Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS

Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS

Let us have drama, says he

TORONTO — It doesn’t take long for “Coriolanus” star Brian Cox to steer the conversation from the work of William Shakespeare to his disdain for Hollywood shmaltz and the current awards season frenzy. The run-up to the much-hyped Academy Awards has raised the ire of the veteran thespian, who can’t help but tear into Oscar favourites “The Descendants,” “Hugo” and “War Horse” while bemoaning the lack of chatter over his own film, which marks the directorial debut of friend Ralph Fiennes.

TORONTO — It doesn’t take long for “Coriolanus” star Brian Cox to steer the conversation from the work of William Shakespeare to his disdain for Hollywood shmaltz and the current awards season frenzy.

The run-up to the much-hyped Academy Awards has raised the ire of the veteran thespian, who can’t help but tear into Oscar favourites “The Descendants,” “Hugo” and “War Horse” while bemoaning the lack of chatter over his own film, which marks the directorial debut of friend Ralph Fiennes.

“It’s the same old suspects coming up time and time again and you go, ’Oh yeah, it’s time he got an award, is it?”’ the classically trained Cox says of the Oscar nominations, to be announced Tuesday.

“There’s a great diminution of standards over the last three or four years. There’s some good performances and some good films out there but there’s also a lot of stuff that does get ignored.”

That includes “Coriolanus,” according to the 55-year-old Cox, as well as the financial thriller “Margin Call.”

As for the films that are getting traction, Cox says he likes France’s silent tribute to old show business in “The Artist.”

But he dismisses “The Descendants” as merely “all right,” “Hugo” as “a little pretentious” and “War Horse” as “sugary” and “sentimental.”

“I don’t think it’s a good film,” Cox says bluntly of Steven Spielberg’s epic tale of a feisty horse drawn into the First World War.

“I think (Spielberg) is a great filmmaker but I think that film would benefit enormously if it didn’t have a score by John Williams telling us what to feel every two minutes. I think this is what’s wrong with cinema — cinema is not treating the audience intelligently enough.”

Of course, Cox says that’s something Fiennes has managed to do with “Coriolanus” — a bloody, modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s lesser-known Roman tragedy.

Fiennes stars as the bull-headed General Caius Martius, a lifelong soldier who is renamed Coriolanus after defeating the army of his rival Tullus Aufidius, played by Gerard Butler, in an elaborately choreographed hand-to-hand battle at the film’s opening.

Cox plays Coriolanus’ political ally Menenius and Vanessa Redgrave is Coriolanus’ war-hungry mother Volumnia.

The big screen adaptation maintains the Bard’s iambic pentameter but updates the backdrop with scenes that evoke recent world crises — soldiers patrol war-ravaged streets with high-powered weaponry while civilian rioters are armed with cellphones and video cameras. Meanwhile, ubiquitous TV screens provide constant commentary via CNN-like news reports.

It’s an ambitious treatise on war, politics, ambition and pride that’s further complicated by the fact Fiennes serves as both star and director.

When he screened the film at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, the 49-year-old admitted to struggling with the dual roles. He described a “sort of vice-like tension” that overtook him while shooting.

“There were times when I found it really hard to go back and look at the monitor,” said Fiennes, who is nominated for a BAFTA (Britain’s version of the Oscars) for outstanding directorial debut.

“I had to go, ’OK let me see it. ’Um, oh. Horrible. Yes. Like that. That looks good. That’s really good. That’s horrible’.”

The star of “Schindler’s List” and “The English Patient” says he was initially too emotional to be detached from the work.

“I think I have a reasonably good sense of when something I’ve done is cooking or whether it’s not cooking but I needed people there to say, ’You’ve got to keep going,”’ said Fiennes, who added that he tends to over-obsess over his performances.

“I’d been indulged by directors who had allowed me an extra take or listened to my over-fastidious obsessions (and) I had to deny myself that. That sometimes was hard, but I also had to be careful that I wasn’t going to an extreme. When I looked at all the rushes finally — away from shooting with the editor — I had a terrible sense of disappointment that my own performance was a mess. My editor manage to stitch it together.”