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a worthy effort
The miniseries reviewed here is actually a compilation of two feature length movies, which were very successful in Scandanavia, and as a result of that success, were shown on television in the form of a six-part miniseries. But the running time is pretty close to identical. The two films, minus opening and closing credits, run about 257 minutes; each episode (there are six) runs about 43 minutes, minus opening and closing credits, for a total of 258 minutes. So the reason it looks like a feature film is because it IS a feature film.
As to the content, it's a love story, but the lovers are divided by war and circumstance, so the bulk of it is devoted to how they cope even though they are divided. I thought the two leads had marvelous rapport (the two actors actually were in drama school together, and have acted together many times, on film and on stage), and I found their devotion to one another to be wholly believable. Of course, you have to remember that these were very different times. As the author of the original novels has said, this was an age of faith, and that extended to the faith that the lovers had in each other. Ours is a secular age, and so in order to fully enjoy the films, you have to be able to make a leap of faith, to believe that two people could love each other that much. I guess I'm a sucker for a good romance.
But don't go to this series or film expecting a re-run of "Kingdom of Heaven"; it's set in the same time and place, and covers some of the same historical events. The tone and feeling of the film, however, is very different. If it is an epic, and I'm not sure it is or was ever intended to be, it is what might be called an intimate epic. As with "Dr Zhivago," to some extent, history is the enemy of these two, and it constitutes a force that is very difficult to deal with. I can say no more without spoilers, but rest assured, all is not gloom and doom for these two.
Die Wannseekonferenz (1984)
grupenfeuhreur is incorrect
I was able to see this film at a film festival, where the director spoke afterward about how the film was created. As I had suspected while watching the film, the source for the script was not just the minutes of the meeting, which mention very little of the detailed discussions which occurred that day, but as well what the director called the "Eichmann protocol," that is, transcripts of the interviews conducted by the prosecutors at Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem. Grupenfeurher is correct when he says that the minutes of the conference never mention extermination. But Eichmann's later, extensive, comments prove that that is precisely what was being discussed. For a detailed look at the conference, the best place to begin is Mark Roseman's book, "The Villa, the Lake, and the Meeting: Wansee and the Final Solution." But there are also comments noted in Goebels' diary, and interdepartmenal memos from those who were invited to the conference itself, and much other evidence besides. A good discussion of the process leading to the genocide can be found in Christopher Browning's "Origins of the Final Solution," and a more abbreviated discussion in volume two of Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler, "Nemesis."
technical bravura, imagistic brilliance
Feeney was a National Film Board director beginning in the early 1950s, and this was one of the last films he did as a director. Since he lived on until 2006 I assume, like other NFB types, he made the transition into management, and thereafter didn't work actively on production.
That said, nothing in his previous films could prepare you for the breathtaking splendor of the images in this film, nor (once you think about it) the technical virtuosity which created it. We are very used today to time lapse, or speeded-up motion films, particularly as it's used in such films as "Baraka" or "Koyanisqatsi," to show nature and society. Sky uses all kinds of camera mounts and positions to show one day in the life of the sky over western Canada, specifically, the mountains, forests and prairies from around Banff and on down in towards Calgary. In 1963, when Feeney made the film, so far as I know, nobody had ever tried to use time lapse photography in quite this expressive and artistic way. Mostly it was a tool used by scientists to study various phenomena that moved too slowly to be observed with the unaided eye. One locked down the camera, exposed one frame every second, or every two seconds, or whatever, developed the film and studied whatever it was you wanted to study.
For a movie, however, a locked down camera is boring; movies should move. So Feeney and his collaborators devised ways to get the camera to pan, tilt and dolly while it was simultaneously working at time lapse speeds. So you get shots in the film that appear to follow the clouds and their shadows as they speed past mountains tops, and then down on into valleys. "Baraka" achieves the same effect with the assistance of complex computer programs, i.e., a motion control system. Feeney did it without any sort of computer assistance at all, with purely mechanical systems. In some shots, the speed of the pan appears to perfectly match the speed of the clouds as they move across the sky. My guess is that Feeney either built his own motors and gearing systems, or he adapted gearing systems used by astronomers of the day to keep their telescopes static with respect to the movement of the stars. One of my favourite shots in the film shows a vast stormcloud rotating, raining on the prairies below, and moving up fast towards the camera.
However he did it, it is an astonishing technical feat. What 's even more amazing is the stark beauty of the images, and the melding of the minimalist music track with the images. One gets an entirely otherworldly feeling from the movie, that is, the music is designed to try and put us into a frame of mind that emphasizes that what we are seeing is not something one can ever see in the real world, but rather only out of a distillation and transformation of the real world, a transformation only achievable by the technical means of cinema. Simply astonishing.
NFB's website doesn't really do justice to the film. Shot in 35mm, this is a film that is long overdue for transfer to a high definition medium.
One further point. The film was shot at a wide variety of different speeds, but at the very middle of the film, roughly the five minute mark, there is one shot, and one only, at the regular 24fps. A truck passes along a road with a storm looming over the fields in the background. I believe it's placed there as a reminder that what we see depends on how we choose to see it.
The Ship That Died of Shame (1955)
What's noteworthy about this one for me is that similar vintage Hollywood films often spoil their stories by making their villains remorseful or in other ways kow-towing to the official morality of their times. These characters, by contrast, the bad ones and good ones alike, never hesitate for a moment to do the nasty things we know they will do. What's better, they are pictured as intelligent, for the most part, and able to give the authorities a run for their money. It's not that I think criminality is in any way praiseworthy, but rather that the writer gives us real people, making real decisions, and doesn't throw away the credibility of the characters merely to bow down to the official morality of his times. Particularly good is the character played by Attenborough, who isn't a bad man, but who, through not thinking enough about the choices he's making -- which he rationalizes very cleverly and realistically, so that it takes us a while to even see that that is what he's doing -- gets in far too deep, and then can't get himself out. A marvellous job of acting, and an intelligent and tightly woven script. Not a great movie, but a pretty good one, especially since the "actions" of the boat can just as easily be attributed to the hesitations of the characters, that is, there's no real supernatural force necessarily implied by the script.
unjustly maligned film
Not an epic for the ages, but a very good film, creatively put together and exciting to watch. Director Doug Liman does an excellent job of putting the audience in the same position as his young hero, that is, he knows he has an ability, but is completely ignorant of the larger context of that ability or power. The film shows his discovery of that context, and his coming to terms with it. A lot of the negativity of the reviews I've read really only highlight that the reviewers were not looking at the movie Liman made, but the movie they expected to see, and no film could survive such a comparison. The actors do well enough, given that their job is to basically react to things, and the real surprise here is that Jamie Bell is equally the star of the show along with Hayden Christensen. My advice for watching is simply to let the story unfold in front of you, let it take you along.
Now for the SPOILER, which isn't about the film as such, but about the concept. The DVD extras contain several big hints that in future episodes of the Jumper franchise, jumpers will be revealed (under some circumstances; but those are undisclosed) to be able to jump time, that is, go back and forth in time. As well, several minutes of a pre-viz for a future film show a fight that takes jumpers into outer space looks stunning, and involves jumpers fighting each other. My guess is (another SPOILER) that some of the Paladins are themselves jumpers, that is, they are hiding in plain sight. How else does David's mother get to Rome so fast, and then disappear so quickly?
Grand Canyon (1991)
an amazing film about the magic of life
A lot of the comments people have made strike me as (sorry) missing the point. Kasdan wants to present life, simply, ordinary life. The conventionally structured story, where characters have insights that change their lives, and then fade out, music up, and the film is over, is absorbed into this much larger canvas. Several characters in this movie have just such illuminations, and then they move on. Sometimes they can hold onto their insights, sometimes they can't, and that's the way life really is. In other words, Kasdan jettisons conventional dramatic structure in favor of an exploration of the the ongoingness of life there is no happy ending, only an eventual ending; and everything before that is still in process, still always up for grabs and, if you absolutely insist on a theme, an exploration of the role of the miraculous in our lives. What is a miracle? Well, life itself, for a start. Then add in all the random incidents and cross-connections that make up a life, or several interconnected lives, and you have miracles by the bucketful. Kasdan underscores this theme lightly, rather than insisting on it, and bolsters it in various ways, most memorably by the device, right in the center of the film, of having Mac and his wife, lying in bed, each dreaming their own dreams, but as well showing, later on in the film, how those dreams have the power, within the film, to shape reality. This is not a film with an easy or obvious message. You just have to let it play out in front of you, and then let it sit in your mind for a few days, a month, a few years, and see what it has wrought there. This is, without a doubt, Kasdan's best film, his most mature, his most humane. A major meditation on life from one of our most gifted writers and directors. The tragedy is, of course, that he has not been allowed to work for a number of years now, mostly due to studio constraints around "Dreamcatcher." Hopefully we haven't heard the last from Larry Kasdan. A great film from a great artist. Keep in mind that art does not have to rationalize itself completely in order to succeed.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
war is hell, but poetry is heller
An interesting film, but it's based on a rhetorical trick. War is such a hellish experience that the only thing that can make it bearable is the comradry of soldiers, the sense that their platoon, company, unit, is acting as a group, that they are looking out for one another. Of course, this is to some extent an illusion, but it makes the experience bearable. What Malick does is strip away any sense of being part of a group. The poetry, and the rendering of the inner experience and most often doubt; Malick never allows his soldiers to feel they are doing the right thing or to allay those doubts acts very quickly to reduce the soldiers to collections of isolated individuals. Naturally, under such conditions, the experience of war completely overwhelms them, thus making those doubts seem more valid, or rather, disallowing the possibility of any other way of looking at things.
So, yeah, it's a good film, but it's by no means a great one. And once you realize that the poeticization is not only a bit of a rhetorical cheat, but also loaded against anything other than one way of viewing the experience, then the whole thing reduces to a propaganda exercise. The clearest indication that this is the case is in the fake utopia of the native people, everybody being nice and organic and environmentally conscious, which is, at best, a naive view. Prehistoric humans had wars just as we do, they simply lacked the destructive means with which technology endows us. The way Malick sets it up, however, he tries to make it seem as if war is the property of civilization, rather than something inherent in human life per se. Again, it's a rhetorical cheat, and a cheap one too.
World Trade Center (2006)
not so wide screen; engineering responses
The movie is okay, though it does play fast and loose with the facts in the name of "drama"; since Stone was just the hired hand on this one, I guess he wasn't motivated enough to worry about the accuracy of the script.
But the DVD is a bit of a let-down. Originally shot in 1.85:1 ratio, the DVD (commemorative edition, so-called) actually projects at about 1.66:1. Some of this is undoubtedly an overscan problem, but by no means all. What it means is that, on each shot, we are missing information on the sides, that is, it's been reformatted to look optimal on an HD monitor, without much regard for the actual aspect ratio. Too bad.
Oh yeah, there's also a little too much in the movie with the guys in the hole saying goodbye to their lives. I would have preferred more on the actual rescue itself, since in McLoughlin's case, it took something like 8-10 hours to actually get him out. Once again, however, and in spite of the huge audiences that TV shows about engineering get, the Hollywood producers have decided to dumb down the process, so that the average 11-year old will "get it." Almost as bad as "CSI: Miami" in respect of depiction of technical processes, but not quite.
One writer says that the film is historically inaccurate BECAUSE it portrays the Poles falsely. Well, it's not a film about the non-Jewish Poles, it's a film about the Jewish Poles. And while the AK Polish underground organization may have helped the uprising, technical support and so on, the fact is, they weren't in a position to be of much strategic help, simply because of the overwhelming might of the Germany Army of occupation. Remember too, that those Poles who took and active part in the resistance, AK or otherwise, were a very small minority of Poles, just as very few Frenchmen ever fought with the Maquis or other resistance units. That said, I'd be interested to know if the AK, or other Polish groups and let's not forget that the Polish resistance was deeply divided along ideological lines, fighting with itself as well as against the Germans did anything of value to prevent Wermacht units/SS units/ police units from getting to the scene of battle.
One suspects they did not, not least because of the high levels of anti-Semitism that existed in Polish society before the war (and again afterward; numbers of concentration camp survivors were murdered in Poland in the aftermath of the German defeat). So the movie is historically accurate in portraying a certain level of anti-Semitism in Polish society. To be absolutely accurate is not possible in a filmed drama, but I would say that the tone of the film, the tone of relations between much of Polish society and Jewish Poland, is generally accurately rendered. It's nice to have a few minor corrections, but they don't change the overall dismal picture of Jewish/Polish relations. Even the great Trilogy indulges itself in a few (moderately) anti-Semitic stereotypes, suggesting that such notions were widely accepted in pre-war Polish society.
a great little documentary that deserves a release
This was a documentary made at about the time that Penn's "Little Big Man" was hitting the screens, and originally shows on PBS.
Penn had had such success with "Bonnie and Clyde," and then again with "Alice's Restaurant," that his western was eagerly awaited, and generally praised upon release. So besides a retrospective look at Penn's career, we also get to see Penn directing LBM, and eavesdrop on his direction of Hoffman in particular. As well, we see scenes from his own life, including a hilarious reading, with his children, of a Mark Twain short story involving farts, whose title I can't remember, and have never heard since. I was disappointed to NOT see this as an extra when LBM was released on DVD, and hope to see it later in a Penn retrospective. Not all of Penn's films work as well as he hoped they would; too often, he allows his actors to over-use their method chops, when a more textual approach would serve the film better; too often, he wanders off into art-film territory for no really good reason other than artistic self- indulgence, sacrificing story and character for mood and effect which don't add up to anything. But he's a hell of an interesting director, one of the 1950s-60s originals, and not much talked about these days. If you can ever get to see this film, it's a great introduction to Penn and his work.