“Your Highness” (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.: David Gordon Green, 2011 (Universal)
What price silliness? What price prurience? What price sheer knuckleheaded balderdash?
Whatever the price, Your Highness – a sword and sorcery movie which sometimes seems geared as lowbrow comedy for frat boy idiots — pays it. This movie was so badly reviewed one would have thought, from the tone of the attacks, that director David Gordon Green and writer-star-executive producer Danny McBride had made the cinematic equivalent of a Ponzi scheme sold to nunneries. But it actually struck me as pretty funny and sort of entertaining in a tasteless bawdy way — and even good-looking, for a tasteless bawdy movie. Your Lowness?
Certainly few of my colleagues liked it. Most loathed it — Betsy Sharkey and David Edelstein were among the handful of exceptions — and since I didn’t defend it, at least partially, the first time around (or if I did, I‘ve forgotten), and since I didn’t much like the other new releases this week, except in a fragmentary way, I decided to give Your Highness a qualified pat. At least I can’t be accused of jumping on any bandwagons.
Your Highness — the title is a thickish play on words, with an obvious marijuana allusion — is set during a time when princes and princesses romped in castles, warriors quested, wizards sorcerized, dragons spit flame and everybody made jokes about penises and homosexuality and various other forbidden topics (at least forbidden at the time of Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester, a funnier, cleaner 1956 period satire), while riding around magical forests and observing genre conventions.
The story of the movie, courtesy of scriptwriters McBride and Ben Best, is the kind that usually comes to you, when you’ve had a few too many — and is perhaps best appreciated that way too. Prince Fabious (James Franco, in his blissed out Pineapple Express mode, but without visible ganja) is a wondrous hero beloved by all, specially his doting father, King Tallius (Charles Dance). Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride is his younger brother, a shameless asshole, bone-lazy, incompetent at almost everything, and consumed with venomous ill will — accompanied by his squire Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker), whose haircut is the worst joke in the movie. Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) is a beauteous babe of a bride, kidnapped by the wicked wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), who is clearly up to no good.
Also along for the bride-ride is Isabel the foxy Warrior Princess, played and dressed without visible shame and with some seeming enjoyment by Natalie Portman, whose keen warrior-babe expression suggests that at any moment, she might be moved to cry “Oscars? We don’t need no stinking Oscars!”
Your Highness, which uses so many four letter words it might properly be dedicated to George Carlin, seemed to offend so many critics — and perhaps so many audiences too — because it was so full of dirty juvenile stupid jokes. Well, dirty juvenile stupid humor has a place in the world, and so do dirty juvenile stupid humorists (certainly an often thriving profession) and audiences. Green does have more to offer. After winning his spurs with subtle and uncompromising art films like George Washington and All the Real Girls, and psychological dramas like Undertow and Snow Angels, he is obviously trying to show different strings to his bow (some warped), and incidentally work with bigger budgets. Green may flub it all, many have, but I think he’s earned the right to explore his inner nitwit.
The reason for Green’s trashing at the hands of his old admirers may be simply because most film buffs respected Green so much and really want to be on his side, and even went part of the way with him, with Pineapple Express, the violent drug comedy with Franco, McBride and Seth Rogen. And instead he seems to be making the kind of seemingly ambitionless, potty-mouthed, sex-crazed, vapidly commercial movie that would get bad reviews no matter who directed it.
But maybe Your Highness shouldn’t even be looked at so much as a David Gordon Green movie. It strikes me as more of a Danny McBride movie, in which Green went along for the ride with his old friend, probably because the ideas (or something) made him laugh. Green may be just doing here what a movie director usually does: keep the show moving and make it look good. Maybe that will create a problem for future monographs or college courses on Green’s oeuvre, as the professor tries to painstakingly trace the development of Green’s world view from that of sensitive outsider in George Washington to that of howling asshole on Your Highness — and then tries to predict his next jump. (A remake of Animal House? With McBride as Belushi/Bluto?)
It may take an unusually weak week to elevate Your Highness to any kind of Pick of the Week (or co-pick, see below). But I had a fairly, if not completely, good time at this movie. I don’t think it’s an atrocity. A travesty maybe. (And remember, they were trying to make a travesty.) What can I say? I genuinely enjoyed it more than I did Paul (a safer choice) or Mars Needs Moms. (See “The Rest.“) Your Highness is a good-looking fantasy-ride show. And it did make me smile. Legally.
Extras: Commentary with Green, McBride, Franco and Theroux; “Making of” documentary; Deleted Scenes; Alternate scenes; Gag Reel.
CO-PICK OF THE WEEK: NEW
Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff ) (Three Stars)
U. K.: Craig McCall, 2010 (Strand Releasing.)
A tribute to one of world cinema’s greatest cinematographers, Britain’s Jack Cardiff, who started his official career with three masterpieces — Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s staggering Stairway to Heaven, beautiful Black Narcissus”and ravishing The Red Shoes — and kept on for more than half a century, distinguishing himself as cinematographer (The African Queen), director (Sons and Lovers) and, above all, as a master of color and Technicolor (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, Vidor’s War and Peace), ultimately making stuff like Rambo and Conan the Destroyer (in his 70s) look better than they deserved, winning the only career Oscar for camerawork, and shooting almost right up to the end.
(Cardiff was 21 when he shot, uncredited, a bit of Schoedsack-Cooper’s 1935 The Last Days of Pompeii, and his last IMDB credit is the 2007 miniseries The Other Side of the Screen, released when he was 93. Lots of good archive and interview footage here and very eloquent recollections from Cardiff himself. My one complaint: however they were reproduced, many of the clips of Cardiff’s work here don’t look as rich and lustrous as they should be. Nobody, of course, not even Vittorio Storaro, shot color better.
Extras: Interview with Craig McCall (by Ian Christie); Featurettes; Jack Cardiff actress portraits; Photo galleries; Trailer.