27 October 2014

The Tempest (Jarman)


The Tempest 1979
  • Director: Derek Jarman
  • Based on play by William Shakespeare
  • Cast: Heathcote Williams, Toyah Willcox, Karl Johnson, Jack Birkett, David Meyer
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Heathcote Williams  Orlando, Stormy Monday
    • Toyah Willcox – Quadrophenia
    • Karl Johnson – Merlin, Copying Beethoven, Prick Up Your Ears, Rock Follies
    • Jack Birkett – Troilus and Cressida
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen:  Once previously. Now October 26, 2014.
It starts out like a sinister Gothic melodrama with a young Prospero and ditzy Miranda creeping around in the dark barren dilapidated castle attended by an expressionless Ariel in white overalls and a campy cringing gloating disgusting Caliban.
It’s all very surreal with many facial close-ups and dreamy voice-over monologues. There are long sequences with no speaking at all and often when they do speak it doesn’t make much sense.
Miranda is a bit interesting. She’s quirky and cheeky with a wild child Pippi Långstrump air about her. Ariel, unfortunately, is a minor anonymous character in the beginning only to become as grotesque as the others later on.
It has, as Hal points out, overtones of Ingmar Bergman. That is not a compliment.  It also reminds me of Fellini Satyricon, another of my least favourite films of all time.
I hope this isn’t your first encounter with Shakespeare because if it is you’re likely to dismiss him as pretentious jumbled nonsense.  Knowing this play and the others as well as I do I find it a slightly interesting – if odd and emotionless – interpretation. I’m all in favour of pushing Shakespeare to and beyond the limits but this is pointless self-indulgence more often than not.  It’s somewhat cute at times but mostly I’m unimpressed.

1 ½ * of 5

The 39 Steps


The Thirty-Nine Steps 1935
  • Director: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Based on novel  by John Buchan
  • Cast: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim, Peggy Ashcroft, John Laurie
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Peggy Ashcroft – The Nun’s Story
    • John Laurie – The Avengers, Hamlet, Richard III, Henry V, As You Like It
  • Why? A classic
  • Seen:  October 25, 2014 with YW in our read-book-see-film group
A couple of years ago when we were in London we saw a programme on the BBC about the area where part of this book took place. I don’t remember much but we thought at the time that the book sounded interesting so we bought it when we came home.  Recently we found the film too. Coincidentally I’ve recently read about John Buchan’s work as minister of propaganda during the First World War. He sort of invented the spy novel, not my favourite genre but the book was interesting enough.
The film is so much better!  Though an early Hitchcock many of his famous trademarks are already evident: close-ups of feet, trains, bridges, shadows, a woman’s scream becoming a train whistle. All effectively filmed in handsome black and white.
The story is minimal but Hitchcock isn’t known as the master of suspense for nothing.  The film is much more exciting than the book.
But its real strength is in its characters. The hero is the least interesting but the three main women are fascinating, tough, brave and intelligent. Several of the bit parts are even better: the kindly innkeeper, the chirpy maid, the mousy bespectacled daughter of the villain.  On the screen for only seconds they are somehow full-fledged individuals.  How does he do it?
And it’s funny. I’d forgot how good Hitchcock is. It’s a film to watch many times to savour the fast pace and the details. And to catch the glimpse of Hitchcock, which we all missed this first time.

4 * of 5

The Lone Ranger


The Lone Ranger 2013
  • Director: Gore Verbinski
  • Based on book: No
  • Cast: Johnny Depp,  Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham-Carter, James Badge Dale,
  • 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, The Brave, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 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, Rango, Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger
    • Armie Hammer – Veronica Mars
    • Helena Bonham-Carter – Les Misérables, Dark Shadows, Great Expectations, Life’s Too Short, Harry Potter, Toast, The King’s Speech, Alice in Wonderland, Absolutely Fabulous, Enid, Terminator Salvation, Sweeney Todd, Corpse Bride, Conversations with Other Women, Big Fish, Planet of the Apes, Fight Club, Keep the Aspidistras Flying, Twelfth Night, Frankenstein, Howards End, Hamlet, A Room with a View
    • William Fichtner – The Dark Knight, Crash, Equilibrium, The Perfect Storm, Contact, Heat, Strange Days
    • Tom Wilkinson – Best Exotic Hotel Marigold, Valkriea, Michael Clayton, Batman Begins, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Girl with the Pearl Earring, Shakespeare in Love, Smilla’s Sense of Snow
  • Why? JD. 44nd in JD marathon
  • Seen:  October 24, 2014
When I was about six years old I came home from school every day and listened to The Lone Ranger on the radio. This was in the Stone Age, you understand. I probably saw the TV series too but I don’t remember that really. The best Lone Ranger film is Lenny Bruce’s “Thank You Masked Man.”
This film from last year got very mixed reviews. Some were really very bad. Worst film. Worst actor.  But also best this and best that.
I am very curious....
It’s a bit Pirates of the Caribbean although Tanto is grumpier than Captain Jack Straw.
It shifts from the whimsical to the gruesome to the romantic to action and then to just plain weird.  For the first hour I wonder where it’s going, if anywhere. Then...Tanto the Last Windigo Hunter.  Hmmm. Could be interesting.  But is it a parody or is it serious?
It is both. The story unfolds and tells how the Lone Ranger became the Lone Ranger as he, under the guidance of outcast half-mad Tanto, fights the railroad and silver barons of the Wild West and the slaughter of the Comanches by the US army.
I can’t deny it.  By the end I’m hooked.  When the real Lone Ranger music finally comes in the climactic last half hour I get the old childhood thrill.  And at the very last line I laugh out loud.  The Lone Ranger rears up on the white horse he has finally named Silver and shouts, “Heigh-Ho, Silver! Away!” and Tanto looks at him and says in shocked contempt: “Don’t ever do that again.”
Parody? Of course! Serious? That too, a little.

Amazingly: 3 * of 5. 

PS Helena Bonham-Carter is in her tiny role superb, as always.
PPS Now we know what kimosabe means: “Wrong brother.”

20 October 2014

About Schmidt


About Schmidt 2002
  • Director: Alexander Payne
  • Based on novel  by Louis Begley
  • Cast: Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, June Squibb
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Jack Nicholson  The Pledge, As Good as It Gets, Mars Attacks, Wolf, A Few Good Men, Batman, Ironweed, The Witches of Eastwick, Prizzi’s Honor, Terms of Endearment, Reds, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Tommy, Chinatown, The King of Marvin Gardens, Carnal Knowledge, Five Easy Pieces, Easy Rider, The Little Shop of Horrors
    • Kathy Bates – The Day the Earth Stood Still, Six Feet Under, Titanic, Dolores Claiborne, Fried Green Tomatoes, Misery, White Palace, Dick Tracy
    • Hope Davis – Infamous, Proof
    • Dermot Mulroney – Burn After Reading, Zodiac, Friends, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Kansans City, Living in Oblivion
    • June Squibb – Far From Heaven, Meet Joe Black, The Age of Innocence, Scent of a Woman
  • Why? Originally because it was given to us free when we bought our first DVD player more than ten years ago. Now because Hal chose it, thinking it was As Good As It Gets, to watch with our friends after his birthday dinner.
  • Seen:  Once previously. Now October 18, 2014 with NM, VM, B-IS and ÖB.
How depressing!  Warren Schmidt doesn’t want to retire but he has to and the youngsters taking over don’t want him around.  His wife of 42 years drives him crazy but when she dies unexpectedly he’s devastated. He hates his son-in-law-to-be. His daughter doesn’t have time for him. Poor Warren. Stiff, boring, unwanted, unneeded. He pours out his heart in letters to six-year-old Ndugo from Tanzania, the boy he has started sponsoring for $22 a month.  He lies to the boy and to himself. He writes that he’s OK but he’s falling apart.  Then he discovers that his wife and his best friend...
Well.  So starts an even more bizarre road trip than Jack Nicholson’s first one in Easy Rider several decades ago. This is pure Midwestern absurdity and I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. I do both, frequently.
And then it turns into a family drama. Welcome to Absurdsville, Part Two.  With families like that who needs enemies?
He returns to Omaha and writes a depressing letter to Ndugo: “I’m a failure.”
And then he gets a letter from Ndugo.
That’s all I’m going to tell you. Jack Nicholson is terrific.  They all are. It’s an extremely good film. See it.

4 ½ * of 5

Dark Shadows


Dark Shadows 2012
  • Director: Tim Burton
  • Based on book: No
  • Cast: Johnny Depp,  Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham-Carter, Eva Green,  Jackie Earle Haley, Bella Heathecote, Chloe Grace Moretz
  • 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, The Brave, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 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, Rango, Dark Shadows
    • Michelle Pfeiffer – Stardust, White Oleander, I Am Sam, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Thousand Acres, To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, Dangerous Minds, Wolf, Age of Innocence, Love Fields, Frankie and Johnny, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Dangerous Liaisons, Married to the Mafia, The Witches of Eastwick
    • Helena Bonham-Carter – Les Misérables, Great Expectations, Life’s Too Short, Harry Potter, Toast, The King’s Speech, Alice in Wonderland, Absolutely Fabulous, Enid, Terminator Salvation, Sweeney Todd, Corpse Bride, Conversations with Other Women, Big Fish, Planet of the Apes, Fight Club, Keep the Aspidistras Flying, Twelfth Night, Frankenstein, Howards End, Hamlet, A Room with a View
    • Eva Green – Kingdom of Heaven
    • Jackie Earle Haley – Shutter Island
    • Chloe Grace Moretz – Hugo
  • Why? JD. 43nd in JD marathon
  • Seen:  October17, 2014
Vampires can be cool.  In the hands of Tim Burton and JD it’s guaranteed to be a weird film, but the cool index is high.
But vampires in Maine?  That’s weird in itself but that’s only the beginning.  Self-assured young Vicky arrives, in the 1970’s, to a big old spooky Gothic mansion with a totally dysfunctional family including suave Michelle Pfeiffer and red-haired Helena Bonham-Carter. Vicky is to be the governess.
Vampire JD, introduced in the film’s beginning, arises from the dead to be confronted by the bizarre 20th century.
It’s funny and imaginative and a real twist on the vampires-and-witches-in-modern-times story.  It’s silly too but that’s only to be expected, given the perimeters and the people involved.
The music and stoned hippies are fun but all the killing isn’t and the film sags a bit towards the end. The vampy witch is annoying and the melancholy that Burton and Depp so successfully achieved in Edward Scissorhands and Sweeny Todd is sadly at a minimum here.

2 ½ * of 5.