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|26 reviews in total|
STARS IN MY CROWN (1950): with Joel McCrea, Ellen Drew, Dean Stockwell,
Alan Hale, Lewis Stone, James Mitchell, Amanda Blake, Juano Hernandez,
Ed Begley, Arthur Hunnicutt and James Arness, directed by Jacques
Tourneur. Rating: **** stars. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
One of the most beautiful and touching films I have seen in the last year or so. If "Stars in my Crown" doesn't move you, you have a heart of stone. Joel McCrea - radiating sincerity, integrity and goodness, plays Pastor Josiah Grey, a Protestant minister who was a soldier in the Civil war. He arrives in the small town of Walesville, strides into the bar, puts his six guns guns on the counter and preaches a sermon. And of course he never puts those guns on again. Josiah builds a church, marries Harriet (Ellen Drew) and adopts his nephew John (Dean Stockwell).
Trouble rears its head when Lon Bracket (Ed Begley) tries to buy the former slave, Uncle Famous Prill's (Juano Hernandez) land because he wants to mine it. Uncle Famous refuses to sell and an angry Lon sends a bunch of bullies to destroy the place. But the Swedish farmer Jed Isbell (Alan Hale) - a friend of Josiah's who doesn't attend church, and his six boys turn up to fix the farm.
Later, a typhoid epidemic strikes the town and young doctor Dr. Harris (James Mitchell) attends to the sick and dying while Josiah attends to their souls. This annoys the doctor, who persuades Josiah that he is responsible for spreading the disease. He's wrong, but Josiah, feeling guilty, closes his church and starts staying indoors. Meanwhile, Lon gathers the Klu Klux Klan and prepares to lynch Uncle Famous. Jed and his sons are ready to shoot it out with the Klan, but Josiah has another plan.
At times, this lovely, heartwarming film reminded me of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and I was surprised, considering when it was made, at how strongly it stands against racism and supports Civil Rights. I also enjoyed the fact that Josiah Grey never talks about the supernatural. If only there were more preachers like him in the world. He is a good man through and through.
Jacques Tourneur is a terrific director and I have enjoyed many of his films, but this is the best one I have seen yet. Now wonder he wanted to make it so badly that he was prepared to accept a minimal salary. It's a gentle, yet powerful classic. The final stand off between Josiah Grey and the Klan, BTW, is unforgettable.
The type of film my good friend the Professor calls a "necromance". A
touching, but never sentimental little love story produced by, among
others, Ron Howard and his daughter Bryce Dallas Howard, "Restless" is
beautifully costumed, designed and photographed (Harris Savides), and
gently, expertly steered by Gus Van Sant. Set in Portland - which feels
like a character in this film. Nice score by Danny Elfman too.
Love and loss loom large in the story of Enoch Brae (Henry - son of Dennis - Hopper), a lonely teenager haunted not only by the death of his parents in a car crash, but also that they were buried while he was in a coma. So he never had closure. He lives with Mabel (Jane Adams: his bedraggled but caring Aunt who bemoans the fact that Enoch calls him Mabel rather than Auntie) and no longer attends school after being expelled for beating up someone who dissed his deceased parents. So he spends his days attending the funerals of strangers and chatting with his imaginary friend Hiroshi (Ryo Kase) - the ghost of a WWII Kamikaze pilot.
One day he meets a beautiful, free spirited young girl named Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska) at a funeral. She loves birds and the great outdoors, the two become friends and fall in love while sharing their secrets. Annebel, however, is dying of cancer and has only a few short months to live.
"Restless" probably won't work for everyone, but it charmed and moved me and it it is still floating gently around in my head a week after watching it. Jane Adams' straggly hairstyle is worth the price of admission alone, and the marvelous Mia Wasikowska (whose wonderful offbeat outfits are a credit to Oscar nominated costume designer Danny Glicker) is terrific as Annabel. Ms Wasikowska is rapidly becoming one of my favorite young actresses.
Ron Howard is one of the most successful mainstream directors in America and the lovely Bryce Dallas Howard is, after appearing with distinction in "Hereafter", " 50/50" and the box office hits "The Help" and "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" - a successful young actress on the cusp of major stardom, yet they find the time to make a small, relatively low budget ($8 million) non commercial film like this happen. Kudos to them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
GANGSTER SQUAD with Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone,
Mireille Enos, Sullivan Stapleton, Nick Nolte, Robert Patrick, Giovanni
Ribisi, Michael Peña and Anthony Mackie, directed by Ruben Fleischer.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
Cinema-goers hoping for a gritty, hard-boiled mix of "LA Confidential" and "The Untouchables" will be disappointed with Ruben Fleischer's colorful and cartoonish "Gangster Squad", but this violent, melodramatic tale - set in the late 1940s and (very) loosely based on fact - about a secret LAPD unit charged with taking down mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) comes with a top quality cast, nifty period details, witty dialogue, cool costumes and plenty of bloody action set pieces. So it certainly has entertainment value and should please those punters looking for a glossy, fast moving period gangster yarn with loads of spectacular gun play.
The graphically gory opening scene plays out under the famous Hollywoodland sign in the hills and shows Cohen chaining a man to two cars and pulling him apart before allowing his dogs to feast on the poor fellow's intestines.
Mickey sees Los Angeles as his personal fiefdom and because this brutal, dead-eyed thug has corrupt judges, cops and sheriffs on his payroll, the new police chief William Parker (a grim, grizzled and florid-faced Nick Nolte) is powerless to go after him by legal means. But when the tough, honest and courageous Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), a decorated WW2 veteran, flouts the rules and busts into one of Cohen's brothels to rescue a young lady from a fate worse than death, Parker asks him to set up a small, highly secretive task force and "drive the bastard out of town" by any means possible.
Aided by the advice of his worried, but supportive pregnant wife, Connie (Mireille Enos, from "The Killing and"Big Love"), O"Mara recruits knife throwing beat cop Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), ace cowboy sharp-shooter Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) - who prefers a six shooter to a tommy gun, technology buff Conwell Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), slick-talking ladies man Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) and Kennard's rookie partner Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and prepares to launch attacks on one of Cohen's casinos and his heroin running operation.
Meanwhile, Cohen is setting up a massively lucrative operation which will give him control of all the wire bookmaking west of Chicago and make him virtually untouchable. Thus time is of the essence It does not take long for Cohen to realize the gangster squad are an incorruptible crew and he tells his cohorts "a cop who is not for sale is like a dog with rabies, there's no medicine for it, you just gotta put 'em down".
"Gangster Squad" was lensed by Oscar winning cinematographer Dion Beebe, it takes place in a smoky, neon-lit, sepia-tinted Los Angeles and the Hollywood Boulevard of the '40s look a treat, but the film sure does not have the depth, style, character development or rich, noir flavor of "LA Confidential". A hard-boiled Josh Brolin is well cast and looks the part, while Gosling and Stone (as Mickey's moll, Grace, who falls for Wooters' charms) provide some romantic heat and there are effective supporting turns from a warm, strong, emotionally potent Mireille Enos, Robert Patrick and the Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton (so good in "Animal Kingdom"). Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Pena are all fine actors and turn in convincing performances, but one wishes they were not shortchanged by a script that fails to give them any big individual moments.
Then there is a heavily made up, scenery chewing Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen - who is portrayed as a raging, full blown psycho, devoid of any charisma or likable traits. It's an entertaining and enjoyable performance, but history tells us there was more to Cohen than the one-dimensional character we see here. Unlike Harvey Keitel (who played Cohen in Warren Beatty's "Bugsy"), Penn will not be receiving an Oscar nomination for the part. Still, the film would be a whole lot less fun without him.
The cliché-strewn "Gangster Squad" suffers by comparison with "The Untouchables", but while Ruben Fleischer seems to have been inspired by the De Palma film, his flick is not in the same league. However, while this not a film that lingers on in the memory, and I would have preferred more storytelling and character development to go with the blazing action and violence, it's not boring, it should do quite well at the box office and it made for a relatively enjoyable two hours at the movies. Go with low expectations and you won't be too disappointed. GRANT AUBIN.
DIE WONDERWERKER (2012): with Dawid Minnaar, Elize Cawood, Marius
Weyers, Anneke Weideman, Kaz McFadden, Sandra Kotzé and Cobus Rossouw,
directed by Katinka Heyns. Rating: *** ½ out of **** stars. VERY HIGHLY
An absorbing, moving and excellent period drama - filmed on rugged, magnificent rural locations - which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend to discerning cinema goers.
Like "Roepman", "Jerusalema" and "Tsotsi", Katinka Heyns' "Die Wonderwerker" is one of the best South Africans films I have seen yet.
Beautifully photographed, and sensitively and passionately directed by Katinka Heyns ("Paljas", "Die Storie van Klara Viljee") from a finely detailed script by her husband Chris Barnard, it is, in my opinion, world class fare. An affecting Dawid Minnaar is marvelous as the famous (in South Africa) Afrikaans poet, naturalist, writer and morphine addict Eugene Marais and the entire cast is very good, but Elize Cawood is absolutely outstanding and is likely to garner many local awards.
This is the second South African film about Eugene Marais - Athol Fugard played him in the fine, award winning, Ross Devenish-directed 1977 movie, "The Guest" (An Episode in the Life of Eugene Marais). "Die Wonderwerker", however, is a far superior film to "The Guest".
ROEPMAN (2011): with Paul Loots, John Henry Opperman, Deon Lotz, Rika
Sennett, Lida Botha, Desire Gardner, Beate Olwagen, Andrew Thompson,
Eddie de Jager, Paul Lückhoff, Altus Theart and Ivan Botha, directed by
Paul Eilers. Rating: 9 out of 10. Afrikaans language/English subtitles.
A poignant, affecting and magical South African production about a boy's loss of innocence, "Roepman" is both a quietly powerful political drama and a wondrous fable.
Set in a small railway depot outside Durban, "Roepman" (The Callman) takes us back to 1966 and plunks us into a community of poor white Afrikaners during the days of apartheid. The story revolves around 11-years-old Timus (Paul Loots) and his friend Joon (John Henry Opperman). Joon is the Roepman, who wakes everyone up for work and presents them with their schedules for the day. Being a "Roepman" is "the lowest job a white man can have on the railways", but Joon - who lives with his mute mother, is a loyal employee and a good, kind, gentle man with a real sense of what's right and wrong. Plus, he knows more about the town and its inhabitants than they know about themselves. The sensitive, fragile, imaginative Timus lives with his stern father Abraham Rademan (Deon Lotz) - a staunch, conservative nationalist and an elder at the Church, his compassionate, long suffering mother (Rika Sennett), his brother (Eddie de Jager), his grandma (Lida Botha) and his two sisters, Rykie and Erika (Beate Olwagen, Desire Gardner). Rykie is trying to persuade her father to allow dancing at her upcoming 21st birthday party and Erika is in love with Salmon (Ivan Botha), who adores her and calls her "my spinnekop" (my spider - because she weaves webs around his heart). But Salmon belongs to a different Church, so it looks like a young girl's heart will be cruelly broken by a father's unbending will.
When Timus gets into trouble it is usually Joon who saves him, and Timus sees these timely interventions from his protector as miracles. Underlying tensions in the town start bubbling to the surface and Timus becomes the target of an outwardly macho bully and sexual predator (Andrew Thompson). We also see that one of the white men on the block is demanding sex from his traumatized black housekeeper, that a pregnant girl is about to be shunned by the church and that Abraham wants the family's Zulu maid, Gladys (Kholeka Dakada) to send her toddler back to the township. These different threads come together and culminate in an attempted suicide, the sexual abuse of a child and a moment of Joon-inspired magic on the day Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd is assassinated. The death of Verwoerd marked a time of change, and, some say, the beginning of the end for the National Party.
Despite a touch of magical realism, "Roepman" is set in a dark time of harsh, political repression and shines a light on apartheid. It is not a politically charged film, but it certainly offers a telling look into aspects of the Afrikaner culture, its obsession with religion, and the horror of apartheid.
The moving, funny, sad, thoughtful "Roepman" is beautifully acted (and young Loots is a real find) and the period details are superb; I felt as if I had been transported back through the past and deposited into scenes from my childhood. Sadly, I doubt this excellent film will ever become available outside of South Africa, but if anyone here ever gets the chance to see it, grab that chance with both hands. The English subtitles do not capture the full flavor of the Afrikaans language and the film works better if you understand "die taal" (the language), but they are good enough. I found this film - based on the book by Jan van Tonder, a vivid, powerful, strangely nostalgic and poignant experience and highly recommend it. It is one of the best two or three South African movies I have ever seen.
I saw the film in South Africa on Friday afternoon - The trailer was an
attractive, appealing one which made the film look intriguing;
promising a sweeping period story and an epic romance. "Water for
Elephants" certainly isn't unwatchable. However, it lacks any serious
emotional power, Robert Pattinson (so effectively cast in the
"Twilight" movies) is a good looking, and interesting looking, guy, but
he definitely isn't a great actor. Pattinson fails to create a three
dimensional character. One never sees what is going on in Jacob's head,
because Pattinson isn't capable of projecting internal emotions. Reese
Witherspoon - who can act - is miscast. Christopher Waltz - who was
really well cast in "Inglourous Basterds" is certainly entertaining to
watch and I would attribute some of the failings of his colorful
character to the script rather than his acting ability.
The "chocolate box" cinematography is pleasant, colorful and sometimes atmospheric, rather than brilliant, and the film never really gets into top gear. Like its leading man, it's nice looking, but lacking in real substance. The narrative structure is also lumpy, and the story doesn't flow naturally. The best acting in the picture is done by Hal Holbrook and Paul Schneider in relatively small roles. But, to be honest, Rosie the elephant is easily the most endearing character in the film. While the film was disappointing and is certainly not an out and out flop, the story has been dumbed-down to appeal to a teenage demographic. It's got no real sexual or romantic heat. But, funny enough, I think youngsters will enjoy it. Especially teenage girls. I just hoped for so much more. No wonder 20th Century Fox are keeping it away from the critics for as long as possible, and opening it in a few smaller territories before the States. It ain't going to pick up sparkling reviews.
Don't think I hated it though, I just expected and hoped for so much more. The film's ending is a wee bit anti-climactic, but then the romantic part of the storyline is so predictable that it could hardly have ended any other way. I was, however, touched - little tears even welled up in my eyes - by the scene involving the horse's tragic demise, and a scene involving Rosie being hurt by Waltz's August. The costumes and period details are good, (although things sometimes look a wee bit too glamorous considering the milieu it plays out in), but the dialog and body language of the actors feels too contemporary. I imagine, given the film's target demographic, and the marketing campaign - which is centered around Pattinson, that this was intentional.
The story, while interesting enough (not surprising, since it is based on a popular novel), never really gathers an epic sweep, not is it ever intimate enough to compensate for this. Mostly, it just lacks the genuine romantic heat to succeed fully. There is virtually no erotic chemistry or tension between Pattinson and Witherspoon. So serious, passionate adult cinema-goers looking for intelligent, emotionally resonant fare will be disappointed, but maybe it will work for "Twilight" fans, if you know what I mean. The teenage girls will like it, and their boyfriends won't mind it. I must say, though, as a 51-year-old adult male who works in the DVD industry, writes film reviews for local publications and watches over a 100 films a year on the big screen (plus another 400 or so on DVD), I am hardly the target demographic, so, depending on age, tastes and how seriously they take cinema-going, others might well enjoy it more than me. Those young viewers who are looking for lightweight escapism with a pretty, contemporary star in the male lead will probably forgive the film its lack of genuine dramatic tension, and a compelling narrative structure.
Like I say, I really expected more from this film, but I guess so many of today's films are tailored to a teen aged democratic who lack the ability to concentrate for long periods of time, want fast editing and are not interested in seeing characters breathe or develop in interesting, realistic ways.
DRIVE ANGRY (2010): with Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner,
Billy Burke and David Morse, directed by Patrick Lussier. Rating: 6/10.
THIS wild, bizarre, ultra violent seventies-style grindhouse action horror flick finds Nic Cage wearing perhaps his most ridiculous on screen wig yet. Cage is pretty cool, though, as John Milton, a haunted father who escapes from Hell (with the Devil's right hand man, played by William Fichtner, in hot pursuit) and sets out to save his granddaughter from satanic cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke) who is about to sacrifice the infant under a full moon.
Milton teams up with a tough, two-fisted, hot pants-wearing waitress named Piper (Amber Heard) - who has had enough of her cheating boyfriend and certainly does not hit like a girl , and the two head off down the Louisiana highway in a stolen 1969 Dodge Charger.
"Drive Angry 3D" is not subtle, and the amount of blood-spattered violence and the abundant nudity ensure that is not for all tastes. Nor is it a particularly good film. Plus, it falls to pieces about two-thirds of the way through. But it so outrageous that anyone, like me, with a passion for gritty, violent, cheesy, car chase-filled seventies action cinema will find things to appreciate about it. The performances are interesting (especially from Fichtner and Morse), Heard is real easy on the eyes, a lecherous fat man gets his testicles twisted by Piper, and it contains the funniest, most violent, audacious and shocking sex scene/shoot out ever seen on the screen. Plus, the 3D effects are rather good.
FASTER with Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen,
Carla Gugino, Mike Epps, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Maggie Grace,
directed by George Tillman Jr. Rating: 7/10.
A bunch of really nasty guys killed his brother and put a bullet in the back of Driver's head. Driver should have died - some folk even think he is a ghost. But he has a steel plate in the back of his skull and he is very much alive. Now, after a 10-year stretch in the slammer, he is out. And he is not looking for redemption. It is time for revenge, and even "God can't save you from me!"
There is no one waiting for the tattooed, muscular, shaven-headed Driver (Dwayne Johnson) when he walks out of the prison gate. He runs through the desert to a town. In a junkyard is a 1971 Chevy with a .38 revolver under the dashboard. He climbs in, revs the engine and hits the road burning rubber. He stops to get a list of names and addresses from a private detective he employed while in prison. Then he heads off to kill everyone on the list.
Before long this intense, relentless former bank robber has killed three men and is wanted by the police. Detective Cicero (Carla Gugino) must track him down. She is partnered with an aging, heroin-addicted detective known only as Cop (Billy Bob Thornton, at his sleaziest).
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has been concentrating on family fare for the last few years but his latest role finds him giving a physically and emotionally potent performance in a dark, gritty, violent stripped-down action movie which plays like the film noirs of old, reminds one of both "Point Blank" and its remake "Payback" and is definitely aimed at adult audiences.
Johnson owns the role of Driver, but he receives excellent back from Thornton, Gugina and a fascinating supporting cast that includes Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (who played Simon Adebesi in "Oz") as a former crook turned preacher, who utters the film's most lingering line: "Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?".
"Faster" is a lean, mean, seventies-style action film that works with a vengeance. GA.
SPUD with Troye Sivan, John Cleese, Jamie Royal, Jason Cope, Aaron
McIlroy, Genna Blair, Tanit Phoenix and Jeremy Crutchley, directed by
Donavan Marsh. Rating: 8 out of 10.
THE eagerly anticipated screen version of John van De Ruit's beloved bestseller is a delightful, funny and ultimately touching film that provides marvelous entertainment and delivers just about everything the book's many fans could have hoped for.
The casting of John Cleese was a major coup for the movie's producers and the Monty Python man - who was unforgettably amusing in "Fawlty Towers", does not disappoint. Cleese is terrific as Mr Edley (aka "The Guv"), the eccentric and alcoholic old teacher who mentors our titular young hero and introduces him to books like "Lord of the Rings" and "Catch 22". Cleese is both hilarious and moving in the role. Also excellent is Troye Sivan - who sings beautifully, as the vulnerable, lovable Spud. Jamie Royal also serves up something special with his performance as Spud's doomed true friend, "Gekko". And there are lively supporting turns from the likes of Aaron McIlroy (Dad), Jason Cope ("Sparerib" Wilson), Sven Ruygrok (Rambo) and Genna Blair, who is perfectly cast as the lovely "Mermaid".
The story begins in 1990, shortly before the release of Nelson Mandela. The winds of change are already blowing through South Africa when John Milton (Sivan) - a working class boy with a scholarship - is deposited at the posh Michaelhouse boarding school in his crazed parents' bombed- out car. As he lies in bed that night he thinks out aloud: "Tomorrow school proper begins. Maybe I'll die in my sleep and miss it completely." No such luck, and the worst is still to come. John is a late developer, so when he hits the showers, the other boys, noticing his little willie and lack of pubic hair, nickname him Spud. The name sticks.
But the witty, intelligent young Spud is determined to fit in with his dorm mates, like the "Rain Man" Vern, the sickly Gecko, Mad Dog, Rambo, porn-obsessed Boggo and the ever hungry Fatty - who holds the school farting record. Spud also wants to be an actor, hopes to shine at cricket and takes an interest in politics. Things do start to improve when "The Guv" takes Spud under his wing, though. And when - during the school holidays, he meets and falls in love with the girl he dubs "Mermaid".
"Spud", which features a fine score by Ed Jordan and splendid cinematography by Lance Gewer, is not a sentimental film. It is funny and exuberant and nostalgic, but it is also surprisingly moving and the relationship between Spud and The Guv has plenty of emotional resonance, as do other aspects of the film.
Most faithful to the spirit of Van De Ruit's book, "Spud" is a deliciously human and heartfelt film which tells a wonderful South African story with skill and sensitivity. While this story and its settings are uniquely South African, the themes are universal and there is every chance this charming film will also find a level of success in other parts of the world - such as Britain and Australia. But whether or not it works in the rest of the world is immaterial. "Spud" will be a well deserved smash hit at the local box-office and leave audiences satisfied, happy and ready for the sequel. Do not miss it. GA.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Warning: Possible spoilers.
An absolute gem, this wonderful western - shot in black and white on rugged, interesting locations, is a sheer pleasure from beginning to end. It is something to cherish. The quiet, handsome Joel McCrea - playing the most thoroughly decent outlaw I've ever come across in a western, has never been more appealing as the bank robber on the run.
Using his pointed gun as collateral, Ross McEwan (McCrea) makes a $2000 "loan" from a bank - right under Pat Garrett's (Bickford) nose. The furious bank manager puts up a reward of $3000 for his capture: dead or alive. So Garrett - a pretty good guy who is going to make damn sure no one shoots Ross in the back, and a posse set off in hot pursuit. The crafty McEwan jumps on a train and evades capture with a help of a baby and a blanket. He meets the honest, attractive railway nurse Fay Hollister (Frances Dee) and the mysterious Mexican gambler Monte Marquez (Joseph Calleia) while on the train. Fay realizes that Ross has broken the law and is a wanted man, but she falls in love with him anyway - hell, she's ready to sacrifice her job and follow him to the ends of the earth. Of course, every bounty hunter in the territory is now also searching for Ross.
With Monte's help, Ross continues to evade the determined Garrett and eventually travels across the desert - on a bull. On the way, however, Ross stops to find a horse and comes across a poor, sick Mexican family at their little homestead. The father, his wife and their two small boys are desperately ill. They will all surely die if Ross doesn't stop to help. But if he stays and tries to save them, the law will catch up with him and he won't make it across the border...
Seeing Joel McCrea and his wife Frances Dee romantically paired is rather lovely; they have real chemistry (it's no surprise their marriage lasted for over 50 years). The four leads are all pitch perfect in their roles, but a marvelous Joseph Calleia deserves a special mention. If this exciting, unusual, uplifting and richly romantic western (in which not one shot is fired or a single punch thrown) doesn't touch you, you have an ice-cold, cynical heart of stone. Based on a story by Eugene Manlove Rhodes called "Paso por Aqui" ("They Passed This Way"). Highly recommended.
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