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In assessing "Robin Hood" (2010) as a project, one must first, I suggest, view it as a film that its creators intended as a tool for reviving the genre, purposes and intentions of "historical drama". Writers Brian Helgeland (screenplay and story) and story writers Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris recast the Robin Hood legend in three vital ways at least. They made Robin Longstride a commoner, one only impersonating Robert Loxley, hereditary nobleman,at the request of his father to save their property from royal tax collectors. Secondly, they set the film after the death of Richard the Lionhearted, not during his lifetime. And then they laid the groundwork for a period of outlawry for Robin and his forces that would culminate as a "legend" in the writing of the Magna Charta forced upon Richard's successor King John by England's barons --nder the leadership of "Robin of the Hood" son of a father, a stonemason, who had died for trying to engineer this visionary charter of "rights" years before. Russell Crowe and his executive production team working with veteran director Ridley Scott deserve credit for many successes, I claim, not the least of which are the sets, major reimagnings of the Tower of London and entire castles, towns and villages, a Medieval siege, battles, troop landings from the Channel, court ceremonials, towns and forests. So many parts of this alternative history and reconstruction seem to me to work so realistically that there is much praise to distribute to the technical creators. First, there is the stirring but subtle music provided by Marc Streitenfeld, which I found by turns to be subtle and then noteworthy where majesty was implied. Then there was the clean color cinematography achieved by John Mathieson. More than a dozen art directors working together captured a Medieval English look that I suggest has never been surpassed on film, understating much but being as "colorful" as necessary as in the final meeting of barons with King John as the savvy could desire. Production Designer Arthur Max achieved an imitable yet original balance of light, nature, landscape and man- made buildings, as a setting for costumes, human forms, animals, etc. throughout. Set decorations by Sonja Klaus and the costumes created by Margarethe Schmoll and Sharon Long contributed mightily to the effect desired by the authors of transporting the viewer to the late 12th Century, but in making it a world where ideas, loyalties and the need for justice are not much different than our own 22nd Century needs for the same human en; this, I assert, was the formula by which Hollywood's filmmakers once circumvented the anti-conceptual bias, totalitarian bigotries and pseudo-puritanism of corporate studio moguls in the past to project an American--not U.S.--constitutional narrative onto past eras. Even more: the makeup, hairstyling, second-unit direction, lighting, sound and rerecording tasks met within the film were in most cases handled with distinction, seconding the believability of the main narrative's effect. Among the actors who helped to bring the story to enacted life on the screen, one must begin with Russell Crowe's sometimes understated commoner Robin played coolly against Cate Blanchett's worldly but noble Marian. Max Von Sydow seemed both noble and from a different, better era as Walter Loxley as did Eileen Atkins as Eleanor of Quitaine. Notable in the cast for their effectiveness were also Mark Strong as Godfrey, Matthew Macfadyen as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Kevin Durand as Little John, Danny Huston as Richard the Lionhearted, Mark Addy as Friar Tuck and Lea Seydoux as Isabella of Angouleme. As the cunning weakling John, Oscar Osaac is occasionally effective, and William Hurt underplays William Marshall with more than customary skill. No one else is given very much to do in this long attempt, but many smaller parts are by my standards well-done. In sum, I wrote at the time I first saw the film that its makers had single-handedly revived the color adventure genre, perhaps a most-welcome leaven to the bad concepts, neocon and altruist ideas, and fantasy-parody bent of film for over the past three decades as a demonstrably viable film choice. What was here expensively produced and used for dramatic effect can elsewhere be used as an antidote to brooding antiselfhoodism and postmodernistic reality- bashing on many occasions, hopefully in the form of westerns, adventures set in the human past and perhaps even idea-level films extending human hopes into a brighter, better future.
"Call Me Madam" (1953) possesses perhaps the most complete list of attributes that most other musicals made since the early 1970s have completely lacked of any film ever made. Its protagonist is past 40 and not particularly attractive, female. gruff, tough-minded and smart. Her romantic opposite number in the film is foreign, classically-trained as a singer, anti-United States, honest, unpopular in his own country and a nobleman. The second leads are a comic dancer and a short, skinny blonde playing a member of a foreign royal family. Veteran Walter Lang used this material to fashion a well-directed film set in a Graustarkian nation all of whose leaders want U.S. aid from the new ambassador--except for one man, the man the heroine, the new U.S. ambassador, falls for. Arthus Sheekman deserves the credit for making of Russel Crouse's and Howard Lindsay's book of the stage hit of the same name, with music by Irving Berlin, the best of his musicals and a filmic delight. Solid Sol Siegel produced and Leon Shamroy supplied vivid cinematography for this ambitious work that goes indoors, outdoors, presents at night and by day and does all with seemingly effortless ease, by my standards. With art direction by Lyle Wheeler and John De Cuir, set decorations by dependable Walter Scott and a range of colorful costumes by Irene Sharaff the movie had to be beautiful, and it is. Add in musical work by Ken Darby with the singers, Earle Hagen as orchestrator and Robert Alton as choreographer, and interesting results should have been expected. Songs such as "You're Not Sick You're Just in Love", "It's a Lovely Day Today" a folkloric showstopper, "The Hostess With the Mostess" and a dance number that rivals Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers at their best for staging and the possibilities improve even more. But the film is also one that moves well, is pleasant, intriguing, and features a large number of locales, moods and scenes, tied to a running gag about the then new female ambassador's boss, Harry Truman, who appointed her and to whom she reports by phone. Something special with these elements mixed well was bound to happen. It happened I say because of Ethel merman's very professional approach and the great singing and acting of her award-level co-star, George Sanders as the honest official who woos her. Billy de Wolfe is Merman's insufferable underling, Donal O'Connor her protégé and Vera Ellen the royal with whom O'Connor falls in love. Helmut Dantine is powerful as O'Connor's rival, Walter Slezak and Steven Geray two bumbling comic ministers. Others in the large and talented cast includes Ludwig Stossel, Lilia Skala as his wife, capable Emory Parnell, Percy Helton and Charles Dingle as well as Oscar Beregi, Olan Soule and Nestor Paiva. For an adult viewer, one willing to forego Hollywood's usual musical clichés, this amiable and memorable entertainment--based loosely on the life of real-life hostess Perle Mesta--should work satisfactorily from brassy opening to intelligent conclusion. Not to be missed, if only for Sanders' musical numbers.
"The Desert Fox" (1951) I judge to be a dignified, highly-intelligent and thoroughly absorbing account of the last days of Erwin Rommell . He was of the officer class of Germany who with extreme care divorced themselves from "politics". Their job, as Rommell, in the person of James Mason in the film states, they considered to be to fight for their country. The film is in fact as much about his battle with his own perception of the Hitler gang and their interferences in his conscience, his command and his freedom to do his assigned tasks as it is about his soldiership. Producer Nunnally Johnson's brilliant dramatic script, based upon Desmond Young's investigation of Rommel's death performed only a few years after WWII, is narrated by Michael Rennie, as Young. For a recent critic to quibble at celebrating Rommel's humanity after the recent attempts by politicians to sell the idea of "executive infallibility" would have to rank as a treasonable opinion or worse. As this mostly-accurate film proceeds, we become aware that Rommel should have done more and done it sooner to try to save the wartime situation for his soldiers and for all Germans; but that is hindsight. What we are given is the rare opportunity to live this bright man's gradual disillusionment with the old maxims of warfare and political leadership, as we learn the truth along with a man who eventually dies for his errors both of omission and of brave commission. Solid veteran director Henry Hathaway keeps events moving with vigor and extreme clarity from the riveting opening raid scene on Rommel's headquarters (it should have happened that way) to the unforgettable final scene as the General is taken away by Hitler's emissaries. The brilliant music for the film by Daniele Amfitheatrof and the cinematography by Norbert Brodine in B/W are both far-above-average. Set decorations supplied by Thomas Little and Stuart Reiss add a great deal to the story's atmosphere as well. Art directors Lyle Wheeler and Maurice Ransford and editor James B. Clark are to be commended for matching WWII footage with original shots with uncommon skill. But this is an actors' movie, I claim; and it is the cast who brings this sobering and powerful tale to life. The center of the film is James Mason as Rommel; here this sensitive actor delivers one of his best early performances, certainly Oscar caliber. As Von Runstedt, his enemy and later his friend, Leo G. Carroll is unquestionable and riveting, as always. Richard Boone as Mason's subaltern, Jessica Tandy as his wife, and stalwarts such as George Macready, Paul Cavanagh, John Hoyt, Everett Sloane, Luther Adler (playing Hitler), Eduard Franz, Cedric Hardwicke and Michael Rennie are all more-than-adequate or better by my exacting standards. Several scenes may be true standouts--Hardwicke and Mason's second scene arguing the case for removing the Fuhrer, Carroll's two scenes with Mason enlarging on the enormous cost of the mistakes being made by Berlin's amateurs that has already lost the Reich two armies, and the early scene in the Desert when Rommel refuses to lose his entire army to a "victory or death--no retreat" order are among the best by my lights. The movie humanizes Rommel, but also gives evidence of his hesitation, his overly- loyal service to a monstrous regime and the web of danger he finally sees being spun about him. This is a moving, and I find, an extraordinarily-memorable film; the action scenes under director Hathaway and assistant director Gerd Oswald are brilliantly done. In any era, a literate and compelling script that shows the cost to a great man of adherence to the cult of the infallible leader--explicitly religious or clandestinely so as here--carries forward a message of eternal importance in the unending struggle between the advocates of the individual and the advocates of the collective. This is by my lights as writer, actor and philosopher, a great film. It stands head and shoulders in my estimation above almost every other film of its fictionalized biography genre relating to war.
"Good Night and Good Luck" (2005) is what movie makers should call a fictionalized biography; but its form is that of a documentary biography. Within this film of ideas, written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, the opponent of honest news professional Edward R. Murrow and his team, Senator Joseph McCarthy, is seen within and quoted only from video news sources and documented speeches and utterances. The choice of black-and-white photography was made here, owing no doubt to a desire to incorporate period 1950s footage, but I argue this also works dramatically as do the period makeup, hairstyles, clothing, sets and properties to help establish an historical era, its communications, power sources, lighting and restrictions. But this is a film is about responsibility in non-fiction, the honor and regulations that men establish and earn or transgress. The storyline of the film can, I assert, be briefly stated; but it is a more complex achievement than at first it appears to be. The junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, a neocon of the 1950s,era, is conducting a campaign under the aegis of anti-Communism. His witch hunt, founded on the false premise of a massive infiltration of the U.S. government by pro-Communist pr-Russian sympathizers, makes it dangerous for anyone to assail the man and his anti- concept; anyone opposing him is also then smeared by the Senator as being pro-communist , not anti-McCarthy nor anti McCarthyist tactics. Against the desires of public television monopoly 'tsar' William Paley, but with his reluctant consent, leading reporter Edward R. Murrow begins to reveal McCarthy through honest reporting of his falsehoods, lies, fraud, smears, invented data and fear-mongering. In the end, a major clash of the two is seen to be inevitable. The film I found to be impressive in its seriousness, its picture of the fear sown among men in the news business mirroring that in the minds of nation's populace at large. Listening to fine jazz singer Diana Reeves, smoking cigarettes, drinking after work., the newsmen of CBS TV at work are made a microcosm of the nation as a whole; they, the supposed guardians of independent-minded information reporting, are as endangered by McCarthyist tactics, disinformation and abuses as are the citizens of U.S. then--or in any other era. It is the universality of the threat in this film posed by non-objective nonfiction purveying that gives the film its unusual condensed force; false advertising of cigarettes, limited interviews such as one with then closet-gay pianist Liberace, deleterious effects on hiring and promotion decisions, works of fictions and news, voting and business conduct and lives are used by the authors to zero in on cost of unrealism to a nation of the endangered. Waldo Sanchez's departments of hair and makeup, costume head Louise Frogley, set decorator Jan Pascale Art Director Christa Munro and Production Designer Jim Bissell and cinematographer Robert Elswit all contribute to a surprisingly powerful and unified look and feel of an eariier era, one many other directors and production teams have not captured I believe half so well. Director and co-star George Clooney had tried black-and-white productions before; his success here seems to be based on those strong experiments. He acquits himself well as Fred Friendly; David Strathaim lacks some emotional impact, but is beautifully-trained and suitably serious as the great Murrow. As William Paley, 'tsar' of CBS, Frank Langella is able to be by turns courageous and himself frightened; no one else in the cast is given a lengthy part but the roles are adequately played or better in every case by my standards. A telling story point is that two members of the CBS team are secretly married, against corporate policy; and this is used against them in time, presumably in the name of objectivity in news, even as the network's head sells out not only Murrrow but American journalism to the forces that since the 1950s have filtered what U.S.ers are permitted to see and hear through "postmodernist" anti-realist ideas, attitudes and practices. No critic worth listening to can report on this film I assert without recognizing that Murrow's final speech in the film, a strong warning against allowing pragmatic pretensions to replace individual ethics, applies even more to minds in our deregulated and anti-rights era than it did to those in Murrow's earlier period. This is a film, for the reasons cited, perhaps to be watched over and over. The movie deserved best picture and best adapted screenplay awards. Mr. Clooney deserves our deep thanks I assert for having the courage and vision to have made such a film, especially during the neocon regime of George W. Bush.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Long before "Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day", the creators of the movie "I Know Where I'm Going", Directors-scenarists Michael Powell and Emmerich Pressburger had mined the same vein. The character of the heroine here is supportable only because she is young; she has grown up during the Depression, lived in an empire, Great Britain, and now she has endured the privations and dangers of WWII as well. The year is early 1945 and she surprises her father, a bank supervisor but not a rich man, by saying she has agreed to marry an older man--one who is immensely wealthy. She has always been strong-willed, intelligent, not versed in people and "proper'--in her case moral toward the real, ethical toward others but lacking in experience of many things--friendship, a societal order of normatives--and love. She finds herself on the far edge of Scotland staring through storm-roiled skies and across dangerous waters at the island rented by her fiancée from one Torquil MacNeil. And by chance it is MacNeil, striving to get home for a leave from the War, who is there to help her when she cannot get to his isle to marry her fiancée, his tenant. Against her inclinations, the heroine, Joan Webster, then has to interact with a wide spectrum of persons, animals and situations as she grows more and more frantic in her attempts to complete her original plan. In fact, she fights an epic battle for the major portion of the film against the idea that she has made an error in her thinking. The film's makers cunningly pit her commoner status against the stuck- up and silly upper-crust ways of the rich; we see her being kind to dogs, walking about outdoors, showing interest in an old curse and in old tales, and being charmed more than she will admit by the poor but proud Scottish folk who are kind and considerate to her. The key point in the film, for me as a writer, comes when Torquil explains to her that the people thereabouts aren't poor--"they just don't have much money". After she compels Toquil to risk his life so she and a young man bribed by her 20 pounds to try to get her to the Isle through hazardous seas can be saved, and he barely saves them all, everyone is angry with her--but he still says, "She's just young, she doesn't understand". At the last, as the adverse wind that has blown for days finally drops and she can sail to the island to be married, and because she has been running from him for days, Joan asks Torquil to kiss her. He does so, then goes into his ruined castle to read the curse on his line, which he's told her he would never do for fear of incurring it; and she marches off to the dock. The ending if the film is then fleshed out appropriately; I find the characters fascinating then and throughout, and the directing flawless by my judgment. A loch, waterfalls, eagles, whirlpools, roads, shorelines, skies and seas, interiors and the characters all contribute to the overall power and beauty of this exceptionally-memorable production. George Busby is credited as producer along with the writers, and there is clever music and sometimes authentic Scottish music also by Allan Gray and award-level cinematography by Erwin Hiller. The very fine production design and art direction are by Alfred Junge. Few of the large supporting cast have more than a single scene, but they are all uncommonly sincere in the parts they are asked to play. Murdo Morrison and Margot Fitzsimmons play a young affianced pair, Bridie and Kenny, he being bribed by Joan's money; his father is veteran character actor Finlay Currie. As the excitable falconer, Colonel Barnstaple does well, as do George Carney as Joan's father., Norman Shelley, only heard as her fiancée's voice over the radio, the Postmistress who operates the radio to the island, Jean Cadell; and Nancy Price is especially effective as Mrs. Crozier, while Valentine Dyall and Catherine Lacy are properly upper class as the Robinsons. Catriona, in whose house Joan learns so much, is skillfully played by Pamela Brown. But the two young people at the center of the film are Wendy Hiller as Joan Webster and Roger Livesey as Torquil MacNeil, Laird of Killorren. The script requires Joan to be a magnificent, since she is given little chance to be anything at all during the first half of the script except surprised, disappointed, stubborn or resentful. Wendy Hiller as Joan is at least as good in this work as she was in "Pygmalion" and "Separate Tables". So we see what MacNeil sees in her mostly through Hiller's stellar qualities, and so we fall in love with her even as he does. As MacNeil, Roger Livesey is a bit too old but otherwise a consummate professional as always. His rather breathy tenor voice is used beautifully here; we owe to the war his being allowed to play splendid leads in "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" and "I Know Where I'm Going", very accurately and with memorable effect. The famous whirlpool effect is splendidly done, especially for 1945; the sound recording is good. But the air of Scotland and the seriousness with which social satire is used to reveal to Joan, and to the audience, the shallowness of those who hunt for sport rather than in order to eat and build swimming pools when they have a grand bay are strong indeed. They help to make this one of the great films of all time; and, I suggest, a proof why great actors like Hiller deserve to play all parts requiring classical accent training, unusual professional capabilities and idea-level- motivated characterizations in dramatic and satirical roles--and not the merely attractive whose charm palls after a few minutes. A true classic.
"The Illusionist" (2006) is a very beautiful film I suggest with a splendidly attractive surface that founders on only one vital point, the impossibility of the illusions created and being used by its central character to bring down a tyrant. Neil Burger has directed this film in classical and intelligent style, never striving for sensational effect and getting the very most out of his cast. The story altogether too-obviously I assert was developed from a 'short story' from Steven Millhauser "Eisenheim the Illusionist", by the director. As is the case with too many films of recent vintage, including "You've Got Mail", "Devil With a Blue Dress" and dozens of others, the fundamental key to the film's full-realism was never discovered. This leaves the viewer with a very rich-looking modest-budget fantasy about the Hapsburg Empire's leadership class and its tendency toward totalitarianism and emotional instability. The subplot concerns the Crown Prince Leopold's bad character, that leads him to a desire to overthrow the Emperor. But the piece's main plot concerns the love of a man, now an Asian-trained world-class illusionist, for the Duchess who was his first love and is also the marital key to the Crown Prince's nefarious plan. This effort's dozen producers have achieved a surprisingly effective and sustained "look", in my judgment, through the use of horse-drawn vehicles and major buildings of the late 1800s--two theaters, a palace, a large house, a railway station and several streets, as well as attractive outdoor settings. For this unity of design, Cinematographer Dick Pope, Production Designer Ondrej Nekvasil, Art Directora Stefan Kovacik and Vlasta Svoboda, Set Decorator Petra Habova and Costume Designer Ngila Dickson all deserve high credit. Philip Glass's music never makes a complete point but it is lush and unobtrusively applied to the gorgeous tapestry of this period romance cum mystery, in my opinion. In the realm of acting, which for any costume film is so central to successful believability's being achieved by any filmmaker, the curious lack of development of characters at once makes the casting of vocally-competent players easier but also hamstrings their best efforts. They are, in effect, too-often reduced by this failing to two or three lines, in one scene or two. This lack I suggest is partly due to the failure of the adapter to develop the original story beyond its two lovers and two opponents; but it is also a result of the secretive nature of all three characters, none of whom is able to confine in anyone. Among the supporting cast, Robert Russel as a Spiritualist leader and young Elias Bauer as a messenger are given noticeable one-scene roles. Others having meaningful parts included Aaron Johnson and Eleanor Tomlinson as the youthful friends destined to be lovers, Karl Johnson as the Doctor, and others who are given two or three lines here or there, which seem surprisingly performed well in all cases. There are even theatrical, crowd and street scenes of impressive attractiveness and utility. As the Crown Prince, the mad Leopold, Rufus Sewell, works hard but is sometimes out of his depth in a part demanding a classical training. The same must be said for Edward Norton. His intelligence and theatrical competence allow him to execute the more-demanding speeches adequately or better; but much of the time he appears to be a merely thin and somewhat gangling character actor unable to find an approach to playing a charismatic leader of men; he is not helped by having no confidant to play off throughout most of the film, which leaves him often standing alone in large rooms and being questioned by others. Jessica Biel is sincere and lovely as the Duchess Sophie; all she lacks is a stage-trained voice to be added to all her other impressive credentials. So, I claim, it falls to narrator and Police Inspector Paul Giamatti to carry the film. This, I argue, he does in splendid Oscarworthy fashion from beginning to end. He alone in the cast is given a variety of moods as well as scenes to play; and the strength of the film's logic and his own success at achieving the effect the director desires are perhaps the project's greatest strengths. It should be noted that the narrative is not swift-paced but is nevertheless very satisfying throughout, even in theater-site scenes that in lesser hands might have slowed up the progress of the work. With a great leading man, such as the story deserved, and a solution to the believability of the illusions being depicted, which are so powerful they mystify an empire's best minds, the film might have achieved much more even than it did. What results, I argue, is an unusually handsome and very-well-told cinematic story, a near-classic well worth the seeing more than once, if only for its economy of means and unusual physical beauty.
"Absolute Power" (1997) is for me a prime example of what a director skilled with both actors and fluid camera can do to make a riveting film from a second-rate book. The David Baldacci novel in question, whatever its merits, gave brief but telling opportunities for individuals to interact with one another; these intelligent moments, director/producer/star Clint Eastwood had to string like bright beads onto a continuous and unbroken thread of dark meaning. In my opinion, he did this with Hitchcockian or Vidorian skill. The plot of this film can be told in two sentences. "A brilliant, aging career thief is interrupted during a very big score by the arrival of a man and a woman, then witnesses her murder by two secret service agents as she gains the upper hand in a struggle in the bedroom. He escapes but they get his license number, and thereafter he decides to leave the country but then gets angry when the D.C. highly-placed perpetrators, the bad guys and their agents, misuse the victim's husband and then nearly kill his daughter--and exposes the crime.". Leaving aside details of how he does it, he and the police officer on the case manage to bring about a very satisfying conclusion. This efficient thriller is directed in award-level style by Eastwood, from a screenplay by William Goldman. Understated music by Lennie Niehaus, intelligently- matched cinematography by Jack N. Green, director of photography, a lovely production design by Henry Bumstead and solid art direction by Jack G. Taylor, Jr. advance the proceedings far above ordinary films. Stellar set decoration by Richard C. Goddard and Anne D, McCulley, above-average costumes, lighting, sound and special effects add to the film's considerable power. In key roles, Gene Hackman as the central figure in the disaster and Laura Linney as Eastwood's daughter come off best. Ed Harris as the head detective is folksy but adequate; Judy Davis is fine as the bad guy's chief, and E.G, Marshall lend dignity to the role of the aged husband. The secret service men are Scott Glenn and Dennis Haysbert, and they are good and well-used. As a telling fact, every small part in the piece is made memorable by the director's skill, from start to finish. Eastwood unarguably does one of his best acting jobs in a role that suits his strengths and limitations very well. The film is not as strong as "Space Cowboys", a bravura project; but it adds to the director's credentials; the closet sequence with its p.o.v. shots, shot changes is extremely memorable. There flaws-- notably the protagonist's failure to recognize the murderer sooner; but the film is miles above most of the special-effects with loud brainwashing music that constitutes postmodernist film that's being produced. A swell-acted, generally superior thriller this is, and one worth seeing more than once.
"Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" (2008) I suggest is a 'classic' narrative in the best sense of that word. It is not an overstatement perhaps to say that it owes more to the satirical and often to "screwball" type comedies of the 1930s and 1940s than it does to more recent blatant screen humor. Its true sub-genre is that of the "intruder"--the outsider who enters a situation, one wherein several forces, suitors, parties etc. are living in uneasy limbo between opposition and resolution, and proceeds to change everything by means of some power--skill with a weapon, superior knowledge, a tipping of the balance of powers, or simply honesty where this had been lacking...The story of this film can be stated in one sentence: "Desperately needing work, a woman applies for a nanny's position only to find herself engaged as the social secretary to a madcap U.S. actress trying to juggle three ardent suitors and make a career in the London of the pre-WWII period, who then by her own honesty begins to affect all the parties concerned very strongly." Like the TV series "Barney Miller", and "My Man Godfrey", Winifred Watson's novel, adapted for the screen by David Magee and Simon Beaufoy, presents us during most of the film with a single normative character, everyone else we meet being in some way behaving badly, unreasonably, or worse. As Miss Pettigrew notes, "Love is not a game"; she, however, seems to be the only who who judges the case that way. The presentation I find to be modern, and fluidly directed by Bharat Nalluri; it also benefits from period and original music by Paul Englishby, the well- maintained cinematography of John de Borman, Michael O'Connor's costumes, Katie Spencer's intelligent set decorations. I found the Production Design by Sarah Greenwood and the Art Direction by Nick Gottschalk to be powerful attributes of the film, as much a part of its atmosphere as were the difficult lighting and deliberate but never-flagging pace of the events unfolded. From believable couturiers' shops to a nightclub, an office, outdoor locales, soup kitchens, alleyways and posh bedrooms, the film presents us with a glittering era from its top to its bottom. As the ambitious actress struggling up from humble beginnings, Amy Adams is attractive, smart and never strident no matter how badly she is behaving. The three suitors vary in tone and intensity, but all come across well without any opportunity to do more than to contribute to several interesting scenes apiece; Lee Pace as Michael has the most to do. Stephanie Colt as Miss Holt and Ciaran Hinds as Joe also score impressively, with less to work with. Niall Mulroney as supervising art director also deserves special thanks, as do the hairstyle and makeup experts for their contributions here. This is a well-paced film, whose central star, Frances McDormand, as Miss Pettigrew deserves award consideration as does the film itself. It is memorable, only occasionally bitter, a brilliant indictment of the inter-war generation's heedlessness, a quality the film's makers also comment upon in the similar behaviors of post-1994 youth and others who also should know better. The film I found to be beautiful, satisfying and a little disturbing all at once; I claim (as is "American President"), it is a great satire.
To write intelligently about an inexpensive cheaply-made or "B"-picture war docudrama whose subject is a soldier of WWII I suggest is difficult. One must separate the shortcomings of production from the efforts of the writers, directors and actors. Thus, "Surrender Hell" (1959) undoubtedly has more in common with other "B" pictures of the period 1939--1973 than it does with most studio-produced war films in this regard. Its hero is Don Blackburn, veteran United States' army lieutenant, who refuses to surrender when the Philippines fall under Japanese dictatorship during the War. Instead, he heads up into the hills, hoping to enlist guerrilla patriots whose mission will be to make life difficult for the conquerors until Gen. MacArthur's promise to return to liberate the islands from domination can be fulfilled. This he does by organizing and leading elements first of Filipino then of Filipino and headhunter tribesmen as well as a late-arriving small U.S. force, in courageous, dangerous and ultimately successful actions. Lack of funds forced the film's director, John Barnwell, who worked up the script from real-life Donald Blackburn's memoirs, Philip Harkin's "Blackburn's Headhunters", and Charles Martin's intelligent narratives in the script to employ static scenes, marching scenes and incorporated footage; his budget in other words only allowed him latitude to recreate some claustrophobic dramatic scenes and limited combat stagings. The argument of the film, which happens to be true, is that this one trained solider, an American, was the major creator behind strategic plannings, training of troops to use weapons and to be effective wartime raiders, and only toward the end the leading force behind two successful major confrontations with Japanese regular troops. The story resulting from these creative efforts I say is episodic, effective in its dramatic scenes and undoubtedly less successful in its depiction of the entire narrative of the guerrillas' growth and operations, despite (by then Colonel) Blackburn's having acted as the film's technical adviser. In fact, all the hero of the story had to do was get his men to keep quiet on command, instruct them in use of modern weapons and issue orders for attacks whenever the opportunity could be seized; and this he apparently did, in reality, with great success for several years. Francisco Buencamino Jr. provided unobtrusive music, with Filipino experts providing the film's other cinematographic and art direction contributions, which are I claim above average for their minuscule budget. Only several actors are credited in the film, Susan Cabot for a brief early role, Paraluman as Pilar in an extended and satisfying tragic performance, and Nestor de Villa as Major Bulao. But the body of the film revolves about the towering , brilliantly nuanced and legendary performance given by Keith Andes as future Colonel Donald Blackburn. His classically-trained speech, his ability to handle all acting situations and challenges and his astonishing success in keeping a continuity of his characterization secure across weeks of filming in demanding and varied locations I find to be remarkable in itself. That he was able to do this with a cast of ESL speakers and low- grade actors and technicians is all-the--more-admirable as an achievement. His honest work here I say eclipses even the very good performance in the same year by Gregory Peck in the high-budget "Guns of Navarone", a noted leading performance; his role therefore must go down as one of the least appreciated and most successful in film history. That one of the finest leading men of his generation was relegated to "Damn Citizen", "Model For Murder" and "Surrender Hell" is an indictment of movie moguls' artistic absurdity. That he was able to extract as much as he did from the material he was given to work with in these films as well as "Back From Eternity", "Split Second" and other films borders upon the miraculous. I recommend this film to those who enjoy fictionalized biography and WWII films; it has effective moments, good work by the Japanese leader in several scenes, and a good deal of memorable footage, thanks largely to Keith Andes professional superiority throughout the filming. He is unarguably more-than-memorable here in every respect.
Since the later 1970s, any film made for adults has had to be a
personal project, so its creators can avoid de facto censorship by
corporate tsars bent instead on supplying graphic emotional and special
effects cinematic graphic drugs to their target mentally teenage
addicts. "Enchanted" is such a vision, and less surprisingly so than it
is satisfying. This I say is true because of what its makers tried to
do even more than how well its creators performed that intended task.
The use of animation plus filmed action in the film was not
unprecedented; how seamlessly the combination works therein for many
viewers may be so. This sprightly tale begins in a fantasy realm,
Andalasia. We are introduced to a lovely commoner destined to marry a
brave and handsome prince--despite the opposition of his mother, a true
witch in several degrees, and her helper. After an animated series of
songs and adventures during which we learn the young woman, Giselle,
can charm animals into helping her--leading to a classic Disney
historical-looking sequence--she and her prince, who has rescued her
from an ogre, arrive at the royal palace to be wed; but, instead, she
is sent as an exile to another realm--and emerges from a manhole in New
York City. There she meets a wary, bemused but honest fellow named
Robert, his daughter and his mismatched fiancée, But the brave prince
soon follows her to save her, accompanied by a talkative chipmunk and
followed by the Queen's besmitten aide, Nathaniel, whom we are told
will try to stop the royal wedding. What succeeds this engrossing
beginning I say is a gradual denouement to a satisfying ending, during
which Giselle learns the limits of magic and the power of realism, and
Robert learns the power of magic and the limits of doubt. This
charming, fast-paced delight was directed by Kevin Lima, with script
credited to Bill Kelly. Seven credited producers hired Alan Menken to
supply clever music, and Don Burgess to supply innovative cinematography and to incorporate the animated portions. Production Designer Stuart Wurtzel and Art Director John Kasarda dealt professionally with a variety of locales, ranging from an apartment to New York offices, stores and street features to a grand ballroom and Central Park. Set Decorator George DeTitta Jr. and Costume Designer Mona May deserved plaudits for their stellar work as well. The able cast includes likable Patrick Dempsey as Robert, James Marsden as the bravura Prince, Idina Menzel as the fiancée, Timothy Spall outstanding as Nathaniel, Susan Sarandon as the wonderfully witch evil Queen, Rachel Covey as Robert's cute daughter, Elizabeth Mathis as Robert's secretary, and talented Tonya Pinkins and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as battling divorce partners. But the core of the film I suggest is Amy Adams' award-level, lovely and memorable Giselle. Watch for a remarkable action-character development crisis, and a memorable ending during which all loose ends are neatly tied up so that all concerned can live on, mostly happily ever after.
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