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Extremely evocative, finely crafted, and involving
What a gem this story is! Here you will find no platitudes; no heroes 10 feet tall; no heels - most of all no heels. This is about the most caring, life-affirming story you are ever going to find, and it is done without any syrup, nor any gratuitous and tiresome acting-out of missteps.
There is a a single scene near the end which implies that a single misstep MAY have been committed, but sorry to tell you, you are going to have to work out for yourself what did or didn't happen, because it's not spelled out. It was brave rather than a cop-out to present a pivotal scene that way.
The film is technically excellent. The scene composition is superb. You have never seen a WW2 field hospital so meticulously and realistically re-created. There is a scene viewed through the door of a tent where someone walks away that is so amazingly technically well done (as well as evocative) as to be amazing. I can't tell you that the snow falling in that scene was real, but it LOOKED absolutely real. The fadeout as the figure walked gradually into the falling snow was perfect. It's a little thing that a film nut notices, because it's hard to do.
The messages are about finding one's humanity, daring to need, and daring to reach out to someone to need you back. By the end, you may find yourself touched so deeply as to be shaking.
Dean Spanley (2008)
Superb, unique and immensely pleasurable
Dean Spanley is delightful, warm, and deeply affecting. It deals with timeless topics, while recreating a rich bygone atmosphere. To hear the repartee of the four principles is priceless. The language is sparklingly literate, precise and urbane, and the choice of words and turns of phrase actually sensual to those who have a love of companionable conversation.
The incomparable Peter O'Toole at the peak of his mastery, Jeremy Northam, Sam Neill, and Bryan Brown weave an immersive presentation of pure acting talent such as is seldom seen. And it is set up by top-notch writing, exquisite sets and beautiful cinematography and costuming.
Mr. O'Toole can match the very best acting in cinematic history using only his eyes
In Enemy Hands (2004)
More like U-571 (retch) than Das Boot
It's clear that some people put a lot of work and sincerity into making this production. But that is not enough. This work was ambitious, but fails quite comprehensively. Apparently there was no technical adviser, or he was not knowledgeable, or he was not listened to.
U-boat captains did not wear immaculate uniforms while on war patrol. All you have to do is watch Das Boot to know this, but it is well covered in the literature as well if you do your research.
WW-II torpedoes did not have proximity fuses. Come on! This blatant error is shown repeatedly during the film.
The continuity is very poor.
The dialog is laughable in places. In particular, official discourse during a WW-II war patrol just is not worded like that. Watch Das Boot or Run Silent, Run Deep to hear both official discourse and conversation in WW-II submarines. A U-boat skipper saying "I can't make this decision" in the heat of battle, or a U.S. chief of the boat saying "Hold your goddamn fire" is just silly.
It's silly to have US subs facing German U-boats. It was not a factor in the war; I believe there was only a single instance of it. There is rich opportunity available for a treatment of what really was a factor in the war: US subs facing Japanese vessels.
Summary: inconsistency is what you get here. The premise is not without interest, but the way it was handled would have better served an episode of The Twilight Zone. Maybe that's enough. That's why I gave it 5 stars instead of 1 or 2. I couldn't give it more, however, because the execution was simply too poor.
Long Weekend (2008)
Wouldn't watch it again even if it would delay my execution by 88 minutes
Two fine actors are roped into making a film for which the description "spectacularly, monumentally, epically bad" doesn't even come close to deriding adequately. If there were a way to rate it zero stars, I would have done so.
Two more unredeemable and unintelligent characters cannot be imagined. It is impossible to relate to either of them even for an instant. By comparison, the Texas Chain Saw killer is someone you can find more common ground with. All you can do is sit with your jaw open, spellbound by the awfulness of the material and the stupidity of the reactions of the two.
The dreadful, unsatisfying repulsiveness of the film is not the fault of the actors. The sad excuse for a plot has no purpose, no logic, and no sense, and most of all there is no possibility of suspension of disbelief.
Baffling why anyone would think this thing is marketable.
Down to the Sea in Ships (1949)
All great films are about relationships
And this is one of the great films. It is not a story about whaling, though it mostly takes place on a whaling ship and has wonderful scenes about life on a whaling ship. It is the story of a boy's relationship to two men, two men's relationships to to the boy, and the relationship of all three to life.
Lionel Barrymore, in one of his last roles, and like his character only able to move about with difficulty using crutches, raises the presentation to rarefied company with a masterful performance. He is able to bring all the gruffness of his Henry Potter role of "It's A Wonderful Life," but with the humanity he was not allowed to show in the latter. That he loves his grandson with all his heart, and feels great pride in him, is made evident in the endearing shore side preamble. But aboard the vessel of which he is Master, his way is to change into another persona completely; one in which he dare not show the slightest feelings for the boy. As Master, he is second only to God for all his crew, and to this role he must devote his entire soul 24 hours a day.
A vacuum thus develops in his relationship with the boy, and into this vacuum Richard Widmark, the new Mate of the vessel, is thrust. He is of the age the boy's dead father would have been, and has duties and the opportunity to interact with the boy in ways Barrymore cannot, and has qualities which naturally lead him to become the father figure. Initially not interested in the human qualities the boy represents, he is before long won over, and replaces Barrymore in the boy's affections.
Not until a crisis overtakes the ship's company is the alienation between Barrymore and the boy overcome. With Widmark's efforts propelling him, the boy returns to his grandfather's affection and the two are reunited in their hearts, and the gulf that has lately divided them despite their proximity aboard ship falls away like it was never there.
Widmark's performance is very able indeed in his role of importance and some nuance. This is one of his finest performances, certainly one of his most human, and at the end most agreeable. But it is the 13 year old Dean Stockwell who cements the story with his performance of a lifetime. The way he makes his character grow from a boy to a young man during the film, the way he conveys the range of human feelings which is required of his role, is faultless and quite breathtaking.
The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)
An earnestness which is not commonly seen today is the hallmark of many of the greatest films of the golden age of cinema. The Keys Of The Kingdom is a humbling expression of stirring earnestness. Father Chisholm is not shown as perfect, but the one constant is his humility and devotion to his calling. This theme has never been expressed more wondrously.
This earnestness is also seen in the figures who intersect Father Chisholm's life: Willie, Angus (if you have to look closely at times to see it), the delightful Father McNabb, Reverend Doctor Fiske, Joseph, Mr. Chia, the wonderful Reverend Mother, and even in the end, the most triumphant and stirring realization of all, the at first dubious Monsignor. These parts are all played by fine actors doing some of their best work.
The synthesis of wondrous story and inspired acting is ageless, and results in an experience much beloved by just about every viewer.
Spectacular, gripping, shattering
"Doubt" dares to explore one of the most compelling issues of recent years, and to do so with a completely unmanipulative perspective with no sermonizing.
The linear narrative style is refreshing, with no flashbacks and flash forwards, and no contamination of the story (set in the early 1960s) with the hindsight of recent events. It is relentless. We see the events of those days without any cinematic deus ex machina. We are not privileged to any all-showing exposition of critical events. We have only the souls of the principles as expressed in their dialog and in their faces.
With the mighty acting duo of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep, and a more than able supporting cast and superb direction, "Doubt" has dramatic fireworks without cheap gimmicks.
The final 30 seconds puts a fitting cap on the message. The effect is devastating.
The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)
Jet Li and Jackie Chan together
That's all you have to know to want to see this movie. Contrasting and complementary and ... the best. Add Director of Photography Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Martial Arts Choreographer Woo-ping Yuen (Fearless, Unleashed, Kill Bill, The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Once Upon A Time In China) and you have what it takes for an excellent presentation. Woo-ping has worked extensively with Jackie and in this movie has formed a solid relationship with Jet.
Li Bing-Bing and Liu Yifei are two young actresses of surpassing beauty. This is only Liu's third movie, but she has really come into her own with a very convincing presence and acting ability. She is strongly reminiscent of Zhang Ziyi when she exploded on the scene some 8 years earlier. Li is better known, at least in China, where she is an established star. Here she is cast against type, as an evil villain, and she seems totally at home in this role, which she carries off with style.
Michael Angarano seems to be confined by his role as written, which is stereotyped and not too interesting or endearing. Unquestionably he is capable of a fine performance, as he shows in Black Irish. Here we see only brief glimpses of his talent. It is too bad, and the failure to bring out his potential is the greatest disappointment of The Forbidden Kingdom.
Nonetheless, this film deserves a high rating, primarily on the strength of Jet and Jackie, but also the wonderful new Liu. It was worth the long, long wait to see Jet and Jackie fighting.
Dr. Kildare: Tyger, Tyger: Part 1 (1964)
Thoughtful, ambitious, and ... wonderful
I recently had the opportunity to see Tyger, Tyger parts 1 and 2, and it was everything I remembered from 1964 and more. Yvette Mimieux(*) was just about the most beautiful vision I had ever seen at the time, and is still stunning watching the same episodes after 45 years. She was also a fine actress, a blazing star in this one particular performance. Clu Gulager also had a solid performance. Richard Chamberlain as Doctor Kildare and Raymond Massey as Doctor Gillespie were of course their usual solid selves.
This was a thoughtful and ambitious project, and tried to do a little too much to jam into two one hour episodes. Nonetheless, it makes a deep impression. It is an inspection of the extraordinary life and spirit of a surfer girl, with thoughtful commentary by Raymond Massey on the subject of what compulsion and daring and zest mean to the human soul, and how these are not to be thought less of than analytical skill and judgment and business acumen.
This is all about why some of us love film and TV so passionately. It is a tragedy that this fine TV series is being withheld from fans and probably very few will ever have a chance to again see any of the episodes, of which these are two of the best.
(*) See Yvette on the cover of Life magazine, October 25, 1963 (yes, I saved it all this time). There is a brief article about this TV episode inside. She learned to surf for this part, and was a true natural.
The Strangers (2008)
Most. Annoying. Movie. Ever.
An unspeakably stupid and helpless young couple are engaged by three attackers who have no firearms (or motivation). The couple is armed with an excellent close defense firearm and a large quantity of ammunition, yet makes every lame mistake possible. At the end, an utterly pointless shock scene. This movie is boring and unutterably annoying because of the endless train of mind numbing blunders that would be unbelievable script even if the couple were both supposed to be pathologically retarded, which they are ostensibly not.
All horror films contain blunders; it's part of the genre. But the ones that work at least make the blunders seem like tragic errors that conceivably would be made by real people, and by not taking themselves seriously. "Strangers" does not even come close to making us believe that any of the blunders are realistic and excusable, and poses as some kind of deep comment on decayed civilization.
The first few minutes seem promising. Do not be deceived. It is a crime that Ms. Tyler's talent is wasted in this abomination.