Monday, January 31, 2011

Season of the Witch

What I really wanted to see was Sanctum.

That's the upcoming cave-divers-trapped-underground-by-a-flood movie shot in 3D and executive produced by James Cameron.

And it's why I drove all the way out to the Hollywood and Highland complex through rush hour.

A first-come, first-serve screening was being held. These occur from time to time in LA. Often they're press screenings. Studios want critics to see a movie with a full house; they feel critics are more inclined to like the movie that way. For us street urchins, these screenings are a great way to see a movie for free a week or two before it's released.

Unfortunately, I was not first-come, and I was definitely not first-served.

Instead I was standing on the Walk of Fame with my friend Ray while tourists had their pictures snapped with Catwoman and Spider-Man.

What to do now?

Traffic was a nightmare. The evening was getting away. If only there were another movie playing nearby.

Enter...

...Nic Cage!

Playing a hundred feet away, at Grauman's Chinese Theater, was Cage's new medieval actioner, Season of the Witch.

I had been meaning to take in this movie for weeks. After all, Cage is a guilty pleasure and I like medieval actioners. Who doesn't?

But I was having a hard time finding a theater in my neighborhood that was playing the movie.

Released January 7, Witch was out of wide release something like forty-five minutes later. In four weeks it has hauled in twenty-three million dollars domestic which, combined with twenty-six million overseas, makes it an incredibly big bomb for an action movie starring a supposedly bankable movie star.

Our evening was saved.

The situation got curioser when Ray and I entered the theater.

It was empty.

Ray and I took seats near the center and waited to see if anyone would dribble in.

No one did. The movie played only to Ray and myself.

Bear in mind, the theater holds 1152 seats, it's maybe the most famous movie house in the world, and it was 8 PM on a Thursday.

Somehow, Season of the Witch was emptying rooms faster than the calamity at the center of its plot, the Bubonic Plague.

Said plague was just starting to get nasty in the late 1330's, when Nic Cage's crusader knight and his buddy Ron Perlman were cutting a bloody swath through Arab lands on one of the Crusades.

Cage and Perlman cheerfully fought and pillaged for their God, but as we know in 2011, the Crusades were unjust acts of barbarism, and this is the revelation Cage has when he accidentally kills an innocent woman during the sack of a castle.

Burned out on carnage, he and Perlman desert the Armies of the Lord and start making their way back to Europe.

Along the way, they are arrested by the authorities of a plague-stricken town with an unfortunate witch problem.

The witch in question is a twenty-something girl already in custody. She protests her innocence, but the authorities -- religious and civil -- are pretty sure she's not only a witch, but that her particular witchcraft is behind the outbreak of plague. Thus, they need her brought to a distant mountaintop abbey, where the monks can not only deal with the witch, but reverse the ill effects her powers have wrought on the town.

Unfortunately, the town's authorities are low on manpower at the moment, so when they catch Cage and Perlman for deserting, it occurs to them that if they could convince the duo to help transport the dangerous captive over unsafe lands to the forbidding mountain Keep, it would make for a great Nic Cage movie.

And, crazily, it sort of does.

The suspected witch is guilty as charged, and she causes all kinds of trouble for her armed escort: from summoning packs of wolves to preying on their psychological weaknesses, Hannibal Lechter-style.

Eventually Cage and company get the witch to the abbey, but they don't find what they'd hoped. Instead, CG effects light up the screen and we've got a demonic battle royale on our hands.

It makes for a surprisingly good time, considering how cheesy and under-ambitious the movie is.

Maybe it's because I'm partial to a little Dungeons & Dragons-style hack 'n slash, but I thought the action was reasonably well-choreographed, Cage and Perlman had some real chemistry, and the witch was just vulnerable and innocent enough to be formidable.

It's still not a good movie, but on a Thursday night when you're shut out of Sanctum, it'll do.

SCORE

How Accomplished: 40/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 65/100

The Green Hornet

It's easy to think the superhero genre was born in the 1960's, with the creation of Marvel comics and Stan Lee's stable of now-familiar faces.

But of course the 1930's gave us a bumper crop of costumed crimefighters too.

There was The Shadow, who could see what evil lurked in the hearts of men. There was The Phantom, with his unfortunate purple leotard. And there was Dick Tracy, who had weirder villains than anyone before or since.

These characters all had one thing in common.

They sucked.

At least by modern standards.

The concept of the super-powered hero hadn't caught on yet. Sure, there was Superman, but he's the exception that proves the rule. In the 30's, superheroes carried pistols and could be effectively neutralized if tied up with a lenth of rope.

Things have changed. Try tying up the Incredible Hulk with rope. See how far that gets you.

What we discovered in the 60's is this: superheroes are supposed to have superpowers.

This concept has advanced so far that the past year saw a big-budget movie called Kick Ass, an action-comedy whose quirky premise centered around a costumed hero who DIDN'T have powers.

Imagine that!

This explains why Hollywood has had no success adapting 1930's heroes to the big screen. We've seen movies of The Shadow, The Phantom and Dick Tracy, and they've all flopped.

So here comes The Green Hornet, another 1930's, powerless crimefighter -- unless you count a stylish car and a martial artist sidekick as powers. And, remember, we don't.

Mindful of the impossibility of a straight-up adaptation, the forces behind the new, $120m The Green Hornet have opted for self-parody. They've made a self-conscious action-comedy striving for a tone like that of Kick Ass, but hopefully with more mainstream yuks to draw in a larger audience.

Hence, they enrolled comedic hotshot Seth Rogen as both screenwriter and star, and put the French whimsicist Michael Gondry in the director's chair.

But it's one thing to decide to make a comedy, it's another to make it funny.

None of the jokes in Hornet fly. The dialogue is flat and the situations are static. For a hundred million dollar movie, there are a LOT of two-people-in-a-room-talking scenes.

On top of this, the central relationship, between Seth Rogen and the aforementioned martial artist sidekick Kato, is poisoned by the fact that Kato doesn't like being a sidekick to anyone, and they're both competing for the same woman -- office temp Cameron Diaz, who looks twenty years too old for either of them.

Thus, the Green Hornet spends much of the movie fighting Kato instead of the evil ganglord Chudnofsky, played by Christoph Waltz, who was great in Inglourious Basterds but has nothing to work with here.

Example: toward the end of the movie, in order to keep up with the Hornet, Chudnofsky changes his name to Bloodnofsky. Get it? And he dresses in red.

Red.

There are also structural problems and plausibility issues, but I don't know that it matters. If a comedy isn't funny, it's dead.

1930's-crimefighter-serial dead.

SCORE

How Accomplished: 24/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 23/100

Monday, January 24, 2011

Best & Worst of 2010

I'm about a month behind schedule on this, but here's a quick list of the ten movies I esteemed most highly in 2010, followed by a list of the ten movies I esteemed least.

And it's all scientifically formulated with scores and everything, so there's no point arguing.

The best and worst:

BEST

91 - True Grit

91 - 127 Hours

91 - Splice

89 - The King's Speech

86 - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

86 - Twilight: Eclipse

86 - Agora

85 - The Book of Eli

84 - The Runaways

84 - Green Zone

84 - Frozen


WORST

09 - The Wolfman

10 - The A-Team

17 - Never Let Me Go

17 - Salt

22 - Clash of the Titans

22 - Brooklyn's Finest

24 - The Fighter

24 - Valentine's Day

24 - Extraordinary Measures

26 - Robin Hood

26 - The Lightning Thief

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Normally, I hate realism.

There's plenty of realism outside movie theaters. Who needs it inside?

But I have to grudgingly admit realism is the stock that makes drama into soup. And author Stieg Larsson served up lots of good soup. It'll be interesting to see how Hollywood, a bastion of fantasy, adapts this realistic, very adult trilogy of stories.

In the meantime, we've got the Swedish film version, of which The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the third and final entry.

Sort of.

It's the final entry only because Larsson died after writing it. But he conceived his book series as a decalogy, so the relationship between co-heroes Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander is not resolved with the finality a true end-of-series finale would probably give us. Since the man is dead, it's the best we're going to get.

I enjoyed the first two installments, but I thought the third entry was the best of the bunch.

Which was a pleasant surprise, since I'd heard it was the most problematic of the books, due to the fact that the character we love to root for -- bad-ass goth punk, Lisbeth -- spends most of the story laid up in a hospital bed recovering from injuries sustained at the end of the previous story.

And while that's true, she's the most active hospital patient in recent memory.

It's a good thing too, because a diabolical conspiracy inside the Swedish government is actively trying to kill her.

They're concerned that in the course of her upcoming trial over the events of the previous movie, she'll reveal the role of the Swedish spy agency in protecting the dastardly Soviet defector Zalachenko, who also happens to be Lisbeth's father.

"Happened," rather. He gets assassinated by the spy agency early on. The assassin tries to get into Lisbeth's hospital room as well, but can't quite get the job done.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth's half-brother, the menacing monster Ronald Niedermann, is also trying to kill Lisbeth. His motivation is personal -- he loved daddy Zalachenko, and he's pretty lost without him. He thinks he'd feel better if our girl were dead.

Fortunately, and as always, Lisbeth has crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist in her corner.

Blomkvist is forced to carry more of the investigative burden than usual due to Lisbeth's confinement, and he thereby earns the ire of the Swedish conspiracy, nearly getting himself killed once or twice.

Though he's not alone either. The Swedish version of the FBI believes Blomkvist's insistence that Lisbeth is a) innocent of murder and treason, b) not at all crazy, despite appearances, and c) the target of an evil cabal of mostly retired Swedish spymasters.

They believe him so much they form a task force to help him uncover the cabal.

This they do, though Lisbeth is left, in the end, to face half-brother Ronald Niedermann by herself.

It's a gripping tale, but an intellectual one more than an emotional one. It reminds me of some of the better British detective mini-series, like Inspector Morse or Prime Suspect. (My personal favorite is Robbie Coltrane's Cracker.)

I saw this movie with my Dad, and what he loved about the flick was how it forsook typical Hollywood conventions in its pursuit of realism. Lisbeth spends most of the movie in a hospital because real injuries take a long time to recover from.

Blomkvist only overcomes one government-sanctioned agency with the help of another government-sanctioned agency.

And I have to agree: for a movie about a journalist and a computer hacker trying to stop a mute, blond-haired behemoth who can't feel pain from getting revenge for the death of a sociopathic Russian defector, it's a damn realistic flick.

I guess it's all about the execution.

SCORE

How Accomplished: 86/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 88/100

True Grit

True Grit is utterly immersive storytelling.

It pulls us in with an opening voice-over from the coolest character we've met at the movies all year: 14 year-old Hailee Steinsfield's Mattie Ross, a poor orphan whose father was just murdered by a snake of a man named Tom Chaney.

But Mattie isn't just any poor orphan. She's a hard-bitten, world-weary cowgirl who knows her legal rights and has it in mind to hunt down and kill that bastard Chaney.

That fella over her shoulder is of course Rooster Cogburn, the veteran of a thousand manhunts, played by Jeff Bridges.

He agrees -- after a lengthy negotiation -- to help Mattie bring her man to justice.

Matters are helped, then hurt, then helped, then hurt, by the intervention of Matt Damon's far-from-home Texas Ranger, who is pursuing Chaney for another murder.

These three soon find themselves in the lawless American outback, where they encounter danger, death and the meaning of friendship.

Because friendship is what makes True Grit a great movie.

I like to preach that the engine of every story is a pair of unlikely companions who learn to love each other in a non-romantic way, but Grit goes one better. It gives us THREE unlikely companions, and not a one of them -- not the hostile and unforgiving Mattie Ross, not the priggish, insecure Texas Ranger LeBoeuf, and certainly not the unfeeling piece of leather called Rooster Cogburn -- harbor the slightest affection for either of the others. All they have in common is a task drenched in blood. But somehow, by the end, there's more love in this than any other movie this year.

The transformation is anything but easy. It can only happen in the crucible of fear. It can only happen through a confrontation with Tom Chaney and the worldly evil he represents. It can only happen against all odds, at the brink of death, and it can only happen through wrenching self-sacrifice.

But it can happen.

And that's the central miracle movies offer us.

I think True Grit makes an instructive counterpoint to its Oscar rival, Black Swan. Grit is a warm movie where Swan is cold; it's a talkative movie where Swan is brooding; it's a visceral movie where the other is abstract.

It combines hard and dusty landscapes with gushing emotion to achieve its effect. Swan has no such contrast within it.

My only real knock on Grit is that the last two minutes don't have the emotional punch I want from a denouement. They comprise a regrettable flash-forward, giving us a glimpse of Mattie as an adult. I'm sure the Coens had a thematic purpose in mind for such an afterword, but dramatically all it does is muffle the emotional crescendo reached in the climax.

The film would be better off without it.

But it's a great movie even with it.

SCORE

How Accomplished: 91/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 93/100

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Tourist

The story behind the story:

This movie's hundred million dollar budget was fully financed by railroad and fiberoptics magnate Graham King.

King has financed more than a dozen movies over the last decade, including the Scorcese films Gangs of New York and The Departed.

Forbes Magazine puts King's net worth at seven billion dollars. And boy does he like spending that money making movies.

The Tourist, which is based on a 2005 French spy thriller, is his latest project.

The production was troubled. After going through a handful of directors and just as many stars, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck was finally brought on board by Angelina Jolie. Like many, Jolie liked Donnersmarck's 2006 The Lives of Others, a foreign-language-Oscar-winning arthouse flick about state surveillance in Cold War East Germany.

Donnersmarck reworked the Tourist screenplay significantly enough to get co-writing credit. He also used his editor from previous films, Patricia Rommel.

The shoot was extremely rushed, due to Jolie's schedule and a clause in co-star Johnny Depp's contract which states that his movies can't be released too close to each other. Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean 4 comes out in May.

The movie was therefore filmed quickly, first in Paris, then in Venice, as befits the setting of the movie.

What's the point of all this backstory?

Only to show that The Tourist, a Hollywood movie featuring a pair of quintessential Hollywood stars, had very little Hollywood influence on it.

Due to the speed of the production, its distance from Los Angeles, the fact that the studio had none of its own money at stake, and that three key jobs -- writer, director and editor -- were in the hands of non-Hollywood people, The Tourist is just about the most non-Hollywood movie Hollywood will ever release.

And yet...

...it WANTS to be a Hollywood movie.

The story tracks a Wisconsin math teacher named Frank -- played by our boy Depp -- on vacation in Venice, trying to forget a past relationship.

Depp's Frank is meek and mild, a gentle, inoffensive soul.

Travelling by train, Depp randomly finds himself sitting across from Jolie's Elise, a British femme fatale surreptitiously followed by Interpol. Elise's paramour, the mysterious Alexander Pearce, is a wanted man after stealing a fortune from a Russian gangster, and Interpol hopes Jolie will lead them to Pearce. (I'm not sure why Interpol cares, but they do.)

Jolie romances Depp in an attempt to convince her Interpol tail that he is in fact Alexander Pearce (whose appearance has been altered by massive cosmetic surgery and is now unknown,) so she can sneak off and find the real Pearce, who is the love of her life.

Or so it seems!

All she succeeds in doing is convincing the Russian mobster that Depp is Pearce, which results in math teacher Depp getting into lots of dangerous situations.

Whenever he escapes those situations, he pursues Jolie, which gets him into even more dangerous situations, but our boy is smitten with the sexy siren, so what else can he do?

The movie has a playful tone, a handful of action set-pieces, and just as many twists and turns.

Like I said, vintage Hollywood.

But something about the movie is... off.

The pacing's all weird, the camerawork is a bunch of years out of date, the music is low-rent. The whole feel of the movie is that of a copy of a copy of a Hollywood romantic thriller.

I believe this is why the movie received such a critical lambasting, not because it's terrible -- it's not -- but because it isn't quite Hollywood. It's almost Hollywood, but not quite.

As a result, the experience of watching the movie is a little strange.

As movie-goers, we're precisely attuned to the specifications -- tangible and intangible -- of Hollywood films. And The Tourist is just close enough to those specs to pass as authentic, but not close enough to keep us from wondering if the projector is out of focus or something.

I never thought I'd say "the studio should have been more involved," but God help me...

...the studio should have been more involved.

SCORE

How Accomplished: 42/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 51/100

The Fighter

Gotta step on some toes here.

Lots of people loved this movie.

I hated it.

Don't get me wrong: it's dull enough, and dreary enough, and self-serious enough, that it's sure to rack up plenty of Oscar noms in a few weeks.

But that doesn't mean it's any good.

All good stories transform their main character. Not only does The Fighter's Mark Wahlberg fail to change, no one changes; not his girlfriend, not his mom, not his brother.

Oh, I understand Christian Bale's character supposedly arcs from being a drug addict to no longer being a drug addict. I understand the mom and the girlfriend arc from disharmony to partnership. I understand Wahlberg arcs from losing fights to winning them.

But I haven't the faintest idea what brought on these changes, and I was looking for clues throughout the movie. Honest!

The movie's about a boxer -- Mickey Ward, a real-life fighter -- with a dysfunctional, white-trash family.

Wahlberg's Mickey Ward is a nice guy trying to do right in life, and that means dating local bartender Amy Adams, who's flaunting a spare tire over her belt in a bid for some Oscar attention.

But she's outdone by Wahlberg's cynical chain-smoking manager mom, Melissa Leo, who just won a Golden Globe for her fidgety, Bawston-accented performance.

For sheer acting effort, they're all surpassed by Christian Bale, who lost his standard hundred and ten pounds to play Wahlberg's gaunt, crack-addicted brother. Did I mention he also sports an authentic Bawston accent?

Everyone acts really hard throughout. The script is written hard, so hard that no detail of Ward's life seems left out, no matter how irrelevant to the story at hand. And indie auteur David O. Russell directs pretty hard too, supposedly modeling the fight sequences on the actual HBO footage of the fights, resulting in "the most realistic fight scenes ever."

This may be true, but if it is, the most realistic fight scenes ever are leagues away from the best fight scenes ever.

There's a ridiculousness to the operatic slugfests of a movie like Rocky, but there's also a grandeur; an epic scope that transcends mere realism to capture the spirit of boxing better than a more literal interpretation like The Fighter can dream of matching.

The Fighter, it turns out, is all talk.

It copies the sport of boxing, but never reveals its essence.

It tells us everyone's changed at the end, but never shows how the change occurred.

The Fighter looks good, it sounds good, but it's not art.

It's just another loud-mouthed chump.

SCORE

How Accomplished: 24/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 20/100

How Do You Know

You don't.

You just never know.

Take the new film by writer-director James Brooks, who's given us Broadcast News and The Simpsons.

It stars Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson.

It's gotta be good!

Right?

Am I right?

I'd attribute the failure of How Do You Know to the Big Wig theory. According to this theory, if a filmmaker has enough clout -- like, oh say, James Brooks -- then he can get a movie greenlit by simply picking a popular genre, attaching a bunch of stars, and riding his reputation.

Such a movie gets greenlit before anyone -- perhaps even Brooks -- takes a close look at the script.

One reason this happens is that Hollywood studios can pre-sell foreign distribution rights, cable rights, broadcast TV rights, and a bunch of other fungibles based on the prominence of the talent involved. By doing this, they can come close to breaking even well before a movie even hits theaters.

Maybe this explains why we've got a romantic comedy with a hundred and twenty million dollar budget -- yes, you read that right -- about a retired Olympic softball player and the romantic choice she must make between a Major League pitcher and a Wall Street stockbroker under indictment because of financial fraud committed by his father.

Oh, and that's Witherspoon, Wilson, Rudd and Nicholson, respectively.

On the surface, this isn't a terrible premise for a movie. But the Witherspoon character is pretty nonplussed by both her suitors, and so is the audience. Wilson is a dim-witted cheat and Rudd is a panicky little girl.

Then there's Nicholson's hoarse and heaving crook of a father.

For a movie full of likable actors, there's not a likable character in sight.

Even Witherspoon is too whiny and indecisive to hook us.

Part of the problem is that no one has any good lines. The dialogue is every bit as limp and flat as the plot, which consists of a string of causally unconnected scenes.

I'm not exaggerating when I say nothing really happens in this movie. Over the course of ninety minutes, Witherspoon merely gets so sick of living with Wilson, she ends up giving Rudd a try. The end.

A lot of critics lambasted this year's Morning Glory, which superficially resembled one of James Brooks' early works, by saying some variation of: "Despite its pretentions, Morning Glory is no Broadcast News."

And they were right. It wasn't.

But James Brooks himself came out with a movie this year, and How Do You Know is not Broadcast News either!

Making good movies is hard.

Even if you're a big wig.

SCORE

How Accomplished: 36/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 39/100

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tron: Legacy

This movie should be way more fun than it is.

It should be weirder and more extreme. It should be a bizarre visit to a place that could never exist, like the Mad Max movies or the early Schwarzenegger flicks Total Recall and The Running Man.

It should be larger than life, and therefore, easy to parody and mock. It should be a Saturday Night Live staple.

Unfortunately, this incarnation of Tron -- and, arguably, the 1982 original -- plays its premise way too straight. And that's a shame. Because it could have been a wild head trip.

You know what the premise of Tron is, right?

It's about a guy -- Jeff Bridges in 1982, generic studling Garrett Hedlund today -- who gets trapped in a video game world of his own design, and menaced by the fast-moving digital foes inside.

Now, this is stupid, and pretty screwy, but it lends itself to a few memorable visual effects. We all know the Tron look -- the neon lights, the bicycle helmets, the computer grid overlay.

And we all know the basic Tron pastimes: the lethal games of frisbee and the precision-steering motorcycle races.

Within this, there's the potential for goofy, over-the-top villainy and lots of macho showdowns.

But we never get it.

Instead we get a story that takes itself way too seriously. We get Garrett Hedlund hiding out in his dad's remote, computer-generated bunker (Jeff Bridges reprises his role) talking about the history of the Tron world, including the saga of the ISO's, a new species of artificial lifeforms exterminated years ago by Bridges' doppelganger, Evil Young Bridges: an entirely computer-generated character.

We get Evil Young Jeff Bridges stalking our heroes in a sneering, joyless fashion.

We get character revelation and we get a father-son dynamic.

And it's all pretty boring.

Here's what isn't boring. One of those ISO's I mentioned -- in fact, the last surviving member of her race -- is Olivia Wilde, the super-sexy vixen with the futuristic bangs.

Wilde has just the right look for this kind of movie -- exotic and edgy -- but Wilde's role is too small. The same can be said of bit part characters Castor and Gem, played by British ham Michael Sheen and pale model Beau Garrett.

In lieu of these delightfully weird creatures, the lion's share of screentime goes to Bridges, computer-generated Evil Young Bridges, and Hedlund, all of whom are about as interesting as a bar of soap.

Overall the movie's still a pretty slick and efficient time-waster -- and there IS a lot of frisbee-throwing -- but the filmmakers' play for Serious Storytelling wrecks its chances of becoming part of the culture. Once it's over, the movie doesn't linger on the brain any longer than it takes to get the 3-D glasses off your head.

So much so, I'm only partly sure I even saw it.

I better jot down the score before I forget the movie even existed.

SCORE

How Accomplished: 52/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 55/100

The King's Speech

Awwwwww...

It's a love story!

And a moving one.

The lovers in this story are Colin Firth's royal prince and Geoffrey Rush's working-class speech therapist. Their relationship is not physical, but it's just fulla love all the same.

The plot brings these two together in an urgent way. It's the late thirties, and the German war machine is gearing up to march across Europe. Firth's father, the King of England, has just died, and his older brother Edward has just abdicated, thanks to that disgraceful American trollop Wallis Simpson.

This means our boy Firth will soon be King of England in its darkest hour.

Fortunately, England's Prime Minister during the war -- his name escapes me -- will turn out to be a competent public speaker. But in the meantime, Firth has a coronation ceremony to worry about.

He'll be expected to speak a few words on his own behalf. And the entire country will be listening.

But there's a hitch: Firth has a stammer so profound he can hardly utter a straight sentence in under a minute.

Enter Rush's speech therapist. Through determined effort and personal growth from both parties, Rush helps Firth overcome his stammer well enough to deliver a dignified speech to the nation.

That's the plot.

But the STORY is the relationship that develops between Firth and Rush.

Like any good pair of lovers -- romantic or otherwise -- these two are complete opposites. Firth is an aristocrat. He's cold and reserved. He's defensive and distrustful. Rush, meanwhile, is warm, loquacious and impishly funny.

Their relationship follows the stereotypical pattern of a love story:

At first, they spar. They are mutually intrigued, but careful to hide their interest.

They embark on a shared journey, wherein they learn an appreciation for each other's strengths and weaknesses.

They reveal things about themselves they wouldn't tell anyone else.

They "kiss" -- not literally; in this case the kiss is the moment they become genuine friends, not just work associates.

Then they break up! Firth thinks Rush is using him to advance his career, so he promptly drops him. Leaving us to wonder if the REAL reason Firth didn't drop Rush is because he's afraid of how close the two are becoming. Love is scary!

They spend time apart -- too much time, in my opinion, and the appearance of the standard dull spot at the two-thirds mark of the movie is one of my only criticisms -- in which they discover their lives apart are much more drab and loveless than when they were together.

Under the pressure of crisis, in this case the coronation ceremony, they reunite, overcome a final crisis, and vow to be friends forever.

Voila! The King's Speech is your standard Hollywood love story, garbed in the formalwear of a royal history period piece.

And this is the essence of storytelling: to tell an old story in a new way.

The King's Speech deserves the plaudits it's been getting. It's a marvelous movie, not just because it's solemn and serious and features a Character With a Disability, but because it's soft and sad and emotionally stunted, and then it's happy and warm and forgiving of us all.

I bet this one wins the Oscar.

SCORE

How Accomplished: 89/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 89/100