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A Royal Night Out (2015)
An Entertaining Picture That Doesn't Take Itself Too Seriously
Based on an actual event, "A Royal Night Out" is a 'romp' in the spirit of the movie "Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day", although toned down a bit because the story surrounds two British royals, Princess Elizabeth (played wonderfully by actress Sarah Gadon); and her sister Princess Margaret (played by the scene-stealing Bel Powley ["The Diary of a Teenage Girl"]. The comic-relief performance of Bel Powley is reason enough to see and enjoy this picture. She practically steals the entire movie. Though while viewing this picture, one quickly comes to the conclusion that there are improbable situations that would never take place or happen in the life of the Royals; and that creative license is the rule of the day. Having said that, it doesn't take away the actual fun of this movie; and the picture doesn't even begin to pretend to take itself too seriously. Even the seriousness of the character of the 'Queen Mum' (played excellently by Emma Watson) doesn't try and reach for dramatic montages to counter-act the comedic moments. A light-hearted slower-moving romp that is entertaining - and entertaining it is, as long as audiences know that fact-checking the events in the story would not be energy well-spent.
Mary Queen of Scots (2013)
A Honest Film With Historical Accuracy!
This version of the story of "Mary, Queen of Scots" comes from Switzerland. Though the story of the most famous Scottish monarch of all has been told on the big screen several times before, this European-produced version is very credible. Its USA premiere was in November, 2013; and had a second screening at the AFI Fest in Hollywood. By the sizes of the audiences who wanted to see the picture, it confirms the fact that there is still much interest in Mary Stuart.
The film stars French-Swiss actress Camille Rutherford, who plays the title role with honesty and truthfulness. Rutherford portrays Mary as neither a complete heroine nor a complete villain, but rather a human being who inherits the trappings of being royal; as well walking the very thin line of trying to solve the problems of religious divisions. Rutherford has a earthy natural beauty to her (she is as attractive in-person as she is on the big screen); which lends itself to the character of 'Mary, Queen of Scots'. But she never allows her natural beauty to overshadow or become the main focus of her character. Rutherford allows her character's flaws to resonate with audiences; and does such a masterful job of portraying her character with a quiet subtlety, that movie patrons root for 'Mary' to be successful, though many know of her well-documented doom.
Director Thomas Imbach could have fallen into the trap of turning this costume period piece into a soap opera-like drama. But with Imbach at the helm, he avoids all the usual clichés, and gives this well-documented story a different slant. Is there drama within the life of Mary Queen of Scots? Yes, historical accounts do nothing but that otherwise; but Imbach and the screenwriters (including a Stuart descendant)keep close to historical accuracy by telling the story with dramatic believability. He manages to bring us into the world of Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I of England, yet we never see Elizabeth I on the screen as a real person. The cinematography by Rainer Klausmann makes the most of the beautiful landscapes of Switzerland and France.
Sean Biggerstaff plays the 'Earl of Bothwell' very deliberately without going 'over-the-top' with his performance. Aneurin Barnard had the unenviable task of portraying the very flawed 'Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley', and did so without calling attention to his character over the title role of 'Mary', as well as does not overshadow the rest of the cast. Tony Curran does a marvelous job as the caustic 'John Knox"
But the real point-of-note in this picture is the performance of Camille Rutherford. Mary, Queen of Scots is such a real, 'larger-than-life' historical character with such a tragic ending that portraying such a figure has to be accomplished with an affirmative integrity for audiences to even care. Rutherford does that brilliantly.
This cinematic version of the story of Mary, Queen of Scots is better than the 1936 film, "Mary of Scotland" (starring Katharine Hepburn); and is just as good and looks better than the 1971 version "Mary, Queen of Scots" (starring Vanessa Redgrave). No doubt this 2013 version will be compared to the American-produced cinematic version, starring the very talented Saoirse Ronan. This European-produced version of the story of "Mary Queen of Scots" is one not to be missed by those who love movies.
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Sofia Coppola's Independent Style
The 2006 version of "Marie Antoinette" is one of the most beautiful movies to watch that has been put on screen in quite some time. But I say that in reference to the costumes, set design, and art direction. The term 'eye candy' that has been used by some of the critics and moviegoers alike is very appropriate for this film. Worldwide, there seems to be an even split among those who loved the film and those who loathed it.
I saw the film for what it was: a director's independent and different vision of a real-life character whose story everyone already knows. We know what the ending for the real Marie Antoinette was. I believe that Sofia Coppola should be highly complimented for her style in telling this version of the Archduchess of Austria & Queen of France.
That's not to say this film is without its problems. Though a big deal was made of Coppola's use of rock music during some scenes, it wasn't as 'horrible' as the French critics made it out to be. As a independent director myself, it is my belief that Coppola could have done a better job matching the music with the scenes with which she used them. The timing choices were a little jarring. And there aren't enough technical reasons in the world to excuse some of the obvious technical 'oversights'. I understand why half the people who saw this film had a problem with it - which is the lack of this film being story driven. The 1938 version of "Marie Antoinette" (starring the great Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power) is much more story-driven. If I had directed this movie, I probably would have gone deeper in the mind of Kirsten Dunst's 'Marie Antoinette'. There could have been more done visually to explain why the people of France hated Marie Antoinette in the end.
Having said that, I would give my right arm to be able to have access to Versailles in France. Sofia Coppola helped make the cinematography lush and gorgeous by agreeing to the pastel colors used for costumes and sets. The real 'behind-the-scenes' stars are Costume Designer Milena Canonero and Set Decorator Veronique Melery - each deserving of an Oscar nomination, at the very least.
Kirsten Dunst did well as 'Marie Antoinette'. Marianne Fathfull will probably never get the recognition she deserves for her performance as the Austrian Empress, Maria Theresa. Though her scenes were short, she played the imperial Austrian icon perfectly.
I liked "Marie Antoinette", and tend to side with critics like Roger Ebert of his assessment of the film. But as historical films go, this movie is not without its critics (some of it very justified). But I praise Sofia Coppola for being courageous enough to try something different.
A Hollywood Throwback With 'Indie' Money
Flyboys was made exactly how movies used to be made in the 1930's and 40s. In other words, it entertains!! Never have I felt to be so critical of the negative criticism that a good portion of the so-called 'film critics' have given this film. But one thing I'm certain - they are all wrong!! What's sad is that this film will be totally overlooked, and it shouldn't be.
First of all, they have over-analyzed this film. After reading some of their reviews, I expected Flyboys to be a 'World War I' version of their idea of a 'flawed' "Pearl Harbor". While watching the film, I found that not to be the case. For a start, World War I is the most significant war in human history - for it marked the turning point when episodes of the darker side of the human spirit were visible and tangible - every single day. But compared to the 21st Century, it was also a simpler time. Director Tony Bill successfully expressed that simpler time through his characters. Certain critics may criticize the screenplay, but to me, the script fit the period of the day. No surprise to me that innocent American 'wannabe-flyboys' didn't know what to expect out of a revolutionary technological war that the whole world had never fought before - especially in the air.
Yes, the story is rather lightweight, but so was the time period. Personally, I easily forgave the lightweight story, for I knew going into to the movie theater that I wanted to see the aerial dogfights - which were spectacular - and I was not disappointed! Think about it - the first World War I aviation movie made in 40 years, and the film gets raked 'over the coals'(as it were) like this? I say unfair! Did Tony Bill steal somewhat from Howard Hughes "Hell's Angels"? Certainly. But I say, so what?! Is that a bad thing? If you were a movie director and had to shoot aerial dogfight close-up scenes in a movie, where would you put your cameras to make it look different?
Tony Bill did a marvelous job on a film with an independent budget without major studio backing. I believed the 'Blaine Rawlings' character(performed with success by James Franco). Even the 'Lucienne' character was wonderfully interpreted by Jennifer Decker. Compare how the love story in this film was treated to the one treated in the movie "Pearl Harbor". You will see a significant difference.
I love the real-life story of the Lafayette Escadrille. But I also loved the fact that I was entertained by this film. My expectations were not so high that I should have expected an Oscar-caliber World War I aviation film. But I love the look of this film. The colors were rich and the cinematography was great. For two hours I was in Europe during the first part of the 20th Century. My expectations were that I be entertained - and I was! Flyboys may not be as deep as the Oscar-nominated Joyeux Noel (which I loved); but it didn't have to be. Hollywood used to make movies that entertained without given us the hidden message that we are automatically stupid. Flyboys just lets you sit back and watch a 'time-innocent-turn-harsh reality' story unfold. Flyboys will be in my DVD library.
An Inside Look at a Genius
I found this to be one of the best documentaries on any major Hollywood producer from its Golden Age. The best thing that this documentary does is to explain what a genius Irving Thalberg really was. Young filmmakers and young would-be producers have no idea just what Thalberg did for the film industry and how he changed the history of Hollywood. The documentary tells a great story how Thalberg's genius save many Hollywood epics, resurrected careers, and how he was able to work inside the 'studio system'. Great insights from Hollywood historians (such as Scott Eyman) give great credibility to this wonderful documentary. It also leaves viewers with the impression of just how talented Thalberg was among all his motion picture colleagues. Also interesting is the stories of his personal life - from his poor health to his marriage to the wonderful Norma Shearer, who was a star among stars.
Tragically, though Thalberg lived a very short life, his existence in the movie business is a blueprint of how Hollywood should be making pictures today. If not for Irving Thalberg, there would be no example of a consistent genius mind working within the Hollywood system. To me, this is one of the best documentaries made on any of the old 'studio bosses' from the greatest period of movie history.
Joyeux Noël (2005)
A Great Oscar-Nominated Film!
Joyeux Noel is one of the best films about World War I since "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930). It's clearly more subtle than that film, but director Christian Carion does an excellent job of taking us through a story at a critical time of the early days of The Great War (World War I). The cinematography is brilliant, to say the least. But this is not your usual Hollywood-type 'war' film. The characters are distinctive and the story is compelling, though from a low-key level. German-born Diane Kruger ("National Treasure") never looked more beautiful on screen. Her stunning good-looks can capture any movie-going audience. Her character of Anna Sorensen is strong, yet subtle. The casting for this film was extraordinary - being as perfect as one can possibly hope for. Christian Carion, who also wrote the screenplay, put his heart and soul into this picture - and it shows. This motion picture is sterling. Though nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, I truly wish that it had actually won the Oscar. The last foreign picture that I felt this good about coming out of a movie theater was "Life is Beautiful". Just from a cinema-graphic point-of-view, Joyeux Noel looks even better than that film! Hopefully, this motion picture will soon be used as a teaching tool in world history classes in universities and secondary schools across America and the world.
An Extraordinary Silent Classic!!
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg is such a wonderful classic silent film, that it is amazing to me that the movie doesn't get more recognition from Hollywood film organizations. The film made Norma Shearer an absolute star at MGM, and confirmed her talents on the silver screen. The direction by Ernst Lubitsch is first-rate, as he captures a royal love story, along with the beauty and essence of Imperial Germany in the 19th Century. The look of this silent diamond-of-a-film is unforgettable, and the music score that one now hears on videos of the film only adds to the elegance of this silent art masterpiece. Ramon Novarro did his best work in this film, and the character of Dr. Juttner (played by the wonderful Jean Hersholt) is one that is so likable, that audiences root hard for the characters of Prince Karl and Kathi, whom Dr. Juttner supports. Although I have agreed with most of AFI's 25 Greatest Female Stars List, I wish that Norma Shearer was on it. She married the greatest film producer that Hollywood will ever know (Irving Thalberg), but even without having married 'The Boy Genius'(as Thalberg was then called), Norma Shearer would have have shined on her own - which she proved with this film before she married Thalberg. The reviews for this film in 1927 and 1928 were overwhelmingly positive - including the November, 1927 Photoplay review, which raved about the film. Maybe Hollywood film organizations and historians should take a second look. I loved it, and not just because I have German roots in my family.
Animal Crackers (1930)
Hooray for Animal Crackers!
Animal Crackers is one of the best films ever done by the 4 Marx Brothers. For a start, the comedy completely works on screen, especially considering that the film was adapted from the musical stage play. And although Zeppo's comedy has always been underrated and underplayed in the five films that the 4 Marx Brothers did for Paramount Pictures, he proves in this film, as well as the four other movies he appeared with Groucho, Chico, and Harpo, that the 4 Marx Brothers made better films when the four of them worked together; as opposed to when it was just Groucho, Chico and Harpo. All the Marx Brothers films which included Zeppo were zanier films and, to me, the best of their work. Verbally, Groucho is at his razor-sharp best in Animal Crackers, with almost every one-liner dripping with comedic insults and sarcasm. Chico and Harpo perfectly add to the mayhem. The direction by Victor Heerman showed the type of skill needed to professionally control the 4 Marx Brothers to make Animal Crackers the tremendous success that it was. Though the Great Depression was taking hold on the American psyche in 1930, Animal Crackers was the perfect comedy which allowed ordinary Americans to enjoy the spoofing of America's 'Hoi Polloi'.
Though the 4 Marx Brothers' succeeding films (Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, and Duck Soup) were even more of the Hollywood film-style comedy successes which crystalized their zaniness and on-screen craziness, one should not underestimate the cinematography of George Folsey, Sr., who made the film look like a movie written especially for the screen. The look of the film (specifically the sets) makes one feel like he or she wished they had been invited to Mrs. Rittenhouse's party in honor of Captain Spaulding. Lillian Roth never looked better, and the best song in the film is her musical number with Hal Thompson, "Why Am I So Romantic?" - which was the theme music for the entire movie. Animal Crackers is one of my favorite films that the 4 Marx Brothers did for Paramount Pictures - although all five films made at Paramount are absolute gems. I strongly suggest getting the Marx Brothers' Silver Screen Collection, which is now on DVD. They are a must for your film library!
Little Miss Marker (1980)
A Tremendously Overlooked Diamond of a Film!
Though there may be a tendency to compare the 1980 version of "Little Miss Marker" to the 1934 version (with Shirley Temple as The Kid), writer/director Walter Bernstein captures the very essence of the 1930's with his screenplay and direction, respectively. One of the reasons I loved the 1980 version is the set designs and the vivid colors of the film. But even more importantly, I loved Walter Matthau's performance as Sorrowful Jones. He has great one-liners that only add to this gem of a film. Of course, nobody plays a sidekick better than Bob Newhart, who plays Regret. Newhart and Matthau made a great team in this movie, and I wish they had worked on more films together. I love The Kid (played by one-time film actress Sara Stimson), for she adds a cuteness to her character that is similar to Shirley Temple's "Kid", but yet is different in that her character displays quite a bit more innocence. Julie Andrews is more than believable as Amanda Worthington, as she tries to soften the two men in her life. And one should not forget Tony Curtis, who is perfect Blackie.
I regret that this movie didn't make more money at the box office, because it did capture the lives of the poor majority and privileged minority during the Depression very well. And it is funny and just a fun movie to watch. Little Miss Marker is one of my favorite films (added to the already long list) because it looks great cinemagraphic-wise, the script is well done, and the performances are very, very good. I find it interesting that this version of the famous Damon Runyon story is the first to be released on DVD (2004). Don't miss this chance to buy it and own it. You won't be sorry.
Finally, a Great Swashbuckling Movie!!
The best thing about "Pirates of the Caribbean" is that it does THE one thing that seems to be rare in movies today - it actually tells a STORY! It is a true-blue pirate story - full of pirates, ghosts, treasure, ships battling at sea, etc. Johnny Depp is brilliant as Captain Jack Sparrow, playing his character with such a uniqueness and abandonment, he is unlike any character ever seen in American films. Geoffrey Rush's performance as Captain Barbossa is in the stratosphere - he plays his pirate character with such an evil subtleness that he is extremely convincing as a pirate. But it is the entire cast (including all the secondary quirky characters) that really makes this film. The screenplay by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio takes the audience where every pirate movie fan wants to go.
Very impressive is the direction by Gore Verbinski, for the pacing of the film is near-perfect. He did a wonderful job with the swordfighting scenes - for they are not as overly choreographed as we have seen in recent films, but they have a real touch of reality to every move. The cinematography of Dariusz Wolski is first-rate, as this movie is visually wonderful to view, as the movie-going audience becomes swept-away into another world.
"Pirates of the Caribbean" is a movie for everyone. It may not be a perfect movie, but it's a great swashbuckling movie for the movie-goer who just wants to escape. Just the performances of Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush alone are worth the price of admission. Young girls seem happy with the addition of Orlando Bloom to the cast, then you add the very elements that pirate fans would want in a movie, you have the perfect ingredients for a wonderful time and experience at the American cinema. Hollywood should take notice - if a good story is told (and not rely solely on special effects, CGI and/or explosions), then people WILL flock to the theater every week and attendance records would be broken every year.