JT Film Review

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Cloud Atlas Review
Review #167

4.5/5 stars

Director –  Lana and Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer

Cast – Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’arcy, Zhou Xun, Keith David, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon

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This is a helluva ambitious movie. Helluva.

Written and directed by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer, it is an adaptation on the 2004 novel of the same name. It consists of six intertwined stories, ranging from the 1800’s to a post apocalyptic future. There are physical links between the stories… letters written in one time period are read by a character in another, a character in one story is worshiped as a deity in another, that sort of thing. The lead actors also all appear in several stories as characters with different ethnicities and even genders.

But the real link between the stories is thematic. The point of the movie is that people’s actions have consequences, and choices we make “reverberate through time”, etc. It’s not a new theme. It could easily be quite corny too, but success is all in the execution.  Cloud Atlas avoids being cheesy,  (more or less), and I would even describe it as inspiring. It easily avoids being boring, too, which seems odd as it’s almost three hours long.

It is definitely what I would call a “lie down movie”, though; one of those long films you can go to in a near-empty theatre, lie down on the seats, and let the movie wash over you. (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was another one.) The movie intrigues us, draws us in, and gets to the point in due time. It drags a bit in the middle, to be sure, but not for long. It’s six stories are all interesting in one way or another. They weave together well, despite the occasional jarring transition, and the actors all commit to their roles one hundred percent.  If you don’t like any of the stories, there’s a new one coming along in a couple of minutes!

I would like to touch on the ridiculous accusations of racism that have surrounded the movie. Many white members of the cast appear in a couple of stories as ethnicities other than their own. This is done with prosthetics and makeup, and has drawn comparisons to black-face. Some people are asking why actors of the ethnicity portrayed were not hired to play those parts, and normally they would have a point. But in a movie like this, where actors of all colours play different parts, the accusation fall flat. You can not say putting Hugh Grant in vaguely Oriental makeup is racist when the next scene features Halle Berry as a white British woman. Context is key here, and there is no racism here. No chance.

OVERALL

Cloud Atlas is huge, audacious, and effective. It’s six stories complement each other wonderfully, and the actors are obviously into the spirit of the thing. It sounds so flippant to say it, but Cloud Atlas is inspiring. It might confuse some and alienate others, but it is much more approachable than some are saying. Highly recommended.

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November 21, 2012 Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Iron Lady (2011)

The Iron Lady Review
Review #145

2/5 stars

Director – Phyllida Lloyd

Cast – Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd, Iain Glen, Olivia Colman, Anthony Head, Nicholas Farrell, Richard E. Grant, Roger Allam, Michael Pennington

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The Iron Lady features Meryl Streep in an Academy Award winning role as the legendary (and to some, infamous) British Prime Minister. Streep is excellent. So is her makeup. And that’s all that works, really.

If I was feeling vicious I might say the movie is ridiculous, and that a dull pencil has more of a point. If I was feeling generous I might say that the movie lacks focus. As it is, I will just say that I was by turns bored, frustrated, and bored again.

In attempting to follow Thatcher’s life, we jump back and forth from the present (where, in a shockingly insensitive plot device, she constantly hallucinates images of her dead husband), to the past, where we get a bare thumbnail sketch of what made her the woman she became; and what we are given is composed of very broad strokes, I must add. Her father was politically conscious and a Conservative, so of course we see him addressing a group of similar feeling folk with a speech straight out of Torie 101. We constantly hear his face over the film in these sections… “Be Strong, Margaret,” “Be yourself, Margaret.” The platitudes do not let up as we continue, either.

Once we reach the stage in her flashbacks when she is prime minster, the movie falls into a rut of scenes in the past alternating between crushing political defeats and uplifting Great Moments (you know what I mean, the moments from which trailers can cherry pick to their heart’s content), to Margaret hobbling around her small flat, hallucinating that her old hubby is still around, charming her with his eccentricities. There really is no point, nor is one ever implied. I found myself yearning for something resembling a through line, but there is nothing, not amongst the plot, the films comments on Thatcher, her governing style, the era, nothing. The Iron Lady is essentially the emotional equivalent of a Transformers film; while the latter may bore us with repetitive and dull action scenes, the former hits us over the head with one dry, manipulative, and dull Emotional Moment after another.

How is Meryl Streep so good, yet is so rarely able to choose projects worthy good as her talents? This film, a period drama biopic, was for some reason helmed by Phyllia Lloyd, the same person as Mamma Mia. Mamma Mia… the ABBA musical. The ABBA musical that also somehow managed to be dry as dust and absolutely pointless. Are we supposed to like Margaret Thatcher? To hate her? To see her as just a human being? I don’t think the movie knows or cares, and by the last of the sugar-coated Great Moments, our teeth are numb, we feel listless, and we don’t care either.

OVERALL

The Iron Lady is frustratingly inept, but has a commanding performance by Meryl Streep. Actually, most of the actors acquit themselves well, but a lame duck of a script and muddled direction stop the movie from becoming anything. It is mainly frustrating because the motives behind the movie are so obviously pure. I can really only recommend this to Streep purists.

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March 9, 2012 Posted by | 2 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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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December 31, 2011 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 1940-1949 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

123 – A Single Man (2009)

A Single Man REVIEW

4.5/5 stars

Director – Tom Ford

Cast – Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Nicholas Hoult

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A Single Man, is, if anything, too good. If only every movie had this problem…

Colin Firth stars as George, a man whose long time boyfriend (played admirably by Matthew Goode) dies. He decides to end his life, and sets his mind to the task. The film follows him as he goes about his final day, and it turns out he may not have made up his mind as much as he thought he had.

Of course, Colin Firth’s performance is extraordinary. This is a given, we expect this. The surprising performance here is given by Matthew Goode. His mannerisms are subtle and sweet, and we have no choice but to fall in love with him just as much as George had. This is vital, of course, for us to understand George’s heartbreak. Julianne Moore also appears, as George`s friend and past lover. She is a flighty character, but her flightiness is just a cover for her inner turmoil and pain. She is really a tragic figure, and I think this is actually the first performance I have liked her in.

A Single Man looks great; it is restrained and classy, and a little desaturated. It’s look changes a few times, whether going into flashback, to show the beauty of random moments throughout his last day, or even for random dramatic effect. This movie is certainly beyond reproach in that regard. It’s gorgeous. I suspect this may have something to do with director Tom Ford’s “day-job”, as a fashion designer.

In fact one of the main points of the film is the beauty of everyday life. Throughout his day he has chance encounters with a young girl, a young man who wants to pick him up (or be picked up I suppose), a young student etc. Each time he has one of these beautiful moments the film loses most of its de-saturation. The color floods back into the film momentarily, and we really get a sense of George’s feeling. Now this is a bit unsubtle; I wouldn’t say ham-fisted, but it’s damn close. It happens a few times, as well. Perhaps less would be better in that direction.

Despite that, A Single Man certainly makes its point. One of its little points seems to be that gay relationships are just the same as straight ones, and we definitely get that. It is never even mentioned that George is really gay, they just show him with his boyfriend. It’s simple. It doesn’t turn itself into an “issue movie”; it just gets over it so that we can follow the story. We get right to Firth’s heartbreak, and then on to his process of life re-building. It is a very human story. You don’t have to be either gay or straight to get this movie, it’s something we can all feel.

OVERALL

A Single Man is beautiful, both in emotional content and in its look. The acting is note perfect, and while we may get confused as to a particular or tow now or then, it comes together in a wonderful package. Let’s hope Tom Ford continues this other career. Recommended!

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July 17, 2011 Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

117 – The King’s Speech (2011)

The King’s Speech REVIEW

4.5/5 stars

Director – Tom Harper

Cast – Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi

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The King’s Speech is about the relationship between future King of England George VI, or “Bertie” (played by Colin Firth) and his speech therapist Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush. Numerous excellent British actors appear, including Helene Bonham Carter as Bertie’s wife, the future Queen Mother, and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill.

This is one of those movies that I would like to metaphorically curl up in front of the fire with. It is a warm-hearted movie with a well told story and excellent portrayals of well written characters. Much of the inevitable backlash directed toward this movie will probably focuses around its fairly simple and fully predictable story. This is definitely true, but it couldn’t matter less. We all know that by the end of the movie “Bertie” will be on the way to controlling his stuttering. Sure the movie ends on a note reminiscent of a sports flick. We don’t watch it for that.

Actually, the sports movie reference is rather apt, as this is a classic example of the good ol’ underdog story used so much in that genre. A person has a huge obstacle to overcome, and, through numerous trials and tribulations, said obstacle is overcome just in time for The Big Game. This movie has all that to be sure, but here we are watching the movie for the journey, not what twists or inventive story telling is used. It’s not supposed to be Pulp Fiction, just roll with it.

Not that this is exactly a cookie cutter movie, far from it. There are some interesting techniques used throughout. One of my favorite is the quite imaginative shots used throughout, both to comment on and deepen the impact of the story. My particular favorite is used whenever Bertie has to speak in public. The camera follows him from the small, quiet waiting rooms to the large halls or stadiums where he must speak. Seeing the large or imposing crowd appear in front of us shows us how it feels to talk in public, especially when one doesn’t particularly want to. In fact the cinematography in general is a very strong element of the movie.

The script is very strong as well, though I do find that for a movie that carries itself mainly on the relationship between Bertie and Logue, it veered away from that quite a bit. This was, of course, to further set up Bertie’s relationship to his brother, his new station, and royalty in general, but I still found myself yearning to get back to Logue. Part of that is because Geoffrey Rush’s characterization is so amusing in contrast to Firth’s straight and true, upper crust manner. I don’t mean to take away from Firth’s excellent acting, but Logue is probably the guy you’d want to have a beer with. Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised if Firth got an Oscar for this (at the very least a nomination), and deservedly so.

OVERALL

The King’s Speech is a straight forward movie that relies on an excellent script to take you through its journey. The acting is wonderful, and the direction both wonderfully low-key and involving. While the cast may not exactly look like their counterparts too much (I must admit I found it hard to accept 43-year-old Guy Pierce as the older brother to 50-year-old Colin Firth), but that is fairly easy to look past. While it is not particularly ground breaking (nor should it be) The King’s Speech is involving and rewarding. It is a great experience, recommended to all.

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January 19, 2011 Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

116 – Changing Lanes (2002)

Changing Lanes REVIEW

4.5/5 stars

Director – Roger Michell

Cast – Ben Affleck, Samuel Jackson, Toni Collette, Sydney Pollack, William Hurt, Amanda Peet

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I have seen Changing Lanes in more discount DVD bins than almost any other movie, I swear. It’s everywhere. This is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it doesn’t seem like many people are watching it, but on the other hand it should be fairly easy for you to pick up a copy, which I highly recommend you do.

The movie is about a young idealistic lawyer (they’re everywhere, aren’t they) played by Affleck  and a down on his luck recovering alcoholic, played by Jackson. They get into a fender-bender while each on their way to a court dates. Jackson’s car comes off the worst, and when Affleck refuses to give him a ride, Jackson threatens to destroy a valuable document that Affleck left at the side of the road. This escalates into a series of increasingly harmful back-and-forth jabs between the two, going from one tense and damaging situation to another.

There are two ways to look at the movie. First you can look at it as it is billed, a tense legal-type thriller. The movie to some degree is successful as such, but I don’t think that is the point of the movie. If seen as a thriller, Changing Lanes is undermined by its rather over-the-top premise. I can’t say it really seems probable that a young lawyers assistant would be on first name basis with a mysterious “hacker” (use that word in the movies and you can get away with anything) who can delete bank records and alter credit ratings, etc.

The best way to look at the movie is, quite simply,  as a morality play, or a cautionary tale. If seen in this way the heightened emotions and over the top events make sense. It would fit in well with an Aesop’s Fable, that sort of thing. Changing Lanes is not meant to be very realistic, and so we can excuse its occasional extravagance.

The acting throughout is top-notch, with reliable character actors like Richard Jenkins providing ample support for stars like Affleck (an under-rated talent who is finally coming into his own with Gone Baby, Gone and The Town) and Samuel L. Jackson. Sydney Pollack also appears in a significant role. I always like seeing him; if you see Pollack in a film it is a good indication that it is of good quality. That is definitely the case here.

OVERALL

Changing Lanes is quite effective as a thriller if you want to take it on that level. I think it is much more effective when seen as a cautionary tale about human foibles, but there is definitely room for both. The acting is very good, and the wonderful direction keeps us interested without going too overboard. Changing Lanes was quite a surprise for me, hopefully others will find it so.

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January 12, 2011 Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

113 – The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)

The Man with the Golden Arm REVIEW

5/5 stars

Director – Otto Preminger

Cast – Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin

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The Man with the Golden Arm stars Frank Sinatra as “Frankie Machine” (is it just me who hates it when a character played by a huge star has the same first name?) in a story about drug abuse that was controversial and even revolutionary in its time. The Motion Picture Association of America wouldn’t even certify the film, which would generally signify certain death to a film. It was released however, and found an overwhelming success, both critically and in terms of box office receipts.

The plot is one of the ultimate under-dog stories. Frankie Machine is a recently recovered drug addict. He is not a poor man, but he is certainly not well off. He is a bit down on his luck, but we get the impression when we first see him that he is a changed man. Throughout the film we see him slip more and more towards that original man, but we never see him go back across it.

Upon his release from the detox center we see that Frankie’s invalid wife has since lost her trust in him. She pretends to be still wheelchair-bound despite having recovered during his stint in rehab, worrying that Frankie will leave her if he no longer feels he must support her. His old employer, for whom Frankie dealt illegal card games, tries to rope him back in, and his old drug dealer tries to bring him back into the fold as well. He resists these temptations very well at first. He has an oppurtunity to play drums for a big band, and looks forward with great anticipation to the moment where he can lift himself out of his old life. His dealer, of course, has other plans…

So, while the movie perhaps fail to directly use the phrase “drug addiction”, we then come to realize that it certainly will not fail to address the actual issue in a brutal and bracing way. We see Frankie go from the “high” of being released from the detox center to the lows of re-addiction. Heroin’s grip on him increases, until he, with the help of a “close-friend” (his mistress) he decides to quit cold-turkey. In the movie’s most famous scene he is locked in a room for three days, til he no longer feels the addiction. We see Frankie rolling around on the floor and the bed in agony, as the camera passively watches. It is a powerful scene, and one that cinched Sinatra’s Oscar nomination.

In some ways it is hard to see how the film could have caused such an uproar, and in other ways not. It is certainly an intense film that follows its character through quite painful lows, but there isn’t even one use of the word “drug” or “heroin” or “addiction” once in the whole thing. Any actual mention of the issue is danced around so much… but I guess that is an indication of the social mores of the time, rather than an artistic decision. While this may throw off some of today’s viewers, if taken in stride and seen as an example of the times in which the film is made then it isn’t too much to worry about.

When talking about the performances it is of course necessary to give Sinatra all praise possible not only for his wonderful acting (through which he never trivializes the role of “drug slave”), but for his pure bravery in taking on such a controversial film, and thus giving it an audience it never would have had otherwise. However Kim Novak (as Frankie’s mistress) is definitely worth a mention as well. Here, three years away from her famous role in Vertigo, she delivers a performance that is much better than her turn in that film. She looks, speaks, and moves much more naturally than most other female actors of the time. For example her co-star here, Eleanor Parker, acts very much in the style of the melodramatic female stars of the earlier film era. Novak is convincing and subdued, which works perfectly well against Sinatra.

This movie can ultimately be said to be about forgiveness, and whether or not people should have a second chance. The answer given un seems to be “No, they should not have a second chance until they have been proven worthy of it, or changed themselves of their own volition.” One may need a dear friend to get through it, but it must in the end come from within. Frankie is a good man, one who is led astray, true, but he is a good man at heart. While it is a movie about a bleak subject, it ends on a note of ultimate optimism. The movie asserts that good people will triumph in the end. Frankie certainly does, and we are right along with him.

OVERALL

I find it hard to give The Man with the Golden Arm the praise which I feel it deserves, both as a remarkably gripping film and as one that was ahead of its time in its outlook. The acting is impeccable, and the tone is presented perfectly. Most of all, I think it is written very well, and that is, in the end, where such believable characters come from. Kudos to all involved for doing so well with the material, and also for taking on material that was so controversial (for its time). Recommended to all.

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November 7, 2010 Posted by | 5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 1950-1959 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

112 – The Right Stuff (1983)

The Right Stuff REVIEW

4.5/5 stars

Director – Phillip Kaufman

Cast – Fred Ward, Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glen, Sam Shepard, Barbara Hershey, Lance Henrikson, Veronica Cartwright, Jane Dornacker

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There are subtle films, and then there are crowd-pleasing bombastic films. Subtlety is generally prefered, with critics usually “docking  points” for the more in-your-face movies. However The Right Stuff is one of those rare movies that wears its colours on its sleeve proudly and for all to see, and yet gets away with it. I have never felt so good about a movie that is so “pro-American” (whatever that means any more), so in-your-face, and even so corny (in places).

The Right Stuff follows both Chuck Yeager and a group of young pilots who are chosen to be the first American astronauts. After a rigorous test screening (and amidst heavy rivalry between the Air Force and Navy pilots), seven pilots are chosen for the Mercury program. Among them are cocky Cooper (Dennis Quaid), uneasy Grissom (Fred Ward), “do-gooder” Glenn (Ed Harris), and tough Shepard (Scott Glen). Others are Carpenter, Schirra, and Slayton, but we really pay any attention to them. The film focuses heavily on their general cocky attitudes, their fervent self-belief, and their optimistic nature, all-in-all, the titular “Right Stuff”.

This movie idolizes its main characters, and the characterization is neither very deep or very distinct. This is perhaps a good thing however, as we are shown them as the embodiment of every young boys fantasy of pilots or astronauts. These are the men we should all strive to be, the movie seems to tell us. Frankly we don’t disagree, as most of us have always wanted to be these guys.

And while it is true that the men are cocky, it is because they need to be. The cocky attitude is in someway a cover, as is subtly revealed in the final scenes of the film. As one character puts it when it is mentioned that monkeys were the prefered cargo for the original flights, ” Monkeys? You think a monkey knows he’s sittin’ on top of a rocket that might explode? These astronaut boys they know that, see. Well, I’ll tell you something, it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that’s on TV.” That quote puts the film in nutshell.

A note on the music. It was composed with  inspiration by The Planets Suite by Gustav Holst. This is all fine and dandy, and the music itself is quite good, but in places it copies The Planets to a note, but then abandons it after a few seconds. I personally found this very distracting, as I constantly expected the music to go somewhere but it instead veered off course. The real Planets Suite would have worked well, I wonder why they didn’t just use that…

OVERALL

The Right Stuff is a movie that certainly wears its heart on its sleeve, but it has more than enough humour, guts, and yes, heart, to pull it through. The actors do wonders with the minimal characterization they are given. Watch out for a young Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum as two naive and in-over-their-heads bureaucrats. The special effects are astounding, especially for their time. The movie is an unabashed heart-warmer. I find that I tend to see these movies as frivolous, as below the meaning of true art. That is dangerously close to pretension, and with that in mind I find myself fully recommending this film.

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“The Right Stuff” on other websites:

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November 2, 2010 Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 1980-1989 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

107 – Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)

Nineteen Eighty-Four REVIEW

3.5/5 stars

Director – Michael Radford

Cast – John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton, Gregor Fisher

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1984 is an adaptation of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel. Directed by English director Michael Radford, several scenes were famously shot on the actual day they were written to have occurred in the book.

The lead character, Winston Smith, is played with downtrodden perfection by noted English actor John Hurt. This film is his story, as he goes from a disquieted laborer under the oppressive regime of The Party, to a wannabe revolutionary. The antagonist, O’Brien, is played by Richard Burton (in his last film performance), and Smith’s “love interest” (though to use such a term is dangerous of giving the wrong impression) is played by Suzanne Hamilton. English character actor Gregor Fisher also appears as Smith’s neighbor.

The story of 1984 is famously dark and frankly quite depressing, and as such the tone is kept effectively bleak. The element of satire/warning keeps the movie from becoming totally dry, but it does struggle against this in the third act. The acting can be a bit dry as well, mainly with John Hurt. I think he would have been more at home in the classic British acting style rather than the more modern method-type, but his stillness and considered manner do fit with the character rather well, so we mustn’t nit pick.

The film unfortunately falls into the trap of assuming the audience knows the book. This results in some fairly key elements not being explained. What is Winston’s job? If we have read the book we know that he rewrites old newspaper reports, etc., so that they fit with the current views of the Party. However, here a first  time viewer just sees Winston muttering away in some strange language while looking at pictures and then firing off little tubes down what looks like a garbage chute. While it is true that Winston rarely speaks too much in the book, there was so much in the book  explaining about Double-Speak (the Party’s prefered way of talking, where the English language is paired down to its bare bones), explaining about the Party and its methods, etc., that is just not supplied here. We are shown events happening with no explanation, potentially leaving the viewer confused.

While the first two acts are fairly well-paced and feature some iconic images, the third act does dip in quality when Winston is captured by the Party and interrogated for his rebellious thoughts and actions. Unfortunately these scenes drag considerably, with much pointless repetition of shots and ideas. This bogs the movie down when it should really be moving to its quick and inevitable conclusion.

OVERALL

Nineteen Eighty-Four follows the book very well, perhaps too well. By leaving a lot of the dialogue intact and neglecting the explanation of the world we are shown, we don’t get the full impact of the story and Orwell’s point. The acting is excellent (especially Richard Burton and John Hurt), and the grimy world is perfect for this story, but a bit more clarity would certainly have helped. Sometimes it seems that things are left out so we’d have to read the book just to understand the film. Radford seems to mistake  confusing his audience for narrative complexity, and that is a dangerous road to start travelling down (a path which hurt the recent Inception). I do recommend this, as the acting and tone rise to great heights, but because unclear story-telling drag the movie down quite far, I have to recommend it mainly to those who have read Orwell’s book.

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“Nineteen Eighty-Four” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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September 1, 2010 Posted by | 3.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 1980-1989 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

106 – Kinsey (2004)

Kinsey REVIEW

4/5 stars

Director – Bill Condon

Cast – Liam Neesom, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgard, Chris O’Donnell, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt, Dylan Baker

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Dr. Alfred Kinsey (played here by Liam Neesom) was a famous (at the time, infamous) researcher who made the study of human sexuality his life’s work,gaining prominence in the 1940’s and 1950’s. This dedication put him at odds with the morality of the time, and at times with his wife and colleagues. While creating his famous database of human sexuality, he explores the difference between love and sex, friendship and love, and fights for open-mindedness in American culture. Kinsey is his story.

Kinsey is a very well presented movie with fine acting. Laura Linney (who plays Kinsey’s wife) was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and personally I think Neesom should have been as well. There are many fine actors in supporting roles, from Timothy Hutton to John Lithgow, and Oliver Platt to Tim Curry.

The movie is perhaps best described as “pleasant”. Despite dealing with fairly controversial topics even for today (such as child molestation) the movie is quiet and reserved, much like Neesom’s calm and measured (though slightly naive) portrayal of the doctor. Nothing too horrible really happens here. (I must note that this is not a criticism. It is refreshing to have a movie dwell on the intellectual rather than the emotional.) Kinsey has an affair with a male associate (Peter Sarsgard) and tells his wife about it. They calmly agree that the best way to restore balance is for her to sleep with Sarsgard as well. This happens, and Kinsey just gives us a strange little absent look, as if wondering if he should feel something, or perhaps what it is that he is feeling. Perhaps he agreed to the experiment for its own sake, as after all, it was an oppurtunity for an experiment and therefore should be investigated.

In a lesser movie this event would have dramatised to within an inch of its life; they would have almost split up, people would have been slapping each other, etc. Instead the situation is dealt with calmly and with great thought. That is the essence of this movie I think, and reflects Kinsey himself. The doctor (at least as he is shown here) calmly goes about investigating the emotional complexities of human life, and the movie does the same.

Kinsey’s dedication to his research, however unpopular it may have been, is at the heart of the movie. The press misses no opportunity to mock him (despite his books having become best sellers, or perhaps because of it), and his funders constantly try to hold him back from making judgements as a result of his research. Still Kinsey finds it hard to resist a jab or two at what he sees as moral prudes, and he finds himself taking his research and transplanting into the realm of morals. “If everyone sins, then no-one sins!” he proclaims. In the end we have no choice but to see his point.

OVERALL

Kinsey is a solid film anchored by a fine performance from Liam Neesom. It is possible that without Neesom’s strength and whimsical vitality the movie would not have been as strong, as the material can be a bit dry at times. However an excellent supporting cast and steady direction keep Kinsey from sinking below the level of the average biopic. It may not challenge us as such, but this movie is strong entertainment. Recommended.

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“Kinsey” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia

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August 31, 2010 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment