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Dangerous Minds (1995)
Memorable and down memory lane
One reviewer said "unless you lived the life," and others said what they thought, and yet it got a total of 6 among 72 voices.
I'm giving it an 8 and I believe it reverberated as "true" and "truth" with one exception: teachers often love their students and give them candy, but the likelihood of a teacher overcoming the system is nil; hence the story portrays truth among students and teacher, but totally fails to address how a teacher who cares, and cares as much as this one did, overcame the bureaucracy and went on teaching.
The performances were great across the board and a movie worth seeing more than once.
Mr. Fry as Oscar Wilde is magnificent, marvelous, realistic and believable from start to finish. The cast from his mother, with too infrequent appearances by Vanessa Redgrave, his beautiful wife, Constance (Jennifer Ehle) and his boys, all evoked the Wilde I imagined.
Alfred Douglas (Jude Law) was just a little too pretty perhaps, and Robbie Ross (Michael Sheen) glowed in his warm friendship until the end, and certainly from the beginning.
We've had other terrific films about English laws about homosexually and their rigidity, but this story is not imagined but the real life of an imaginative, spirited, true to himself man.
I couldn't help weeping for Oscar as I watched Fry go from the bon vivant to the prisoner.
I have only one objection to the film and it is the ending. Lord Alfred Douglas was a selfish man, with few scruples, and let Oscar Wilde down badly and unconscionably. This is not well conceived at the film's conclusion by expressing a joyous reunion rather the truth of Douglas' shameful behavior.
Rather true to the Lennox family history; many have described it as excellent in many ways, and it was. However, changing gears in the last of the six-part series with totally different performers as well as story lines, took the vote down one or two pegs for me.
I was fascinated by the relationships between and among the different family factions and how they resolved each over the course of the series. Some of the characters were more sympathetic than others, and I especially took a fancy to Edward, Emily's son and Capt. Napier, Sarah's second husband.
I will go after the book as it appears that even now we have aristocrats in the Lennox line these many years later and I'd like to know more about a family that created renegades, generals, politicians and romance.
Bertie and Elizabeth (2002)
Counterpoint to Wallis
Although some of the reviewers find the film lacking, I was overjoyed to see a somewhat different point of view from the Wallis versions. I caught two this week. While I have no historical perspective of either side, those films and this make for a somewhat balanced perspective of the tragic and comedic episode in the lives of the brothers, David and Bertie.
The Bertie I meet here is absolutely charming, with a supportive wife, and rather bright daughters. And the Wallis Simpson here is absolutely loathsome. It is here and here alone her possible shallowness and spite are raised against (Queen) Elizabeth, the Royals in general, and fleshes out her own self importance not seen elsewhere. She appears unlikeable, unsupportable and unattractive in all ways.
Clearly, history will be forthcoming when more of the Windsor family have left the stage, but this wee film made possible to uncover some of the distinct differences between the two Kings and brothers. Bertie, George VI, comes off rather well, all things considered and David (Edward VIII) comes out smelling like Henry VIII without his massive fangs.
Another reviewer seemed to object to the introduction of Queen Wilhelmina and President Roosevelt, but I for one as a former resident, loved seeing the engaging Dutch Queen's presence as an escaped Royal because up until now I was rather ashamed she had abandoned ship. And it didn't hurt but rather help to get a peek into a possible personal conversation between the King and the American President about war and politics.
I rather wonder if Edward VIII would have stuck it out with his Duchess during air- raids and bombs, and as neither of them seemed likely to have children together, they wouldn't have to face the choices Bertie and Elizabeth faced.
The film moves slowly, but it enabled me to catch my breath and reflect on the possibilities of this being history not fiction or a film. I felt proud of this formerly stuttering King, his understanding and down to earth Queen and the English people. Perhaps I am sentimental, or even foolish to think they behaved thus, and naive to get caught up, tears in my eyes, as the plot unfolded, but if I am I say I feel satisfied with this tiny entry into this particular part of English history even without all the dirty laundry that accompanied the era, the abdicated and the vileness of broken promises.
Perhaps one day we'll see a more fleshed out Bertie and Elizabeth or the truth about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, but until then I'm rather satisfied with this one.
Glorious 39 (2009)
Unless you have been betrayed by family this film may seem contrived. Unless you know or understand history you might feel the plot exaggerated.
But the plot seems close to some family's reality in 1939 and the little details are accurate, such as those wonderful automobiles and that retched identification card proclamation that ended in the 50s.
Pity though that the writer and director, Mr. Stephen Poliakoff, didn't step farther away from the ladder and jump into the sea of controversies that swelled around in Great Britain, the United States and elsewhere before the Allies became first one, then three.
Several of the symbols are tame, while some of the mystery is riveting as the protagonist, the adopted daughter of the upper middle class Keyes family, Anne (Romola Sadie Garai) struggles to understand whether her family is involved in what seems like an enormous plot, at any cost, to stop war and the elevation of Sir Winston Churchill.
The cast is quite good, and the dark horse villain Joseph Balcombe (Jeremy Philip Northam) is superb, although too little explored in the film.
What might have been stellar becomes just good when one realizes the missed opportunity of exposing, more boldly, how countries and countrymen, will stop at nothing in the name of nationalism, or to protect their lifestyle.
I suppose in another 65 years we might get to read or see the truth of our government complicity in war and peace, but by then I'll be sleeping with those who dared to ask for answers.
Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
A rare glimpse into the past
A huge number of reviews and seemingly all different; perhaps mine will be similar to others but regardless I had to comment. My review is personal as I grew up at the tail end of the 50s, but so close that I ingested all the prejudices against women's role(s) in a larger society out side the home.
I felt the girls in that senior class at Wellesley in 1953 and remember how in 1998 I spent a glorious summer week at the school attending a workshop. The school is among one of the most beautiful, set just far away from Boston and the train as to have it disappear, but close enough to commute. Wellesley in the 90s was certainly different but the bondage of the 50s was palpable in the dining hall, among the alumni, in the tone of each interaction and in the rules of decorum.
I doubt that Ms. Watson would have been permitted the latitude she received that first semester, but I do see how the Bettys, Joans, Connies and Giselles would have behaved then in all the ways the film portrays from the fussy, overbearing mother to the vindictive editorials that could and did destroy careers (not unlike Hellman's play,"Children's Hour" circa 1934) and get away with it. Family money and social standing was the cornerstone for acceptance.
The film did work a little too hard, perhaps, in portraying stereotypes, and that emphasis on the sexually promiscuous Jewess (Gyllenhaal) described in the last scenes as the "Kike from New York" may be over the top, but not so far from the top to scream out, "that's the way it was," and utterly offensive. In the 50s, it was uncommon for people of the Jewish faith to enroll and be accepted in tony schools like Wellesley.
Julia Roberts as Ms. Watson did a fine job, but it was the girls that shined for me, and became real life students working through all the proscribed patterns of their day. Joan was brave but Betty was remarkable in her conversion and gleaned knowledge that marriage is only the answer when it is a good marriage, not one of convenience. Divorce in the 50s was nearly unheard of and it took a unique amount of courage to venture in that direction and not fall off the societal cliff so many women cling to with desperation.
Perhaps the film isn't for everyone, but I am so pleased I saw it as it reminded me of what I don't miss and what changes have occurred for educated women.
Elizabeth R (1971)
40 Years Later
After 40 years, Elizabeth R appears more aged than the Gloriana herself, that is, of course, with the exception of the remarkable Glenda Jackson. Ms. Jackson holds court as Elizabeth I and holds court, still, as a magnificent actress. It is she and she alone that propelled me to watch the entire six episodes pausing frequently, to ponder its style, its eloquent speeches, its Shakespearean acting and its colourful, but rather old fashioned costumes.
As in many BBC productions one feels as if we are in a small theatre, peering into the faces of the performers rather than in an expansive set, especially in this production that seems to have few sets, and fewer views of anything much outside the chambers of the Queen's court. We get a rare view of Ireland in the final episode, but it was short lived and not sufficient to my mind to feel anything but claustrophobic for most of the series.
And as with all fashion, the costumes, both Elizabeth's and most particularly the male courtiers, are out of date and in the case of the tall, but massive Robin Ellis, Duke of Essex, and Elizabeth's second best after her famous Robbie, Robert, Earl of Leichester, nearly farcical.
What was a delightful remembrance, however, is the depth and breadth of English drama, be it theatre, television or film. The English excel at developing and cultivating performers (actors) that are unmatched by Hollywood. In this presentation names of some of those long remembered appear in supporting roles to the Queen: Michael Williams as Anjou; Rachel Kempson (Michael Redgrave's wife and the matriarch of the Redgrave family) as Kat Ashley; among others. I salute them one, and all.
The story itself may be the closest to history, but with so many showings of Elizabeth I since this production, it is difficult to give this version more applause, except in recognition that it attempted what few adaptations chose to do, that is, recreate a full picture of the Queen of England.
Too literal a translation, perhaps?
It was not an easy film to watch, but watch it, I did. I did because I read Rhys in the 60s, and the book that drove this film among them. It does follow that story, but perhaps as other reviewers noted translating the novel to the screen was too much, too soon, or too literal.
Smith carries the film, while Bates and Adjani appear overly dramatic and disconnected as lovers.
The desperation of Marya (Adjani) is somewhat trivialized, while the Paris in which the story unfolds is nearly glorified but presented exactly how I image it in the 20s & 30s. Marya, while not literally Jean Rhys herself, is a reasonable facsimile and her doomed relationship with her first husband, and Ford Madox Ford became the basis of Quartet. In thinking about how the story plays out I remember how vulnerable and lost the author was and how much of herself she stuffed into her writing. But in that writing was a subtlety that did not translate onto the screen.
I gave it perhaps too high a vote, but it gets this 7 for its Ivory-Merchant treatment of painterly beauty which I always admire.
The Virgin Queen (2005)
Duff shines as Elizabeth
Another version of a Tudor, Elizabeth I, the Gloriana, done up quite splendidly by the BBC.
The strongest aspect, as I viewed it, was neither the story, the costumes or the scenes, but the bold performance of Anne Marie Duff. She glows as a young Elizabeth, and displays strength and vanity as her aging self. Yes, the make-up could have been better, or as one suggested an alternate older actress, but the pace of Duff's performance was incrementally finer, than finer still, as she reached deeper into her character. And if one seeks out a miniature of the Queen, one sees a remarkable resemblance between the Queen and the actress.
Dudley, portrayed by Hardy, was a good foil; his perhaps son, but certainly step son, Essex portrayed by Hans Matheson, were interestingly cast, not so much by the actors but rather for the dramatic interpretation brought to each character. It is only bested by the old Bette Davis version of Elizabeth and Essex in spotlighting how the Virgin Queen sought male affection, but rebuffed any control but her own.
What burden the Queen, a bastard, a princess, and then a monarch must have endured in her private life, a life often dismissed for her political reign, or exaggerated for her fancy of her childhood friend, Robbie.
A most worthy addition to the pantheon of Tudor drama.
The Prince and the Pauper (1977)
Funny, fast and fantastical
While many have mentioned the young Tom/Edward was poorly played or cast, I found that this seeming parody of Twain's Prince and the Pauper undoubtedly needed an older version to meet head-on with the presentation.
It has many laugh out loud moments, stylised performances by Reed, Harrison, Heston and others, all of whom support the young 19 year old Mark Lester, as he leads a thoroughly miserable few days as a pauper. His portrayal of the Prince is sturdier, but both sides of the role are engrossing and satisfying. Scott is outstanding as the Ruffler and Borgnine is true to his reputation as nasty John Canty. In fact, it is these performances, over-sized and bold that add to my notion of it's parody quality.
Reed is terrific as the rough and ready, but not always successful Miles Hendron, and the few scenes in which Harrison appears as the notorious Duke of Norfolk are nearly as hilarious as his claim to fame role as Professor Henry Higgins.
The plot line moved quickly across the screen, the costumes and scenery added to the character of the film, which in some ways nearly appeared as a theatre piece and a mighty good one at that.
We owe Mark Twain much credit for the concept, but this production makes it glow with humour and originality.
Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant (2009)
Tyrant or Tortured?
A well researched documentary by British historian, David Starkey, in four episodes, outlines Henry VIII's early life, growing maturity, love(s) and aging tyranny. It makes good use of extant documents in European libraries, most especially in Britain that shed light on Henry's interests, obsessions, upbringing and political affairs. It brings into sharp contrast the second son's education in 16th century England to the first, and where it can or may have played no little role in Henry's adulthood.
While the emphasis is on Henry VIII, his associates and family members proved so essential within his realm, Starkey elucidates, to some measure, their history with regards to the King, and how they informed the reign, in particular, his father and mother, and court counsellors.
The documentary draws no specific conclusion regarding the mind of Henry, called tyrant, but rather searches for how a man described by Sir Thomas More as "perfect" could develop into a ruler with little restraint and often callous disregard for life or limb, in both the literal or figurative sense.
Some blame Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn; others challenge Katherine of Aragon's persistent refusal of Henry's entreaties to give up her wifely and queenly titles, and others still blame one or another of the King's advisors: Wolsey, Cromwell, More or even the Duke of Suffolk, a childhood friend.
But in the end, none of us know what motivates the other, and even with the exhaustive research of a seasoned historian, Starkey makes it no clearer how the sensitive King of 1509 who wrote poetry and songs, laughed, loved and inspired, became one of England's most ruthless monarchs.
This failure does not detract from the documentary, but rather makes for more inquiry or self examination of individual temperament.
Era notte a Roma (1960)
Complicated and intelligent
Although it has its faults, as described in the review above, it is also a complex, intelligent document of the war. With Rome as a symbolic backdrop, three POWs arrive into the safe, but reluctant arms of a smuggler, and hide during an unspecified time just before the Allies reach the City.
All of the characters speak in their own tongue, which is the complicated part, but it is not without its sense of authenticity in the circumstances. But even with these language and cultural barriers, the main characters create several dynamic exchanges.
The pace is slow; the color bleak; the dialog often abbreviated; the relationships in doubt; yet, ultimately, we come to understand the forest of emotion we all experience during crisis, and war is among the most severe of crises.
The Italian female lead is engaging and the British Major congenial. The Italians are splendid as both collaborator and rescuer. The Germans play a less significant role, but they remain the fodder for how choices are made of who will live or die, even as the war draws near to the end.
The last 20 minutes are spellbinding as those choices are crystallized and strengthened by honesty, integrity and treachery.
The Day After (1983)
True to life
I didn't see this film when it first aired, but 27 years later and it left me with great sorrow.
Some people are empathic about what they would do or not do in a crisis of this magnitude--nuclear attack--but unless we are actually in a situation like this all we are doing is hoping we'd rise to the occasion(s) set before us.
What was real for me were the human emotions, which others felt contrived, but for me spoke volumes about what we find most important in crisis.
It made perfect sense to me for people to want to go "home" and/or to find loved ones; it seemed reasonable that those most affected by radiation would suffer, the more exposure, the greater the sickness. It also made sense for the government to offer platitudes and for Agri-representatives to offer palliative solutions to the farmers with real questions and serious concerns. And as painful as it was, it made sense to see and hear folks try to hold onto what they had, and die for their longing.
What doesn't make sense is that after 27 years we can all imagine with clarity that these events could happen between or among nations.
I commend Robards and the cast for low-key but superlative acting in this truly memorable film.
Here Is Germany (1945)
Now 65 years old, this documentary (by Frank Capra) is a combination of history and propaganda--where the line ends or begins is beyond my limited knowledge. However, it was fascinating to watch and piece together where Germany was in 1945 and where it is today.
Particularly educational were some of the words used by 3 generations of German leadership all favoring strong nationalism and expansionism whilst extolling German superiority.
Two weaknesses or strengths, depending on the viewers' point of view, is no mention of the atrocities of World War II and no comparisons between Germany and other expansionist countries (including the USA).
I recommend it as a piece of the past, but not to be taken on faith as either accurate or prize worthy as it paints Germany in too harsh a light.
I saw this film in Massachusetts, on a weekend retreat, with nearly a dozen women with HIV/AIDS. If I recall correctly 80% of the women were African American (Black).
It is for these women, and their courage to survive, I rate the film with a ten. Each left the theatre empowered and emotional.
It may not have been as realistic as their lives, but it was and is a good stand in for how people were and are treated when they have a disease people associate with shame.
Hanks and Washington were a magnificent team. The balance of power of the two attorneys, their racial and social differences added a second level of sensitivity and dimension to the themes of the film.
It is one of those films that exceeds the teachable moment.
Steal a Pencil for Me (2007)
Wat leuk is a Dutch expression that translated to "how wonderful," or precisely "how nice."
I resonated to this tender, charming documentary of two Jewish young adults, living and growing up in Amsterdam, who suffered the trials of a transit camp and a concentration camp, surviving on their love letters.
Hope is a precious commodity in times of utter despair, and these two admirable survivors exhibit a love of life and a depth of understanding that transcends the pain and sorrow of the Holocaust.
I am certain this film will fill me up with possibilities as few documentaries or films of this era can provide.
I felt honoured they permitted the making of their story to share with us all.
Crimes of the Heart (1986)
What a wonderful pitcher of lemonade
This is the south, true and simply amazingly illuminating. The three sisters, each unique in their own quirky way, adore each other as they resent each other. But the beauty is their coming together in those family moments when nothing is as good as kin.
So much sunshine lights on the faces and expressions of the actresses, and the tension, though slow, makes for a more interesting look into the inner life of Lenny, Babe and Meg.
The supporting case all did fine jobs, and although short lived, the interaction between Lange & Shepard magnified their personal connection.
Harper, the harpy, uppity cousin, was as typical as a cousin could get in a small town with know-it-all manners and nothing much to offer but spite. She played it for all it was worth, and then some, and get a head's up from the Academy.
Babe's character played by Sissy Spacek, was perhaps the central figure in the triumvirate, but Keaton and Lange held their own throughout.
A most worthy southern tale to laugh at, cry with and relate to with ease.
Although the series did not get re-upped for a second season, I found it so many years later to be both inspiring, sensitive and tender.
Starman, played by Mr. Hayes, came to life and captivated me into believing an alien can take on human form and excel in all the ways we hope humanity can behave. His expressions of tenderness, not only for his son, Scott, admirably played by Barnes, but all of those he encountered was an inspiration to be more open to all human frailty.
The drama was low pitched but the messages in each episode finely drawn and memorable.
It is a pity that the simple messages in a series like this are not more appreciated and valued.