Director – Elia Kazan
Cast – Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, Anna Revere, June Havoc, John Garfield, Albert Dekker, Celeste Holm, Jane Wyatt, Dean Stockwell
Gentleman’s Agreement is a very well structured and performed film which follows journalist Phillip Green (played by Gregory Peck, also in Twelve O’Clock High), who decides that to write a truly great article on the problem of anti-Semitism he must immerse himself in the phobias and outright prejudice faced by Jews. Having moved to New York to do the piece, he informs everyone he meets that he is Jewish, and catalogues the results.
“Catalogues the results” may seem a simple way of saying it, but the character really believes it is that simple. Little by little he realizes the full extent of the bigotry experienced by Jews. He finds that his newly assigned secretary had to change her name on her job application just to be considered for the position; his friend would not be able to stay at his fiance’s unoccupied flat because there is a “gentleman’s agreement” not to let the rooms out to Jews; his son is chased from the playground, and called a “dirty kike”; and Green himself can not stay at an inn on his honeymoon… it is a “restricted” inn. Not officially, of course, but when he confronts the owner he is all but flat-out told so.
I must admit when told the premise of this movie I expected much more virulent hatred to be shown to Green because of his supposed Jewish faith. The movie doesn’t give us bricks being thrown through his window, or show us white sheeted crowds burning crosses; and it is a good thing too. The movie’s point is that racism generally shows itself not through violence, but through apathy. This point is aptly made in a scene toward the end of the movie where Green’s fiance describes a party she had just attended where a man told a disgusting Jewish joke. She tell’s Green’s friend, played by John Garfield (both the actor and the character being Jewish), how angry she was; how she just wanted to throw the man’s words back in his face, to just get up and leave. “What did you do, though?” Garfield asks. “Well, nothing, but I felt horrible,” comes the reply. Garfield quietly explains to her that this is the problem with racism… everyone feels bad about it, yet they do nothing.
The movie is very keen to say this, and it does so well, and many times. As seen today, it says its message perhaps a bit too neatly, too on-the-head. Put bluntly, it is about as subtle as a hammer to the head sometimes. There is one speech in particular which exemplifies this. Green’s sick mother has read his finished article and then says the following speech. Imagine it with a slow zoom, with the mother gradually almost turning to face the camera. The only thing it is missing is a flag slowly waving behind her…
“You know something, Phil? I suddenly want to live to be very old. Very. I want to be around to see what happens. The world is stirring in very strange ways. Maybe this is the century for it. Maybe that’s why it’s so troubled. Other centuries had their driving forces. What will ours have been when men look back? Maybe it won’t be the American century after all… or the Russian century or the atomic century. Wouldn’t it be wonderful… if it turned out to be everybody’s century… when people all over the world – free people – found a way to live together? I’d like to be around to see some of that… even the beginning. I may stick around for quite a while.”
Perhaps I am a bit too harsh; indeed, this is a major problem with “issue movies”, that you can never look at the film the same way after the passage of time. What seemed brutal and revealing at the time may come as naive and even childishly simple now. Such can be the case with Gentleman’s Agreement, but if seen through the lens of the time period we see that it come from an innocent and genuine place. In fact, despite all this there is a true sense of optimism and genuine truth about this movie that is honestly inspiring. It is through these eyes that the movie should be seen today, and of course, it’s message is truly timeless.
Gentleman’s Agreement is a powerful, if slightly dated movie that brings to light both the prejudices shown to minorities, and most people ignorance to it. It is very well acted, with all-American boy Gregory Peck perfectly cast as the smart but naive lead character. It is a great example of society at the time, and still has truths that can speak to all of us. Definitely recommended.
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Director – Neil Marshall
Cast – Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Riz Ahmed, Noel Clarke, Imogen Poots, Liam Cunningham, JJ Feild, David Morrissey
Gory, brutal, and bleak, you could say that Neil Marshall’s Centurion is a low-budget Gladiator. It’s nowhere as good as that excellent (no matter what Roger Ebert says) Ridley Scott movie but, frustratingly, it could have been, with a better script. A looser shooting style would have helped as well I think.
The story follows Fassbender as Quintus Dias, a Roman soldier whose group (the legendary lost Ninth Legion) is wiped out in Scotland by the Picts. Well, they asked for it, being part of an invading force after all. Strangely, the movie doesn’t really go into that issue, but just focuses on Quintus and a couple comrades as they try to fight their way to the nearest Roman outpost.
Tracking them is a group of Picts led by Etain, played by Olga Kurylenko (perhaps best known as a “Bond girl” from Quantum of Solace). Etain is a warrior out for revenge, after being raped and forced to watch her family being killed, as a young child. She is a mute, and this seems to have enhanced her other abilities, as her skills stop only just short of a ninja. She is one lethal, ass-kicking babe.
Quintus is not sketched out very well, character-wise, and frankly no one in this movie is. This really affects the movie in a bad way, and is the most obvious problem here. The only reason we are given to care for these folks is to hope that we don’t have to see their heads split open by an axe, or their eyes speared through with arrows. Fassbender is fairly charismatic, to be sure, but I would have loved to have seen more. Some subtle delving into these characters pasts perhaps, (other than sitting around a fire and asking “Where are you from” a couple of times), before the next fight/chase scene. The unsure and clumsy climax doesn’t help much either, though where we end up is interesting.
Not to bash the action sequences, which are generally quite good. Neil Marshall does know how to ratchet up tension, and some sequences are quite tense. One scene in particular had me really paying attention, a scene toward the beginning where Quintus’ fellow soldiers are all massacred. The editing is quick and rhythmic; we are shown quick successions of shots where one impact (usually a killing blow) is delivered. We hear and see one death after another, THWACK, TWACK, SLICE, THWAK. It was unnerving, and very effective.
Centurion has a strange contradiction in style. It has a gritty and brutal production design, with harsh landscapes and tense set pieces; yet the camera work is restrained, even sedentary, with a colour design that can be beautiful, yes, but with an almost shiny sheen, that works to counteract the production design.I would have loved to see this movie shot in the style of films like Children of Men. Less shine, more grime. Less restrained camera work, more “documentary style”. I think that would have helped immerse us in the movie a bit more. Add a stronger script and we’re all set.
Centurion never realizes the potential of its premise, as the script reads like a plot summary, rather than a finished project. The action sequences are entertaining though, and Fassbender makes for a good leading man. Some interesting things happen, but could have been done better. With all things considered Centurion is a missed opportunity, but yet is not quite an awful experience. Recommended only if you are into medieval action flicks. Or Fassbender’s abs… there’s a LOT of those on display!
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo REVIEW
Director – David Fincher
Cast – Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christophe Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright
The Girl with the Dragan Tattoo is based on the first of the Millenium trilogy of novels, written by Steve Zaillian. It stars Daniel Craig as investigative reporter, and Rooney Mara as the titular character, the iconic Lisbeth Salander, whose many skills include investigation and various form of computer wizardry. Christopher Plummer is an elderly man who wants Craig, fresh off of a devastating libel suit, to seek out his daughter’s murderer. Oh, and the murder happened 50 years ago…
The list of suspects is composed of all the people who were on the family island at the time, mainly family. This adds a disturbing layer. Plummer seems to have a nonchalant hatred for most of his clan, of whom he seems to be the oldest surviving member. One of his brothers drowned years ago, and another lives in a house up on an old hill. He is called a recluse, but isn’t too fond of the term. Interestingly, both brothers are/were Nazis.
The investigation starts with names and pictures on papers spread over a wall. To aid in his investigation, Craig calls in the help of Salander. They both dig through documents, interview people, all that jazz. Frankly, we’ve seen all that before, but never with a character so intriguing as Salander. That is not to discount the other characters in the movie, who for the most part are fleshed out fairly well (and acted even better), but this movie is about Salander, there can be no doubt about it.
And Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander is wonderful. Comparisons are sure to be made between her performance and Noomi Rapace’s performance in the Swedish original; as I haven’t seen it I am not the one to make them, but I loved her in the role. She is withdrawn and angry, but knows exactly how to play the subtext of the character, her desire for friendship and understanding. It is a fairly complex character, I think too many people pigeonhole her as just some kick ass punk chick. Craig and Plummer are certainly well cast in their roles as well, though Craig always has a calm coolness about him that maybe works against him here.
The movie is slowly paced, and has a moody richness to it that is almost addicting. The plot is dense and always moving, and if I had any complaint it would be that it is perhaps a bit too confusing. At least a couple times throughout the movie there are moments where Craig zooms in on a photograph, raises his eyebrows, and has a moment of realization. Both times I didn`t know what the heck he saw that was so important, and once I actually asked the person with whom I was seeing the movie what was going on. However, both times they do reiterate what he saw, so that was good. But a bit more clarity would have been great. It is a 2 hour and 38 minute long movie, surely they could have taken a beat longer to explain.
Actually, perhaps an even bigger complaint would be the rushed way in which they explain the main mystery of the film. We understand who did what, but we never even briefly are told why the crimes are committed. There is a family connection to the crimes, and an almost Chinatown element emerges. But no motives are ever explained. I would have liked them to be.
But, all-in-all I think the best way to describe my feelings about this movie is to mention this; I remember thinking at the climax that I wouldn`t mind there being another 2 hours to go. I can`t remember another recent movie about which I could say that, and several that I would have said the opposite.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a wonderfully moody thriller/mystery, with excellent cast. I hope Fincher does do the sequels, this is a world I would love to visit again.
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Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol REVIEW
Director – Brad Bird
Cast – Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Tom Wilkinson, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Anil Kapoor, Josh Holloway, Ving Rhames
– follows Mission Impssible 3
Ethan Hunt is back, in the fourth movie in the Mission Impossible series. The IMF organization has been framed in a bombing of the Kremlin, and Hunt and team (Pegg, Patton, and Renner) must track down the real culprit to clear their names. It sounds a bit generic, but this is my personal favourite of the franchise.
In fact, this movie is essentially everything you could ask of an action movie. It is fun, exhilarating, and even smart. Who would have thought it, eh? My favourite thing is that most of the set pieces are not just exercises in action, but smarts. You can see the characters thinking “What can I do here?” My favourite moment is a tension-ratcheting one where Pegg and Cruise use a screen and a video camera to make a hallway appear deserted. It was a quiet but gut-tightening sequence. And funny, to boot.
The Mission Impossible series is a bit of an oddity when it comes to franchises. First off is the irregularity of their releases. The first one was released in 1996, and it has taken 15 years for us to get to the fourth. But mainly there is the difference in style of the films. The first film was definitely a thriller, directed by Brian De Palma. It was sleek, featuring mainly European locations, and its most interesting scene was not one of i’s shootouts, but a neat and quiet moment where Tom Cruise realizes he has been double crossed. MI 2 ramps up to the bombastic, and its stunts come to a near ridiculous level. It was, of course, directed by John Woo. Despite its craziness, it still had a touch of intrigue, and I did enjoy it, though I think it is the worst of the series. Then came the third, (and best to date) movie, directed by JJ Abrams. This one managed to both shrink and expand the Mission Impossible world. We saw much more of the IMF organization and the set pieces were wonderfully executed, but had many more quiet moments between the adventure. Up to this point, each movie had a distinct style.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol does not try to stake out its own ground, however, instead following the template of the third movie. This was a great decision. It does perhaps lighten up the tone a bit, and is not as dark in places, but it does not feel as near as distinct as the others. In fact, you might almost regard MI 3 and Ghost Protocol as a new series. Tom is a bit older, and the movies are frankly, better.
Another great thing about the series is it’s inconsistent use of actors for the head IMF men. We’ve seen Jon Voight, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, and now Tom Wilkinson as Hunt’s superiors. This means they can use them in interesting ways, without having to worry about continuity, past or future. They can turn traitor, die, etc.
If I had a problem with this movie it would be with the general uselessness of Renner’s character. He doesn’t do anything particularly noteworthy until the end, and even that doesn’t blow us away. But this is a point I thought of after the movie, so it mustn’t have been that bad. There is a neat continuity tie at the end for those who have seen MI 3 as well, and that was nice to see. Though surely we coul have seen more of Ving Rhames?
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is a fast-moving and witty adventure, with exciting set pieces and adrenaline to spare. In an age of repeating sequels and remakes, this is one series that I would love to see continue as long as Mr. Cruise wants to keep doing them. Whatever your opinion of Tom Cruise, you have to admit that he is excellent at what he does.
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The Adventures of Tintin REVIEW
Director – Steven Spielberg
Cast – Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nik Frost, Tony Jones
I have to admit I was with the movie right up until the half way mark. It was witty, fast paced, and fun. The animation is great, and the style is perfect. We follow Tintin, the intrepid and iconic young reporter, as he races the evil Sakharin to find the lost treasure of the Haddock family. Accompanying him as they battle the baddies is the inebriated Captain Haddock, heir to the lost treasure.
The story of Tintin is both too simple, and too complicated. At heart this is really a chase movie, and should have been left that way; but it is constantly muddled up by scenes which desperately try to catch us up to the story. There’s too much action and very little story, and the details of the story don’t actually make any sense, which doesn’t help. So by the half way point… well, I just didn’t give a damn. Sure it’s pretty. But it loses steam majorly.
On the plus side, (and this will sound strange), it was good to see a kid being shot at. Tintin is quite young, and I was thinking the action and violence would be tamed down, but it wasn’t. He draws a pistol himself very early on in the movie, and I did a fist pump when he did. No kiddy pandering here! Also worthy of special mention is the wonderful team of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. They have bit parts as a pair of bumbling police, and even reference their Hot Fuzz roles with a line or two.
The very character of Tintin presents a problem… he’s such a friggin boy scout. Jamie Bell plays him with an overbearing innocence and bravery that becomes cloying. He’s a cardboard cutout, with no humor or pathos. Now this isn’t as much of a problem as it could have been, as Andy Serkis more than delivers on the comedy front, and the energy of the action sequences carry Tintin along very quickly. But a bit more personality would have been nice, even if just in the performance.
If Peter Jackson does take up directing duties for the sequel, he would be wise to get a good script beforehand…
The Adventures of Tinin has a good first half, but a repetitive second half that doesn’t clear up some questions I would have liked answered. Frankly, I was bored by the end; an ending which feels very anti-climactic, by the way. The visuals are fantastic, but a better script was needed. It is passable, but nothing more.
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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows REVIEW
Director – Guy Ritchie
Cast – Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams, Eddie Marsan
follows Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) makes his return in the lavishly un-traditional “updated” Holmes series, directed by British director Guy Ritchie. Downey is accompanied by Jude Law, who returns with his (excellent) portrayal of Watson, that I still insist would fit in with a more traditional Holmes movie just as well. This time they face ultimate Holmes baddie Professor Moriarty, played with just the right amount of sneer by Jared Harris (son of the late Richard Harris). In this outing he has become a major controller in the arms business, and is attempting to pit half of Europe against the other half, so he can profit from the arms sales.
The frenetic pace and slow motion “thought process” scenes appear here, intact from the first movie. Holmes and Watson’s relationship is as funny, testy, and homo-erotic as always. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t have the faux-mystical plot of the first. It also has more action, which is a double edged sword, as there’s perhaps a bit too much of it. The action scenes are always entertaining though.
Worthy of special mention is the indomitable Stephen Fry, playing Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s older, smarter brother. Fry is a delight, wherever he makes an appearance, no matter how unclothed he is doing it.
The true strength of these movies is their wit, speed, and general sense of fun, and Downey and Law’s relationship is the icing on the cake. They bicker, fight, and needle each other, but this is a bro-mance as tight as Gibson and Glover in Lethal Weapon. Not even Watson’s marriage can come between them. His fiance is played by Kelly Reilly, and it’s a pity (along with Noomi Rapace) that she doesn’t get to do more.
One thing she does do is get thrown out of a train, falling down an incredible distance to land in a river. Unhurt. There are a few moments like this that don’t actually make any sense in a world with anything near our laws of physics. One implied moment involving an oxygen breather and a waterfall makes no sense, but with the energy of this movie you end up not caring. That’s the mark of a good action movie I think. The sincere (if tongue-in-cheek) acting, and the pure adrenaline just carry you right along.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows improves on its predecessor in most ways, though it is a bit lagging toward the end. But Downey and Law both bring their A-game, and the energy from the first is present and accounted for. Worth your time if you liked the first one, and maybe even if you didn’t.
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