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Westworld (1973)
8/10
Idea-centric science fiction
19 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I hadn't watched "Westworld" for some time and decided to give it a shot again. {pun intended} I found it enormously enjoyable. It is set in a strange theme park which recreates three theme worlds: the Wild West, Rome. and a Medieval Castle. Guests for $1000 a day can live in any of these worlds which are peopled by realistic android-like robots. The adventure you experience is based on your choice of theme park.

The two main characters,Peter and John {Richard Benjamin and James Brolin respectively} choose to go to Westworld where they relive the wild west and experience gunfights, saloon brawls, etc. Naturally the are meant to win all their fights and never come to any harm for everything is monitored in a high tech {by the standard of the seventies} control room.

What happens when everything goes wrong and a terminator-type gunslinger robot, perfectly played by Yul Brynner goes berserk and decides to hunt down Peter and John?

This is one of those science-fiction films that depends on a fantastic premise and analyses the effect of its basic concept on individuals and society. While there are quite significant plot-holes, the film works and works brilliantly on the thematic level. It questions our preconceptions on a number of levels. For instance:

Why do people need to experience dream worlds which only feed their egos? Does this stunt our ability to experience real, basic human relationships? Do we place too much trust in technology? Will such trust undermine our existence? Do we undervalue human imagination?

Science fiction has always tended to be an idea oriented genre, and this is the case here. A significant problem with this film lies in that orientation. There is nothing in the way of deeper, genuine, emotional relationships. There is no love interest. Strangely, the final act takes place in the medieval world where two robots--one male the other female--sit together on a throne and a third begs for help in a dungeon. It is a such an emotionally cold film. When the ending arrives there is an odd feeling of emptiness. Perhaps this is the final lesson that the film attempts to convey. We learn too late that our humanity can be replaced--and destroyed.

By ourselves.
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8/10
Dark exploration of moral decisions in an extreme situation
30 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"A Hen In the Wind" {1948} is quite a dark film and the gloomy mood is emphasised by the shots of post-war Japan with its poverty and slummy areas--the environment in which the events take place. It is this environmental context which focuses the moral ambiguities explored in the film.

A crucial conflict is created when a young wife, Tokiko Amamiya {Kinuyo Tanaka} accepts a once-off job as a prostitute to get the money to save the life of her young son. She finds the experience deeply shaming and the money attained, she never returns to the brothel.

However, when her husband, Shuichi, {Shûji Sano} returns from the army, she confesses to him what she did. The knowledge causes him to fall into a deep depression and generates an unforgiving fury. Later he visits the brothel {to see if indeed his wife had worked there on only one occasion} and meets a young girl who tells him why she feels forced into the trade. Strangely, the husband feels compassion for the girl and even gets her a job to get her out of prostitution.

I say "strangely" because even Shuichi's co-worker finds it odd that he can measure the girl by one standard and his wife by another. That he cannot realise that under terrible conditions, human fallibility may cause one to do what would normally seem unthinkable. Finally in a rage, he causes his wife to fall down a flight of stairs--and the shock seems to bring him to his senses. Thus the film does have a final uplifting moment with the reconciliation--but the basic problem is not solved; it is only resolved in this specific context.

The wife may seem rather like a door-mat to a modern audience but remember that the position of women in pre-war Japan was not particularly liberated. Given that, I think that Kinuyo Tanaka creates a gentle and realistic character. It seems that Ozu did not particularly like this film and considered it a failure--perhaps owing to the melodramatic plot and the difficulty of creating a convincing character for the husband who seems incapable of seeing the moral contradiction in his attitudes.

Personally, I liked "A Hen In the Wind" because it did honestly engage with the problems with making a moral decision in an extreme situation and the need for self-awareness, honesty and charity.
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7/10
Good adaptation of the book
2 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Having recently read "No Highway In the Sky" by Neville Shute, I watched the 1951 film "No Highway |with James Stewart playing Theodore Honey, Marlene Dietrich as the aging film star, Monica Teasdale, and Glynis Johns as the stewardess Marjorie Corder who takes a shine to Mr Honey {as does Monica Teasdale},

Of course, compression is inevitable when transferring a novel of several hundred pages to a film running only 98 minutes, but it is remarkable how true to the source the director Henry Koster remains despite the fact that some plot elements seem rushed through. Stewart manages to get across the eccentric scientist fairly well, though the character in the novel is considerably more complex. The same could be said of the two female leads, though Glynis Johns does have more opportunity than Dietrich to establish her character. This is primarily owing to the fact that the Corder part is far more developed after the Gander incident than that of the actress.

Dennis Scott, the primary narrator in the novel is here played by Jack Hawkins who certainly makes his subordinate film role quite effective. In fact, the simplifying of Scott's place in the plot is actually an improvement on the novel, as Shute has difficulties in transferring points of view between characters who are miles apart and are still being filtered through the perceptions of Dennis Scott. The film abandons the first person perspective and thus completely solves that difficulty.

A major change is made to the character of Honey's daughter Elspeth. She never has the accident, is taken care of by the Scotts, and is more mature and less child-like than in the novel. But Janette Scott makes the most of these changes and creates a very convincing and sympathetic character indeed.

The characters in the novel who are most diminished are Shirley Scott and Captain Samuelson. Shirley Scott {Elizabeth Allan} is quite an important figure in the book but here her important relationship with Elspeth and her rapport with her husband seem nearly completely ignored. The Captain {played well by an uncredited Niall MacGinnis} has for some reason two of his most important functions--his distrust of the Reindeer aircraft and his knowledge of and respect for the the pilot of the crashed plane-- assigned to another character who is dropped from the plot quite early.

It is quite surprising that the expert and effective ensemble acting of so many of the performers is uncredited. This includes the work of Douglas Bradley-Smith, Felix Aylmer, Kenneth More and even an appearance of the silent star, Bessie Love. It's rather a pity because their work helps create the vivid atmosphere and verisimilitude of this excellent film.
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Piano no mori (2007)
10/10
Beautiful, sensitive anime
2 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"The Perfect world of Kai", is a beautifully done Shōnen type Japanese anime with a difference. At the core of the film are two young boys who are reaching watershed moments in their lives but who are simultaneously deep friends and rivals.

First there is the well-to-do boy, Shuhei Amamiya, who come from a musical background--his father was a concert pianist. Shuhei is very talented and practises all the time to achieve musical perfection. The other boy is Kai. He plays an old piano in the forest because he loves the music. His background is very different, Kai comes from a very disadvantaged situation. He lives in the slums, has no father figure and his mother is a professional prostitute. Kai has to fight his way through school but has become streetwise, suspicious and apparently cynical. The third significant person is the piano teacher, a professor of music who was once a great concert pianist. His life was shattered in a terrible car accident which killed his fiancée and ended his career hopes. It is he who once owned the abandoned piano in the forest which will play only for Kai. The Teacher {with some difficulty} manages to take Kai under his wing and attempts to instruct him in the techniques which will best inspire him to find his own voice. He gets Kai to the point where he will enter a major competition which puts him in direct competition with his best friend.

That's the essence of the plot. It dramatises the dialogue between inspirational imagination and technical perfection {a similar theme is explored in "Strictly Ballroom"}. Of course the real power of the film lies in the wonderful characterisation of the three principal characters, with some adroit use of minor figures such as "The toilet girl" {watch the film if you want to know what that means}, Kai's very sympathetic mother {despite her profession}, and the mean bully in the school. Another excellent feature of Piano Forest is the skillful and vivid use of four important locales: the slum world of Kai, the upper middle class world of Shuhei, the school and the forest with the abandoned piano. Naturally, there's some pretty good piano music in the film--especially Mozart's Piano Sonata. K.310.

"The Perfect world of Kai" is an excellent anime which goes in various directions one doesn't often encounter in the more traditional studios and is well worth exploration.
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10/10
a dark vision of childhood's face
15 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Now I'm not usually one who particularly gravitates to films centred on domestic and family drama. For instance, I ever really warmed at all to "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" or "Life With Father". So I was not predisposed towards towards the French film, "Faces of Children". But after a few minutes the film caught me.

Far from being a nostalgic picture of childhood, I feel that this film is a study of the various "faces" of "chiIdhood" as they manifest themselves in the actions and motives of the two main children. It opens with the funeral of Pierre Amsler's wife. Pierre has two children, a sensitive boy. Jean and his little sister, Pierrette played by Jean Forest and Pierrette Houyez respectively. Jean's reactions during the funeral clearly show how deeply he loves and misses his mother.

Thus, when the father remarries a widow with one daughter Ariette {Ariette Peyran} Jean's problems begin. During the initial movement of the plot. we are surely very sympathetic towards the boy. But as the story progresses my feelings change and I begin to pity Ariette who is treated shabbily and cruelly by Jean. The dysfunctional relationship is developed through a series of scenes dominated by the gratuitous cruelty of Jean. It is a face of childhood which contrasts to the gentle and sensitive side we see dramatised so poignantly in the first part of the film. During most of the film, we cannot help but share the deep hurt and anguish of little Ariette {another face of childhood}.

Throughout the various incidents, the stepmother's character is developed beautifully. She is never presented as the cause of Jean's distress, rather we see a sensitive, gentle, woman filled with a sweet maternal love. She makes persistent attempts to win Jean's love and he never really responds. Rather, he torments Ariette and fuels their mutual hatred.

Before you think that I am demonizing Jean, much of his anguish springs from a feeling that his dead mother has been disrespected by the action of his father's remarriage. He finds himself moved to a small room in the back and at one point discovers that the second Mrs Amsler intends to take some of his mother's clothes and make them into dresses for the girls. Of course, he freaks out. Of course he demonizes his stepsister--she's an easy and obvious target. Still, Jean, too, is only a child and is not fully aware of his irrational behaviour or the serious consequences that finally flow from it.

But In the end he must recognize this if he wishes to grow, he must face his own demons. He does so, and anyone who watches the ending of this film without their eyes misting up must have a heart of stone!
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The Twilight Zone: No Time Like the Past (1963)
Season 4, Episode 10
7/10
Uneven but with moments of brilliance
23 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I would tend to agree with many of the reservations of other reviewers regarding"No Time Like The Past"--In fact, it is one of the most uneven in the entire series. But that includes moments of brilliance as well as failures.

First let me warn you that everything that follows has major spoilers. So don't read this until you have seen the episode.

Let's examine the negatives of the episode first. It tends to split into two programs: the first 15 minutes and the rest. The first section has Dr Paul Driscoll {Dana Andrews} trying to change history for the better by changing three decisive moments. The trouble is that only the second {an assassination of Hitler} could really be called decisive. It is also the only one in which it would appear that Driscoll has the remotest chance of success. The other two are just not convincing. Really, what good is it to warn a Japanese officer about Hiroshima a couple minutes before the bomb drops? And trying to get the captain of the Lusitania to change course isn't very convincing either.

From all this, Driscoll learns that "the past is inviolable". So why go back to a golden age in 1881 when he knows that he can't form meaningful relationships or change anything? Most of the time he spends there is filled with anguish and a sense of being out of place.

Finally, neither in this section nor in the much better second part do we get any explanation as to how Driscoll manages to get back to his own time.

What saves the episode and keeps us watching is the often brilliant script of Rod Serling and the bittersweet impossible romance of Driscoll and Abigail Sloan {Patricia Breslin}. This section of the episode is so skillfully presented that I think we can forgive the ineptitude of the opening sequence.

The plot is one that is quite familiar to enthusiasts of time travel stories. The problem of going into the past to change the future is done in a way that is highly reminiscent of two stories by Isaac Asimov. In a short story "The Red Queen's Race" and the novel The End of Eternity--both written in the fifties-- Asimov develops the idea that all attempts to change the future are, in fact, only creating the same future the time traveller left behind. The past cannot be changed because it is already part of the present. Thus, if one "successfully" manages to "change" events, one is in reality only repeating events that History has always recorded.

Later on in 1967 the original series of Star Trek approached the same idea in "The City On The Edge of Forever" with somewhat more success. Jack Finney does something similar in his novel "From Time To Time". The hero and heroine attempt to save the Titanic by creating a course change. In so doing they actually cause the disaster.

So the Serling story makes good use is of an honourable plot tradition and generally it works fairly well. As in most stories using this device. the power comes from the emotional involvement of the characters and this is the case here.

Very uneven the episode may be but it remains very much worth watching.
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The Magician (I) (1926)
7/10
An enjoyable horror film
13 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"The Magician" {1926} is directed by Rex Ingram and stars Alice Terry as Margaret, Ivan Pétrovich as Dr Arthur Burdon and Paul Wegener as Oliver Haddo, the villainous practitioner of Black Magic.

If one is willing to make the necessary suspension of disbelief there isn't the slightest doubt but that the film provides loads of entertainment as a horror/thriller combination.

The two leads don't have very much to do in terms of acting. Burdon is the usual faithful hero and Alice Terry's character spends most of her time staring helplessly about in a trance and looking full of Angst. Paul Wegner (who directed "The Golum" (1920)} steals every scene he's in with a wonderfully spectacular over-the-top melodramatic portrayal of the Magician who needs the heart blood of a maiden to create life {hmm . . . I wonder who's supposed to provide that ingredient}.

Another star in the film is the great cliff-top, tower-castle of Hadoo himself, surrounded with bolts of lightning and filled with such items as strange potions which bubble and foam with a satisfactorily smoking violence, strange manuscripts and sinister props. When Hadoo picks up his box of sharp knives, one can't help noticing the nearby cupboard topped with a skull nicely festooned with cobwebs. There's the expected winding staircase to impede the heroic rescue and an open fully fired-up incinerator helps us along to the climax which ends with a suitable cataclysm.

There are a very few points where the film is slightly disjointed--obviously owing to the fact that a few frames have been lost, but one soon forgets them. Generally the print used by TCM is very sharp and beautifully tinted. It's a pleasure to watch it. Robert Israel's score is well chosen, skillfully applied and very atmospheric. Note, for example, the reunion of hero and heroine is underlined by the love theme from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet.

The story of the film is based on a novel of the same name by Somerset Maugham and it is available for free download on Project Gutenberg. I've not read it yet but I might do so if only to compare the two approaches.

This is a film I would recommend for the entertaining use it makes of the typical stereotypes of the horror genre but above all for Wegener's fabulous performance.
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10/10
A Brilliant journey into fear.
26 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I found that like all very fine films, "A Tale of Two Sisters" presented the viewer with quite complex questions without necessarily trying to give a final answer to the issues these questions raise. So, I'm going to mention some of the exploratory directions to which the landscape of the film directs me. By no means are these exhaustive of the areas covered in this film; they simply happen to be my first reactions to having watched it only twice.

One area covers the meaning, perception and nature of what we normally mean by "reality". "Two Sisters" explores the interpenetration of the psychological reality of the various characters and relates it to what one might call the "true" empirically validated, external world as it would seem to appear to an external spectator. But, of course, once we are in the film we cease to be that kind of objective observer; ;) we too exist within the various worlds of the various characters and actually create a new perception apart from them.

The method of creating a fragmented story line is completely in keeping with the fragmentation of the perspectives of the different characters. Each character sees only a particular vision of the world around him or her. It is interesting that in the very first scene we have a psychologist attempting to impose a particular framework on Soo-mi. He washes his hands before the interview. I was reminded of Pontius Pilate who also washed his hands of a particular situation and who asked, "What is Truth?" This, for me, is a key question in the film. I suspect that everyone will find that each viewing teases out the question in different ways.

A second area I found interesting was the subtle exploration of the nature of identity. Here, the question revolves around not only the concept of multiple identity, a condition embraced by and indulged in to some extent by each character—even the father—, but by the merging of the self with the other. Just as there was an interpenetration of reality, there seems to be a similar situation as regards self-hood. To what extent does one need to incorporate the "other" into one's psyche? Does Soo-mi require both Soo-yeon and Eun-joo to be part of herself and to validate her own actions and emotional requirements? Finally, to what extent is the strange, distant father, Moo-hyeon, responsible for the events which occur? Why is there such a profound love/hate relationship between daughter and father? You note that I provide no answers to these questions. For one thing, such answers would necessarily be utterly subjective—and they might well change with more viewings. More significantly, others might find that the film deals with entirely different questions altogether.

The acting is phenomenal. All four main characters brilliantly interact. The score has a beautiful but ironic character, considering the kinds of events depicted in this film. While some of the camera work reminded me of Hitchcock Two Sisters is certainly far more sombre in tone than anything Hitchcock ever wished to create. In terms of ambiance, approach, and theme, I was most reminded of "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" and "Pan's Labyrinth"—both of which share features with "Two Sisters", though the Korean film certainly follows its own original path.

And each viewer will embark on a different personal and original voyage with each viewing.
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Kiki (1926)
10/10
Brilliant comedy
16 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Norma Talmadge and Ronald Colman star in "Kiki", the first film on the Norma Talmadge Collection by Kino. The performance of Talmadge in this screwball comedy is atypical of her usual dramatic approach, but, boy, is it ever effective! Once the comedy gets really rolling with Kiki's stage debut it never falters. Naturally, as one would expect in a screwball comedy, there is a huge emphasis on comedy of situation and, to a lesser extent, comedy of character. The sight gags always work and the outrageous nature of this type of humour is created by the hilarious cascade of mishaps, misinterpretations, and mis-timings which reach an almost surreal level at the end. The title cards are themselves often witty. The end of Kiki's debut is described thus:

Ah, Those first nights! They begin with aspirations--and end with aspirins.

Norma Talmadge clearly dominates this film. She plays her part with panache, gusto, and tremendous energy. Kiki comes through as a character with a mischievous, vivacious innocence which wins the heart of the viewer. And there is good support from the rest of the cast. Colman is handsome and debonair in his role, and his character portrayal flows seamlessly into the mixture of romance and comedy. Likewise Gertrude Astor as Paulette creates an effective snobby rival. George K. Arthur {Adolphe} works nicely as a foil to Kiki and the worldly Baron Rapp who wishes to seduce Kiki completes the main figures. There's also s nice little part for Frankie Darro who is Kiki's street urchin pal.

It is a pity that such an entertaining film had to be reconstructed by the Library of Congress from English, French. and Czech prints--not one of which was complete. As it is the reconstruction is excellent though the differing quality of some scenes betrays the fact that this edition is very much a composite taken from different sources. But we should be thankful that we can see it and enjoy this bubbling comedy.

There is a delightfully witty soundtrack performed by The Biograph Players which adds considerably to one's experience of this endearing and very funny film.
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7/10
Interesting Drama that doesn't quite reach the heights
16 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"Within the Law" {1923} is the second feature in the Kino Norma Talmadge collection and it shows a very different type of character acting from the star than we see in the other film, "Kiki". Norma really does shine in this film. Her portrayals take us through a character development in Mary Turner ranging from the vulnerable and innocent shop girl through the much tougher prisoner, the brazen, calculating, on-the-make vamp, the fierce woman betrayed, the passionate avenging angel and finally the wife who finds how much she loves her husband. The fact that she makes Mary Turner a completely believable character is a tribute to her remarkable flexibility.

The film itself is a melodrama with a rather disturbing social theme which explores the inequalities and corruptions that are not simply evil in themselves but have additional evil consequences on others. it is the working out of the theme of amoral--even immoral-- behaviour "within the law" which lifts this film out of the ordinary and saves it from being a contrived melodrama.

Three scenes really emphasize this central moral irony. First, at the beginning Edward Gilder {Joseph Kilgour} in effect, sends Mary to prison even though Judge and Jury recommend mercy. He does this to assert the value of property rights. Thus he destroys the innocent Mary Turner and transforms her into the woman obsessed with revenge and does so "within the law".

She, of course, begins to use the law to take her revenge. And a climactic and unforgettable moment comes about an hour into the film. Mary confronts Edward and asserts that her marriage to his son, Richard, {Jack Mulhall} was an act of revenge. She has lost her good name and been given a number in prison. Now, she says to Edward, "I have your name!" And she has done so "within the law".

Perhaps the most disturbing example comes at the end. The Inspector {DeWitt Jennings} uses the contemptible and slimy English Eddie {Ward Crane} to trick Mary's friend Joe Garson {Lew Cody} into a robbery which is also intended to implicate the completely innocent Mary and send her to prison a second time. In fact, the constant use of various forms of entrapment by the inspector leave a bad taste in the mouth. As a result the rather jocular ending seems contrived.

The film is, perhaps, overlong despite the clever plot twists and the magnificent acting of Norma Talmadge. I feel that if Cecil B. DeMille had directed this film instead of Frank Lloyd, we might have had a very great masterpiece. Instead, we are left with an interesting film which falls just short of greatness despite having a very great star in top form.

The print was generally excellent in quality and the piano soundtrack was brilliantly apropos.
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10/10
A beautiful study of sacrificial love
22 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I just finished watching "The Toll of the Sea" for the first time. What a beautiful and moving film! Anna May Wong was perfect in her "Butterfly "role as Lotus Flower. She was so beautiful and had such wonderful expressiveness in her face, eyes, movements, gestures. It was a performance that mesmerised me, that touched me profoundly. And she was only a teenager when she made that film! In the end, the other characters are really only supporting props for her portrayal of a deeply wounded and utterly sacrificial love for a shallow husband and sweet child. The supporting actors do their jobs effectively but it is Lotus Blossom we care for most. To think that this gem was thought lost!

This is the first time I've seen an entire silent film using The two-strip Technicolor technique. I've only seen clips from "The Black Pirate", the sequences in "Ben Hur" and the Exodus episode from "The Ten Commandments". I found its use in "The Toll of the Sea" very effective, particularly in conveying an ambiance of the exotic in the film and adding lustre and richness to the settings. I haven't thought too much about the personal emotional impact it may have on the viewer. When I watch the film again I'll try to analyse this factor.

The piano score has a very nice delicacy which underlines the feelings and reactions of the various characters. I thought it quite sensitive and telling.

An utterly beautiful film!
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The Blue Bird (1918)
8/10
A beautiful fairy tale with a message
22 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
It's a pity that the 1918 version of "The Blue Bird" suffers so much from nitrate decomposition. Were it not for that I would give it a full 10 points. Nonetheless, what we have is sufficient to give great pleasure and it is certainly far superior to the 1940 version with Shirley Temple.

Some of the scenes have a rather staged look but, even so, one admires the beautiful—often elegant—artistic consciousness in their presentation. This is particularly true of the backdrops. Generally, I thought the restoration was pretty good with effective use of tinting to make the most of the emotional atmosphere of the various sequences.

I liked the presentation of the message—always an important factor in a fairy tale. The quest for happiness which is always found to be closer than we expect, the discovery of joy in the joy of others, the beautiful and wonderful intangible world of the imagination and the truth of dream—all these are beautifully presented through the innocence of the children. And here one must admire the performances of little Tula Belle as Mytyl and Robin Macdougall as Mytyl's older brother, Tyltyl. Tula, particularly, has an engaging naturalness which is wonderful. Dog and Cat look forward to "The Wizard of Oz" and the actors certainly convey the habits of the creatures they portray.

The allegory with its spiritual message was reminiscent of the Narnian series of C.S. Lewis and the way the point was driven home at the end was very effective. Finally, I think that the music score showed excellent taste and skill in the way it was wedded to the film.

The Blue Bird is a beautiful film with a universal message.
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The Twilight Zone: Mute (1963)
Season 4, Episode 5
6/10
A flawed episode still worth watching
10 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"Mute" which is the fifth episode of season four of The Twilight Zone tends to get some flak from reviewers. I can understand why. The actual structure of the story is flawed—quite surprising seeing that Richard Matheson, an excellent writer and consistent contributor to the original series is the author.

The story begins with a prologue which creates an absurd scenario for future events involving a "pact" to raise children as pure telepaths {without the power of speech, as events later show}. Despite concerns by some members of the pact about violating the human rights of their children in pursuing such a course, the group charges on with their plan. In fact, as the last reviewer stated, this entire prologue could be skipped and the story could dramatically and effectively begin with the next scene. Here the plot fast forwards about a decade when one of the children concerned, Ilse, is found outside the burning house of her parents, apparently in shock.

Another annoyance is the surly xenophobic behaviour of an old man to a polite and gentle older German couple who have come to see about Ilse. This is a small Pennsylvanian community with the name "German Corner" which evidently would indicate a number of residents would have German ancestry and/or connections. Why would an older resident of such a town engage in that type of obnoxious behaviour? Worst of all, is the horrible schoolteacher, Miss Frank, who psychologically brutalises Ilse. There is even an undercurrent of a repressed desire to inflict physical punishment on the child as she generally picks up and clutches a ruler as she questions the girl. Miss Frank never gets her comeuppance nor is her cruelty ever recognised, even by Cora Wheeler who bonds with Ilse, loves her, and convinces her husband to initiate adoption procedures.

What saves the episode is some excellent acting by Barbara Baxley in the part of Cora Wheeler, good support by Frank Overton as her husband and a brilliant performance by the young Ann Jillian as Ilse. The relationship of those three characters is beautifully and engrossingly dramatised. The photography is excellent with some interesting and telling shots and the inner life of Ilse is conveyed through both camera work and sound effects.

As to the ending. . . .

For me it didn't work. There was something too pat, too contrived about it. An ending of that kind was probably called for in terms of the story's events, but this specific dramatisation of it fails to convince.

I would like to read the original story by Matheson sometime, and see how it works in that format. Perhaps it is one of those tales which simply are difficult to transfer to another medium. However, in the end, I feel that "Mute" might have gained considerable impact if it had been compressed to a half an hour. Somehow I feel that there is a seed of a great episode hidden in this attempt.
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10/10
A Magical profound Fantasy
8 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I watched a Korean anime film "My Beautiful Giirl Mari" and it is really quite magical. It's an emotionally demanding film which requires the viewer to enter two worlds—apparently diametrically opposed. One is the inner world of the imagination of a child. A world where the rules don't apply, where one is carried on cushions of clouds. The other is the external "real" world that we perceive around us with our senses and is ruled by apparently immutable physical and social imperatives. It is the conflict of these two perspectives which drives the film and gives it its remarkable emotional power.

Perhaps the most poignant way we see the differences that underlie the two worlds is in the conflicting forms of love relationships that the film explores. Nam-woo clearly loves Mari. But even he admits that this love is impossible and can never be fulfilled. His relationship with Mari becomes a symbol of the search for beauty and love and joy which drives our being but which can never be satisfied. Mari is that unobtainable Grail for which we all search but can never obtain.

Against that is the love of Nam-woo's widowed mother for the young fisherman. Here is the love of the earth. The love which is part of the cut and thrust of living—a love which {as the grumpy Granny points out} is simply necessary.

As I said, the two universes seem separate. But at the climax they intersect. At that focal point we see that the two worlds are, in reality, complementary. The adult needs the fantasy universe as much as the child needs to relate to the external world around him or her. And in this magical conclusion we see the true unity that is needed to be truly completely human.
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Haibane renmei (2002– )
10/10
An extraordinary, beautiful and moving anime
8 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I watched the interesting and arresting anime, Haibane Renmei. This fascinating 13 part series concerns some sweet angelic characters called Haibane. The heroine is a young newly born {or hatched} Haibane named Rakka. They all live with some humans in a strange town called Glie cut off from the rest of the world by a sinister and impassable Wall. Significant characters include Kuu, an early mentor of Rakka ,and the strange, yet endearingly compassionate Reki who has a mysterious personal history.

The anime starts in a very leisurely fashion allowing the characters and relationships to develop naturally. As the story progresses through the first six episodes, the emotional ambiance becomes less sweet and more solemn and moving. We become aware of a very skillful use of symbols and dream imagery and a gentle sensitivity not unalloyed with a certain melancholy.

But by the eighth episode the atmosphere becomes dramatically darker, more emotional, moving and intense—a quality which continues through out the rest of the anime. Yet these episodes clearly relate to, build upon, and develop from the gentler, sweeter early sections. We are always aware of a developing coherent story line and logical character growth. We find ourselves relating to these strange beings and sharing their fears, frustrations, and sorrows.

On a personal level, I think one of the reasons I like Haibane Rinmei so much is that I am strongly drawn to allegory and fantasy and both feature strongly and contribute to the impact of this series. I was impressed with the use of dream and nightmare imagery—which at times is quite frightening and disturbing, especially in the second section of the anime. These dream sequences are integral to the plot and the themes in this remarkable work. And these themes are profound, involving the exploration of guilt, redemption and spiritual solidarity.

The characters are wonderfully engaging and sympathetic though it isn't easy going on an emotional level. But the ending is one of the most moving I have ever seen in an anime.

I loved it but I suspect it isn't for all tastes.
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6/10
A Great Holmes
26 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"The Sleeping Cardinal"{1931} with Arthur Wontner playing the part of Sherlock Holmes was long thought lost and has only recently been found. When we think of Sherlock Holmes in film, most likely either Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett come immediately to mind. I find the latter gives the character an excessive nervous, edgy quality. It is true that Doyle in the early stories had Holmes taking cocaine, but it is never given any consistent emphasis and one must remember that opium use (via Laudanum} was common in the Victorian era.

Rathbone's Holmes has great energy and there is little doubt that he has created the image of the detective that remains a cinematic icon. But much of Rathbone's performance depends on his character sparking off against the ludicrous parody of Dr Watson as played by Nigel Bruce.

I found Arthur Wontner very satisfying in the role. Wontner lacks the sheer physical exuberance we admire in Rathbone but he conveys the character's whimsical brilliance better than anyone else. While considerable liberties are taken with the Doyle stories upon which this film is based, it is still recognisably Doyle--something not always the case with the Rathbone series.

Ian Fleming created a believable and sympathetic Watson. {One must wait until Andre Morell in the neglected 1959 version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" to find a performance equally good.} Fleming gives us the Watson as conceived by Doyle--a loyal, intelligent, courageous friend--not an absurd buffoon.

I'm not saying that this film is a masterpiece by any means! The print I saw was not the best quality, to put it charitably. One felt that there was a serious lack of good, interesting cinematic techniques. It could very well have been presented as it was shown on a stage. Many of the supporting roles were quite ordinary.

But still this film is worth viewing to see a performance of Sherlock Holmes that rings true.

Other films in which Wontner played the role are all in the Public Domain and available on the Internet Archive site.
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10/10
An iconic Japanese film by Kinoshita
11 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Before I watched 24 Ey"es, I prepared myself for what I thought would be a Japanese version of Goodbye, Mr Chips" {a film I have never really enjoyed despite my appreciation of Robert Donat}. What I experienced was something much more realistic and emotionally moving. Rather than being a sentimental tale of the dedicated teacher earning the life-long love of her pupils, it is the greater and deeper saga of a loving woman who happens to be a teacher and who is also a moral mentor for those who need her devotion, guidance, example, courage and love during the lean, desperate, and sometimes frightening years during which she works. That time context is the difficult period beginning with the Depression and including the terrible years of the Second World War.

Naturally a human focus is necessary because of the large time span covered in the film and the director chooses the twelve pupils who are part of Oishi's first experiences and with whom she relates at various times through her life. Kinoshita skilfully manages the contrast between the time and the person throughout the film. Everyone has the right to their own opinions which must be respected, but I can only disagree with the viewer who criticised the film as "unshaded and unshaped to the point of tedium". Yes, the film is long. But every incident has a function and the totality is far from "unshaped". Likewise the criticism that the heroine was well named as "Miss Cry Baby" by her students is unfair. I think that this perspective simply misses the fact that the cultural restrictions of the time {which included a major war} were such as made any proactive assault on social attitudes completely impossible.

So this film is not at all sentimental in the Mr Chips mode. Miss Oishi has accidents, deals with the problems of unsympathetic and intractable parents, is regarded as possibly being a "Red", and has to watch her clearly well-meaning principal burn a book of literary works by students because they are not politically correct. She leaves teaching for a period, in part out of disillusionment and in part to raise her own family, allowing us to see another dimension to her character.

The original twelve students continue to impact in various ways throughout her life, forming a rhythm and pattern which not only brings happiness and sorrow, but helps to inform her vision of life with its stoical, courageous strength—a strength she imparts to them in return.

It is quite a beautiful film and the DVD has as an extra a superb interview with the Japanese film historian, Tadao Sato which is revelatory and sensitive. He mentions that when the children grew older, look-alike siblings were chosen by Kinoshita to play the roles! He explains a great deal about the cultural, political, and social contexts which make this film so effective and have made it a cinematic icon for the Japanese people.
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9/10
A spirited swashbuckler adventure
14 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"Captain Fracasse"(!929) is a spirited adventure film which provides good entertainment. For the modern viewer, probably the most interesting feature is the performance of Charles Boyer {Duke de Vallombreuse} as the villainous but sophisticated aristocrat who lusts after Isabelle {Lien Deyers} the beautiful young actress of a traveling acting troupe. She, of course, is in love with another handsome young aristocrat played by Pierre Blancher {Baron de Solignac/Captain Fracasse}. The plot moves along with commendable speed and excitement capturing the viewer's interest, always necessary in a swashbuckler where credibility of incident is not a strong feature! I enjoyed the photography which struck me as very clever and original. The film opens with an excellent tracking shot and we quickly get an effective sense of the oppressive, stagnant atmosphere of the young man's world. There are several other excellent scenes, particularly those which convey the excitement of the world of the strolling players. The castle of the villain with its winding staircases, locked rooms and improbable entrances and exits is another star of the film.

One doesn't normally look for sensitive acting in an action film based on a story which uses all the usual conventions of its type. Such a genre simply doesn't easily lend itself to deep characterisation. This probably explains the weak performance of Lien Deyers. She simply can't do much more than she does with the character given her. She can look lovingly at the hero, give the poor Gypsy girl her necklace {thereby winning her undying gratitude and help at decisive moments} and resolutely defy the villain who attempts to stain her honour. Particularly annoying is the way Isabelle clearly seeing some villains who plan to abduct her, hides under the covers! She faints opportunely.

Much better altogether is Pola Illéry who plays the Gypsy girl, Chiquita, with plenty of verve and energy. Her personality is more ambiguous. She first dislikes the heroine and participates in a plan to rob the troupe. after Isabelle shows kindness and generosity, she tells her that she has resolved never to kill her! In fact, she becomes quite important later on in the plot and has a great final scene.

The male leads, particularly Boyer, are excellent and do everything asked of them with panache.

So far, I've watched "Captain Fracasse" with the piano score. However, there is a more elaborate Michel Portal Avant Garde score which seems interesting though I've heard only a bit of it. Perhaps it may not suit the nature of this film as well as the more traditional piano background. I'll wait until I hear it in its entirety. The public domain edition of "Faust" has that type of modernistic electronic score and it is marvellously evocative, the most haunting I've heard, but then "Faust" lends itself to the surrealistic nature of that type of music.

I really found this an entertaining film and look forward to watching it again. Personally, I thought that a certain vivid realism mixed with humour in some of the scenes sets it apart from other examples of the genre.
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10/10
Brilliant, sensitive masterpiece
17 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I've watched Makoto Shinkai's "The Place Promised In Our Early Days" a couple times now and the film is an absolute masterpiece, easily fulfilling the great promise he demonstrated in "Voices Of A Distant Star". And when I say masterpiece I'm talking about a brilliant director on the level of the legendary Miyazaki. No description I give can possibly replicate or do justice to the experience of watching this film. It has to be seen. I will be watching it again--and soon! Still, I'll mention a few of the things about "The Place Promised In Our Early Days" that impressed me.

The setting is a Japan of a parallel world and that science-fiction concept is reasonably important in the development of the plot and the relationships between the three central characters: The gentle Hiroki, his much tougher but close friend Takuya, and Sayuri the girl who returns Hiroki's love. All three characters are well drawn and highly sympathetic and their complex relationship unfolds in the context of a coming conflict which tests their loyalty to each other and to their society. This coming war centres upon a great tower by which the Northern enemy {the Union} will attempt to destroy the U.S. controlled South by replacing it with another parallel universe causing the South simply to disappear. The creator of the tower was Sayuri's grandfather and somehow she is linked to its implementation. After writing a final love letter to Hiroki she falls into a coma and finds her consciousness trapped in a lonely and desolate parallel universe. This prevents the tower from becoming operative and it becomes unusable as a weapon. As long as she sleeps, the stalemate continues. Obviously Hiroki wishes to wake her but Takuya who works in the compound where Sayuri is kept feels the choice is between saving Sayuri or saving the world.

That's an outline of the essentials of the plot but there is so much more to this film! It wrestles with significant and profound themes. The division between reality and dream is a constant motif. Is Sayuri actually in a dream universe when she sleeps or is she instead in a different reality? Is that desolate world a landscape of the terrible inner loneliness we all sometimes experience? Hiroki experiences the misery of loneliness when he finds the girl he loves so much--his soul mate--is taken from him. On a different level, Takuya {who in a different way} is also a soul-mate must decide if he is honour bound to refuse to help Hiroki and Sayuri. Informing these conflicts is the great overarching theme of Love and Sacrifice. Not simply the romantic love of Hiroki and Sayuri but the love which exists between comrades in arms, close friends, and the great social nexus which makes all such loves possible. In some ways the film can also be seen as a meditation on Time and memory; the need to give up something if one wishes to move on.

The visuals in The Place Promised In Our Early Days are truly stunning, but not in the flamboyant manner of "Appleseed". Rather Shinkai's colour palette frequently uses highly evocative, psychologically ambient textures--sometimes nearly monochromatic in effect. For instance, the final scenes make very controlled and beautiful use of blue with violet overtones.

The music score is perfectly evocative and very, very beautiful {How hard it is not to use those superlatives!}

Without giving anything away, the ending has the bittersweet quality of "Voices Of A Distant Star: and the gently reflective short feature "She and Her Cat". Something of the sensitive, sweet, and melancholy beauty of this film is present in the opening lines of the closing end song:

The white clouds are blurred in the faded blue. It's the color of that distant day. In the depths of my heart Lies a pain I hide from everyone.

See this film! You've missed something if you haven't.
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Persuasion (2007 TV Movie)
8/10
Excellent, concise adaptation
24 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I noticed that many of the IMDb reviews of thus film so far tend to be mixed, and mine will be too, though by-and-large I enjoyed this version of the novel.

I'll deal with the negatives first to get them out of the way. The primary difficulty facing Adrian Shergold was fitting the novel into a 93 minute time frame. "Persuasion" is one of Austen's shortest novels but it still contains complexities difficult to work into a relatively short film. Thus, Mrs Smith {Maisie Dimbleby} loses nearly all of her mixture of pathos and agonised duplicity. She spills the vital information about Mr Elliot (well played by Tobias Menzies} with none of the psychological motivation the novel contains.

The ending could certainly have been handled quite a bit more subtly. It is rather silly to have the respectable and elegant Anne Elliot doing an Olympic sprint up and down the streets of Bath in an attempt to catch up with Captain Wentworth! I also feel the passionate kiss when she meets him is anachronistic. Not that lovers didn't kiss then as now, but I doubt that landed gentry did it in full public view. Amanda Hale as Mary Elliot tends to slide into an over-the-top silly and irritating stereotype.

All that said, this is still an enjoyable adaptation well worth watching. One of the reasons this adaptation works is that within its limitations it remains largely true to its source. As I said, the plot is truncated, but all the main elements do manage to make an appearance. It is recognizably the Jane Austen novel. More importantly, the sombre, autumnal, melancholy tone of the love affair is beautifully realised.

Because Sally Hawkins gives such a superb character portrayal of Anne, we witness and respond to her emotional vulnerability as a tear drops on to her journal or as she weeps at the thought of a marriage between Wentworth and Louisa. We react to her sudden physical response as Wentworth unexpectedly lifts her on to a coach. We appreciate her deeply mixed feelings about Lady Russell, whom she genuinely loves as a mother figure, but of whose limitations she is now aware. Anne is presented as gentle and sacrificial, but with a stoical strength which springs from a powerful ethic which has its roots in a belief in principled behaviour. We witness this when she refuses to accompany Elizabeth and Sir Walter on their visit to see Lady Dalrymple because she feels a moral obligation to visit instead the poor Mrs Smith. Sally Hawkins is recognisably the Anne Elliot we read about in the novel.

Rupert Penry-Jones makes somewhat less impact as Captain Wentworth, but that is consistent with Jane Austen's characterisation methods which always emphasize the personality depths in the heroine. Bearing that in mind, Penry-Jones is quite successful in his portrayal of the Captain, particularly in the way he reveals his deep indignation which masks an even deeper love. The flirting with the Musgrove girls--especially Louisa is clearly designed to hurt Anne rather than encourage Louisa. This becomes absolutely clear at his shock when he suddenly finds that everyone is expecting him to propose soon.

The Captain's desolation is well portrayed in a later scene in the film when the Crofts reveal during a concert that Mr Elliot is soon to marry Anne. Wentworth leaves the room in despair. Anne follows him but her attempts at encouragement are frustrated as Mr Elliot follows her. Wentworth departs thinking his chances of regaining Anne are finished. That feeling seems to be capped by an elegant proposal of marriage to Anne by Mr Elliot--a proposal which soon becomes public knowledge and leads to certain clear expectations in the general community. Naturally, all is made clear in the end, but it is morally necessary and just that Wentworth understand something of the same sorrow experienced by Anne. Again, all this is true to the vision of Jane Austen.

The secondary parts are {with the exception of Mary Elliot} all very convincing. The Musgrove girls, Louisa and Henrietta {Jennifer Higham & Rosamund Stephen} are exactly as they are portrayed in the book. Elizabeth Elliot should probably have been given more time and focus, but Julia Davis does convey the combination of stupidity and pride present in the novel's equivalent figure. Mrs Clay {Mary Stockley} succeeds well as the pretty fortune-hunter.

Probably the best supporting performances are by Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot and Alice Krige as Lady Russell. From his initial appearance, Sir Walter is seen in all his dismal pride. He is arrogant to those he considers his inferiors {but who in human terms are his betters} and obsequious to others simply because of their rank {Lady Dalrymple}. His response to flattery allows him to be manipulated by characters as opposed as Mrs Clay and William Elliot. One of the tests of a character in Austen is whether or not by the end of the novel they have gained in self-awareness. He and his daughter, Elizabeth, have learned nothing.

Lady Russell is far more complex. She loves Anne as as a daughter. The advice she gave when Anne was 19 was disastrous--but only in hindsight. She wants Anne to marry Mr Elliot because it seems a prudential union which must lead to both security and happiness. Her ultimate failure is that she fails to take account of the passionate strength of love. She gives advice that is logically and prudentially correct but emotionally wrong. The head should not always rule the heart. Perhaps the film should have emphasized more than it did that Lady Russell learns the limitations of her perspective, something that is made clear in the novel.

I think that this film succeeds in giving us an entertaining adaptation of "Persuasion" which remains true to the spirit of the book. If you like the novel, I think you'll like this adaptation of it too.
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10/10
Madcap Wacky Fun
20 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Ernst Lubitsch in "The Oyster Princess" {1919} created a parallel universe which seemed to combine the absurdity of the Marx Brothers, the frothy decadence of Oscar Wilde, the logical improbabilities and identity mix-ups of Gilbert and Sullivan with his own special flavour of the risqué.

The ironically named Mr Quaker {Victor Janson} wants to marry off his spoiled brat of a daughter, Ossi, {Ossi Oswalda} to a Prince. The dissolute Prince Nicki {Harry Liedtke} sends his friend Josef {Julius Falkenstein} to scout out the territory with the result that Josef marries Ossi instead. That's just the beginning! In the parade of hilarity which follows we see such things as the apparent groom emptying out the wine storage while wedding guests dance the fox-trot and the Prince enters a women's organisation opposed to dipsomania whose members proceed to have a physical box-off for the privilege of "treating" him for his inebriated condition. And,of course Lubitsch seasons all this with scenes containing clever and funny sexual innuendos.

It's all pretty dementedly absurd humour and very very funny!
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7/10
Still good if not perfect
5 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I decided to watch and reassess "Forbidden Planet"{1956}. I've always felt that it was somewhat over-rated as a classic fifties sci-fi film. But it certainly still does have its moments.

On the negative side, the critics have criticised the performance of Anne Francis as "Altaira" {Alta}. There's little doubt but that the "romantic" plot element in the film is by far the worst thing about it. The "love" of Alta and Commander Adams {Leslie Nielsen} is almost completely psychologically unmotivated. It is contrived, silly and plot-forced. It's a relationship that just happens.

But is this because Anne Francis is a poor actress? I don't think so. In 1960 Francis played a manikin come to life in "After Hours", a Twilight Zone episode and did so with considerable sensitivity. The role in which she was cast in Forbidden Planet was itself a terrible, limited, stereotypical part that could offer no challenge to any actress.

Part of the problem may lie in the nature of Science-Fiction itself. It is a genre which is heavily theme-oriented and usually relies on the idea of human manipulation of the external environment through scientifically created artifacts. "Soft" sci-fi tends to emphasize the areas of psychological and sociological extrapolations. For the most part, the idea becomes the great central focus. In this situation it is certainly all too easy for deeply felt human emotions to simply be taken for granted. That is what happens to the romantic love element of the plot here. Alta is the heroine so she has to fall for the Commander who has to rescue her from her deluded father so they can live happily ever after. Neither Francis nor, for that matter, Nielsen has much chance to shine in that kind of scenario.

On the positive side, the film has some excellent and striking set designs. The Shuttle shaft section is particularly impressive. The "Id" monster is quite an effective creation. Pidgeon is good as Dr Morbius, the deluded scientist who finally redeems himself.

Perhaps the best quality of the film is the very one that should be good in science-fiction. "Forbidden Planet" does have a profound, though-provoking central theme. The alien Krell--the super race who have disappeared--become metaphors for the human race. In them we see that ultimate destruction lies not in the things created through science but in "subconscious hate, lust for destruction". The tendency of the human condition is to twist, deform, and destroy that which in itself is good. Even the super-race was imperfect. So are we.

It is a theme we see too in "The Day the Earth Stood Still". There it is presented in another variation of the danger of apocalyptic destruction. "This Island Earth" is yet another examination of the same concept. In some ways these films are scientific recreations of the great religious dogma of Original Sin! It has been said that "Forbidden Planet" is a scientific meditation on Shakespeare's "The Tempest". Forget it! Any resemblance to the great Late comedy of the Bard is so vague as to appear purely coincidental. Enjoy the film for what it is: a solid, often brilliant--if somewhat flawed--study of human fallibility.
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10/10
Unhistorical but entertaining Romance
23 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"The Volga Boatman" is one of the best DeMille films I have seen. The historical inaccuracy is really inconsequential. After all, "Braveheart" was quite clearly fictionalised history and with far less excuse for being so than "The Volga Boatman" because it was quite simple to check the factuality of the film's incidents. Remember that when DeMille was making his film, the two Russian Revolutions were less than a decade in the past. In 1926, The ultimate consequences were really not fully apparent, Lenin had died and Stalin and Trotsky were still involved in a power struggle. Thus, wisely, DeMille does not attempt to create an historical document. Rather he uses the turmoil and tumult which was so much a part of the Russian context to create a story which is a reflection on the themes of Courage, Sacrifice, Love, Justice, Choice and Responsibility to one's values. Viewed from that perspective this film is fully successful and marvellous to watch.

The acting is excellent. For me, the standout performance is that of William Boyd. I never really cared for him very much as Hopalong Cassidy; but here! Handsome, tall, muscular, with deeply expressive eyes and radiating charisma, he gives a performance one won't soon forget. He plays a character {Feodor} who could easily become a cypher; instead we see a figure who rises above ideological differences and finds that his values always had a source in nobility and love. And sometimes those deep roots of character are more powerful than he expects them to be in unexpected ways.

It is through his relationship with Vera {Elinor Fair} that he discovers these unexpected demands. Fair beautifully plays the noble and heroic Vera. One of the best moments being the scene in which Feodor is meant to execute her. Another is the parallel scene in which Feodor is to be executed. Her final choice before the Tribunal is made with dignity and compassion.

Prince Dimitri {Victor Varconi} is the great rival of Feodor. Interestingly, DeMille never turns him into a villain. In fact, DeMille keeps his word. He does not take sides. Both political factions have characters who engage in brutality. Note the actions of the Red Peasants when they storm the castle of Vera's father. Shortly afterwards, Dimitri's own men strip Vera and are clearly prepared to rape her before he intervenes.

Marusha {brilliantly played by Julia Faye} demonstrates this moral ambiguity shown by the characters. She wins us with her charm early in the film when she strikes a pose on a wagon. {wow!} She is courageous enough to become part of Feodor's army. But she wants Vera killed, She discovers Feodor's ruse to save the Princess and participates in the chase to run them down. Near the end of the film, she suggests that the women be condemned to pull the barges and enjoys the contempt with which they are treated. In the end, she is humiliated herself in a rather minor but embarrassing way. It's difficult not to like her even if the character is frustrating at times.

All-in-all this is top-notch DeMille entertainment!
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Fruits Basket (2001– )
10/10
Heart-warming Shoujo anime
6 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I have finished watching all 26 episodes of "Fruits Basket" {Released on DVD in 2007} and based on the Manga series by Natsuki Takaya.

I think that "Fruits Basket" is a wonderful anime. It does have certain differences from the Manga which are well outlined in the Wikipedia article on the latter. But this is common in anime adaptations of Manga. "Fruits Basket" Anime ends about a third through the entire Manga series, but does so in such a way that the viewer is very much aware that the end of a crucial stage in the development of the characters has been reached, leaving the way open for further growth. Thus, we experience a real satisfaction and catharsis at the end of Episode 26.

One major theme is the situation of the outsider in society. Tohru is presented at the opening as a complete exile, living in a tent, her only solace coming from a photograph of her dead mother. She is adopted into the Sohma household, but that family is also outside society. The members live under a curse which prevents them from having fulfilled relationships with others outside their group. Even within the family exiles and outcasts are present. The sinister Akito, pays a terrible price for being the undisputed ruler of the Sohmas. Yuki yearns for the love of a mother and normal acceptance by others. Kyo is rejected by nearly everyone in the Sohma family and thus develops an aggressive anger which only further isolates him. In school, Tohru is under the protection of the gentle Hanajima who nonetheless is feared and avoided by other girls because of her strange psychic powers.

Tohru, a young teenager, is presented as sweet, loving and sacrificial. As the anime develops, these characteristics will be constantly tested in varying ways. In one case she befriends a child who is mute owing to mockery by bullies at school. In another she must relate to a brat who has developed a nasty personality as a defence mechanism because of his Mother's rejection. {In fact, one criticism of FB is the extraordinary number of parents who reject, neglect, dislike, or simply dump their children.} Incidents like these add a remarkable strength and resilience to Tohru's character. She is no goody-goody who solves problems by being a doormat. A the end she goes through successive cauldrons of emotional crises which put her in some physical danger. Yet she must face these if she is to validate her self and the promise she made to her dead mother. Hence, we have the typical Shoujo process of moral and psychological growth and empowerment.

The final episode is so moving, so emotional, and so beautiful that it will remain long in the memory and the heart.
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Wolf's Rain (2003–2004)
10/10
Brilliant, Dark, and yet Positive
10 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I've just viewing finished Wolf's Rain. In the following personal reaction, I will try to avoid giving away too much and will speak in generalities, but it might still be better to see the series first if you want to avoid any possible spoilers.

One study of this anime series by Susan J. Napier tends to focus on a nihilistic approach. She sees this anime as dramatising a fruitless attempt to engage with a complex and essentially meaningless world through the form of a fairy tale. The human condition {conveyed by the metaphor of the wolf character avatar} has as its reward only the heroism of the struggle. She notes that the heroism shown is principally developed through masculinity and thus represents only a partial answer which must ultimately fail. Yet she doesn't show that the incorporation of a feminine anime principle would change anything.

Despite the brilliance of Napier's analysis, I don't agree with her at all. I think she minimises or ignores the final vital sequence at the very end of the final episode. The fairy tale has at its core Tolkien's concept of the "eucatastrophe" i.e. the denial of a final defeat. In Wolf's Rain this concept is developed through the quest for Paradise which can be defined as cyclic regeneration, a sweeping away of the dross and debris of failed attempts to control Nature and the acceptance of a rebirth. To me the end of the series was a deep affirmation of growth, cleansing, and the certainty that "Though lovers be lost, Love is not". Thus, I feel that the final message which Napier feels is negative is in reality positive and proof that a new beginning is possible; Life and Love and Beauty will always spring from the sacrifices of those who have faith in those qualities. The search for Paradise is, therefore, a great quest across the wheel of Time and Life; each successive search brings the goal closer.

Wolf's Rain is a sensitive yet dynamic attempt to engage with spirituality which I think rivals that of Ghost in the Shell. The sensitive use of colour with its dark and sombre hues reinforces the very serious message of this remarkable anime. In addition there is an evocative and beautiful soundtrack combined with an excellent English Dub. I would highly recommend this wonderful series.

One last point. The plot diverges significantly in some respects from the excellent Manga which is quite a bit more upbeat!
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