30 May 2013

Täällä pohjantähden alla (Under the North Star)

Täällä pohjantähden alla (Under the North Star) 2009
  • Director: Timo Koivusalo
  • Based on trilogy: Here Under the North Star by Väinö Linna
  • Cast: Ilkka Koivula, Vera Kiiskinen, Risto Tuorila, Ritva Jalonen, Mikko Nousianen, Tuukka Huttunen, Mikael Salonen, Hannu-Pekka Björkman, Jonas Järnefelt, Antti Luusuaniemi
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • None of them
  • Why bought: have read the trilogy. History. Borrowed from Finnish friend EG.
  • Seen: March 23, 2013

First a short recap of Finnish history: In the Napoleonic Wars Sweden lost Finland to Russia (1809). The bourgeois and aristocratic Swedes retained much of the political and economic power. The Finnish gentry and church had some too.   The Russian tsar was rather remote. The Finnish peasant and working classes had no power and lived in poverty, doing back-breaking work for the upper classes. Then came the Russian Revolution. Finland became independent and civil war broke out between the Reds (workers and peasants) and the Whites (gentry, church and Swedish bigwigs).
This movie is about the civil war.
All of the classes are represented. The crushing oppression, the individual nastiness (and sometimes decency – within limits) of the ruling classes towards the crofters of the village, the resentment, the violence of revenge.
We follow Akseli Koskela from childhood to leader of a Red troop fighting against pathetically impossible odds.  The Reds are uneducated, untrained farmers with a motley collection of hunting rifles against White soldiers trained in Germany with machine guns. The Reds don’t have a chance. They are completely crushed and the revenge of the Whites makes the Reds’ word for them, “butchers”, all too applicable. Most of the young men and some of the old and some of the women we have gotten to know in the film are executed and thrown into mass graves.
For a person who doesn’t speak Finnish or know anything about Finnish history this movie would probably be impossibly confusing at first.  I do know quite a lot about the Finnish history of this period and I still had trouble keeping up with the English subtitles and figuring out who all these people were and how they were connected.
But that didn’t really matter. In a slow paced deliberate manner, with beautiful nature shots and many close-ups of the characters, we are drawn into this sweeping epic.  We feel the hope and excitement of the peasants as they realize that finally they are getting power. We wish they would refrain from violence against their oppressors but understand why they don’t. And we feel the despair of their defeat.
The scars of this civil war remain in Finland today. The trilogy the film is based on was written in 1959, 1960 and 1962. The film is from 2009.
The people in the film will stay with me.

4* of 5.

Terminator 2 Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day 1991
  • Director: James Cameron
  • Based on book: No
  • Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton. S. Epatha Merkerson
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Arnold Schwarzenegger –Dave, Twins
    • Linda Hamilton – Dante’s Peak, Hill Street Blues
    • Edward Furlong – American History X
    • Robert Patrick – Walk the Line, The Sopranos, Cop Land, Die Hard 2
    • Joe Morton – Speed, The Astronaut’s Wife, Of Mice and Men, Crossroads
    • S. Epatha Merkerson – She’s Gotta Have It
  • Why bought: A classic. Fun
  • Seen: twice. First time: awhile ago. Now: March 22, 2013

Possibly, this one is even more exciting than the first. I was almost literally biting my nails during the hospital escape and the shootout at the scientist’s house.
It is definitely funnier than the first one. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a comedian is an odd thought but life is full of little surprises (besides I saw him in Twins and that’s pretty funny). I enjoyed watching the kid’s attempts to teach him to act like a human and laughed out loud often throughout the film.
Oh yeah, Schwarzenegger as a nice terminator wasn’t a surprise because I’ve seen it before but the first time it was and one can understand Sarah Connor’s freaking out when she first runs into him.
Connor as a tough guerilla in this one works fine, as does her alternating aloofness and concern and love for her son. Just the right balance.
The touch of pathos over the self-destructiveness of the human race, especially men, adds enough depth to make the film a little more than just bang bang kaboom action.
But the car/truck chases get old fast and once again they happen upon just the right kind of factory in the nick of time to destroy the nasty bad-guy terminator.
The effects are, of course, totally amazing.  Good Friday evening fare.

3 ½ * of 5

Anywhere but Here

Anywhere but Here 2001
  • Director: Wayne Wang
  • Based on book: Novel by Mona Simpson
  • Cast: Susan Sarandon, Natalie Portman, Hart Bochner, Eileen Ryan, Ray Baker,  John Diehl
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Susan Sarandon  – oh so many, for example: Thelma and Louise, White Castle, Dead Man Walking, Little Women, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Client, Romance & Cigarettes, The Exonerated, The Banger Sisters, Igby Goes Down, The Cradle Will Rock, Earthly Possessions, Lorenzo’s Oil, The January Man, Bull Durham, The Witches of Eastwick, Compromising Positions, Atlantic City
    • Natalie Portman – V for Vendetta, Léon (The Professional), Black Swan, Thor, Darjeeling Limited, Paris je t’aime, Closer, Cold Mountain, Mars Attacks!, Beautiful Girls, Heat
    • Eileen Ryan – Benny and Joon, I Am Sam, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, The Pledge, The Indian Runner,
    • Ray Baker  Girl Interrupted, Rain Man, Holes, Sweet November, A Thousand Acres, Ed Wood
  • Why bought: Liked the book
  • Seen: twice. First time: awhile ago. Now: March 17, 2013

Movies shouldn’t really be seen just after reading the book. It’s unfair to the movie. I finished reading this novel by Mona Simpson the day before watching the film (second time for both but long enough ago so I didn’t really remember either) and while the movie followed the book more than I had expected, the ending was completely different.  Big disappointment! Adele is simply too selfish to do that. No. No.  No!
After some reflection however I came to the conclusion (which I usually do in like situations): the book is one thing, the movie another. Each should be judged fairly on its own.
The book is very good. Adele is a charming, funny, lively mother who takes her daughter Ann to Hollywood from a boring town in Wisconsin. Ann doesn’t want to go. She hates her mother and loves her. Adele is ruthless, completely self-centered, delusional and violent. She is in fact mentally unstable and a really bad mother. It’s quite a profound book. And tragic.
The movie follows quite a lot but tones down Adele’s extreme characteristics, adds some episodes, changes others, removes a lot, but somehow manages to retain quite a lot of the essence of the book. Until the end.
Why didn’t the director make the movie as heavy as the book? Well, I suppose the slick answer would be Hollywood.  I wish he had but he didn’t. So I’ll ignore the book here.
It’s a good movie. Sarandon is Adele. Selfish, impulsive, shallow. And fragile. Portman is good as Ann. Both are struggling, even though Adele declares, “We didn’t come to Hollywood to struggle!”
It’s a sad movie. See it.  And then after a few months, read the book. The book is better. But the movie can hold its own.

3 ½ * of 5.


Terminator 1984
  • Director: James Cameron
  • Based on book: No
  • Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Arnold Schwarzenegger –Dave, Twins
    • Linda Hamilton – Dante’s Peak, Hill Street Blues
    • Michael Biehn – Aliens, The Rock, Hill Street Blues
    • Paul Winfield – Mars Attacks!, Presumed Innocent
    • Laurence Henriksen - Aliens
  • Why bought: A classic. Fun
  • Seen: twice. First time: awhile ago. Now: March 15, 2013

Why doesn’t someone make a movie about cyborgs who are nice? Who are helpful, kind, loving, supportive? Who love humans in spite of all our weaknesses and who can play the most difficult piano sonatas without blinking?
I guess because it would be kind of a boring movie, huh?
Whatever Terminator is, it isn’t boring. Well, a little. All the car chases are a bit been-there-done-that. Even in the 80’s car chases were already standard, weren’t they, after Steve McQueen in San Francisco?
One more complaint. How did they conveniently end up in the one place where there were the only kind of industrial machines that could possibly destroy the Terminator?  After all that running and chasing they just happened upon…?
All that aside – at nearly thirty years of age this movie deserves its status as a classic.  It’s a bit hard to realize how new it was back then with all the copies made since, but it made quite an impact. As usual I didn’t see it until years later but even I knew that “I’ll be back” was forever eternalized as meany threat number one.
The acting? Well, Schwarzenegger didn’t act, he just walked around being Schwarzenegger but that’s why they chose him, I guess. Michael Biehn as Kyle was a bit boring but cute. It was Linda Hamilton who carried the film. Very believable transformation from drifting partying young working class woman to tough, resourceful savior of the human race with headband á la Rambo and Springsteen to prove it.
I enjoyed the film both times and probably will again someday.  I’m looking forward to the next three.
And I love those 80’s hairdos and clothes. I still have some jackets with padded shoulders. Hope they come back into fashion soon.

3 * of 5.

The Harder They Come

The Harder They Come 1972
  • Director: Perry Henzell
  • Based on book: No
  • Cast: Jimmy Cliff, Janet Bartley, Carl Bradshaw, Ras Daniel Hartman, Basil Keane, Bob Charlton, Winston Stona
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • None of them
  • Why bought: An important groundbreaking movie
  • Seen: twice. Once in the early 70’s shown on Swedish TV shortly after we moved here. Now: March 8, 2013

      It’s hard to imagine the world without reggae and it’s hard to really remember what a big impact this film had on movie viewers – me included.  I remember a wow feeling – loved the music, liked the guy.
I’m not quite the same impressionable young newly awakened political creature I was in the 70’s but I was again impressed and gripped by this movie.  Even as we say, “Oh, Ivan, don’t do that,” it’s so clear why he does.  A country hick arriving in Kingston, robbed, turned away by his mother, cheated by a record mogul, entangled in the marijuana trade run by a crooked cop, brainwashed by macho violent super hero cowboy spaghetti westerns – of course he turns to violence and becomes a kind of folk hero outlaw.  But it’s not that simple.  While Ivan becomes more and more locked into his tragic hero role, his marijuana dealing friends, including the doting father (with probably the first and certainly among the most magnificent Rastafarian hair mass the world has ever seen) of a small sick boy, risk more and more to protect him from the law.
It’s painful to watch the stark presentation of a poverty-stricken and corrupt Jamaica. I wonder how many American tourists were in Jamaica the year this movie was made, enthusing about how wonderful Jamaica is. But it’s also a gripping portrait of a whole variety of people getting on with their lives the best they can with the help of music, dancing and each other.
Jimmy Cliff is outstanding. But the romanticized macho violence is very disturbing. Are movies like this one part of the reason we still have angry young men shooting (and bombing etc.) their way out of desperation? No, of course it’s not that simple.  And not to have portrayed war as violent and poverty as destructive would have falsified reality.

4* of 5

See Jimmy Cliff doing the song and clips from the movie on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGE4dnrPPZQ

27 May 2013

Hamlet (Branagh 1996)

Hamlet (Branagh 1996)
  • Director: Kenneth Branagh
  • Based on book: Shakespeare.
  • Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi, Kate Winslet, Michael Maloney, Nicholas Farrell, Brian Blessed, Timothy Spall, Rufus Sewell and just about everyone else in the world
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Kenneth Branagh – everything. Here are a few: Frankenstein, Henry V, Valkyrie, Wallander, Swing Kids, The Boat That Rocked, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Rabbit Proof Fence, Shackleton, How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, Fortunes of War
    • Julie Christie – Doctor Zhivago, Darling, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Go Between, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Finding Neverland, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Fahrenheit 451, Heaven Can Wait, Petulia, Don’t Look Now, Heat and Dust, Afterglow
    • Derek Jacobi – I Claudius, Henry V, Hamlet (BBC 1980), Gladiator, The King’s Speech, Gosford Park, Dead Again
    • Kate Winslet – Titanic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Reader, Little Children, Finding Neverland, Hideous Kinky, Sense and Sensibility,
    • Michael Maloney - The Young Victoria, Babel, In the Bleak Midwinter, Othello, Hamlet (Zefferelli), Henry V
    • Nicholas Farrell – In the Bleak Midwinter, Twelfth Night, Sex Chips and Rock’n’Roll, Driving Lessons
    • Brian Blessed – As You Like It, I Claudius
    • Timothy Spall – Harry Potter, Sweeney Todd, Secrets and Lies, The King’s Speech, Alice in Wonderland, Love’s Labour’s Lost, All or Nothing, Our Mutual Friend
    • Rufus Sewell – The Tourist, A Knight’s Tale, Taming of the Shrew (Retold), The Holiday, Paris je t’aime, Middlemarch
  • Why bought: Hamlet
  • Seen: at least 4 times. This time: March 3, 2013

How can I possibly write something about this movie?  It has overwhelmed me since the first time I saw it.
I was almost afraid to watch it this time, having read the play again, written an analysis and watched six other film versions, two of which I hadn’t seen previously, several of which are extremely good.
Would this hold up in comparison, in repetition, in analysis?
I see the flaws, I see the things I would do differently. Branagh shows scenes that Shakespeare didn’t include on stage but only through the actors’ telling.  This does not add depth.  Gertrude wouldn’t have worn a white bridal dress. She was a widow for heaven’s sake. Compared to the beautifully minimalist sets of Brook and Kline this production seems gaudy at times.  And although Kate Winslet is good as Ophelia she isn’t as convincing as Helena Bonham-Carter or Diane Venora.
But, oh, everything else. Julie Christie, though there is still more she could have done with the interpretation, is superb as Gertrude. Derek Jacobi is the best Claudius I’ve seen.  Michael Maloney and Nicholas Farrell bring more life to Laertes and Horation than any other actors.
And Hamlet?  Kenneth Branagh doesn’t play Hamlet.  He is Hamlet.  He isn’t speaking lines. He’s speaking from the heart. Every word.  As Branagh says in his intro to the DVD, Hamlet is playing him.  His scene with Ophelia after the To Be or Not To Be soliloquy is possibly the most powerful performance in film history. It is utterly deeply real.
“Natural” is the key word for the whole production. The entire cast makes Shakespeare sound like the way we all talk every day.
I’m not going to go on and on but here are a few more things I like about it: the snow, the four-hour length, the ghost’s incredible blue eyes, gorgeous mean Fortinbras (Rufus Sewell), the little train, the third word in “Words, words, words.”
10 * out of 10 aren’t enough so what can I give this? 100* of 100? No, I gave that to Henry V. How much better is this? Impossible.  This is simply in a class of its own.  I can’t be rational about it. I’m addicted to it. So let’s just say

495* of 500.

Hamlet (Kline 1990)

Hamlet 1990 (Kline)
  • Director: Kevin Kline
  • Based on book: by Shakespeare
  • Cast: Kevin Kline, Peter Francis James, Dana Ivey, Brian Murray, Josef Sommer, Michael Cumpsty, Diane Venora, Philip Goodwin
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Kevin Kline – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, A Prairie Home Companion, The Emperor’s Club, Life As a House, The Wild Wild West, The Ice Storm, Dave, The January Man, A Fished Called Wanda, Silverado, Sophie’s Choice
    • Dana Ivey – The Help, Sleepless in Seattle, The Color Purple
    • Diane Venora - Romeo and Juliet, Surviving Picasso, Heat, Bird, Ironweed, Hamlet (Almereyda 2000)
    • Josef Sommer – The Family Man, Witness, Moonlight and Valentino
  • Seen: February 24, 2013 

This is a theatrical production in the best sense of the word, and the worst.
In the best sense, it’s straightforward Shakespeare. It plays the play. The setting is simple, stark, effective, handsome.
The acting is at times brilliant. Ophelia in her flower monolog brought tears to my eyes. In a row of very good Ophelias, Diane Venora is the best. Likewise Polonius (Josef Sommer). The play starts to lift when he starts talking.
Which brings us to the theatrical problems.  The first two scenes are stiff with essentially everybody, Kevin Kline included, reading Shakespeare’s lines instead of talking like people really do. They are self-conscious – “ohmigod, I’m doing Shakespeare!”
But after the slow start the play really lifts and everybody has powerful moments. Kevin Kline displays his vast acting talents best in his mad moments and in his confrontations with Ophelia in the “Get thee to a nunnery” scene.
As usual Claudius and Gertrude aren’t as good as one would wish. These are difficult roles but so important to get right.  Ivey and Murray don’t, though they have their moments too.
A sincere, honest effort, mostly successful.

8 ½ * of 10.

12 May 2013

Hamlet 2001 (Brook)

Hamlet 2001 (Brook)
  • Director: Peter Brook
  • Based on book: by Shakespeare
  • Cast: Adrian Lester, Jeffery Kissoon, Natasha Parry, Bruce Myers, Scott Handy, Shantala Shivaligappa, Rohan Siva, Asil Raïs, Yoshi Oïda,
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Adrian Lester – No such reaction since I know his roles well. Here are some of them: Hustle, The Day After Tomorrow, As You Like It, Born Romantic
  • Seen: February 23, 2013

      Peter Brook is known as an outstanding Shakespearean director with his own radical interpretations of the pays so I was expecting, well, a radical interpretation.
He does make some drastic cuts here and scared me into thinking he’d cut “to be or not to be” because it came almost at the end, but it did come, way out of order like a lot of the other scenes.  But essentially the story and characters are there.  If you had no idea what Hamlet is about, you’d get a fair picture from this production (it’s not so much a movie as filmed theater).
The most radical change that is unfair to Shakespeare is that there is no humor.  Hamlet is an extremely funny play but this version is not.  Well, I can live with that.
Two other things make this production stand out. One is the international cast.  They are from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds with varying richness of skin color and accents.  In fact the whole play isn’t even in English. The First Player gives his Hecuba speech in what I am guessing is Japanese and since this monolog is practically incomprehensible in English it works just fine in Japanese.  Very powerful in fact.
The second thing is the incredible setting. Minimalist props – essentially an empty stage with a few pillows, low tables, oil lamps and in the background sometimes a stairway and door. But the colors! Rich reds, black or white or dark blue clothes, an orange/gold tone in the lighting. The blackness of Hamlet with the whiteness of Horatio against a glowing red background – beautiful!
The acting is mostly superb. Adrian Lester is one of my favorite actors and he does an outstanding Hamlet. Mostly very introspective, quiet, thoughtful with very effective moments of intense anguish and far less violence than most actors in the role. His depth of character is often expressed in very subtle shifts of facial expression. He rivals Helena Bonham-Carter for getting across oceans of emotion with a twitched eyebrow or a millimeter drop of the corner of the mouth.
The rest were good too except for Natasha Parry as Gertrude.  Somehow it didn’t work. Especially in the all-important closet scene Gertrude seemed more annoyed with the whole thing and didn’t really seem to like Hamlet very much. At least she wasn’t the guilt-ridden weepy sexpot of the Olivier school but more involvement would be good. Parry’s interpretation prevents a full score.
Adrian Lester, the minimalist music, the colors of skin and setting – 100* of 100. Magnifique! The cast generally, 10 of 10.  As a whole

9 ½ * of 10

PS Update 18 July 2016 - this time I liked Natasha Perry's interpretations very much! The annoyed and reserved attitude towards her mad son was very good indeed! Which should raise the rating to a 10...

PPS Read more about Hamlet in Shakespeare in my book Shakespeare Calling - the book available on Amazon.com

and Bokus.se

Hamlet 2009 (Doran)

Hamlet 2009 (Doran)
See update below

  • Director: Gregory Doran
  • Based on book: by Shakespeare
  • Cast: David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie, Oliver Ford Davies, Mariah Gale, Edward Bennett, Peter De Jersey, Sam Alexander, John Woodvine
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • David Tennant – Harry Potter
    • Patrick Stewart – Hamlet (BBC), Star Trek, X-Men
    • Penny Downie – The Girl in the Café
    • Oliver Ford Davies – Sense and Sensibility, Star Wars, Her Majesty Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Dalloway
    • John Woodvine – An American Werewolf in London
  • Seen: First time: a couple of years ago. Now: February 17, 2013  

One thing that noted scholar Harold Bloom is right about is that every actor does Hamlet differently. There could hardly be more difference between David Tennant’s performance and the stodgy Laurence Olivier, the earnest Mel Gibson, or the sullen, broody Ethan Hawke.
David Tennant’s Hamlet is frenzied, loony, goofy. And completely convincing. This scrawny Hamlet in jeans, tennis shoes (or barefoot) and ugly (but funny) orange T-shirt with skeleton ribs printed on it is manic and suffering. A brilliant achievement.
The time is now. The place is a hall of mirrors under surveillance cameras. Dramatic. Creepy. Atmospheric.
The rest of the cast? Mixed results. Polonius and Laertes (Davies and Bennett) do their jobs, nothing remarkable. Patrick Stewart, again playing Claudius, is a bit of a problem. He’s an excellent actor, of course, but I can’t quite figure out what he’s doing with Claudius.  His villainy is too sneaky, his remorse not convincing enough. But probably (I especially think so after watching the interview in the DVD special feature) Stewart is deliberately and rightly making Claudius a paradox, but it doesn’t quite succeed.
Horatio is a thankless role, maybe the most personality challenged figure in Shakespeare, but De Jersey does well. Horatio is likeable and supportive and De Jersey makes him so.
Ophelia is well done by Mariah Gale.  A bit too wide-eyed for my tastes and more could have been done with the “O what a noble mind” soliloquy but her interpretation of mad Ophelia is very moving.
Penny Downie is the best Gertrude so far. It’s the closet scene that matters and this Gertrude is a bit too weepy and not angry enough but she is at least angry and authoritative – she is Queen and a mother, after all – towards Hamlet at times, which is more than can be said of the other Gertrudes I’ve seen.
Not quite a perfect production then. But close enough. Very powerful, very gripping.

9 ½ * of 10.

21 April 2018
Updated cast list:
  • David Tennant – Broadchurch, Doctor Who, The Escape Artist, Fright Night, Decoy Bride, United, St Trinian’s 2, Harry Potter, Blackpool, Bright Young Things, Jude, Takin’ over the Asylum
  • Patrick Stewart – X Men Days of Future Past, The Hollow Crown,  Hamlet (BBC), Star Trek, X-Men, Extras, Lady Jane, Excalibur, I Claudius
  • Penny Downie – Downton Abbey, Invictus, The Girl in the Café
  • Mariah Gale – Doctor Who, Broadchurch, The Hollow Crown, Measure for Measure
  • Oliver Ford Davies – Sense and Sensibility, Star Wars, Her Majesty Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Dalloway
  • John Woodvine – An American Werewolf in London

We’re watching it with our friends EG and EG with whom we have tickets to see Hamlet at the Globe in London in July.

The first time Hal and I saw this film we said, ‘Oh this David Tennant is good, wonder what else he has done?’ Thus we discovered Doctor Who (we had heard of it but not seen much) and are now devoted Whovians.

The four of us agree now that this is the best Hamlet film ever, even better than the brilliant but, with repeated viewing, flawed Branagh version. My objections above have become milder. Downie’s Gertrude remains the best ever and David Tennant is - words fail me -  unsurpassable.

This time I’m almost tempted to give it 10* of 10. But small objections so

9.98* of 10

5 May 2013

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 1969
  • Director: Ronald Neame
  • Based on book: by Muriel Spark
  • Cast: Maggie Smith, Robert Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Gordon Jackson, Celia Johnson, Diane Grayson, Jane Carr
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Maggie Smith – Harry Potter 1-8 of  course, A Room with a View, Gosford Park, Keeping Mum, David Copperfield, Tea with Mussolini, Richard III, Sister Act, Hotel Marigold
    • Robert Stephens –Romeo and Juliet (1968), Henry V (1989)
    • Gordon Jackson – Upstairs Downstairs
    • Celia Johnson – Brief Encounter
  • Why bought: Maggie Smith
  • Seen: First time: about a year ago. Now: February 10, 2013 with H and YW in our read-book-watch-movie trio

 What’s the point of this movie, really? How are we supposed to react to it?  It’s very disturbing actually.  Miss Jean Brodie, spinster teacher in an all girls’ school in Edinburgh in the 1930’s. Beautiful, a free spirit, romantic, lover of the arts, lover of two men, pedagogically progressive, inspiration to young girls. And contemptuous, rigid, snobbish, self-delusional, self-glorifying, manipulative. And a fascist. A staunch supporter of Mussolini, Hitler and Franco.
And finally the victim of betrayal by one of her students. Betrayal?  The headmistress had been trying to get rid of Miss Brodie for years for her teaching methods, her flamboyance and her love affairs.  She is now finally kicked out for her political views.
This doesn’t ring true. One can accept the fact that some fascists were wildly romantic, totally clueless about politics and completely self-contradictory. But another thing to consider is that a woman like Miss Jean Brodie, at least a woman with fascist leanings, would not have differed from the headmistress or other teachers of a conservative girls’ school of the 1930’s. Fascist tendencies would not be grounds for dismissal, they would almost be requirements for being given the job.
So the whole story doesn’t work.
But Maggie Smith is magnificent. She thoroughly deserves her Oscar for the role. She is compelling from her haughty flamboyant entrance to her tragic humiliating fall.
In fact, everybody is good.
But it still doesn’t work. However, since I could be missing the point, and because the movie (and the book) demands discussion –

3 * of 5 

Hamlet 1948

Hamlet 1948
  • Director: Laurence Olivier
  • Based on book: Shakespeare.
  • Cast: Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Norman Wooland, Felix Aylmer,  Terence Morgan
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Laurence Olivier – As You Like It, Richard III, Henry V, Spartacus, Sleuth, Oh! What a Lovely War.
    • Jean Simmons – Spartacus, Elmer Gantry and many more
  • Why bought: Hamlet
  • Seen: First time: awhile ago. Second time: December 12, 2009 Now: February 9, 2013

In the first place, Denmark doesn’t have any mountains, it’s as flat as a pancake (makes for good bicycling, believe me). Second, there may be confusion about Hamlet’s age but he is definitely not thirty-seven years old and getting wrinkles. Thirdly, a more monotone, expressionless To Be or Not to Be is hard to imagine.  In the fourth place, weep, weep, weep easily becomes (and does) wimp, wimp, wimp – Ophelia and Gertrude deserve a much deeper portrayal!
More about Larry. At moments the genius he’s famous for can be glimpsed – his nonchalant leaning against the wall and his flippant tone when Claudius is asking him about poor dead Polonius hit the right note.  And his final words, “The rest is silence”, spoken in a resigned but almost amused voice with a little twitch of the eyebrow, is perfect.
But those moments do not make up for two and a half hours of an Olivier who is either so laid back that you wonder if he’s mentally writing a grocery list while filming, or screaming and throwing women to the floor or kissing his mother lasciviously or flouncing around with limp wrists. Granted Hamlet is a multifaceted and enigmatic figure but the facets should at least match the character in the play.
People don’t agree with me. The movie got an Oscar for best movie. Olivier for best actor. Tastes differ.
Wasn’t there anything I liked about it? Yes, there was. Best was the incredibly beautiful black and white photography, the dramatic stairways in the enormous castle, the swirling fog, the long corridors. Extremely suggestive, psychological and gripping. It was also an interesting touch that after her confrontation with Hamlet, Gertrude turns away from Claudius who is saddened and bewildered by it.
Otherwise, sorry, this is my least favorite Hamlet.  But it is Hamlet so therefore

2 ½ * of 5