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Very good historical drama
A very good historical drama about Martin Luther's fight against the corruption of the Catholic Church. It opens the door for people of other religions and denominations to learn the details of what Luther was rebelling against. It also shows how original truth and ideals can be co-opted by others for their own power and glorification. Excellent acting, especially by Joseph Fiennes, good on-location photography, excellent costumes and fine direction. But only one problem: why does it seem like the whole movie is dubbed? The sound was so poor and dubbed that it really detracted from the experience. And the Regal theatre that showed it had the lights on during the movie. Do these projectionists ever check the theatres?
Song of Norway (1970)
Not the worst...but not the best
It took decades to bring "Song of Norway" from Broadway to the screen and what we get is a glorious mish-mash. Now, first and foremost, the star of the film is the scenery. Norway is an exceptionally beautiful country and never has it looked better on film. It must have looked even better on the huge, Cinerama screen for which it was designed. The editing, before the era of MTV, is a forerunner of a music video to Grieg's heady music. The editing flubs here and there but the opening credit sequence and the song "Song of Norway" is astounding. Next, many of the musical numbers are the most corniest ever directed which drags the film down tremendously. While the lyrics have a hard time keeping up with the incredible beauty of Grieg's music, they can be quite beautiful. Now, "Song of Norway" shines in its dramatic moments much better than its musical moments (a bad thing for a musical). And, the second half improves over the first. The dramatic acting is very good. Toralv Maurstad was Norway's premier actor at the time and he is good in the dramatic scenes, but sadly, he could not carry a note in a bucket. But on the large screen, barely detectable on video, his eyes are rimmed with tears as Rikard Nordraak sings the glory of their homeland. It is a moving moment. Florence Henderson is very good dramatically and musically, proving that there is more to her talent than just being the mother of "The Brady Bunch." Frank Porretta, an opera star, is classically trained. He displays the unbridled enthusiasm of Rikard and is inspiring with his singing of "Song of Norway." Christina Schollin is also very good as Theresa Berg, Grieg's patron and former lover. What is very disappointing is that this film had the opportunity to reach the heights of "The Sound of Music" with exceptional music and scenery but it required more ingenuity when it came to writing and direction. The talents of an Ernest Lehman and a Robert Wise would have been a great addition. SPOILER ALERT! Although the film ends with Grieg returning to Nina in a happy ending, the real-life ending is far from happy. Grieg was so heart-broken from letting down those closest to him that upon his return, he never wrote another note of music.
Another under-appreciated epic from the 60's
This was another under-appreciated epic from United Artists in the year 1966 (the other was "Khartoum"). Taken from the center section (and the longest section) of James Michener's famous book, "Hawaii" is actually a rather intimate, incredibly tragic story despite its claim to "epic" scale. The performances are excellent, especially Max von Sydow as Abner, the stubborn, unyielding missionary. Special mention has to be made of Jocelyne LaGarde as Queen Malama. A woman who never acted before, Jocelyne gives a wonderful performance and will forever remain in your mind as the symbol of Hawaiian heart and warmth. The talent behind the camera is considerable: George Roy Hill as director, Russell Metty as cinematographer, and Elmer Bernstein as composer. (I do sometimes wonder if this film was planned to be a Cinerama presentation. Many of the scene setups and photographic tricks seem to be designed with that in mind.) Despite the length and the epic intentions, prepare yourself for an intimate film with an emotional impact not found in many films.
DO NOT LEAVE THE THEATRE WHEN THE CREDITS BEGIN!!!
I know the credit sequence is long due to all of the talent behind the camera, but there is another scene! And it is great. I was sitting there enjoying the music and everyone else had gone. But, here comes another scene. Whoa! By the way, this film is excellent. Johnny Depp steals the show. And everyone else does a great job. There is something in it for everyone...action, romance, humor and the supernatural. The finest spectacular of the year!
Welcome to real, classic science fiction!
In the annals of science fiction films, there are a few types: horror stories transported to space (Alien and the assorted knock-off's), space operas which are nothing but Westerns (horse operas) transported to space (Star Wars, Star Trek lately, ...) and then, real science fiction, which usually deals with ideas and concepts (2001, 2010, The War of the Worlds, Planet of the Apes, etc.) in space or a futuristic setting. Welcome to the latter. Its' origin derives from the brilliant science fiction novel of Stanislaw Lem. The almost three hour Russian version is an incredible film in its own right. Steven Soderbergh has also crafted an excellent film from this material. Although both versions utilize Stanley Kubrick's techniques from 2001, Steven's current film more directly pays homage to Kubrick with the setup of some scenes and music directly taken from the film. This film is not for everyone. If you are going to see this because you want to see aliens bursting out of chests, laser gun battles or even just George Clooney's naked butt, stay home. You will be disappointed and may embarass yourself like the person at the end of the showing I attended, where a gentleman was talking in a loud voice about how the movie stank, in direct contrast to those who clapped at the end. This is a sophisticated, psychological exploration into the human mind...and maybe not just the human mind. Excellent acting by George Clooney and the rest of the cast. Congratulations to Steven Soderbergh! You have kept the spirit of the original.
Mission to Mars (2000)
Conspiracy theorists, take note!
There is a theory that the government either tries to debunk UFO's or tries to educate us on what is really going happening, based on the current administration's leanings on the subject. This, of course, assumes that the Hollywood community is in on the game and is even supported in their efforts. Well, here is a movie that fits perfectly into the education scenario. It describes the connection that the government supposedly realizes exists between the Earth and Mars. What was very strange was that the entire ending was included in the trailer. A way of educating people without them having to see the movie? It certainly seems from the majority of reviews that most people were totally bored with this expensive education lesson. The obviously expensive special effects and extremely talented cast members certainly lend a bit of credibility to the proceedings. Brian De Palma, mister slasher, seems out of place directing a science fiction picture. Another part of the theory states that our old friend Walt Disney was always a good tool for government propaganda dissemination. Who produced and distributed this film? Touchstone, a division of Walt Disney Pictures. No matter what, the film is not a masterpiece and not as bad as everybody says it is. It is not an "Alien" monster movie and not an esoteric "2001." It plays like what it may be, an educational documentary.
I grew up in the time of epic motion picture making, when vision, daring and showmanship brought us "Ben-Hur," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Spartacus," and a host of others. Sadly, that type of vision seemed lost in today's monumental budgets and miniscule stories. And then came Peter Jackson... What audacity to tackle J.R.R. Tolkien's famous classic, especially as a live action film! And what talent to pull it off! He combined an expert cast, superb cinematography and top-notch special effects to re-create the beauty and terror of Middle Earth. Howard Shore's music score with help from Enya is dramatic and emotional. Obviously, the film is a masterpiece, standing head and shoulders above a ton of films over the past few decades. But the real tragedy about this incredible piece of movie-making will be the lack of awards it will attract. If the Oscars were fair, it would obviously win the award for Best Picture, but the voters ironically do not vote for originality and vision. Never mind, this film will be a classic for years to come. And, I am anxiously waiting for next Christmas!
Lilies of the Field (1963)
The best come in small packages
A movie does not have to have a tremendous budget to achieve excellence. Here is a small film with incredible performances including Sidney Poitier's astounding Oscar-winning turn, clever writing, and insightful direction. The result is a film with more power and humor than ten other films. I remember that when this film came out, it ran for over a year in some theatres. This is a must for any film collector and any fan of how wonderful of an experience film can be.