Tag Archives: The Lion King

Thrones & Empires – another movie mystery solved

The epic what now?

I was left more than a little baffled recently when I stumbled upon a stack of this filmic oddity at my local video shop. Well over a dozen DVD copies of a film I had never heard of with a cast many films would kill for lay stacked on the shelves. While it’s not unheard of for a film full of big stars to go under the radar and direct to DVD, I instantly smelled a rat. All of the rats. The text from the back of the DVD box only compounded my confusion and suspicion. I quote:

FROM ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING DIRECTOR GABRIEL AXEL

A SAGA, FILLED WITH INTRIGUE, DECEIT, MURDER AND VENGEANCE…

Fenge (Gabriel Byrne – The Usual Suspects) steals the throne of Jutland by killing his brother, King Hardvanael and marrying his widow (Helen Mirren – The Queen). Hardvanael’s son, Amled (Christian Bale – The Dark Knight Rises) feigns insanity, to avoid his own execution but Fenge doubts his condition and sends him to a Duke (Brian Cox – X-Men 2) in England to be murdered. Instead, the prince becomes a hero, marries an English rose (Kate Beckinsale – Underworld Awakening) and return to exact revenge on Fenge in a ferocious battle for the crown that is rightly his.

Featuring alongside Byrne, Mirren, Bale, Cox and Beckinsale is a star studded supporting cast including; Andy Serkis, Freddie Jones, Ewen Bremner, Tony Haygarth, Mark Willians, Tom Wilkinson, Saskia Wickham and Brian Glover.

Amled? OK, so I think it’s clear what we have here. This is All-Star Action Hamlet. And yet a brisk googling of the film brought up nothing but a bare Amazon sales page and an article about two hit HBO shows, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire. Thrones. Empire. My how those rats began to smell.

While Gabriel Axel sounds like he has the name of a director of action schlock in the style of McG, Rob Zombie or Olivier Megaton, he is in fact a respected dramatic director best known for his charming Oscar-winning period drama Babette’s Feast (1987). A little wiki-ing revealed that the venerable Mr. Axel is, at present, an impressive 94 years old – a good age to still be alive, but an improbable one to be directing historical action movies.

Putting on my DVD Detective hat, I asked around, and with some help from across the internet and closer to home finally uncovered that Thrones & Empires is little more than a shamefully cynical repackaging of Axel’s 1994 “historical Hamlet” drama Prince of Jutland (aka Royal Deceit – as if it didn’t have enough titles already). The date of the film, among other things, does explain why Christian Bale looks barely back from the Empire of the Sun on the DVD box art (interestingly, the film is notable as Andy Serkis’s debut, so there you go).

Here’s the slightly hilarious trailer:

So now the question is, will I see it? Well, the DVD remains €10, and I think I was far more interested in it when I thought it was a sorry B-movie remake of Hamlet than a respected auteur’s late offering. Also, if I want to watch Hamlet without Shakespeare’s dialogue, I’d be better off watching The Lion King. Despite the fine cast (although its 85min run-time is baffling – the play uncut is 4hrs!), there’s just no way to overlook what a cynical release this is. The fact that the film was re-released with this title to coincide with the cinema release of The Dark Knight Rises and the rampant success of Game of Thrones is the worst thing I’ve seen since Disney repackaged Cinderella in a “Royal Edition” set last year to coincide with the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

There really is something rotten in the state of Denmark after all…

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I love the smell of free movie in the morning…

Smelled like… victory.

So a few weeks back, the Screen Cinema in town held a pub quiz to raise money for its rather run-down forecourt, and to give a nice polish to Mr Screen, the ever-so-creepy miniature usher statue that stands in the garden there. But it wasn’t just a pub quiz; it was a movie pub quiz.

Mr Screen, not so clean

Rarely one to miss a pub quiz, and never one to miss a movie quiz, I set about assembling a crack team to enter and win. None of that Oceans 11 nonsense mind, we’re talking full-on MASK here (except I texted them, no fancy watches). My crack team consisted of indie and ’50s specialist and fellow unpaid film critic Fergal, US arthouse and modern European cinema encyclopaedia Paul, collected all-rounder James and film studies master Pete. We thought we had it made…

So confident were we of winning that we decided to go for a team name that would, in theory, consign us to defeat. Now, it needs to be said that my pub quiz teams are known for their provocative titles. Some years ago our first film quiz name was the all too prophetic ‘Roman Polanski’s outstanding arrest warrant for statutory rape’. We came second. In a literature pub quiz shortly after, we kept the theme going with ‘Ayatollah Khomeini’s outstanding fatwā for Salman Rushdie’ – we won a sweeping victory. So the idea pitched for this quiz’s team name was to list off character traits in movies that would imply an early defeat (thus surprising everyone when we won). And that was how we came up with the team name ‘The corporate black guys wearing red shirts who have only one day to retirement’. Feeling this too long, we settled on the shorthand ‘Black guys in red shirts’, ensuring everyone at the quiz thought we were a pack of racists. You can’t win everything.

That over-confidence was shattered on arrival at MacTurcaills, the venue for the evening, when we saw the quality of some of the other teams, including one made up of the assembled film critics of Dublin, led by The Irish TimesDonald Clarke, and friends from the Irish Independent and Hot Press magazine. *Gulp* we thought. And indeed some of us did – approaching drunkenness would be another spanner in the works of our otherwise well-oiled (and apparently racist) machine.

Do you know these men?

And yes, as a few rounds passed, we suddenly became aware that we were doing very well. The few we missed were close – the year the original Terminator was sent back from was 2029, not 2027. Then there were the lucky guesses – Nic Cage’s character Hi does in fact work at a Hudsucker plant in Raising Arizona, and somehow I remembered reading somewhere that The Wizard of Oz went through four different directors. And then there were the incredible moments – Fergal amazingly (and I might add ludicrously) naming all four Ghostbusters (first and last names); Paul delving into his brain to retrieve the name of Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson. But it was the themed rounds where we crucified. Quotes from films – 10/10. Matching actors to roles and roles to actors – 10/10. Naming foreign films based on their original titles – 10/10. That last one was a great round for me, if only because I always call Wild StrawberriesSmultronstället’; not out of pretension, the word just amuses me.

So yeah, we won. By a good margin, too. We triumphantly went up to claim our prize, with only one person coughing *racists* as we went. I’d rather be a racist than a loser. Though I’ll reiterate – not a racist.

Now, while in a way the real prize was beating the venerable Mr Clarke, whose own perplexing film quizzes have often ruined my Fridays, in another more accurate way, the real prize was the prize we received – a free screening of any film of our choice in the Screen. Win win.

There were complications of course: it had to be shown before the cinema opens at 2pm, so we’d need to start the film at 11am, limiting us to a 150min film. Also, only a Sunday would suit the five of us. More worrying, how do five people agree on the one film they want blown up on the big screen?  We each pitched five films, an odd mix of classics (The Adventures of Robin Hood, A Matter of Life and DeathÀ Bout de Souffle), blockbusters (Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and retro cult delights (Labyrinth, Repo Man, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension) that might never see a cineplex ever again. Then we each vetoed one film, leaving us with 20. Some good films fell by the wayside there, such as Battle Royale, Road House, Bridge on the River Kwai. To make the final decision, we turned to the cornerstone of Western democracy – Eurovision!

We each voted for our 12 favourites, giving them from one to 12 points, and some interesting films came to the fore. In fifth place came the delightfully manic Crank – probably for the best, as we’d have been so over-energised that Sunday morning we’d have spent the rest of the day running around punching strangers in the face. In fourth place came The Lion King, a nostalgic necessity (though soon for re-release, rumouredly in vile 3D). In joint third came Repo Man and T2 – both worthy contenders, especially since we were all too young to have seen T2 when it was originally released. Second came a pitch of mine, and one of the entries in my pantheon of great movies – Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. But the clear winner (with an impressive 39 votes to Mononoke’s 33) was Apocalypse Now.

Mr Clean, not so... not riddled with bullets

Surely if there is a list of the films you must see on the big screen before you die, then Apocalypse Now is amongst them. The broad visuals, the alarming soundscape, the terrifying performances. It was indeed a perfect choice (albeit a touch heavy for a Sunday morning – the horror… the horror…). So we arrived at the Screen on Sunday morning with a few extra friends (the ones who weren’t hungover) in tow and enjoyed an audiovisual feast. It really did smell like victory. And coffee.

The whole experience was a delight. I had, admittedly, never seen the original, non-Redux cut of Apocalypse, and enjoyed the smoother flow of the story. Our slim audience, seen embarrassingly out of focus below, were for the most part hugely impressed. Many had never seen any version of the film, and none on the big screen, especially a private big screen.

Not a full house

On our way out, the girl who ran the quiz asked us how we’d enjoyed the film, and told us that the quiz had indeed raised enough money for a little polish for Mr Screen and a sprucing up of his cobblestone garden. On the off-chance there will be another quiz, she asked us what hypothetical rounds we might do poorly in to give other teams a chance. We weren’t sure, so suggested romcoms – nothing we can’t bone up on in the interim. “You know you beat Donald Clarke?” she asked, still surprised. Yes. Yes we did.

And as an extra bonus, Apocalypse Now had totally vindicated our team name – the two black guys died first.

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Jeremy Irons asked me out

Like many of my generation I have a very large soft spot in my heart for Jeremy Irons, no doubt borne from years of suckling at the teat of The Lion King, plus a Jesuit education that meant an annual diet of The Mission could not be avoided. And it’s true that there are few of his generation, Alan Rickman (his would-be-on-screen brother in the Die Hard series) being a possible exception, who could match him for sheer charm and Englishness.

So when I heard that he was to be giving a talk at my alma mater last week, there was no question of my missing it. And what a charming little evening it was. A polite eccentric in contrast to the stern and narrow-eyed characters he has tended to portray in the past he seems more Charles Ryder than any of the others. When the topic came up of the new version of Brideshead Revisited (already out in the States, due here shortly), Irons said: “We had the luxury of 13 hours to tell the story, they’re trying to do it in 2.” A fair point.

He then added: “There’s some things you can’t do quickly… well.”

Quite. Trust such a droll man to sum it up quite so simply. Other questions flew back and forth from the audience, revealing, amongst other things, that he has come to terms with being best known for The Lion King, was never approached for Die Hard 4, and was certain that he was going to win his Oscar, largely because the odds all seemed in his favour (one could a joke about fortunes reversing but that would be unforgivable). Perhaps most interestingly he admitted that the work he is most proud of is, of all things, playing Humbert Humbert in Adrian Lyne’s Lolita, one of his more controversial films, although a performance I for one found incredibly powerful.

Eventually the question asking came to me, and I elected, as I do, to ask a rambling question with a touch of wit and a fistful of flattery. “While I was watching Kingdom of Heaven,” I began, “it was all going really well, the film had a good trajectory, and then your character announces for no particular reason that he’s going to Cyprus (this is utterly true mind, Tiberias does just up and leave as soon as the going gets tough), and you leave and suddenly the film becomes utterly unwatchable (an exaggeration, I confess, but it certainly becomes a hell of a lot more stupid). So there’s this direct correlation between your screen presence and films being good.”

The audience got a giggle out of this, but Jeremy Irons, perhaps just flattered though I suspect more bemused, smiled and asked, “Are you free for dinner after?”

Sigh. I was. For him I was. But of course the niceties of such events meant the request was all in good humour. But still, Jeremy, if you’re reading this, I am free, any time, night or day, here or there, anywhere.

Yes, there’s nothing like a good dose of starstruckness to get you back at your keyboard and blogging again. Right where I should be.

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