Ironclad / The Adjustment Bureau

Random choices for a Friday and a rarity in that I’d not seen a trailer for either film before we watched them. In fact, I’d not even heard of Ironclad before I checked out the performance times the day before.


“Hit them. Hard.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Mad king decides the Magna Carta doesn’t really suit him and decides to take England back. Can one small castle manned by 19 individuals stop him?

Ironclad is one of those excellent historical films that makes you want to go and look stuff up when you get home. Given my public school education (for American readers, this actually means “private school” in England – no, it makes no sense me either), my knowledge of English history is of course utterly abysmal. I didn’t even know, until last night, which king had actually signed it. I didn’t even know where it was signed (other than “at the bottom”).

The story is simple. King John, being a bit of a dick, has decided that the document which granted rights to the country’s population doesn’t really suit him. So he’s got the Pope to write it off and is about to start taking the country back under his iron – and rather nasty – rule. One castle stands in his way. He must control it to be able to begin his re-conquest.

A small party of Knights Templar get wind of this plan, and rustle up some support from a Baron, his men and a mercenary or two. They take the castle, recruiting its meagre population and prepare for the worst… an army of 1000 Norse warriors blackmailed by John into fighting for him on the promise that if he gets England back then the Pope will leave their country “un-Christian’d”.

So the film is essentially about the siege, and it’s incredibly gripping. Characters drop like flies, quotable dialogue flies around like a medieval Aaron Sorkin script, blood squirts and bones are crushed. It’s high in gore without focussing on it.

Although the cast across the board are very good indeed, I’m going to single out Paul Giamatti for his role as King John. Utterly mental and obviously a complete egotist, John hates it when things don’t go his way. He’s ruthless, greedy and vicious. No wonder the country wanted him gone. He also gets the best (and probably longest) speech in the film, all full of flailing limbs and frothing spit.

Gill thought the film dragged, and struggled to see some of the fight scenes as we were sat quite close to the screen so we lost the effect somewhat. She could be right on the latter, but I found the pace about right. Each intervening scene had enough being discussed and with such good use of language that I was entertained between all the grisly, exciting set pieces.

I tweeted as such right after the film and in reflection I’m still agreeing with myself. Up to now, this is the best film I’ve seen this year. In terms of pure enjoyment, I loved it. It’s never going to go down in history as a classic, I admit that. But I would go and see it again, and I can’t say that about anything else I’ve seen since January 1st.

The Adjustment Bureau

“What the hell is going on?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Man finds himself stuck in the middle of a hiccup in “he above”‘s great scheme of things… and decides to do something about it.

Quick question – has anything Philip K. Dick wrote not been adapted for the screen yet? The Adjustment Bureau is based on his short story Adjustment Team and must rank as one of the best. Again,I  had no idea what it was about when I saw down to watch it, and that’s the way it should be with films of this ilk. Trailers can only take away half the fun.

Matt Damon is David Norris, a gifted young man running for public office and doing well at it. He bumps into Elise (Emily Blunt) by accident and she inspires a great speech. This is the only time Norris is “supposed” to meet Elise, but something goes wrong in the way the world works and mysterious men in hats are sent out to repair it.

It’s hard to describe it more than that without giving away any of the fun stuff so I’ll stop there.

There’s a definite romance story, some science fiction, a nasty bad guy, a hint of religion, some neat effects, and a back story of manipulation not dissimilar to the masterful Dark City. The best thing is that it doesn’t really mess with your head the way that Inception did (or at least tried to – was that film really so complicated?). It’s easy to watch as pure entertainment without having to strain any lobes.

The ending could have been a little better, in my opinion, though it did tie things up nicely.

A nice story of one person up against all the odds the world has to throw against them, with good performances across the board. Surprisingly enjoyable.

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Gnomeo & Juliet

Another trip to the cinema with the kids. We needed something entertaining enough to engage the little one without sending us mad. That ruled the painful-looking Yogi Bear flick out, so we settled on:

Gnomeo & Juliet

“Let’s go kick some grass!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Shakespeare with pottery.

This turned out to be a great choice. Superb cast, tons of humour, near-constant action and bright colours made it ideal for all four of us.

The plot follows Shakespeare’s original fairly well, to a point, and some of the dialogue is a direct pastiche of the Bard’s work. Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is a blue garden gnome living in the garden of Mr Capulet (voiced by Richard Wilson). He falls for Juliet (Emily Blunt), a red gnome living next door in Miss Montague’s (Julie Walters) garden.

Of course, the owners and therefore the gnomes are deadly enemies. We’re not limited to little rotund porcelain midgets, though. There are plastic flamingos, concrete animals and a cute little toadstool as well. The imagination of the creative team is incredible with amazing attention to detail and beautiful ideas being thrown up time after time.

If there’s a downside to the film it’s that all the music is by Elton John and it’s not exactly my favourite genre. In fairness, a lot of it is reworked into the background. As the film goes on, the songs themselves are replaced by background instrumentals. Right up to the end credits when a voice from Hell takes over and cuts into the eardums like a chainsaw. I think it’s Ellie Furtado and it’s horrendous.

Gnomeo & Juliet is fun, bright and funny on enough levels to make it entertaining for the whole family.

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