Reviews written by registered user
|17 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are very few things more tragic than to see a good book spoiled by a poor movie. Occasionally such problems are accidental, or simply unavoidable in an attempt to fit a large story into a small space. In the case of this mini-series, however, the mistakes do not seem accidental--they seem malicious. The impression is created and steadily enforced that the authors of the screenplay (Stephen Mallatratt and Jan McVerry) despised Galsworthy's novel, and made every effort to disfigure it. Some may say that to follow the outlines of the book is old-fashioned and irrelevant. Some may say that the above named authors were forming their own interpretation of Galsworthy's work. I cannot agree. A book, incidentally one of the greatest in the long and glorious history of British literature, has been written. The author created his own world, his own interpretation of the Forsyte clan, their lives, their country, their time, and the overwhelming, dominating instinct of Property which was responsible for so many of the achievements of the Victorian era. If S. Mallatratt and J. McVerry did not agree with his interpretation, if they saw these people and these times differently--eh bien, it was possibly within the scope of their powers to write their own book on the subject. Instead, they preferred to mangle a masterpiece, and to mangle characters loved and respected by generations. Old Jolyon Forsyte (played here by Corin Redgrave) is presented by Galsworthy as a magnificent example of an honorable, and kind man, led through life not merely by the social structure of his class and age but by a particular love, a gentleness and affection for the small and helpless. He is shown as a portrait of supremely decent, wise, and respectable old age. That is why the scene of this Victorian gentleman, ordering Helene Himler (Amanda Ooms) out of his house is manifestly impossible. Many things can be imagined in the context of an old, domineering man's rage and sorrow--but one thing that is truly impossible to imagine, is the Old Jolyon, Galsworthy's Old Jolyon, be rude to a woman. When Irene Forsyte (Gina McKee, a good actress, albeit monstrously, mockingly miscast here) comes to the empty flat of her lover Philip Bossiney (Ioan Gruffudd) after leaving her husband, she meets his fiancée, her husband's niece June Forsyte (Gillian Kearney). Galsworthy gives us the scene in full--from first word to the last. Why, in the name of what mockery or malice did the screenwriters add a vulgar brawl, screaming, physical beating to this picture?! Not only did they maul the outline of the book, they mauled the characters of the women involved, the character of the age and society of which both 19 year-old June and 23 year-old Irene were products. I am perfectly willing to believe that disputes in the style of Jerry Springer are well known to the authors of the screenplay. But they were not known to the Forsytes, to their class or era. To introduce these elements into the scene was a pointless exercise, or perhaps worse; a misguided or malicious attempt to make the book "closer" to the viewer? Possibly--but if so, this was a hideous and unpardonable error. The late-Victorian society, for all its faults, was an age of courtesy, of self-restraint (a major theme in the book), of manners and propriety, maintained even under the most difficult circumstances. To disfigure the society Galsworthy knew and wrote about in an attempt to make the film more acceptable to today's less restrained audience is an insult both to the book and to the author, as well as to the era portrayed. The near-divorce of Soames' sister Winifred Dartie (Amanda Root) from her foppish husband Montague (surprisingly well portrayed by Ben Miles) is a secondary, but nonetheless important plot line. The sympathy and mutual support between Soames and Winifred, their affection for each other, their understanding and common core of sense and the Forsytean proprietary instinct is one of the more touching and gentle elements in the book. Why, for what purpose did the screenwriters introduce a similar scene to the one described above? Why does Winifred scream and rail at her brother? Why does she slap him and start throwing dishes hither and yon? I neither know nor care if this is the way the sisters of the screenwriters react to adversity--but this is entirely counter to the sensible, sympathetic, stable, supremely self-controlled (pardon the alliteration) character presented by Galsworthy. Is there a purpose in this vulgarity? It hardly seems so. Then why was it introduced? There are many such examples in this series. The upshot of this rather long review is a simple piece of advice to all who find themselves interested either in the Victorian era, in the story of the Forsyte family, or in a good movie to watch of an evening. The advice is this; Don't see this film. It provides none of the above. And in the process manages to mangle, sickeningly, maliciously, and pointlessly one of the greatest achievements of the British literary tradition.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**Warning; some spoilers included.**
This is not a perfect film. It does not claim to be. While following (in most respects) the famous epistolary novel by Sholom Aleichem it tends to dip into the occasional weepy sentimentality. The line-up of actors, the careful and believable filming and the excellent music allows us to ignore that--or at least to bear with it. There are no bad actors in this film. To be more specific, there are no actors in this film who would look wrong, unnatural or uncomfortable in their roles. Their specifically Jewish theatrical world of the 1890's remains believable, while flowing from a Hungarian shtetl, to Budapest, to Vienna, to London, to New York. It is the music that makes this film particularly charming, and lets us forget about the occasional pathetic moment. Grigoriy Lyampe is wonderful as the elderly cantor, singing in duet with his daughter from the Song of Songs. The performances of the Jewish theater are lively, and specific to the culture of the time. The highlight of the film, however, is Irina Toma's debut in a cabaret, singing the poignant, vivid, and passionate "Every Jew is a King". The actors deserve special notice. It will be a waste of time to provide the entire list, but Mamuka Kikaleishvili, Irina Toma, Larisa Udovichenko, Grigoriy Lyampe, Sofiko Chiaureli and many others make this film worth watching. For all the occasional melancholy and sentimental whimper, this is a delightful film, with brilliant actors, luminescent music, and a glimpse into a world long gone, from the great novel of a man who remembered this world first-hand. Worth watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One sees few films made nowadays in which standard descriptions of plot and
acting would be of little use. Sokurov's "Russian Ark" stands as one of the
best in this category--defying description.
Possibly the best way to categorize this film (if that is possible) is to
call it a memory. Not so much a memory of the Marquis, that sardonic
presence which moves throughout the film, conversing with the invisible
host, but as a memory of the Winter Palace, of the Hermitage itself. We see
it remember the past it witnessed: the fury of Peter I, the glamour and
elegance of Catherine II, the stern grandeur of Nicholas I, the threatened
domesticity of the fin-de-siecle under Nicholas II. We see the days of the
Empire, one of the most powerful and glamorous that ever existed in the
world pass through the memories of its most spectacular
Unlike Sokurov's "Taurus" this is not a terrifying film. More of a tragic
one. We feel a deep sense of nostalgia for a world which we have never
known, a world of grace and beauty, power and magnificence which have
passed, disappeared, leaving behind for us these paintings, these beautiful
halls and galleries in which today only tourists walk, feeling sometimes--if
they are fortunate--the shadows of the past walk with them. In the shot
(warning: possible spoiler ahead) of the aged Empress Catherine hurrying
through the snow-covered walkway of the winter garden, we see more than an
old woman with a valet disappear into the winter mist. We see the 18th
century, with all its glamour and corruption, elegance and cruelty, grace
and tragedy fade away into the snow with her. We see a beautiful world of
the past in those grand halls, those formal ceremonies and gay balls--a
world which in 1917 had ceased to exist.
Unfortunately the acting of the main characters is the only reason to
recommend this film. Vanessa Redgrave was at her elegant best, but the
dialogue of her role left her with little/no opportunity to demonstrate her
art. The same can be said for Nastassja Kinski and Illeana Douglas. Meg
Tilly (whose character was never a part of the book), provided an adequate
dose of comic relief. James Marsden can be complimented on his eloquent
portrayal of the unnervingly human demon, Luca.
But those were the only good sides. The director of "The Last Don" did poorly with this venture, as did the screenwriters. Not only were the characters underdeveloped, but their setting, behavior, and movements were utterly unbelievable. I do not know what the director was thinking, but when the a set of four women remains unchanged and un-aging through the interval of twenty years--the viewer may well question the quality of the film. The accents, so well done in "The Last Don" were misplaced or absent here. To make a long story short (too late?), the actors struggle valiantly against overwhelming odds to do a good job in the mess of a script they must work with, but their battle is lost.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I do not think that there has been a taped performance of Puccini's classic
tragedy to equal this, not since the days of Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi.
This "Tosca" is worthy of note not only for the power of the music and the
skill of the singers, but also for the realistic and stunningly beautiful
setting. Here the film is made on location, drawing us from the Baroque
charm of the church of San Andrea, to the luxurious apartments of the
Palazzo Farnese, to the dark stairwells and bleak, dawn-lit summit of the
Castel San' Angelo. We see before us Rome of the year 1800, beautiful,
overwhelming, and tragic.
Of even greater note are the performers. Everyone acts and sings flawlessly (so rare a combination), but we must pay special attention to the main trio.
Raina Kabaivanska is an exceptional Floria Tosca--a passionate and loyal lover, a professional singer and actress, a woman of enormous strength and courage who does not hesitate to commit murder in order to gain her lover's freedom. Her famous aria 'Vissi d'arte" shows the terrible tragedy of a woman who after a lifetime of seeking to do good in the world finds herself caught in a monstrous trap. The quality of singing and acting she displays is truly superb.
Placido Domingo as Cavaradossi shows vividly the strength of will and presence of mind needed by a man who--caught up in events beyond his control--confronts with courage and dignity all the power of the police state arrayed against him. We see him, at the sudden end of his life, recalling his first meeting with his beloved Floria in the third-act aria "E lucevan le stelle," a poignant and beautiful scene as the sunrise--his last sunrise--rises over the terrible battlements of the Castel San'Angelo.
Finally we see Sherill Milnes as the dread Baron Scarpia. He is, certainly, one of the best performers I have ever seen in this difficult and powerful role. He is everything Scarpia should be--handsome and courtly, elegant and a sincere man of the world, and yet . . . in his courtliness and elegance there is something of a beautiful snake, slippery and dangerous. The second act of this film is a real tour de force in which Scarpia slips back and forth from a charming gentleman, to a scheming seducer, to an all-powerful chief of police, to a torturer, to an ardent lover, to a determined rapist, to a kindly friend, to a deadly and ferocious rival.
Sherill Milnes manages to demonstrate all these qualities--making his performance as Scarpia a rare and precious gift to any opera lover. The scene of his death brings the acting skills of both Kabaivanska and Milnes to so high a level of dramatic intensity that one is unable to tear one's eyes away from them.
To conclude--in all aspects which the filming of opera demands, voices and actors, scenery and costumes, intensity and pacing, this film stands out as a true achievement.
There is always room for cynicism in the world. However, to make a children's movie out of the monumental tragedy of the Russian revolution is something entirely new in the annals of history. We may safely leave aside the historical factors, such as Rasputin becoming an enemy of the Romanov family, such as the Romanovs being good and well beloved rulers, such as the Dowager Empress, Maria Fedorovna being a gentle and kindly woman (known as Dagmar the Furious in her native Denmark) and such other petty nonsense. But to make of this historical event a children's story, to make of it an industry of children's books, clothes, games, music, shoes etc . . . that is unforgivable? Won't the blood splash when they walk in those shoes? What are we to expect next? An interactive children's game called "Death Camp" with little figures in striped uniforms running away from teeny-little German shepherds? Who knows. Now, over eighty years later it will, perhaps, be possible to forgive the makers of that revolution. But it is impossible to forgive the foul scum who did not even pause before making a cake out of the monstrous mix of ash and blood, who did not stop in their cynicism and made a game out of the most tragic event of the twentieth century, and the one that spawned all others, including WWII and the Holocaust. For the people who made this film, there can be no forgiveness, for at some limits, even cynicism must come to a halt.
The title line of this review might cause a few raised eyebrows--so I explain briefly. This is a magnificently made film. It is made with a great eye towards beauty, harmony, and elegance, the actors are brilliantly chosen and play their roles with skill and talent. Mont San-Michel is beautiful, and filmed with such obvious affection and skill that the beauty is shown well. However--the only fly in the ointment is the dialogue. This film was made and paid for by the Green Peace Party (if I am mistaken I apologize to the film makers--but that is indeed the impression created). In short--the dialogue, and the entire philosophy presented here are, in a word, primitive. They are not the sort to require real thought or interest, and present somewhat shopworn slogans of (again that unfortunate word) a primitive nature. Had this film been made on other premises . . . it would have been infinitely more rewarding. But on the whole--after the first half-hour one no longer watches for the sake of the dialogue, but merely for the imagery. It is a great pity--this film could have been much, much better.
Not even Timothy Dalton can save this failure. The roles (with the exception of Dalton's Gauis Julius Caesar) are badly underdeveloped, poorly played, and boringly written. Leonor Varela, obeying the unspoken tradition to portray Cleopatra as half-Arabian in looks forgets that Cleopatra was a) Greek by blood and upbringing, and b) far more intelligent and educated than Varela shows her to be. Billy Zane repeats Richard Burton's unfortunate 1960's error by portraying Marcus Antonius as a hysterical drunkard, instead of showing the historical reality, namely, a calculating (and miscalculating) politician, and skilled general. The decorations are dull, and the scene of Cleopatra's death is inexcusably trite in its dull (and incorrect) repetition of the legend. In short, while this film is blissfully shorter than the 1960's film with Elizabeth Taylor, that is the only area in which it succeeds. It is not worth watching for the plot, nor for the actors, nor for the dialogue.
One does not usually expect a popular movie to be much good, namely because it caters to the tastes of a crowd, which are notoriously un-demanding. Rarely, however, one finds a film which delivers on its promises. This, fortunately, was one of these films. The acting was the high point of the film. Mike Myers wore his role like a skin, naturally and easily. Ryan Phillippe proved that despite occasional bursts of negative popular opinion he is more than a simple dime-a-dozen pretty boy, and possesses both skill and talent, both of which are put to good use. (And he is good looking, which despite all else, never hurts. But, let's not belabor the obvious). The filming was excellently done, with a good eye towards shock and an occasional shot of strangely unexpected beauty. The only real objection one could put to this film is that it was far too short. Several sub-plots came up which were either abandoned or underdeveloped, and the ending, while highly effective, had a slight air of "deus ex machina" about it. On the whole, though, a talented, unusually intelligent film with excellent actors and direction. Well worth watching.
This film is rare in that it tries, and almost succeeds, in giving an accurate impression of Russian history. There are only three points on which it flounders, and unfortunately, the second one of them, at the end of the film, is quite unforgivable. The acting is excellent. Christopher Plummer is a true delight as a sardonic and kindly old diplomat, while Vannesa Redgrave is truly stunning as the mercurial and autocratic Empress Elizabeth. Julia Ormond is good, skillful and inspired in playing an intelligent young woman, who possesses a grand will and a superb mind which will not allow her to stay in the background. It is easy to see that the roles were studied well, and that the memoirs of Catherine the Great played a large part in the planning of the film. The shooting of the film was done, thankfully, on location, for a large part in the Catherine Palace at Pushkin (formerly Tsarskoe Selo). The costumes (with the exception of the black fox winter coats), were well studied and planned. All in all, this film is done well, intelligently, and it almost manages to avoid the fatal flaw of romantic hollywoodism. Almost, but not quite. Here we come to the flaws of the film. The first historical error is, I admit, a very small one. The winter coats worn in the film are made of black fox. Unfortunately, this animal was bred for the fur only in the nineteenth century, long after Catherine's death. Had bearskin coats been used, or sable, or ordinary red fox, the general effect would have been a bit smoother. The second flaw is the condensation of the film into a reasonable time period. True, I realize that this was unavoidable. But the fact remain, Catherine was married to Peter III for no less than seventeen years, and was a mature woman in her thirties when she planned her palace coup against her (very well played here) incompetent and sickening husband. Truth to tell, though, after reading her memoirs one begins to wonder why she did not poison him after the first six months. Heaven knows, any normal woman would have. And finally, the third and worst flaw of the film. Unfortunately, here, the romantic notions of the movie industry took over from historical accuracy and common sense. The scene of Peter III's death at the hands of his guards and Alexej Orlov (not Grigorij), was well described in the documents of Catherine's time. Allowing, in the script, for the "romantic" scene in which Grigorij Orlov strangles Peter, and then tells Catherine of it in bed is the largest mistake of the film. It neglects historical fact on a fairly major point in favor of cheap theatrical effect. To sum up: this is a beautifully and accurately filmed movie, with excellent acting, an intelligent (and almost accurate!) plot, and a good sense of history (something you will not see in the 1930's film). It is worth watching, but if you are a historian, or even a person interested in Russian history, try not to take it too personally.
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