Tuesday, May 18, 2010

“This sword has been in my family for five generations. It has never known defeat. Until now.”

Who’s up for a little whimsy? I know I sure could go for some right about now. I’d say a 1985 Fantasy/Romance/ADVENTURE! directed by Richard Donner is just the ticket. Let’s get some Ladyhawke up in this mofo!

So, its Medieval Europe, in a region called Aquila (which is in Italy) a petty thief escapes the gallows (and prison) and runs afoul of a mysterious, black-clad knight who is on a grim quest to undo a curse and kill the wicked bishop of Aquila, who’s cursed the knight and his lady fair to be “always together, eternally apart.” By day, she’s a hawk, by night, he’s a wolf. Needless to say, it’s an awkward relationship. ADVENTURE! ensues.

Phillipe Gaston, “The Mouse:” Matthew Broderick is our main character, a weasely (well, mousey) little thief who’s somehow managed to piss off the evil Bishop so much that he’s slated for execution. Escaping through the sewers, he finds himself hunted by the Bishop’s men, but gets rescued by Etienne and becomes his reluctant sidekick and quite important to getting the curse undone. He also makes it a habit of talking to God about his problems when no other characters are looking.

Etienne Navarre: Rutger Hauer is stone cold badass in this film. Seriously. He’s a French(ish) knight who was the former captain of the Aquila guard who fell in love with a noblewoman, which pissed off the Bishop and now he’s cursed. Turns into a wolf at night, and it’s a testament to Hauer’s intensity that he’s more badass in human form. He will kill his way through an country full of goons for love if he has to.

Isabeau d’Anjou: Michelle Pheiffer is beautiful as the love of Etienne’s life. She’s the more vulnerable of the two, but ends up using Phillipe as a way of getting messages to and from Etienne. A big chunk of the movie is spent during the day, so Isabeu is a hawk for most of the movie.

Father Imperius the Monk: Leo McKern (TV’s Horace Rumpole of the Bailey) plays the recluse who was once Isabeu’s confessor at court, until he accidentally let the Bishop know of her romance with Etienne. Shamed by this, he comes through in a moment of crisis and figures out a possible way to undo the curse.

The Bishop of Aquila: John Wood is a big jerk in this. First, he’s a tyrant who rules with an iron fist. Second, he’s pretty much tossed his vows out the window to obsessively pursue a woman who hates him. Third, he’s apparently resorted to sorcery and/or the Devil to put a curse on the two lovers. Like I said, a big ol’ jerk.

Marquet: Ken Hutchinson plays the Bishop’s guard captain. He’s reasonably competent-ish but Etienne was the captain before him, and boy does that leave a chip on Marquet’s shoulder.

Cezar: Alfred Molina (yep, that one) in a small role as an assassin/hunter who’s hired to hunt down the big black wolf form of Etienne.

Richard Donner in the director’s chair and some truly excellent cinematography by Vittorio Storaro means that we get lots and lots of ADVENTURE! Some of the early action scenes are a bit clunky (and for some reason Etienne has a “double-barreled” crossbow), but by and large the action is entertaining, the effects have largely aged well and the whole thing is put together well. The movie does go a little bit long, but by that point you’re already invested in the characters and are committed to the end.

Edward Khmara, Michael Thomas, Tom Mankiewicz & David Webb Peoples, which is a lot of people on one script, but by and large things go well. The occasional anachronistic phrases pop up and at times Phillipe gets a tad annoying with his monologues, but overall, the story goes for a largely optimistic High Fantasy/Legendary feel but in the context of Medieval History. Which is a nice change of pace from the extra grimy, gloomy and cynical feel that pervades most medieval movies from the last twenty years.

Original music by Andrew Powell, and, well, it’s the weak link of the movie. There’s a lot of synthesizer stuff that overshadows the orchestral touches, and its not very good. Jarringly not good.

Ladyhawke is actually a lot of fun and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. Sure its more about the power of love than it is about throwing swords into people’s chests, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for an ol’ softie like me. Recommended.

Next time, we get a hawk of a different, uh, plumage.

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