fully into a different world and haunted past than a contemporary film could have.

The movie opens with three little girls at play. They look to be the same age, so I suspected them to be playmates, but I suppose they were sisters. Suddenly, as if possessed, they move to the windows in a trance and all jump to their deaths.

Radcliffe is Arthur Kipps a London lawyer whose wife died in childbirth four years ago. He sees her everywhere, dreams about her is still steeped in depression and is told by his employer that they can't carry him any longer. They're running a business, not a charity. He has to pull out of his doldrums. A widow in a small town has died and he needs to travel there and competently close her estate or he's out of a job. Arthur reluctantly bids adieu to his small son, promising the boy that they'll be separated for 3 days, but the nanny will bring him to visit that weekend.

Kipps travels to the town by train and is coldly welcomed by the innkeeper with whom he had a reservation. He's told that there's no room, but the innkeeper's wife takes pity on him and leads him to the attic -- which is the same room from which the three little girls jumped.

The next day, Kipps finds that the local attorney won't cooperate with him and tries to chase him off. The townspeople avoid him, pull their children into the house as he passes and draw their shades. They tell him to go home, go back to his son. He says that it's because of his son that he must stay. He never thinks to ask why everyone is acting so weird or why it is that the local attorney didn't handle the widow's estate in the first place.

Only one villager treats him kindly, Mr. Bentley, a wealthy man who owns the town's only car. He says many of the citizens are afraid of his fancy vehicle and he scoffs at their paranoia and suspicions, discounting them as a silly, superstitious bunch.

Kipps goes to the widow's old house and realizes that it will take awhile to go through her things (although to me, if he can just prove that she owns the deed to her house, he can sell it rather easily without poring through all of her other documents). The widow lived on an isolated piece of land which is miles away from the village and surrounded by marsh.

Talking to the Bentleys (who have asked him to stay with them) and reading the widow's old letters, Kipps deduces that the widow had doctors declare her sister insane so she could adopt her son and raise him as her own. The widow and her husband were then involved in a carriage accident. They got out, but the boy didn't. He drowned in the marsh and his body was never recovered. The sister, his biological mother, never forgave his adopted mother for what happened. She hung herself in the nursery of the house and has haunted it ever since. I don't understand a few things about this. For instance, there is a picture of the boy with his adopted parents and you can see the figure of the woman in black in a window. This is before she died -- although Kipps also sees the same figure in the window as a ghost. Did the woman in black live in the house with them? Was her presence there known to its residents. Did she stow away there unbeknownst to her family? How'd she get there to hang herself? If she lived there, why was she still writing angry letters to her sister -- which Kipps conveniently finds in his quest to unravel the past. Also, why were her letters stored in the nursery? Did the adopted mother put them there after the boy's death?

Anyway, the gist of it is, this angry woman in black has been killing all the town's children. She lost her own son (though as vengeful as she seems, I'm surprised she didn't kill him herself to get back at her sister who took him) and is now taking everyone else's child, by possessing them and making them harm themselves.

Bentley has lost a child some twenty years ago and his wife is still inconsolable. The local lawyer, Hardy, lost a child and now keeps his other daughter locked up in the basement, the only place he thinks she will be safe from harm. Every time that someone sees the woman in black a child dies. Kipps saw her at the widow's mansion and when he got back to town, a local girl swallowed lye and killed herself. He goes back to the mansion and when he returns to town the Hardy's house has caught fire. He runs in to save the girl they kept locked in the basement and she is still alive and unharmed when he gets there. But in a daze, surrounded by flames, she is the one who deliberately drops the lantern which explodes and consumes her in death. Through the fire, Kipps looks up and sees the Woman in Black on the stairs, witnessing it all. Her visible presence is a sign that more death will follow.

Just then Kipps remembers that his own son is coming to town to spend the weekend with him. I know he's been busy, but it seems to me that this should have occurred to Kipps a couple of days ago, when there was still time to call the visit off. By the time he remembers the boy is coming, it's too late to send a telegram to stop him. So, he tells Bentley they've got to stop the woman in black instead, so she won't kill again. Bentley objects that he doesn't believe in superstition but Kipps cuts him off, "Excuse me, but my son is still alive" and Kipps wants to keep him that way. Yes, it was comforting for Bentley to think his son was safe in heaven and to ignore the talk of a ghost, but how could he ignore proof of all the dead children. Even if there was just a small chance that the superstition was true, Kipps thinks Bentley should have told him about it beforehand.

It's true, but I accept that Bentley was in denial. What about everyone else. If they believed that their children were in danger because Kipps was stirring up sleeping ghosts at the mansion, why just give him the stinkeye. Why not spell out their fears to him? Maybe he wouldn't have believed them, but it would have been worth a shot, wouldn't it? What they didn't know is that this man was haunted by a ghost himself, his own dead wife. He was vulnerable and wanted to believe in life after death. They could have convinced him to believe in murder after death too, had they only tried.

Kipps reasons that if he reunites the woman in black with her son, she will go peacefully into eternity and stop killing. So, he gets Bentley to bring his car to the marsh. He ties a rope to the car grill and holding onto it, dives into the muddy marsh looking for the woman in black's lost son. Within a few minutes he finds the wrecked carriage that the kid died in 50 years ago. It wasn't even 5 feet underground. He easily jets in, fetches out the body and is back on the surface in the blink of an eye.

That body was so easy to find that I'm surprised it didn't float up itself, in the decades since the carriage accident. It's remarkably well deserved, too. Kipps washes off the corpse, lays it on the nursery bed and surrounds it with old birthday cards from the woman in black. She comes, flies around the house creating a clamor and then all is quiet. Kipps assume she is now happy, at peace. He then opens up her grave and buries the child's corpse inside. Mother and son are finally together now. All's well that end's well, he and Bentley think. But the abandoned mansion knows differently as a ghostly echo rambles through it, "Never forget. Never forget."

They head back to town and arrive at the train station just in time to greet Kipps' son and his nanny. The youth really is adorable and in a believable, non-precocious way. Kipps tells the nanny that there has been a change of plans and they will be going back to London immediately. He bids her purchase the tickets, as he stands on the platform with his boy. Talking to Kipps, he doesn't notice when the boy pulls away from him. The child has seen the woman in black and, in a trance, he walks onto the train tracks, as a locomotive steams towards him. Kipps sees the woman in black across the tracks and is overcome with a pall of fear, realizing his son's life is in jeopardy. He jumps onto the tracks to save the boy. Bentley and the nanny look on in horror. The train passes over the tracks and when it is gone we see Kipps and his son intact, still on the rails. They get up and Kipps calls out for Bentley, but the platform is empty. "Daddy, who is that lady," the little boy asks, pointing into the distance. Kipps looks up. It's not the woman in black. It's a woman in white. "That's your mummy." Kipps' dead wife smiles at them in greeting and the small family walks together, into the light. The chagrined woman in black looks on. She's been thwarted after all, as they find a peace together that she will never know.

I have to say that this ending was somewhat of a surprise. I knew that the woman in black's vengeance was not done, but I felt that Kipps' widow would fight her and save the Kipps' family. I thought her love for her husband and child would conquer the woman in black's hate and save them from harm. So, the fact that they died did catch me offguard.

This wasn't a great movie, but due to the authentic detail in costume and sets and Daniel Radcliffe's steadfast performance, I much preferred it over another sequel to The Ring or film of that ilk.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Man of Steel (2013)

Preliminarily, my take on Henry Cavill as Superman is ambivalent. He's not awful. His Superman wears a perrenial frown of slight annoyance, as when you spill catsup on your shirt. You aren't happy, but your world's not ending either. The problem is, in many cases, Superman's world is ending. So, when he cocks his head and presses his lips together, disapproving but relatively nonchalant, should we expect more from him or are his understated reactions a sign of confidence that only superior beings possess? Is it bad acting or just Cavill cool? Hard to say.

I knew this was an origin story, but I didn't realize it would really be a movie long battle between Superman and the people from his own planet, with humans just along for the ride. Interesting take, but as with Iron Man (and his iron buddies), too much super strength weakens the heart of the story. What is most compelling about a hero is his invulnerability compared to mortal fragility. When there is no comparison and he's surrounded by villains who are just as invincible and impenetrable as he is, then where's the awe? You smash someone into a building, the building crumbles but they are unscathed. In order to care, during endless action scenes, I have to feel a sense of risk and wonder and it's just not there.

The movie begins with Krypton in jeopardy. Kal-El has just been born and his parents are under siege. They sit on a council and General Zod is overthrowing it, for reasons that are unclear. They're explained later in the movie. While I can understand staged denouement and it's fitting that the audience learns some things later on when Kal-El learns them for the first time, I think we need to understand the conflict in the earlier scenes more. Krypton was imploding but (not having read the comic books) I did not know why. I knew that Jor-El and Zod were opponents, but didn't know what their opposing views were and how their battle would change Krypton's doomed fate either way. I think the script could have preserved some suspense concerning Superman's true mission in life, but still revealed more about the competing interests of Jor-El and Zod in the beginning.

I know I was reading it wrong, since Zod actually seemed to be sweet on a girl of his own, the evil Faora-Ul, but I sensed a vibe between Zod and Lara Lor-Van, Superman's mother. He was trying to stop her from launching valuable material out of Krypton and I was struck by the familiar tone with which he called her name. The movie made clear that Zod and Jor-El had once been friends and Zod actually wanted Jor-El on his side. Zod was evil now, but hadn't always been. Jor-El said he chose to honor the values of the man Zod had been, rather than concede to the monster he'd become. So, it's conceivable that they'd all been pals once. Yet, I sensed a rivalrous mood between Zod and Jor-El that was not present between Zod and Lara. When he tells her to abort the launch, her hand does pause on the clutch. It is purely for dramatic effect or because Zod has gotten to her just a bit?

Later, Zod kills Jor-El in rage, but does not try to harm Lara, who has been acting in tandem with Jor-El all along, at all. Then too, when Jor-El and Lara needly boast to Zod that they have a son who was conceived and born naturally Lara takes pride in telling Zod, "His name is Ka-El, Son of El." I felt she was taunting him, reminding him that she created a child with El, not Zod. But I guess that was all my imagination and no romantic triangle actually existed between the 3.

Anyway, it turns out that they'd stop conceiving kids on Krypton. They were all synthetically created in pods, to fulfill specific roles in the society. True intelligent design. Jor-El and Lara had bucked the system. They had helped make the world Krypton had become, but didn't like it. They feared a world where everyone's life was planned from birth to death. Where everyone followed a designated path. They wanted a child of their own, born naturally, who's future was uncharted and limitless. Who was free to become whatever he envisioned. Krypton was environmentally unsound and was dying. They sent out ships with manned outposts to various other planets, looking for a new home, a world that would be compatible with the life they'd built on Krypton. They catapulted their newborn son into that unknown world hoping that if he grew up with the inhabitants there, he could be one with them and evolve into a bridge between those natives and whatever Kryptonite refugees survived Krypton's death. Ka-El would be part of both worlds. That was the plan. Lara was sorry to see her son go, knowing she would not live to witness the man he would become and worried about the reception he would receive on the other planet. Jor-El assures her that the boy will be fine. He will be considered a God. Well, fine, but how does he know this? He is not intentionally sending Superman to Earth, as far as I can tell. How does he know what kind of life forms will inhabit whatever place the boy ends up end?

Anyway, since Lara and Jor-El kept their son a secret for so long, once they send him off to another planet with such high hopes, I don't know why they then boast about him to Zod. Giving him an excuse to hunt the kid down and kill him. Of course, if Zod didn't have that goal, we'd have no movie, so . . . yak your heads off Lara and Jor-El.

So, Zod plans to get Ka-El, but first things first. There is a kodex that Jor-El has taken and its imperative that Zod find it. The audience doesn't know what the kodex is initially, but we find out it is the genetic code for all of Krypton. It's what they used to make their synthetic babies. With that gone, Krypton cannot reproduce. They have no future (although couldn't the survivors replicate through sexual intercourse, old school, the way Lara and Jor-El did?). Zod is furious that Jor-El has fired the kodex out of Krypton, but I wonder why the other council members aren't mad too. Don't they care that Jor-El has unilaterally made a decision that will erase all of their futures. From what I can see, Jor-El isn't even their leader. He's just a high-ranking officer. He seems to have had a lot of nerve, but they aren't too fussed about it. They capture Zod and punish him and his crew for their revolt, imprisoning him in a phantom zone that is not part of Krypton. But since they know Krypton is dying, aren't they knowingly sparing Zod's life by sending him to a place that won't go down in flames. Also, why don't any of them try to escape the planet. Lara and Jor-El sent Superman away. Why didn't they all go somewhere? Jor-El (his conscience lives on like a ghost who can interact with the living) later explains that he chose not to go, because he and Lara participated in Krypton's downfall and had to suffer the consequences, but duh. Did all Krypton citizens feel that way? All of them chose to go down with the ship, instead of fleeing to another planet and starting a new and better life, having learned from Krypton's mistakes? It doesn't make sense.

I don't know if this will come up later in sequels, but I saw someone swim in and steal one of the synthetic baby pods. What did they do with it? Are we going to see some synthetic person from Krypton in one of the future films? Anyway, soon after Zod and his gang are deported to the phantom zone, Krypton goes down in flames and Lara doesn't even bother to take cover. She knows that there is no place to hide, as she is consumed in the apocalyptic fire.

Back on earth we see a young Superman. He has just saved men on a tanker. He is bearded with curly hair and floating under the boat with his arms splayed out, he is very much like Christ on the crucifix. This parallel, Ka-El sacrificing himself to save a world of people who know not what they do, is a recurring theme in the film and, at one point, Superman enters a church and talks to a priest with a large mural of Jesus as his backdrop. Like Jesus, Superman is not earthly, but the son of a great entity sent for a specific purpose.

Superman's youth is not followed chronologically, but unfolds in flashbacks. His ship landed in a farmer's back yard in Kansas. Jonathan (or Joseph) and Martha Kent raise the boy as their own and hide his space ship in their barn. When he is about 7, the child is still grappling with the enormity of his powers. He is in class when he suddenly can't control his x-ray vision and sensitivity to sound and touch. He runs out of the room and locks himself in a small janitor's closet. Using his x-ray vision to laser into the doorknob, making it too hot for the teacher to open. She calls his mother, who gently talks him out. "The world is too big," he tells her. Then make it smaller. Imagine yourself elsewhere. You're in the water floating. Swim over to me. The child calms down. Quiets his fears and is able to "swim" over to the door and turn the handle, to let his mother in. He remembers this incident as he lays in the ocean, after rescuing the tanker. It gives him the boost he needs to swim up and away. Having exposed his superhuman strength in order to save lives, he cannot stay. He has to move on, find a new identity and different low-paying job. Blend in, but never fit in.

This has been a pattern throughout his life. He was always taunted and bullied by the other kids and couldn't retaliate because he'd hurt them or, worse, in his father's eyes, he'd expose himself. Once kids were attacking him on a school bus. The driver loses control and drives it in the water. Superman lifts the bus and dives down deep to save a boy, his chief attacker. Later, the boy is grateful, but his mother demands to know Clark's secret. She wants to exalt him, but Jonathan Kent realizes that not everyone will. Some will want to destroy him for his power, because they're threatened by anything that's different, that they can't understand. He admonishes Clark for raising the school bus. He's warned him against this before. "What was I supposed to do?" The boy wants to know. Should he have just let the other kid die. Maybe, says Jonathan. Clark's true purpose in life may be bigger than that one life is, bigger than the Kents are. He may have to forfeit some to save them all. Now, that's actually scary logic Dad Kent is espousing. There are inherent dangers in the "greater good" approach. He doesn't want the world to find out what Superman is now, because they'd capture him and keep him from going forward to achieve his ultimate purpose. But there's an arrogance in ignoring the urgent, but every day needs of the people around you, because you feel you have a higher purpose. That is just saying the ends justify the means. That's what every madman says, from Hitler to Zod.

Clark follows his father's instructions reluctantly to the older Kent's end. They are in the car arguing and Clark throws out that "you're not my real dad. You're just some farmer that found me in a barn. I don't have to do what you say," line that all teens use eventually, when a tornado starts (it is Kansas after all). They get out of the car and run to safety in a tunnel, but then they discover they left their dog behind. Superman wants to go back for it, but Jonathan says he'll go. He needs Clark to get his mother in the tunnel. Well, Clark does. What I don't understand is why Clark has to stay there. He and Jonathan realize, I guess, that Martha won't stay put voluntarily. She'll try to run out to Jonathan, but can't Clark ask his neighbors to restrain her while he runs to help Dad and the dog? I mean, even if he didn't possess super strength, even a human boy is stronger and quicker than an old man. Once he got Martha to the tunnel, he still had plenty of time to run back (at a normal human's pace) and help, rather than just standing there idle. But stand there he does. He watches Jonathan getting hit by debris and then a car flies through the air and is about to crush him. Superman is about to race out to get him, but Jonathan puts up a yielding hand, commanding him to stay in the tunnel. Do not expose yourself, he silently orders his son. Superman obeys and watches his father die, when he could have prevented it. He screams. Um, so do I, because I could have saved Jonathan in all the time that passed. You didn't have to be Superman. You just had to be a bit smarter than he and his dad were.

I hope that little incident, which still haunts him, cured Superman of that whole "save yourself for the greater good" attitude, but I'm not sure. Anyway, one of the most fantastic moments in the movie comes when we see Jonathan Kent's gravestone and it reads 1951-1997? Are you trying to tell me that old man was only 46 years old. I guess raising an omnipotent alien prematurely ages a guy. The real Kevin Costner is actually just 58, but he looked about 10 years older in the movie and, unlike Diane Lane, I don't think his appearance was due to make up.

Anyway, despite the contrary conclusions I've drawn, the movie would have us think that Clark is quite intelligent. He spent his free time reading Plato as a boy, a stark contrast to the mouthbreathers all around him. We see him working in a bar, when one of the patrons starts harassing a waitress. Even though there are army officers in attendance, they just gawk in interest and don't do anything when the woman is manhandled. Clark (or Joe, as he is calling himself) steps in and tells the guy to knock it off. I'm not sure why the man ever would have resisted, since Joe is taller, younger and bigger than he is. Even without being Superman, you'd think his bulk would be a deterrent against bullies, but it never is. Even as a child, after the townspeople realized he had freaky strength, the local boys still teased and threw things at him, practically inviting him to kill them. In my experience, kids will beat up on those who are weaker, but that's it. If you're more powerful than they are (either physically or just socially), they back down pretty quick. In this movie, they don't. The guy in the bar punches Superman and he is literally a man of steel. His skin is hard and unyielding. Still the guy persists in his attack. Superman is about to hit back, but the waitress says, "It's not worth it, Joe." So, he gets his coat and leaves, goes on to another town and a new identity. When the brute in the bar goes outside, he finds that his truck has been hoisted up into the air and mangled. So, Superman got back at him, but non-violently. That's great, but what about the waitress in the bar? She was still being felt up against her will. Superman didn't need to use all of his strength to avenge her, but couldn't he have roughed up the assailant a bit, just to make sure his unwanted touching didn't escalate into something more in Superman's absence?

We soon find Superman working at a military compound, tasked with investigating an underwater anomaly. They've found some kind of modern equipment that was encased in ice that is 18,000 years old. They don't know what it is yet. Lois Lane shows up as a reporter. The military didn't want her there, but she went to Court and got an order forcing them to admit her, so she can report on the find. She spies Superman walking alone through her camera zoom and decides to follow him. When Superman crashed to earth as a child, the Kents found a small metal object with him. It was tubular and seemed to be topped with the letter "S." Jonathan Kent took it to be tested at a lab and was told that is comprised of a material that doesn't even show up on the Periodic table. In other words, it's not of this world. Superman is at the base to try to learn more about the mystery of his unearthly origins. I'm surprised he can gain access to the ice ship. You'd think it would be heavily guarded, but he just waltzes on up. He puts his little tubular "S" thing into the "ignition" of the mysterious craft and it opens. Suddenly Jor-El is running around talking to his son. He uploaded his conscience onto the space craft hard drive and can communicate with Ka-El from beyond the grave. I don't really understand how you back up a human mind, but it happened on Doctor Who (with River Song) too and so I guess it's a common sci fi thing. Jor-El shares their history with Ka-El and gives him the motivation needed to protect the people on his adopted planet. He gives him a uniform modeled after his own Krypton garb, complete with a symbol that looks like and "S" on the chest. It stands for "hope."

Lois Lane is following Superman and the space craft perceives her as an intruder and attacks. Superman finds her when she is bleeding and catherizes her wound with his x-ray vision. Then he disappears. Lois realizes he is an alien and writes a story about him. Her editor rejects it, but she is determined to find Superman and leaks her story on the internet, so she can get leads. Why, I don't know. He saved her life. Why can't she just leave him in peace? Ka-El (dubbed "Superman" by Lois later, when she sees the "S" on his costume) dons the suit his father gave him and learns how to harness his powers. He also cuts his hair and beard. I don't know if that's a fashion tip he got from Jor-El as well, but I think not, since Jor-El was sporting facial hair himself.

On her part, Lois begins receiving tips about a man with superhuman powers, tracks them down and is led to Clark Kent's home. She finds him at his father's grave. He tells her the story about how his father died and why it is important to keep his powers and origin a secret, because who knows how the world will react if they are exposed? Lois has a change of heart and doesn't want to reveal Superman's identity to the world any longer.

But then Zod has found the planet (led there when Superman used his key to open the old spaceship, that sent off signals that Zod's ship intercepted) and through tv and cell phones he tells the people of earth that they are not alone. He will kill them all, unless they release Ka-El to him. Based on her story that leaked on the internet, the military detains Lois Lane, hoping she can lead them to Ka-El. She doesn't talk, but Superman shows up voluntarily and surrenders. He even lets them cuff him, if that will make them feel more secure. Again, its reminiscent of Jesus surrendering himself to Pontius Pilate's men. Jesus could have saved himself, but chose not to.

To keep Zod from destroying everyone, Superman gives himself up. For reasons unknown, Zod says he wants Lois Lane too. I'm still not sure how she furthers Zod's purposes. You might think that Zod can control Superman by threatening her, but he doesn't threaten her and how would Zod know that she and Superman have a bond, already? Whatever. The military was fine with releasing Ka-El to Zod, but not one of their own. It seems like they were prepared to engage in a battle that would find them far outmatched to save her. This impresses me, since the military commanders did not like Lois and seem misogynistic. One might have expected them to let Zod take her to save everyone else, but they don't. It is Lois who voluntarily agrees to go and she and Superman are both on board Zod's ship. Turns out, Zod was released from his prison in the Phantom zone when Krypton was destroyed. Zod went around to all of Krypton's outposts around the universe and although all the Kryptonites were dead, he was able to salvage equipment from the abandoned Krypton ships and he and his crew built up their own powerful devices. They can't reproduce though, because Jor-El has stolen the genetic code, the kodex, and they need to find it if the Krypton race is to survive.

The Krypton atmosphere on Zod's ship weakens Superman. His body evolved on earth and he is no longer able to adapt to krypton air. Unconscious he hears Zod talking. Zod wants to claim Earth for himself and other Kryptonites, including Ka-El. He doesn't want to hurt him. But what will become of humans, if the Kryptonites take over. Zod doesn't want to share the planet. They will die. Superman can't let that happen. Jor-El meant for Ka-El to be a bridge between mortal and Kryptonite. He thought they could co-exist, but Zod won't let that happen. Krypton had its chance and he is not going to let Zod take over Earth and destroy everyone else's. He regains his strength and escapes from Zod's ship, but Zod just follows him and, such is their strength, that they engage in a fight that kills thousands of human and razes city skyscrapers with each blow they deal to one another.

Meanwhile, on her side of Zod's spaceship, Lois uses Superman's key to turn on the Jor-El holograph thingy. Jor-El tells her how to defeat Zod and return him to the Phantom zone prison. Lois tells the military that if they crash the space ship that brought Superman to Earth as a baby into Zod's ship, the force will create a black hole and suck Zod back into it. Seems logical, I guess. So, while Zod and Superman go mano a mano down below, the military is trying to crash into Zod's ship, manned by his merciless sidekick Faora. "Death is its own reward," she taunts her victim, but the military is able to turn the tables and throw that line back at her, when they create the black hole and eradicate her. We saw Lois Lane's pals from the Daily Planet about to die. We don't really know about them and don't care. Her boss, Perry White, was trying to rescue Jenny, an employee, stuck under debris and he orders another employee to help him. I'm not sure why White is so hung up on Jenny and when the world is imploding, hierarchy disappears. Just because you're the newspaper boss, doesn't mean you can command someone else to give up their life for your precious Jenny. So, I didn't even care about their fate, but when the Phantom Zone opens up again, they are all saved, nevertheless.

Since Zod was down on the ground at the time, he doesn't go back into the Phantom Zone with the rest of his crew. He is still on earth, battling Superman in a museum. Now, you'd think that Superman already had enough incentive to kill him given all of the carnage Zod had caused thus far. I mean, what's the alternative. It's not like you can lock Zod up in San Quentin. Zod could knock that entire structure down even if he just tripped into it accidentally. So, of course, I'm waiting for Superman to kill Zod, but Superman still needed a reason. Zod is using his x-ray vision to bore laser heat at a family and is about to incinerate them all. Superman needs to make Zod's eyes stop their murderous tracking and manages that by breaking Zod's neck, killing him. He's wracked with guilt over that. Ugh.

Superman and Lois kiss. I don't think Cavill and Adam's chemistry is good or bad, either way. Lois is enamored and says that she's heard it all goes down after the first kiss. Superman says something lame like, "that's only true with humans" which is kind of cocky and a compliment to his own kissing prowess rather than to Lois, but ok. They were going for a great punch line there, but Christopher Reeve & Margot Kidder banter it is not!

Crisis averted, Superman is going on with his life and finds that the military is tracking him. He confronts a commander and says that he knows they want to know where he hangs his cape, but they have to quit following him and using drones for surveillance (given the NSA scandal in the news, this is very realistic conduct on the government's part). The officer tells Superman that he's very powerful and how can they be sure he won't use that strength against them? You know, I get that people are basically awful, but why is it that from Superman's boyhood until now, everyone he tries to help immediately turns on him suspiciously? It happens in most super hero movies and I guess it happens in life as well. But it defies logic. When someone has just been a savior, at least let them do something untrustworthy first, before you immediately become leery. Is it more a product of resentment than mistrust? Are you jealous of what they can do, because you can't do it and want to bring them down to your level by imputing an evil motive where there's no evidence of one? If that's what human nature is, then I'm not sure Superman should have fought so hard to protect it.

Back at work at the Daily Planet, a new reporter shows up. His name is Clark Kent and Lois Lane looks mighty glad to meet him.

I didn't think this movie was the masterpiece that some make it out to be. Indeed, I even found more pathos in the last Spiderman film. Still, at a two hour and twenty minute run time, this Superman never left me restless. Perhaps he didn't soar, but he didn't bore.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Queen (2006)

I've just watched this movie for the first time and was to surprised to find it's such a comedy. Well, comiCAL would be more correct. Any movie based on historical events is going to take creative license with the truth, but this movie took so much license as to be libelous. It's perfectly entertaining, but as with Oliver Stone's JFK, I worry about the people who weren't there (or who were there and are just too lazy to remember) will mistakenly take the story depicted here as the true one. Common sense would tell viewers otherwise, because, of course, no one knows what went on inside of the palace but the royals, but once you weave real news footage into imagined moments, the edges blur and some begin to think they're viewing a documentary rather than a drama. Of course, there are docudramas which reenact true events and pride themselves on factual authenticity. This ain't one of them.

First of all, I don't know why it's called The Queen. As Tony Blair says, in 1997 (when this movie takes place) the Queen had reigned for 2500 weeks. Diana's funeral was just 1 week in 2500 and we hardly scrape its core. For that week, we get no deep insight into Elizabeth. In fact, she's more of a figurehead in this script than she is in the real life UK. A better title would have been Balmoral Blunder.

While charming royal retellings like The King's Speech or Mrs. Brown may be no more accurate, they are certainly less fancifal than The Queen. This film gives us Elizabeth, Philip, the Queen Mother, Charles and the boys all living in one house, sharing meals, hunting and barbecuing as a family and watching telly together in the evenings, just like the Waltons -- only crowned. It's a depiction as shallow as the public relations scandal at the center of the plot.

The movie starts with Blair's first visit with Elizabeth II after winning the election. As is befitting the head of the Labour Party, Blair is presented as down-to-earth, displaying no airs. As they are instructed on how to address Her Majesty, Blair's nervous and compliant, while his wife Cherie is derisive. The queen was given the throne as a birthright, but her husband was elected by millions. Her disdain for the monarchy is an early representation of the public's growing resentment towards the Windosors that is at the heart of this story. Only Cherie's immediately tiresome while the rest of the world only becomes so.

The Queen is painted as canny, both aware of and amused by the effect she has on others and objective. When told by her advisor that Cherie only half-curtsied grudgingly, rather than take affront Elizabeth only notes that she doesn't judge the degree of anyone's bow. She leaves that to her sister. Still, she's conscious of hierarchy and mindful of appearances, gently guiding Blair in proper protocol as he becomes familiar with his new duties.

While at Balmoral Palace, she is startled out of sleep one night by news of Diana's car accident. Initially, I don't think Queen Liz would be that shocked to be awakened in the middle of the night. This is a woman who calmly chatted up Michael Fagan, a burglar who broke into her royal chambers back in 1982. With her large family and traveling schedule (at the time), I imagine she'd hardly be ruffled by late night phone calls.

When she's told Diana's had a car accident in Paris, she's more annoyed than distraught. They hadn't even expected Diana to be in Paris, but they know what the Princess is like. Unpredictable, irresponsible. At first, the accident seems like just another unwanted headline. Elizabeth admonishes Charles for wanting to take the royal jet and incur the type of expenditures for which the royals have been chided by the public. It's not until later that they learn Diana's crash is fatal. Charles seems truly griefstricken. Philip less so. He even smiles when he observes that when he told Margaret Rose to return home from her vacation, she remarked that Diana was more trouble dead than she had been alive. Elizabeth's personal feelings about the loss are masked. She voices her concern for William and Harry "the boys" often, but from a distance, never interacting directly with them. She's not cutting to the point of cruelty as Philip and even the Queen mother are, but her placidity is meant to tell its own cold tale. She is more emotional about her tea or famous corgies than about her former daughter-in-law's demise.

Blair immediately realizes that there will be great public fallout over the tragedy and quickly issues a statement that captures public sentiment, when he calls Diana "the peoples' princess." Charles and Diana having divorced the previous year, Elizabeth does not think this is a matter that should merit her official concern, since Diana is no longer HRH. She is relieved to tell Blair that the Spencers have insisted upon a private funeral for Diana, so it's out of her hands, isn't it? It's rather absurd for him to think that its incumbent upon her to do more.

Blair, whose staff zealously monitors the unending news reports, knows that he's watching a grave misstep unfold. The public perceived Diana as a victim when she was alive blaming Charles alone for their failed marriage and any suffering Diana expressed, genuine or faked. Compared to Diana's apparent warmth, accessibility and beauty, the royals seemed aloof, outdated and out of touch. Reacting to her death, the world annointed Diana with instant sainthood and her former family could only suffer in comparison. Blair recognized that each day that passed without the royals making a public acknowledgment or appearance they were condemning themselves to mounting calumny and contempt in the eyes of their sovereigns. He navigates a thin line between showing the required deference to the queen while addressing the fact that the unprecedented world attention being given to Diana's death has made its handling a political matter, not just a social one. Commands needed to be given and, in the end, it was the PM's office telling the palace how things would be done, not the other way around.

The private funeral the Queen requested (on behalf of the Spencers, she said) is a non-starter. There will be a public memorial in Westminister Abbey. World leaders and celebrities alike will attend. In fact, they will use the advance plans they had for the Queen Mother's funeral and, with minor modifications, use it for Diana's instead. The royals are aghast. But it's out of Elizabeth's hands. They've gone over her head and there's nothing she can do but graciously concede on official matters, but surely not the personal ones as well. If not queen of the United Kingdom isn't she still master of her own domain? She refuses Blair's suggestion that they lower the flags on the royal residences (which are supposed to denote whether or not the queen is in residence, not be used as a display of regal mourning), return to Buckingham Palace from Balmoral and issue a public statement. She's got grandsons to attend to and hasn't time to cater to the selfish world's media-frenzied demands, wherein lies my problem: with this movie and with life.

From what we've seen, Elizabeth is just paying lip service to her family's need to heal privately, to disguise her dispassion. But what if that weren't the case? What if she really was sympathetic to Harry and William's real pain and didn't want to put their sorrow on parade? What if she believed, as Charles Spencer himself said, that public mania contributed to Diana's death and the royals wanted her funeral to be an end to the lurid fascination with the Princess, not a continuation of it? What if she didn't want to reward the paparazzi that chased Diana's car through that Paris tunnel with more pictures, magazine sales and undeserved profits? What if she simply wanted to stop feeding the vultures? What gave the public the right to tell Diana's family they couldn't finally have her to themselves? As important, why do people insist on insincere overtures. What do those satisfy. If they're right and Elizabeth hated Diana, why want her to give a public statement expressing grief she doesn't feel? Just so you can say it's phony? After every scandal, the world inevitably clamors for an apology from the wrongdoer and I always wonder why. What good is a an "I'm sorry," from someone who doesn't mean it? Isn't standing on empty ceremony one of the things that detractors criticize about the monarchy, in general?

For the sake of argument, lets assume the Queen didn't lie. She said she wanted to eschew an ostentatious funeral out of respect for Diana, not the opposite. She didn't want Britain to make a spectacle of the tragedy. Let's accept her concerns as earnest ones. If Elizabeth's protestations were genuine, then Blair's were wrong. Our society is more voyeuristic today than it was then. We judge dancing, singing, survivor skills, marriage proposals and tragedy. Is the victim crying enough or too much? Reality tv has combined with social media to convince us that if you don't wear your heart on your sleeve, you don't have one. Pics or it didn't happen. We need public validation of everything we think and feel. If that means throwing unwilling gold fish into a bowl so we can stare at them, so be it. This mentality is an undeniable trend, but not an unobjectionable one.

If Elizabeth and the royals wanted to resist it and maintain their stoicism in the face of devastation as they did earlier in Elizabeth's life, like when Edward VIII abdicated the throne or the British and Germans battled over the White Cliffs of Dover, then they had that right. When the tabloids demanded a performance from them, refusing would have been the harder road, but also the highest. The citizenry can demand to know how many of their taxes dollars are spent on maintaining the monarchy. They can their involvement in government. But what right have they to dictate the royals' interaction with each other? The queen's treatment of Diana is not a matter of public concern. The people could set up their own local memorials and shrines to Diana, without insisting that her ex-family do it for them. It was more important that Diana's funeral fulfill Harry and William's need than those of Diana's fans. If the monarchy resisted an exploitation of the tragedy as a matter of honesty, not hypocrisy, then right was on their side.

Of course, the movie says it wasn't. The Windsors just plain hated Diana's guts and chose not to observe her death with grand gestures, because they didn't think she deserved them. Although early scenes suggested that Charles was an exception to this rule, the story later reveals that he was only pretending to mourn his ex to gain public sympathy. Diana had foisted blame on him for years and he saw her death as an opportunity for redemption. Playing an Oedipal game of Mutt & Jeff, by having it leak that he sided with Blair, Charles hoped to shift resentment for Diana's mistreatment to his mother and away from himself. Screenwriter Peter Morgan is a Brit and, I suppose, has seen a lot more of Charles than I have, but I don't understand how he could make him such an ingratiating toadie. Charles has displayed many unlikable traits over the years, but I've never perceived him as sniveling. His problem was always that he cared too little for public opinion, when did he ever grovel for it? He's been more conciliatory in the last ten years of his life than he ever was in the first 55. As far as Princes of Wales go, the man in the film more closely resembled Bertie than Charles. This film has him lowering the flag at his residence, as a rebuke of his mother's decision not to lower hers. In truth, the family as a whole probably assumed that a lowered flag at Kensington could represent their collective homage to its departed mistress. One waved at half mast for all of them. I'd view it as a gracious gesture rather than conniving, but it's not my job to ratchet up the drama.

Westminister Abbey funeral plans in motion, the Queen stays in Balmoral where Philip is trying to keep William and Harry distracted with long walks and hunting. They've heard there's a large stag on the grounds, a 14-pointer the type that hasn't been glimpsed on their land in decades. Having desserted Charles when he begins to lament Diana as a wonderful mother, in silent comparison to his own icy one (none of us can forget the newsreel footage of Elizabeth reuniting with her son -- barely more than a toddler -- after an absence by shaking his hand), Elizabeth is now driving alone when her car breaks down. She calls the groundskeeper and diagnoses the problem. After all, she was a mechanic during the war and she knows her stuff! She waits for a ride with ever practical, calm at first. But soon we see tears drop. Is she crying for herself or Diana or for other things lost, long before?

Turning, she spots the majestic grand stag in the distance. He freezes in a picturesque moment and she is awestruck. She hears a gun in the distance and shoos him away. She knows that Philip has the boys hunting the stag, but she wants/needs for him not to be caught. He's a relic. Once common, but now so rare. She wants to preserve this magnificent creature and everything he stands for, because it's everything she stands for.

Back at the palace, Tony Blair telephones and Elizabeth takes the call in the kitchen, after politely asking the staff's permission. Blair tells her that public opinion is against her. 1 in 4 people want to do away with the monarchy. Elizabeth is shaken by this news, but doesn't let Blair know. The tabloids are whipping the public into a hysteria and she won't be swept up into it. Meanwhile, I'm thinking to myself "1 in 4? That means she has a 75% approval rating. What's so bad about that? Obama would kill for those figures. Why so down, Queenie?" Though disheartened, Elizabeth holds her ground, won't lower the flag, won't give a public statement, won't leave Balmoral to go to Buckingham Palace.

Blair fighting to control his temper, accepts her stubborn stance, but when she hangs up, her advisor picks up the phone. He's been listening all along (is this kosher? I know that both Blair and the royals constantly have people speaking for them, but listening in on their calls without notice as well?). He tells Blair he should be patient with Elizabeth since this is the worst thing she has been through since her uncle abdicated the throne, an act which (legend has it) killed her father prematurely, when he had to take the throne in his brother's place heading right into WWII. The advisor tells Blair that Elizabeth never got over this trauma, which softens Blairs view of her. Well, ok ... but I'm not sure how Elizabeth being mad at Uncle Eddie 60 years earlier is related to her impassive attitude about Di's death in 1997. I mean, did Liz use to be a passionate, playful lass until Wallis Simpson's fatal attraction taught her how to repress her feelings from then on? Did they handle that past scandal in a way that has informed her life ever since? Possibly, but since the similarities aren't obvious, I wish this advisor would have spelled them out more clearly. I mean, he proved himself a buttinski already. He could at least be one with helpful details.

Elizabeth makes up "Mummy" to see if the Queen Mother thinks she's taking the right path. She does. Cherie's foil, the Queen Mother feels that Blair was merely elected, but the Queen holds her position through a higher power and should not let transient public pressure sway her. She owes it to everyone to maintain tradition, rather than cave in to what's popular. The haughty Philip thinks opposing viewpoints are unworthy of discussion and is upset that his wife's tea has cooled, during all of the annoying Diana talk. He speaks of homosexuals and zulus and is more cartoon than consort.

Though Philip has no patience for them (leaving the marital bed that they are humorously sharing, when she won't turn off the tv, Elizabeth can't tear herself away from the media reports. The people weeping on the streets tell reporters that the royals misjudged them. They made a terrible mistake. They abused Diana both in life and in death and they have blood on their hands. Elizabeth can take no more and decides that they're going back to Buckingham Palace. Philip is surprised and chagrined, but it will give him a chance to find a new stag for the boys to hunt, since the other 14-pointer was killed. What! When? A hunter on neighboring property shot the stag.

Telling no one, Elizabeth goes to see the great deer. He's strung up in a slaugther room, hanging from his haunches. His head has been cut off, so that the antlers can be mounted on someone's wall. So noble in life, now an ornament. A trophy. Death the great equalizer, but life levels us too. The deer, meant to be a treat for the princes, was felled by an outsider, a guest on someone else's property took this undeserved prize for his own. It wasn't even a clean shot. The stag was wounded first, before he was killed. Elizabeth hopes he didn't suffer.

Back in England, Blair was frustrated by the Queen, but now his own staff is more taxing. His approval rating is up, but he finds no cause to rejoice. When Cherie wonders what is wrong, he says that he's growing tired of having the royals bullied. With an eyeroll, Cherie comments that he's falling in love with the Queen. Why is it that all the prime ministers do? As his assistant gloats that Blair's office has made all the right moves, while the monarchy continues to falter, Blair finally has had enough. Stamping out of the room, he rails that Elizabeth is being skewered because of the death of a woman who only threw everything the queen had ever done for her back in the queen's face and spent the last years of her life on a 24/7 crusade to ruin the "establishment" that the Queen had spent her whole life building.

I applaud Blair's outbust as the highlight of the movie, but it seemed to come from nowhere. Other than the queen's advisor reminding him of King Albert's early death, I'm not sure what has happened to turn Blair's allegiance to the queen. Maybe he was never against her, but he hadn't been against Diana either. From whence did his anger towards the deceased suddenly spring? Based on memory, I agree with his assessment of Lady Spencer, but aside from some unsubstantiated complaints about her manipulations from Charles, nothing in the movie has laid the foundation for Blair's words. Diana was a great humanitarian. She was known for great kindness to her schoolchildren, long before she became princess. But the power of celebrity made her petulant and calculating, giving her leverage over her in-laws that their 1500 years of lineage could not match. Of course, she was pushed into the public spotlight so early that she never had the chance or freedom to grow into a healthy, balanced adult. Maybe time would have changed that. That's a story for another movie. This one doesn't explain to us why Tony Blair saw her as he did. If it was an opinion that evolved, it did so offscreen. If it's one that he harbored all along, why didn't they let us know about it earlier, during one of his private exchanges with Cherie?

We don't see Blair and The Queen together except in the movie's opening and closing scenes. The bond they develop is strong, but distant, based on respect and understanding, rather than intimacy, so the script keeps them apart for symbolic reasons. But if we aren't going to watch that man interact with her, show his royal metamorphosis through other means. Give the guy his own stag!

Tony's sitting around his office feeling embittered when suddenly he looks up and sees the Queen on tv. She's back at Buckingham Palace, looking at the flowers people have left for Diana. She's had a pile of them brought inside the gates, so she can see them herself. She's even talking to those who have gathered outside. Reading their cards, with Charles, Philip, Harry and William beside her. The flag is being lowered too. She's doing everything that Blair asked.

But this is not all about appearances. When the Queen actually reads the accusations against her family in some of the sympathy cards left for Diana she is taken aback, but resigned. A little girl has flowers and the queen offers to put them on the pile with the others, but the girl withdraws her hand. The queen is stung, but not surprised. Not anymore. This is what she has come to expect from her subjects over the last harrowing days. But then the girl explains, these flowers are for the Queen, not for Diana. Elizabeth takes them with a rush of graditude. And more.

There was one poignant moment in real life that is not captured on film, when Diana's casket passed the palace. Would they or wouldn't they? The world waited with bated breath and, yes, the Queen, her mother, sister and daughter bowed their heads in respect. That was the subject of much comment at the time, but not included here.

As she prepares a public speech about Diana, she sends a draft over to Blair's office. They mock it's removed tone. When Blair calls to offer revisions which will make the Queen's message warmer, Elizabeth writes them in without hesitation. Where once she resisted and resented his suggestions, now she follows them without pause. But is it a sign of trust or defeat?

At the funeral, Charles Spencer gives an arrogant eulogy that I despised then as I do now. I would think that his sister's funeral would not be the place to air such hostilities, but his vindictiveness is cheered by many and would probably have been sanctioned by Diana. He says that it was a blessing that his sister was taken while she was still beautiful and radiant. I suppose if she'd lived a long life and gained wisdom, along with wrinkles that would have been the real tragedy. Better dead than ugly. Maybe that's the motto Frances Shand Kydd handed down to her brood.

The funeral ends, the summer commences and as fall comes, Blair arrives at Buckingham Palace to visit the queen once more. At first they speak of her recent travels, the admiration she's won for her diplomacy overseas. But then small talk can no longer cover the elephant in the room. He praises her handling of the funeral and says he was impressed by her humility. Oh no, he is confusing humility with humiliation, she counters. He denies it. Did 1 in 4 people really want her gone she asks with quiet wonder. For that week he says. That was one week and she's reigned for 2500. Those few days won't be remembered when her legacy as a whole is considered. And, of course, he's right.

The awkward moment passes as she invites him for a walk on the grounds. They put Diana behind them and discuss matters of state. She's the one who's supposed to be advising him, not the other way around, the Queen teases.