27 January 2014

45 R.P.M.


45 R.P.M. 2008
  • Director:  Dave Schultz
  • Based on book: no
  • Cast: Jordan Gavaris, Michael Madsen, Kim Coates, August Schellenberg, MacKenzie Porter, Justine Bansky, Amanda Plummer
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Michael Madsen  Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill 1 & 2, Donnie Brasco, Mulholland Falls, The Doors, Racing with the Moon, Thelma and Louise
    • August Schellenberg – Geronimo
    •  Amanda Plummer – Hunger Games Catching Fire, My Life Without Me, Pulp Fiction, Fisher King, Joe and the Volcano, The World According to Garp
  • Why? It’s about 60’s pop music. It was cheap.
  • Seen: January 27, 2014
       A film about music from the early 60’s has to be good, right?  But this is really an odd little film with really odd characters.  The teen-age main character Parry is being raised by an old Indian man after his mother committed suicide because he started looking too much like his father who had raped her.  Parry is kind of screwed about over that. He and his friend, Luke, who is actually a girl though we don’t figure that out for awhile, have been friends since they were babies, but now she’s in love with him. But he’s falling in love with a new girl from the States – oh yeah, they live in Goose Lake in the literal middle-of-nowhere Canada, where radio reception is iffy – but they decide to take part in a contest on a NY radio station. Thirty songs in thirty seconds, name them.
       A USAF plane crashes in the woods and is hushed up.  A teenage pregnancy is caused by the slutty mom’s boyfriend. A sadistic sheriff is a would-be dad. It’s just a really strange movie that instead of evoking sympathy for the characters just evokes a big, “Wha’?”
       It’s the kind of film I usually like but sadly this one leaves me a bit cold.
       But because I too had to jiggle my radio dial to get reception where I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in the middle of Canadian-border-nowhere, because I too was afraid of the Russians invading and using the bomb on us, because I too longed to escape my own Goose Lake, because they try to deal with serious issues and because they play Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” I’ll give it
      
2 ½ * of 5

      

The Brave


The Brave 1997
  • Director: Johnny Depp
  • Based on the book: by Gregory McDonald
  • Cast: Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, Elpidia Carrillo, Marshall Bell, Clarence Williams III, Luis Guzmán, Cody Lightning, Nicole Mancera,  Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Pepe Serna
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Johnny Depp  Nightmare on Elm Street, Platoon, Slow Burn, Cry-Baby, Edward Scissorhands, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Arizona Dream, Benny and Joon, Ed Wood, Don Juan DeMarco, Dead Man, Nick of Time, Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Ninth Gate, The Astronaut’s Wife, Sleepy Hollow, The Man Who Cried, Chocolat, Blow, From Hell, Lost in La Mancha, Pirates of the Caribbean (all four of them), Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Secret Window, Finding Neverland, Libertine, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Public Enemies, Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist
    • Marlon Brando – Apocalypse Now, Don Juan DeMarco, Superman, Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Young Lions, Tea House of the August Moon, On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Wild One, Julius Caesar
    • Elpidia Carrillo – Bread and Roses, Salvador
    • Marshall Bell – A Slipping Down Life, Dick Tracy, Twins
    • Clarence Williams III – Purple Rain, The Mod Squad (my favourite series in the 60’s), other TV series
    • Luis Guzmán – He’s Just Not That Into You, The Limey, Boogie Nights, Carlito’s Way, Crocodile Dundee II, TV series
    • Cody Lightning – Brick, Smoke Signals
    • Nicole Mancera – Nick of Time
    • Floyd Red Crow Westerman – Hidalgo, Dharma and Greg, The X Files, The Doors, Dances with Wolves
    • Pepe Serna – Bread and Roses, My America, Postcards from the Edge, Silverado, Johnny Got His Gun, Red Sky at Morning, many TV series
  • Why? Johnny Depp. Fourteenth movie of JD marathon.
  • Seen: January 25, 2014
       If you’ve never seen The Brave let alone heard of it, I wouldn’t be surprised.  It’s JD’s only directing effort so far and for reasons that are not quite clear it has sunk almost completely into obscurity.
       The “brave” of the title refers both to a person of courage and to a macho Indian man caught in the structure of poverty, violence, alcoholism and prison. Rafael lives with his wife and two children in a dilapidated trailer house in a slum village on the edge of a scrap heap. They scavenge to survive.
       Rafael comes into contact  with a bizarre procurer for snuff movies, played by Brando as only Brando can, who will pay him $50,000 to be tortured and killed on film.  Rafael gets a week to put his life in order, and a wad of cash as a down payment.
       He creates a cheap but sparkly and vastly popular amusement park for his children, and the village. Everyone, especially his wife and former partner in crime, suspects him of having stolen the money.  He denies it and just says. “I got a job.”
       He recreates a loving relationship with his family and then he is shown returning to honour his macabre commitment.  The end.
       The big question is why?  Why do these people do what they do and why was JD so passionate about this story?  I understand the driving need to tell a story and I admire JD for doing this.  But it doesn’t really work.  The story is too weird. The characters are clichéd: gender, religion, class, love, family.
       I’m sure JD still loves this film as a parent who painfully loves a child who has been nothing but trouble only to fade into obscure adulthood.
       For his dedication, for the sincere attempt to portray what social misery will drive an individual to do, and for JD’s adequate acting in this, one of his standard roles, of a lost young man

2 ½ * of 5
      
      
      


      

20 January 2014

Macbeth (McKellen-Dench)

Macbeth 1979
  • Director: Philip Casson (produced by Trevor Nunn)
  • Based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth
  • Cast: Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, John Woodvine, Marie Kean, Judith Harte, Susan Dury, Bob Peck, Roger Rees
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Ian McKellen: Extras, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Richard III, The Ballad of Little Jo, King Lear
    • Judi Dench: Cranford, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Ladies in Lavender, The Shipping News, Chocolat, Tea with Mussolini, Shakespeare in Love, Mrs. Brown, 84 Charing Cross Road, A Room with a View
    • John Woodvine: Hamlet (2009), Wuthering Heights, Pericles, Nicholas Nickleby, An American Werewolf in London, The Devils
    • Bob Peck: Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Surviving Picasso, Jurassic Park, Nicholas Nickleby
    • Roger Rees: The Prestige, Frida, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Nicholas Nickleby
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: Twice. Now: January 19, 2014 

       Oh yes. This is the one. This is the Macbeth film to see, if you see no others.
       The astonishment of the first time over how good it is can’t be repeated, it is almost as good this time.
       The very first scene – a dark stage seen from above with a circle of white…things…that turn out to be stools upon which the characters take a seat. The camera then slowly moves from face to face.
       This sets the tone.  The monochromatic starkness of the entire performance, filmed almost exclusively of the characters’ faces, full frontal or in profile. The black backdrop in which no background at all is discernible. The sharp black and white contrast of the lighting. The slow, often agonizing, pace.
       The only colours in the whole performance are the red of the blood and the garish gaudy gold of Macbeth’s coronation robe and crown.  Almost kitschy. But effectively startling to the eye.
       The cast is generally good but McKellen and Dench are not only stellar, they are galactic. No wonder they both went on to become knighted.
       There are, sadly, some flaws that disturb the perfection. Why, for example, did they make Duncan a doddering old pious pope like figure?  Why did they make one of the witches a drooling, limping half-wit? The fog, and the fading in and out of it, was overused, diminishing the effect of when it was really needed.  And actually, the golden coronation robe was a bit too kitschy, even for me.
       But it really is very good. See it.

7 ½ * of 10
      


Macbeth Retold

Macbeth Retold 2005
  • Director: Mark Brozel
  • Based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth
  • Cast: James McAvoy, Keeley Hawes, Joseph Millson, Ralph Ineson, Richard Ridings, Charles Abomeli
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • James McAvoy: Wanted, Atonement, Becoming Jane Austen, Inside I’m Dancing
    • Keeley Hawes: Upstairs Downstairs, Mutual Friends, Under the Greenwood Tree, Tristram Shandy, Our Mutual Friend, Cold Lazarus, Karaoke
    • Joseph Millson: Enid
    • Ralph Ineson: Merlin, Harry Potter (several of them), Another Year, From Hell, Shooting Fish
    • Richard Ridings: Merlin (bounty hunter), The Pianist, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Clockwise
    • Charles Abomeli: only this
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: Twice. Now: January 18, 2014 
       In some ways this is an ingenious adaption.  The first scene, for example, with the three debris collectors in the vast waste land of rotting rubbish, mumbling about their lunches and “when the hurly burley’s done”, is incomprehensible but funny and a bit scary.  So it is each time the trio (the weird sisters, you see) show up in the alley behind the diner.
       Eleventh century Macbeth is transformed into a twenty-first century Joe Macbeth, “kitchen warrior”, and chef over the “cooking bravehearts” in an exclusive restaurant.
       It doesn’t really work and for the first half of the film I don’t quite know what’s going on. But that doesn’t matter.  Things become clear and Shakespeare’s story emerges.  Prophecies are spoken, murders are committed, and the two ambitious but basically decent people descend into the hell of remorseful madness.
       Only a few of the original lines are included. Maybe it was wise to omit the “out damned spot” and “tomorrow” monologs.  Maybe not.  I miss them.
       But the cast is superlative. Keeley Hawes is Lady Macbeth in modern efficient business woman-hiding-a-sadness mode.  And James McAvoy is, as always, just so incredibly good.  He can make even a flawed concept like this one a real tour de force.

4 * of 5  


18 January 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird 1962
  • Director: Robert Mulligan
  • Based on novel by Harper Lee
  • Cast: Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford, John Megna, Brock Peters, Paul Fix, Collin Paxton,  Alice Ghostley, Robert Duvall
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Gregory Peck: Guns of Navarone Moby Dick, David and Bathsheba and probably many more
    • Mary Badham: This Property is Condemned
    • Phillip Alford: Shenandoah
    • John Megna: Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte
    • Brock Peters: Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, Soylent Green, The L-Shaped Room, old TV series
    • Paul Fix: old TV series
    • Collin Paxton: Catch 22, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and old TV series
    • Alice Ghostley: Grease, The Graduate and old TV series
    • Robert Duvall: Sling Blade, The Stars Fell on Henrietta, Apocalypse Now, MASH and old TV series
  • Why? A must have, a must see
  • Seen: 4-5 times. Now: January 12, 2014 
       One of the best books ever written was made into one of the best films of the 60’s. It’s among my all-time favorites and this viewing doesn’t change that.  If I must find something negative it’s possibly that the bad guy Ewell is too sleazily bad and Atticus is too good to be true. So the characters are too black and white (sorry).
       Another criticism – the townspeople are a little too good-hearted, the poor farmers too yokelly. I’m sure in the small towns of the south (and the north) in the 30’s, the good people were just as racist as the farmers. 
       The story is in itself entirely realistic. A black man, Tom Robinson, is accused of raping a white woman. Small town lawyer Atticus Finch defends him, proving that Robinson is completely innocent of all charges. A widower, Atticus teaches his young children the values of human rights and dignity. Gregory Peck is so good in the role that I believe in him completely.  And the kids are perfect.
       There are many moments that bring tears to my eyes, especially tiny Scout taking deathly pale recluse Boo Radley by the hand and sitting on the porch swing with him, the man who had been so scary in the children’s imagination.
       If you haven’t read the book, read it.  If you haven’t seen the film, see it.
      

4 ½ * of 5  

Macbeth 1948 (Welles)

Macbeth 1948
  • Director: Orson Welles
  • Based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth
  • Cast: Orson Welles, Jeanette Nolan, Roddy MacDowell, Dan O’Herlihy
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Orson Welles: Voyage of the Damned, Catch 22, A Man for All Seasons, Chimes at Midnight (a.k.a. Falstaff), The Long Hot Summer, Moby Dick, Citizen Kane
    • Jeanette Nolan: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and many old TV series
    • Roddy MacDowell: Overboard, The Poseidon Adventure, Inside Daisy Clover, Cleopatra, The Longest Day, Planet of the Apes and sequels
    • Dan O’Herlihy: Robocop and sequels, Imitation of Life, Failsafe and many old TV series
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: January 11, 2014 

       Another disappointment. I expect so much more of Orson Welles but this is at the same time silly, melodramatic and monotonous.   It is in fact impossible to stay awake but I see enough to object to the blatant Christian overtones, to wonder why they mix up the order of the scenes and move Lady Macduff to the Macbeth caste, and to giggle at the silly crowns and helmets.
       As always I like the dramatic black and white cliffs and stairs and craggy tors and the fog but that’s not enough to make a good film.
       I want a good Macbeth film!


1 ½ * of 5  

Macbeth 1971 (Polanski)

Macbeth 1971
  • Director: Roman Polanski
  • Based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth
  • Cast: Jon Finch, Fransesca Annis, Martin Shaw, Terence Baylor, Stephen Chase, Maisie MacFarquhar, Elsie Taylor, Noelle Rimmington, Diane Fletcher
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Jon Finch: Kingdom of Heaven, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry the Fourth Parts One and Two  (BBC), King Richard II
    • Fransesca Annis: Cranford, The Libertine, Cleopatra
    • Terence Baylor: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Remains of the Day, Brazil, Life of Brian
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: January 10, 2014 

       Polanski certainly can make films.  I’m quite impressed with this Macbeth.  It’s filled with contrasts: bright colours, low key monologues; beautiful people (both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are very pleasing to look at) and violence; dramatic Scottish landscapes and a very slow pace.
       The main problem with the film is that there’s too much of it.  Scenes that aren’t in Shakespeare are added unnecessarily. We don’t need to see a pretty boy singing prettily for King Duncan, for example. And the final fight between Macbeth and Macduff goes on forever.
       But the important things are good.  The witches are at the same time quite straightforward and creepy.  Where did Polanski find that ancient toothless crone?  The “out damned spot” and “tomorrow” monologues work.  Lady Macbeth is too pretty but otherwise very good actually.  Not at all the blood-thirsty crazed king-killer she’s usually presented to be, but one half of a political duo who does what’s necessary to achieve the throne they’re prophesied to take. Jon Finch is a good brooding Macbeth (though he’s even better as a tortured Henry IV in the BBC films about ten years later.)
       All in all, this is the best Macbeth film we’ve seen so far.


3 ½ * of 5 

6 January 2014

Macbeth 2010 (Goold)

Macbeth 2010 
  • Director: Rupert Goold
  • Based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Kate Fleetwood, Martin Turner, Scott Handy, Suzanne Burden, Christopher Patrick Nolan
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Patrick Stewart: Hamlet (BBC), Hamlet (Doran), Star Trek, X-Men
    • Kate Fleetwood: Les Miserables, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Elizabeth the Golden Age
    • Scott Handy: Hamlet (Brook),  A Knight’s Tale
    • Suzanne Burden: Troilus and Cressida
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: January 5, 2014 

       What in the world am I supposed to write about this one?  My reactions are completely mixed. I’m impressed by the ambition of the director and by the acting of the cast, and left cold by the result.
       The 12th century historical Macbeth is moved here to the 20th century in some kind of WWII/Russian Revolution setting. It could work but it doesn’t.  The story and characterisation are confusing and the essential human tragedy of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth become a kind of murky parody of mid-20th century atrocities.
       There are strong moments.  At times the hospital setting, the industrial warehouse, the clanky lifts are visually effective. Macbeth making a sandwich and sharing it with the murderers as he gives them instructions to kill Banquo is kind of funny.  The concept of the three witches as nurses is interesting. The “Out damned spot” and “Tomorrow” monologs are strongly done.
       But somehow…somehow, this just doesn’t work like it should.  It drags at times but is generally overwrought, overblown and pretentious. The porter is hammy and campy. Again, this could work but doesn’t. Lady Macbeth is – as usual I’m sorry to say – vampy. Fleetwood gives a great performance but this interpretation is just not right.  Patrick Stewart has been hanging out too much with Ian McKellen, or at least has watched McKellen’s Macbeth too many times. Admittedly, it’s a Macbeth performance well worth emulating but I expect more of Patrick Stewart.
       I’m unsettled by this film. Disturbed. Next time I see it I might think it’s a masterpiece. This time it’s a mixed bag that rates between 0 and 5 and lands somewhere around

2 ½ * of 5  
      

       

Gravity

Gravity – 2013
  • Director: Alfonso Cuarón
  • Based on book: no.
  • Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Sandra Bullock  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Infamous, The Lake House, Crash, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, 28 Days, Practical Magic, While You Were Sleeping, Speed,
    • George Clooney – Burn After Reading, Michael Clayton, Good Night and Good Luck, Intolerable Cruelty, The Perfect Storm, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Thin Red Line
  • Why? Sandra Bullock, good reviews, sounded good
  • Seen: at the cinema with Hal, B-IS and ÖB January 4, 2014 

       Maybe I won’t become an astronaut after all. It seems a bit risky. Especially in 3D.
       The effects are what the film is all about and they’re spectacular enough. There is a lot of hanging on tight to the armrest and Hal’s hand and there are a half a dozen big gasps. The views of Earth and space are really beautiful.
       But I expect more.  Characters and a strong story, for example. Well, the story is enough. Two astronauts are stranded outside of their spaceship, the only survivors of satellite scrap crashing into them. Simple but enough. But the characters are, sadly, victims of gender stereotyping. Macho Clooney. Grieving mom Bullock. It gets pretty pathetic.
       It is very exciting though. Sandra Bullock is good as always. Her tears falling from her eyes and floating towards us via the 3D glasses are cool.
   
2 ½ * of 5
      

       

Macbeth 2006 (Wright)

Macbeth 2006
  • Director: Geoffrey Wright
  • Based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth
  • Cast: Sam Worthington, Victoria Hill, Steve Bastoni, Lachy Hulme, Matt Doran, Damien Walshe-Howling
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Sam Worthington: Avatar
    • Victoria Hill: December Boys
    • Steve Bastoni: Matrix Reloaded
    • Lachy Hulme: Matrix Revolutions
    • Matt Doran: Matrix, The Thin Red Line
    • Damien Walshe-Howling: Ned Kelly
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: January 1, 2014


       Comparisons to Almereyda’s Hamlet, Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet and The Sopranos are inevitable.  That’s a lot to live up to.
       It doesn’t quite manage. The concept is fine. Drug lords in today’s Australia fight for power. The witches, three young beauties posing in turn as violent nasty school girls, disco dollies and naked sex bombs, appear in Macbeth’s drug induced hallucinations. Within that framework Shakespeare’s story is followed quite faithfully.
       There are problems though.  There is an unnecessary and unfulfilled cop subplot that adds nothing.  All the good looking hunky thugs look alike, causing character confusion. The nudity of the witches and Lady Macbeth is embarrassing in its pointless sexism. A real  pity; Lady Macbeth is otherwise quite strongly portrayed.  And sadly, Shakespeare’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow monolog, second only to the To Be or Not To Be – maybe it’s equal! – is rattled off at the end without much expression and it omits the vital ending, “Signifying nothing.”
       It’s a shame that the film has these weaknesses because it has several strengths too. There is some subtle humour, mainly Macbeth’s clothes: a green shirt with flowery white embroidery, a velvet brocade suit, a black leather kilt.  Very vulgar kitschy cool. The Great Birnam Woods takes the form of an enormous timber lorry ramming the gates of Dunsinane.  The cast is good, especially Sam Worthington. The music is effective, especially the Beethoven.
       All in all, then, not a bad effort.
      
2  3/4* of 5