Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Day In The Life Of An Idiot Mayor

Some links before I get started today. Norma had a Thanksgiving post. Parsnip had a Square Dog Friday post. Shelly had more family history. Krisztina had this pumpkin pie recipe. Mark wrote about the first Thanksgiving. Lorelei wrote about Black Friday. And the Whisk had a Thanksgiving related Who Am I question.

Now then, on Monday the new mayor of Toronto, John Tory, will be sworn in. Rob Ford, the crack smoking former mayor, remains on council as a councilor, proving that the people in his ward are complete bloody morons. His brother Doug, having lost the mayoral race he stepped into literally at the last minute when Rob was faltering and got that cancer diagnosis, mused about running for the leadership of the provincial Conservative party, a notion that would guarantee them another twenty years out of power. He decided not to (or word came down from on high telling him to go to hell), but mused that in four years he might just have a go at it if the Conservatives lose the next provincial election.

This might be the last time I do these, but maybe not. We'll see. Rob the blowhard has cancer, and I'd be amazed if he survives the winter. Still, am I sympathetic? No. The way this jackass and his thug of a brother used cancer as a political grandstanding tactic during the municipal election was a disgusting slap in the face to anyone who's had family die of the disease- having had lost a mother, brother, and nephew to cancer certainly had that effect on me. It wiped out any bit of compassion I could have for the man, and made me despise him and his family even more. He deserves nothing but contempt and scorn. For that and so many other things, you insufferable prick.... your last days should be spent in agony. And when you do shuffle off that mortal coil, I'll forego the usual not speaking ill of the dead thing. I'll be saying good riddance and give my regards to hell. You and your cult of followers more than have it coming, you repugnant waste of oxygen.

That said... here we have one more day in the life of an inept mayor, in the form of his last day as mayor. The end of his mayorship. Four long years of buffoonery are at an end. It feels like four centuries.

10:55 AM. Wakin’ up at home. Poundin’ headache. Chest feels like a vice is on it. What the ****, who cares? I’m sure it’s nothin’ to be worried about. It’ll all go away with a half bottle of vodka anyway. Or maybe a full bottle.

11:12 AM. Gettin’ loaded. Nothin’ like the hair of the dog that bit you to get over a hangover. Who gives a **** what those doctors say about mixin’ booze and chemotherapy anyway?

11:24 AM. Dougie shows up at the house. Hey, brother, wanna drink? We got a lot to do, man. Me makin’ the next four years of city council a livin’ hell for every single ****er who doesn’t like us. You, bidin' your time for another four years til it's time to take over those provincial Tories. Hell, that ****in’ Liberal premier oughtta just resign now and insist you be appointed premier for life, because nobody beats a Ford!

11:26 AM. Dougie and me talk over vodka and crack. Yeah, I know I got that city council thing today. That stupid mother****er who won the election gets to be ****in’ mayor now. But I still got some ****in’ time before that, and I’ll tell you right now, there are a few things I gotta ****in’ say. Where’s that piece of **** nephew of ours? I need someone to harass and torment, and that ****er would do nicely.

11:40 AM. Me and Dougie walk out the front door. Buncha ****in’ reporters are out there waitin’ for me. I ****in’ hate every ****in’ last one of these mother****ers. But for right now, I gotta talk to these ****ers. Things to say, bridges to burn, and declarations of war to make. ****, yeah!

11:41 AM. I start ramblin’ to those ****in’ reporters. I say that the chemo’s goin’ well, and I thank Ford Nation for their undyin’ support. Feels great to know there are people out there so ****in’ dumb that they stand with me all the way. Wait, did I say that out loud? Anyway, it’s a big day. New mayor comin’ in, but ol’ Robbie’s still here. And for the next four years I’m goin’ all out to turn city council into scorched earth, man! Yeah! You think I was obnoxious before? ****, no! I’m gonna be even more of a pain in the ass to every ****in’ downtown elite latte swilling granola eatin’ liberal commie fascist anarchist! Ford More ****in’ Years, man! We’re gonna make their lives a livin’ hell, because they’ve all got it comin’. Nobody ****s with Robbie Ford and gets away with it!

11:59 AM. ....and another thing! Takin’ away my mayoral powers like the council did was like Hitler invadin’ Poland! It was worse! And I’m gonna get my ****in’ revenge on every single one of those mother****ers! I’m spendin’ the next four years doin’ everything I can to blow up the mayor’s mandate and making such a ****in’ mess that Ford Nation will lead the charge to have me made Mayor For Life! And that’s just where we’re gettin’ started, man! We got big plans!

12:12 PM. .... yeah, we’re gonna have Operation Ford Domination in place in four years, and then we’re gonna be runnin’ the entire ****in’ country, me and Dougie, we’re gonna do big things and we’re gonna put everyone who ever laughed at us or rolled their eyes or failed to ****in’ applaud us into a livin’ hell. We’re talkin’ secret ****in’ police and Ford Nation snitches, and our gangbanger buddies in cushy enforcer jobs, and Ford Fests, and vodka and crack every night, and forced labour for ****in’ liberals to build gigantic statues of the Fords!

12:21 PM. Finished talkin’. Buncha stupid ****in’ reporters start askin’ lots of ****in’ questions. Hey, are you stupid or are you deaf? I already told you ****ers what I was gonna do! Come on, Dougie! We got places to be and things to do!

1:05 PM. Down at the doctor’s office. Stupid **** er tells me I have to stop drinkin’ and doin’ drugs. Says it’s not good for the chemo, let alone my general condition. Says I could also have a massive heart attack or stroke at any minute. Hey! **** you! I know what’s best for me, and booze and drugs make me happy. Add in a couple of hookers and I’m even happier! Now don’t you forget! You’ve got that... whatchamacallit? That hypochondriac oath that says you can’t say anything to anyone about my condition. So I don’t want anyone to know rehab was just a big ****in’ joke and I’m still boozin’ and druggin’ it up. **** you!

2:10 PM. Down at City Hall. Yeah, man, time to get things geared up. Gotta **** with those ****ers who are all against me. Nobody ****s with the Ford boys!

2:17 PM. On my way into council chambers. Stopped by ****in’ the press who start askin’ me questions about what I said earlier today. Wait a minute, what? I spoke to you stupid mother****ers today? When the **** was this?

2:21 PM.  I roll my eyes and snort and sigh. Look, if you stupid ****ers were takin’ me seriously, you’ve got blinders on to the world, man. I wasn’t ****in’ serious when I said all that stuff about scorched earth and liberal witch hunts and rainin’ fire down on my enemies. What’s important now is that’s all in the past, and we gotta move forward with makin’ sure the new mayor’s gonna be in a livin’ hell for the next four years, because in 2018, either me or another Ford is gonna be the mayor and we’re gonna get things done with the gravy subway and the gangbanger cushy job initiative and the world domination project. Now if you don’t mind, I gotta get in there so I can make a ****in’ spectacle of myself. Go **** yourselves, you stupid ****ers.

2:30 PM. Mayor Tory comes in to get the whole ****in’ swearin’ in thing done. Stupid ****er, yeah, I’m gonna be your worst ****in’ nightmare for the next four years, because the Fords are a political ****in’ dynasty of heroism and crack and vodka and hookers. We’re the ****in’ Kennedys, and nothin’ and nobody’s gonna keep us from gettin’ what’s ours!

2:47 PM. Busy snorting and giggling while that ****er makes his remarks. I get hostile glares from most of city council. Hey, **** you! Don’t **** around with Robbie Ford!

3:09 PM. I give the finger to that ****in’ ****er Kelly. Stab me in the back and let city council take away my powers and give them to him, will he? Well nobody ****s with Robbie Ford. You’re on my revenge list, Norm! **** you!

3:10 PM. The speaker insists I stop speaking up. Hey, nobody tells Robbie Ford what the **** he can and cannot do! You hear me? Nobody! So go **** yourself!

3:12 PM. Dragged outta city council by three security guards. Hey! Watch it! You manhandle me and I’ll have my gangbanger buddies break your ****in’ knees! I got cancer, you ****ers! That lets me do whatever the **** I want! Now **** off and let me back in there!

3:24 PM.  Stupid ****in’ cop is tellin’ me I need to calm the **** down and go home. Hey! **** you! Those stupid ****ers in Ward Two elected me back as a councillor, and that gives me every single ****in’ right to be in there throwin’ tantrums and ****in’ yellin’ at people! You got no ****in’ idea who the **** you’re ****in’ with! I can have your badge, you mother****er! I can have Ford Nation down here inside a half hour burnin’ the mayor in effigy! 

By the way, anyone know what the **** an effigy is?

4:08 PM. My stupid ****in’ lawyer is in my office tellin’ me I gotta shut up and stop actin’ like a kid throwin’ a tantrum. Hey! **** you! Do I look like a kid? For some reason he doesn’t seem terribly impressed with me right now. I don’t know what the **** his problem is anyway. Maybe he needs a drink and a bong pipe of crack. Hell, I could use one of both too. It’ll take the ****in’ edge off.

6:47 PM. Makin’ a brief statement to the press. Dougie and our useless nephew Mikey are right behind me. Look, I get carried away, folks. Not a good day for me, but I mean well, and hey... I got cancer, so that gives me a free pass to yell at people. Walkin’ away after a passerby calls out that havin’ cancer doesn’t mean I’m not a complete scumbag. Dougie? Find out who that is. We’re gonna have his legs broken.

10:55 PM. Back at home, down in the basement. Havin’ a drink, smokin’ some crack. Yeah, man, this is the ****in’ life. Crack, vodka... the only thing that would make it better would be havin’ a ****in’ hooker right here gettin’ me the **** off. Political ****in’ dynasty, man. Revenge on our enemies. Ford Domination. It’s all gonna ****in’ happen. 

11:03 PM. Watchin’ the ****in’ news. Turns out I mighta said some of those things those ****ers said. Hell, that was so long ago I can’t remember anyway. Who gives a ****? Certainly not Ford Nation, who’ll do everything I say. Yeah. We’ll be back. Ford Nation will rise again. And we’ll get our ****in’ revenge on every last one of those ****ers. And have our vodka and crack while we’re doin’ it.

Geez..... I wonder why the **** this feelin’ like my chest is in a vice won’t go the **** away.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Last Charge Of The Internet Spammers

Spammers and scammers. If it's not one, it's the other. Let's deal with the spammer first, and my apologies for the language, but it's well deserved. In the last few days here and at my photoblog, and at a number of other blogs I follow, a spammer turned up in comments with the same repeated spam message directing people to his website. It was not the standard medicine, Gucci bags, or whatever the usual spam might be. 

That site was a vile toxic waste dump called Boycott American Women. He was using the name John Doe and hiding behind an anonymous avatar (ooo, how brave of the angry little pile of crap. Or maybe not so little. He might be an obese cheeseball eating beer guzzling lug in a basement somewhere). A look into the history of this waste of oxygen has shown he's been doing this since at least 2010, ranting and roaring about women under more than one name, including John Rambo. Wonderful. Taking a name from an emotionally stunted fictional character. What a model of mental stability Johnny boy must be, or whatever the hell his real name is under those layers of anonymity.

John seems to think American women are too pushy, too assertive, too independent for his liking, so he goes on and on about dating women from other parts of the world who, in his pathetic little mind, "know their place". Bull, Johnny. Let's face it, someone as totally cluster-screwed up as you doesn't date anyone. You're a seething cauldron of misogynistic rage, you asshole, and it's fair to say that everyone who knows you in real life hates you. Your very existence is an insult to the human race. And you're a gutless coward, hiding behind such anonymous names and not even showing your real face anywhere. I don't usually tell trolls to consider suicide, but in your case, numbnuts, I'll make an exception.

From me to you.... go fuck yourself.

Moving on to the scammers. They are the foul pestilence from some corner of the world with promises of wealth for a deserving sucker... er, that is, partner in their financial endeavour. Sometimes it's the wife/ daughter/ surrogate/ mistress/ personal masseuse/ go-to girl/ professional legbreaker of the reverend/ minister of state/ president/ general/ beloved autocrat of whatever hellhole the scammer wants you to believe they're actually from.

They are, of course, riddled with grammar errors, weird writing, and assurances that this is all on the up and up ("we swear, good friend, this offer of millions to a complete stranger is most absolutely valid in the extreme!"). What follows turned up in my email the other day.

Dear friend,

My name is Mr. Musa Ibrahim. I am working with one of the prime banks in Burkina Faso. Here in this bank existed a dormant account for many years, which belong to one of our late foreign customer. The amount in this account stands at $13,300,000.00 (Thirteen Million Three Hundred Thousand USA Dollars).

I want a foreign account where the bank will transfer this fund. I know you would be surprised to read this message, especially from someone relatively unknown to you. But, do not worry yourself so much. This is a genuine, risk free and legal business transaction. Reply back to me urgently, if you are interested. All details shall be sent to you once I hear from you.

Best regards,

Mr. Musa Ibrahim

That's nice. A guy who doesn't know me has the audacity of calling me "dear friend." This despite the fact that I don't like having total strangers call me "dear friend". He mentions "prime bank." I'm not a banker, mind you, but "prime bank" doesn't sound like a real term real bankers make use of. 

More glitches and glaring inconsistencies abound. "Here in this bank existed a dormant account..." Well, since you're desperately hoping I'm dumb enough to give you my bank account number, Musa (because let's face it, that's what this is all about, you wanker), is it existed or exists? Because even if it's dormant, a real bank account isn't mentioned in the past tense, you jackass.

And then he goes on to say "which belong to one of our late foreign customer." Musa? I'm an editor, which means I pick up on glaring errors, and you're missing the letter s on belongs and customers. Just in case you're following along, Musa, that's a tell tale sign of ye olde Nigerian scammer.

And of course our boy Musa (of the Homo Spammeritis Annoyingus subspecies) tells me there's thirteen million in American dollars just waiting in that account. He says not to worry, that it's a genuine, risk free, legal business transaction from someone relatively unknown to me. Not relatively unknown, you bloody prat. I've never heard of you before! You're completely unknown!

Nice try, Musa, better luck next time. I suggest you try scamming someone named Bubba, Jethro, or Honey Boo Boo. 

About the only good thing an internet scammer is good for is a laugh at their desperate attempt to scam us. Musa, you're not my dear friend. I disapprove of your existence. Between you and me (and my readers), if you were on fire and I had a glass of water... I'd drink the water. And tell you how refreshing it was.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Chasing Down A Runaway Harrison Ford

Some links before we get to today's matters. Yesterday having had been a Sunday, we had a Snippet Sunday post at our joint blog. Eve had doodles at her blog. Cheryl had bananas at her page. Shelly asked if Facebook eats socks. Lena had character interviews for her book. And Lorelei wrote about knitting away the blues.

Today I have another movie review.

"Are you suggesting that I killed my wife? Are you saying that I crushed her skull and that I shot her? How dare you! When I came home there was a man in my house! I fought with this man! He had a mechanical arm! You find this man! You find this man." ~ Richard Kimble 

"So he showed up not dead yet. Let that be a lesson to you, boys and girls. Don't ever argue with the big dog, because the big dog is always right." ~ Sam Gerard

There has been for many years a tendency to remake old television shows into movies (and vice versa). Mostly the end result has been a failure critically, and when successful at the box office, is only that way because of the nostalgia factor for the audience. Such was not the case in 1993 with The Fugitive, the action thriller from director Andrew Davis. It was based on the classic television series of the same name about a wrongfully convicted doctor, a mysterious killer, and a persistent lawman. The movie was both a box office success and beloved by critics, even earning Oscar nominations and a win for Best Supporting Actor.

The story starts in flashback form, on the night of a murder. Chicago surgeon Doctor Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is trying to process the murder of his wife Helen (Sela Ward) in their home while detectives work. We see flashes of the murder at the hands of an intruder, momentary memories by Richard of attending a party with her earlier in the evening. Soon Richard finds himself accused of the murder, charged, convicted, and sentenced to death.

His death sentence goes awry, however, when his prison bus transport is involved in a crash, and Richard finds himself on the run in the night, trying to keep ahead of the police and a team of federal marshals led by a very cranky Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones). While trying to stay alive and out of custody, Richard realizes he must find the truth about his wife's murder and uncover who was behind it.

The screenplay by Jeb Stuart and David Towhy takes the themes and elements of the series- the innocent man on the run, the antagonist in the form of a tenacious lawman, the wild card in the form of the killer- and weaves it all into a movie. It's part action thriller, part character study, and part conspiracy tale. Director Davis, who had worked on films like Under Siege and The Package (both featuring Jones in the cast), took the story and gave the film a tense, tightly wound, taut feel, very suspenseful. The result is a chase film, with more than one chase being carried out. It's cat and mouse, moving along at a brisk pace, with two adversaries who are not quite enemies, two actors playing roles they were perfectly suited for.

Davis filmed much of the action on location, in Chicago and the Carolinas (though the story itself is set in Illinois exclusively). His style actually brings the locations into the story, making them characters in the tale. That might be the dark, moody tunnels of a hydro dam, the back alleys of Chicago, the lavish skyscraper where a confrontation must take place, or the rivers and woods of the back country where a hunt is underway. The locations seem to take on a life of their own in his direction.

Davis has a great touch with action, and it particularly shows itself in set pieces like the train wreck. The sequence was done in one take... and it was real. The wreck is today something of a tourist attraction, in fact. Davis extended his expertise into scenes set in the county jail, where chases down a staircase or through a lobby have as much tension and suspense as a conventional gunfight would have. The same applies to the climactic ending within a skyscraper as multiple characters search for each other. He even shot an improvised, unscripted sequence through a St. Patrick's Parade in Chicago, where Ford and Jones mingle with parade marchers... some of whom had to be wondering what Harrison Ford was doing in the crowd.

The film was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, And Best Original Score. One of my favourite composers, James Newton Howard (Batman Begins, Wyatt Earp, Dying Young) composed the score, a tense score that highlights the danger, gives momentary respite in quiet times, and perfectly accompanies the film. It's a different sound for Howard, but just right for the film itself.

The casting is brilliant. Andreas Katsulas is the sort of actor you can't imagine playing a sympathetic character (he probably could, but he just has the looks of someone you can't possibly trust). He plays the One Armed Man, Frederick Sykes, a former policeman and a thoroughly dangerous killer. There's a ruthless, malevolent energy to the man, and Katsulas brings that across whenever he's on screen. His counterpart is Charles Nichols, played by Jeroen Krabbe. The part was originally meant for Richard Jordan, who filmed early scenes opposite Ford but fell ill and died (his final role was a fitting one in the film Gettysburg). Krabbe was cast in the role, a man who is first seen as Richard's friend, entirely loyal and believing in his innocence. And yet there's something more to the character, and Krabbe has to play both aspects of that character in a completely believable way, which of course he pulls off. 

Sela Ward appears only in flashbacks and brief echoes as Helen, but her ghost haunts the entire film, driving her wrongfully convicted husband forward. There's a soft intimacy between she and Ford in their scenes together; they make for a believable couple, entirely happy together, which makes the murder all the more tragic. The film also gave movie goers an early look at Julianne Moore, who has a cameo appearance as a doctor at a hospital where Richard is trying to access information. They cross paths a couple of times; we see her as a capable doctor in brief glimpses. She's not afraid to speak her mind, calling him out for not belonging there, and yet not entirely unsympathetic to him, in terms of what she says in her later conversation with Gerard.

The marshals are a motley lot of lawmen who bicker and argue with each other, but at the same time feel like a family, and in each case they were well cast. Joe Pantoliano, Daniel Roebuck, L. Scott Caldwell, Tom Wood, and Johnny Lee Davenport play key roles among their numbers, and to one degree or another their characters gripe, they complain, they yell... and yet each one comes across as you might expect a federal marshal to be: serious about the job, dedicated to what they do. They respect their boss, and he might growl at them, but he's intensely protective of them, even telling a lawyer of a fugitive he's gunned down that he didn't have a choice, "he was going to kill one of my kids."

Tommy Lee Jones won the Oscar for Supporting Actor, and it's well deserved. Though one might say the character's not supporting, but one of two leads in the film. His Gerard is a masterful performance, a relentless hunter who's good at what he does, hunting escaped felons. While he is an antagonist, trying to bring down our hero, he's also a protagonist, as the story moves along, moving in competition with, but not really opposition to, Kimble's goals. They're both after the same thing- justice. Jones gives the character a rich and strong personality. He's dedicated and professional, and leads with authority, while at the same time he's something of a smart aleck. Gerard is also a man who notices everything, who reads people, and who never gives up. He might say on more than one occasion that he doesn't care... and yet in the end, he shows us something different. In another way, Gerard is a character who comes across as a force of nature, the last person you want to cross. As much as Richard has been through trial and danger, it seems that even a train crash and a jump off a dam pale in comparison to the terror of spotting Gerard coming down a staircase after him in Chicago. 

Harrison Ford of course is the other leading man in the film, and we're automatically sympathetic to him straight off the start. We know he's been wrongfully convicted, that he's suffered a horrendous loss that's shattered his life. We can feel for him at this point in his life, and that reaction is triggered by Ford's performance. He's haunted by grief, agonized by what's happened, and desperately on the run to elude capture. Ford plays that haunted and hunted aspect of the character, but also stresses the intelligence of the man, who's on equal footing with his pursuers. The good doctor might be ahead of them in the chase, but just barely, and both sides are capable. Ford's Richard Kimble might be a man on the run, but he's also one who improvises and figures things out quickly; one of the character's best moments is slowing down the pursuing Gerard by telling police officers that there's a man waving a gun around and yelling. It's an audacious gambit, but one demonstrative of the character's ability to adapt and rise to the occasion.

The Fugitive disproved the rule that a television remake will become a toxic waste dump of mediocrity at the box office. Or perhaps it's the exception to the rule. Davis gave us a film mixing together devious villainy, a sinister conspiracy, and two outstanding protagonists at odds with each other in a running chase. In exploring both protagonists and getting inside their heads, he elevated the action thriller into a well deserved Oscar nomination for Best Picture. It was so good that in another year, perhaps, it could have even won. The film is smart, moving along at breakneck speed, well paced, and is a well crafted, suspensful, heart stopping classic that never wears out its welcome. It's one of the best action thrillers in film history.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Once Upon Twelfth Night, Or What You Will

Some links before I get started today. Norma wrote about medical issues and a new idea.  Yesterday having had been a Friday, Parsnip had a Square Dog Friday post. Krisztina had Thanksgiving ideas. Shelly related some family history. The Whisk posted about meatloaf.

Today I have a movie review....

“Make no compare between that love a woman can bear me and that I owe Olivia.” ~ Orsino

“The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven.” ~ Feste

“I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.” ~ Malvolio

“Why this is very midsummer’s madness.” ~ Olivia

“I left no ring with her! What means this lady? Fortune forbid my outside have not charmed her.” ~ Viola

Aside from a place of prominence on stage for centuries, the works of the Bard have often been adapted for the big screen by a wealth of creative talent. Laurence Olivier was a master in the genre in the classic era, and Kenneth Branagh has returned to Shakespeare’s works many times in our era. One of his best comedies, Twelfth Night, has often been staged around the world, but not so often brought into the cinema. The story that plays around with gender bending humour and upstairs-downstairs dynamics in a wealthy household appeals to audiences after all this time, and the roles are particularly sought after by actors. British stage director Trevor Nunn adapted the story for the silver screen in 1996, setting it in the 19th Century with a mixture of Victorian and Central European influences.

We first meet a pair of twins, Viola (Imogen Stubbs) and Sebastian (Steven Mackintosh) aboard a ship bound for home in Messaline. A storm wrecks their ship, and the twins are separated, each believing the other is dead. Viola washes up on the shore of Illyria with most of the survivors. Devastated by her grief, uncertain of where to go, and in a country in a state of perpetual tension with her own, she asks the captain to help her disguise herself as a man.

Viola takes on the name Cesario, coming into the employment of the Duke Orsino (Toby Stephens). He’s infatuated with the Countess Olivia (Helena Bonham Carter), who will see no suitors after the recent death of her brother. He sends Cesario with messages of his love for Olivia in the hopes that a new face might be admitted, and off she goes. Things get considerably complicated when Olivia finds Cesario much more interesting than the pleadings of the Duke. While all of this is going on, Sebastian is still out there, in the company of a sailor, Antonio (Nicholas Farrell). And there’s household politics going on in the home of Olivia. Her pompous steward Malvolio (Nigel Hawthorne) is at odds with her drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch (Mel Smith) and his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Richard E. Grant). Maria (Imelda Staunton), Fabian (Peter Gunn), and the fool Feste (Ben Kingsley) are all caught up in Sir Toby’s plot to bring about the downfall of the prudish steward.

Nunn as a director has done a tremendous mixture of work, mostly on stage, but also on television and film, and he goes back and forth between Shakespeare and contemporary work. He adapted Shakespeare’s play for the big screen, condensing where needed for a movie running time, and wisely chose to set it in a mid-19th Century setting. The clothing varies between a mixture of Victorian styles, particularly for the women, and north Central European, in terms of uniforms for Orsino and his men. The props, things like muskets, for instance, or horse drawn wagons, feel very much of that era. This is a good decision, since Shakespeare seems to work particularly well in that era (Elizabethan era fashions, sufficed to say, look abysmal). He shot the film on location in the Cornwall area of England, particularly at two country houses, Padstow and Lanhydrock House, and the locations are beautiful, both a contrast from each other, both feeling very much like the domains of their residents. Nunn’s style of telling the story moves things along nicely, and respects the dialogue, which is an essential requirement in Shakespeare.

The crew makes full use of the locations to their advantage, and it leaves the audience wishing to walk through those halls, stroll through those gardens, and spend time in a place that feels familiar all while passing itself off as a fictional country. I enjoyed the way Nunn filmed the work as a whole- it doesn’t feel like theatrical staging, and yet respects its origins and its humour. He opens up with the shipwreck, for instance, an event alluded to in the play, but not seen, and he does well with it. Compare this opening sequence, for instance, with the closing sequence two years later in Shakespeare In Love, where Gwyneth Paltrow’s Viola, the inspiration for the character in that particular film, survives a shipwreck. A long interlude in a garden maze, for instance, where Malvolio is being lured into a trap by his antagonist through a letter, is filmed in a way that allows the audience to keep track of where everyone is. And a duel between Cesario and Sir Andrew has a brisk, chaotic, and very funny manner in the way Nunn films it.

When we first meet Olivia, she’s in mourning clothes, all black, including a veil, and the costuming department wisely change that as the story goes along. She’s charmed by Cesario, and that reflects itself in the lighter, more colourful clothing she wears. The costuming department also came up with just the right look for the uniforms of Orsino and his court. The soldiers all look very much like military officers, and rather like the sort of people you don’t want to start a fight with, all while still looking like they’re out of the 19th Century. One other aspect from the crew’s side of things that I enjoyed is the work of composer Shaun Davey. He’s an Irish composer who works mostly in classical composition, but has occasionally turned to film scores, in projects like Waking Ned Devine and The Tailor Of Panama. Davey weaves together romantic and comedic themes, and uses a mixture of symphonic orchestra and solo instruments in this score. He also adapts Shakespeare’s lyrics for the occasional song by Feste (Ben Kingsley really does have a good singing voice).

The cast are all marvelous in their roles, drawn from British acting circles, mostly from stage backgrounds. Nicholas Farrell has that background, has been on the big screen in Othello, Branagh’s film adaptation of Hamlet, as well as Amazing Grace. His Antonio is something of a fugitive, a man with reason to avoid the court of Orsino, having had once been in conflict with them. Nonetheless, he is a loyal friend to Sebastian after saving his life, putting himself in peril by staying with him. And at a critical moment late in the play, he shares in the confusion many other characters have about the twins- and has an angry reaction that works perfectly, hinting at the gravity of the actor. 

Steven Mackintosh gets the part of Sebastian, which can be something of a thankless role. The audience is much more invested in his twin sister, so he gets the short end of things. Mackintosh bears enough of a resemblance to Stubbs that the audience can buy the twins angle of it all, even while we must suspend disbelief that no one is really noticing slight differences in their appearances. He gets more to do as things move towards the end of the film, particularly in getting confused by the lady Olivia and getting caught up in a fight with people he’s never met, and yet who think he’s someone else.

The late Nigel Hawthorne (Yes Minister, Richard III, Demolition Man, Amistad) gets a great role as Malvolio- as much of a pompous ass as the character is, actors love to play him. He’s full of himself as the story begins, a man who sees himself as the model of good behaviour, and who frowns on misbehaviour such as that coming from Toby and Andrew. He’s a sanctimonious man, sneering at anyone who he dislikes, and feeling very much in charge of the household. He’s devoted to Olivia, even harbouring feelings for her. And while he certainly deserves his comeuppance- and it gives the actor some wonderful comedic opportunities- we can’t help but feel for the man by the time it’s all done. It’s a performance that brings out laughter and yet works in a poignant way as well.

Imelda Staunton would, years later, go on to play the seemingly polite but really malicious Dolores Umbridge in a couple of the Harry Potter films. This was the first time I ever saw her in a film, and I like her as Maria, Olivia’s closest servant, the senior maid in the house. She scolds Feste, who has a habit of wandering off whenever he pleases, and scolds Sir Toby for his drunkenness, but at the same time, there’s a fondness in the character for both, and Staunton particularly has good chemistry with both Smith and Kingsley.

The late Mel Smith, who was so delightful as the Albino in The Princess Bride, has a comic touch in most of his previous work in Britain. He plays the debauched, drunken foolish uncle Toby in just the right way. He’s a man who likes his drink, who’s rather crude and can be occasionally even unpleasant. He dislikes with intensity the tut-tut attitude of Malvolio- there’s a moment or two that we can imagine Toby hitting Malvolio just on principle. There’s also something of a devious, opportunistic side to the character, perfectly willing to benefit from his friend’s untimely death if it comes to that, or finding himself entertained by manipulating his friend into a duel. If we knew this guy in real life, we’d avoid him, and yet as a character he’s amusing.

Richard E. Grant gets another good role as Sir Andrew, a man who loves to drink, thinks of himself as a bright and eligible fellow, and yet is really, really stupid. He has designs of his own on Olivia, and yet is oblivious to her dislike of him. He fails to pick up on social cues from other characters, things that most people would grasp immediately. He doesn’t seem to understand that his friend is playing him for a fool. And when it comes down to it, Sir Andrew is something of a coward. Grant gets to play all of these qualities, and does so in a way that tickles the funnybone.

Ben Kingsley might be playing the fool in all of this, but his Feste is the wisest character in the whole story. He moves back and forth between the two households, playing whatever musical instrument he might have at hand, offering up wisecracking commentary on all that’s going on. Beneath his foolery and irreverence, however, there is a wise man, and one of empathy. There’s a great fondness between he and Olivia, who is unhappy at his absence when things start out, and yet completely lets her guard down with him and lets herself grieve in a way she won’t with anyone else. He sees Viola for who she is, even under the guise of a page, and banters with her from time to time in a way that clearly shows how smart he is. And yet even he is confused at one point. It’s a great performance from one of the best actors around, and Kingsley’s Feste is such an enjoyable character.

Toby Stephens comes from good English acting stock; his father was Sir Robert Stephens, a highly regarded Shakespearean actor, and his mother is the incomparable Maggie Smith. Stephens has done much of his work on stage, but has also appeared in movies like Die Another Day and Possession. His Orsino is a love-sick nobleman, very much in charge of his land. Stephens gives him the gravity the role requires- we can certainly believe him as a man respected by those who serve him. He gives the role the quality of a natural leader. At the same time, he plays the man as possessed by a love he cannot have, a brooding sort you might expect to meet in a Jane Austen novel (one wonders what he could do as Mr. Darcy), and totally oblivious to the affections of the young woman who’s passing herself off as a man in his employ. Viola as Cesario might allude to things in conversation, but she can’t say it, and part of the charm of the film is in how Orsino and Viola deal with each other. The dynamic between them plays off the way men and women look at the same aspects of life, particularly love.

Helena Bonham Carter is one of my favourite actresses, and rarely does she falter in a role (when it does happen, it’s generally the fault of someone else, such as in The Lone Ranger). She has to run the gauntlet of emotions as Olivia, starting out in a state of deep grief, withdrawing from the world, devastated by death in her family. Out of that though, and because of the influence of an impertinent page sent by Orsino, she comes back to life, and Carter plays that aspect in just the right way. She’s charmed by Cesario, finds herself drawn to ‘his’ irreverence, and is pretty much seduced in their first meeting without even realizing it. It draws her out of her grief, cheering her up, and she finds herself hopelessly attracted to Cesario, having no idea that Cesario is a fiction and the object of her affections is a woman. She sparkles in the role.

Imogen Stubbs also comes from a largely theatrical background in Britain, though she’s done some international work on film as well. She was the romantic rival of Emma Thompson in Sense & Sensibility, for instance. She was married to Nunn at the time this film was made, and it’s a great part for her to play. Viola is a comedic role, both poignant and funny, and as an audience, we root for her. She gains our sympathy early on in her mistaken belief that her brother is dead, and shifts into a more comic side of things as she learns how to walk, talk, and act like a man. She’s caught up in romantic misunderstanding, and yet the way she reacts amuses us, and shows us a woman who improvises and adapts as the situation requires it. Stubbs makes us empathize with Viola, charms us with her personality, and delights us with her response to the state of affairs she finds herself caught up in. And she has great chemistry with both Carter and Stephens in a rather unlikely love triangle that only gets more complicated as things go along.

Shakespeare gained immortality through his work, still performed today, and in fact best seen in performance, where the words come to life. It’s impossible for anyone to agree on what they might think of as his best work, but among his comedies, Twelfth Night is my personal favourite. I’ve seen it staged several times, as well as a couple of television versions. This cinematic adaptation is a favourite for me; it modernizes the setting, but holds onto the meaning of the play and respects Shakespeare's dialogue. It has a wonderful cast with extensive stage experience in Shakespeare, all well suited for their roles. And it maintains the great sense of humour and the romantic misadventures of Shakespeare’s play, all while giving the story the poignancy and tenderness it deserves.