28 April 2013

Hamlet (Almereyda 2000)

Hamlet 2000
  • Director: Michael Almereyda
  • Based on book: Shakespeare.
  • Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles, Diane Venora, Kyle MacLachlan, Sam Shepard, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Karl Geary, Steve Zahn
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Ethan Hawke – Before Sunset, Tape, Snow Falling on Cedars, Gattaca, Before Sunrise, Reality Bites, Waterland, A Midnight Clear, Dead Poets’ Society
    • Julia Stiles –Mona Lisa’s Smile, The Bourne Identity, O, 10 Things I Hate About You, Wide Awake
    • Diane Venora – Romeo and Juliet, Surviving Picasso, Heat, Bird, Ironweed, Hamlet (Kline 1990)
    • Kyle MacLachlan – Snow Falling on Cedars, The Pelican Brief, Paris, Texas,
    • Bill Murray - Darjeeling Limited, Broken Flowers, Lost in Translation, The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, Cradle Will Rock, Rushmore, Ed Wood, Groundhog Day, What About Bob?, Ghostbusters
    • Liev Schreiber – Repo Men, Taking Woodstock, Defiance, Kate and Leopold
    • Steve Zahn    Riding in Cars with Boys, Happy Texas, You’ve Got Mail, SubUrbia, Reality Bites,
  • Why bought: Hamlet
  • Seen: First time: early 00’s. Now: February 8, 2013

It’s hard to let this movie be itself.  While watching I kept thinking, “Oh they moved that,” or, “Oh, that’s how they’ve done that,” and “Oh, look, the Twin Peaks guy is Claudius,” but most importantly, “Clever!” or “Smart move!”
The main thing I thought, mostly, was, “Yeah, this works.”
Ethan Hawke is actually one of the best Hamlets I’ve seen – brooding, sullen, slouchy, intense. Julia Stiles rivals Helena Bonham-Carter in achieving a great Ophelia with small shifts in facial expression and cruelly reduced lines (more than half her lines were cut).  Both Liev Schreiber (Laertes) and Bill Murray (Polonius) were unexpected choices but were very good and I laughed out loud to see Steve Zahn as Rosencrantz.  He was perfect as a spaced out goofball.  Karl Geary is unknown to me but did very well as Horatio.
I was less pleased with the portrayal of Claudius and Gertrude; these roles were reduced to cardboard figures which is sadly often the case with these two characters. The jolly lustfulness dominates and the internal anguish and uncertainty is lost.  Too bad.
The setting in a world of corporate techo-frenzy works very well with some stunning scenes, especially with water.  A highlight was the use of James Dean and John Gielgud doing the skull scene to represent the Players.
The ending, with a newscaster reading Fortinbras’ lines was stolen from Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet and it didn’t work very well here.  So a small disappointment after a rather strong death scene.
There was good music throughout, especially over the final credits.
Well worth seeing. If you’re not a Shakespeare expert, it’s a perfectly good way to get started, but don’t stop with this.  See Branagh’s version too!

4* of 5

Hamlet (Zeffirelli 1990)

Hamlet 1990
  • Director: Franco Zeffirelli
  • Based on book: Shakespeare.
  • Cast: Mel Gibson, Helena Bonham-Carter, Glenn Close, Alan Bates, Paul Scofield, Ian Holm, Stephen Dillane, Nathaniel Parker, Michael Maloney, Treavor Peacock
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Mel Gibson – Mad Max, Lethal Weapon 1-4, Braveheart, Conspiracy, Ransom, Bird on a Wire, The Year of Living Dangerously, Gallipoli  
    • Helena Bonham Carter – Harry Potter, Sweeney Todd, The King’s Speech, Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein, Keep the Aspidistra Flying (A Merry War), Howards End, Twelfth Night
    • Glenn Close – Mars Attacks, 101 Dalmatians,  Sarah Plain and Tall, Mary Reilly, House of Spirits, Hook, Meeting Venus, Dangerous Liaisons, The Jagged Edge, The Big Chill, The World According to Garp
    • Alan Bates – Zorba the Greek, The Rose, Women in Love, The Go Between, Gosford Park, An Unmarried Woman. The Mayor of Casterbridge, Georgy Girl, Whistle Down the Wind
    • Paul Scofield Henry V, King Lear, A Man for All Seasons,
    • Ian Holm - lots of Shakespeare, Lord of the Rings, Day After Tomorrow, From Hell and more
    • Stephen Dillane – The Hours
    • Nathaniel Parker –Stardust, Flawless, Inspector Lynley, Othello, Body Guard
    • Michael Maloney    The Young Victoria, Babel, Hamlet (Branagh), Othello, In the Bleak Midwinter, Henry V
    • Treavor Peacock   Sunshine, Henry VI Part Two, Henry VI Part One, Pericles
  • Why bought: Hamlet
  • Seen: First time: 1990’s at my mother’s (! She was a Gibson freak). Second time 2011. Now: February 2, 2013.

Any movie with Mel Gibson fills me with grave misgivings. Braveheart is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. But Shakespeare is Shakespeare and Gibson isn’t as bad as I had feared. There are fifty dozen other actors who would have been better but he was OK.  The rest of the cast was more hopeful. Helena Bonham-Carter is always strong and she gave a heartbreaking performance as Ophelia. Ian Holm did fine as silly old Polonius and Nathaniel Parker was a good Laertes.  Glenn Close isn’t a favorite of mine either but she was good here. Alan Bates is one of my favorites and he was a disappointment. Most of the time he just stood around watching the others with an evil twitch of the eyebrow now and then.  He’s done so much better in other roles.
One serious problem with this productions were the cuts in Ophelia’s and Claudius’ roles which made both characters much shallower than Shakespeare meant them to be (though as mentioned, Bonham-Carter put depth into her character through powerful facial expressions  between the few lines remaining to her).
Another was the change in order of key scenes. In the play the order is: 1) To be or not to be, 2) Hamlet’s confrontation with Ophelia, 3) Claudius’ announcement (not in Hamlet’s hearing) that he is going to send Hamlet to England, 4) the mousetrap play. Zeffirelli mixes them all up. His argument I’m sure is that it moved the story along more quickly. OK, but again at the cost of losing depth and character.
Still another is the rather boring insistence on an incestuous relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude. That has been the fashion but it doesn’t work.
Like all Zeffirelli’s Shakespeare films this one is lavish, frolicking and colorful with a cast of thousands (well a bunch of extras, anyway). The scenery is beautiful.
In the final analysis it’s in its way not a bad Hamlet. Hamlet light, with a lot of problems, but still Hamlet. Quite powerful.

6 ½ * of 10.

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the Bleak Midwinter (a.k.a. A Midwinter’s Tale) 1995
  • Director: Kenneth Branagh
  • Based on book: No.
  • Cast: Michael Maloney, Nicholas Farrell, Julia Sawahla, Richard Briers, Celia Imrie, Mark Hadfield, Joan Collins, Jennifer Saunders, John Sessions
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Michael Maloney    The Young Victoria, Babel, Hamlet (Branagh), Othello, Hamlet (Zefferelli), Henry V
    • Nicholas Farrell   Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Sex Chips and Rock’n’Roll, Driving Lessons
    • Julia Sawahla – Absolutely Fabulous, Cranford
    • Richard Briers – Love’s Labour’s Lost, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Frankenstein, Much Ado About Nothing, Peter’s Friends, Henry V
    • Celia Imrie – Cranford, Wah-Wah, Daniel Deronda, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Hilary and Jackie, Hotel Marigold, Upstairs Downstairs
    • Mark Hadfield – Frankenstein, Felicia’s Journey, Tristram Shandy, Wallander
    • Joan Collins – I think I saw Dynasty once
    • Jennifer Saunders – Absolutely Fabulous, Friends
    • John Sessions – Merchant of Venice, Gangs of New York, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry V
  • Why bought: Kenneth Branagh and Hamlet
  • Seen: February 1, 2013.

       Finally!  I looked for this movie for a long time and when I finally got it last year I waited until Hamlet in our Shakespeare marathon.  We, here we are.  We finished reading the play yesterday (February 1) and celebrated by watching this.
What a nice film.  That sounds like damning it with faint praise but it’s not. It’s just really, really nice. A gang of passionate, out-of-work, penniless actors decide to stage Hamlet in an old church in the town of Hope (home town of two of them) in the middle of English nowhere.
Flaky ego trippers all, but as they get to know each other, their characters and friendships and the film deepen.  They and it become very likable.
It helps that several of my favorites are in the film: Michael Maloney, Nicholas Farrell, Julia Sawahla, Celia Imrie and a quick appearance by Jennifer Saunders.
It starts out a bit shaky at a frantic pace with very fast talking (no subtitles on this DVD unfortunately) and an audition scene plagiarized from The Commitments but just as funny. Seeing Saffy (Sawahla) doing Debbie Harry is priceless.
It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, it’s a touch of Hamlet and it’s Branagh.  I can hardly wait to see it again.

8 ½ * of 10

21 April 2013

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead 1990
Director: Tom Stoppard
  • Based on book: No, well, Hamlet and Stoppard’s stage play.
  • Cast: Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss, Joanna Roth, Iain Glen, Donald Sumptner, Joanna Miles
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Gary Oldman    Harry Potter, Prick Up Your Ears, Sid and Nancy, Léon, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Bok of Eli, The Dark Knight, The Scarlet Letter, Immortal Beloved, Romeo Is Bleeding, True Romance, Dracula, Nil by Mouth (director)
    • Tim Roth   Dark Water, The Beautiful Country, To Kill a King, Planet of the Apes, Gridlock’d, Pulp Fiction, Rob Roy
    • Richard Dreyfuss – Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, American Graffiti, What About Bob, Postcards from the Edge, The Good-bye Girl
    • Joanna Roth (evidently not related to Tim Roth) – Sliding Doors, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 
    • Iain Glen – Downton Abbey, Tara Road, Kingdom of Heaven
    • Donald Sumptner – Wallander, Merlin, Rose and Maloney, The Constant Gardener, Cold Lazarus, Richard III, Antony and Cleopatra
  • Why bought: Hamlet, Gary Oldman, Tim Roth
  • Seen: Several times. The first time before our Shakespeare days. Now: January 27, 2013.

It was probably the first time I saw this movie that Gary Oldman and Tim Roth entered my list of favorite actors right up there at the top.  This was sometime before Hal and I were into Shakespeare and we really had no clue, only vaguely realizing after awhile that this movie was about Hamlet.  It didn’t matter. The movie was simply very, very funny and played to perfection by Oldman and Roth.
Some things have changed. We’ve read Hamlet twice, seen it a dozen times in various films and become quite thoroughly acquainted with the original.  But one thing is the same.  This is still one of my favorite movies and it gets better every time I see it.
These two characters are more or less anonymous in Hamlet in spite of their distinctive names.  They play an important role but everybody mixes them up and they have approximately zero personality.
In the movie, they themselves don’t have a clue about what’s going on or who this Hamlet guy is, only that they were summoned by some king.  They bumble around the castle, getting in people’s way, playing nonsense question games with each other – quite funny and clever actually – and quibble back and forth about this and that.  Here, too, no one can tell them apart, including themselves.  The Oldman character spends much of his time making profound scientific discoveries that the Roth character dismisses as stupid games. Only in reading the credits at the end do we see that Rosencrantz is the scientist and Guildenstern the scoffer.
And so they stumble off to the fateful boat trip.
It’s an ingenious movie.  I love it.

10* of 10.

PS We just rewatched it - August 31, 2014 - with our friends KJG and JG.  If anything, it's even better than last time!

The Tourist

The Tourist 2010
  • Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
  • Based on book: No
  • Cast: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Dalton
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Johnny Depp    everything
    • Angelina Jolie   The Changeling, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Girl Interrupted
    • Paul Bettany – Dogville, Creation, A Beautiful Mind, Young Victoria, A Knight’s Tale
    • Rufus Sewell – Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew Retold, A Knight’s Tale, The Holiday, Paris je t’aime, Cold Comfort Farm, Middlemarch
    • Timothy Dalton – Antony and Cleopatra, The Lion in Winter
  • Why bought: Johnny Depp
  • Seen: Twice. First time January 1, 2011 with friends B-IS and ÖB at the movie theater. Second time: January 27, 2013. And now again, September 12, 2014 (see below)

Any movie with Johnny Depp running across the tiled roofs of Venice barefoot in blue and white striped pajamas has to get 10* out of 10 at least. It’s just the kind of goofy thing gorgeous Johnny does so well.
Most critics seem to regard this movie with contempt but they’re just snobs. Come on! It’s funny, it’s exciting, the cast is great, the scenery is glorious and Julian Fellowes who wrote Downton Abbey is one of the writers. So the story is far-fetched, so what?  If there’s anything to criticize it’s Angelina Jolie who is just too beautiful and sexy. Too stereotyped. And Johnny isn’t nearly so appealing when he turns all macho at the end.
But that’s just nitpicking. It’s an appealing movie.

3 ½ * of 5

PS September 12, 2014 - Fun again

To Be or Not to Be

To Be or Not to Be 1942
  • Director: Ernst Lubitscht
  • Based on book: No, not the movie itself
  • Cast: Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Carole Lombard and Jack Benny  – amazingly nothing, they’re just generally recognizable
    • Robert Stack   Joe and the Volcano, Good Morning Miss Dove  
  • Why bought: connection to Hamlet
  • Seen: Twice. First time 2011. Second time: January 26, 2013

There are several things about this movie that I like, apart from all the Shakespeare.
 Carole Lombard is so cool! How sad that she was killed in a plane crash right after the movie was made.
The black and white photography is beautiful as it so often was in those days.
There were some good laughs.
And of course defeating the Nazis, especially by using Shakespeare, is always good to see.
Considering all this I should love the movie but I don’t. I only like it. If it wasn’t for the Shakespeare connection, I’d probably say, “Oh yeah, I saw that one. It was pretty good. But I don’t need to see it again.”
Except to see Carole Lombard again. She and Shakespeare lift it.

3* of 5

14 April 2013

The Glass House

Glass House 2001
  • Director: Daniel Sackheim
  • Based on book: No
  • Cast: Leelee Sobieski, Diane Lane, Stellan Skarsgård, Bruce Dern, Kathy Baker
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Leelee Sobieski  Public Enemies, 88 Minutes, My First Mister
    • Diane Lane – The Perfect Storm, Under Toscana’s Sun  
    • Stellan Skarsgård – Thor, Mamma Mia, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dogville, Dancer in the Dark, Amistad, Breaking the Waves, Den enfaldige mördaren
    • Bruce Dern – The Homecoming, The Laughing Policeman, The King of Marvin Garden, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, Silent Running, The Fugitive (TV series)
    • Kathy Baker – Last Chance Harvey, Jane Austin Book Club, Cold Mountain, Cider House Rules, To Gillianon her 37th Birthday, Mad Dog and Glory, Edward Scissorhands,
  • Why bought: connection to Hamlet
  • Seen: Twice. First time 2003. Second time: January 25, 2013

 This is not a movie that needs to be seen twice.  It was hardly worth it the first time. Still, it has some qualities.  It’s exciting enough so that you don’t think about the lame story – poor orphaned rich kids taken in by parents’ rich friends only they’re out to get the kids’ money because she’s a drug addict and he owes big time to nasty loan sharks.
The teenage girl Ruby (nice name J) quickly suspects but the adults around her won’t help.  She sneaks around the glass house herself trying to find ways to rescue herself and her little brother. She succeeds of course and all the bad guys get killed.
Why did big-time actors like Stellan Skarsgård, Diane Lane and Bruce Dern agree to be in this less than brilliant movie? I don’t know but they did a good job with it.  Skarsgård has always delivered, from his early films in Sweden to his wide range of international roles.  How he’s had time to father all of his fifty-seven or so acting kids I don’t know.
Maltin described Sobrieski as more sullen than vulnerable but that’s exactly why her role was believable.  Of course she’s sullen. She’s a spoiled teen-ager whose parents have just been killed and her whole life has been taken away from her. Who wouldn’t be sullen?
So where does Hamlet come in? As homework. Ruby has to write a paper about Hamlet. She’s not exactly wild with enthusiasm and falls asleep doing it, wakes up to see that Skarsgård has done it for her.  Not only does she turn it in but she gets caught because Skarsgård cheated too, plagiarizing literature professor Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare – the Invention of the Human. How cool is that? I use that book a lot on my blog Shakespeare Calling. I don’t plagiarize though, I use proper footnotes. I wonder when they’ll start using Stephen Greenblatt’s Shakespeare analysis in thrillers.
The Hamlet thing goes a little deeper though. Ruby’s parents have been murdered by a brother sort of figure who tries to take over the kingdom and she wants revenge. And gets it.
Somewhat interesting.
Do I recommend it?  Not really but I don’t advise against it either.  Go ahead.  See it.  It has its points.

2 ½ *of 5.  

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country 1991
  • Director: Nicholas Meyer
  • Based on book: No
  • Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Christopher Plummer, David Warner
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Most of them  – The old Star Trek series from the 60’s
    • Christopher Plummer – Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind, The Lake House, The Twelve Monkeys, Dolores Claiborne, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
    • David Warner – Wallander (Kenneth Branagh’s father), Ladies in Lavender, Titanic, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Holocaust
  • Why bought: connection to Hamlet
  • Seen: January 19, 2013

  Oh yes, Hamlet showed up early; well, immediately, being that “the undiscovered country” itself is from the “To be or not to be” soliloquy. The toast to the undiscovered country  – in Shakespeare meaning death, here defined as the future – is given in the beginning of the movie as the Enterprise crew host a dinner for the enemy Klingons (they’re trying to reach a truce). When bad guy Chang says, “You haven’t experienced Shakespeare until you’ve read him in the original Klingon,” it’s an indication of the zany Shakespeare to come. Always being on the alert for Shakespeare and making notes, it was a busy evening for the pause button. I scribbled down ten quotes from various plays. By rights we should have a contest. In fact I will. But not here. I’ll start a movie contest column soon on this blog. But now, no more Shakespeare details here. Suffice it to say that this is definitely a Shakespeare-connected movie.
Other than that, the movie itself? Well, not being a Trekkie I don’t know all of the details of what they’ve been up to since the 60’s when I  watched the original TV series but everyone is there, only older. The story is pretty much the same – intergalactic war, only this time the Klingon are on the brink of annihilation (does that really happen in the movies to come?) and there’s a big peace conference going on.  The Enterprise crew don‘t trust the Klingons but they’re ordered to play nice. Someone torpedoes the Klingon ship, Captain Kirk is accused of treason and murder and is sent to the Klingon version of Siberia, escapes and all that, and rescues the president in the end.  Spock says a few philosophical things, Kirk continues to be rebellious and then everyone is supposed to retired. They’re old, after all. Being a citizen of the planet Earth, I am aware that somebody named Jane and somebody played by Patrick Stewart later become captains of the Starship Enterprise but I haven’t really kept up.
Anyway, the story’s not so important. Star Trek is Star Trek. It’s fun to see the old gang again. There are a lot of lame jokes, exploding stars and space ships, funny looking creatures (actually the best line except for the Shakespeare is Kirk saying, “We’re all human”), and platitudes about peace.
Some things don’t change.  It’s comforting to know that Star Trek is still around.  Without the Shakespeare quotes the movie gets a comfortable mediocre good-old-Star-Trek-trustworthy- 2 ½ * of 5. The very fact that they use Shakespeare so cleverly raises it.
However, the extremely bizarre special feature on the DVD about Hamlet in Klingon get 10* of 10 for sheer weirdness. Did you know that somebody has actually has actually invented an entire Klingon language (I know, I know, that reveals my vast ignorance)?!? They weren’t just grunting and glottal-stopping in the movie, they were speaking a language! And now they’ve done Hamlet in Klingon. Can it get any weirder?
The movie itself: 4 * of 5

The Van

The Van 1996
  • Director: Stephen Frears
  • Based on book by Roddy Doyle
  • Cast: Colm Meaney, Donal O’Kelley, Ger Ryan, Caroline Rothwell, Neili Conroy,
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Colm Meaney  The Commitments, The Snapper, The Last Mohican
    • Ger Ryan – The Commitments
  • Why bought: by Roddy Doyle (The Commitments), remembered liking it
  • Seen: About ten years ago and now: January 18, 2013

 The problem with this movie is that it isn’t The Commitments. Everybody wants it to be but it isn’t, in spite of their aspects in common: several of the cast are in both, they’re both based on novels by Roddy Doyle and he wrote or co-wrote the screenplays, they’re both about unemployment in Ireland and how the characters create meaningful work for themselves.  If we didn’t have The Commitments in our hearts, maybe The Van would have seemed better. Poor little brother, always being compared to the glorious older brother and falling short. And I use “brother” on purpose even though both had excellent female roles.
That’s one of the reasons The Van doesn’t work.  Both wives are interesting women and very well played but the movie doesn’t allow them to go anywhere. So much lost potential. The daughter is given a hinted-at life but is essentially marginalized though she is in much of the action.
Of the two men, the wrong one was made the main character – the coarse, childish, insensitive Larry is not likeable or endearing, he’s just irritating.  Bimbo, who is the one to take the initiative to the hamburger van and does all the work, is shown as a wimp, a failure as a boss, and a giver-up. The film falls apart and the ending goes nowhere.  I’m sure that was the whole point but it left me with a feeling of, “So what?”
My harshness is of course because of my disappointment. I had remembered it as being better than this. There is in spite of everything much to enjoy. As I said, the women are interesting and well acted. There is humor, there are some moving moments. But a film in which the most moving scene is when Ireland scores in the football World Cup is not likely to  get a whole lot of stars.

2 ½ * of 5

PS The Commitments when I watch it again for about the tenth or twelfth time, will undoubtedly get 100 * of 100.

8 April 2013

Ship of Fools

Ship of Fools 1965
  • Director: Stanley Kramer
  • Based on book by Katherine Anne Porter
  • Cast: Simone Signoret, Oskar Werner, Vivien Leigh, George Segal, Michael Dunn, José Ferrar, Lee Marvin, Elizabeth Ashley
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Simone Signoret  Diabolique, L’armée des ombres and many more in French and English that I haven’t seen
    • Oskar Werner  Fahrenheit 451,  Jules and Jim, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Voyage of the Damned
    • Vivien Leigh – Gone With the Wind
    • George Segal – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf
    • Michael Dunn – The Wild Wild West (TVseries)
    • José Ferrar – Lawrence of Arabia, Moulin Rouge, Voyage of the Damned
    • Lee Marvin – Cat Ballou, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Bad Day at Black Rock
    • Elizabeth Ashley – appearances on various TV series throughout the years
  • Why bought: reminded of how good it was when we saw Oskar Werner in Fahrenheit 451
  • Seen: In the 60’s and the second time now: January 13, 2013 with Hal and YW in our read-book-watch-movie group

It’s very difficult to write fairly about this movie because I’m in the middle of reading the novel – I simply didn’t have time to finish it before the scheduled movie date with YW. I didn’t think it would be a problem. It is.
The book is so powerful and grim that I couldn’t let go of it while watching the movie.
Still I remember so clearly Oskar Werner sitting at Simone Signoret’s bedside on the ship, gazing at her with….their relationship has haunted me since seeing the movie the first time in the 60’s.
In some cases the movie follows the book exactly, including several long direct quotes. In other ways the movie is very different. Jenny’s complex novel character loses most of what’s interesting in the film as does David’s.  Young Elsa is far too pretty and not nearly lumpy enough. Löwenthal is jovial and nice, not nasty. Generally all of the characters are far nicer and much less neurotic, troubled and horrible than in the book.
But this isn’t a book review. This is a movie blog.  And the movie is good.  The acting is good. The story is good. Werner and Signoret live up to my memory of them and give the movie its moments of greatness, along with the jitterbugging (or is it the Charleston?) Vivien Leigh in a ten second sequence.
But it is flawed. It got 4 * of 4 in Maltin but I can’t agree as much as I would like to.  Werner and Signoret get 5 * of 5.  The movie as a whole, less. Maybe next time it will be more when not seen in the overwhelming shadow of the book.

3 * of 5

Withnail and I

Withnail and I 1987
  • Director: Bruce Robinson
  • Based on book: No, but sort of autobiographical.
  • Cast: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths, Ralph Brown, Michael Elphick
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Richard E. Grant  Dracula, Twelfth Night (1996), Wah-Wah, Me Myself and Kubrick, Gosford Park, Keep the Aspidistras Flying, Cold Lazarus
    • Paul McGann  Our Mutual Friend, Aliens 3
    • Richard Griffiths – Harry Potter, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Pirates of the Caribbean, Sleepy Hollow, Gandhi, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Comedy of Errors. Sadly, he died just last week.
    • Ralph Brown – Alien 3, The Boat that Rocked, Amistad, Cold Lazarus, The Crying Game, Chopin Mon Amour, The Merry Wives of Windsor
    • Michael Elphick – David Copperfield, Elephant Man, Quadrophenia, O Lucky Man
  • Why bought: its connection to Hamlet and remembered it as odd but good.
  • Seen: 10 or fifteen years ago and now: January 12, 2013

“Odd but good”? Well, yes.  “Hamlet”? Well, yes.
This is a film about two young men and some other men.  The first thing I noticed as it started is that there were no women in the cast. Well, OK…
The two men are unemployed actors.  Withnail is a lying rather nasty ego-tripper (this is the 60’s). “I” is filled with neurotic anxiety but otherwise a rather likeable chap.
They mooch around complaining about life then talk Withnail’s uncle Monty into letting them spend a weekend in his country house, which turns out not to be a picturesque cottage or manor house but an old dilapidated farmhouse in rather beautiful but rainy muddy surroundings in the middle of the English countryside nowhere.
Uncle Monty (played by Harry Potter’s mean Uncle Vernon) shows up unexpectedly.  Up to this point and for awhile more there is quite a lot of bizarre humor with these two idiotic city slickers trying to survive farm life but when Uncle Monty started pursuing “I” and finally declares himself to be mad with love and sexual desire for him, it turns tragic and rather unpleasant.  Withnail has evidently told a lot of lies about “I” in order to get to use the cottage.  Poor Uncle Monty, who departs humiliated, deeply hurt but ever gracious.  “I” is furious, Withnail is unrepentant.
A philosophical, amoral, soft-spoken sleazy drug dealer shows up now and then and we had to wait until the very end of the film for the Hamlet quote, spoken by the lonely and abandoned Withnail: “I have of late, and wherefore I know not lost all my mirth.”
A fitting quote, movingly executed in such a way that suddenly we feel sympathy for the dreadful Withnail.
Odd? Very. But extremely well acted.  Richard E. Grant is always good and excels as Withnail.  And his final lines – the Hamlet quote – in fact raise the whole film to something gripping.
I still don’t know how much I like the film but it is fascinating.

3 ½ * of 5.

1 April 2013

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 2005
  • Director: Garth Jennings
  • Based on books by Douglas Adams
  • Cast: Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, Bill Nighy, Warwick Davis, Anna Chancellor, Alan Rickman’s voice, Helen Mirren’s voice, Stephen Fry’s voice, John Malkovich, Kelly Macdonald
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Martin Freeman  Breaking and Entering, Shaun of the Dead, Love Actually
    • Mos Def  Cadillac Records, Be Kind Rewind, Monster’s Ball, NYPD Blue
    • Sam Rockwell – Moon, Frost/Nixon, Matchstick Men, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Green Mile, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
    • Zooey Deschanel – Almost Famous, The Happening, The Good Girl
    • Anna Chancellor – Breaking and Entering, Longitude, Cold Lazarus, Four Weddings and a Funeral
    • Warwick Davis – Star Wars, Harry Potter, Life’s Too Short, Extras
    • John Malkovich – Burn After Reading, Me Myself and Kubrick, The Libertine, Being John Malkovich, Mary Reilly, Heart of Darkness, Of Mice and Men
    • Kelly Macdonald – No Country for Old Men, Harry Potter, Nanny McPhee, Tristram Shandy, The Girl in the Café,  Finding Neverland, Gosford Park, My Life So Far, Elizabeth, Trainspotting
    • The others I’ll include when it’s more than their voices
  • Why bought: the books
  • Seen: 2008 and January 11, 2013

This movie has a lot to live up to. Douglas Adams’ book and its follow-ups are among my top-ten all-time favorites. And Adams was behind the movie too so that’s a reassuring guarantee. Sadly he died before the movie was made; the movie is dedicated to his memory.  He was far too young; the loss of his brilliant wit is something the world can ill afford.
The movie is in fact a delight.  Jam packed with some of the funniest one-liners from the books, it follows the story of Earth in the process of being bulldozed out of existence to make way for an intergalactic motorway. Luckily our hero Earthling Arthur and his romantic interest Trillian are rescued by aliens, Arthur’s good friend Ford Prefect and the President of the Galaxy.  And that’s just the beginning.
The cast couldn’t be better. Mos Def is one of my favorite actors as are Bill Nighy (although he’s not completely recognizable here…) and John Malkovich. Hearing the voices of Stephen Fry, Helen Mirren and the hilariously mournful voice of Alan Rickman speaking for the depressed robot Marvin, played by Warwick Davis, is always something to look forward to.
Visually it’s colorful and funny and captures the zaniness of the book very well.
So why not a 10 of 10? I don’t know.  It’s just…not the book. Totally unfair, I know. I like the movie very much and will watch it more than a few times more. But in this case the book is just too overpowering.  See the movie absolutely. But read the book. You can’t live without it.

4 * of 5.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi
Director: Ang Lee
  • Based on book by Yann Martel
  • Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Gérard Depardieu
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Irrfan Khan  Slumdog Millionaire, The Amazing Spiderman, Darjeeling Limited, The Namesake
    • Tabu  The Namesake
    • Rafe Spall – Shaun of the Dead, A Good Year
    • Gérard Depardieu – La Vie en Rose, Paris je t’aime, Boudu, Hamlet, Jean de Florette
  • Why bought: the book
  • Seen: January 6, 2013 at the movie theater with Hal, B-Is and ÖB.

Oh what a film!  What an achievement! When one of the best novels ever written becomes one of the best movies ever made – well. Once in awhile the universe slips into a moment of harmony.
Who could have believed it – a novel that was impossible to film. A shipwrecked boy in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
No, they don’t become friends. This is not a kid’s-pet-of-the-week movie. It’s an existential action drama about life and nature. And it’s incredibly exciting and beautiful. Overwhelming ocean storms, glorious skies, explosively surging whales. And of course a snarling clawing tiger.
One asks oneself how they do all that. Or not.  It’s easy enough to just accept the wonder of it.
Read the book. Then see the movie. Hindu-Christian-Muslim Pi promised his story would make his listener believe in god. It didn’t. It went one better. It made me believe, in case I didn’t already, in the impossible artistic achievements of us humans.

10* of 10.

Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows (2011)
  • Director: Guy Ritchie
  • Based on book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Well, sort of. More than you’d think, actually.
  • Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Robert Downey Jr.,  Sherlock Holmes, The Soloist, Zodiac, A Scanner Darkly, Good Night and Good Luck, Black and White, Richard III and more
    • Jude Law – Cold Mountain, Alfie, Repo Men, Sherlock Holmes, Sleuth, The Holiday, Breaking and Entering, The Aviator, Captain Sky and the World of Tomorrow, Road to Perdition, eXistenZ, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
    • Noomi Rapace – Svinalängorna, Män som hatar kvinnor, Flickan som lekte med elden, Luftslottet som sprängdes (the last three are based on Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, Swedish version) and a lot of Swedish TV programs
    • Rachel McAdams – The Time Traveller’s Wife
    • Jared Harris – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Igby Goes Down, How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog, Lulu on the Bridge, Dead Man, Smoke, The Last Mohican
    • Stephen Fry Peter’s Friends, Jeeves and Wooster, Alice in Wonderland, V for Vendetta, Tristram Shandy, Gosford Park, Black Adder, Cold Comfort Farm, A Handful of Dust, A Fish Called Wanda
    • Kelly Reilly – Mrs. Henderson Presents, The Libertine
  • Why bought: Couldn’t resist
  • Seen: January 5, 2013

Is it appropriate that Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law play Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson? They certainly don’t fit the old tweed hatted and caped or chubby plodding images we have of them. But having recently read – for the first time! – the original first novel A Study in Scarlet I don’t think RD and JL are miscast at all.  They capture perfectly the manic arrogant but naive brilliance of Holmes and the adventurous worldly-wise wryness of Watson and their acerbic witty but deep mutual affection and respect.
Even the story is quite true to the spirit of the novels. In fact, in view of the historical connections of A Study in Scarlet this game of shadows in which the evil Moriarty is buying up all the weapons in the industry in order to start a war is believable and could well be based on one of Doyle’s stories.  Maybe it is. I’m not an expert.
Of course all the bang boom and kung fu (or whatever it is) are a bit far-fetched even for Sherlock Holmes but who cares? I don’t.
Downey and Law dominate of course but the supporting cast is extremely good. Stephen Fry is perfect as Sherlock’s less-than-lithe gentle diplomat brother (any film with Fry is a must-have, though sadly, I have few) and I’m patriotically proud of Swedish Noomi Rapace (hardly recognizable as the hard-as-nails computer genius Goth-punk Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy) who is a convincing Gypsy toughie. Even Kelly Reilly in the small role of Watson’s wife Mary was right there in the action now and then, fighting the bad guys along with the rest and shaking her head in affectionate resignation over Sherlock’s madness.
Purists will say this isn’t Sherlock Holmes. Kids looking for action films might think it’s weird, taking place in the 1890’s and won’t appreciate the looming World War I. But I’m neither a purist nor a kid but a history and English teacher who enjoys movies like this.

4* of 5

P.S. Fans of Laurie R. King’s series of novels featuring an aging Holmes married to his intellectual match in detecting, the 20-something Mary Russell, might have a hard time accepting this movie. Or they might not. I like them both.