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|253 reviews in total|
"War Story" (2001), like "The Artist" (2011), is a beautifully realised homage to silent cinema - this time the silent comedy one-reelers of people like Charles Chaplin. John Baumgartner does a truly amazing job in writing, directing, producing and starring in the film, creating a charming on-screen character, and some beautifully timed slapstick routines. Like Chaplin, Baumgartner also adds some serious themes, and pathos, to the comedy, because, somewhat surprisingly, the film centres on a romance between two men, one a soldier, the other a waiter, in 1918.The romance is so sweet, that it makes the often violent reactions of the other characters to it, seem absurd. This is an absolute gem and I am surprised at its lack of profile - I hope this is not because of the gay themes, but I suspect it is. "War Story" is, in its way, as fine a work as "The Artist", and well worth seeking out.
Something of a missed opportunity, this is a film not worthy of its brilliant leading lady. Meryl Streep is astonishing as Margaret Thatcher but director Phyllida Lloyd (who also directed Meryl in "Mamma Mia") seems uncertain about what she wants to say about the women. Evidently hampered by an inadequate budget, the big events of Thatcher's life are depicted with an awkward cobbling together of real news footage and re-enactment, while in other scenes Lloyd tries to disguise the lack of budget by using more crazy camera angles than an episode of "Batman". The low budget also might account for us seeing more of the elderly dementia ridden Thatcher than the Prime Minister Thatcher. Nonetheless Meryl makes this film unmissable - it is sometimes hard to believe we are not looking at Thatcher herself! Maybe she could play the part again in another, better film!
How did DeMille do it? How did he make a film that is wildly decadent, revelling in the debaucheries of Ancient Rome, while still making it a moving tribute to the Christian martyrs of the time? The way he balances spectacle, comedy, drama, moralising and debauchery is pure genius! If you've never seen a pre-Hollywood-production-code movie before you may be surprised to see a glimpse of Claudette Colbert's nipples as she's bathing in milk, to see an erotic lesbian dance sequence, to see a naked young man sitting next to the very gay Nero of Charles Laughton! And then DeMille joyously recreates a whole day of gruesome spectacles in the arena in all their gruesome detail. But then, somehow, he switches the whole mood and, thanks to excellent performances from Fredric March, Elissa Landi and young Tommy Conlon, creates a deeply moving finale, that tragically anticipates the horrors of the Holocaust. An amazing film in every way, and so much better than "Quo Vadis"!
As a kind of antidote to "Quo Vadis" I watched this fascinating film last night. It's probably a more realistic depiction of Ancient Rome and its debauchery, which is shown in explicit detail. There is the kernel of a great film here, with stunning sets and costumes, Oscar calibre performances from Peter O'Toole and Malcolm McDowell, and a script by Gore Vidal. Sadly the director was replaced by Bob Guccione from Penthouse, who was producing the film, because the film wasn't explicit enough for Bob's taste. So he re-edited it, and added some completely gratuitous hard-core porn sequences. The result is something of a mess (if you excuse the pun), but the controversy ensured the film's big box-office success. This is the first time I've seen the uncensored version and it is pretty full-on! Sad really because this could have been a great film instead of just being an infamous one.
I watched this last night on blu-ray, and greatly admired the restoration work. But it's really not a very good movie. Despite moments of grand spectacle, and the gloriously camp performances of Peter Ustinov and Patricia Laffan as Nero and his wife, the film takes itself way too seriously to be enjoyable. Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr play such boringly pious characters that you can't care for them, but Leo Genn as a clever senator is excellent. Ultimately the film is also too historically inaccurate to forgive. It exaggerates the importance of Christianity during Nero's reign, it was still just a tiny sect and certainly never blamed for the fire that destroyed Rome. Nero didn't light the fire either, and apparently acted quite bravely during it, saving thousands of lives by opening up his private gardens to the fleeing citizens. His downfall, and death (murder or suicide), only followed, years later, after his grandiose rebuilding plans nearly bankrupted the Empire. The film also leaves out, understandably for 1951, the fact that, after Nero murdered his wife, he had one of his slave-boys castrated and made him impersonate her for years!
To my mind this film is perfect - a classic example of what the studio
system of the golden years of Hollywood could achieve. Strong
direction, witty dialogue, beautiful music, sublime cinematography,
crisp editing, gorgeous production design and costuming, brilliant
performances - every element of this film is perfect.
Add to all that the daring (for its day) story-line, Bette Davis at the height of her dramatic powers and at her most beautiful, and Mary Astor delivering what I think is one of the great screen performances of all time, and you have a very special film indeed.
Although the film may seem to have dated elements, especially in the depiction of the African-American characters, if you let yourself watch the film with 1941 eyes you will be richly rewarded. Besides which the wonderful Hattie McDaniel brings so much depth to what could have been a simple stereotype.
As you can tell, I love this film. I understand Bette Davis and Mary Astor loved working together - and you can see that on the screen. The scenes between the two of them are electric, with so much being said beyond the words. Thank God Astor won an Oscar for her work here. She truly deserved it.
Ever wanted to hear Pavarotti sing "Baby One More Time", or see Gordon
Ramsay make a hamburger, well that's what it's like watching the great
silent film star Ramon Novarro act his heart out in this episode of
"Bonanza". It is extraordinary to see him playing his scenes with such
an intensity of emotion that you could swear his dialogue was written
by Shakespeare. More than anything his performance reveals what a
wasted talent he was in Hollywood. It is sadly ironic too that his
character is physically tortured in one scene, given the terrible
nature of his murder just three years later.
To give the episode its due, it is actually pretty good. The story of an elderly Spanish man who claims his family legally own the Ponderosa, and a large part of the land around it, has resonance with the the land rights claims of indigenous people all over the world today, and Novarro manages to capture the dignified humiliation of a once great family reduced to being an object of ridicule living on the fringes of society. Perhaps he was drawing on his own fall from being a major Hollywood star. In any case he gives his scenes a greater depth than they perhaps deserve, and makes this episode unforgettable. Lorne Greene especially seems to pick up on this and matches him well in their scenes together.
This episode is a must-see for all actors.
Ana Kokkinos' Blessed is a heartbreaking tale of the love between mothers and their children, and is one of the finest achievements of Australian cinema. The flawless screenplay follows a number of characters through a single day, deftly telling their stories from different points of view until we develop a full understanding of the day's events. Geoff Burton's stunning cinematography focuses on unexpected things a pattern on a wall, a flash of fabric and then moves in close to the characters, creating a rich visual texture. The music of Cezary Skubiszewski is one of the finest movie scores of recent years, gently enhancing the drama and the brilliant performances of the actors. The entire cast is superb, but I must make special mention of Frances O'Connor, who gives the performance of her life, and the splendid Monica Maughan, whose brief appearance in the film is truly unforgettable. Blessed represents a triumphant return to form for Kokkinos, after the disappointing Book of Revelation, proving that the astonishing Head On was no fluke. Her uncompromising, insightful, deeply humanist eye makes her one of the most exciting directors working today. Blessed is a deeply moving film that you will never forget, and deserves to be showered with awards.
The wittiest script since "All About Eve", combined with deep insights, magnificent performances, brilliant scenery, fine cinematography, excellent music - it's hard to fault this great film. At its core is the superb performance by Colin Farrell, proving yet again that he is one of the finest actors of his generation (check him out in Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dream" as well and you'll see what I mean). A perfect blend of comic timing, rough charm and vulnerability - it's a knockout performance. And that's not to diminish the work of Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes or any of the other cast members - even the bit part players are terrific. Best not to say too much about the plot, as it's better to see it with fresh eyes - but Martin McDonagh deserves to be showered with awards for his work as both writer and director (and it's his first feature!). And it's not a bad tourist ad for Bruges either! I hope this film comes up at Oscar time - it truly deserves to.
GLORY ALLEY is one of the films that signaled the end of the golden age
of MGM. Set in a silly back-lot New Orleans, the drama centers on a
prizefighter who inexplicably flees a championship bout just as it is
about to begin. We have to wait the whole movie to find out why - and
when we do the reason is so silly that it makes the whole movie seem
like a complete waste of time. Ralph Meeker, a good-looking but rather
genteel actor, struggles to play the street-wise boxer. It's the sort
of part John Garfield played so well, but Meeker, lovingly filmed by
William Daniels, just seems too pretty. The ludicrous 'on-the-skids'
montage hardly helps - nor does the fact that his character is called
Then we have Leslie Caron as his love interest. It looks like this part was hurriedly re-written for her after her triumph in AN American IN Paris. She performs ridiculous ballet routines in a seedy bar (you know the patrons would have booed her off immediately). You see she wanted to be a ballerina, but she gave it all up to support her blind father. He's played by Kurt Kaszner - an actor still in his thirties but donned with silly silver hair to make him look ancient and wise.
Then there's Louis Armstrong, sadly named "Shadow", and seemingly the only African-American in New Orleans. He's supposed to be Meeker's trainer, but he spends the whole movie playing his trumpet and leading absurd sing-a-longs at the local bar. He does have a couple of good acting scenes though. The excellent Gilbert Roland floats around the film's edges with nothing to do, while John McIntire adds pseudo profound narration to the story - told in flashback like a film noir.
Probably the worst sequence in the film, and that's saying something, is the ludicrous Korean War scene, with some stock footage, four soldiers, some sort of pine forest and a rear projected bridge deemed sufficient to portray a major world conflict.
So we have a boxing picture, a musical, a film noir, a war film, and a pseudo-Freudian psychological study all rolled into one! What more could you ask for?
It's hard to believe a fine hard-boiled director like Raoul Walsh oversaw this mess - he probably wanted to run straight back to Warner Bros afterwards.
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