Saturday, September 15, 2012

Did I Seriously Just Watch That? - Knock-Off Seven Samurai Edition

Paul Giamati's "The King Has to Poop"
Fat Tom (Jason Flemyng), Deadwood's Langriche (Brian Cox), Gareth from the Office (Mackenzie Crook) and ... some... other people ride across 13th century England to play Seven Samurai opposite Paul Giamati's King John, fresh from signing the Magna Carta and rebelling against his own signature thereupon. Derek Jacobi is in there, too, somehow. In a nutshell, that's the plot of the movie Ironclad (2011). In a nutshell, if I were to discuss an awesome remake of the Seven Samurai, I'd be talking about the Magnificent Seven, but I'm obviously not.

While the film isn't terrible, it's not great, either. It does well enough at portraying the "Dung Ages" of England, but who needs to see that again? Frankly, only a small amount of the entirety of HISTORY happened in England, even during the Middle Ages and Renaissance eras, so why the hell do we have to be subjected to Anglocentric portrayal of the smallest fragment of that history after Anglocentric portrayal of the smallest fragment of that history? I mean, seriously? As an American capable of thought, I am sick to death of this concept that any bit of the past that didn't happen in America must have happened in England. Forgive me, but fuck that. That's the reason I stopped watching the History channel back in the 90's: it was really just "the History of some people who happen to look and sound close to what we think we look and sound like."

I think you understand the bulk of my categorical disdain for films of this nature. Allow me to be more specific. The Seven Samurai is one of those kickass movies that I will watch on my own when I'm feeling like I have the attention span to read subtitles (about 1/4 of the time, unfortunately) and my wife isn't home. I may love Kurosawa's pacing in the original, but it put her to sleep; I can't blame her, especially since I can be entertained by a particularly interesting shade of paint drying. So, when the wife's around, or when I don't have the attention span for subtitles, I can watch the Magnificent Seven. She, thankfully, loves that movie, and will let me watch it in her presence more often that I would have thought. Magnificent Seven did something interesting by casting absolutely huge names in the major roles. I'm sure you can name at least five of the big names in this film. No good yet? How about Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and either of Eli Wallach or Robert Vaughn. Right, so, awesome frigging cast. Ironclad decided that, if it were to try to remake Seven Samurai and set it in a one of the few places/eras that Americans can understand (see above), it should use the Magnificent Seven logic of throwing identifiable actors at a problem and hoping it gets sorted out. It worked for the Magnificent Seven, but does it work here? I'll let you be the judge of these odd casting choices:
  • Brian Cox - You've seen this guy in a bunch of stuff. Tons of stuff. Probably more stuff than even the venerable Derek Jacobi (see below). The part that I know him for the best was that of Langriche in the third season of the absolutely stunning HBO series, Deadwood. In that series, he plays a probably gay, well-heeled and flamboyant showman, producer and actor who comes to a small mining town to set up a theater. In Ironclad, he gets cast as a warrior. Not a good fit. 
  • I know Jason Flemyng primarily for his role as Fat Tom in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. In fact, I use an exchange between Fat Tom and Nick the Greek from that movie frequently in conversation ("It's kosher, Nick. Kosher like Christmas." "Jews don't celebrate Christmas, Tommy." And so on). You may know him as Dr. Jekyll from the crappy movie version of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Here, he's just a dude. The horny dude. Yeah, not much material for him to work with here. 
  • Somehow, neither Jason Flemyng nor Mackenzie Crook got DVD box or poster billing for this movie. Don't recognize the name? Well, if you've seen any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (and really, who hasn't), you'll know this guy as the pirate with the wooden eye. Folks who know what's good for them know him as Gareth from the original BBC version of the Office. This guy is great at playing a goon. And he barely does any acting in this movie in favor of giving lines to actors half his caliber. 
  • Which brings us to the greatest actor in the film, Sir Derek Jacobi. Yes, he is a "sir." I'm not just adding that because he's British. I'm pretty sure that part of his deal with the Devil that makes him so damn great is that he has to appear in absolutely every period piece ever. I'd like to explain the bizarre cognitive dissonance I experienced at his being in this movie, but I'm afraid the train of digressions that it would require would make my brain catch on fire. I'm barely staving that off now. So, Derek Jacobi. Right. He barely manages to get any face time with the camera. Granted, he gets something close to a plot point, and more time than Jason Flemyng and Mackenzie Crook, but that's to be expected. He has seniority taking care of shit like that. And that contract with the Devil. Or is it the queen? Is there a difference?
  • Paul Friggin' Giamati actually gets some lines and a decent speech. He plays King John, after all. That, in and of itself, however, is odd. Giamati has a great reputation for being a huge, quirky and skilled actor and all that, but it's really strange to hear him try an English accent. 
The thing about it all of these recognizably famous people being cast in yet another Seven Samurai that really bugs me is that all of them seem tangential to the plot. Well, except for Brian Cox and maybe Paul Giamati. The movie really wants to spend all of its time focusing on two of the least-interesting characters played by the least-compelling actors in the film. Kate Mara (cast as DeYoung Hotniss) has apparently been in other films and stuff, but I have no idea why since her acting is barely passable. Whoever cast her thought she'd be a big enough name to bump a decent actor from the box/poster. James Purefoy (cast as Emo Templarington) has apparently also led a career of undistinguished acting roles that somehow netted him more screen time than any of the actually good actors in this film. All in all, terribly disappointing showing for a cast of good actors who were horribly misused in a vain (in the literal sense of the word "vain") attempt to remake one of the greatest films of all time that my wife won't watch.