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150 reviews in total 
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"Empire" (2005)
The Julius Caesar drama from the point of view of a gladiator - with tremendous and successful impact, 27 June 2016

History is grossly tampered with, but it doesn't matter, it was always tampered with in any account of the Caesars, but here the historical inaccuracies are made completely negligible by the splendid acting, making all the characters credible enough and even convincing, and by the equally splendid dramatization - this is not just film, but drama and literature.

The most interesting feature though is the leading character, who is not Octavius or Anthony or any of the politicians but the gladiator Tyrannus, played by Jonathan Cake, who really sustains the entire performance of four hours until the very end - he alone makes this epic outstanding to a most remarkable degree.

He is of course completely fictional, as is the love story between Octavius and the vestal virgin Camane, which could be pointed out as a sore point of sentimentality of the story, but it never falls out of style.

The other fictional details, like the villainy of Antony, the trials of Octavius, the stylized assassination scene, Mark Antony's wife's complicity, Brutus' mother, the story of the ring, the gladiator and gory sequences, all actually serve to enhance the dramatic credibility of the characters, especially that of Antony - he was actually like that, completely ruthless, until Cleopatra changed his mind.

But the star remains Jonathan Cape as Tyrannus, who witnesses and takes part in the drama from below, with constant very interesting vacillations, doubts, changing sides, always worrying with constant anxiety adding to the psychological thriller of the drama.

Second to Jonathan Cake is Vincent Regan as Antony, whose performance is absolutely fascinatingly convincing in every scene. Santiago Carrera is also excellent as the young, immature but maturing Octavius, Michael Maloney as Cassius also couldn't be better, James Frain as Brutus is also perfect although he doesn't get much of a say, only Cicero is not quite convincing, perhaps too old for the part (Cicero was only 62 at the time,) and not up to his actual eloquence; while the role of Camane as the Vestal speaker and commentator to the drama is a stroke of ingenuity.

There are many dramatic climaxes, but the greatest is of course the Caesar funeral scene with Antony's conversion of the masses, an actual fact, here much shortened but dramatically intensified.

Even the music is very apt and never disturbing, although it risks running away with itself in the dramatic climaxes.

In brief, one of the best adaptations of the greatest Roman drama in perhaps the last five decades.

Tolerable short cut version of one of the greatest novels, 4 June 2016

I thought I had seen them all, but then as a surprise this one appeared with the blatant curiosity of Charles Laughton as Javert. Of course you couldn't miss such an opportunity, no matter what it purported.

Of course, it was worth seeing especially for Charles Laughton, who is an unusually nasty police here, a police of the very worst sort, all formality and no humanity, but he makes it amazingly convincing - there actually are such policemen. Frederic March is not bad as Jean Valjean, and for once, perhaps the only time in the cinema, you are able to see Jean Valjean as a young and handsome man - even his sister is with him in the introduction scene.

Cedric Hardwicke as the bishop, perhaps the most important character in the whole novel, doesn't have to make any effort into his part, it is all written and can't be made any worse by anyone, and he actually adds some humor to it, lacking in Victor Hugo.

The question has been raised what Victor Hugo would have thought. This film was made only a year after the great French masterpiece of five hours by Raymond Bernard, the best and truest film on "Les Miserables", although even that fools around with Hugo a bit, but this American version is unfortunately the worst. The character of Jean Valjean is missing, as Frederic March thoroughly overdoes it, while the very strength in the character lies in his absolute self control, which is spoilt here, compensated somewhat by Laughton's all too true performance. Worst is the child Cosette, who preludes Shirley Temple. John Beal as Marius is a positive surprise, while the important part of Gavroche is missing altogether.

Still it's an exciting film, it must be the most abbreviated version of "Les Miserables" ever made, and you pardon its gross coarseness and vulgarization of the novel since it's still after all the same novel, perhaps the greatest ever written. Victor Hugo would not have liked this film version much, especially not after the great French version the year before, but he would have tolerated it.

A complicated but intelligent web of the art of survival at its most difficult by compulsory espionage, 12 May 2016

Fascinating thriller of espionage and how to survive the most impossible circumstances by simply collaborating with any criminal and make him trust you, even if he doesn't. This is no James Bond entertainment but bloody war and a true one, and Eddie Chapman existed for real and managed to trick his way through the war by selling his soul to any devil that offered a price. He was doomed from the beginning and would have passed the entire war in jail for burglary on an advanced scale if he hadn't offered himself as a spy for the Germans. There it all began.

The main character of the drama however is not Chapman/Christopher Plummer but Yul Brunner as his main employer in Germany, the Baron von Grunen, who has no illusions about the war and admits defeat when there is one. Gert Frobe is another, an honest policeman who survives by his honesty and sticking to it, even when it could be argued away. Romy Schneider is the one woman of some realism who also admits defeat and recognizes a fatal farewell and accepts it even when there is one too many. All actors are good but none outstanding, because a complicated story like this admits no stars, and the grim reality and circumstances of the intrigue play of a war like this lets no star shine through. Only in the end, after the war, when Christopher Plummer finally is able to relax at a pub home in London there is finally room for an ego when it has got through it all alive and kicking after all, – but it took many difficult twists and turns to get there.

Mother in distress just in time for Christmas, 7 May 2016

A perfect family in a perfect Californian community by the coast, the daughter (17) gets mixed up with a fatal charmer, mother intervenes, the charmer asks for money to stay out, makes one call too much, happens to an accident, the mother adds to her load of troubles by trying to dispose of the body, and then the complications start: the daughter has written many compromising letters to the charmer, which a ruthless blackmailer gets hold of, and there you are. Well, well. The complications have only started accumulating.

Joan Bennett is always perfect and more than perfect, she never played any great personage, but her characters are always absolutely straight and clear, which makes her always impressing. James Mason is also more than perfect as the hired blackmailer who turns soft and into something of a chivalrous saviour, taking over more than a due part of the worries in an interesting change of character, and then you have the virtuoso direction of Max Ophuls on top of that in his last American film and perhaps in some ways the best. Just the scene of James Mason entering the bar in search of his boss is in itself a masterpiece. His rendering of this American home tragedy is almost documentary in character, the realism in all its details with the children and the housemaid is so natural, and the mother couldn't be more motherish. Ophuls delivers as usual more than you have bargained for, and one of the greatest cinematic pleasures you could encounter is to see an Ophuls film for the first time without knowing anything about it. You will always remember it for life.

A wife sells her husband's wedding present with an unexpected and unintentional labyrinth of consequences and complications, 1 May 2016

The two top gallant gentlemen of the cinema as rivals of its most beautiful woman, both loving her beyond expression in the subtlest possible intrigue of fate as unpredictable as an improvised thriller in which the writer himself has no idea of where the mechanics of destiny will lead him or the puppets of his tale, a labyrinth of love leading everywhere but out of it, filmed with all the refined expertise of perhaps the greatest film director of all, using his constantly moving camera for an overwhelming constant flood of beauty and poetry. This is simply incredible. You can see every film of his again and again forever, since their richness of details and amounting complications of human feelings always expressed by hints and understatements are unfathomably without end. Danielle Darrieux. great already in the 30s and chosen by most cinema lovers as the one outstanding film queen of beauty, is 99 today (1st of May 2016), while her warm beauty dominates her every film forever. Charles Boyer is always reliably excellent and here nobler than ever as the husband, while Vittorio de Sica perhaps makes his most sincere performance as the passionate lover, just as honestly romantic as Charles Boyer's absolute nobility couldn't be more convincing.

What about the story, then, actually seemingly superficially a trifle of unavoidable complications resulting from white lies, but the miracle is how this mere miniature of an episodic detail is aggrandized into a love drama of more than epic proportions involving all kinds of storms of a thrilling melodrama. Comedy or tragedy? No, just a human documentary charting an ocean of the complications of being just human.

To this comes Oscar Straus' delightful music adorning the masterpiece with a golden frame of tenderness, as if the composer adored the poor victims of this train of complications resulting from the mere trifle of a white lie. Is anyone committing any mistake at all to deserve all this agony of unnecessary self-torture resulting from mere complexes of feelings? No, in all this towering guilt no one is to blame for anything. They are all as innocent as children getting mixed up in a game that goes beyond them. Maybe the tragedy could have been avoided, but then the French are as they are with a penchant for an irrevocably undeniable mentality of Crime Passionnel.

There Max Ophuls finds a dead end of his story and film, which perhaps was necessary, or else a story like this could never have ended. In fact, there was a continuation, but Ophuls cut it out, forcing himself to avoid overdoing it. The masterpiece just couldn't be driven further.

Still, it's not his best film. But it's a perfect example of the virtuosity of his art.

Smith, Brown and Jones (Alec Guinness, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov and Lillian Gish) caught up in the mess of the world's most rotten government, 29 April 2016

Graham Greene generally had problems with films made on his books. In the beginning the situation was hopeless - the film companies would distort his plots and make a film of his story that would be anything but what he had written, like for instance " A Gun for Sale" ("This Gun for Hire") with Alan Ladd, but alerted on this problem he started to work on it, and already "Brighton Rock" (1947) was fairly much of what he had intended. In "The Third Man" Carol Reed made the end of the film the direct opposite of what Greene had written, but the author had to admit that Carol Reed's ending was better. They also collaborated on "The Fallen Idoll" with gratifying success, but in "The Comedians" Greene finally was allowed to have all the say, and it's a triumph both for the author,the director and everyone involved in it. The book is the author's last great novel, he was past 60 at the time, and a novel couldn't be more truly Greene, with a hotel owner stuck on a hopeless spot in the world's most corrupt regime, with a phony American politician naïvely believing only the best of the dictatorship until people are murdered in front of him, and a pathetic remnant from the colonial days trying to sell arms to the dictator with deplorable results, finally even bungling his escape. Well, well, the film is absolutely perfect all the way, also Peter Ustinov married to Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones as the doctor couldn't do better, but the main credit goes to the director, for actually paying homage to Graham Greene by for once being as true as possible to a literary work of art, which possibly has never happened before. The novel is great, maybe Greene's greatest in its subtle understatement of a universal protest against the very idea of any dictatorship, the film is great, and it is carefully done with absolute professionalism.

Best is Alec Guinness, but he had filmed with Peter Grenville before in the very memorable "The Cardinal" more than ten years earlier, a bold effort to analyze the very essence of the brainwash procedure and mentality based on the breaking down of Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary. Alec Guinness was a catholic himself and here actually portrayed a saint, while in this film he tops it by making the opposite… Just wonderful.

One must wonder what happened to Richard Burton afterwards. He was still on the top here, afterwards there would be some divorces with Elizabeth Taylor, some constantly lesser films and a lot of booze… also a very appropriate character for any novel by Graham Greene. I love them all.

The hard life of a single mother and her daughter in a small fishing community in Iceland with heart-rending love stories, 23 April 2016

Halldór Killian Laxness' (birthday today, the only Nobel prize winner in literature of Iceland,) great novel of Iceland in the 20s was originally on purpose written in English to make it sell and to make it a film. The film wasn't made until after 25 years and in Sweden, but then became a unique lyrical-expressionistic masterpiece and Arne Mattsson's best film, tragically underrated, with above all a heart-breaking performance by Margareta Krook as the mother, but all the actors are outstanding: Birgitta Pettersson as the young Salka, Folke Sundquist as her one great love of a lifetime who constantly fails her, Erik Strandmark as the scoundrel abusing everyone and making money on it, a fantastic portrait of a reckless adventurer who means no harm and can't understand all the harm he is causing, although his progress is devastating to almost everyone, Sigge Fürst as the Salvation Army Captain, the one who understands something of the tragedy and becomes victim of it himself, Gunnel Broström as the hard-boiled, mature Salka who still has a bleeding heart, and many others. Special credit to the fantastic photo of Sven Nykvist with constant close-ups of striking intimacy and breath-taking landscape scenes of the wilderness of Iceland, and the overwhelmingly beautiful music by Sven Sköld, perfectly fitted to the overwhelmingly poetical imagery of the authentic landscapes of Iceland and the heart-breaking story, completing the very Nordic sentiment of the whole epic and driving its melancholy almost to unbearable sadness and nostalgia. This is Scandinavian neo-realism at its best, made in the same vein as Ingmar Bergman's "Sawdust and Tinsel" ("Gycklarnas aft on").

The second Disney Jungle Book as far out as possible from Kipling but the more delightful for its compensations, 21 April 2016

Walt Disney was obsessed with Kipling's Jungle Book, it was his greatest dream to make his version of it, but he failed from the beginning, dying before having had the possibility to supervise the cartoon version of 1966, which in its failure to realize his visions did not live up to them. His work on Kipling was thereby left unfinished. As if they felt some duty of his legacy, his followers kept following up on Mowgli, and there were two more Disney Jungle Books to come, the first a full feature film with live men and animals, and the second concentrating entirely on the animal world. Both are great successes, although the first almost becomes anti-Kipling in its turning British soldiers into typical shallow Disney villains, you couldn't imagine anything less gentlemanly or Kiplingesque, and of course they are doomed from the beginning, like all Disney's demonizations, and the second is a remake, although better, of the 1967 cartoon but with astounding impersonation of the animals.

This second version tells an entirely different story, departing demonstrably from Kipling, concentrating on the ankus incident and its problems of greed and human short-sightedness, but it's a wonderful film, and all the major characters are there. The monkey episode is given a new slant of delightful good humor, underscoring the main character of the film as delightful in its splendor all the way.

None of the animals speak in this film but are the more expressive, especially Shere Klhan, who is only in for the killing but with a vengeance, turning him into the film's triumph. The Disney mark is here: any animal is better than any man.

And that is as far as you can get from Kipling. None of the three Disney Jungle Books have lived up to an ounce of the Kipling poetry, which is the main blood of his Jungle Book, but nevertheless, the ingenious conclusion of this film, which couldn't be more Disney, is just as good a story as anything of Kipling's.

The outstanding music score adds to its qualities, bringing it almost all the way to a full 10 points.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
How everything could but go completely wrong when you try to help Hitler win the war, 19 April 2016

The problem is that he scalds himself with coffee. That triggers an avalanche of complications, centered around a plot to use the latest time travel technique to go back for a visit at Hitler's to present him with a recently stolen A-bomb to make him win the war, but as is commonly the case with political intrigue, things don't always turn out exactly as expected or planned.

Just to mention a few of the complexities, the pilot has a twin brother, and as one of them chokes on a roll his brother takes his place without knowing what on earth he is going for on this trip, and accidentally a few time travel tourists are booked on the same trip without knowing they will be joining some modern nazi weirdos on their venture to make Hitler win the second world war. There are many such complications, for instance, accidentally, the time travel rocket lands three years before schedule just after Pearl Harbor when Hitler stands outside Moscow and is already certain that he can't lose the war, so there is some double confusion here.

It's a brilliant tongue-in-cheek comedy all the way, and it's admirable how serious everyone remains in the middle of amounting hilarities that constantly increase in absurdity. The paralyzing pistol that turns its victims green is sensational. This is a unique science fiction comedy of refreshing self irony all the way, making fun of everything, society, bureaucracy, gangsters, Nazis and even the genre itself, while at the same time there is some serious business: the highlight is the tremendous scene with Hitler himself when he is compelled to watch documentaries from the future of the fall of his Reich with its consequences. Of course, he can't believe his eyes, and still, when he is alone, he can't resist the temptation to watch it all over again, not to gloat in it, but to try to understand what is to him absolutely impossible. This is ingenious science fiction with an intelligent psychological touch to it.

The whole film is over-intelligent, and as the complications keep towering it becomes increasingly difficult to follow the constant turnings of the bizarre events which eventually turn to some heaps of killings, but it all makes sense at least mathematically and logically, although fortunately so far it is all completely impossible - unless you believe in Stephen Hawking's persistent assertions. Maybe he is next to be favored by some cure from the future...

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Shere Khan makes this new Jungle Book fantasy an impressive adventure to remember, 16 April 2016

Amazing cinematic dramatization of Kipling's "Jungle Book" that dwarfs all previous versions - at least dramatically. The high tempo with thrilling intensity is set from the beginning as Mowgli races Bagheera all over the jungle on the ground as well as way up in the trees, but Bagheera, as also nature in this film, always wins. As many have pointed out, the leading character of the drama though is the villain Shere Khan the Tiger, impressively impersonated by Idris Elba, while you can't suspect Ben Kingsley as Bagheera and Bill Murray as Baloo. At the same time, this splendid Jungle Book fantasy makes up for the dreadful Disney animation of 1966, which never was supervised by Disney himself, as he passed away that year. That Mowgli was like any vexing pest of that age with almost nothing human about him and hardly even alive as more than a cartoon cliché, while this Mowgli is the more sympathetic as a real child and very much alive - he even speaks intelligibly. Also the animals are regular successes with a very impressing Bandarlog king - the spectacular sequences from the ghost town of ruins with an overwhelming mob of baboons is maybe the film's most impressive part, while the final settlement with Shere Khan mainly consists of cinematic effects, although exciting enough as a proper climax. Important above all is the message, which Walt Disney himself made clear already as early as in "Bambi" in 1941, that the real villain is man, and Shere Khan is the only one to carry through that message with a convincing vengeance - there is no doubt about it.

What you miss in the film is the magic and poetry of Kipling. The wolf scenes do represent it to some degree, but in comparison with the 1942 movie shot on location in southwest India, which was poetry all the way, this is more in the category of effectively dramatic entertainment, the poetry and soul getting lost in the technical virtuosity. Still, it's a marvel of a film, and its high gear through the whole run leaves you already exhausted after half an hour, almost like an Indiana Jones thriller.

What would Kipling have thought about it? He would most certainly have liked it, laughed at it and thoroughly enjoyed it, but still preferred the even more creative paraphrase on his book of the 1942 version.

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