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Valhalla Rising (2009)
What's the story? Simple as that. Man's inhumanity to man? Self-realization? Redemption? An odyssey, perchance? A brutal killing machine, chained up for fighting like a dog, attended by a boy by a Viking chief with a gambling habit. Some violent, dirty scenes fought in the mud, all staged for the pleasure and gaming spirit of overlording on-lookers whose agenda is never made clear. Slight suggestions of tensions along the way. Lots of staring. Lots of going into the mind tableaux. lots of dirt, rain, discomfort and violence. Everyone's a cut-out caricature. The pagans are pagan. They despise the Christians. The Christians are Zealots, killing for Jesus. All through it, One-eyes stares, kills, spares no one and is says nothing. His thoughts are expressed through the boy. His Christian shipmates loath and fear him.
The journey, to save the Holy Land, takes them to someplace mindful of the New World. The arrows that appear from unseen sources are stone. The confusion builds and then, ... sacrifice? Man, this film had some potential but the mythic underpinnings are so convoluted, at the end, you wind up saying, "Huh?" Alas, the writer of this disappointing venture just didn't do his homework. The reason this film doesn't work is because there is no story. One-eye is a great Norse Metaphor as Odin/Woden gave his eye for wisdom. But, that's as far as it goes: One-eye had his eye taken from him, one surmises, in a fight. He's a survivor. His finding an arrow blade becomes the key to his immersion from the lower depths. But, it goes no further. His mission, after a poorly defined revenge, then is to go somewhere he's not a slave. The boy, his alter-ego, says he's looking for his "home" but also says, he's "...from Hell." The problem with that metaphor is that it doesn't fit the myth. So, we're left with a ensemble of stereotypes arrayed in a series of very boring, staring scenes, sparked by bloody violence.
It could have been better.
Interesting perspective on Stieglitz and O'Keefe
Christopher Plummer and Jane Alexander play the title roles in this made for TV movie of two of the most interesting artists of the 20th century. I mean, who but an art history student will remember the work of Alfred Stieglitz, the some-time, part-time husband of the great painter, Georgia O'Keefe? Likely few, if any reading this review. However, as a biopic addict, I remember seeing this with the interest of learning something about the woman who painted vaginas reflected in flowers and the sun-bleached bones of dead cattle. What emerges is an amazing story of how an early liberated woman of the 20th century married a relatively amoral man who was able to promote her work and get it in the public's eye by making it attractive to the wealthy and remain her husband at the same time he was chasing around after wealthy patrons. Less is made in this drama about the long-term relationship between O'Keefe, Stieglitz and socialite, Dorothy Norman, whose deep pockets indirectly supported O'Keefe's work largely through Stieglitz's affair with Norman. What does come through, however, is the niche that O'Keefe found in New Mexico and her association with a coterie of fellow artists like Ansel Adams. If this shows up, it's definitely worth viewing if for nothing more than seeing Plummer's portrayal of Stieglitz as a thorough-going cad.
Potential Cult Classic
OK, besides Ed Harris and Tom Savini, who else is in this amazing biker film from the early 80s? Well, it doesn't really matter because sometimes things just come together in a way that transcends what the likely original intent was, to patch together a biker movie about jousting knights who engage in feudal combat from motorcycles instead of horses. Yep. The costumes are a bit cheesy, the acting is a bit raw and amateurish and the story..., ah, the story: The story is the Arthurian tragedy of innocence, self sacrifice, honor and unfaithfulness. The tale works around the triad of the King, the very young Ed Harris, the villain, the wonderful Tom Savini and the knight protector, Lancelot, Gary Lahti. Each of these figures represents an archetype which very likely unbeknown to the film makers and they come through wonderfully in the way in which this tale is patched together. Billy,as the King Arthur prototype is idealistic, uncompromising loyal to his own mythology and like the legendary Arthur, ego-less. His loyal knight retainer, Alan, is Lancelot in his nobility and loyalty to his sovereign while coveting his wife all the time. Savini is purely delightful as the Modred counterpart, even taking Morgan le Fay's name as a pun. Morgan covets the crown and tries to usurp it by going off only to discover his new realm is a forest of paper tigers. The final scene and resolution of the tragedy works wonderfully, giving a the only glimpse of the famous story-teller and raconteur, Brother Blue as the wizard, Merlin.
As an anthropologist and mythologist, I saw this tale back in the early 80s and was impressed how the underlying mythology of an essentially low budget film held together in such a wonderful way in spite of a few flaws. I consider it a cult classic.
The faceplate review of this film is excellent. It's an indie, slow moving, full of tristesse and dysfunctional people. The underlying theme song might have been the Beatle's classic, "Strawberry Fields," with its haunting theme, "Nothing is real..." Russell Crowe, a much better actor than most people are willing to give him credit for gives a superb but fleeting performance, coming in and out of the action created by the two focal characters, the pathological Eric, played by handsome, boy-next-door type Jon Foster and the suicidal nymphet Lori, played the young Canadian Sophie, whose ambiguous nubile sexuality adds an amazing texture to the story. The story itself is a trip through purgatory with injured, wounded souls seemingly coming out of the woodwork. A brief encounter with the wonderful Laura Dern as the cautious and aware Aunt Sophie adds to the movement of the story. This is excellent film-making and it will stay with me for a long time, albeit I can't say for a moment that I enjoyed watching it. However, it is a reminder that some things are worth more being experienced rather than merely enjoyed. We're left with the question, "are there really people out there like these wounded, dysfunctional souls?" And, the only answer we can come up with is "Perhaps." But, the greater lesson is that not all of us fit nicely into the social order. And, isn't that what purgatory's all about?
Disappointing-- possible **SPOILER**
It's hard to believe that the same guy who wrote Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Time Line and Eaters of the Dead (The 13th Warrior) wrote this container of once used fetid dog food. The premise of the story is bad enough, i.e., apes who learn American Sign Language are able to vocalize through technology but moreover, they retain arcane knowledge that is revealed in their art. But, hey. It's fiction-- even if it's bad fiction. So, for what Crichton was able to do so imaginatively for Jurassic Park fell on its face in this one. OK. Who wins them all? But, then Congo the movie shows up at the theaters and I'm dumb enough to buy a ticket. Whereas the book merely stunk, the movie reeked. Laura Linney was lovely but miscast as a corporate mercenary, Dylan Walsh was completely unbelievable as the primatologist and then the usually wonderful Tim Curry was dreadful as the eccentric Homolka. And, it goes down from there. Storywise, corporate greed in the background of Central Africa's unstable, violent and often brutal politics. My advice is don't rent it and you're watching it on TV on the late show or a rainy day, see if you can find an old rerun of I Love Lucy. It'll be much more entertaining and so much better written.
The British film, Creation, finally showed up in Sacramento. I'd been looking forward to it for some time as being a BBC product, I know the script would be well written and with the competent Paul Bettany and lovely Jennifer Connelly as CR and Emma Darwin, I knew that alone would be worth the price of admission for 2 seniors.
The storyline pretends to focus on the preparation of CR's writing On the Origin. I'd known that, of course, not from just being a Darwin addict but also from reading the reviews in the New Yorker, Time and New York Review of Books. Visually, the film is delightful with splendid costuming and recapturing visual scenes of those times. The story largely unfolds in at the Darwin house in Down with some spot flashbacks. The supporting cast is likewise superb with Jeremy Northam as the local Vicar, Innes, Toby Jones as Huxley and Ben Cumberbatch as Hooker. So, I walked in and prepared to be delighted.
However, what unfolds is a hodge-podge of romantic speculation surrounding the death of Annie Darwin, which portrays her as a ghostly manifestation of CR's alter Ego, drawn out on a canvas of his misgivings about promulgating his ideas on natural selection. There is some excellent repartee presented on the gentle but firm coaxing by Hooker and aggressive and feisty prodding by Huxley, but behind it, you the portrayed ideological misgivings of Emma who is presented as much more fundamentalist in her views than the recorded biographies of the Darwins afford.
The Wedgewoods and Darwins were hardly that docternaire. Indeed, they were Unitarians, Whigs and outspoken abolitionists. Old Joshua Wedgewood and Erasmus Darwin, CR and Emma's common grandfathers, were active supporters of the abolitionist, William Wilberforce, Soapy Sam's father. So, for the serious Darwin history buff, there's a rub.
However, what follows is a presentation as CR as kind of schizophrenic John Nash who pursues his ghostly alter ego manifestation, his dead daughter, Annie, into a final confrontation with his own grief.
OK. We're not seeing documentary, I remind myself, we're seeing fictional biopic. So, we can let that part go. However, the scene where CR gives his ms of the On the Origin, to Emma and then the discretion to read or burn, stretches the point out proportion in my view.
Other points: little is made by CR's receiving Wallace's letter and paper on Natural Selection. Bettany's CR merely gives a somewhat cynical grin, dismissing this startling news with a "Gosh. I didn't need this ..." attitude. Lyell, alas, is completely written out of the script to give the Rev. Innes more screen time to press the point of a religious conflict that, according to received wisdom and well documented historical evidence, CR had long resolved in his own mind.
So, all and all: As an anthropologist and live-long Darwin scholar and fan, I'd give Creation a B- on the academic side based on what I perceive as a distortion of the relevant facts and evidence but certainly an A- on the quality of BBC historical drama. There's no doubt in the any of the biographers' works on CR that he and Emma were devastated by Annie's death by either typhus or diphtheria. However, to present the life and conflict of a man dedicated to the scientific method within a mystical light and framework, I found to be most discomforting.
Extraordinary Measures (2010)
The faceplate reviewer goes out of his way to pan the leads, Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser as being too old, curmudgeonly and too fat and weepy. OK. Thanks for expressing those opinions, which, BTW, I don't share. Yes. There's no doubt this is a sentimental flick with great emotional overtones and certainly qualifies as a three hanky job. Seeing children suffer, whether they're cute, charming, cuddly or not, is not pleasant. But, the fact that there are these kinds of kids who endure the ravages of disease stemming from their own bodies is a sad reality and I would argue it takes a pretty stern person to consider these conditions unemotionally. The movie is based on a book and like any biopic, a certain amount of license is taken in bringing the story to the screen. However, the story is never maudlin. The script is full of sentiment but never slips down to the level of being overly sentimental. In effect, it's a tale of people with various agendas driven by the desperation of a father trying to help his children from dying an early death. There is no deus ex machina, here. The conflicts which impede the goal largely stem from the personal agendas of the players in the drama. Sound familiar? You bet. That's what good writing is all about and when life imitates myth, it's even better. This is a good movie. Go see it. And, if you do so without puddling up at the eyeballs, you're made of sterner stuff than me.
Just one great film
People forget that Nelson Mandela came to power at a time when his country was bitterly divided. There was the bitter experience that white South Africans saw in their neighboring countries,i.e., Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and other nations where the White colonialist had been replaced by Black African politicians and a stable government had been replaced by corrupt, self-serving regimes where those in power feathered their nests after seizing the assets of their former White citizens and placed all their friends in positions of authority with the result of the country going to the dogs. The scene where the Afrikaaner newspaper remarks, "Mendela can get elected but can he run a country," and the superb Morgan Freeman remarks to his bodyguard that the headline raises a good point.
In a sense, this film is about Mandela. The rugby team becomes a metaphor of what he faced when ascending to the presidency, a nation divided. Noting that the Black South Africans were cheering for the opposition in the face of the old Apartheid guard whose love of rugby unified them. It's easy to forget that there was a great division among White South Africans, i.e., the descendants of the Boers, Afrikaaners, and the rest. There was even a middle ground with the "Coloreds," Asian South Africans, being caught between these two worlds and there were bitter rivalries among the competing African political interest groups as well.
Mandela's focus on reviving the national rugby team and making it a symbol of a new united nation homes in on the role of Matt Damon, an Afrikaaner who's the captain of the team. Francois is the catalyst that makes this story work and Damon, the rugged Mick from Boston, does a fantastic job showing the transition from hopelessness to hope as many White South Africans felt at that time. The wonderful thing about this film is its touching on all the levels. It goes beyond being merely the story of a single man or group of men. Sure, we love a "feel good" movie and of course we love an "underdog can win" flick, but this film works works because its about people working together to rebuild something new for everybody.
The film reeks with great moments: Pienaar visiting the cell where Mandela spent more than 20 years of his life, thinking and planning; The New Zealand Rugby team doing their Maori threat dance before the match; the jet buzzing the field before the game-- and so on. See it. Enjoy it. And, don't forget, it's a bit of history. Romanticized? Somewhat. Mandela wasn't able to solve all of South Africa's big problems, but he did one bang-up job for the Springboks.
Julius Caesar (1970)
Julius Caeser was an enigmatic character historically, as well as in Shakespeare's portrayal of him. Reading his works in Latin is both a delight and wonder. The propaganda of the Gallic Wars lays the foundation for wartime journalism, portraying the enemy as something slightly less than human and the cause of the invaders as something noble and enlightened. Having said this, one looks at the Bard's depiction of Caeser's assassination and his portrayal of Caeser as something different from History.
Sir John Gielgud was always stately in whatever role he played. He was an excellent Cassius in the 1955 version but seems a bit distanced in his role as the Dictator. One reviewer accuses him of being a ham and "overacting." Well, thanks for sharing that unshared opinion. Heston plays Moses playing Marc Anthony and Jason Robards grumbles his lines as Brutus. The real role that justifies the price of admission is that of the Brit, Richard Johnson whose angry, sullen Cassius stands out against Robards's wooden Brutus. Christopher Lee and Robert Vaughn both execute their roles splendidly as do the ladies, Jill Bennett and the ever lovely Diana Rigg. The pretty boy role of Octavius by Richard Chamberlain was merely OK and clumsy and the fight scenes seem a bit cranky compared to what we see today. But, we're in it for Shakespeare, not a shoot'em or garish cast of thousands recreating bloody battle scenes.
I prefer the 1955 version with the Ham of hams, Brando as Mark Antony and Louis Calhern as Caesar. There, the great Gielgud and a competent James Mason made the respective roles of the conspirators, Cassius and Brutus sparkle.
Three Priests (2008)
The Cain and Abel myth so well played out in East of Eden fails here. Due in part to a waste of talent like Wes Studi and Michael Parks as a Wheezy mumbling, bumbling father figure. The acting is OK but the script-- Ugh. The best thing I can say, is don't waste your time watching this confusing and confused tale of woe. Michael Parks is a talented actor but drove his ducks to a muddy pond on this outing.
I suppose the worst part of the encounter is the slow pace and lack of continuity where the sons either strut, Alexander Martin, or pout, Aaron Duffey. This sad attempt to lay out a family saga in the American Western tradition winds up with little tension and inspires very little interest in the characters. In short, it's boring and that's unforgivable.
Forget Me Not (1936)
Lots of fun
Gigli was a controversial singer and was not appreciated in New York, returned to Europe and did well for himself. A fireplug of a man with an Italian peasant frame, he was hardly cut out for hero roles but like his forebear, Enrico Caruso, when he opened his mouth and sang what came out was sheer delight. This film which as one reviewer noted does little for his singing and music spins together a bittersweet story of conflicted love, disappointed romance and some wonderful sentimental 30s story telling. It's never maudlin and though replete with sentiment, never overly sentimental. Interesting to note that the female villain, Jeanne Stuart was married to the Baron de Rothschild of the famous banking family and the heroine, Joan Gardner was married to the director, Zoltan Korda, brother of the famous Hungarian director, Alexander Korda.
This is a wonderful little film with some very pleasing moments and Gigli is a delight as the tenor.
Lesser of Three Evils (2007)
Are martial arts film makers so desperate that they will use any schlock storyline, a studio of unbelievable actors and horrible cinematography to put something together that actually passes as a movie? The only thing I can find amazing about this film is how did they every get the financing to pull it off? It's awful! The writing is bad, the acting is worse and the story (?)is even worse. There's nothing redeeming about this wretched attempt at a martial arts good-guy bad-guy face-off. The only believable performance was the by the female hired assassin who ends the film and she wasn't that good, proving again the old adage that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
Kind of a let down
Being a big Forsyth fan, I lapped this one up. The names, James Cromwell, Timothy Hutton and Sam Elliott sounded good and I knew the book. But, I'm afraid something happened in the scripting of Forsyth's book because this film goes from the precision, step by step thriller that is the book to a plodding, happenstance event that disappoints rather than satisfies. The premise of the book is based on the gutsy exploits of the tunnel rats in Viet Nam who went into the tunnels after the enemy. The movie builds on that but loses it in the wrap-up. The ending works on too many circumstantial contingencies and loses the planning and excitement of Forsyth's style. In short, in comes off not bad but rather mediocre. Too bad, as this film had a lot of talent to work with and an exciting thriller. Too bad the script writer didn't know how to put together a workable ending.
A superb Classic
Kurosawa's magic film is a composite of 2 Japanese short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa: One, "Rashomon," the title tells of a confrontation of a young man at Rashomon, the large, fortified gate at one entrance to Kyoto where people would abandon children and corpses; the other, yabu no naka ni, "In a Grove," tells of the confrontation between the bandit, the samurai and his wife, told from the point of view of the woodcutter. In 1950, Kurosawa weaves this tale of human vanity and duplicity with the young Toshiro Mifune, as the bandit, Machiko Kyo as the lady and Masayuki Mori as the samurai. The tale unfolds through the flashbacks in the narration of the great Takashi Shimura as the woodcutter, supported by character actors Minoru Chiaki as the monk and Kichijiro Ueda as the bum. Basically, with a cast of six and the stark settings of a woods and a dilapidated castle gate in pouring rain, Kurosawa the magician gives us four views of human vanity, excessive pride and cultural conflict. The foibles of human needs are exposed but redeemed in the final scene where the basic act of kindness brings closure to the bizarre display of greed, lust and mendacity that has gone before. For a Kurosawa film, this one is short, to the point with an economy of emoting-- for which Mifune was never accused of under doing and the viewer is left somewhat exhausted by all the twists and turns, confused by the mix of contradictions and seeming paradox, but satisfied with a feeling of hope.
Bikur Ha-Tizmoret (2007)
The cast is relatively unknown. The movie is a sleeper that slips in with little fanfare. I mean, Israeli? Egyptian? C'mon. And then, you see it and BINGO. Wow. What a little film. So many little things add to its texture of enjoyment. The whole plot starts on a pun which is likely missed by most. Arabic has no "p" sound. So, Arabs often substitute a "b" sound. So, when the newly arrived Alexandria Police Orhestra is not met to be taken to their destination and the hard-nosed director, Col. Tawfiq sends young, good-looking Halid to get ticket information to get to Payed al Hatikva, which, of course, in his and Halid's speech comes out as "Bayed al Hatikva," the ticket girl, who's receiving Halid's attention gives them tickets to Beit al Hativa, an out-of-the-way settlement pretty much on the outskirts of nowhere. The band lands in a state of confusion which is shared by the residents of this outpost and the culture clashes begin. The opening of the Jewish residents' homes to their former enemies is met with some reservations on both sides. The contacts of the band with the locals plays out in an overnight stay with the rigid, traditional Tawfiq going out on a date with an outgoing, free-living Israeli restaurant owner, Dina. The randy Halid tags along on a date with 2 young Israelis and winds up helping one of the men to learn to relax and break the ice with an equally shy, awkward young woman. Assistant director, Simon stays with unemployed Papi and his family for the evening, eventually breaking the ice with music and the warmth of parenthood. Tawfiq gains insight into his own rigidity and personal tragic history. The band leaves the next day, having gained new friends and new insights and leaving these friends with their insights. Assistant band leader Simon has found the missing end to his overture; Tawfiq has lightened up emotionally; and Dina and Halid have smiles on their faces as the band waves goodbye to Beit al Hativa, The house of Hope.
Pather Panchali (1955)
As an anthropologist who is a film buff, I'm always fascinated by films with solid ethnographic content. Ironically, I must confess that I had never seen Pather Panchali completely. The several times I started to watch the film, seemingly something arose during those few times and I never got very far into it. However, now in my senescent years, I finally got around to seeing it after realizing that I never had taken the time to see it. Having read about the trilogy and about Satyajit Ray, I look back and wonder why of all the classics I've seen, I'd overlooked these works of Ray. Maybe it was the trauma I experienced 50 years ago at UC Berkeley while taking a year of Sanskrit but I doubt it. I'll only say now I must have been saving it for a treat during my later years. And, what a treat! The film has a languid quality and moves slowly, listfully. The imagery is diffused due to in part the quality of the film but the eye of the camera misses nothing from shots of nature to a kitten stumbling and licking itself, to the old Auntie brushing away flies from her food. The starkness of their poverty does not affect the world of a little boy as it does his frustrated mother and sister. His father, a kind-hearted dreamer, seems resigned to his lot and is willing to take less to keep his sense of life and desire in balance. All of this life trajectory is classic Indian and Ray shows us to us through the camera's eye in a way that is moving, joyous and profound. This is their world and Ray lets us see it through their eyes. Akira Kurasawa called Ray a genius and we guess we could say, it took one to know one.
Race to Witch Mountain (2009)
Hey, don't believe the downers trashing this movie. It's fun. Non-action stop from beginning to the end. Dwayne Johnson, who finally shed his former wrestling nom de lutre, is a much better actor than people are willing to concede. He has a mobile face and uses his big body well with a lot more expression and ability than some of the other shoot'em up and knock-about action heroes. This film, a remake of the old Disney classics with a CGI uptake and story rewrite, is entertaining, engaging and full of witty little pieces for the watchful viewer. When the alien bad guy gets knocked for a loop and everyone ducks for cover and the 2 UFO-Trekkie-types rejoice, (Wow. Best convention ever!) and the one I liked best, one of the nerd bad guys named Analyst D. Pleasance, for the veteran character actor, Don Pleasance who played the bad guy in the Disney originals. Also, Irish actor, Ciaran Hinds makes a superb Man in Black Suit bureaucrat villain and lovable Cheech Marin as the sleepy mechanic gets his licks in too, albeit in a bit part. The beautiful Carla Gugino comes across as the UFO seeking academic and Director Garry Marshall as the nut case UFOligist makes for good comic relief. The two kids add the mixture with AnnaSophia Robb reminding me of one of my granddaughters and Alexander Ludwigs serious facial expression adding to the fun. I found this film fun from the get-go and recommend it highly.
In the Electric Mist (2009)
I can count on my fingers with half my hand cut away the number of times I've ever been disappointed by Tommy Lee Jones's performance in a film. This film here is no exception. John Goodman is another who always delivers a solid performance and they both give us a great show. The writing of the script is solid and the setting of the film is provoking. The entire film works well with support from veteran character actors like Ned Beatty, craggy faced James Gammon and ex-drummer Levon Helm, as well as younger performers like Mary Steenburgen, Justina Machado,Kelly Macdonald and the up and coming Peter Sargaard.
One might argue that this kind of a role is almost type casting for Tommy Lee Jones but I would argue otherwise. An actor works with what he has and TLJ has always been able to use his face to great advantage from a stone-cold glare to a sheepish grin. The story is told from his character's point of view, in this case, a person with an uncompromising sense of justice-- not a paragon of virtue, by any means, but one who refuses to sacrifice his principles of right and wrong, i.e., the hero with a decidedly human face. The tension does not let up as the hunt draws closer and closer to the conclusion. While I think the little coda at the end was unneeded, it still works to make a good story.
Ten Canoes (2006)
Amazing and Superb
As an anthropologist, I'm often faced with the task of trying to get my students to look at life through the eyes of someone from a different culture. Alas, many of the ethnographic films used are often presented in the format of "look at the friendly natives." There are exceptions, to be sure but over the years in the face of the absence of good ethnographic films, I've come to rely on good commercial films with a solid ethnographic content. Now, being a film buff as well as a social scientist, I've seen a lot of films. And, to be sure, there are some stinkers, e.g., overly romanticized or historically distorted portrayals of people in some cases, and sacrificed ethnographic facts in the spirit of "making a good story," in others. But, every once in a while a real gem comes along. Ten Canoes is such a film. The presentation and setting is authentic and the actors are all aboriginal Australians. The greatly talented David Gulpilil is joined by his son, Jamie and a crew of very talented and energetic Native Australians. The tale, based on Australian cultural lore is simple yet profound in the telling. The acting is subtle and devoid of Western theatrics. As a commercial film with a solid depiction of something from the multiplex cultures of Native Australian Aborigines, it is delightful to watch and fascinating to observe these people in the act of being themselves.
The Psychiatrist (1970)
As one who's familiar with psychiatry and the psychiatric interview, I remember seeing this short-live by excellent series with Roy Thinnes back in the days when TV was actually presenting some good theater, instead of parading a queue of wannabe pop artists or "reality" based jamokes in outlandish situations. Thinnes was excellent as the psychiatrist and the writing and directing was likewise superb. The plot lines of the stories had substance and dealt with real issues, like death, hopelessness and the feeling of irrelevant. Interestingly enough too, the interventions were completely consistent with what a psychiatrist would do and devoid of overly dramatic whiz-bang cures. I could moan all day about the departure of thoughtful drama from TV but I'll just suggest that you keep your eye peeled and if this little series ever pops up on your screen, watch it. You'll be glad you did.
Last Chance Harvey (2008)
Sentimental but not maudlin
What can we say about Dustie Hoffman and Emma Thompson? Here are 2 of the best in the profession laying out roles of two disaffected people who encounter in their disparate desperation and find in themselves something to come to grips with who they are. The interesting thing, is that this is a plot line that could be a stinker if played out wrong. The whole story drips with sentiment wrought by the conflict of aging, adrift in meaningless careers and embellished by the idea of being "losers." The story line has no great leaps, little action and unfolds in a potentially boring setting and what saves it is the performance of these two great veterans who give the yin and yang of two different people who compliment each other. This is a great movie. Go see it.
Seven Pounds (2008)
Being a cradle-Catholic, i.e., one who was raised in a strict Irish Roman Catholic tradition, and a product of Catholic schools, I can relate to guilt exceptionally well. Too, being an anthropologist specializing in myth and folklore, I can appreciate the mythic underpinnings of this rather disconnected tale, told in flashbacks sprinkled with tidbits of hints as to what is going on. So, without dipping into sermonizing or moralizing on the good or bad of self-sacrifice in the face of one having to redeem oneself, which concept I personally rationally reject, I can state that as a mythic premise for a story, this film works for the most part. Will Smith is a fine actor who refuses to steep himself in typecast roles and seems willing to try anything from being a cop, to a superhero. Rosario Dawson adds flavor as the feminine interest, as do Woody Harrelson and Barry Pepper, both excellent actors. The plot proceeds a little jerky at time with the bits of flashback to give the plot away and at times, the film moves rather slowly. However, the overall effect is favorable and most of the people in the theater seemed to leave emotionally touched by the dramatic ending, embracing the theme of redemption.
Kings of the Sun (1963)
In 1963 there was a number of Hollywood fantasies based on historical and cultural themes that made the conoscenti cringe. I mean, Mayans migrating to the Gulf Coast, other Mayans using iron artifacts, arriving in the new world and speaking the same language as the locals? Well, back in those Hollywood days in the middle sixties, audiences were not quite so demanding as now. So, George Chakiris, fresh from his West Side Story triumph and Yul Brynner, known now from a number of hits, are pitched against each other in a sixty's version of a martial arts film. Veteran character actors like Barry Morse (Gerard of The Fugitive), Brad Dexter, Richard Basehart and Ford Rainey are seen sprinkled among the good guys and classic Villain, Leo Gordon heads the bad guys. The beautiful Shirley Anne Field offers the feminine interest in a departure from her roles in grade B movies and adds to the pageantry of the film. And, the usual cast of hundreds provides some nice texture and action to off-balance Brynner's hamming it up in the close-ups. This is a fine old film that doesn't have legs that was entertaining in its time. It is available but be warned: this film would be definitely grade B fare today.
A Stranger Among Us (1992)
Potentially, a good film
Great story. Nice plot line but the whole thing falls on its butt because of Melanie Griffith's weak acting. Truth is, she's a beautiful woman with a fine china fragility but simple doesn't know how to create another persona using her body, her voice or timing. Eric Thal comes across nicely as a young Haddic rabbinical student steeped in tradition and torn by the feelings that any young male would feel in the presence of someone as sexual attractive Melanie Griffith. The writing is fine and yes, it does repeat the story line of Harrison Ford's Witness. So what? They were both good stories about marginalized communities within our great society, one rural (the Amish) and one urban (The Haddidim). In both films, the internal richness of the social bonding within these closed communities is shown in contrast to the helter-skelter on and off relationships in our self-confessed "liberated" society.
It's too bad that Melanie Griffith, whose films I keep going to see in hopes she will eventually learn to act, does not have what it takes. Maybe her relationship with the Spanish Actor, Antonio Banderas, will lead to some improvement. My heart goes out to her.
One reviewer remarked how "Ed Harris understands (the) Western (genre)" I couldn't agree more. This film is a delight. The writing is solid, the dialog sparked with humor, the heroes are more than caricatures and cardboard cut-outs, the villains are worthy anti-heroes and the back-up is wonderful. The performances of Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen and Jeremy Irons as the main protag-/antagonists are sterling. Harris is the lonely paladin, uncompromising in his ethic, drawn in by the warmth and softness of a needful woman, artfully and convincingly played by Renee Zellweger; Mortensen is the slightly jaded sidekick who both respects and doesn't completely understand his hero. A parallel villain is offered by Lance Henrikson, a kind of poor man's Clint Eastwood, giving an interesting twist to the story. Some comic relief is offered by veteran character actor, James Gammon and fine British actor Timothy Spall without reducing the tension in the story line or reverting to a burlesque. The mythic theme of the knight-errant works well in this presentation brought to light by the competent direction of Ed Harris. My only fear is that it being devoid of ballet-type ritual killings, CGI and only a mild spattering of violence, it will likely fly under the radar of much of today's theater goers, which is a shame. It's a fine film.