Yes, for the completely uninitiated, the show does provide some semblance, albeit very distorted, of lowest-common-denominator history. Those wanting to learn more about the subject afterward will no doubt be disappointed to discover that Adams was no ninja, Gage was no bloodthirsty wife-beater, and Revere never killed anyone. To add insult to injury, the battle of Lexington and Concord was not even filmed in its proper season, i.e. mid-April. Rather, it looked like midsummer, and the famous bridge was nowhere in sight.
While HBO's "John Adams", (the standard against which all American Revolution works will be measured) had it's share of historical liberties, it was at least well-written, well acted, and somewhat believable. Some of its exaggerations and deviations made cinematic/narrative sense and could be forgiven based on the overall strength of the acting and screenplay. That's decidedly not the case with "Sons of Libery". Intelligent viewer, beware.
Length is not an issue here - Takahata takes time to complete the narrative, and for a good reason. The leisurely pace mesmerizes the viewer and allows investment in the characters. By the final moments, which unfold to an ethereal, psychedelic melody, there's not a dry eye in the house. The audience wept audibly both in Japan and U.S. screenings. Considering the similar effect of "Grave of the Fireflies", Takahata may be an even greater emotional manipulator than Spielberg, but a far less maudlin one. Although the film deals with universal themes that could easily turn into clichés (parenting, social mobility, death, etc.), in the hands of this director they invite profound contemplation.
The animated images are among Ghibli's most beautiful - they seem to be equally inspired by 12th-century Genji scrolls and modernist Rimpa-school nature paintings. One amazing scene, of Kaguya's brief "rebellion", is downright expressionistic. It's probably my favorite animation sequence of all time.
This 2007 adaptation has better overall casting than the '56, '67, or '72 productions. Filming on location in Russia also helps. The Rostov family, Price Andrei, Old Bolkonsky, Helene, Dolokhov, and others are well-realized and well-acted (albeit dubbed into a rather stale English). Pierre is a quite bit leaner than Tolstoy's creation, but appropriately awkward, and a big improvement over the pretty-boy Fonda in '56 or the aging Bondarchuk in '67. As for Natasha, I got over her portrayal as a blonde pretty quickly, and thought Poesy does a serviceable job channeling the young Rostova's Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl qualities.
The "War" scenes are duly enhanced by cgi, but are clearly not the main reason to see this version. The series fares better with the far more budget-friendly "Peace" portion of the Novel. Some of the sequences are remarkably faithful (most of the Bolkonsky family narrative, for example), but many others were altered for dramatic effect, or to suit modern audiences: Natasha's friendship with Pierre and acquaintance with Prince Andrei prior to 1811 has been considerably strengthened. Pierre's Masonic brotherhood is omitted, and here he's merely "studying the Gospel". Anatole is given a grudge against Andrei to start courting Natasha. The lively and very cinematic scene with Balaga and the gypsies is cut. Part 4 is the weakest, as there are many deviations from Tolstoy's plot to wrap up the story threads even more neatly, and a lot of it feels like by-the-numbers soap opera.
Still, for fans of the book, it's a worthwhile visualization of Tolstoy's characters and their world. With all the flaws, it's still not much worse than the previous versions, and even superior in some ways (mostly the authentic sets and the good looking cast). Just don't get your expectations too high.
Some of the chronology is played around with - the Prezioso episode happened after James and Nora's last mutual visit to Galway, not before. Two of Joyce's sisters are conflated into one, and the family's stint in Rome is omitted. Some episodes are invented for the sake of exposition, such as the run-in with the cattle in Dublin. Those are minor quibbles. The film got many details right - not the least of which was how elegantly the couple always tried to dress despite their relative lack of funds. Trieste hasn't changed much since early 20th century, so we also get to see some nice location shots - and a few in Dublin.
I was a bit disappointed that the film ended at an early cutoff point, after James and Nora's first decade together. Ideally, it should have been a miniseries a la "John Adams", and covered their fame in Paris, Nora and the kids caught in a Civil War crossfire during their last trip to Ireland, Joyce's eye troubles, Lucia's illness, etc. As is, it shows only the beginning of an almost 40-year relationship.
Amazingly enough, this is an altogether compelling, thought-provoking and even historically accurate (more so than "Gladiatior", at any rate) picture. Some background in Ghengis Khan's 13th century conquests does help understand the proceedings, but is not necessary. If anything, do the research after the film (like I did) and see it again (like I hopefully will if it's ever released in a digital format). Given the very limited budget of the filmmakers, some of what they achieved here is truly impressive (and surely more authentic and heartfelt than any latest computer-generated imagery).
His masterpieces ("Mean Streets", "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull", "Goodfellas"), will always remain such, and hopefully endure in the annals of cinema. But why, why such travesty?
Abandoning his unique style in favor of a concoction between "Moulin Rouge" and "Braveheart" (with a bit of "The Postman" thrown in for good measure), Scorsese, in his apparent eagerness to catch up to the 21st century, seems to have adopted the worst traits of modern moviemaking. The next step in this witches' brew of a film is assembling the most familliar and tired screenwriting cliches, grinding them, stirring them to a boil, and then pouring them out onto the screen. Add to that a haphazard, sluggish editing, which may or may not be the result of Scorsese's battle with Miramax. Then some generic actors who clearly look uncomfortable and not even very significant before such a gigantic ego. Construct a post-apocalyptic looking set, and include a CGI(!) elephant stampede during the climax. Shall I even continue?
GONY's underlying themes are even more dubious and incomprehensible - what are we supposed to make of the primitive stab at Civil-War America's social/ethnic urban politics? Vengeance, religion, parenthood, and yes, democracy - are distilled to a comic-book level.
What has happened to the master who in his heyday created such dynamic, urgent, intoxicating (and subtle, in their own inimitable fashion) character studies? After seeing this grandiose folly, one wishes that Scorsese would have taken a graceful exit, and retired or stuck to film preservation. Bergman, for example, has not made a feature film in almost 20 years, and that makes him no less great...
Perhaps, The Two Towers is an easier book to adapt cinematically, because it is more action-based, and its main events occur during a more condensed time period - weeks as opposed to months or years. On the other hand, it creates greater challenges in terms of intercutting between three separate storylines. Peter Jackson does a near-flawless job facing up to these challenges, and largely succeeds. The flaws are still there, but they are less jarring. The "gloom and doom" yet hopeful spirit of Tolkien's second book is present in spades, and again - painstalking detail is lavished on all visual aspects of Middle Earth.
Now, the usual discussion of strengths and weaknesses - and the latter are definitely fewer this time around.
WARNING - POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!!!! -----------------------------------------------
1) My favorite character in the entire book was always Gollum, and Jackson's team along with Andy Serkis absolutely nail him. He is best acted and most complex of all, a feat for a CGI creature. As another reviewer said, "Jar-Jar is not fit to lick Gollum's ass", a view which I wholeheartedly agree with. When Gollum/Serkis remembers his past as Smeagol, the moment alone is worth the price of admission. Personalit(ies) indeed go a long way. Nearly every scene in the book that featured Gollum is reproduced here, with great accuracy, even the "rabbit stew" scene! The final scene of the film is extremely effective, possibly one of the finest.
2) Gimli - yes, he is largely relegated to necessary comic relief, but he is funny, not laughable. His character is actually well realized, because a Dwarf would truly feel like a fish out of water in such foreign surroundings. He also gets to save the day more than a few times. I have a feeling he'll have even more to say and do in the Extended DVD.
3) Merry and Pippin display passion and wit, taking their development further.
4)The movie is historically/geographically minded, and handles various new places and concepts well. The fans even get references to the Bombadil Story omitted from FOTR - the Old Forest and the Barrow-Whigths (Gollum sings their song). All of the landscapes are gorgeous, and 100% Alan Lee.
5) Of course, the epic feel is tremendous and the action spectacular. It is unneeded to even mention. At times it seemed like I was watching something out of the Iliad.
1) Arwen and Aragorn came off well, at least non-distracting. The sequence of Arwen mourning and wandering the woods alone was starltingly beautiful.
2) Faramir I never cared much about, so his motivation changes did not bother me. The actor playing him was not very strong however, and didn't impress me. Good thing he had little screen time.
3) Treebeard was decent, not quite as I would have liked but in the context of the film, the ents worked. I know that they will get additional scenes in the DVD from Jackson's interview. Their scenes appeared choppy. The Destruction of Isengard, though, was magnificent - goosebump-worthy.
4) The music was still excessive, but better. The Rohan theme was more pleasing to the ear than any pseudo-Titanic pap.
1) The Rohan "women and children" storyline. Used purely for dramatic purposes, cheesy and worn-out. Could have done without it.
2) Sam's long speech about heroic endurance at the end needed some editing. Jackson is not a director known for subtelty.
3) Haldir's real death and Aragorn's fake one were overdone (slow-motion bathos syndrome) , but that is a fairly minor complaint.
4) CGI was spotty in places (the wargs and oliphaunts come to mind), but not enough to ruin the scenes. In fact, none the action scenes falter much.
In closing, I am pleased that TTT not only lived up to the hype/expectations, but managed to exceed them on almost all accounts. A gleeful smile has hardly left my face in all 3 hours, and my expression changed to an annoyed cringe only once or twice - far less than during Fellowship. I have to say that this film was the one (in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre) that I enjoyed the most ever since the good old days of the original Star Wars Trilogy, and I do not say that lightly.
Still, the end result is enormously satisfying - various parts of the film linger for days, weeks... Exquisite style and color, old-fashioned Hitchcockian camerawork, effective use of seemingly innocent 50's pop (Sixteen Reasons never sounded creepier) as counterpoint to Lynch's dark brushstrokes all work to near-perfection. This is a shot in the arm for those who are giving up on cinema.
* WARNING! POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD*********************************
1) Visuals: Landscapes and Architecture. Flawless. Majestic. Alan Lee as design consultant worked miracles. And furthermore, it made New Zealand a lucrative travel destination for me.
2) Certain Actors. Specifically portraying Gandalf, Bilbo, Sam, a few others... mostly dead-on, much like I always imagined.
3) The "creative license" scenes. Surprisingly enough, most of them did not detract from the movie, and even enlivened it a bit. Arwen's involvement did not seem out of place, and her "flight to the ford" scene is easily one of the finest setpieces of the whole 3 hours. In fact, I would have liked to see even more of her. The allusions to various chapter titles were in good spirit, and the comic relief for the most part worked decently, although it was somewhat upsetting to see Merry and Pippin reserved strictly for that purpose. The subtitled Elvish was a nice touch, in part because it eliminated the prospect of listening to Aragorn's and Arwen's romantic dialogue in English (!)
4) Action Scenes. Nicely staged, esp. the entire Moria sequence.
1) Heavy Cuts. It's true that the film is rushed. The only clues to how much time elapses between various scenes are periodic edits to the transformation of Isengard, and that is insufficient. Many scenes feel shortened in order to meet the 3 hour obligation, especially those of Lorien and I would hope the more complete version makes it to DVD.
2) At times, overdramatic. Some of the players' approach is not very authentic, overly self-aware, Elrond most of all. Aragorn and Boromir overact on occasion, but sparingly. Saruman and Gandalf, bellowing spells at each other across mountain passes come off as a pair of grand opera singers.
3) Derivative Effects. While impressive in their own right, the Wizard duel scene, Cave Troll, and Balrog seem to be inspired by latter-day videogames rather than by Tolkien's descriptions.
1) Frodo's cleanliness. While Elijah Wood's undoubtedly put his heart and soul into the role, his physical appearance was just a tad bit overpolished. He resembled a CGI model rather than a living, breathing hobbit. And throughout the film, not a speck of dirt seemed to have touched him - does being the ringbearer automatically merit a daily bath in wartime conditions?
2) Prologue. Cheezy and unnecessary. Much of it is repeated through subsequent flashbacks anyway. Could have done without it and went on straight to the original storyline. The initial shot of Sauron holding up the ring is laughable, straight out of a grade-Z flick.
3)The Soundtrack. Atrocious, absolutely atrocious. The single element of FOTR that tipped the scale toward the negative for me. If it was used half as much, the movie would have been greatly eleveated in my mind. But this generic tripe...too closely reminiscent of Titanic for comfort. Remember that scene in South Park where a character is tortured by Enya's music? - well, that's precisely how I felt.
"Dreamlife of Angels" is a classic in its own right, filmed at about the same time as "Rosetta". It also takes a few pages from Dogme95, and does a better job following its main principles than its own Danish creators. The only major difference is the use of standard camera equipment, not the frequently annoying home video/hand-held style as dictated by the Dogme school.
This is perhaps one of the few films of the 90's which was able to achieve a complete removal of any sense of distance between the viewer and the screen. Through its intimate and effective cinematography, some phenomenally realistic acting, and total lack of anything one traditionally associates with Hollywood drama (weepy soundtrack, romantic lighting) we almost get to inhabit the same space that the two young female characters do, to experience the same feelings even.
Its realism, which matches if not surpasses the French and Italian classics of the late 40's and 50's, is rather brutal at times, but not easily forgettable by any means. With no original music, no voiceovers, flashbacks or fancy cuts (which, if well-made, could also contribute to a great film, just of a different kind), "Dreamlife of Angels" broke new ground in its unpretentious desire to genuinely move.
If it wasn't already obvious in "Boogie Nights", the director treats his subjects as if they were characters in a sprawling epic of biblical proportions, in which his own role, quite literally is that of an omnipotent diety who can either answer their prayers, respond to their negative karma in an appropriately ironic manner, or simply demonstrate his power by launching a "plague" or two. And like the patriarchal, Judeo-Christian God , he deeply loves each and every one of his creations, even the most rotten ones, relishing in their troubles and pleas as if they were a collection of Jobs.
The kind of self-indulgent, wrenching melodrama that continuously unfolds across "Magnolia's" reels, rarely appeared in American cinema since the days of Douglas Sirk. But make no mistake about it, this kind of intentional tearjerking is a polar opposite of typical Hollywood fluff. The screenplay may be overwhelming, and occasionally far-fetched, yet in essence it's brutally honest and heartfelt. When it comes to sheer humanism, even the bold "American Beauty" fades in comparison (after all, it was trying to make a social statement more than anything else), although the later was still better structured as a film.
The wonderful cast is given plenty of intoxicating substances to spice up their acting, so for the most part, their emotional string-pulling is well justified. Tom Cruise, an outsider to the indie world, manages what may be his best performance as a walking defense mechanism (complete with references to his "Risky Business" period); while most of the others, just as good, are the director's favorite ensemble who had appeared in his previous movie (William H. Macy as a former child prodigy robbed of his quiz show winnings, and Julianne Moore as a repentant wife of a dying cancer victim).
Imperfections aside, Anderson's maverick achievement defies the bitter cynicism that permeates so many of its thematic counterparts: it's not afraid to get under the character's skin, no matter how unsettling the results may seem.
It's difficult to make sense of the director's motives - why retaylor the movie for the 90's, when many of its pretexts are anachronistic by default, most importantly, its PACE? Modern youth, unfamilliar with Hitchock, would most likely be yawning after the first 20 minutes of "Psycho"-babble and anxiously await for Bates to begin the slashing. Reamking a masterpiece usually means completely taking it out of context. Not to mention that Vaughn is awfully miscast. And what in the hell should we make of the little "Van-Sant-isms", that are inserted into the murder scenes, when they should belong back in "My Own Private Idaho" ? They are so out of place that even the intelligent viewers would shrug their shoulders in total befuddlement. Sure, all this madness is entertaining to watch, especially for those who have seen the original, but in the end it's pointless and undeserving an evaluation in its own right.
Most of all, the screenplay deals with the world of Theatre, the whole writing/production/staging process, here presented in a freespirited manner that at times rings true, but again, is all too superficial. Obvious visual inconsistencies irritate the eye (notably the mysterious accommodation of Paltrow's sumptuous hair under her tiny boyish disguise-wig ),but not enough to ruin the whole show. Perhaps the movie's biggest saving grace is that it rarely slows down, aside from the obligatory love scenes. Of course, the sex here is overdone and glossed over almost unbearably, but not as bad as in most mainstream genre pieces. If anything, it demonstrates that Miramax is truly no longer an "indie" studio: it has fully accepted all of Hollywood's conventions and restraints.
Also, SIL is notable for the second portrayal of Elizabeth I in '98: (this time around she's in her waning years ), probably in her best known context: exuding royal patronage on Shakespeare; a brief, yet definitive performance by Dench, fresh from playing Victoria in '97.
Armageddon is by far the worst piece of cinematic trash since Kevin Kostner's, "The Postman." Due to the enormous amount of technical inconsistencies found in this film, the subject will have to be addressed in my upcoming treatise entitled, "How Armageddon Has Violated Science." Sections will include, Astronomy, Mechanics, Statistics, Thermodynamics, etc... The overall experience of watching this movie can be likened to a trip to the bathroom that has suddenly gone awry. At first the s**t flows smoothly: the menace of the approaching asteroid, and the group of characters that will be pitted against it are given their crude and brief introductions. Regular action movie shit. Nothing to sweat about. Then there is an explosion of diarrhoea which refuses to cease the flow of its mucky blobs for an excruciating two and a half hours. It comes in the form of downright moronic characters whose main repertoire of macho yelling and grunting is framed by MTV style editing which alternately flashes images of gray, crumbling asteroid turf (reminiscent of nothing other than feces), and dimwitted faces of the men. Some action sequences filmed this way actually make even less sense than an average music video. In some places it becomes next to impossible to figure out exactly what's going on, even though the movie's outcome is just as predictable as that of Apollo 13's. Could the world really end? Could these idiots actually save the planet? It's obvious that they will, but by they end you wish that they would all perish. Making violent, gutter trash men the heroes of the picture, the movie also does a terrible injustice to women, making them look like whining, insignificant, subordinate nervous wrecks. "Armageddon's" poor quality and its blatant and distasteful use of US patriotism to please audiences places it behind its horrid rival, "Godzilla." After watching both, an intelligent person will become convinced that a generation of people raised on movies such as these would not survive an encounter with an asteroid.
While "In the Company of Men", equally brilliant, was a far-fetched, inflammatory meditation on intersexual warfare, his new work is simply a probe into the lives and mores of young middle-class professionals: ix men and women. Together they make a disturbing and very familiar mixture of selfishness, greed, apathy and cruelty; a veritable melting pot of relationship problems.
While all the characters are quite complex, they can still be effectively summarized. Eckhart (Company of Men's villain) is a disfunctional, bumbling loser; Stiller is an amoral, bumbling adulterer, Patrick a selfish, sadistic bastard, Brennman a scheming emotional parasite, Keener a cold, heartless manipulator, Kinski a miserable failure of a wannabe slut. All this adds up to one inevitable truism: lack of communication is the number one destroyer of all relationships. Those who find this film offensive or who claim to "hate" its cast are likely to be even more self-absorbed then the former, living in a vacuum of denial and refusing to accept the reality of contemporary America's ruthless sexual politics.
From the opening chords of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" in a string orchestra rendition, to the concluding "Wherever I May Roam" (the only music in the film), YFAN is as compelling and provocative as today's movies can get.