JT Film Review

Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall Review
Review # 166

4/5 stars

Director – Sam Mendes

Cast – Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney, Bérénice Lim Marlohe

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Daniel Craig is Bond for the third time in Skyfall. We get the feeling that he’s always wanted to portray Bond as a tired, broken man; and the 23rd Bond movie gives us that with gusto.

We start off with a Bond who is believed dead, but who is really taking some quality time on some un-named Caribbean island. He is a wreck of a man, at least compared to what he once was. Trouble at MI6 leads him back, where he finds his skills have grown very rusty indeed. When undergoing re-assessment Bond finds he can’t hit a target the way he used to; he strides forward angrily, firing round after round. Not one hits a vital area.

But duty calls, and perhaps out of misplaced trust in him, M decides to throw 007 back into the field despite his dismal aptitude scores. He is after terrorist mastermind Silva, a man who has already blown up MI6’s headquarters, and seems to have a strange amount of knowledge of the inner working of Britain’s top spy program. But when it comes down to the final count, we see it’s not skill so much as will that makes the difference here.

Never before has a Bond movie had such a cast. We have the regulars, Dench, Craig, etc. But add onto that Fiennes in a great “English gentleman” role, Bardem as a great villain who sets the perfect tone, Finney as a reliable old caretaker (rumoured to have been planned as a winking role for Sean Connery), even Whishaw as a young and sly Q. This is a cast that screams prestige, and throw in Sam Mendes  as director and we really have something to raise the eyebrow. The movie is well paced, has great action, and even throws a nod to the Bonds of the past. This is the old man’s 50th anniversary, you know.

In retrospect, Bond has come along way from his beginnings in many ways, yet in many other ways he has not. Women can now be field agents, though they may prefer a desk job when all is said and done. 007 still sleeps with every skirt he comes across, and he still has to (inevitably) watch the villain blow them away. He doesn’t have as many cool toys as you may expect, though one particular car makes a crowd pleasing re-appearance. But the most fundamental way that Bond has changed in the last decade or so is to have an added sense of world-weariness. He kills, puns, and fornicates his way across the world, but you get the sense he doesn’t enjoy it as much any more. People argue that Fleming’s books always had a bit of this, but the movies have generally had a more light-hearted approach.  That is gone now. Bond is hewing closer and closer to Bourne.

This isn’t a particularly ground breaking comment, to be sure. But you have to wonder how long this trend will continue. Skyfall has a wonderfully low-key third act, that works very well despite a slight loss of urgency. When a terrorist is seeking M and Bond, they sneak off to a semi-abandoned mansion in Scotland. They take the fight to a remote area, to gain the upper hand and to cause less damage. (This is a wonderfully unexpected turn of events. Since when has Bond cared about collateral damage?) This is not the Bond we expect, and it works, but for how long can it? The reason it works so well is that it flies against convention, but I find myself hoping that what we have here is a strange side route, to be relished for its uniqueness; then we can jump back onto the main road for some “kiss kiss bang bang”, as they say. Indeed, we get a sense of that direction from the final scene. Moneypenny is at her desk, M is in his (!) office, Bond is being handed a dossier marked “Top Secret”, and we even have the coat rack back. Has the Bond train been diverted to its more fun and swashbuckling main line? I must admit, I hope so.

OVERALL

Skyfall is a bit of a departure from the usual Bond tone, but not too much so. It has the perfect tone for what it’s trying to do, and manages to wring a decent bit of fun out of the whole thing. Craig is settling wonderfully into his role, and the rest of the cast is superb. The final scene leaves us waiting with bated breath for the next one, and in the end, what more can we ask for. Skyfall is one of the better Bonds, made all the more interesting by its (comparatively) low-key third act. Bring on Bond 24!

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‘Skyfall’ on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave your comments below!

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November 14, 2012 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Action, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Woman in Black (2012)

The Woman in Black Review
Review #164

4/5 stars

Director – James Watkins

Cast – Daniel Radcliffe, Cirian Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White, Roger Allam

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Hammer is back! The infamous production company most famous for Christopher Lee’s Dracula series (and a myriad of other lo-fi British horror films), has been dormant since the 1980’s. About five years ago the company was resurrected, and makes its return to the gothic horror films upon which they made their name.

The Woman in Black is also an attempted resurrection of sorts for its star. Radcliffe is of course best known as the star of the recently finished Harry Potter films, and now presumably wishes to cast that mantle aside. A period-ish piece about supernatural happenings may not seem like a complete 180 turn, but there we have it. Is Radcliffe a bit young for the role? I would argue that yes, he is. But Radcliffe is a very competent (if slightly wooden) actor, and he carries the film capably. Any doubts we may have about his character’s motivations are down to the script, and he actually does more than we could have hoped to help.

But does the movie work?

I think it depends on how you approach it. If you expect a slow burn of a horror movie, with nuanced characters and a solid story, you will be a bit disappointed. However, if you are in the mood for a traditional haunted house movie with tons of jumps and chills running up and down your spine, it will most certainly provide them. And that word, “traditional”, perhaps describes the movie the best. While the cinematography and effects are all shiny and modern, the story would have fit perfectly in the good old Peter Cushing era, or even any of the old Hollywood horror pics. Our lead hears a bump upstairs? Up he goes to investigate! A sunken face appears at an upstairs window? Up we trot!The whole movie is in that tradition. If you can go with it, you will be in for a good time.

(Is there something particularly scary about things being upstairs? Well maybe it’s just this movie… we’ve seen plenty of scantily clad leads going into creepy basements.)

Adding some welcome dramatic weight to the whole thing are veteran Brit’s Cirian Hinds and Janet McTeer. We also see Roger Allam pop up briefly, just to reaffirm the Britishness of the movie. Janet McTeer is the standout I think. Her character is a bit of a mess. She has seen some bad things, has had her son taken from her by the titular spirit, and believes herself to be possessed. She is tortured, and we see it. Radcliffe is supposed to be a tortured soul as well. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of that perhaps.

OVERALL

The Woman in Black is a fun traditional horror film. It features performances that range from solid to excellent, and definitely offers its fair share of scares. Dspite a strangely out-of-place ending, it is a very effective movie. Highly recommended to horror fans.

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“The Woman in Black” on other websites:

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October 22, 2012 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Horror, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Guard (2011)

The Guard Review
Review # 152

4/5 stars

Director – John Michael McDonagh

Cast – Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan, Laurence Kinlan

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The Guard first came to my attention because the director, John Michael McDonagh, is the brother of the director of one of my favourite movies, In Bruges. That movie also starred Brendan Gleeson. My expectations were up, and I hoped for something akin to the dark humour and bleak tone of the former. While it definitely retains a dark sense of humour, the tone doesn’t seem as consistent, or as defined.

Of course, it is a bad habit (of which I am constantly guilty) to judge a movie merely because another one did something better. And while this isn’t as sharp as In Bruges (by a long shot), it is still a good movie. To be good rather than “Great” isn’t a horrible thing.

Plot wise, we follow Brendan Gleeson’s gleefully un-PC Irish cop (or “Garda”). He has been partnered with an American FBI agent (Don Cheadle), who is in Ireland to hunt down a gang of drug traffickers. In accordance with cop movie tradition they are two very different people. Gleeson is “unconventional”, while Cheadle goes by the book. Gleeson doesn’t mind making snide little jokes to Cheadle about his skin colour, and Cheadle has to try to learn to take them as a joke, as they are meant. Their relationship isn’t as “buddy cop” as a Riggs and Murtaugh, but the elements are there.

Brendan Gleeson is the standout in the film, of course, as he usually is. With his dry wit, cheeky jokes, and general orneriness, he creates an enormously fun character. It is a joy to watch Don Cheadle’s FBI agent do his best to keep up. He doesn’t succeed of course, but that’s the point of his character. He just sits by, rolls his eyes, and tries to catch Gleeson when he decides to come back to Earth once in a while.

The trio of drug traffickers are played play Mark Strong, David Wilmot, and Liam Cunningham. Again, poor Mark Strong, doing the villain thing. You can’t deny, he’s good at it. Here we get the impression he doesn’t like the job he finds himself doing. He’s disgusted by bent cops, and wishes for a special relationship. We don’t find him sympathetic, though, he sneers his lines out in a delicious way. He really is one of the best villain actors I can think of.

All in all, the best I can do is reiterate that importance of Gleeson’s character to the movie. As the main character of course he carries a lot of the weight anyway, but the uniqueness of the character he creates can not be under estimated. He is the heart of the movie, and the success of the ambiguous way in which the movie ends can be attributed mainly to him. A strong actor with a strong script is a wonderful thing to see.

OVERALL

The Guard is a dark, witty, and unique movie, whose success is due mainly to Brendan Gleeson’s wonderful turn as Sergeant Gerry Boyle. This is not to underestimate the other actors, Cheadle in particular. For those who enjoy an ambiguous ending, dark humour, and smart writing, this movie is for you.

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“The Guard” on other trailers:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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April 15, 2012 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Crime, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chronicle (2012)

Chronicle Review
Review # 142

4/5 stars

Director – Josh Trank

Cast – Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw

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Chronicle has in its story the embodiment of all our teenage desires. Who as a teen did not dream of being able to fly, or of wowing their classmates with telekinetic abilities? Come on, you know you did.

The three high schoolers of Chronicle contract their powers after investigating a mysterious hole in the middle of the woods. At the bottom is a glowing blue something; we never find out what exactly it is (and don’t need to frankly), but the next thing our trio knows is that, using their minds, they can manipulate Lego blocks in mid-air, move cars around in parking lots, and throw wicked curveballs. It starts off as innocently as that. These are teens after all, normal teens, with all the annoying traits you would associate with them. They are uncertain of their place in the world, and they are emotional. They just happen to have the ability to do move objects with their minds, and they react accordingly.

 The main character of the three, Andrew, is a quiet loner who likes playing with cameras. It is mainly through his camera that we see the events of Chronicle unfold. His father is a drunk who beats him, and his mother is dying. He is not a happy child. The second, Matt, is his cousin. He is a bit more “normal”, and in a neat switch, ends up being the protagonist in the third act. The last one in the group is “the popular guy”, Steve, a nice kid who can be a bit of an arrogant jock. These kids would not normally be friends, this is made clear to us. But experience can bond people together, and these three soon find themselves spending most of their time together. Who else would you hang out with but the only two other people on Earth who can fly? Who else could you throw a football around with at 5,000 feet?

The strength of the movie (and it’s point really) is its demonstration of the old adage, “Power corrupts”. It does this fairly well, although its way of showing one of the characters “go bad” can be too on-the-nose. Some lines seem ripped out of all those movies where the bad guy says something along the lines of “Humans are an inferior species. You wouldn’t worry about killing a bug, would you?” Don’t all super villains use that line? And I will never forgive the use of the line “I am the apex predator!”

In the end Chronicle’s story is not that new (hell, add a light saber and it is the Star Wars prequel trilogy squished down to 90 minutes), but the point is the way the story is told. It is the writing that is the star here, it is truly fantastic. The characters are all fully realized and fleshed out, and the teens act like teens. They don’t spout one-liners or incessantly quote pop culture. This is not the O.C., and we can thank God for that.

The found footage style can be very immersive, and has worked excellently in movies like Cloverfield and REC. It is used to good effect here in general, but I must say the concept feels forced at times. The problem with found footage is that there must be a good reason for there to be a camera present. This is stretched to the limit a couple of times, mainly with the character of Matt’s girlfriend. We can accept a loner like Andrew always carrying a camera around with him. There is even a nice speculative line near the beginning that the reason for the camera is that it keeps him at a distance from events. But to add another character, a good-looking sociable girl, who also randomly tapes everything “for her blog” feels forced. It doesn’t ruin the movie, but it is dangerous.

OVERALL

Chronicle is an involving movie with extraordinary writing. The characters are fully formed, and while the story may not be that new, the style feels so new that we don’t mind. Max Landis, who wrote the movie and is Blues Brothers director John Landis’ son, is a great new talent to keep an eye on. Easily recommended.

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“Chronicle” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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February 8, 2012 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Sci-fi, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Fifth Element (1997)

The Fifth Element Review
Review #140

4/5 stars

Director – Luc Besson

Cast – Milla Jovavich, Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Charlie Creed-Miles, Brion James, Tom Lister

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To call The Fifth Element a roller coaster ride would be like calling Albert Einstein a math nerd; true, but a bit of an under statement. Directed and co-written by French action director Luc Besson, it is a reckless and bold movie that, while it may not hit all the heights it wants to, comes damn close. It is energetic and vibrant, and just whips by.

The titular element is personified in Jovavich’s character, Leloo, an orange haired, seemingly childish “supreme being”. Leloo could have easily been a generic action chick character, but Jovavich gives her a wonderful sense of immaturity,innocence, and novelty; a feat she has yet to accomplish with her current roles, it seems.

Leloo is the key to an ultimate weapon, needed to defeat a strange glowing energy orb-thing that has materialized out of nowhere in the middle of space. One of the movie’s failings is that it’s a bit vague about all this… but by the time you have thought of this you are whisked away somewhere else, and have no time to dwell on it. She finds herself in the strange world of the 23rd century, and runs into  cab driver, played by Willis, who helps her, well, defeat the bad guys. It’s that simple really. Simplicity is fine here, even welcomed, because while the story structure is bare bones, the world design here is fantastic. If ever a movie begged for a sequel, this is it; I’d love to see this world opened up more. Not that The Fifth Element fails to satisfy us, or that it confuses us with its myriad details and oddities, not at all. It just left me wanting more, and in a good way. This is a hell of a universe.

It is a joy watching the cast here. They are all having fun, and never over think anything. And what a cast! Ian Holms as a befuddled and over-anxious priest, Bruce Willis as a tough cab driver (maybe not a big stretch for him here), Jovavich bring wonderful life to a potentially dry character, and Gary Oldman as a Texan/space weirdo/industrialist. Oh, Gary Oldman… I had seen pictures of his character before, and wrote it off immediately as just being too weird, but Oldman had me in stitches throughout the whole thing. It’s a gorgeous bit of acting.

And then there’s Chris Tucker… Mr. Tucker features as a none-more-flamboyant radio DJ, who tags along with Willis in the second half, narrating the action filled events live to his listeners. I still don’t know if I despise this character or if I can put up with him… It will take a few re-viewings to decide I think. But I don’t think I blame people for putting him on “Top 10 Annoying Sidekick” lists. You can’t really argue with that.

OVERALL

The Fifth Element is brash, energy filled, and psychedelic. The cast has just the right amount of fun, and the art direction and even the CGI is wonderful. The third act may turn a bit generic, but we barely have time to notice. This movie is fun, to put it curtly. Pure fun.

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“The Fifth Element” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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January 31, 2012 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Sci-fi, Year - 1990-1999 | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

The Hound of the Baskervilles Review
Review #139

4/5 stars

Director – Terence Fisher

Cast – Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Christopher Lee,  Marla Landi, Ewen Solon, Francis de Wolff, John Le Mesurier, Miles Malleson

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The great detective Sherlock Holmes is the most prolific character in screen history. Having so many interpretations of the character floating around, I can only imagine how any actor must feel upon taking on the role. It would be tough, to be sure. Peter Cushing has the unenviable task here, and he carries it off reasonably well. He is no Jeremy Brett, who played the role in the revered BBC series of the 80’s/90’s, or even a Basil Rathbone of the ’40s films, but we can’t really complain. Andre Morell is an excellent Watson, and is perhaps a bit more succesful in his part than Cushing is in his. He plays Watson as an intelligent and eager man, and as someone you can imagine having spent time in the army. This is miles away from perhaps the most famous Watson, Nigel Bruce, who played the role opposite Rathbone as a stupid and out of touch English gentleman. As Holmes is MIA for a good portion of this movie, I’m glad I didn’t have to put up with any Bruce-ish bumbling.

But on to the movie itself. Plot-wise, we find Holmes and Watson taking on a case of attempted murder, and they fear the victim (Christopher Lee, playing Sir Baskerville) is still in danger. Watson accompanies Baskerville back to his country estate on the ancient moors of Dartmoor, while Holmes insists he is far too busy to leave London, but will follow at some point. As Watson eventually discovers, Holmes in fact does come down from London. Making a camp in a rocky outcrop on the moor, he investigates from afar. Meanwhile, a legendary hound is rumoured to be roaming the moors… perhaps the same one that was famously rumoured to have killed Sir Baskervilles ancestor?

Watching Holmes and Watson go toe-to-intellectual-toe against the forces of menace is always a treat for me. I read the original stories and books as a kid, and love returning to the various versions that have been made. Downey’s Sherlock Holmes series, while arguably playing a bit fast and loose with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s intended tone, is bringing Holmes back into the public’s conscience, which is not a bad thing. While I do manage to enjoy that series (and at running a risk of comparing apples to oranges) the BBC show Sherlock is much better. Ironically, the TV series has found a greater reception amongst Holmes fans despite updating the stories to modern times, and in fact ditching most of the actual original plots. But I digress…

This version of The Hound of the Baskervilles is just the right side of gothic camp, and the added/emphasized horror elements work within the style we are presented with, but do not really clash with the Sherlock Holmes world of realism.Cushing and Morell bring the appropriate energy to their interactions, and the story here is relatively engaging. But I found myself absolutely unable to look away from Christopher Lee throughout the whole movie. He is strangely entertaining… perhaps it is from the shock of seeing him a) not in Dracula makeup, and b) young. He is tall and strong here at age 37, and has a commanding presence. His voice is not as deep and rich as we know it now, but we can hear where it will go. It was great to see him here.

I’ve always loved movies that take place on the English moors, Wuthering Heights for example. There is such a feeling of desolation and hopelessness, and that certainly holds true here. You feel utterly alone out on the grey and green expanse of grass and moss-eaten rock. It is fortunate, and perhaps done on purpose, that Hammer Films (a company best known for their Dracula series with Cushing as Van Helsing and Lee as the count, and other such films) chose to produce a film version of what is probably the most gothic of the Holmes stories. The traditional Hammer gothic tone fits right in with the cold, dreary, and desolate landscape.

 OVERALL

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a good solid Sherlock Holmes story, with a decent cast. The movie is suitably atmospheric, with all the Hammer Films trademarks (including, it must be said, a cheap looking set or a not quite convincing effect here or there). I would gladly recommend this to Sherlock Holmes fans, or anyone who might just like an old mystery.

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“The Hound of the Baskervilles” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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January 27, 2012 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 1950-1959 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

138 – Camelot (1967)

Camelot Review

4/5 stars

Director – Joshua Logan

Cast – Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero

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When I found that Richard Harris was the star of the filmed version of the Broadway smash hit Camelot, I half expected a Paint Your Wagon experience. But in this extravagant re-telling of the Arthurian legend, Harris more than fills the required black leather boots as King Arthur, as do Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero as Guinevere and Lancelot respectively.

While expecting a somewhat dry and bland movie, Camelot surprised me with its wit and, dare I say it, depth. While focusing on the forbidden romance between Guinevere and Lancelot, the movie is really about the effects of their affair, both on King Arthur (who knows about it), and on the fragile union of England embodied by the famous Round Table.

Camelot starts off at what is chronologically almost the final scene. King Arthur finds himself facing an upcoming battle, and ponders the events leading to the tragedy of war. The movie then unfolds in flash back, starting with Harris’ joyously perfect rendition of “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight”, where he tells of his nervousness at his upcoming (arranged) marriage to a woman he has never met. Of course this woman turns out to be Guinevere, who has similar reservations. They meet-cute in a forest, away from their attendants, and fall in love. Their perfect bliss is soon marred, however, by the appearance of perfect knight Lancelot…

I like the maturity on display here, they’re all so level headed. While Lancelot and Guinevere are having an affair, they are aware of the consequences and even frown upon their actions; but as they say, they can not choose whom they love. On top of all this, King Arthur is aware of the affair, but decides to do nothing, so as to preserve the fragile English peace. No one flies off the rails here. The inevitable war is not a reaction of Arthur to his friend and wifes betrayal, but comes from scheming lords and knights, led by Arthur’s treacherous bastard son, Mordred. I enjoyed the way the movie shows a noble man try to do his best to rule a kingdom, despite forces beyond his control trying to upset his rule. There really is a lot of nobility in this movie, and not just from the royal blood on display.

Granted, the strengths of the movie definitely come from the musical on which it is based, as the songs are funny or affecting in the right amounts. Unfortunately the direction is not extremely assured, and the movie is definitely not helped by its somewhat sluggish pace. We could maybe have used a bit more spice, and you could say the ending is a bit abrupt, but it still packs a nice little punch if given a chance. All in all the grandiosity, seriousness, and wit of Camelot adds up to a very satisfying experience… if you can sit through the 3 hour running time.

OVERALL

Camelot is a big movie, with heaping portions of everything you could ask of a medieval musical. Sure it is a bit slow and unwieldy, but there is a depth of heart here. It is not all flash and Broadway sparkle. This is good old Hollywood entertainment, and I am glad I saw it. In the end, what more could you ask for?

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“Camelot” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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January 16, 2012 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Musical, Year - 1960-1969 | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

135 – The Mask of Zorro (1998)

The Mask of Zorro REVIEW

4/5 stars

Director – Martin Campbell

Cast – Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson

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– followed by The Legend of Zorro

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The character of Zorro has not appeared in a major movie since the 1940’s, but he swings back in form under Martin Campbell’s direction, capably portrayed by Antonio Banderas.

Zorro is a swashbuckling adventurer living in California in the early 1800’s, who “retires” and passes his mantle onto a young thief. Hopkins is the elder, and of course Banderas is the younger. The character is really no different from Robin, The Scarlet Pimpernel, or all those other types. He doesn’t quite rob from the rich and give to the poor, but he protects the commoners against various villanous rich folks and governors. He swings on ropes and chandeliers, he fences admirably and rides horses like he is walking.  Given that, though, making the title “Zorro” one that is passed on from one man to another makes for a neat twist. It also essentially gives us two heroes in the movie, especially because Hopkins doesn’t just stay in the mentor role through the whole movie, but actually takes part in the story.

That this movie is so much fun (in general) comes down to the screenplay and great direction. Martin Campbell just came off of Goldeneye, where he successfully re-invigorated another pop culture icon, and has lost little of that sense of fun adventure. Banderas seems a natural for this type of role, he certainly has charisma and action-man sex appeal to spare, while Catherine Zeta-Jones is an absolute bombshell as Hopkins’ son and Banderas’ future wife. This is ably demonstrated in a scene where the pair duel in a barn, their swords slashing away at each others’ clothes; it ends with a half-dressed Catherine gasping as Zorro grabs his hat from her and dashes off into the sunset. It is frankly one of the sexiest scenes I’ve seen in a while.

The ending involves a big confrontation at a gold mine, used to exploit the locals for the benefit of the wealthy landowners. It goes on a bit too long, but that is one of the few specific complaints I have with the movie. That, and Hopkins sometimes seems to be wishing he was in a different movie. That is odd, because he apparently took the role out of excitement to finally be in an action movie.

The late Bob Anderson was the fight choreographer for the movie, the legendary swordsman whose first gig was on an Errol Flynn picture, The Master of Ballantrae. He went on to work on the Star Wars movies, The Princess Brides, Lord of the Rings, and is widely recognized as the best in the field. He later claimed that Banderas was the most talented actor he ever worked with, and we believe it; the fights in this movie are beautiful, they take you right back to all those Basil Rathbone/Errol Flynn movies of the 30’s and 40’s. That fast and smooth spirit is alive and vibrant in The Mask of Zorro, and a large part of why this was such a treat to watch.

OVERALL

The Mask of Zorro is surprisingly funny, romantic, and adventurous. The stars bring everything needed to the parts, and the assured direction keeps the tone light and fun. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an entertaining time at the movies.

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“The Mask of Zorro” on other websites:

 IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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January 8, 2012 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Action, Year - 1990-1999 | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

133 – Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

Gentleman’s Agreement

4/5 stars

Director – Elia Kazan

Cast – Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, Anna Revere, June Havoc, John Garfield, Albert Dekker, Celeste Holm, Jane Wyatt, Dean Stockwell

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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.

OVERALL

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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“Gentleman’s Agreement” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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December 31, 2011 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 1940-1949 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

128 – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows REVIEW

4/5 stars

Director – Guy Ritchie

Cast – Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry, Rachel McAdams, Eddie Marsan

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follows Sherlock Holmes

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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.

OVERALL

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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TRAILER

“Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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December 17, 2011 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Thriller, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment