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Media Notebook: Summer movies are out: ‘A Knight’s Tale,’ ‘Pearl Harbor’
by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register
(From the June 15, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)
After its second week out, The Mummy Returns had already grossed $116.5 million dollars. One could easily assume that A Knight’s Tale, set in medieval Europe, would have at least as much action as the super-violent The Mummy Returns. But surprise! A Knight’s Tale turns out to really be a romantic comedy, filled with 20th century music and popular culture and, by today’s standards, a minimum amount of violence.
At the opening of the film William (Heath Ledger) wants to break out of serfdom and become a knight. He seizes his opportunity when his master dies and he agrees to enter a jousting match under his deceased master’s name. The crowd is doing The Wave and clapping to the music of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” With his first taste of a knight’s sport William seeks to get forged patents so he can continue his ruse.
Together with his friends Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk) William happens upon Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany), robbed and left naked by a gang of thieves. Chaucer somehow forges the patents and becomes part of William’s support team. William is now known as Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein as he takes part in one tournament after another.
As the story progresses William falls for a princess known as Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon) who has a propensity to wear hats that look like they were worn by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. The villainous Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell) also seeks Jocelyn’s fair hand.
There is a subplot about a nine-year old William being sent away as a squire and longing to return to his blind father. This part of the movie could have been easily dropped, shortening the film’s nearly two-hour length. I suspect a focus group or two told the producers this section of heavy sentiment was necessary to appeal to the widest possible audience.
The movie leads up to the world championships in London. By this time William’s support entourage includes Kate (Laura Fraser) who has invented a special-tempered steel armor that gives him some advantages against the incredible machinations of Count Adhemar. Kate even puts a Nike-like trademark on her new invention. Actually, Kate as a blacksmith would seem to be a more interesting love interest if William opened his eyes and stopped pining for the high society types.
The result of all this off-the-wall plot is a very enjoyable popcorn-type movie. A Knight’s Tale is a very entertaining film. The various jousting scenes almost look three-dimensional at times. The acting is very good. The young Australian, Heath Ledger, can carry a movie. He is better than he was in The Patriot. Mark Addy, from The Full Monty, is excellent as William’s friend and trainer. The villain Rufus Sewell is threatening without going over the top. The standout up-and- coming actor of the film is Paul Bettany, doing his great interpretation of Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer’s speeches that act as introductions of William-Sir Ulrich before each of the jousting matches are great fun.
A Knight’s Tale is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). There is stadium-style jousting violence and mild sexual innuendo. There is a short raunchy out-take copying Blazing Saddles after all the credits are over. Most moviegoers are long gone by that time.
Coming out of the AMC 20 in Spokane on the Friday of the Memorial Day weekend at the conclusion of the 3:15 p.m. showing of Pearl Harbor, there were hundreds of people standing in line to get into the theater for the next showing.
Pearl Harbor has been hyped for months. At three hours in length, the movie is really made up of three separate stories merged together. There is a love story tied to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the surrounding bases. A third story involves the famous Col. Jimmy Doolittle attack on the Japanese mainland, immortalized in the book and 1944 war film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.
Two boyhood friends from Tennessee who have a love of airplanes become military pilots in 1940 before the United States is at war. Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck), after training at Mitchell Field, Long Island, decides to join the Eagle Squadron in Britain. He leaves behind his friend Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett) whom he has always protected like a younger brother.
Before leaving the U.S. Rafe falls in love with a beautiful nurse, Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale). Evelyn becomes the love of his life, which gets him through incredible events over the English Channel.
After their transfer to Pearl Harbor, both Danny and Evelyn are informed that Rafe has died off the coast of France. After a period of time Danny and Evelyn fall in love. The love story gets complicated when it turns out that Rafe has somehow survived and now is assigned to Pearl Harbor just before the fateful day of Dec. 7, 1941. The triangle of young love among beautiful people then plays out in the midst of the Pearl Harbor bombing and the eventual Doolittle attack of Flying Fortresses upon Japan.
About an hour and a half into Pearl Harbor begins director Michael Bay’s recreation of the bombing. The photography is incredible. Bay brilliantly portrays the destruction, the chaos, the sadness, and the violence. The technical skill he exhibits in filming this key part of the movie is first rate. The viewer is caught up in the surprise attack from the point of view of sailors on the doomed battleships, the army pilots (including Rafe and Danny, who finally get in the air to fight the attackers), and the nurses, led by Evelyn, who face incredible odds as their hospital is bombed and hundreds of wounded appear at their front door in agony.
At the hospital some poignancy comes through as Evelyn uses a lipstick to perform triage, marking the wounded in an effort to separate those with hope for healing from those too close to death. In the background of these chaotic scenes the viewer can hear chaplains in Latin and English give what was then known as the “last rites” and prayers with the dying. Yes, I did tear up in this scene.
The final section of this three hour movie is the Doolittle raid, which Rafe and Danny volunteer to take part in.
The high point of Pearl Harbor is the bombing of the Hawaiian base. The rather long love story is not painful to watch but doesn’t really ignite. The Doolittle attack is interesting and well done but makes an already long movie really long. For all of its weaknesses, which include a poor script by Randall Wallace and overpowering music by Hans Zimmer, Pearl Harbor is worth seeing. The $140 million cost of the film shows through, particularly in the spectacular battle scenes. Pearl Harbor doesn’t touch the heart deeply, but its technical skill is to be admired and praised.
Pearl Harbor is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It includes some swear words, a mild sex scene, and many scenes of violent combat.
(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane.)
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