*** (out of four)
The weekend before last, I had the rare opportunity to spend the entire weekend by myself. I thought about visiting a few friends in Murray, but then decided I would see them again soon enough. So Friday night, I sat on my couch like a vegetable and went to bed early (at least for a Friday).
On Saturday, I could have continued lounging around my apartment, which probably would have been a wise decision, given how tired I seem to feel all the time. Instead, I thought it might be the perfect day to take a drive down to Nashville.
Some people might drive to Nashville to shop or eat at some fancy restaurant. Not so with me (although I did buy something at a used bookstore and ate at Kalmarta’s, which is an excellent and moderately-priced Mediterranean restaurant). No, when I go to Nashville, it is for one primary purpose: to see movies that I most likely would not be able to see anywhere. When I was going to school at Western Kentucky University, I tried to make the trip at least every couple of months. It was never a trip to be taken lightly, as I tried to take in at least two, and sometimes three, movies. Because of this, I usually didn’t try to talk anyone into going with me.
I chose three relatively obscure movies to see that day. One was “For Your Consideration,” a comedy directed by Christopher Guest that is a vicious satire of the hopes actors place on the Academy Awards. I also saw “Half Nelson,” a moving story of the unlikely bond between a young inner-city 13-year-old girl and her drug-addled middle school history teacher. It features an incredible performance from Ryan Gosling (you might remember him from “The Notebook”), who is one of the best young actors to emerge in the last few years. Just check out “The Believer,” in which he plays a man of Jewish heritage who becomes a neo-Nazi if you don’t believe me. Intense stuff.
I’ve chosen to review “The Queen” because you’re probably going to keep hearing about in the time leading up to the Oscars on Feb. 25. English actress Helen Mirren is a virtual lock for Best Actress, and there has also been a great deal of talk lately about a Best Picture nomination as well.
Although the movie isn’t quite the masterpiece some critics have claimed, it’s a fascinating, if speculative, look behind the walls of Buckingham Palace. In the film, Mirren plays Queen Elizabeth II in the weeks after the 1997 death of Princess Diana. She is a very private person and doesn’t understand why so many people are pressuring her to show grief for someone she didn’t really care for much in the first place. Since Diana and Prince Charles are divorced and Diana is no longer part of the royal family, she also doesn’t see why there should be a state funeral, as many are suggesting.
That “many” includes the newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). The man got elected by having a general feel for the public mood, and this time is no different. He keeps insisting to the queen that she make some kind of statement or at least acknowledge the death to the British people who loved her so much. Elizabeth, meanwhile, is completely bewildered by the public and has no idea why there is such a visible display of sadness in the streets of London.
The movie doesn’t take sides and finds something to admire in almost all its characters (except for the queen’s husband, Prince Philip [James Cromwell], who comes off as a class-A jerk). Mirren is fabulous in the way she presents Elizabeth as someone from another era, a woman with quiet dignity who is the very definition of the proverbial English “stiff upper lip.”
Sheen completely nails Tony Blair, and it will be grave injustice if he doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor next month. He not only looks like Blair, but has the mannerisms down perfectly. His performance isn’t mere mimicry, though. He fleshes out his character so much that he dominates the movie almost as much as Mirren.
I didn’t really care much when Diana died nine years ago, but I found myself unexpectedly moved toward the end of the movie when documentary footage of her funeral is integrated into the action of the movie. I suppose that was just the result of how well director Stephen Frears makes us believe we’re watching the real drama of the royal family play out in front of us. When we see shots of non-actors piling flowers onto a massive mound outside the palace, it doesn’t break the illusion for a second.
I would encourage anyone to see this great actors’ showcase.