Archive for the ‘Epic’ Category

Noah

Movie Review #733

noah

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel. Produced by Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, Arnon Milchan, and Mary Parent for Protozoa Pictures and Disruption Entertainment, presented by Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises. Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Nick Nolte, Mark Margolis, Leo McHugh Carroll, Marton Csokas, Finn Wittrock, Gavin Casalegno, Nolan Gross, Skylar Burke, Dakota Goyo, Ariane Rinehart, Adam Marshall Griffith, and the voice of Frank Langella. Uncredited cameos: Joseph Basile, Clem Cote, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, and Joseph Garcia Quinn. Premiered in Mexico City on March 10, 2014; in Berlin on March 13, 2014; in Madrid on March 17, 2014; in New York City, New York on March 26, 2014; in Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Dublin on March 29, 2014; in London on March 31, 2014; and in Paris on April 1, 2014. Distributed by Paramount Pictures in wide release on March 28, 2014. Rated PG-13: violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content. Runs 138 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

Director Darren Aronofsky has always managed to fascinate me with his inventive approach to story. I’ve seen his entire oeuvre (save for “The Fountain”), and he’s always found my gratitude in reusing the same setup. The idea is that, once a character grows obsessed with something, he or she is on a path toward self-destruction.

Thus “Noah” is a Biblical epic told from the stance of a psychologist. It’s definitely not the view of a historian, and as a psychological representation of the titular character, it’s truly riveting. The film can be properly separated into three acts: Act I, the Preparation for the End; Act II, the End of Mankind; and Act III, the Creation of the New World. Or, for those who would rather look at it as a flood story than as a biopic, the three acts are the Omens, the Flood, and the Aftermath. Either way, Noah is more likeable than any choice character from Aronofsky’s canon. He’s a good-natured, kindhearted family man. The script and Russell Crowe’s performance intertwine to make this man natural and relatable to us. Additionally, the written effort from Aronofsky and Ari Handel offers an elaborate, convincing vision of the Biblical hero.

For every second of its two hours, eighteen minutes, “Noah” has our undivided attention. The film engages mainly because of its dark, intense, and unconventional look at the antediluvian patriarch. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the third act is rattling and absolutely brilliant. The climactic moments have us at the edge of our seats, even if that’s what we most expect, given the adrenalizing finales Aronofsky conducted in “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) and “Black Swan” (2010).

“Noah” features a distinct array of fantastical elements. Many of these are there to enhance the mystery and miracle that we find in flood story that encompasses four chapters of the Book of Genesis. Sometimes, however, the movie gears toward something of a high fantasy. It has good intentions in that latter area. We’re introduced to the “Watchers”. These are angels that were sent to earth to protect the innocent from evil. It gives them enough credibility that they freely admit to Noah how hopeless they feel, thanks to how corrupt the earth has become. A great idea, but it’s difficult to see how an angel can look like a walking pile of rocks. Whether this was a CGI problem or a script problem, I felt strangely as if I were watching The Lord of the Rings.

In substance, “Noah” is a psychological drama. In style, it’s a Biblical epic. Clint Mansell (“Lux Æterna”) composed the score, which matches up precisely with not only the movie’s demanding and ambitious nature, but also Noah’s demanding and ambitious character. Same for the set decoration and the keen-eye editing. Best of all is the genius Matthew Libatique. Underrated as he may be, Libatique has taken the reins once again with his magnificent cinematography. When Russell Crowe tells his family the story of Creation, every one of these elements comes to a peak and is absolutely breathtaking. I do guarantee that “Noah” is a beautiful, touching piece. For those who enjoy solid, crafty entertainment, “Noah” should be seen, and for all the cinematic beauty it offers, it deserves to be seen at the theater.

OF INTEREST: Darren Aronofsky directed five feature films before he directed Noah. Adjusted separately for inflation, the combined budget of his first five films is less than $67 million. Noah alone cost $125 million to make.

NOAH IS IN THEATERS.

Movie Review #723

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Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Scenario, adaptation and dialogue: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix. Adapted from: the comic book “Le bleu est une couleur chaude” by Julie Maroh. Produced by Brahim Chioua, Abdellatif Kechiche, and Vincent Maraval for Quat’sous Films and Wild Bunch, in partnership with CNC. Co-production: France 2 Cinéma, Scope Pictures, Vértigo Films, and RTBF. Participation: Canal+, Ciné+, FR2, and France Télévision. Support: Eurimages, Région Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Pictanovo, Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral de Belgique, and Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Starring Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2013. Distributed by Wild Bunch and Sundance Selects (subtitled) in limited release on October 25, 2013. Also released in France and Belgium on October 9, 2013; and in Spain on October 25, 2013. Rated NC-17: explicit sexual content. Runs 179 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

Story is as much an epidemic for the romance epic as the black death was for Europe. This isn’t a matter of having a story, just a matter of having too much story. Look at the best of the genre. “Gone with the Wind”, “Doctor Zhivago”, “Reds”. All three being spectacular films, but they could’ve grabbed even more of our emotions if there wasn’t so much concern over the political ordeals the characters were dealing with. “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is a different and (arguably) improved romance. In all its three hours, not once is politics a concern, and why should it be when we’re engrossed in its love story?

In other words, it’s all about character, and the dynamics of the picture are that character controls story. We begin with a fifteen-year-old Adèle. She is pressured into going out with a guy in her class, but nothing really works out between the two of them. While she’s on a date with him, she notices someone else: a blue-haired, young woman who she finds rather attractive. Later on, after calling her relationship with her boyfriend off, the underage Adèle visits a bar and finds the blue-haired woman once again. They quickly fall in love, and over the years, their relationship transforms from a life-changing experience to a longlasting passion.

What makes the movie so dynamic is that it’s absolutely honest. It doesn’t embrace the struggles that Adèle faces, namely being a lesbian despite what her friends think of this. It scratches the surface with that, but once Adèle can accept what she believes over what those around her believe, this becomes a story about love. What’s best about this is that the casting is brilliant. Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux command their performances perfectly. Their relationship is entirely believable, however, due to the fact that they’re unfamiliar faces: Seydoux had almost unnoticeable roles in Midnight in Paris and Inception; Exarchopoulos makes her debut here.

“Blue Is the Warmest Color” is a modern classic. The cinematography makes for a wonder to behold, particularly during its closeups. Just take a look at that shot on the poster. That entire scene is unforgettable. The French title for “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is La vie d’Adèle – chapitres 1 et 2 (The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 and 2). An accurate title, given that the movie can be evenly divided: chapter one being a coming-of-age film, and chapter two being a full-blown romance. The two chapters do seem to flow into one another as one film, but even if considered two separate films, any part of “Blue Is the Warmest Color” signifies a masterpiece.

POSTSCRIPT: Before you take up my recommendation, I ask (for the sake of not receiving complaints) that you keep the fast-forward button handy or be fully prepared for anything that should show up onscreen. The NC-17 is quite accurate.

Tomorrow’s Review

Clerks.

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD FROM THE CRITERION COLLECTION, AND FREE TO STREAM ON NETFLIX.

Blue Is the Warmest Color

Movie Review #723

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Warning: French review ahead, so stay tuned, anyone who doesn’t speak the language. English transliteration comes tomorrow.

Realisé par Abdellatif Kechiche. Scénario, adaptation et dialogue: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix. Adapté du bande-dessinée «Le bleu est une couleur chaude» par Julie Maroh. Produit par Brahim Chioua, Abdellatif Kechiche, et Vincent Maraval pour Quat’sous Films et Wild Bunch, en association avec CNC. Co-production: France 2 Cinéma, Scope Pictures, Vértigo Films, et RTBF. Participation: Canal+, Ciné+, FR2, et France Télévision. Support: Eurimages, Région Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Pictanovo, Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral de Belgique, et Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Avait pour vedettes Léa Seydoux et Adèle Exarchopoulos. Débuté en Cannes Film Festival le 23 mai 2013. Distribué par Wild Bunch et Sundance Selects (avec sous-titres) en distribution limitée le 25 octobre 2013. Aussi distribué en France et en Belgium le 9 octobre 2013; et en Espagne le 25 octobre 2013. Raté NC-17 par l’MPAA: contenu sexuel évident. Courrant par 179 minutes.

Intrigue est épidémie pour le film au grand amour aussi que la «mort noir» était pour Europe. Ceci n’est pas une affaire d’avoir une intrigue, mais c’est juste une affaire d’avoir trop de cette intrigue. Regard le crème de la crème au genre. «Gone with the Wind», «Doctor Zhivago», et «Reds». Chaque de le trois est un film spectaculeur, mais ils pouvait saisir plus que les émotions de l’audience, si il n’y avait pas beaucoup d’intrigue de la politique. «Blue Is the Warmest Color» est un film d’amour qui est très différent film d’amour. En tous les trois hours de lui, rien fait partie de l’intrigue sauf l’amour des caractères principaux. Et ça, c’est parfait, pour on s’interesse à cet amour.

En autres mots, le film, il est tout de caractère, et dans ce film, caractère contrôle l’intrigue. On commence avec l’introduction d’Adèle, qui a quinze ans. Elle est tenté de sortir avec un mec dans sa classe, mais rien vraiment marche entre lui et elle. Pendant que elle est au rendez-vous avec son petit-ami, elle remarque une autre personne: une femme jeune avec cheveux bleus qui elle trouve assez belle. Plus tard, après elle se brisait avec son petit-ami, Adèle rend visite à un bar et trouve le femme aux cheveux bleus encore. Elles rapidement se tombe en amour, et eventuellement, leur accord est devenu une passion éternel.

Le film est très dynamique parce qu’il est absolument honeste. Il n’embrasse pas les difficultés qu’Adèle passe, particulairement d’être une lesbienne malgré que ses amis croient de cela. Il gratte sur ça, mais la momente qu’Adèle peux accepter qu’elle croit plutôt que les peuples autour d’elle croient, ce film devient une histoire d’amour. Lequel est le meilleur de ça, c’est que le casting est fantastique. Adèle Exarchopoulos et Léa Seydoux dominent leurs rôles parfaitement. Leur accord est entièrement crédible, toutefois, à cause du fait qu’ils sont acteurs inconnu: Seydoux a eu presque rôles à peine visible en «Midnight in Paris» et «Inception»; Exarchopoulos fait sa début là.

«Blue Is the Warmest Color» est une classique moderne. Le cinématographie émerveille, spécifiquement pendant ses gros plans. Simplement jeter un coup d’œil ce photo de l’affiche. Cette scène entière est inoubliable. Le titre en France pour «Blue Is the Warmest Color» est La vie d’Adèle – chapitres 1 et 2. Un titre précis, donné que le film peut être divisé également: chapitre un d’être un film sur le passage à l’âge adulte, et chapitre deux d’être un film d’amour complètement. Les deux chapitres faisent s’infiltrer dans l’un l’autre comme un film; même si considéré deux films séparés, n’importe quel pièce de «Blue Is the Warmest Color» signifie un chef d’œuvre.

Tomorrow’s Review

Blue Is the Warmest Color [English-language review]

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD FROM THE CRITERION COLLECTION, AND FREE TO STREAM ON NETFLIX.

Son of God

Movie Review #722

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Directed by Christopher Spencer.  Writers: Richard Bedser, Christopher Spencer, Colin Swash, Nic Young.  Produced by Richard Bedser, Mark Burnett, and Roma Downey for Hearst Entertainment Productions and LightWorkers Media.  Starring Sebastian Knapp, Greg Hicks, Diogo Morgado, Darwin Shaw, Amber Rose Revah, Matthew Gravelle, Joe Wredden, Paul Marc Davis, Rick Bacon, Fraser Ayres, Said Bey, Adrian Schiller, Paul Brightwell, Simon Kunz, Sanaa Mouziane, Anas Chenin, Roma Downey, Daniel Percival, Noureddine Aberdine, and Idrissa Sisco.  Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation in wide release on February 28, 2014.  Rated PG-13: intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence.  Runs 138 minutes.

“Son of God” is director Christopher Spencer’s way overblown attempt to make a Biblical epic.  The paradox here is that it’s so exaggerated that we can see why the Ghost of Cecil B. DeMille might wish to rise from the grave to take the reins on this project, but its exaggeration is so pitiful that we can also imagine that DeMille might wish to cometh anew simply to empty his bowels upon the script.  Let me give you an example.  There’s no doubt that this director wants to cover several years.  I mean, yeah, that’s from the fact that he’s trying to make an epic, but look at the beginning of the movie.  We get such short snippets of Noah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Saul, whoever, that the first five minutes just seems like a trailer for History’s miniseries The Bible.  I didn’t watch The Bible when its ten episodes were on television, but from all the rave that one got, I’m so surprised to see how poorly its apparent followup, “Son of God” , turned out.

Am I mincing words?  Apologies, I’ll be more direct here.  “Son of God” is a very preachy Sunday School lesson.  And it’s more of that than it is a movie.  Not so surprisingly, this feels more like a TV movie.  Way to follow up The Bible miniseries, but come on, a theatrical release?  It’s got poor marketing, among a lot else that’s equally poor.  I guess there is a plus.  If you’re one of those people who reads books and then sees the movie right after, then ends the world over the fact that the movie wasn’t faithful enough, this two-and-a-half hour feature is pretty darn faithful to the Books of the Gospels.

I wouldn’t advocate calling “Son of God” a terrible movie so readily as I would support calling it an amusingly bad movie.  All right, it is terrible, but hey, I was entertained.  How can one not be entertained by a movie that earns more laughs than many modern comedies?  Just watch Jesus and his disciples converse like they’re modern Americans, in their proper Australian/British accents that we stereotypically associate with movies that want to be, uh, legendary-like.  Every “yep,” “doin’,” “goin’,” “ya,” and the pronunciation of “brother” like “bruthah”–it’s all terrifically funny.  (I just kinda wished they’d gone into “oi” and “mate.”  I’d be clapping and jubilantly choking on my popcorn.)

It’s not just the script or the director’s choice not to direct the actors.  The acting had me laughing pretty hard, though I have to admit, I was kind of saddened that the worst actor was saved for the beginning: a Magi.  Or a wiseman, but surely not in the performing field.  I’ll give Amber Rose Revah a hand for her half-decent performance as Mary Magdelene.  She looks like Sandra Bullock, and she’s not just a lookalike.  She’s basically Sandra Bullock minus the Oscar win.

Enough fun and games, though.  The casting choices are rather confusing.  There’s one disciple who we can tell apart from the rest of the bunch, and that’s because he’s bald.  Everyone else looks the same.  The story is narrated by Peter, but I had to really think back to the beginning to place which one was him.  They’re all just roundheaded men with curly hair and large beards.  It wasn’t until Judas killed himself (which, in this rendition, seems pretty sudden and unexplainable) that I realized which of these guys was Judas.

Jesus is identifiable though.  He’s the one who appears and draws up a thought like, “Jesus, trim your hair!  You look like you’re Jared Leto.”  It’s safe to say that if he was, we’d have a good performance.  The depiction of Jesus is not as a man who we want to follow, and again, Peter narrates this story, so that’s rather odd.  What makes it odder is that he’s, in fact, depicted as a pompous asshole.  Yeah, it’s a pretty unconvincing role Jesus has.

Maybe I shouldn’t settle with Peter narrates “Son of God” .  He details the whole movie.  As in, it’s not about Jesus, so much as it is about Peter’s yearning to be like Jesus.  Maybe a better title is Guy Who Wanted to Be Son of God.  The way Darwin Shaw acts out these aspirations are rather amusing.  It’s like watching a little kid try and become Superman, particularly at the end when Peter tries to reenact the Last Supper.  Hey wait, isn’t reenacting the Last Supper sacrilege?  How come Peter lived?

Not everything is terrible about “Son of God” .  A great deal of it is, but that’s only leading up to the finale.  Even if it’s not enough of the movie to make it all that memorable, “Son of God” improves drastically in acting, camerawork, and direction near the end.  The one absolutely cinematic sequence in the whole thing is when the depiction of Jesus’s 40 lashes (we see 14) is juxtaposed with Judas’s suicide.  Yeah, this is the Crucifixion, and it’s quite a way of showing it to us.  The PG-13 “Son of God” received puzzles me so much.  This is just barely less bloody than “The Passion of the Christ”, as I remember that one.  In fact, if there’s one thing that reduces theater walkouts and saves the custodian from having to clean up vomit off the floor, it’s the camerawork.  The sequence lasts maybe twenty minutes, and we cut away only from the most bloody.  As in, just don’t show Jesus’s hands or feet when they nail him to the cross.  Come to think of it, forget what I said about not having to walk out of the theater.  “Son of God” is unintentionally funny and all that, but that’s not exactly a good thing when it’s overlong and covers religion, which is nothing if it isn’t a serious subject matter.  If I were anything but a film critic, I would have strolled right out and demanded my money back.

Tomorrow’s Review

TBD

SON OF GOD IS IN THEATERS.

The English Patient

Movie Review #713

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Miramax Films presents…

Copyright Owners: Tiger Moth Productions

Distributor: Miramax Films
Country: USA – UK
Spoken Langues: English – German – Italian – Arabic

Directed by Anthony Minghella. Produced by Saul Zaentz. Novel by Michael Ondaatje.  Screenplay by Anthony Minghella.

Rated R by the MPAA – sexual material; infrequent violence; infrequent profanity. Runs 2 hours, 42 minutes. First shown in Italy in October 1996. Premiered in Los Angeles, California on November 6, 1996; and in New York City, New York on November 12, 1996. Limited release in the USA on November 15, 1996. Wide release in the USA on December 6, 1996; and in the UK on March 14, 1997.

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe, and Kristin Scott Thomas. Also starring Naveen Andrews, Colin Firth, Jürgen Prochnow, Kevin Whately, Torri Higginson, Raymond Coulthard, Philip Whitchurch, and Lee Ross. Featuring credited cameo appearances by Matthew Ferguson, Jason Done, Roger Morlidge, Simon Sherlock, Dominic Mafham, and Gregor Truter.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

If “The English Patient” didn’t work for you, I can understand that. I can stand hearing that it’s “boring,” because there is a camp that finds the movie absolutely agonizing. All it means is that they weren’t the audience for which Anthony Minghella had written and directed his monument.

What I won’t stand to hear is that the movie is “bad.” The script is quixotically written, absolutely poignant; a wonder to behold, as if what became of it was anything otherwise. Everything here comes from the nonlinear context of Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 novel, but the stories told in flashbacks is so beautifully paralleled with those told in the present that the sequencing of events doesn’t seem to matter. “The English Patient” is composed of several characters and stories that aren’t exactly explained in the beginning, and by the end they’re the creators of their own catharsis. But in getting there, it doesn’t tie together. It flows together.

“The English Patient” is an exquisite composition, marked by riveting performances from Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe, and Kristin Scott Thomas. I couldn’t help wanting more of Colin Firth, or the astonishing then-newcomer to American cinema, Juliette Binoche. Not unlike other epics, it deserves to be seen with theatrical treatment, or not at all. Certain scenes give the movie emotional enhancements that feel overwhelmingly three-dimensional. Cinematography, music, and sound editing just keep improving throughout, but the “Silent Night” scene is the most incredible use of all three since the parade scene in “The Godfather Part II”.

It kills me to point out mistakes here, but when it rains, it pours. In his earliest “old scenes,” a closeup of Ralph Fiennes’s hand reveals an obvious latex glove for the “wrinkles” effect.” Plane scenes are peppered throughout the movie, and each one is as fake as anything. I was even able to catch an actual “error,” actually: a man entering a cave in one scene bumps his head into the wall, and the “wall” moves as if it were a hollow set piece. Maybe this wasn’t so obvious upon the film’s release, eighteen years in the past, but in all, I can only be glad that so much of the film does stand the test of time. “The English Patient” elaborates for nearly three hours, during which there isn’t really anything that fails to entertain, or to keep it from flying by. It is the marvelous epic that results when another director envisions “Casablanca”.

Tomorrow’s Review

The Armstrong Lie

THE ENGLISH PATIENT IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, VHS, AND LASERDISC.

Doctor Zhivago

Movie Review #696

This review is dedicated to anyone who actually thought I purposefully reviewed a romance on Valentine’s Day. It just goes along with the words of Gump: “Life’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Sometimes, coincidence. (The mention of chocolates was intentional, though.)

NOTE: This review regards the 45th Anniversary Edition, which includes the movie as it was re-released in 1992.

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Presented by Metro – Goldwyn – Mayer…

…a Carlo Ponti Production…

Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Country: USA – Italy
Spoken Languages: English – Russian

Directed by David Lean. Produced by Carlo Ponti. Screenplay by Robert Bolt. From the novel by Boris Leonidovic Pasternak “Doctor Zhivago”.

Approved by the Production Code Administration (unknown certificate). Later rated GP by the MPAA. Currently rated PG-13 by the MPAA — mature themes. Act I runs 1 hour, 59 minutes with overture music, opening credits, and intermission music. Act II runs 1 hour, 21 minutes with entr’acte music and final credits. Complete production runs 3 hours, 20 minutes (originally released 3 minutes shorter; 1999 re-release runs 8 minutes shorter). Premiered in New York City, New York on December 22, 1965; and in London on April 26, 1966. Wide release in the USA on December 31, 1965; and in Italy on December 10, 1966. Re-released in the USA on September 28, 1999.

Narrated by Alec Guinness. Starring Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Tom Courtenay, Siobhan McKenna, and Ralph Richardson. Also starring Jeffrey Rockland, Tarek Sharif, Gerard Tichy, Adrienne Corri, and Lucy Westmore. Featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by Mercedes Ruiz as Tonya at 7.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

As is appropriate in reviewing an epic, let me start in medias res. I took a break during the designated intermission during “Doctor Zhivago” and came back during the entr’acte. As I opened the door to my basement stairs, where the speakers and Blu-ray player were running without me, I experienced something extraordinary. I was not hearing the ever famous “Lara’s Theme,” but a terrific overflow of sound that encapsulated me from the very moment I began my journey down the stairs. It wasn’t like descending into a movie theater. It was like being pulled gently, gracefully into Heaven. Mind you, what I’m describing here is nothing more than how Sir David Lean, CBE, puts things together. Specifically, a title card with a French conjunction that translates as “between acts,” with a song composed by Maurice Jarre.

And how gloriously this man did it. He anoints my heart (my head, too) with water, my cup runneth over.

I don’t want to put “Zhivago” on a pedestal. Or maybe I do. It’s simply the best epic of its time. That time, from anything I’ve seen, denoting anything that came prior to “Reds” (1981)–itself a quasi-replica of this film–way back to anything that followed “Gone with the Wind” (1939). I wouldn’t doubt that just why “Zhivago” is so spectacular is in the simplicity of how Sir Lean imagined it from the beginning. Not as an epic movie, but as an epic poem with the vast accoutrements of a silver screen epic. This tale unfolds as a long narrative from the eyes of a single character. I’ll quote Tom Hanks as saying that, with the entire rest of the cast, our narrator is a “needle in a stack of needles.” None of it’s boring by any standard, but unless watched in theaters or with the viewing atmosphere of a theater, the story isn’t told like it could (and should) be.

There’s not a moment in “Zhivago” that lacks beauty. That much of the movie was filmed on location keeps the look intact and as realistic as it could ever be. With Freddie Young returning from Sir Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia”, the camerawork is masterful. Except where that film was pompously beautiful, “Zhivago” orchestrates a humble beauty. Our main character is a sensitive, quiet man who leads careers as both a physician and a poet. During the time between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Second World War, Zhivago resorts to cheating on his wife, with the wife of a political acitivist. Perhaps his character isn’t disagreeable (and much more likeable than Sir Lean’s previous character) due to the magnanimous man he is; it seems to compensate. Zhivago is portrayed by Omar Sharif, though among the extraordinary cast he leads are two real standouts: Rod Steiger and Julie Christie. They really escalate the screenplay in their supporting roles. The novel Doctor Zhivago started as a manuscript that was smuggled out of the USSR to become published in Italy. Our screenwriter, Robert Bolt, wrote the screenplay. It’s highly, highly descriptive, but exquisite and thoroughly interesting. Having transitioned from the written craft into four stages of film production, that only seems to have escalated.

Coming Reviews

Blackfish
Blue Jasmine
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
We’re the Millers

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, VHS, AND LASERDISC.

Hit the jump for an announcement regarding the 2nd Annual Cinemaniac Awards:

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Superman

Movie Review #660

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Studio: Dovemead Limited – Film Export A.G. – International Film Production
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Country: UK
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Richard Donner. Produced by Pierre Spengler. Created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster. Story by Mario Puzo. Screenplay by Mario Puzo and David Newman and Leslie Newman & Robert Benton. Additional uncredited writer: Tom Mankiewicz.

Rated PG by the MPAA – mild violence, infrequent and mild sexual content, profanity. Runs 2 hours, 23 minutes (2000 restoration runs 2 hours, 31 minutes). Premiered in Washington, D.C. on December 10, 1978. Royal European Charity premiere in the UK on December 13, 1978. Limited release in New York City, New York on December 11, 1978; in Boston, Massachusetts on December 13, 1978; and in Los Angeles, California on December 14, 1978. Wide release in the UK on December 14, 1978; and in the USA on December 15, 1978.

With Christopher Reeve as Superman / Clark Kent. Starring Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Margot Kidder, Jack O’Halloran, Valerie Perrine, Maria Schell, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter, Susannah York, and Jeff East.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

I would forgive the set design, the obvious blue screens, and the home video look in “Superman”, even if the technical department reunited everybody who worked on the looks of “Plan 9 from Outer Space”. (And believe me, the looks aren’t that miserable at all.) “Superman” goes the distance with its campy look. It also embraces it. You don’t have to fanboy the hell out of yourself to love the opening titles, not to mention the story that follows. You could be the average six-year-old. Or you could be the average thirty-six-year-old.

“Superman” isn’t an action movie, either. The melodrama is what heightens our faith in the movie, especially when the implausible adventure arrives. Mario Puzo wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay. Evidently, his heavy work on “The Godfather” strengthens this movie: it’s an epic in the making, not a thin, fleeting comic book. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s tale comes as the rise of a hero–or, in this case, a superhero–starting from the very beginning. The movie flies by faster than a speeding bullet, and honestly, I can’t imagine the pacing being any stronger. It’s 50 minute before the “Superman” costume is used to transition from Clark Kent’s boyhood into his adulthood. 51 minutes before we see Lois Lane working at the Daily Planet. 71 minutes before we see Clark in costume, ready to save the world. A time after that, the name “Superman” is first uttered. We’re told unmistakably that Superman will return; I doubt not that when he does, we’ll begin to see the fall of this hero.

The “Superman” story is one of the most transcendent pieces ever written. This reimagination, from director Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon”, “The Omen”), was a prototypical effort in the superhero genre. Three and a half decades later, it definitely has competitors. Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy being the universally decided cream of the crop. Though even its imperfections, “Superman” has yet to be topped, in its representation of the genre. Knowing that the movie remains fresh, comic booky, and fun (even in the über, über impossible ending), I doubt it’ll lose that power.

Tomorrow’s Review

Kick-Ass

12 Years a Slave

Movie Review #650

twelve_years_a_slave

Regency Enterprises presents a film by Steve McQueen…

…River Road Entertainment presents…

…in association with Film4…

Studio: Plan B – New Regency – Film4 – Regency Enterprises
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Country: USA – UK
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Steve McQueen. Produced by Dede Gardner, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt, and Bill Pohlad. Screenplay by John Ridley. Based on the memoir “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup.

Rated R by the MPAA, for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality. Runs 2 hours, 14 minutes. Premiered at Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2013; at Toronto International Film Festival on September 6, 2013; at New York Film Festival on October 8, 2013; at New Orleans Film Festival on October 10, 2013; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 11, 2013; at Chicago International Film Festival on October 13, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 14, 2013; and at BFI London Film Festival on October 18, 2013. Limited release in the USA on October 18, 2013. Wide release in the USA on November 8, 2013, and in the UK on January 24, 2014.

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, and Alfre Woodard. Also starring Adepero Oduye, Garret Dillahunt, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Chris Chalk, Michael K. Williams, Kelsey Scott, Quvenzhané Wallis, Devyn A. Tyler, Cameron Zeigler, Rob Steinberg, Jay Huguley, Christopher Berry, Bryan Batt, Bill Camp, Dwight Henry, and Ruth Negga.

Cinemaniac Reviews four stars

There’s two kinds of movies. Type A: you like it or you dislike it. Type B: a movie defined by quality, where “enjoyment” is irrelevant. “12 Years a Slave” is most certainly Type B, an unflinching masterpiece that has moments to cherish and moments to detest, but it holds the viewer’s attention the entire time.

The biggest compliment I can give it is that it succeeds through its explicit presentation of slavery.  Director Steve McQueen spends one scene after another stripping the human heart of its every layer.  The entirety of it is a two-hour catharsis, with John Ridley’s screenplay providing a most uncomfortable display of these unjustifiable acts. The characters are not complex human beings. They’re defined by either their strengths endurances, or by their weaknesses and cruelties. The brutality is excruciating in dialogue, but it’s far worse seen than heard. For what seems like three full minutes, we watch our protagonist try and save himself as he hangs on a noose. Meanwhile, white folk walk around the plantation nonchalantly. It goes without saying that “12 Years a Slave” gets worse than that, though. Not since “The Passion of the Christ” has a film presented such repellent flaying scenes.

“12 Years a Slave” is a tale we can only wish not to believe. The reality is immense but so tasteless, it’s almost inconceivable. The epic is based on a memoir by Solomon Northup.  Its full title is the story in a nutshell: Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana.  The account brings us back to the depicted period in everything: script, music, costume, and most of all, acting. Solomon Northup is well portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, a lesser known actor in the cast, but as worthy of an award for his performance as any given performer here.  His performance highlights the determination, opportunism, and bravery in his character. The height of the tragedy is when the slaveowners try to convince Solomon that he’s been a slave his whole life.  Yet he knows the truth, because he doesn’t desire anything at all except to get back to his wife and kids again.  He doesn’t want to work on a plantation, where he’s no longer seen as an educated, respectable human being.

Or, as he put it himself, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”

Gone with the Wind

Review No. 609

“Gone with the Wind” will make you “give a damn.”

Dedicated to my grandmother —

— she was two years old when “Gone with the Wind” was released…

…if I’m putting the movie on a pedestal —

— then I guess Webster’s needs a new idiom to describe how much she loves this movie.

gone_with_the_wind_ver1

CREW:
Director — Victor Fleming

Uncredited Directors — George Cukor & Sam Wood
Producer — David O. Selznick
Screenplay — Sidney Howard

Uncredited Screenwriters — Oliver H.P. Garrett, Ben Hecht, Barbara Keon & Jo Swerling
Based on — Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

CAST:
Clark Gable — Rhett Butler
Vivien Leigh — Scarlett O’Hara
Leslie Howard — Ashley Wilkes
Olivia de Havilland — Melanie Hamilton

SUPPORTING CAST:
TARA PLANTATION — Thomas Mitchell, Barbara O’Neil, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford, George Reeves, Fred Crane, Hattie McDaniel, Oscar Polk, Butterfly McQueen, Victory Jory & Everett Brown.
AT TWELVE OAKS — Howard C. Hickman, Alicia Rhett, Rand Brooks & Carroll Nye.
IN ATLANTA — Laura Hope Crews, Eddie Anderson, Harry Davenport, Leona Roberts, Jane Darwell & Ona Munson.

OTHER:
Distributor — Loew’s, Inc.
Premiere Dates — December 15, 1939 (Atlanta); December 19, 1939 (New York); December 28, 1939 (Los Angeles); April 18, 1940 (United Kingdom); April 30, 1940 (Sydney); March 29, 1990 (Soviet Union)
Wide Release Date — January 17, 1940; March 31, 1942 (first re-release); August 21, 1947 (second re-release); June 3, 1954 (third re-release); October 14, 1967 (70mm re-release)
Standard Re-release Dates — March 10, 1961 (Atlanta, Georgia); December 29, 1961 (Finland); October 15, 1962 (Spain)
70mm Re-release Dates — March 25, 1967 (Sydney); October 10, 1967 (New York, New York); March 12, 1969 (London)
Language — English
Country — USA
Running Time — 3 hours, 40 minutes (plus 14-18 minutes of overture, intermission, entr’acte, and exit music)
MPAA —
46px-RATED_G.svg

GONE WITH THE WIND WAS WATCHED ON SEPTEMBER 7, 2013.

A huge sucker for epics has been made of me lately.  Obviously I have a long ways to go before I’ve seen everything I need to in the genre, but I’ve found myself so utterly fascinated by how sincerely some directors want to hold their audience past three hours, if not for a larger-than-life story.  Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.  Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.  Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi.  Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.  David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia.  Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables.  Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.  James Cameron’s Titanic.

And as if I would need to reserve the spot when saving the best for last, Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind.  Let’s just adjust it for inflation before I start beating around the bush: it made over three billion in the U.S. alone, another more-than-three-billion overseas–all on a budget of about $65 million.  I’d have guessed the budget was greater, to be honest, but maybe that’s my mind emphasizing the beauty of it all.  Gone with the Wind premiered in Atlanta in mid-December of 1939.  It was shot from January 26th through July 1st (that’s over 150 days), and editing didn’t begin until November 11th.  It’s a pretty tight schedule, I’d say, for a film that chooses technicolor, 70mm cinematography, exquisite sets and direction, and a larger-than-life feel.  Should I mention that Fleming released his The Wizard of Oz that August?  He’s either hardworking or completely OCD.  Though the latter’s already reserved for Howard Hughes.

Revisiting Gone with the Wind, my one question was: “Did they ever actually love each other?”  Now let’s be honest.  That’s not a question you ask of a romance, let alone the quintessential epic romance.  Yet it’s valid, because this isn’t a love story.  It’s about characters who don’t know what love is.  They think they do, but they have miles to go before they discover they’re dead wrong.  Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is a brat fighting for the Confederate States of America, during the Civil War era.  Moreover, she’s fighting to get what she wants, though I guess that’s implied in “brat.”  You can’t make enough of her egocentric personality, and there’s no telling why we feel so sorry for her.

Now let’s take a careful look at Scarlett.  There truly is no telling why we would dare feel sorry for her, but we do, and that’s that.  We feel sorry for Anne Bancroft in The Graduate, even if we don’t immediately realize she is the protagonist, but guess what, everything she did actually had a motive.  Scarlett would have an affair with a college graduate just for the hell of it.  Actually she’d marry him just for the hell of it; she struggles through two marriages, which leaves her twice a widow, and she decides to marry a man she sometimes doesn’t seem to love (but says otherwise), sometimes doesn’t think she loves.  Her bipolar nature only adds on, so it’s amazing Vivien Leigh could ever deliver so well on a screenplay that sprawls out over four hours.  She’s even better with Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) around, and god, do we hate him.  Of course, we realize that she’s defined by her impulses, he by his clever (albeit possessive) nature, but we realize only in perception.

Gone with the Wind is the perfect movie.  It flies by in four hours, with the best moments being in the latter act.  The music is downright riveting, as well, so there’s no shame in sitting through the overture, the intermission, the entr’acte, and the curtain-closer.  Rarely do films hold up this well, but I can’t say that until I’ve seen it in theaters.  Something tells me that’s “the full experience.”  (Not to dishonor another completely different favorite, but what kind of trash world do we live in that plays The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday at midnight, but gives no love to classics like Gone with the Wind?)  Between the story and the style, D. W. Griffith (The Birth of a Nation) may be the only director to ever top the poignancy of Victor Fleming’s in retelling Civil War era.  Even Edward Zwick (Glory) looks a bit half-baked in comparison.  That this movie’s dramatic side is still touching is almost impossible to believe.  It doesn’t feel like it was made in 1939, even if it feels like something of an “old movie,” for lack of a better word.  In other words, it’s already over seven decades old.  You gotta give Victor Fleming some credit for his achievement here.  1939 was only twelve years after we got our first sound film, and less than a decade before they became significantly popular.  Gone with the Wind takes another step–in fact, another twenty.  There’s what makes you “give a damn” about cinema when rarely anything else does.

Brokeback Mountain

Review No. 600

It’s worth bending over backward to watch.

brokeback_mountain

A-PLUS

CREW:
Director — Ang Lee
Producers — James Schamus, Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana
Screenplay — Mr. McMurtry & Ms. Ossana
Based on — Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

CAST:
Heath Ledger — Ennis Del Mar
Jake Gyllenhaal — Jack Twist
Anne Hathaway — Lureen Newsome Twist
Michelle Williams — Alma Beers Del Mar
Randy Quaid — Joe Aguirre

OTHER:
Distributor — Focus Features
Release Date — December 9, 2005 (USA); December 23, 2005 (Canada)
Language — English
Country — Canada & USA
Running Time — 2 hours, 14 minutes
MPAA —
46px-RATED_R.svg — SEXUALITY, NUDITY, LANGUAGE AND SOME VIOLENCE.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN WAS WATCHED ON AUGUST 31, 2013.

Ang Lee is the Stanley Kubrick of Taiwanese-American filmmakers. He’s a genius and he doesn’t want to exploit that, so much as turn it into something magnificent. Furthermore, he’s never done the same movie twice. In fact, he’s always doing something completely unexpected. Even Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was unexpected, considering Lee’s absence in Taiwan for six years, and his existence only in wedding dramas (not martial arts movies) before then. But if you look at every Ang Lee movie, you’ll notice Lee has a technique to which he abides. He uses his lavish, large-scale fascination to conduct everything he makes into something unforgettable. He turns characters into epic heroes this way, too, and with this he amazes most with the two in Brokeback Mountain.

The movie says to believe in what is to be believed, not what is said by the majority to be right. Lee was looking for anything but the controversy he got when he went about the story about two homosexual cowboys. They meet and waste their days away up at Brokeback Mountain, but there’s a certain shame that falls upon them when they’re keeping this secretive. It’s highly debatable as to what kind of love they actually have for their wife and kids. When they meet each other again will cause heartbreak, but they’re prepared.

The movie is simply outstanding. These characters could have just as easily been a bit for small talk in any other drama, as their conversations are more often than not restrictive of any love life between them. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are almost in a “who’s better” competition with each other, and they’re both so good in there’s roles. It’s not about making them into likable characters, though, so much as about bringing out the story that captivates us along their journey. The idea of pitching two homosexuals in a romantic epic drama doesn’t make it new. Is a love scene really any different this way, when we’re talking about a technique that’s as old as talking pictures themselves? No, but in reasserting the struggles met in the story, the love scene becomes a greater element to everything.

There’s nothing unheard of here. Then again, there’s nothing heard of, either. The movie can be silent at times, but even that can be distilling. Brokeback Mountain had me emotional by the end; it’s one of five movies that made me cry. It all flows peacefully like a river, and if not, it rains teardrops.

Later

Friday the 13th: Part V

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