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Star Trek (2009)
A Parallel Universe?
Having seen the original series when it was first aired as a small child, and watched reruns on and off ever since, I went into the threatre with an open mind and came out very happy with what I had seen. I found it fun, exciting and imaginative, with great arcs in the stories of the main characters, and I obviously wasn't the only one who felt this way because the audience in the theatre I attended clapped enthusiastically at the end.
I have come to realize over the last forty years that with Star Trek anything can happen, including black holes behaving like worm holes, and the shift in the space-time continuum did not bother me at all, though I was surprised as anyone else at the destruction of Vulcan and the tragic death of Spock's mother. Still I accepted right away that this was opening new roads for ideas as much as Spock and Uhura being a number is, or Scotty being given the equation for trans warp beaming by a Spock from the future.
I truly liked getting to see a young Spock's vulnerable human side a bit more than we did in the original series. Then again in the original series episode, The Menagerie, we do see a younger Spock showing this by smiling in a certain scene, and a few other episodes have him expressing some emotions as well. I am very curious to see more of him in what I expect will be future films. I was also glad to see Ben Cross as the choice for Sarek, and found him touching as Spock's logical father who admits he has felt emotions like love.
So for those who aren't happy with this new look to Star Trek, I suggest you maybe try to see it as a parallel universe to the original series, where both slight and great differences can exist. Also keep in mind that just because time has been tinkered with doesn't mean the characters from STNG etc. won't exist on this time plane in the future. They just may have some changes in their lives, positive or negative, minor or extreme. Just be imaginative: maybe Jean-Luc Picard will captain the future Enterprise, he'll just have married and divorced, having fathered some children in that time. Maybe Tuvok of STVG - who'd be a child when this story is told - was not on Vulcan when it was destroyed. The same might be said for Ensign Vorek's parents, and they will meet at the Vulcan colony that the elder Spock plans to help build. Maybe Seven of Nine's family will never be assimilated by the Borg, she'll end up joining the Maquee and meet Seska, as well as Chekotay and Bh'lana, that way, and they'll all meet Captain Janeway and the USS Voyager the way the rebel group did in the series. Who can say?
As one film reviewer here in Vancouver said, he'd been waiting for this for forty years, and I couldn't agree more; I'm going to see it a second time!
Death and the Maiden (2003)
Beautiful Adaptation of Franz Schubert's Quartet
This is a very engrossing interpretation of the famous string quartet Death and the Maiden, by German romantic composer Franz Schubert. I came across it one morning after just waking up and turning on my TV to watch the Bejing Olympics, found this story being told of a young maiden being visited by a handsome man who is actually the Angel of Death, and who has come to take her away, much to her distress. Done to the music of the quartet, with only the movements and gestures of the actors' bodies telling the story, I found myself quite caught up in the very European flavour of this CBC production, and curious as I watched Death fall in love with the maiden so that he ends up not taking her after all, but seduces her, leaving her bearing his child. An interesting twist to a character we so often see portrayed as ugly and frightening, a bringer of only sadness. A must see for lovers of quality performing arts dramas, and those who love Schubert's beautiful quartet.
A Tense Episode
I just watched this episode last night, and found it to be the best of the three so far. I found the plot very complicated, so I had to keep concentrating on the screen and not let my mind wander: this is something I expect a good mystery drama to do with me. I found myself having to think through each character very carefully to come up with whodunit, but the one I thought most likely wasn't, so it satisfied me there as well by tricking my own deductions as well. That and the fact that after the show, which I had be watching in bed, I had a very stiff neck; a sign that I was taut all through the show as it kept me on edge. My parents phoned me after wards and both said that they really enjoyed it as well. So that is the opinion of three people!
C.S. Lewis Would Be Proud
Like a kid of eleven I counted the days till this film came out, and walked into the threatre expecting an action picture, and got just what I expected and more. This was an even better film than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - some of the wrinkles in the CGI in the first ironed out, and chock-a-block-full of exciting and emotional scenes. I think the producer, director, film and CGI crews did a terrific job, and that the cast really put their hearts into making their characters believable; I look forward to seeing Ben Barnes play Caspian again, while Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes will be a delight to watch once more. I will definitely miss Anna Popplewell and William Moseley, but expect we will see them again if The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle are made in a few years time.
People should also be aware that Lewis's stepson, Douglas Gresham, was co-producer of this film as well as the last one. The Chronicles were amongst his favourite books when he was a child, and I have no doubt he had a say in what his stepfather would and wouldn't have liked done to the storyline in the film.
Since the book (which I first read 34 years ago) is a bit slow in places (my friend's daughter found it a bit boring when she had it read to her), so I expected the story would have to be filled out, which it was, but the original storyline was kept to faithfully. I think my favourite scene in the whole film was at the beginning at the Tube station, when the Pevensie children are drawn back into Narnia. Wonderfully awe-inspiring and magical even for a 45 year old!
The book is about the fight to reclaim Narnia from the Telmarines, so I was rather surprised at some film critic's reviews I read which said that there were too many battle scenes. Others bemoaned how it was too much like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. Did they not know that Rowling was greatly influenced by Lewis's writing? Who came first? Also Tolkien was a very close friend and contemporary of Lewis's, and attended Oxford with him. I got a very strong impression that many critics have never read the books, haven't learned anything about the writer, or maybe even saw the film. The latter conclusion is from seeing so many borrowed sentences and paragraphs from others in their reviews, that it gave me the feeling that they have a hard job doing what they're supposed to do: write an independent opinion on a film. Why did they go to journalism school in the first place? I was also wondering why they were disappointed in the darker and more violent side in some of the scenes in this film. Here's something from the book, Prince Caspian:
A dull, grey voice at which Peter's flesh crept replied, "I'm hunger. I'm thirst. Where I bite, I hold till I die, and even after death they must cut out my mouthful from my enemy's body and bury it with me. I can fast a hundred years and not die. I can lie a hundred nights on the ice and not freeze. I can drink a river of blood and not burst. Show me your enemies."
That line was used in the most frightening scene, I thought, in the film. Here's another:
Peter swung to face Sopesian, slashed his legs from under him and, with the back-cut of the same stroke, walloped off his head.
I think a book with a graphic scene - for children's literature - like that in it can only be expected to have a darker tone to it when made into a film. Actually in the film they deleted that scene and replace it with Sopesian being snatched away by the root of one of the trees that arrived late at the battle to save the day.
So many simple lines were brought to life in this film such as:
And imagine that the wood, instead of being fixed to one place, was rushing at you; and no longer trees but huge people; yet still trees because their long arms waved like branches and their heads tossed and leaves fell round them in showers.
A masterpiece! I am looking forward to seeing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 2010.
Princes in the Tower (2005)
An Unsolved Mystery
I enjoyed this speculative historical drama; the first one in a while that has had such a deep effect on my very picky tastes. I went and started looking up Perkin Warbeck in some books I have, and was interested to find two conclusions to his story in two different books. One said that, like in the dramatization, he was forced or tricked into confessing his true identity and swiftly executed for treason by hanging. The other said that after he confessed, Henry VII allowed him to become a member of his court, but Warbeck didn't seem to want to stay, and sometime later he tried to escape from England. He was captured and then hanged. I wonder which one is the most accepted?
The Greatest Man in Canada
When Tommy Douglas, the man who introduced social health care to Canada, was mentioned by the golfer friend of Michael Moore's Canadian relatives, I wish more had been said about him. Canadians did vote for him as the greatest Canadian when the CBC held a nation wide contest on that subject in 2005, and I think Americans should understand why he even beat Wayne Gretzky in that competition.
Our health care system has taken a beating in recent years, but what we do have we cherish, even though some Canadians will whine about it and think privatization is the answer to waiting in line for an operation. I have had epilepsy since I was a child and I'm able to go specialist doctor appointments without having to pay a fee, I've had more than one EEG, MRI, CAT Scan and other tests without having to pay for them. If I were to have an operation, I wouldn't need to pay for it either. Now we do pay taxes for our health care system, but you just don't think of that. We are just glad to have it. The only thing I pay for his the health insurance I get through my employers (Pacific Blue Cross) so that I can pay for my medications and dental appointments. I only pay about 72 dollars Canadian a month, my employers pay the rest.
Some Americans will probably be immediately interested to know that Kiefer Sutherland is Tommy Douglas's grandson, and that Kiefer and his mother Sheila Douglas are avid supporters and defenders of the health care system here in Canada, taking part on certain occasions in protecting it from privatization.
If you want to learn more about Tommy Douglas go to:
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)
Hwhy Sinbad, hwhy?
The statue of the Hindu goddess Kali coming to life, the fight between the centaur and the gryphon, the wooden creaking of the ship's figurehead as she fights Sinbad and his sailors, Caroline Munro saying "Hwhy Sinbad, hwhy?; there's something for everyone in this delightful piece of escapism. I think it's Harryhausen's best film of the 1970s and anyone who loves fantasy or mythology will get a kick out of it. I also liked the sets, especially the places where the well of the Oracle of all Knowledge (just loves Robert Shaw's Shakespearean performance as the Oracle) presides and the temple of Kali too. I must for my growing collection of beloved films.
Ice Cold in Alex (1958)
You Taste and Feel the Sand in Your Mouth and Eyes
This taut, engrossing and exciting war drama is more a fascinating character study than just another WWII film. Made in the sweltering heat of the northern Sahara Desert of Libya, I found myself sitting up until 2 am to see it through to the end, enjoying every minute of it, feeling like I was experiencing every task of the events in the story along with the characters.
The story tells of ambulance corps officer played by John Mills named Captain Anson, whom the war has driven to drink, who is unwillingly ordered to leave besieged Tobruk before the Germans break through and take the strategically important town over. In his ambulance he takes with him two young nurses, along with the stalwart Sergeant Major Tom Pugh played by Harry Andrews, and heads out across the desert for Alexandria in Egypt. Their journey leads them through many obstacles, and along the way they pick up the enigmatic South African army officer, Captain van der Poel (van-der-POO-el he corrects them in his distinctly Afrikaner accent) played by Anthony Quayle, who has become detached from his unit and is looking for a lift. Can they beat the elements of the desert and make it to Alexandria, where Anson knows of a certain bar that serves the ice cold lager he so longs for and promises the others?
In height and build Mills is a much smaller next to big men like Andrews and Quayle, but I was very impressed with how his strong acting and personal inner character make him seem as tall and broad shouldered as the other two. I also admired how the whole cast put their all into the many no doubt very difficult scenes, obviously having to deal with the physically exhaustive work that was asked of them, the tortuous heat and sand fleas nipping at their legs. I could see they were feeling the affects and that adds to the realism of the whole film. Note even the lovely Sylvia Syms as the seemingly unshakable nurse Sister Diana Murdoch, didn't avoid having to look hot, sweaty and bothered like her male co-stars, unlike some Hollywood actresses of that time who I will not even mention. That and the ambulance must have been an oven during the whole shoot.! A truly unique film and worth the whole gripping two hours.
The Man Between (1953)
Snow Covered Streets of Post-War Berlin
This taut film noir when compared to Carol Reed's masterpieces of that genre, Odd Man Out and The Third Man, is a flawed gem, but still that - a gem.
Filmed in Berlin just eight years after WWII ended, and eight years before the Wall went up, it stars James Mason and Claire Bloom as star-crossed lovers in a city still digging itself out of the rubble made by Allied bombs, and still taking refugees from the east of Europe. The story tells of Susanne Mallison, a young Englishwoman who has arrived in Berlin to visit her older brother Martin, an army physician in the British sector of the city, and his German wife Bettina. It is while Susanne and Bettina are spending a day in the eastern sector, that Bettina finds herself reluctantly introducing Susanne to an old friend, the suave and handsome Ivo Kern. Susanne doesn't like Ivo at first -the audience isn't supposed to either - and she immediately becomes suspicious that he and Bettina are having a clandestine affair. She is curious though about the man, but will she learn the truth about Ivo and his mysterious background?
Meanwhile off the set of the film there was more going on behind the scenes between the two stars. From the book 'James Mason - A Personal Biography', by Mason's former sister-in-law and life long friend, Diana de Rosso: "I was to observe another side of his character, rarely disclosed, when he came to London to finish filming The Man Between. He was a frequent visitor to our London home and he began to bring with him increasingly, his ethereally lovely co-star Claire Bloom...He showed a marked interest in the young actress. There was a quality about her, a stillness and tranquillity which set her apart from most artists her age, yet she had a pointed wit and a fine intelligence, virtues which appealed to James - and it was quite apparent that he was in danger of losing his heart. In truth I believe his heart was lost...His attachment to Claire was purely romantic. They used to sit on the floor together in our house, hand in hand, plainly adoring each other..."
But as with Ivo and Susanne, it was the same with James and Claire. Mason did not divorce his estranged wife Pamela Kellino, and de Rosso was surprised that he didn't, but she has some theories. When he finally did get his divorce a few years later, Claire had moved on to other things in her career and private life. Still, when they met again several years later, it was clear that Mason still was very fond of her and she likewise.
When I first saw this film I questioned whether Mason's German accent was very good, but when I lent it to a pair of friends who are German, they said that he did a good job. As for the German supporting cast, it is the best, especially the lovely Hildegard Neff, and the hauntingly beautiful musical score catches the bleak feeling of the city during a cold winter. They are also reasons I list this as one of my favourite film noir productions.
The Lost Prince (2003)
Royal Family Relationships
It should be pointed out that not all royal parents are depicted as showing lack of affection in this very touching production. Edward VII is depicted as a very affectionate grandfather who gets right down on his hands and knees to play with his grandsons and their tin soldiers, silently shaming his son, the Prince of Wales, into doing the same. He also races buttered toast down his pant legs, much to the delight of his grandchildren. His wife, Queen Alexandra, is also supposed to have been a very affectionate mother and grandmother, and is depicted as such in this production in the few scenes she is in, being the first to laugh at Prince John's cute behaviour in front of the royal family and their guests at the picnic the have in the palace gardens. King George V's early enrollment in the navy is supposed to have turned him into the gruff father he was, while Queen Mary's cold behaviour is shown in this series to have been from her sad shame in her obese and eccentric mother, not wanting to be like her. As for George and Mary's children, I think we must also put to mind that since most of their time was spent with their nannies, they were they people who had the greatest influence on their personalities. The later King George VI is supposed to have been abused by his nanny, which is why he developed a severe stutter. I do think George V and Mary should have been more affectionate parents; why George didn't benefit from his parents affection, I'll never understand, but then I have know overly affectionate parents whose children have grown to be selfish adults.