Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Caledonia Twin #1
Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1998)
The visualization of Hardy's imagination
If I may be so bold, I would say that this particular adaptation of Tess of the d'Urbervilles is just what Hardy had in mind when he wrote his masterpiece. However, it's difficult to put into words just why one production works so well. For me, one crucial ingredient was the music. The music in this production is emotive, a bit lively, innocently hedonistic, playful and lilting, but with a definite, bittersweet note illustrating the transient glory and ups and downs of Tess' too brief, and unfortunately, mostly tragic life. The beautiful Justine Waddell plays the role of Tess with great talent and simple dignity. In particular, I liked the scene in which she says there's no point learning about history only to discover that there have been countless other people like her in the past living through the same kind of drudgery. Oliver Milburn, who played Angel Clare, brings a new kind of skeptical optimism to the role not as apparent in Peter Firth's portrayal back in 1979. Milburn seems more angelic and innocent and innocuous in manner, posture, appearance, and in facial expression. He is open and appealing, very easily seducing the heart of Tess in spite of her reservations. His treatment of her when he has discovered her secret seems all the more callous and tragic for his previous admiration and light-hearted demeanor. But kudos must go to the directors and cinematographers of this production. From the opening scene of the maidens dancing in the field, the visual shots in this film are rich in beauty and light, at least when all is well. Even the drear scenes to come are depicted with absolute visual integrity and adhere faithfully to Hardy's vision and eloquent natural language. In particular, I like the fact that in this film, the last scene at Stonehenge has been more accurately portrayed from the book than in the previous version, 1979's "Tess". (Ie. the atheistic comments have not been censored out when Tess mourns with despair that Angel and she will never meet again.) All in all, this film is worth every moment watching. Not only are the dialogues delightful and the themes intriguing, but many will be captivated simply by the glorious scenery and by the beauty and demeure grace of Tess herself. My rating: 10/10
Wo hu cang long (2000)
This was a very excellent film which not only showcases Chinese language (Mandarin), culture, and scenery but also adds an element of lyrical mysticism and magic to the martial arts film genre. I enjoyed "Crouching Tiger hidden Dragon" immensely and did not find the subtitles distracting at all. However, Western audiences may not be prepared for such a tragic ending, as one typically expects of a Chinese film; crouching tiger also offers far more storyline, plot, and character development than the average martial arts flick. Ang Lee's tasteful direction can be thanked for that. I give the film a *10/10*, with a note that filmgoers expecting meaningless staged fights and badly dubbed dialogue, a happy romantic ending or intermittent comedic interludes will be disappointed. Personally, I thought the film was fantastic.
The Hunt for Red October (1990)
Sure it's American Cold War propaganda, but so what? It's got the ingredients masterpieces are made of.
*Warning: some spoilers here.
When I first saw "The Hunt for Red October" back in 1990, I was impressed by the stunning cinematography, and though the film doesn't stand up nearly so well among today's top caliber special-effect films, "The Hunt for Red October" still has something to offer which many more modern action film competitors do not: an engaging plot. "The Hunt for Red October" is one unexpected moment after another (even if you have read the book), suspenseful, the kind of film that for once fulfills its promise to keep you at the edge of your seat. Yes, the film is unashamedly "pro-American", but it is not completely unsympathetic to the Russian side (though granted only the defectors are shown in a sympathetic light); nonetheless, it is still enjoyable to watch. I was also struck by what one critic said regarding Poledouris' fantastic score, that he thought this was a Russian classic; in my ignorance at the time, I also looked for Poledouris' music in Russian import shops, convinced that it was something from the days of the great five composers, including Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Yes, Poledouris' score is that good. In my opinion, the stirring music of "The Hunt for Red October" propels the action and keeps one's attention riveted to the screen when the visual shots (slow turning of large submarines...) might begin to lose one's attention. It is true that often the subtitles are strangely (or incorrectly) translated. True also is that Captain Ramius' (Connery) Russian accent is absolutely atrocious (with Sam Neill's almost as bad). Neverthless, I found this didn't affront me as much as I thought it might; Connery's presence is decisive and his manner is entirely convincing. And why shouldn't he be rebellious against the Soviet bureaucracy or have an odd accent?... Ramius is a NON-RUSSIAN, *Latvian* Captain with no real loyalties to the foreign Russian communists in Moscow who have control of Latvia... Moreover, Sam Neill is nothing short of compelling in his portrayal of Ramius' confidant, Vasili Borodin, despite the imperfect accent. When he says "I would have liked to have seen Montana", I found myself thinking, "Any other actor and that remark might have seemed comical..." Yet with a display of almost naive, exuberant charm, Neill pulls it off. For me, his death was the most moving moment of the film. Peter Firth (of 1979's *Tess*) is remarkable in his performance as the political officer, and by way of comparison with everyone else, his Russian accent *is* quite good. James Earl Jones makes a brief but notable appearance as James Greer. Joss Ackland, another underrated actor, is also quite good as the disappointed Lysenko (his last scene near the end is marvelous). But the best performance of this film, in my opinion, has got to be that of Alec Baldwin. Considering his liberal, democratic political views, he has done a fantastic job convincing us that he IS Jack Ryan, the unexpected hero, the smart wise guy with no field experience who jumps headlong into an international incident and saves the day with his wits, tenacity, and reckless courage. He is the only one who stops to consider Ramius' intent, the only one who can avert a major international crisis. His relationship with the older Ramius is intriguing... by the end, it is almost as though he is the son Ramius never had. Yes, it all seems pretty unbelievable. But "The Hunt for Red October" makes one believe every moment, and that is why this action film is so memorable. Even if you don't ordinarily like action films, you will probably enjoy this one. My rating: 8.5/10
Epic cinema at its best
Laurence Olivier, Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov... with such an assembly of actors, how could this film not be extraordinary? Well, it is extraordinary. I am not going to go into a long history of the slave revolt under Spartacus; see the film and enjoy every minute of it (and if you like that, there are many different academic books on the real life of Spartacus, as well as classic Roman texts to be found). Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) is a stalwart, reticent, but bravely rebellious slave-turned gladiator whose spirit cannot be broken, and yet he finds it in his heart to love the lovely British slave, Varinia, (Jean Simmons) with a fierce loyalty and tenderness that really gets the emotions going... Laurence Olivier (Crassus) has never turned in a finer performance in my opinion (a bare description could hardly do it justice), and Charles Laughton (a fine actor virtually unknown outside the acting world of today) *IS* the licentious senator, Gracchus. Tony Curtis does seem a bit out of place in the cast, but he makes at the very least, a sincere (though somewhat stilted-sounding) Antoninus. All in all, this is one of classic cinema's best. My rating: 10/10.
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Simply the Best
This adaptation has got to be the best realization of a Jane Austen novel ever produced! If you are trying to choose one Jane Austen film or tv series to investigate from among the recent productions, pick this one! I can't imagine anyone disliking what has to be the most charming, amusing, romantic, and timeless classic of the modern age. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle are simply captivating as the seemingly implacable, resentful Mr. Darcy and vivacious but sensible Elizabeth Bennett; they make the perfect foil for each other with entirely believable, electrified performances. The Pride & Prejudice supporting cast is also outstanding, in particular the odious Mr. Collins and almost obnoxiously silly Mrs. Bennett. My rating: 10/10.
fiction better than reality; the mindset of Rome
Recently, a kind person out there notified me of an historical mistake in my previous commentary, pointing out to me that it was Lucius Verus who co-ruled with Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris' character in the film) and not Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). I have to thank that person, because to be honest, I have not read much about the later years of the Roman Empire in many years, and had forgotten many details concerning the end of the Pax Romana. Nonetheless, and I may be wrong about this as it comes off the top of my head, I do believe that Marcus Aurelius did in fact approve of the choice of his son Commodus, which was not the case in "Gladiator". But I have to say, in this matter, I prefer the fictional account of the events over the reality. And to me, "Gladiator" does capture the essence of a broader Roman history in microcosm. In particular I found it strikingly interesting that at one of the gladiating tournaments in the film, the commentator spoke of the ancient Roman enemy of mighty Carthage as something out of "hallowed antiquity"... it seems unbelievable to imagine that the Roman empire lasted nearly a thousand years, and its citizens would probably have never been able to imagine it ending (doesn't it LOOK in the film as though the colosseum was built to last forever? And they do call Rome "the Eternal City", after all) or that a dark age would follow, with a thousand more years of ignorance and illiteracy until our modern age. It's hard to imagine that by the time in which "Gladiator" takes place, the Punic wars against Carthage which they use to stage gladiator battles in "Gladiator" had been over for around four hundred years! It kind of puts it into perspective how short-lived our own modern era is thus far. And just how long will we prosper before our "empire" begins to decline? When I think of this and put myself in Marcus Aurelius' shoes, who, in "Gladiator", could foresee that under his son Commodus, the empire would be heading into disaster (it IS nice to think that Marcus Aurelius would have foreseen this), I can understand why he was so determined to choose Maximus as his successor in order to return Rome to a republic (arguably something better). "Gladiator" is on one level a satisfying film because it not only asks what might have been possible to save the Roman Empire from collapsing but tempts us with a possible answer! As it turned out, nothing could save Rome; though the strength of Maximus' character is such that you begin to believe that he can save Rome from itself. To sum it up: if you enjoy a thought-provoking film that will leave you with more questions long after the film is over, you'll enjoy "Gladiator".
The Robe (1953)
Moments of greatness
Warning: possible spoilers. I first saw "the Robe" about fifteen years ago... and marveled at the artistic quality and acting within the first half of the film... imagine, ancient Rome in all its glory! Years later, I still find that "The Robe" offers moments of greatness, but its main appeal for me is no longer predominantly of a visual nature. It is the love story of "the Robe" which endures in my mind. No matter how cynical one is tempted to be when revisiting an old favourite film, the story between Marcellus and Diane still manages to evince strong emotions; it still has the power to convince me of the strength of the love between them. All in all, I would say that "the Robe" is a worthwhile viewing for the classical or religious enthusiast; however, I found the latter half of the film in parts overly dramatic and religious, in particular as Victor Mature's character and the new Christians begin pontificating rather heavily... but then again, I did find the strength which his new religious revelations afford Marcellus rather uplifting in an odd way, especially towards the end of the film, when Marcellus is tested over how strongly he can hold to his newfound religious beliefs... and triumphs so bravely. If you can sit through an epic, this film is worth a go, and if you admire fine acting, you'll enjoy the fine performances of the greats Richard Burton (later in Cleoptra) and the lovely Jean Simmons (who also starred in Spartacus), especially the first scene in which they meet again after many years... My rating: 8/10 (it would have been higher if the film had been less "preachy")
Utomlyonnye solntsem (1994)
Having read all of the negative commentaries on this film, I would first like to point out that severely criticising the period of Soviet history in which Utoml'ennye Solntsem takes place, and in that effort, condemning the people of that era such as are portrayed in this film as being entirely culpable for their actions, is all very well and good to do from hindsight, and from the safety of a soft computer chair in the modern-day West. Because of course, no one is tortured today in the West for a casual remark against the reigning despot; nor do we live under the threat that our families may be sent off to Siberia as one of the consequences of our actions, great or trivial. I myself can't say what I would have been willing to do under the circumstances that existed during the time of the Soviet purges, whom I would have betrayed just to survive, or if I would have the courage to make some kind of moral, social, or political stand, and if I think I could have? Well,if we all admit it to ourselves, we know that torture will break any man eventually... In watching this film, I think that we should keep in mind that we are not necessarily here to judge but to take the director's journey to another time and place: and yet we should still be able to remember and respect the fact that what we are seeing here is a piece of the history that lies beneath the modern day Russia. This history is a shadow that has cast its pall over the lives of every Soviet citizen since then, including Mikhalkov. The fear of the purges that swept over the Soviet Union during the 1930's and 40's is a kind of fear that will fade, but never die away entirely. So, what can be the point in overly criticising Mikhalkov or any one in the former USSR for surviving under the system as it was before glasnost, knowing what they knew of the state and the full extent of what it could do and had already done (Stalin's purges may even have claimed 20-40 million lives)? If Utoml'ennye Solntsem is Mikhalkov's attempt to exonerate his "cooperation" with the Soviet system within his own time, what has he really got to vindicate or to feel guilty about? That being said, and despite the fact that numerous films, books, and media have copiously used this subject to tell a story, it is not a subject which can be exhausted but a rich treasure of unusual human experiences. And, as some have pointed out, this film is far more than just a story of revolutionary politics or a tale of betrayal: it IS a love story, between men and women, and between men and their motherland. Moreover, I was sincerely moved by the love triangle between Marussya, Mitya, and Kotov. Utoml'ennye Solntsem is not, however, a film that will make you laugh often, and would not at all were it not for the undeniable charm of the bold little Nadya. Utoml'ennye Solntsem will make those who appreciate the tragic element within history, and in particular, this era of political turmoil, shed more than a few tears. Because the truth lingers behind this tale, the truth of a time which was a nightmare few of us can imagine... or would want to. In my opinion, the great thing about this film is that it throws us back for a while into that era and portrays what was good about it, what remains good, despite all obstacles; the film is a tale of love that survives the most extreme of human conditions. It is fascinating and compelling, brave and tender, horrifying, and real. Not for everyone, but certainly a masterpiece within its genre.
Chariots of Fire (1981)
A competition of wills, not merely one between men
"Chariots of Fire", a story primarily revolving around the lives of two men: Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, was to my mind, thoroughly engrossing from start to finish. Perhaps because it is a film which shows a great understanding of human nature and the psychology of competition between two men. Yet each man struggles with something greater than the mere running of a race. Liddell is hard pressed to maintain his integrity and faith under duress. A devout Scottish protestant, he must choose between racing on a Sunday or not, and thereby show or deny his sense of allegiance to God, though it would be so tempting to rationalize that running the race at the Olympics would actually be fulfilling his duty to King and country. At the same time, Abrahams struggles with his own perfectionism, his own discontent within himself, his own driving ambition to win above all else, and to deal with the agony of defeat. Add some fantastic music, painstakingly realistic examples of cinematography, a few nail-biting cliff hangers, the sting of unjust racial prejudices at work, and more than a little foul play, and you have yourself a winner here. I absolutely love this film, though I would not say it is for everyone. My rating: 10/10.
Okno v Parizh (1993)
More than meets the eye
Warning: perhaps a spoiler here.
I have to agree that Okno v Parizh is an unexpectedly delightful comedy, though the premise of the film might at first glance seem a bit ridiculous... a magic window that takes a group of Russians directly to Paris? Yes, exactly, that sounds a bit ridiculous, but it's a load of fun, too. And this group of inter-window travellers soon embarks on an adventure where they must (for a moment) brave (or happily succumb to) the delicious terrors of the temptations of capitalism... Okno v Parizh is hysterical but also makes some serious points if you look below the surface. In fact, it is amazing how well the film manages to keep a light-hearted tone throughout, despite the obvious dangers the film portrays within St. Petersburg, where the group of Russians must return and where an unsuspecting French woman is transported through the magic window... Overall, I give this funny film high marks: 8/10.