25 July 2016

Harry and Hamlet

            There will be no new movie reviews on this blog for a few weeks, not because I won’t be watching movies but because I’ve already reviewed the ones we’ll be watching.
            Harry! Can’t stay away from Harry Potter. Completely without planning it Hal and I started, on Friday evening, to watch the Harry Potter films again. We watched The Philosopher’s Stone. Seven left to go. For this time.
            Hamlet! Can’t stay away from Shakespeare and we’re doing Hamlet again. Have watched three spin-offs we hadn’t seen before: The Prince of Jutland, The Empress, Hamlet Goes Business. You can see the reviews here on the blog. Of the films we’ve already seen we’ve now watched three: the brilliant Adrian Lester in Peter Brook’s production, the tedious Olivier version and the very well done BBC version with Derek Jacobi.  We have six left to go.
            So while waiting for new reviews to appear, I hope you enjoy the already posted reviews of the Harry and Hamlet films.

            Believe me, it’s a perfect combination. Who knows? You might become addicted too…

18 July 2016

The Crow

The Crow 1994
  • Director: Alex Proyas
  • Based on the comic book by James O’Barr
  • Cast: Brandon Lee, Rochelle Davis, Ernie Hudson, Michael Wincott, Bai Ling
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Michael Wincott – Le scaphandre et le papillon, Seraphim Falls, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Before Night Falls, Alien: Resurrection, Dead Girl, Strange Days, Dead Man, Romeo Is Bleeding, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, The Doors, Born on the Fourth of July
    • Bai Ling – Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Beautiful Country, Anna and the King, Wild Wild West
  • Why? liked it the first time
  • Seen: Twice before. Now: 15 July 2016      

       What I remember most about this film is the sadness. And I remember that the actor Brandon Lee died during the filming. What I don’t remember is what it’s about, exactly. But it comes back to me as I watch it.
       It starts with tragedy. Two young lovers, Shelly and Eric, are murdered. Their young friend Sarah survives.
       A year later Sarah is friends with the cop, Albrecht, who was at the scene of the murder. Then we see a crow, and Eric digging his way out of his grave.
       It’s dark, stormy, muddy and atmospheric as Eric comes back from the dead to wreak vengeance on the murderers.
       It’s a Gothic rock video. It’s gritty urban fantasy. It’s violent and poetic. It’s about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll and ghosts and friendship.
       How much Brandon Lee’s death contributed to this becoming a cult film is hard to say.  It sort of has ‘cult film’ written all over it. Poor Brandon Lee was not a very good actor, and there are others who are hammy, but the film has a lot of quality too.
       It’s worth watching this third time.

3* of 5

11 July 2016

Hamlet Goes Business

Hamlet Goes Business ( Hamlet Liikemaailmassa) 1987
  • Director: Aki Kaurismäki
  • Based on the play by Shakespeare
  • Cast: Pirkka-Pekka Petelius, Esko Salminen, Kati Outinen, Elina Salo, Kari Väänänen
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Esko Salminen – Den bästa av mödrarna
    • Kati Outinen – Mannen utan minnen, Moln på drift
    • Elina Salo – Mannen utan minnen, Moln på drift
    • Kari Väänänen – Leningrad Cowboys Go America
  • Why? Hamlet
  • Seen: 9 July 2016      

       Poison in a drink. Passionate stolen kisses. Death! Young Hamlet inherits the business but is said to be too stupid to run things. His uncle Klaus will do that. Gertrude tells Hamlet that his father was a cold-hearted tyrant. She loves Klaus and will marry him. Hamlet is upset. The father’s ghost comes and goes. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are summoned by Klaus, who plans on buying the rubber duck factory from Swedish tycoon Wallenberg (a real person in the real life Rockefeller-like tycoon family who runs the Swedish economy).
       And so it goes.
       Filmed in black and white, with sly humour and clever story twists this is, as expected, bizarre. But not very. And Hamlet is thoroughly unlikeable.
       Is it a parody? A melodrama? An homage to Shakespeare and Olivier?
       Whatever it’s meant to be, it doesn’t work for me. The blues and rock music give it a distinctly Finnish flavour but that doesn’t help much. It’s not funny enough, or tragic enough, or weird enough to do Shakespeare justice. Changing the ending inspires a big, ‘Why?’ This is not Kaurismäki’s best. It’s a disappointment.

2 * of 5

The Music Man

The Music Man 1962
  • Director: Morton DaCosta
  • Based on the book: no
  • Cast: Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Hermione Gingold, Paul Ford, Pert Kelton, Ronny Howard
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
    • Robert Preston – Victor/Victoria
    • Shirley Jones – Elmer Gantry, Carousel, Oklahoma, TV series
    • Buddy Hackett – Laugh-In, It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
    • Hermione Gingold – Gigi, Around the World in Eighty Days
    • Paul Ford – The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming!, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Tea House of the August Moon
    • Ronny Howard – American Graffiti
  • Why? an old favourite
  • Seen: Several times. Now: 8 July 2016      

       What is it about these old musicals that I can’t resist? Well, the lyrics and the music? Obviously. In this one the line, ‘And if he occasionally ponders what makes Beethoven and Shakespeare great, him I could love till I die,’ has come back to me since I myself have fallen in love with both Beethoven and Shakespeare.
       And it’s about librarians and music. What more could one ask? Not to mention tiny little Ronny Howard.
       I’ve said it before about other films and I’ll say it about this one: I love this movie. Besides my Swedish ancestors settled in Iowa and one of my favourite in-laws, Emilie, lives in Iowa.
       I’m seriously allergic to Americana but this makes affectionate fun of small towns and it’s spot on. I grew up in one and I hated it, fleeing as soon as I could.  But I loved our own Marian the Librarian. Her name was actually Marie. Close.
       I love librarians. I love this movie. Right. I already said that. Sorry.
       The story. Professor Harold Hill is a fraud. He comes to River City, Iowa, ca 1910 to con the people into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band on the promise that the boys will learn to play using the Think System (actually not totally absurd; many people learn to play by ear). No-nonsense librarian Marian reveals his fraudulence. They fall in love. The boys learn to play. Tears come to my eyes (as always) as ‘Seventy-Six Trombones’ starts up.
       So in spite of the silly parts, the pathetic stereotypes and the sentimental sweetness:

6 * of 7

4 July 2016

The Empress (Ye Yan)

The Empress (Ye yan) 2006
  • Director: Xiaogang Feng
  • Based loosely on Shakespeare’s Hamlet
  • Cast: Ziyi Zhang, You Ge
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
o   None of them
·       Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen:  3 July 2016
       The scenery and costumes are stunningly beautiful. The killing and battles are blood spattering ballets. Murder most foul is made exquisitely gory, full of Crouch Tiger leaping and soaring Kung Fu-ish artistry.
       The characters are roughly recognisable though the Gertrude character is the Hamlet character’s stepmother and they are in love with each other. She is also a skilled sword fighter and she is not dainty about wielding power and striving for more.
       It’s confusing but captivating. It’s hard to follow but there’s enough of Hamlet to understand the story. The complexity of the characters’ psychology is true to Shakespeare.
       The gluttony of violence – artistic though it is – is a bit too much of a good thing. It certainly is dramatic however. And a visual masterpiece. And sensual. And theatrical. Utterly magnificent.
       But…? Why the mystery ending?

4 ½ * of 5

For more on Shakespeare see my book Shakespeare Calling – the book

Prince of Jutland

Prince of Jutland 1994
  • Director: Gabriel Axel
  • Based on the original source of Shakespeare’s Hamlet written in the 12th century by Saxo Grammaticus
  • Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Christian Bale, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Kate Beckinsale, Tony Haygarth, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Williams, Andy Serkis
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
o   Gabriel Byrne – Quirke, Emotional Arithmetic, Jindabyne, Wah-Wah, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Dead Man, Little Women, Miller’s Crossing, Gothic, Excalibur
o   Christian Bale - Public Enemies, I’m Not There, Terminator Salvation, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Batman Begins, The Prestige, Equilibrium, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Velvet Goldmine, Little Women, Swing Kids, Henry V
o   Helen Mirren – The Hundred Foot Journey, Brighton Rock, The Tempest, The Queen, Calendar Girls, Gosford Park, The Pledge, Some Mother’s Son, Prime Suspect, The Madness of King George, Mosquito Coast, Cymbeline, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Excalibur, As You Like It, O Lucky Man
o   Brian Cox – The Slap, Coriolanus, Zodiac, Troy, Adaption, The Bourne Identity, Longitude, Rushmore, Long Kiss Goodnight, Braveheart, Rob Roy, King Lear
o   Kate Beckinsale – The Aviator, Serendipity, The Last Days of Disco, Shooting Fish, Cold Comfort Farm, Much Ado about Nothing
o   Tony Haygarth – Gracie, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, Clockwise, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Holocaust, I Claudius
o   Tom Wilkinson – Hotel Marigold, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Girl with the Pearl Earring, Shakespeare in Love, Smilla’s Sense of Snow
o   Mark Williams -  Hustle, Harry Potter 1-8, Merlin, Stardust, Tristram Shandy, Shackleton, Whatever Happened to Harold Smith, Shakespeare in Love
o   Andy Serkis – Star Wars the Force Awakens, The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, Brighton Rock, The Prestige, King Kong, 24 Hour Party People, Topsy-Turvy, Career Girls
  • ·       Why? Hamlet connection
  • Seen:  2 July 2016
       We’re now reading Hamlet again and soon we’ll dive into the pile of DVD versions on the Shakespeare shelf. But first this yet unseen spin-off. Or spin-back, one might say. This is based on the original legend by Saxo Grammaticus, written in the 12th century from whence Shakespeare borrowed the character and story.
       A good cast bodes well.
       In the small rustic kingdom of Jutland Fenge murders his brother the king. The king’s eldest son witnesses the murder and goes mad so is unable to reveal what he has seen. Fenge becomes king and weds the widowed queen, his sister-in-law. And wonders – is the prince really mad?
       The ponies are endearing and the horses are fine but the film is awful.  What are these great actors doing in this boring, amateurish, Viking soap opera loser?  Oh, Shakespeare, we need you!

1 ¾ * of 5

For more on Shakespeare see my book Shakespeare Calling – the book


·       Director: Christopher Nolan
·       Based on the book: no
·       Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Mackenzie Foy, John Lithgow, Timothée Chalamet, David Oyelowo, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, David Gyasi, Casey Affleck, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon
·       Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
o   Matthew McConaughey – True Detective, The Lincoln Lawyer, EDtv, Amistad, Contact
o   John Lithgow – Shakespeare 400 Live BBC, Third Rock from the Sun, The Pelican Brief, Footloose, Terms of Endearment, The World According to Garp
o   David Oyelowe– The Butler, The Help, Small Island, The Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, As You Like It, Derailed
o   Anne Hathaway– Les Misérables, The Dark Knight Rises, Alice in Wonderland, Rachel Getting Married, Becoming Jane, Brokeback Mountain, Ella Enchanted
o   Michael Caine – Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Harry Brown, Flawless, The Prestige, Children of Men, The Weatherman, Last Orders, Get Carter, The Cider House Rules, Little Voice, Mona Lisa, Educating Rita, Sleuth (both versions), Alfie
o   David Gyasi – Cloud Atlas, The Dark Knight Rises
o   Casey Affleck – Gone Baby Gone, Lonesome Jim, Hamlet, Good Will Hunting,
    • Jessica Chastain – The Help, The Tree of Life, Coriolanus, Veronica Mars
    • Matt Damon -  Elysium, Contagion, True Grit, Invictus, The Brothers Grimm, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Bourne Identity, Dogma, Saving Private Ryan, Good Will Hunting
·       Why? sci-fi
  • Seen: 1 July 2016
       It doesn’t start out very interstellar. It starts with an agricultural blight and a family fighting it on their own farm. Widower Cooper lives with his father-in-law Donald and his children Tom and Murphy. They are trying to adapt. The world needs farmers, not engineers and pilots like Cooper.
       The Apollo space missions are said not to have happened, they were just invented propaganda. It was the consumerism of that period that caused the current environmental disaster, but Cooper – who knows the missions took place because he was on some of them – longs for the days of space travel and high tech. He hates being a farmer. And he denies his daughter Murphy’s claim that their house has a poltergeist.
       And then he and Murphy discover that NASA still exists – in hiding.  Old Dr Brand (Michael Caine) says, ‘We are not meant to save the world, we are meant to leave it.’ The plan is to send someone out after the three missions that earlier tried to colonise other planets. Cooper is the chosen pilot to accompany Brand’s daughter Emilia, also a physicist, and two other scientists, on a mission to rescue and awaken those earlier missions. So Cooper blasts off, leaving his weeping children behind.
       In a blippy time warp Cooper and Brand are separated from the other two for a few minutes only to discover that 23 years have passed when they are reunited. Cooper has received messages from his children for 23 years. It’s not possible to answer them.
       Earth continues to die as the space travellers have existential discussions about love vs science. With quotes from ‘Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night’ there is drama and philosophy in this odd mixed bag.
       It’s quite long but it has its moments.

3 ½ * of 5


Philomena 2013
·       Director: Stephen Frears
·       Based on the book by Martin Sixsmith
·       Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham, Barbara Jefford, Anna Maxwell Martin, Wunmi Mosaku
·       Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor in:
o   Judi Dench – Spectre, Hotel Marigold 2, Vicious, Hotel Marigold, My Week with Marilyn, Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides, Jane Eyre, Cranford, Nine, Quantum of Silence, Notes on a Scandal, Casino Royale, Mrs Henderson Presents, Ladies in Lavender, Die Another Day, The Shipping News, Chocolat, The World is Not Enough, Tea with Mussolini, Shakespeare in Love, Tomorrow Never Dies, Mrs Brown, Hamlet, Golden Eye, Middlemarch, Henry V, A Handful of Dust, 84 Charing Cross Road, A Room with a View, Macbeth,
o   Steve Coogan – In the Loop, Hot Fuzz, Little Britain, Tristram Shandy, 24 Hour Party People
o   Sophie Kennedy Clark – Dark Shadows
o   Mare Winningham – Swing Vote, Six Feet Under, Georgia, One-Trick Pony
o   Anna Maxwell Martin – Bletchley Circle, South Riding, Becoming Jane, Bleak House,
o   Wunmi Mosaku – Dancing on the Edge
·       Why? Judi Dench
·       Seen: 27 June 2106 with YW in our read-book-see-film club

      A film with Judi Dench has to be good and this film will without question be better than the book it’s loosely based on. The book was awful.
Young unwed Philomena gave birth to a baby boy she named Anthony. The nuns called her a sinner and made her give him up for adoption. It’s a fate that befell many unwed mothers and their babies in Catholic Ireland in the 50’s (and long after). The dreadful conditions were exposed in the book and film about the Magdalene Sisters.
Fifty years later journalist Martin Sixsmith is unemployed and desperate for a job. Philomena tells Martin about the cruel prison like conditions in the abbey and how when her son was four years old he was without warning taken for adoption. She was not allowed to say good-bye.
The search for Anthony begins. The Sisters of Mercy offer tea, biscuits, smiles and polite but firm ‘bugger offs’. But Martin perseveres.
Fortunately, the film emphasises what the book ignores – the relationship between Philomena and Martin.
It’s a feel-rather-good movie. It is, as expected, a lot better than the book. Without Dench, however, it would have been no better than all right.  But Dench delivers as always and raises it to

3* of 5