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Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
One of Woody Allen's Best
I have to say, unequivocally, that this is one of Woody Allen's best movies. This is simply one of his standout efforts in his large canon of films. There are some very interesting, and deep, ideas being bandied about, but the beauty of the setting, the cinematography, the costumes and, in particular, the actors, somewhat diffuses Allen's sharp dialog and often dark take on the world, on love, even on God.
This is not a light-hearted film, though it often seems so. It is almost too visually beautiful for its own good. Distracting from the philosophy of it.
The burden of delivering Allen's sharpest dialog is given over to the capable hands of Colin Firth. He has a razor's edge to walk in this film. He must deliver some very negative, misanthropic views, all the while keeping the audience invested in his character of Stanley. Stanley is a jerk and an unreconstructed egotist who delivers acid-tipped barbs at the other characters. So, he must have charm and disarming good looks in order for the viewer to ultimately care about him. He must also show hints of vulnerability. Firth is pitch perfect throughout. (Side note: Woody Allen has said he wrote this part with Firth in mind to play Stanley, and, after some maneuvering, was able to get him for the part. Allen said he just didn't think anyone else could have done it. I completely agree.)
One complaint about this film is the age difference of the two leads, but I never had a problem with it. Emma Stone plays older. Colin Firth plays younger. They match up well.
Stone is, if not perfect for the part of Sophie, quite good. She is an actress who always delivers.
One of the outstanding, and totally winning, parts in this film is played by the inimitable Eileen Atkins. She matches Firth wit for wit and their scenes together are the best in the film, with the brilliant dialog given to them. I could watch an entire movie with just those two in it. They are that good together.
I can't end without saying, see this movie without pre-prejudice. Enjoy its beauty, but take in the written dialog. It seems many who disliked the film (looking at YOU, professional critics) missed the point. I don't understand the vitriol aimed at it, and that, sadly, influenced how it did at the box office, which was, to say the least, not great.
I am one who is ready for Magic in the Moonlight Part 2, Stanley Takes on the World. (With Aunt Vanessa along, of course!)
Who is Steve?
The question here is -- Who is Steve? It is ultimately left to the viewer to decide. Is he just a lonely, pushy, but harmless man? Is he a loner with more going on than meets the eye? Is he a symbol of the increasing isolation our plugged in culture creates? Rupert Friend has written a puzzle of a short film, and has wisely chosen probably the best actor of his (our?) generation, Colin Firth, to portray the strange man in the yellow sweater whose intrusions on the lives of the other two characters grows increasingly alarming. There are gradual revelations of character here from all three involved. All is not what it seems at the beginning. Watching the subtle changes in the appearance of Steve are part of the texture the director (Friend) has created and give some insight, possibly, to what is going on. It is worth seeking out this film, just for the riveting performance of Mr. Firth.
Needs to be Watched More Than Once
This is a movie that bears watching more than once. I found it interesting and absorbing, but needed a second (and probably will need a third) viewing of it to probe its depths.
Ultimately it lets the viewer interpret events and decide what is happening, has happened, or may not be happening at all.
There are clues throughout that I completely missed on first viewing. While I can appreciate what the director and writer involved were trying to convey -- a shattered mind and its perception in the person of an always excellent Colin Firth -- I can see where seeing it once and walking away confused and put off would be a common reaction.
I truly liked seeing Firth go back to his early days of challenging acting roles and getting away from the romantic leads he often plays. He is key to appreciating this movie because everything is seen through the prism of his character --including all the other people with whom he may, or may not, be sharing his world. He is in every single scene.
If the viewer is intrigued by seeing this puzzler of a film, then I recommend having a second go as much, much more is revealed, though not necessarily resolved. The solving of it is left, ultimately, to the viewer.
I liked this puzzle of film very much.
Superb Cast in a Well Told Story
This is yet another hard-to-find film that is very much worth a re-issue. Right now, copies can be purchased on VHS, but not on DVD. A pity, really, since this deserves a new audience for at least two of its stars who have subsequently gone on to Academy Award winning performances, in addition to multiple awards for other roles, long after "Hostages" was made. While Kathy Bates plays to type in very much a secondary role, Colin Firth is a revelation. So much of his early work is far beyond any of the romantic leads he has played post "Pride and Prejudice", though he has managed the challenging and/or quirky part here and there to keep him from being completely typecast.
This film works on many levels and, though it was controversial at the time because of its fact/fiction telling of the story, it really stands up as a dramatic and powerful work on its own, largely because of its stellar cast and its searing tale of ordinary men, caught up in a world-gone-crazy, circa 1980's Lebanon and Middle East turmoil.
There is a revelatory book-ended moment at the beginning and end of this film, where the character of John McCarthy, played by Firth, is chained naked in a cell and completely freaks out over the roaches crawling all over. Towards the end of the film, he offhandedly flicks a roach off his bare chest, in a gesture of accepting boredom. This pretty much sums up the journey these hostages make in their 5+ years' life as captives in a hellish world that they must, eventually, accept, or wither away.
The horrible indignities and hideous living conditions these men are forced to endure contrast glaringly with the mundane, bureaucratic world their relatives and loved ones move through in their efforts to save them, year after painful year.
The story that is ultimately told, against all the real world politics, violence, and terrorism, is that what saves these men in their filthy hell-hole living conditions, is their grasp on what makes them sane. And the fact that they could bond with each other and share the horrors of what befell them every day. One of their greatest fears eventually became simply being alone.
Ciaran Hinds as Irishman Brian Keenan relies on his anger and rage and, eventually the close bond formed with Firth's John McCarthy to get him through the endless days and years. Hinds is a powerhouse in this role and the chemistry with Firth is a very important aspect of what makes this movie work.
Colin Firth plays the fresh-faced young reporter, who eventually becomes a man, as one who learned to find humor and levity in the worst of circumstances. Bruised. Beaten. He manages to rise above and even take things cheerfully upon occasion. I am not sure of a better moment in his long, superb career, though, that matches the look on his face when he sees his fiancée, played by Natasha Richardson, talking about him on a TV the captors allow them to use briefly in their cell. Every emotion in the book is reflected in his face and it is heart-rending.
The other hostages are more famous in the US -- Terry Anderson , Terry Waite, and Frank Reed -- played by Jay O. Sanders (in a touching performance), Conrad Asquith, and Harry Dean Stanton (fantastic in his performance as well). All find ways to bond with each other, and cling to what makes them sane individually. Realistically, some of their attributes are portrayed as irritating or dull, but all understandable in their situation.
There are amazing, and harrowing moments to be had in this production. Besides the beatings and indignities, the young guards use a particularly ingenious and horrible method of moving their prisoners, wrapped head to toe in packing tape. This nearly killed the hostages as often their breathing was obstructed in their coffin-like compartments. How they survived this is a head-scratcher, but they did.
I can't praise this HBO production highly enough. If one is a fan of any of the actors involved, it is a must-see/must-have movie.
Again, having it released onto DVD would be terrific, but I doubt this will ever happen.
In Praise of Superb Acting
"Tumbledown" is yet another film in the list of some of Colin Firth's early works that needs to be made available for viewing in the US, in some fashion, now. I was able to get a copy and it was a revelation to me. Various reviewers here have given excellent account of the entire film and its historical context, so I would like to zero in on the acting of Firth, as Robert Lawrence.
Anyone who has an image of Firth only as Mr. Darcy, both "Pride and Prejudice" and "Bridget Jones" versions, being the essence of his acting really needs to try to see this amazing early work of this actor. There are plenty of other examples of the great potential that led to the pinnacle of his success as an actor in "A Single Man" and "The King's Speech", but in this film, he is simply a force of nature. You forget completely that he was not actually a partially paralyzed man. The viewers also need to have conveyed to them the emotions and feelings that can only be done so through the eyes and facial expressions of the actor, and not every actor is as accomplished as Mr. Firth in this regard. He showed, even in his twenties, that not just a great actor was in the making, but was already fully formed.
There are wonderful supporting performances in this as well, particularly the Lawrence parents, played by David Calder and Barbara Leigh-Hunt. Their love for their son, mixed with the emotions of needing to let him be in his life, along with the frustration at his circumstances, is beautifully and poignantly portrayed.
Note must also be made of a fine performance by Paul Rhys as the good friend of Lawrence, often helpless in the hurricane of emotions that make up his blustery, gung-ho, and eventually badly damaged friend and fellow officer.
If one is any sort of fan of Colin Firth, "Tumbledown" is a must-see. Simple as that.
I believe this film is still available in the UK on DVD, and US Region copies exist. This viewer is wishing this, along with several of Firth's other films, could be made available in the US. The deeper talents of this actor need to be on equal display with to the lighter fare that originally brought him success in the US.
Donovan Quick (2000)
One Worth Finding and Watching
Sadly, some of Colin Firth's best work is hard-to-impossible-to-find in any format. This is one such film and it is such an exceptional piece of work on all levels. It needs to see the light of day on DVD.
The cast is wonderfully realized by all involved. Ditto the plot with a head-turner of a twist ending.
Firth is such an amazing actor and nuance is extremely important to this film. He succeeds in this, but it is no surprise if one has seen any of his earlier, also sometimes obscure, work. He conveys more in a look than most actors can in dialog and over-the-top emoting.
I will have to add to these comments kudos to the exceptional Katy Murphy who shares the spotlight with Firth at the center of this story.
This is a modern day telling of the Don Quixote story, but also much more. It is also about triumph and will and, ultimately, great poignancy.
I would recommend seeing this film if at all possible, if it can be found. Firth was and is such a versatile actor, long before he became a leading man. Tumbledown, Hostages, A Month in the Country, Donovan Quick -- must-see films if you truly want to see the range of the man who has since received the accolades for being the actor he always was.
Main Street (2010)
Great Cast with Disappointing Results
A few first things first. One. What were these very fine actors thinking, appearing in this movie? All due respect to the great Horton Foote, but, honestly.... Did anyone read the script beforehand? Or was it originally good and then cut back to the shell of a story that this movie became? Two. The Southern accents of its two British leads, Colin Firth and Orlando Bloom. Much has been written and criticized about them. I am a Texan. I had no problem with either of these actors' renditions of Texas and North Carolina accents respectively. I have known north Texas guys who sounded very much like the twangy, nasally Mr. Firth. That said, Bloom carries off this requirement with much more ease, in my view. My quarrel is in the casting, or MIS-casting, of Mr. Firth in the first place. If they needed a big, tall, good-looking guy who happened to be Texan, I think maybe there are several American actors who could have filled that bill. Or, in view of the BP oil spill, he could have convincingly remained British. (Though I think this movie's filming preceded that tragedy. It also was filmed prior to Firth's triumphant roles in "The King's Speech" and I would think "A Single Man" as well.)
The other actors/actresses, who are all fine in their own right, were woefully underused.
These actors struggle mightily against a truly tepid plot. No one comes off really well because there is no there, there. Stories are truncated or non-existent, or simply have some sort of quick resolution which no part of the story leads to in the first place. I won't go into detail about the plot of this movie, since it is so thin, but I would imagine a Lifetime cable movie with unknown actors could have pulled this off equally well. In brief: Big bad company and its big bad Texas rep comes to a small town where a sweet cop, his sorta sweetheart, an old lady and her niece, and a sad city council all strive to keep their lives going in a dying town. Texan, Gus, offers rewards and happiness in return for storing, y'know, a few lil' ol' barrels of bad stuff in the old lady's warehouse, which he has leased.
I won't go into the nutty notion of grown children living with their parents and there being maybe a problem for them getting out on their own. Or the change of heart Gus gets in the blink of an eye to help wrap this thing up -- dust off hands -- the end.
I am a fan of Firth, Bloom, Tamblyn, Burstyn and Clarkson and wishing this had never come their way or that they had chosen not to appear in it. My only guess is, they felt it had the potential to be something very good and they ended up participating in something they may not want to mention in the catalog of their individual careers.
A Month in the Country (1987)
A Very Special Film
One cannot add much to some of the excellent reviews for this film here already. (So please read them!) It is NOT an easy film to find, and, great pity, should be! It belongs in any collection that boasts films from both Firth and Branagh.
I loved its slow-moving, but emotionally moving, pace. The performances are simply superb. From everyone.
It tells the tale, ultimately, of two shattered survivors of World War I whose path back to the world is taken a step at a time. It is technically Firth's movie and what a performance from him, still in his 20's. It is thrilling to experience how he totally immerses himself in a part and becomes one with every aspect of his character. Seeing him here lets the viewer experience the early years of someone becoming a great actor and, subsequently, one of the best of his generation. It is still a mystery to me why Colin Firth has chosen some of the parts he played in films over the years, because such amazing potential in him was so very obvious in this part of the quiet, shy, shaken Mr. Birkin.
One side note, not sure if it is a spoiler, but I was very interested in the depiction of the returning veteran with the stammer. A bit of foreshadowing to Firth's incredible performance in "The King's Speech" over two decades later. One thread in TKS deals with King George's speech therapist, Lionel Logue, who achieved his skill and reputation working with stammering returning veterans of WWI, exactly of the ilk the young Colin Firth played in this movie.
Much is made of the sun-drenched, dreamy setting in Yorkshire and it is also very much a part of what sustains these two damaged boys and helps them along in recovery.
I would say this is one film in the catalog of Colin Firth that should NOT be missed. And there is hope on my part it becomes as readily available as some of his work in forgettable films. (Though he is always, always good in every performance.)
This film, to me, is unforgettable. As others have said in reviews here. It bears watching multiple times. That is the ultimate compliment.
Styx: Kilroy Was Here (1983)
Great Little Sci-Fi Mini Epic
The entire Styx project for Kilroy Was Here was blasted by critics. However, many fans of Styx loved the album, the concert and especially this cool, little humorous film that provided exposition for the entire concept, which, in many ways was ahead of its time. The Sci-fi look was very atmospheric, steam flowing from vents, dark interiors, principals lighted from below.
The Robotos, who stroll around the shipboard "prison", were designed by special effects wizard Stan Winston.
None of these singers could act, but I got a kick out of watching them anyway. And DeYoung and Shaw were certainly easy on the eyes.
I will always appreciate the work Brian Gibson did on this little film.