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The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Why this film means what it means...to me
While every filmmaker wants to reach a large audience, the actual effect will usually boil down to an individual experience. So it is with "The Passion of the Christ". Notice how Jesus makes an impression on individuals throughout the movie. His mother Mary; Satan; His disciples John, Peter, and Judas; Mary Magdalen; Pontius Pilate, his wife, lieutenant Abenader; the High Priest Caiphas; Simon of Cyrene; and the unnamed soldiers who crucify Him. I make no judgment on the reaction of others, how I see it is what remains with me. I am a Born-Again Christian, and therefore a movie that concerns the act that forms the foundation of my beliefs will effect me differently than an atheist who challenges it, a skeptic who questions it, a movie critic who analyzes it, or even another Christian who has seen it. But why I value this film is because of how Mel Gibson portrays it, not simply because it is about Jesus Christ. I've seen other movies about or with Jesus in them, but none where nearly every scene has effected me deeply. I credit Gibson and his team for making this happen. This should stand as his masterpiece, and the career performances for much of the cast. The standouts are Caviezel's Christ of course, but also the commanding presence of Hristo Shopov as Pilate, Rosalindo Celenato's haunting Satan, and Pietro Sarubbi's manic Barabbas. This film is just too powerful and well done to be missed. See it and draw your own conclusions. For me, it will never make my Top Ten list because it exists outside of entertainment value. But there was no reason it could not have won Academy Awards in several categories had it been nominated.
The Golden Compass (2007)
This adaptation was a travesty from about ten minutes in. And considering the talent involved, the shame should burn even further and last longer. Direction is where the train first flies off the tracks here. Did Chris Weitz read the book or the Cliffs Notes? Everything in the story flies forward at warp speed, and since there is much in the story that needs to be dwelt on, trimming details was not the way to go. If you remember, the first Harry Potter movie and The Fellowship of the Ring both clocked in at around three hours, because there was so much to reveal to the audience and no one complained about the length of those movies at the box office. The Armoured Bear fight lasts less than three minutes which doesn't give us enough time to appreciate the importance of what's happening. And I think Ian McKellen was wrong for the voice of Iorek. His voice carries too much majesty to convey the deep wounds of humiliation that Iorek has. I would've used Guy Pearce or Jeremy Irons.
Also wrong was taking events that carried a lot of emotional weight, like deaths of certain characters, and sweetening them up to "spare" the kids in the audience. Look, it's PG-13, which means the parents have been warned. I saw kids taken to The Dark Knight, and there's no way the Golden Compass could ever approach that kind of shock or horror. I did not like how Nicole Kidman looked as Mrs. Coulter. I think the makeup people could have done a little better than just pretend her face was a plastic mask. Also, there's no back story given on why she's so important to the story. It just occurs and the audience has to play catchup. When "Dune" was released in 1984, many thought that it was a good companion piece for those who had read the book, but to the uninitiated, it was a quagmire of confusion. I wouldn't even call this waste of two hours a worthwhile watch for those who have read the book, let alone those who have not.
If I don't like it, then I won't watch it again
I identify with the passion of one of this film's characters who declares to be "hungry for more" after having seen this work by Brad Bird. I absolutely loved "The Incredibles", and yet figured that Brad Bird would stick to his schedule of only making a movie every few years or so. I certainly wasn't sure that he'd team up again with Pixar. And then I saw that he had chosen this project. I was a little trepidant approaching this movie's opening. Could lightning strike twice or was Bird doomed to wander into a wasteland of storytelling like M. Night Shyamalan? I am now confident that Brad Bird will not dwindle away his talent. This movie was as richly fulfilling as the feasts it displays and I'll try to stop with the food metaphors from here on. I had thought the story was going to be about urban rat adventures in the same way as "Flushed Away", "The Great Mouse Detective", or "The Secret of NIMH". But then I saw the teaser which informed that instead it would focus on the delight of making and eating fine cuisine. With rats? Yes, with rats. It encouraged me that are others out there who know that real reason haute cuisine is so snobbish is because it has the wealth of flavors that you won't get from The Olive Garden or McDonald's. I watched with shear joy as food was woven into the plot and displayed with such magnificence. My mother who was an art major in college said that this was the finest animation she had ever seen, and this from a woman who has watched "Toy Story", "Beauty and the Beast", "Snow White", "Pinocchio", and "Wallace and Gromit". All you have to see is the breathtaking vistas of Paris and you also will want to shout Bravo! Finally, what I've started noticing and liking about Pixar versus the sequel maniacs at Dreamworks is their ability to cast characters. "The Incredibles" could've had bigger names than Craig T. Nelson or Elizabeth Pena, but they would not have matched character as flawlessly. That continues here as you will not immediately recognize most of the cast (Lou Romano?), but you will agree that no else could've matched so perfectly. Another skill I attribute to Brad Bird. I now eagerly await "1906", confident that it will be one more feather in the cap of someone who is making a claim as the greatest animated filmmaker ever.
Pride and Prejudice (1940)
See Mary Boland in the performance of a lifetime.
None of the message boards I've viewed on this version have mentioned yet the sheer brilliance that is displayed by Mary Boland as Mrs. Bennett. In 1941 she would have had stiff competition at the Oscars from eventual winner Jane Darwell in "The Grapes of Wrath" or Dame Judith Anderson in "Rebecca", but Ms. Boland still deserved a nomination in what is for me the personification of Mrs. Bennett. She brings all of the selfishness and anxiety the role calls for, but also adds her own comic flavor to the role. Ms. Boland had talent of capturing a comic mania that was unique among actresses. Her lightning delivery with her quivering voice brought the line "Mr. Bennett!" to life in a way that I've never quite seen overcome by any other actress in the role. Alison Steadman in the 1995 version I thought was too angry, and Brenda Blethyn in 2005 was too sympathetic. Mrs. Bennett is to be nothing more than comic relief, and Ms. Boland is great at being the foil of Edmund Gwenn who is also perfect in his role as Mr. Bennett. Alas I cannot say the same for Elizabeth! Poor Greer Garson, while a great beauty, never seemed to capture the girlishness needed, and came off more like Jane Bennet's mother than her younger sister (she was 36 and seven years older than Maureen O'Sullivan at the time). But the rest of characters are all well cast, and beyond the Hollywood corruption of the ending, this is a well-produced version of a classic romance. But see it if no other reason than the splendid performance of Mary Boland.
You'll never see its' kind again
Tron is a one of a kind experience, and that's according to the creative staff who made it. Its' uniqueness resides in the filming process used for figures in the computer world scenes via a process called "back-lighting". See the "trivia" section for more information on how this was done, but let me say that back-lighting creates the image that has stayed with me over the years and keeps bringing me back to this milestone movie. The world of the Programs is unlike any other visual setting I have experienced in a movie, with buildings, landscapes, characters, and vehicles that have to be seen to be believed. Like most fans, the Lightcycles and the battle discs are among my favorite images from the story, which while simple, is profound in the context of the evolution of the computing world. Having viewed the documentary on how this movie was made, I also have the utmost respect for the Lisberger team that had to invent the wheel to get this world on film. Bravo for their efforts, and shame to the MPAA for refusing them an Oscar for Special Effects. Finally, while I like David Warner as Sark just fine, it would have been cool to see what Peter O'Toole could have done with this part had he stayed on.
A Shot in the Dark (1964)
One of the funniest movies I (or you) will ever see courtesy of the warped mind of Blake Edwards and the genius of Peter Sellers. Sellers plays Clouseau as a obvious-to-everyone-but-himself clod trying to remedy a bad situation by making it worse (See "The Party" for more of the same). Herbert Lom found the role of a lifetime in the Clouseau-obsessed Inspector Dreyfus, and Burt Kwouk, Graham Stark, and Martin Benson all shine in smaller roles. Sadly, somebody has to play straight man/woman, and Elke Sommer and George Sanders are just fine. The Great Blake mines laughter from nearly every single minute, from Dreyfus' opening phone conversation, to Clouseau's first appearance in the movie, to his destruction of a billiard room, to his night on the town with Maria, to a nudist camp...I laugh at everything in this movie except for one part.
This has got to have the slowest and most boring opening scene in movie history (And yes, I've seen Antonioni's "The Passenger"). I usually skip it when I'm showing it to someone for the first time so they won't get disgusted and leave. Fast-forward to the gunshot, laugh at the animated opening credits, and continue laughing for 99 minutes. Enjoy and suspect everyone!
The Guns of Navarone (1961)
"You may find me factitious at times, but if I didn't crack some very bad jokes now and then I'd go out of my mind."
Corporal Miller's exclamation sums up what kind of mood this WWII action thriller is trying to set. "Guns of Navarone" is not full of flag-waving or patriotism, but wearied veterans who just want to get this job done. Spielberg's soldiers in "Saving Private Ryan" also conveyed this outlook. When we first see Captain Mallory, he is grim faced and upset that his leave has been canceled (as we later find out, he had a good reason for seeking leave!). There is not a lot of emotion expressed at seeing Major "Lucky" Roy Franklin, but the two men are glad to greet each other as comrades. But the movie's first emotional tailspin is when Squadron Leader Barnsby gives a report on his group's failure to attack Navarone. You can see the fatigue on Richard Harris' face as he tells the "bloody truth" about what is being asked of him and his men. A fine cameo by this late, great actor. The characters don't smile or joke too much, and when they do the viewer can plainly see that there's more to tell underneath the surface. This was a great job of acting by all concerned, and they are given wonderful dialog to accompany the stress and tension of the time. The top scenes are when insubordination looms among the characters, not because the person in charge is being sadistic or unfair, but because of the fatigue of everyone. The action and stunts are great, and this is the first movie I've seen that has both cliff climbing AND cliff diving!
Jack and the Beanstalk (1952)
Stick to radio boys...
I'll start blasting the movie first. Remove Abbott and Costello from the cast and you've got a badly colored movie, stiff cardboard from the casting department, badly dubbed sound (especially during the singing!) and annoying dialog (ex. listen to the line "Mr. Dinklepuss" ad infinitum). Obviously some studio hack thought that they could cash in on Disney's CLASSIC presentation of "Mickey and the Beanstalk", but maybe audiences were either more gullible back then (improbable) or stuck in a double feature (more probable). Even children should feel insulted at having this movie shown to them. A total waste of celluloid. Now, about the acting of Abbott and Costello. Bud Abbott always played the straight man, and by all accounts was the nicer person off the set. On radio, his character was usually the smooth fast talker, and was especially funny when his speed caused him to flub his lines and smooth over the mistakes. In the movies, he still plays the straight man, but is more of a con artist. Not that he's bad at it, but that character has been played to perfection by Groucho Marx. The real travesty of the duo on film is Lou Costello. Again, on radio he was funny. He played a character that was a little slower than Abbott, but not too much slower! He was also glib with the lines, and got me laughing when he would ad-lib at Abbott's mistakes. On film, I don't know if it was his decision or not, but in the movies his character becomes a shoddy impersonation of Stan Laurel, which in turn was even more shoddily done by Jerry Lewis. Why the change? he was funny on radio when he was a smarta--, but here he becomes a child-like character that looks like he's mugging for the cameras in every shot. this characterization is shown in every movie they do, and only brings a stain to the reputation they had on radio. What is left to their film career is a poor (very, VERY poor) copy of Laurel and Hardy. The movies would have been much funnier if they had played their radio characters instead of retreads of stock casting.
The Three Musketeers (1973)
"The Musketeer's motto is..." FUN FOR ALL!
Look no further if you want a perfect filmed adaptation of Dumas' classic novel of adventure, romance, and intrigue. The story should be familiar, but the casting, writing, direction, music, and spontaneity is unlike any other musketeer movie I've seen. I believe this film's rise or fall depended on who the creative team was, and no better man could have been chosen than Richard Lester. Lester has not done any movies lately, but he was one of the most talented directors of the mid-sixties and early seventies. He was a master at comedy (see his tow movies with the Beatles for other examples) and one of his trademarks was that during any scene where the focus was supposed to be on the main actors, he would concurrently have extras muttering funny asides to the audience. One of his favorite actors to do this was the late, great Roy Kinnear, whose observations alone require multiple viewings of this movie, even with the subtitles on! On to the actors then. Screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser noted that no other writer in the history of the movies had better actors to bring his scripted characters to life. and it is hard to make any argument against the cast. Could there be a more world-weary Athos than Oliver reed? Or a more dynamic D'Artangen than Michael York? It's always easier to play a villain, but Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee, and Faye Dunaway did fantastic jobs nontheless. The only actor that seems a bit misplaced is Richard Chamberlain. Not that he didn't do a wonderful job as Aramis, but the script seems to have left him with little to do, especially for an actor of his talents. Lee mentioned that all of the actors did nearly all of their own stunts, and that is quite amazing considering the stunts, and that Lee was past fifty when he did this! Check this film out, and you can then be surprised to find that there's a sequel!
Mad Max 2 (1981)
"Mad Mel" is "Juiced" for the Juice
I guess there are all sorts of undertones the viewer could envision in this movie, but I just like to sit back and enjoy the show. What sums it up for me is a photograph a crew member took of future Academy Award winning director and dedicated family man Mel Gibson off the set grinning while blood is pouring down his forehead. Whether it is his own or just an effect is unknown, but what it tells me is that this movie is supposed to be FUN! Sure we can appreciate the similarities to "High Noon" or boo at Kevin Costner's shameless plagiarism in "Waterworld", but it's more enjoyable to watch Mel blow away S&M freak bad guys with his sawed off shotgun, or cruise around in the "last of the V-8 Interceptors". Of course there are some sad losses for the good guys (is that a spoiler?), but for me, "The Road Warrior" is an over-the-top action thriller like "True Lies" that is just meant to be laughed at in some parts, and great for a Friday night gathering with friends over pizza. If you're watching on television, it's even safe enough for the kids to watch!