Film Review: Film puts a modern spin on ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’
released by Focus Features shows Saoirse Ronan as Mary Stuart in a scene
from “Mary Queen of Scots.” (Liam Daniel/Focus Features via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) - “Mary, Queen of Scots “ is an
ambitious re-imagining of the Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I saga with modern
flourishes and bold performances from Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. But
the film, for all its prestige and edginess, its lofty goals and
contemporary messages, is not a particularly engrossing experience.
It’s a shame too, because most of the elements are
there. The gorgeous costumes and meticulous settings are breathtaking, and
they couldn’t have chosen two leads better suited to playing these women,
with Ronan as Mary and Robbie as Elizabeth. They just don’t come together
very well, straddling an awkward line between wanting to be both a modern
referendum on the real struggles of being a female leader in the 16th
century and a “Game of Thrones”-style actioner. Director Josie Rourke, who
has a background in theater, certainly has a knack for grandeur and drama.
But choppy editing and stilted story evolution never really do justice to
what should be an epic and suspenseful tale of political machinations and
The story itself is fascinating. Mary, a Catholic
widowed at 18 from the King of France, returns to Scotland to rule. She has
eyes on England too, which is under the rule of her cousin, Elizabeth I, a
Protestant who refuses to marry and produce an heir. A husband, Elizabeth
accurately concludes, will just try to take the throne from her. And the men
in both of their camps try their best to make a peaceful relationship
between the two countries impossible.
But the question of a successor remains and becomes
urgent when Mary comes back on the scene and starts making her own claims to
the throne. The two rulers correspond and negotiate in an elaborate game of
chess in which everyone is attempting to manipulate an unstable situation.
Elizabeth tries to offer up a husband to Mary, in her own lover Robert
Dudley (Joe Alwyn), as a strategic plant. But, Mary, seeing through the
plan, weds another Englishman, the charismatic Lord Darnley (Jack Lowden),
ensuring that her offspring would have a legitimate claim to the throne.
There are interesting ideas to explore about being a
powerful woman in this time. But the script from “House of Cards” creator
Beau Willimon seems to oversimplify things. He imagines a relationship that
devolves mostly because of Elizabeth’s jealousy of Mary’s youth, beauty and
ability to bear children. This point is hammered over and over, as
Elizabeth, hearing that Mary is pregnant, gathers her skirt to just see what
she would look like pregnant in silhouette. The birth scene is even more
noxious, cutting back and forth from Mary in labor, to poor, sad Elizabeth
creating the only thing she can — paper flowers.
The film takes enormous liberties with history,
bringing the two rulers together for a face-to-face conversation, and
infusing the cast with more diverse faces and themes to varying degrees of
success. That conversation that apparently never happened is well worth the
factual leniency. It’s the scene that the whole film is building toward and
both Robbie and Ronan are extremely compelling — vulnerable and
introspective yet also fierce and unwavering — in this power showdown.
Unfortunately the journey to get to this part is long
and, for long stretches, quite dreary and dull. “Mary, Queen of Scots” also
has the misfortune of coming out around the same time as the deliciously
compelling and lively Queen Anne film “The Favourite” and might get lost in
the shuffle. This is a more staid and straightforward experience, and, for
some costume drama enthusiasts, possibly even the preferable one. But for
this critic, “Mary, Queen of Scots” was royally underwhelming.
“Mary, Queen of Scots,” a Focus Features release, is
rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “for some violence
and sexuality.” Running time: 112 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Hugh Jackman, the pop star, readies massive world tour
singer Hugh Jackman performs on NBC’s “Today” show at Rockefeller Plaza on
Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
New York (AP) —
Hugh Jackman is set to launch a pop star-like tour next year, but he’s done
his research: He’s been to a Beyonce concert. A Justin Timberlake concert.
And a Michael Jackson concert.
“I’ve seen some of the
greats,” Jackman said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And the
great performers for me are the ones who can connect with the person in the
back and in the front. And I’ll sometimes sit in the back ‘cause I wanna
know am I feeling it back here? ‘Cause I’m from the theater, (so) for me
everything I do has to connect to every single person.”
The regular concert
attendee is hoping to make some strong connections with fans when he
launches his first world tour — dubbed “The Man. The Music. The Show.”— next
year. Accompanied by a live orchestra, he will perform songs from “The
Greatest Showman,” ‘’Les Miserables” and Broadway musicals, among other
“I’ve always felt
strangely at home on a stage, no matter how big the stage is — sometimes
even more than in life,” said the actor, known for roles like Wolverine.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think when I turned 50 I would be playing
Madison Square Garden or the Hollywood Bowl.”
Jackman, who was born
in Australia, did an arena tour there three years ago, but he didn’t think
he could replicate the success outside his native home.
“I had no idea really
what the demand is for me. It’s not like I measure it or I ask. I always
underplay it,” he said. “At that time three years ago I remember thinking,
‘I’d really love to do this around the world.’ And my agent in L.A. goes,
‘I’d leave it in Australia, dude.’”
But then came “The
Greatest Showman” — a game changer for Jackman’s music career. The 2017 film
was a box-office powerhouse, but so was — and still is — its soundtrack: The
album has reached multi-platinum status and is one of the year’s top albums,
matching the success of any major rap, pop or rock album. It came in fourth
on Billboard’s list of top albums for the year and also made Apple Music’s
year-end Top 10 list.
“The opportunity to go
around the world ... I probably wouldn’t have had it if it wasn’t for ‘The
Greatest Showman.’ That tipped me over,” Jackman said.
“The Greatest Showman”
has come a long way: Jackman remembers how the movie only earned US$8.6
million in its first week around the time the soundtrack debuted at No. 71
on the Billboard charts.
“When we opened, when I
saw I didn’t get an email, normally you’ll get a consolation email from your
friends, the studios; it was like crickets, like nothing. That’s how bad it
was,” he said. “We worked eight years on it ... and I always want to remind
people the studio took a big risk on it. It wasn’t cheap.”
Jackman will kick off
his tour in Hamburg, Germany, on May 13. He will play two shows at The O2
Arena in London, where the album has had even more success than America: The
album has spent 48 of 49 weeks in the Top 10 on the U.K. charts, including
21 weeks at No. 1. And it’s currently No. 4 on the charts, a year after its
The North American leg
begins June 18 in Houston and tickets went on sale this month.
Jackman hopes to also
perform original music on the tour, and he recalls working on an album when
he was signed to a record label over a decade ago when he starred in
Broadway’s “The Boy from Oz,” for which he won a Tony in 2004.
“I had a deal at the
time and I hated what I did. It had nothing to do with anyone involved, I
had amazing people involved, but at that point I didn’t know what I wanted
to say,” he said. “Whether you’re a recording artist or a writer or actor,
you’ve got to feel like you have something to say.”
Now, he’s ready.
“I would love to do a
couple of original songs. I do have some things I want to say,” he said.
Film Review: Latest ‘Fantastic Beasts’ is a mixed bag of wonders
shows Eddie Redmayne in a scene from “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of
Grindelwald.” (Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
Los Angeles (AP) -
Like the bottomless trunk totted by “magizoolologist” Newt Scamander,
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a mixed bag of wonders.
Newt (Eddie Redmayne)
can reach into his suitcase and, like Mary Poppins before him, pull out just
about anything. And it sometimes feels as though J.K. Rowling — a
screenwriter here for the second time — is similarly infatuated by her
unending powers of conjuring. In this overstuffed second film in the
five-part Harry Potter prequel series, every solved mystery unlocks another,
every story begets still more. Narratives multiply like randy Nifflers (one
of the many species of creature in Newt’s bag).
The usual problem for
spinoffs is their thinness or their unfulfilled justification — especially
ones that stretch an already much-stretched tale. (There were eight Potter
movies.) But neither are issues in the two “Fantastic Beasts” films, each
directed by former “Potter” hand David Yates. Both movies are rooted in
purpose. “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” especially, is an impressively dark
and urgent parable of supremacist ideology aimed squarely at today’s
demagogues of division. And neither film lacks in density of detail,
character or story.
No, the only real crime
of “Gindelwald” is its sheer abundance. In zipping from New York to London
to Paris (with ministries of magic in each locale), this latest chapter in
Rowling’s pre-Potter saga feels so eager to be outside the walls of Hogwarts
(which also get a cameo) that it resists ever settling anywhere, or with any
of its widely scattered characters — among them Newt, the conscientious dark
magic investigator Tina (Katherine Waterston), the New Yorker no-maj Jacob
(Dan Fogler), Tina’s sister and Jacob’s sweetheart Queenie (Alison Sudol)
and the haunted former schoolmate of Newt’s, Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz)
No one does the
foreboding sense of a looming battle better than Rowling. Now, it’s the rise
of Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), freshly escaped from prison, who casts
a lengthening shadow over the land. With a blond shock of hair and a ghostly
white face, Grindelwald is Rowling’s magical version of a white nationalist,
only he believes in the elevation of wizards — “purebloods” — over those who
lack magical powers, or “no-majes.”
It’s 1927 and the dark
clouds of fascism are swirling; World War II feels right around the corner.
In one the movie’s many tricks, Grindelwald drapes Paris in black fabric,
like a wannabe Christo.
Despite the gathering
storm, the pacifist Newt (Redmayne, cloyingly shy), resists drawing battle
lines. When pushed by his brother Theseus (Callum Turner), who like Tina is
an “Auror” who enforces magic law, Newt responds: “I don’t do sides.”
The events of “The
Crimes of Grindelwald” will test Newt, just as they will anyone trying to
follow its many strands. The hunt is on for at least three characters — the
missing Queenie, the on-the-lam Grindelwald and Credence Barebone (Eza
Miller), the powerful but volatile orphan who spends much of the film
seeking answers to his identity. He’s the Anakin Skywalker of “Fantastic
Beasts,” whose soul is fought for by both sides.
If all of this sounds
like a lot, it most definitely is, and that’s not even mentioning Jude Law
joining in as a young Albus Dumbledore, who turns out to be awfully
roguishly handsome under that ZZ-top beard. But our time here with him is
short, just as it is with so many characters who — to the film’s credit — we
yearn for more of (Fogler’s Jacob, especially). There is a flicker of a
flashback that hints at a long-ago, maybe-sexual relationship between
Dumbledore and Grindelwald; it would be the film’s most intriguing
revelation if it wasn’t merely baited for future installments.
Siblings are everywhere
in “The Crimes of Grindelwald.” Just as in the houses of Hogwarts, Rowling
delights in duality and the interplay of light and dark. Even within the
Aurors there are competing methodologies of law enforcement to face the
growing threat. Newt is carried along like an avatar of sympathy: he
believes that every beast can be tamed, that every trauma can be healed.
Rowling’s only source
material going into the “Fantastic Beasts” films was a slender 2001 book in
the guise of a Hogwarts textbook. But she has, with her mighty wand,
summoned an impressively vast if convoluted world, one that’s never timid in
exploring the darkness beneath its enchanting exterior. And, with Yates
again at the helm, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” is often dazzling,
occasionally wondrous and always atmospheric. But is also a bit of a mess.
Even magic bags can be overweight.
“Fantastic Beasts: The
Crimes of Grindelwald,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 for some
fantasy action violence. Running time: 134 minutes. Two and a half stars out
In ‘Creed II,’ Dolph Lundgren is happy he has better lines
image shows Dolph Lundgren (left) and Florian Munteanu in a scene from
“Creed II.” (Barry Wetcher/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Warner Bros.
Pictures via AP)
(AP) — Being cast as the villain Soviet boxer
Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV” launched Dolph Lundgren’s acting career. But he
had a brainier path if that didn’t work out.
The 61-year old
actor holds a master’s degree in chemical engineering and was on a
Fulbright scholarship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when
Stallone cast him as Drago for the 1985 “Rocky” sequel.
regret trading academia for those red boxing trunks with the gold
stripes, though he wishes his character had a few more coherent lines.
“It felt really
surreal, and, at the same time, it felt like a big moment for me in my
career as a person, because that character started my whole career and
it’s been a great thing for me. But it’s also kind of been a negative in
one way because the guy was such a monosyllabic guy,” Lundgren said. “He
was a robot.”
Lundgren reprises the role of Drago in “Creed II,” as much a sequel to
the previous film as it is to “Rocky IV.” Lundgren remains grateful to
Stallone, not only for casting him in the first place, but for bringing
him back in a heartier, more substantial role.
“I got a chance to
play a guy who was a real person and who has real problems, especially a
father-son relationship. When I see father-son relationships in movies,
it always gets me emotional. And I had a chance to be part of that,”
Back in “Rocky IV,”
Drago kills Apollo Creed in the ring, only to lose to Rocky Balboa. But
he loses much more than a match.
In “Creed II,” we
learn he is living in squalor after the embarrassing loss. He is raising
his son Viktor, played by Florian Munteanu, to be a boxer and is seeking
revenge on Rocky by getting his son to fight the son of the man he
Munteanu said he
felt a bond with Lundgren. “It’s an honor to play his son,” he said. “He
wanted to create a father-son relationship right from the beginning.”
Lundgren had a
unique trajectory that led him to the big screen. He was an engineering
student in Melbourne, Australia, when he met actress Grace Jones. While
dating, she took him to New York and introduced to him people like Andy
Warhol and Michael Jackson. It didn’t hurt that he was a karate champion
when Stallone discovered him.
Since then, he’s
had a busy action-movie career, which includes “The Expendables”
trilogy, portraying He-Man in “Masters of the Universe,” and the
upcoming “Aquaman.” Still, he admits to soul searching when it came to
his career path.
“‘Why did I quit
MIT? Why didn’t I continue with engineering? Why did I become an actor?’
And it took me a while,” Lundgren said.
Now he’s at peace
with his acting decision: “Whether I’m a good guy or a bad guy, it makes
them feel something, and it brightens up their lives. That’s kind of
what my part in this earth has been, I guess.”
This time around,
there weren’t a lot of action scenes for Lundgren, and he was fine with
that. But he did get in shape to play Drago, who he describes as “one of
those guys who’s always in shape.”
“No matter how much
vodka he drinks, he’s going to go to the gym,” Lundgren said.
Jefferson Airplane’s Kaukonen is still on embryonic journey
Kaukonen poses for a photo before a Hot Tuna gig at the El Rey Theatre
in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/John Rogers)
Los Angeles (AP)
— Long before he wrote and recorded the
Jefferson Airplane classic “Embryonic Journey,” Jorma Kaukonen was on a
decades-long journey of discovery of his own.
From shy, sometimes
bullied upper-class son of a globe-trotting U.S. diplomat in
post-colonial Pakistan, Kaukonen would evolve into a hard-drinking,
hell-raising teenager racing his motorcycle through the streets of the
Philippines in the mid-1950s.
Then it was on to a
Jesuit university to study Aristotelian logic and other lofty subjects
when not playing lead guitar for the Jefferson Airplane, a band he
co-founded with Marty Balin, Jack Casady and others and that helped
bring psychedelic sounds to the forefront of music.
Oh, and in his
spare time Kaukonen would co-found another iconic band, Hot Tuna, which
is still recording and touring 48 years later.
“It’s really funny,
it’s hard to rate one’s own life” the 77-year-old guitarist says,
smiling broadly as he reflects on how an embassy brat turned
intellectual academic seemed to morph so easily into a rock star in
1967’s Summer of Love in San Francisco.
“But all things
considered, I have had a pretty interesting life,” adds the friendly
self-effacing Kaukonen as he relaxes in a deserted VIP section of
Hollywood’s El Rey Theatre hours before taking the stage for that
night’s sold-out Hot Tuna show.
He lays out much of
that life in the just-published memoir “Been So Long: My Life & Music”
(St. Martin’s Press). A quick, engaging read at 288 pages, his prose is
followed by the lyrics to dozens of songs he’s composed over the past 50
years as well as a five-song CD tucked in between the final two pages.
It’s a book that’s
been generally well received, although Kaukonen acknowledges some have
complained it doesn’t contain enough Jefferson Airplane photos or
anecdotes along the lines of, “What’s Grace Slick really like?”
Slick, one of the
band’s principal vocalists, wrote the book’s forward, which somewhat
answers that question. But raising it seems to annoy Kaukonen slightly.
“The Airplane is a
huge part of my life. I don’t trivialize it on any level. But it was A
PART of my life and it has to fit into the scheme of things,” he says
What “Been So Long”
clearly describes is a love affair with the guitar that began when a
14-year-old persuaded his father, Jorma Sr., to buy him a Gibson
Sunburst J-45 acoustic and then pretty much never put it down.
Eventually he would
start writing songs, and although Kaukonen maintains he’s not a prolific
musician his body of work would argue otherwise: Six classic Jefferson
Airplane albums in the 1960s and early ’70s followed by nearly two dozen
Hot Tuna albums and more than a dozen solo projects.
“It’s kind of like
learning the guitar,” he says when pressed on the dichotomy. “You start
out learning how to play and maybe you get a song or two and you get to
do an open mike. And then pretty soon you have enough for a set, and if
you keep adding you have a show. And if you live long enough you have a
body of work.”
By the time
Jefferson Airplane’s breakthrough album, “Surrealistic Pillow,” was
released in 1967 Kaukonen had earned his degree in sociology from Santa
Clara University and his finger-picking style was now creating
electric-guitar sounds pretty much unheard of in rock music.
The album was
anchored by soaring vocals from Slick and Balin, Kaukonen’s transcendent
guitar passages and Casady’s thundering bass lines on songs like “White
Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.” And, in the middle, was a brief but
achingly beautiful acoustic-guitar instrumental called “Embryonic
“I thought he was
out of his mind,” Kaukonen says of his reaction when record producer
Rick Jarrard heard him playing it during a break and insisted it go on
the album. It remains a fan favorite to this day, and Kaukonen adds, “I
owe him a big debt of gratitude.”
By 1970 he and
Casady, a friend since childhood, had begun to tire of the Airplane’s
more rigid musical structure and formed Hot Tuna, an ever-changing
ensemble dedicated to a range of music from blues to jazz to Americana.
“One of the things
people occasionally ask me is if I think about retiring, and my sort of
off-the-cuff answer is, ‘Why,” Kaukonen jokes.
“The reality of the
situation is that I still really love playing for an audience. And for
me to keep my playing at a level that pleases me, I need to perform.”