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Taken: many themes to think more about
The admirable plot synopsis provided needs no further description of the plot and the action. Liam Neeson surely must have been attracted by the very serious themes in the script, primarily written by Luc Besson. In the modern genre of very fast action, rough, tough and clinically effective a la Besson, the moral and political themes remind one however of the great era of Hollywoods major films which contained, under the surface of a passionate story, very strong moral and political themes that influenced generations not only in the west but also in the middle and far east. To-day, some of these major themes in the film which concern us deeply but need more attention in seeing the film Taken but need to be repeated in future films are: - - parentalguidance, responsibility and protection of our children (TV is full of failures of parents to accept fully what all this means) - young peoples gullibility in search of exciting experiences which can have grave consequences for parents and friends - the growing threat of immigration with criminal intent. As the film is made in Europe, it is the increasing influx of mafia like organisations from East Europe - the ever prevailant corruption in political circles - the ever prevailant demand for vengeance preferred to due process of law, despite the great increase in the proportion of the population with higher education The film is worth seeing several times to absorb all these issues. Liam Neeson is to be honored for promoting them.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Elizabeth 1: The Golden Age needs a third film
Elizabeth 1: The Golden Age gets only an average: 5. But the acting gets 8 (9 for Cate Blanchett), the rest only 3. Why only 3? The director Shekar Kapur in his second part of Elizabeth 1 (first part 1998) provides marvelous parts such as Elizabeth's court when receiving the ambassadors and Sir Walter Raleigh, the hectic preparation for defending England against the Spanish Armada 1588 and the dramatic naval battle. But the rest is very much Bollywood stuff, though Shekar Kapur is not an Indian but from Pakistan. Great improvements to England were made under Elizabeth's rule. The incorporation of the East India Company which ruled India until 1857 before the rule was taken over by the English Crown. The modest beginning of stock exchange trading (influence of the Dutch), development of industry (textile, mines and naval construction), better agriculture, the acceptance of the growing role of the middle classes, better conditions for the poor... Secondly, the role of Sir Walter Raleigh does not do justice to his importance. No emphasis on his contributions as scholar, soldier, sailor and statesman, just emphasis in the film on his piracy, colonization of Virginia and his sex appeal. The thoughtful viewer is ignored, just historical froth is served up. Shekar Kapur can do better. Let's hope he can be given the opportunity to rise to the challenge in a third definitive version of Elizabeth 1.
In the Valley of Elah (2007)
Critique of America's Iraq War
Unfortunately, there are too many commentaries on the film that are more to do with film knowledge of the writer of the commentary. (The editors of IMDb are very lax on this!) Unnecessary comparisons are made with other films in order to satisfy the commentators' egos for some sort of recognition that they are well versed in the film world. The first commentary is a case in point, the final conclusions are superficial and so maybe reflective of the poor understanding of the terrible strategic errors made by the Pentagon under Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz with the side support from Cheney. Bush at that time had no independent view, so proving to be a poor Commander in Chief. However, the film brings through the dire criticism of the Pentagon's handling of the Iraq War whilst keeping the film dramatically on course as a powerful story of the harm to those soldiers who suffer from poor preparation for maintaining security and promoting peace in Iraq when they can. Its success is due to the disciplined direction and the terse empathy of the actors who perform marvelously. The film's final point is shattering: the Pentagon has not done anywhere enough to treat the soldiers coming home with loss of limb and PTSD.
A Good Year (2006)
South of France-Provence, a pleasant travalogue
A good film for those who want to see something of Provence in the South of France. It is also enjoyable for those tourists who have spent some months there to resee their familiar scenes and hear the familiar remarks. Otherwise, to be seen only if necessary. The film, of course, was expected to be a winner with its straight sequence as in poker: Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe, Cotilde (of Piaf film), Albert Finney and Peter Mayle, the novelist. So why did it fail to win? Because one expects more to excite one. As director and actors did their best it must be because Peter Mayles' story telling never rose to a captivating and emotional level that swept the viewer along. Mayle's story was more of a very professional advertiser's contribution to the French Tourist Board promotion film for Provence (in this remark one must assume that Mayle's story is in most ways faithfully represented in the script). Peter Mayle knows well his Provence and other areas in the South of France. He also knows Russell Crowe's choice to switch jobs as Mayle himself resigned from a highly paid executive position in an advertising company in order to live in Provence, whence came the most popular and most enjoyable of his books: A Year in Provence. Sadly his following books never reached anywhere near the promise of this first book. But by his first book he became even richer. The story shows all the set theatre pieces, a sort of travalogue: postcard views of gentle hills with well ordered vines on the slopes against a clear blue azur sky, learned talk on assessing wine's qualities and even pointing to corruption in the wine trade, the picturesque views of a village and its restaurant. Of course, there is the eccentric Frenchmen, responsible for the wine production, impassioned by his wine making and provincial traditional cooking (wild boar). The there is the local beauty (Cotilde) succumbing to Crowe's virility. A sex scene that Russell Crowe handles like a watered down version for children. Peter French provides the philosophical views of living in Provence for his young nephew Crowe, who, later when grown up, chooses money and the excitement of taking casino banking risks to make many millions. Crowe's love of the financial life requires that he quickly sell the provincial property inherited from his uncle Finney. But the story here as elsewhere is standard stuff, not intriguing, nor captivating. Even though Mayle throws in an attractive oenologue from Napa Valley who turns out to be an illegitimate daughter of uncle Finney and so has legal claims - all to spice up the story. Sex with the local girl Cotilde is also added spice, disappointingly tame, and this later awakens Crowe's child memories with uncle Finney. All this somehow turns his mind back to uncle Finney's view of a pleasant, stressless life in Provence (Bandol here, between Marseille and Toulon on the Mediterranean coast). Such a life as Finney leads is really to be preferred to a hectic, back stabbing financial career albeit with enormous bonuses and other rewards (a partnership was later offered to Crowe). Crowe's final choice of uncle Finney's Bandol house with childhood memories and a new life for him has to be taken or left by the viewer. Peter Mayle as a story teller fails here to convince viewers by making clear his inner passions when he should know how it felt when he himself made just such a decision. No real passion behind Crowe's decision is seen and so the story line leaves one dissatisfied and unmoved. With so much talent in the poker straight to win, one still wonders why Peter Mayle' story failed to take off and grip one despite every one else doing a superb job.
Vanity Fair (2004)
Beauty and Ugly
Satire, aimed at exposing with ridicule serious faults and behaviour that ignore the accepted morals of society, political, commercial and social, was the aim of Thackery. In the film, it would appear from your perspicuous commentator (anhedonia) that the satire has lost its bite. The director Mira Nair, born in Bhubaneshwar in the Orissa State on the East Coast of India somewhere south of Calcutta where Thacheray (1811-63) was born - a state of great historical religious and architectural culture - may have been contaminated by the film industry's quest for profits, in that she modernised the main character in to a more recognizable role. This was unfortunate (anhedonia is clearly right). It is perplexing that Beauty is associated with the exciting, fascinating personalities and the very dubious conduct of the main characters. The Ugly are linked to the money grubbing, speculative and lascivious behaviour of the seemingly successful persons in the English society. There we have a very biting satirical remark of Thackery that Mira Nair underscores. However, its hardly applicable to-day with the awful world of finance operated by good looking greedies. However, Mira Nair, despite the good photography and costumes and sets, seemed to lack the force of her direction that was so pungent in her Indian film Monsoon Wedding. The next Vanity Fair version will hopefully get it right!
Quantum of Solace (2008)
QoS suffers from Marketing Directors!
This comment is more about the conflict between the intellectuals and the marketing people of the film. So the comments are more directed toward the management of the new James Bond series starting with Casino Royal. Casino Royal was clearly a success, 9/10, primarily because of the intellectual input. The follow-up Quantum of Solace clearly suffered from the marketing influence. Public opinion with a preference for action that dominates has determined the film QoS. Mass public for action 70-80%, compared to 20% intellectual of public opinion surveys. (Proportions, uncertain, are known clearly by the marketing people.) However the reputation of James Bond is primarily determined by the intellectuals. IMDb full synopsis is essential reading. The action in the film is too fast, too fragmented between places and people, dialogue too truncated. So, in my opinion, the management of the film have done themselves a disservice in going almost all out for action and relegating the intellectual story line and dialogue to a minor role. Hopefully, Casino Royal made more money than Quantam of Solace has done so far. If so the the action wildies have also appreciated the intellectual strong story line of Casino Royal. Food for thought for the James Bond management. The literature of James Bond series is, in my opinion, down the path of the intellectuals, which just confirms the original intention of the author! (You have my permission to send this comment to the management of the James Bond series.) Yours sincerely, KSundstrom (Nice,France)
Le train (1973)
France, an essential view
France during 1940 to 1943 as seen by the acute observer Georges Simenon, an author who wrote the Maigret series, admired for his penetrating insights into the traditional lives of the French. It should be remembered by non-French viewers, that the French remember their dead from The Great War (WW1) on crosses and plaques in almost every village in France. (America came to understand this on 9/11, though only three places were hit.) Also that WW1 was fought on French soil. Twenty years later they are invaded again. (Maybe they should be blamed for that because of their vengeful Versaille Treaty.) Remember also that President de Gaulle (centre right) and President Mitterand (socialist) refused to take up the accusations of France caving into Hitlers demands and becoming a puppet regime under the name of Vichy which incorporated into its own laws the Nazi anti-Jewish programs. Against this essential background, there are two of Europe's most subtle actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Romy Scheider, who give a haunting performance of pathos and love. They flee by a "last" train northern France in 1940, before Paris falls, to the west coast La Rochell (incidentally, the town to be the German submarine base dramatically filmed in Das Boot). Trintignant with other men and unaccompanied women have to make do in a wagon for horses. This is a significant image. Other important images are the changing countryside, the generosity of the French, the first criminal acts of war of Luftwaffe planes shooting on civilians. Trintignant shows kindness, consideration and courage in protecting Romy Schneider. The rhythm begins to liken Ravel's Bolero: he is traditional parochial French, married with children (who are in the train's better compartments), he is inexperienced with other women, ignorant of world events, so he reflects the very subdued key of the beginning of Bolero; she is a German Jew, internationally experienced, knows men, has the instinct of survival. She adds to the sharper tones in Bolero. Their relationship develops in the wagon. He is more careful to transgress marriage boundaries, she does not want to comprise him, but both slowly are drawn to each other in the steady mounting Bolera rhythm. In the wagon, others engage in sexual intercourse and soon she realizes that she must make the first move. She understands that life is to be lived each minute and so their growing love, reaching new rhythmic heights, is consummated. All is natural, natural as horses in a wagon. No morality, no anglo-saxon prudery, just natural, as one understands this on continental Europe and in the East. The bolera rhythm reaches its climax in the last minutes. Three years he has not seen her. When he was reunited with his wife and new born child in La Rochelle she on her own accord left unseen. He is called to the French National Police. The French police worked in close agreement with the Gestapo (the security police arm of the Nazi Party) and just this aspect so ignored by Presidents de Gaulle and Mitterand is where author Georges Simenon subtedly puts in the knife. At the interview, he is confronted with her, arrested for being a Jew with the French Resistance. He denies the French Secret Service Police inspector's questions, but when she is brought in, the climax and (the Boleros crescendo) is released: the last scene is so powerful, love, the essence of life, is dealt doom. Essential to see, for so many lived that life!
Majestic portrayal of the unknown Emperor of Japan of WW2
Director Sokourov's portrayal of the Japanese Emperor during the time of his capitulation to America is spellbinding and possibly unique. Japanese civilization and especially its culture from warriors to sex and love are totally different to western culture. Issei HiroHito who plays the role of the Emperor is majestic in human manner and mannerisms, spanning glimpses of ancient customs of etiquette, the significance of poetry and the new world of science (HiroHito's passion being marine biology). Most significant is his surprising awareness of the fateful decisions he has to take at the end of WW2 in order to bring Japan into the next era. Long lasting peace is his fervent vision. One is surprised to learn that he hardly participatedin the making of the military decisions: unaware of the attack on Pearl Harbour, for example. Luckily for Japan, MacArthur knew something about Japan and its rigid etiquette and sensitive non military culture, having been there before the war. Lukily for Japan, MacArthur decided on getting to know his opponent in person to person meetings with the Emperor before pronouncing judgment on whether the Emperor was guilty of being leader of the war or just an innocent person kept away from the important decisions. The two meetings between MacArthur and HiroHito when HirorHito spoke English (he said he also spoke other languages), were non-political and dealt mostly with personal matters of family and leisure interests. These discussions, subtly developed in the film, convinced MacArthur that HiroHito was innocent and that HiroHito could be a unifying force for a new Japan. (This positive attitude by America through MacArthur can be contrasted by the exact opposite of the Versaille Peace Treaty at the end of WW1 vindictively pushed through by the French and which proved to be, as Woodrow Wilson feared, a cause for further troubles in Europe, finally WW2.) What makes the film outstanding is Issei Ogata's sensitive and convincing portrayal of the Emperor concerned with human interests, who is considered by the Japanese as a God. Secondly, the decorum of the Japanese, so rigid to exclude all compromise. Luckily for the Japanese HiroHito found a way to compromise. Also the film's special color range suggested more undertones than either a documentary or a book. Essential to see to understand.
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
A psycho thriller for junkies
Why say "for junkies"? Simon Rattle the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestre expressed the sentiment that the "kicks" from music was like a drug, saying also he would thus willingly be a "junky" for the rest of his life. David Lynch has not reached that level of wisdom. His Mulholland Drive has no recognizable threads in the first 45 minutes that convince one of a major theme to come. Just irritation that a kaleidoscope of fragmented images should hold one's full attention. No initial story line that almost all good modern literature has. The story between the three women Betty and Rita and the unknown who takes refuge in the house of Betty (details of the story given by other commentators) starts after about an hour. One wonders if the film had been just as interesting to get the directors prize at Cannes in 2002 without the first 40 minutes - just 5 minutes would have been enough to set the scene. 2/10 for the first 45 minutes, the impact of the good photography radically reduced by the incomprehensible fragments of the first 45 minutes. "Imcomrehensible" is a judgment formed from great modern literature. So begin after the first psychedelic 45 minutes, enjoy the rest. That will avoid the irritation of pseudo art in the beginning.
Mission Kashmir (2000)
Kashmiri action without real purpose
The recount of the story and actors performances are admirably commented by your reviewers. This is to add something else (maybe only for the director Chopra). On action: it is an impressive Indian film (8/10). On acting (8/10). On direction (8/10). All these votes are on the Hollywood standards. But Hollywood "once upon a time" had great moral conviction with an enthralling story as the vehicle. "Mission Kashmir" doesn't have that conviction. It is action a la James Bond etc. That is full of action, well acted and exciting. However, Kashmir the country is something else. That something else is foreign to America and Hollywood - one will have to wait for the films on 9/11 (the first foreign attack on American soil) for a renaissance of in-depth traditional and emotional Hollywood treatment. India has had 60 years to ponder about Kashmir and director Chopra has not handled the in-depth part but has gone for the modern Hollywood ethic of getting a hit that makes money. As so many U.S. stars repeatedly now say, the name of the game is money and marketing. So on enlightenment about Kashmir a note of 5/10. Afterall, one hopes that a sensitive director as Chopra will decide to provide insights, emotional and intellectual, on difficult societal issues of India which academic writers fail to reflect satisfactorily. This also assumes that politicians can be influenced by pungent emotive films with a message. Mission Kashmiri proved weakest on that important message, and so remains a superb action film to be seen for the other reasons so well noted by your reviewers.