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Logan Lucky (2017)
This hillbilly version of Ocean's 11 stars Channing Tatum as the scruffy, bearded and unlikely mastermind of an incredibly involved theft. The characters use a variety of dialects ranging from West Virginia to London. An almost unrecognizable crew-cut and tattooed Daniel Craig is featured as a hick safe cracker and Hillary ('Butch') Swank plays a vengeful FBI agent. Moderately entertaining but at times a little difficult to follow.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Difficult to Review
Difficult Kenneth Branagh makes, produces, and stars in good movies, and this version of Murder on the Orient Express features impressive sets, beautiful scenery, and lovely period clothes. An impressive case features Penélope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, and Kennth Branagh as Hercule Poirot. I think those who are not familiar with Agatha Christie, Poirot, or the story may very well like this movie.
I, on the other hand, was massively disappointed, especially by Branagh as a sort of English upper-class colonel with a stick-on cavalry moustache and by the needless addition of an introductory scene at the Wailing Wall. But I am prejudiced. I read the 1934 novel decades ago and again more recently. I liked the 1974 star-studded version with Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, and Michael Yorkdespite the fact that Albert Finney was a very poor version of Christie's Hercule Poirot.
In my opinion, the 2010 television version of the story starred David Suchet as the definitive Poirot, and the ending was far and away the best of all the versions with which I am familiar. So I think Christie fans may want to skip this edition of the classic.
Entertaining bilingual romp
The IMDb indicated that this movie, in English, would open 6 April, so I was curious when it opened here in Acapulco on April 1, advertised as a Spanish language film. About half the dialog in the version I saw was in funny but very vulgar Spanish (without titles) and half in English (with Spanish subtitles).
Compadres (Buddies) is an above average buddy flick with more than a little violence. It starts Omar Chaparro and Joey Morgan as the buddies, and both are great. Eric Roberts and Kevin Pollack, who are listed first and second in the IMDb cast list have minor roles and both are them more than adequate. The 'storyline' says the cop's wife is killed but in the version I saw, it's his girlfriend (novia) who is kidnapped.
The Vatican Museums 3D (2014)
A tour of 3-D filmmaking
This is a fairly interesting demonstration of 3-D filmmaking. There are many scenes of splashing water, flames or swirling dust, interspersed with several shots of a young man's face or hands. Other than a few long shots of two or three galleries, there is not much attention to the three-dimensional art or sculpture in the collection, and most of that involves close-ups of the Pieta, the Laocoön Group and a Roman torso. Murals and oil paintings get somewhat more attention and we have a quick look at Caravaggio's Descent from the Cross. There are brief inspections of some of the details in Rafael's School of Athens, of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment, but most if not all of the 'flat' art has been subjected to a 'three-dimensionalization' that I found disturbing. An online visit to the Vatican Museum would be a better choice.
The Legend of Hercules (2014)
The "Legend of Hercules" touches only in very lightly on the Greek myth, when Hercules kills the Nemean lion. This particular Hollywood legend is a peculiar amalgam of bits and pieces of The Illiad, the City of Mycenae, the Book of Judges and something reminiscent of Roman gladiatorial combat. Much of the dialog is in voice-overs, apparently to save money for what seem to be kilometers of computerized animation but that doesn't even get the moon right. The lead actor is prettier than any ancient depiction of Hercules that I have ever seen, and he shows a lot of flesh, but this is a film that most people would be better advised to skip.
This silly mish-mash borrows the title and the names of some of the characters of the Christie novel of the same name. Unfortunately, it has little or no resemblance to the original clever adventure story. Miss Marple, who does not figure in the original, has been added to the cast and has surprisingly become the antithesis of the clever old woman that Christie invented. In this story Marple is a pushy know-it-all whom the police admire and consult, a sort of Hercule Poirot in a grey wig and skirts. This TV movie may be acceptable to those who have never read Christie but time would be better spent, I think, in reading the book that has a much better plot and more satisfactory conclusion.
Hope Springs (2012)
This story begins on the 31st anniversary of the marriage of a woman who has become a passive victim and a man who thinks he should be a rock. These roles were once more common than they are now, but appropriate for people who grew up half a century ago. The wife quite understandably becomes frustrated with herself and her marriage, and hires a professional counselor to help her achieve better control of her husband and herself. The characters are well-written and well-played, and Steve Carell does a perfect job as the counselor but I found the clinical details of their therapy occasionally amusing but mostly boring.
The Naked Maja (1958)
"The Naked Maja" has beautiful sets and costumes, but only a passing acquaintance with reality. About the best that can be said is that it features some impressive views of Miss Gardner's lovely bosom.
Diego Velázques (1599-1660) painted one of the earliest known Spanish nudes, the Rokeby Venus, featured as the "loot" in the film "The Happy Thieves."
About two centuries after Velázques, Francisco Goya 1746-1828) painted a short, plump nude maja (street girl) reclining on a bed. When this picture was criticized as obscene, he painted the same girl again, in the same position but dressed, which makes her more, rather than less suggestive. The chunky girl in the "maja" paintings does not resemble Goya's portraits of the Duchess of Alba in any way.
When I was last in the Prado the two majas were hanging on either side of the door to the room housing the portrait of King Carlos IV and family and the queen was definitely not the lovely young woman who played the part in "The Naked Maja."
Goya also painted two portraits of his very close friend, the tall, angular Duchess of Alba, in one she is dressed in white and in the other, in black. The 'black portrait' shows the duchess pointing imperiously at the ground where the words "solo Goya" ("only Goya") can be seen written in the sand at her feet.
Milos Forman's "Goya's Ghosts" (2006) is a far better film and much closer to historical fact. Goya's passing affair with the Duchess of Alba, who was certainly not the girl in the Maja paintings, does not figure in the latter film.
Sweet Charity (1969)
I was at the University of Texas in 1968. We were very serious about love and peace and ending the Viet Nam war. I actually attended weddings where both bride and groom wore flowers in their hair. People gave fancy roach clips as birthday gifts and the world smelled like pachouli.
Back then, this film seemed to be mocking our idealism, and no one I knew then liked it. Forty years later I had an opportunity to see it again, and somewhat reluctantly started to watch. To my surprise, I discovered that "Sweet Charity" has always been a love letter to the craziness of the 60's. Shirley MacLaine is wonderful and the supporting cast is great with Paula Clark, Chita Rivera, Ben Vereen, Sammy Davis, Jr.,and Stubby Kaye.
Dixie is a highly fictionalized biography of Daniel Decatur Emmett who was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio and was twice married: to Catherine Rives, who died in 1875 and then to Mary Louise Bird, a widow with two daughters.
Emmett performed his first song Old Dan Tucker at the age of fifteen. He was one of four men in the "Original Virginia Minstrels," with Frank Brower. Billy Whitlock, and Dick Pelham. Emmett later performed with Bryant's Minstrels in New York and then with Leavitt's Gigantean Minstrels. Emmett wrote the song Dixie in the spring of 1859, while with Bryant's Minstrels in New York. At the beginning of the Civil War both armies marched to the tune of Dixie but by 1861 Dixie had become a Southern tune.
The movie is essentially a series of songs and 'black-face' acts. The latter, although generally considered humorous in 1943, will probably offend many viewers today.
Film doesn't get any better
Operatic in scope, depth, music and color, and a good deal livelier and more interesting than most of the grand operas I like. A newcomer named Jennifer Hudson is absolutely stunning as a singer and as a performer. She comes close to stealing the whole show. I was in love with the Supremes from their first appearance, and the movie borough some nostalgia despite the fact there was not a single song from the original Supremes. On the contrary, the lyrics and music are fitted almost seamlessly into the story line, as it is supposed to be in grand opera (but isn't, always). I don't think film gets any better than this.
not for skeptics
A troubled family in Spain, an American archaeologist and others are drawn to Mexico by the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe. These 20th century 'pilgrims' are drawn together and helped in much the same way the Virgin of Guadalupe drew the Spanish and the Mexica together in the 16th century to form a new race, the Mexicans, A gentle dramatization of St. Juan Diego's vision of the Virgin Mary on Tepayac Hill in 1531 is interwoven with the modern action and is appropriately spoken in Nahuatl.
For those who are not familiar with this encounter, Juan Diego saw the Virgin on a hill north of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) then sacred to the Nahuatl-speaking population. The Virgin told him to ask the Bishop (Zumarraga, with an impressively aquiline nose) for a shrine to be built on that site. The bishop was not impressed at the first or second request, and finally asked Juan Diego to bring a sign. At the third meeting, the Virgin told Juan Diego to return the following day and gather flowers. Unfortunately, his uncle was dying that day and Juan Diego went for help. He took another route in order to avoid the Virgin, but was intercepted by her.
The Virgin then said his uncle was cured, and that he should gather flowers -- on cold, rocky Tepeyac in December. He did so, carried them in his blanket to Bishop Zumarraga and, when he opened the cloth, on it was the picture of the Virgin which today may be seen in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico city, visited by 15 million people each year.
El laberinto del fauno (2006)
Enchanting, beautiful and cruel
Spain elected a socialist-leaning government after the departure of King Alfonso XIII, The Spanish Civil War began on 19 July 1936, when General Mola issued a proclamation of revolt against the elected socialist government.
General Francisco Franco, known to hold right wing, monarchist views, began the conquest of Spain and in September 1936, other generals named him Chief of State. The war officially ended on 1 April 1939, but persecution of political opponents continued for years. An estimated 200,000 political prisoners probably died of starvation, overwork or execution. The Fascist regime ruled Spain until Franco died on 20 November 1975.
El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) is a fascinating but surprisingly black fairy tale set in 1944, when Franco's army was energetically eradicating pockets of resistance to the Fascist government. A widowed mother and her daughter join the mother's second husband, an Army Captain, in his cold and austere post in northern Spain. The surrounding forest hides a cadre of resistance fighters and their encounters with the army are brutal and unsuitable for children.
The mother's pregnancy is difficult, the surroundings are frigid and the Captain is cruel. The little girl escapes into a magic world in which she has a chance to save her mother and herself. The story is original, enchanting and beautifully filmed, but ultimately tragic.
Gosford Park (2001)
Agatha Christi fans should not miss
Director Robert Altman's version of what might have been a classic Christi murder mystery is set in 1932. A mixed bag of the British aristocracy and their servants come together in a lavish country home that even boasts a secret panel in the library. The potential victim is detestable and most of people present appear to have a good reason to kill him, although some of the motives are in the distant past. In Altman's version, the viewer actually sees the crime take place and Altman's detective is not omnipotent, like Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple, but a complete twit. One of the maids finally figures out the mystery, but the last lines of the film suggest she'll never tell.
La ley de Herodes (1999)
Strong but very funny
A perfect and abundantly Mexican version of Lord Acton's dictum, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." In 1949 a local official of the ruling PRI (Pedro Armendariz as López) chooses a humble janitor (Damián Alcázar, as Juan Vargas) to be presidente municipal ("mayor") of a dusty, dirty little village in northern México. Vargas' is supposed to bring "modernity and social justice" but as he gradually assumes power, he grows progressively more corrupt. He even acquires the 1930's symbol of rural elegance in México: a Packard. Vargas eventually challenges his mentor, with surprising but perhaps predictable results.
The film was initially denied release because it paints a hilarious but extremely negative picture of women, of local priests, and of local government. It also includes a great deal of amazingly foul, but ultimately very funny, Mexican slang. Even the title, La Ley de Herodes, is part of a very crude saying that might (with considerable liberty) be translated as "Law Blue: Do it to them or they'll do it to you."
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
A delightful comedy in which one likes even the 'bad guys'.
Anne Hathaway plays an intelligent and hard working but somewhat clunky and naïve Midwesterner (Andy Sachs) who comes to New York to find work as a writer. Failing at that, she takes a job as a personal assistant to the editor (said to resemble Anna Wintour) of the leading fashion magazine (allegedly based on Vogue).
Meryl Streep is the editor (Miranda Priestly) who is amazingly able to evoke some sympathy for herself in the role of the bitch-on-wheels editor.
Andy Sachs, under the pressure of her job, and with the aid of a fellow worker (Stanley Tucci as Nigel) gradually becomes fashion conscious and involved. She goes to Paris for fashion week, and then must choose between her easy-going boyfriend (Adrian Grenier as Nate) and a highly successful and very charming writer played by Simon Baker.
Christie fans should avoid it
Over a period of almost fifty years Agatha Christie published five novels about Tommy Beresford and "Tuppence." née Prudence Cowley: The Secret Adversary (1922), when they were in their twenties, Partners in Crime (1929), after they married; N or M? (1941) at the start of World War II; By the Pricking of My Thumbs (1968); and Postern of Fate (1971), when they are elderly. Unlike other Christie characters, the Beresfords grow old in the course of the stories:.
Christie wrote (in By the Pricking of My Thumbs) "During the long course of their married life they had hardly ever been separated for any length of time. Starting before their marriage, they had called themselves a pair of "young adventurers." They had married, they had had two children, and just as the world was seeming rather dull and middle-aged to them, the second war had come about ." The five "Tommy and Tuppence" books are not among Christie's best efforts, but they are more than fair. That cannot be said for the "adaptation" in which Tuppence has become an alcoholic and into which an American soldier, an unwanted pregnancy, and Miss Jane Marple a Christie character who never ages have all been quite foolishly inserted.
All in all, neither this adaptation nor the actress who portrays Miss Jane Marple has the charm and ingenuity that Christie fans have come to expect. Christie fans should avoid it.
Interesting story and cast
This film is a highly interesting account of a little-known episode in the Mexican Revolution. It is as historically accurate as almost any other film biography, and better than most. In any case, it is very close to the reports John Reed published as Insurgent México in 1914.
The Spanish actor Antonio Banderas does a creditable job as Mexican Pancho Villa, but for me it was sometimes hard to reconcile the face of that actor with memories of the real man, rather like watching Leonardo de Caprio do a great job playing George Washington. But movies are produced to make money, not as classroom texts, and Banderas undoubtedly sells more tickets than almost anyone else who might essay the role.
Wallace Beery fit the role very well when he played Villa in 1934, but the Mexican accent was a problem and the short, stocky Stuart Erwin was cast as the tall, blond John Reed. Of today's actors, James Gandolfini would physically fit and could certainly play Pancho Villa, but he probably doesn't have the drawing power of Banderas, and the accent would be a bigger problem.
Before Night Falls (2000)
Some time ago I caught part of an English television interview with Javier Bardem and heard him say that it had been difficult for him to learn a Cuban accent in the film, Before Night Falls. The Cuban accent is highly distinctive, but I didn't think I could distinguish Cuban-accented English from any other Spanish-accented English. When the movie opened in Acapulco as Antes Que Anochezca, I went to see it.
I had (foolishly) supposed it was going to be some sort of Caribbean gangster film in English, but it was a Spanish-language biography of gay Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas, and it featured at least one scene of full frontal male nudity. I was confused and surprised, to say the least, but I thought the story was moving and the film well done. Since then I have seen it on television, in English, when they put a bathing suit on the underwater shot of the other swimmer. I didn't recognize Bon Bon or Lt. Victor until the second time through.
I have just returned from Havana, and I should add that I thought Bardem's Cuban Spanish was very good.
Christie fans should skip it
Agatha Christie published Murder at Hazelmoor in 1931. In the novel, Captain Trevelyan, owner of Sittaford House, is murdered (elsewhere) and his nephew, James Pearson is arrested on suspicion. Pearson's fiancée, Emily Trefussis and Inspector Narracott believe Pearson to be innocent and eventually unravel the mystery of who killed him. One of Christie's better, but not her best, plot.
In this television adaptation, Miss Marple, a Christie character from several other stories, is grafted into the story and Inspector Narracott is deleted, along with a significant sub-plot involving the reason for the Willett's presence at Sittaford House. In addition, the adapters tossed in a homosexual note and, to make this even remotely believable, decided to shift the guilt onto a character that is, in the novel, entirely innocent. The result is a muddled, confusing mess, which would be better overlooked.
Furthermore, Geraldine McEwan entirely lacks the good humor and charm of Joan Hickson, who played Miss Marple in another, far superior series of Christie adaptations.
The Second Civil War (1997)
Timely political farce
A funny, old-fashioned political farce set in an up-to-the-minute situation. An aggressive woman who heads an organization to "save the children" plans to move Pakistani orphans to Idaho. The governor of that state (Beau Bridges) decides to play to anti-immigrant sentiment by saying he will close the borders against further immigration.
The American President (Phil Hartman) is a simpleton who managed by his political adviser (James Coburn). They're only interested in re-election, and are perfectly willing to resort to civil war to make it happen.
A CNN-like news organization, "NN", which employs a rainbow of immigrants, and whose announcer is James Earl Jones, plays the potential conflict for all the advertising dollars it's worth.
The governor (Beau Bridges) is really much more interested in his affair with a Mexican American reporter for "NN", and she seems to be the only person aware of the irony.