skyhouse5

IMDb member since April 2006
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Reviews

Mutiny on the Bounty
(1935)

Musings for the movie museum?
Having seen this "original" all those decades ago, and recalling little if anything of it, other than Laughton's Puckish performance, after all, the observer who noted that Gable was Gable uttered a no-brainer. That said, what bemuses this still-breathing, if barely, onlooker is the hoohah over subsequent "versions" of the yarn. Especially that of the Brando retake. Sight unseen, Brando at the very least had to be one take closer to an "acting" performance than Gable, who was, well, just one more of those over-hyped Gollywood "dreamboats" of yore. Yes, he was rather charming vis-a-vis Claudette in that Columbia throwaway, "It Happened One Night"? But, for all his excesses of baggage AND Group Theater mumblings, Brando should be excoriated for his disrespect of Milestone, even as he may be excused for his pant-ripping appetites. He too was, simply, like James Dean as well, just one more overblown staple of the Hollywood mills that ground exceeding fine, chiefly in the perceptions, not to mention the ratings and rankings, of generations to come. I count myself among those few who found Brando's bellowings in "Streetcar" less than convincing, and his motorbikings not all that much more persuasive. He did, finally, achieve a degree of dignity as the Don in "The Godfather," but that is as much due to the casting as it was to the "portrayal." Brando, like Gable and Dean, was a paean to the promotions of the Hollywood fraternity of "praise singers," apologies to the author of The Charioteer." That "millions," both in dollars and in the audience, continue to pay serious homage is a tribute to the efficacy of the entertainment Machiavellis and Tsun-tzus and Goebbelses. Consider: who is not convinced that both Gone with the Afflatus and that shameless Titanic are both "classic" cinema? Well, so they are, as popcorn merchants. But as works of art? Finally, again, sight unseen, the Brit "Bounty" with its weighty cast, would HAVE to be an improvement on BOTH Yankee versions. And, as an irreverent, yet one more, observation?, I find it "rich" that Richard Harris found Brando er, ah, overripe.

Of Mice and Men
(1939)

A "classic" for sure . . . yesterday and today . . .
After all these years, I have just started to watch this Lewis Milestone masterwork again, having seen it in the long and forgotten "ago." And the opening scenes alone, the establishing title shots, cameraman's shadow notwithstanding, struck with the full force of both "truth" and "genius," the former for the Steinbeck novella and the latter for Milestone's seamless evocation. I have read a few of the commentaries on both this "original" filming and the latterday Sinise/Malkovich version, which I have yet to see, and find little to disagree with in my samplings. It is interesting AND instructive that both Betty Fields and Lon Jr. received brickbats along with kudos. The former earned the same in "King's Row," and the latter, of course, never received all that much attention. That said, I, for one, thought Chaney was at the peak of his form as the "retard" Lenny, and, whilst it is more than understandable that some found his performance "over the top," that is purely a matter of subjective reaction. Burgess Meredith was a fine George, and I rather doubt Sinise could have improved on it, sight unseen, but, that too is purely subjective. There were some observant AND penetrating insights among the comments I scanned on both versions, but only one, the fellow who observed that there were "chick flicks" and this was a "dick flick." And, on that score, I did not read a single acknowledgment of the fact that the obvious homoerotic themes, not just that between George and Lenny, but also the "closet-queen" implications of Curly's overmacho stances, were not overtly noted. To me, George and Lenny, in their own ways, were the templates for the protagonists of "Brokeback Mountain," another near-Oscar entry. Although, in the latter, the retard survives in his zombie estate. Finally, it was a personal "shock" to see the wondrous "character" performance of Roman Bohnen again, this overlooked and under-appreciated mainstay of the old Actors' Lab experiment in Hollywood, way back then. By the way, what with my lack of "hearing" and unavailability of captions for the Milestone version, I found I did not need same. Indeed, focussing on the setups and closeups the "action" and "dialog were all too clear. Tell me about those rabbits.

Smart People
(2008)

Golly gee! Who the Hell are all these Amurrikanses?
Sight unseen, well I have only just begun to unspool this DVD on may little Dell screen, but, already awreddy, I know it is time to ask the 64-thus query: WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? "Sideways" was enough of an answer, but Dennis Quaid as a sullen and self-submerged Yank of dubious merit? I begin to despair of my contemporaries, well make that their scions and blowbys. And, even if this flick purports to be satire, self-satirization if not enough. Certainly not enough to balance the scales of misrepresentation. "Americans," the bulk that is, are better than, superior to, and less than subservient to the likes of the chief protagonists of these two flicks. Who gives a good Goddamn about such likes? Why bother? They deserve themselves AND their narcissistic somnambulisms. Better a Henry Fonda and his "gtsprs" of gripes, or even a slovenly hulk of a "retarrd" as Lon Cheney Jr. projected in "Of Mice and Men," The "innocent" America of the mid-century last, or, at the very least, its image and projections, gives the lie to today's overblimped likes of our neocon fraternity, blonde bombers online as well. Anne whatsername especially. If America is to transcend its own obituary, then it must begin to transcend the likes of these two "movies." P.S.: And Reagan protestants notwithstanding, Ronald was a fink.

Sideways
(2004)

Enter comment and commentator . . . sideways . . .
After reading just a few of the other commentaries, and a single viewing, belated at that, and I intend to run the movie once more at the very least, I am truly torn between total agreement with most viewers as to the performances especially, but find myself less than committed to the overall "serious" take on this flick. No one, at least no comment I read, has noted one egregious obvious, to wit: that this film is one elongated wine commercial, whether promo-wise, or, I hope, tongue-in-cheek post swirl and taste. I recall Tom Hanks? in that UPSpecial takeoff on Robinson Crusoe Russo, but this extended obeisance to bourgeois Cabernet and oenophiliac pinot passes my understanding. Whereas I agree wholeheartedly in the encomia for the four principals, I found the "core" scene between Giamatti and Madsen a bit of a put-on. Was Pickett OR Payne serious? Two would-be adults actually paraphrasing haut twaddle about "nose" and "bouquet" and grape and soil as metaphor for life and living? C'mon, guys. Seriously though, these four perennial adolescents are a hoot and a holler, spoiled and sans a clue. And how can that equate a serious contemplation of middle-aged American angst? Unless this is satire, that is. Bottom line: All those lovingly lingering long shots of cultured, literally, vineyards, wherever they were, and apparently NOT in the Napa/Mendocino environs if I recollect my Southland geography, is more than countervailed by the vapid vapidities of the vintage-loving quartet. Oh, and Church's character sipping vintage? But his inventive genius for rationalization provided the laugh highlight of the movie, when the convertible missed the tree and rolled into the gully. Now, THAT is "reality" without a doubt. Or glass in hand.

Song jia huang chao
(1997)

Politics and history aside, this is pro film-making
It is interesting, and logical of course, that the reaction to this Hong Kong flick ranges from anathema to anthem, but, for overseas Chinese who neither speak the lingo nor are too familiar with the facts, this "Soong Dynasty" cinematic fable is more than watchable. That it is more fable than fact is readily obvious, yet the fable is more than entertaining. It is doubtful in the extreme, that Ching-ling survived miscarriage and 42 days sloshing through the marshes as portrayed, but until a more sober and satisfactory account of Mme. Sun's life and accomplishments are on the film record, this portrait will have to do. The production is super, even if the glib pictorials may off-put in their slick projections. And, finally, from this perch, one of the most engaging sidelights here is the wondrous staging of the opera house, wherein Chiang Kai-shek ogles and woos May-ling. I found myself wishing the principals would get out of the way to let the opera speak for itself in toto. Reminded me of how Hollywood always cut away from more interesting spectacle to zoom in on the treacly romance of the overpaid and under-talented "stars." Oh, well, you can't have everything, and there was enough of the opera and its stellar performers, inter-cut nicely with war footage. Soneone should make a film about Chinese opera, and I don't mean that saga about the two star=crossed Peking Opera stars, and especially not that impossible restaging of that improbable romance between a French diplomat and a cross-dressing starlet.

Casanova
(2005)

"noralee" says it all . . .
So, where are the other nineteen, who voted "no" on "noralee's" comments herein. Are they, forsooth, idiots? Methinks so. If anyone can, now that young Heath has been long buried and lately celebrated for a cartoon carbon of another juvenile stripe, still ignore Ledger's "prodigious" talents, let them argue their point(s). This young phenomenon out of Perth? in every role I have witnessed to date, has been an authentic revelation of talent, genius?, along with an avid and earnest drive to push the "envelope" of essay, as in trying the limit. Hwre, he is a "boy" for sure, and not quite a "man." Why? Well, maybe it's the postpubertal excess of sexual energy, as in simple studly sufficiency/ After all, it's not the "tea," it's the "sympathy," as in simpatico. Such hilarities aside, most of us are neither satyrs or nymphos, the fact of the matter is that ALL of us "fantasize" one way or another on this "universal" obsession. So long as we can still "ebtertain" same, that is. What a loss. What a waste. Ledger is one more sacrifice at the altar of our joined fears and hatreds and revulsions of the sexist variety. And his far too early passing is a sad comment on our contempo4ary contempts and lack of either guts or understandings of what human "sexuality" truly embraces -- from the nurturing to the murderous.

Alatriste
(2006)

More than interesting . . . from more than one viewpoint . . .
I would not be so bold as to interject an "alien" perspective vis-a-vis the native responses, from those who speak Spanish and who live the living and historic cultural references. That said, as a longtime Viggo Mortensen fan, I found the cramming of five novels into one movie educational as well as entertaining. Not that I too wasn't nonplussed by the abrupt beginnings and endings of episodes and chapter, but that I found the creators' cinematic projections more than canny and less than "true," in the sense of historic reference. I have no idea about the inspirational novels. The estimable Spanish thespians and technicians, and the "record" production costs aside, this movie reminded and reassured me that fiim is ALWAYS irreality, or, at best, surreality. How else could it be? And Viggo, as always, invigorates the persona he inhabits, even as he lapses into Viggo banalities of the long stare and the laconic eye. He was probably well-paid here, but, in his long and distinguished iconography of film credits, I doubt this will rank very high. Personally, I think his tortured and Satanic little-bro investment in "The Indian Runner" will eventually prove a high point, alongside his Tom Stall and Russian mobster evocations. But I have hopes he will transcend all three. with a role yet to come and yet to chzllenge. And if the "Academy" then proves once more its idiocies, so be it. Postscript: If I may here respond to IMDb editors, who chose to delete my one-paragraph "comment" on "King's Row," I could find no other venue for same, why could the editors not simply provide a forum for my accuser's accusation of abuse"? That would have been fair. Just because I am NOT an admirer of Ronald Reagan the politician does not disqualify my assay of Ronald Reagan the actor, never mind Ronald Reagan the president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Appaloosa
(2008)

Almost too good to be "true" . . .
Well, and make that a drawl, please, after waiting for the DVD and watching it as carefully as an old poot can, with wretched vision and even worse hearing, thus missing subtleties of tone and texture, I find myself, as a longtime fan of BOTH Ed Harris AND Viggo Mortensen, more than pleased and "pleasured." At the start, I thought, what the Hell, this is just a contemporary spin off of ye olde Republic westerns that boasted good black-and-white cinematography and not much else, but, soon, I was disabused of my own predilections. This flick, as the lead "commentator" today, "pswitzertatum" proclaims, is, in fact, a revelation of "today's" values superimposed on the old tintype version of "pioneer" "western" realities. As such, I, like switzertatum, found much to admire and even some to treasure in the evocation and unfoldment of this "classic" projection of onetime American beliefs and convictions. And, as none others evinced in the few "reviews" I also read here, this woman and her husband perceived something no one else did, or did they? Which is to say that the "buddy" theme here is paramount, that the only true "love" here is between two "males," and that sexuality and gender aside, "relationships" are only as strong or meaningful as the truths thereof. Yes, it's a "romantic" as well as feel-good flick, as the hero rides off into that everlasting sunset, having despatched the "villain" since society refuses to do so. Ah, an "adult" "Shane," even as both Mortensen and Harris are actors beyond the skill and vision and achievements of the likes of the late Alan Ladd. Such subtleties, of course, are more or less irrelevant here, except to old-poot observers who recall the likes of the film debuts of, say, Tony Curtis, or Sterling Hayden, or, very especially, Paul Newman, whose maiden effort was nothing short of embarrassing. Still, each of them soldiered on to their respective iconisms. That said, I agree with the poster who averred Mortensen should have at least an Oscar and more than a few "nominations" thereto. And Harris was an even better heavy than Jeremy Irons here, in another underrated meditation on life and living, contemporary or "historic," "An Act of Violence." That IMDb folk rank this film at a mere 6.9 is simply one more evidence of juvey, superficial tastes AND judgments.

Ninja bugeicho momochi sandayu
(1980)

Are martial arts the ONLY aspect of Japanese culture?
As someone who literally stumbled, and belatedly at that, on this piece of Japanese cinematic machismo, and a total ignoramus as to the extensive literature AND exegesis of same, I too find this extravaganza of feudal Japan both enlightening AND frustrating, as in, wow!, what was existence then REALLY like? Were there NO thinkers and philosophers? No artists and artisans? Other than that reference to a precious teacup? No classes other than "noble" and "samurai"? Sure, the focus here is ON the latter pair, but even they must have existed in an anbiance that INCLUDED other classes and other types. I am also a bit agog at the plethora of "western" appreciations of such "Eastern" predilections, and wonder if such appreciations extend beyond Bushido and "anime" and the more superficial expressions extant. Finally, after a bit of exploration herein on my part, I wonder when someone will sift the wheat from the chaff and establish a relative "soder" of sequential manifestations. Was Bruce Lee an "original"? Or Shao-Lin"? Who, truly, "invented" the cinematic projections of all those "Eastern arts of "self-defense" and "manly arts"? Not that it truly matters. Male fantasies began with Adam in the Garden. And, no doubt, will continue so long as boys will be boys.

George and the Dragon
(2004)

On the contrary . . . just enough "dragon" . . .
But, mayhap, not quite enough "George." After all, it would seem the intent here was to upstage the "saint" and, in the process, demystify and dedemonize the "dragon," who, after all, is but a winged serpent, much less to be feared than the snake-oil peddlers ever in our midst and at our bosoms. That said, the wild and woolly offtakes on the hoary theme seems to this viewer more than amusing and less than misspent. As for not quite enough "George," more of him might have provided a more focused and pointed disambiguation. Moreover, if there is, today, a more persuasive and more engaging actor than James Purefoy, I, for one, would be delighted to witness the portrayal or performance. Given the chance, as in his Marc Antony in the HBO "Rome," this thespian could well play Adam in the Garden of Eden and upstage both serpent AND apple, whoever the Eve. That said, I thought the hatchling was charming, and Adelaide adequate. Just enough of both to make one anticipate George R. R. Martin's "A Dance With Dragons," if the man will ever complete same. Methinks he's come a cropper with the full exfoliation of his incredible and estimable "Ice and Fire" series. And why has no one even attempted a cinematic projection of this immense sci-fi saga?

Noble House
(1988)

James Clavell . . . clairvoyant ? . . .
Returning to this series by way of the DVD issue, as a Clavell fan, I am struck by its incredible background authenticity. From Victoria Peak to Aberdeen, from the fabled Peninsula Hotel to the Star ferries, and from the glittering highrises to the teeming streets and bobbling junks. The basic plot line, as with "Taipan" AND "Shogun," may be spun out of a rich and creative imagination, but it is the fleshing out and storied detail of ALL the dramatis personae that counts here. I note, with some amusement, the individual responses to the individual portrayals/performances, but, aside from such idiosyncratic reactions, the fact remains that the ensemble is spot-on. Pierce Brosnan herein one-ups his latterday Bondings, much more realistic AND convincing, and, in response to the fellow who found Ben Masters wanting in that he projected nothing but "jerk," isn't that what was the intention? For the rest, not one quibble. And Khigh Diegh probably had his very best effort here, just as the rest of the "Asian" cast, including Lisa Lu's made-up old amah. Clavell has, once again, stormed history to project the then present, the mid-80s?, and, in the process, eerily foreshadowing the future that is today? From the free-wheeling, high-stakes Ponzi schemings of its principals, bar none, to its lowliest "coolies." But why has no one, to date, mined Clavell's "Reap the Whirlwind" insights that are ominously and, again, eerily, applicable to Iran? Oh, well, someone eventually will. Belatedly, of course. Finally, Clavell's prophetic projections of the continuing geopolitical power struggles and power plays continues to be bull's-eye on the mark. Scary, isn't it? Aiyah! And "Eeeee" as well.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
(1996)

Ah, the "final" Bronte . . . sister, that is . . .
After reading only two of the comments herein, as a lifelong Bronte fan, beginning with Olivier's Heathcliff and enduring with the many versions of Charlotte's "Rochester," it is more than eye-opening to see that it is the UNsung Bronte sister who gave the lie to the male-chauvinist period the trio inhabited. Of course, the "miracle" in all three versions of 19th-Century British domesticity is that the "girls" were all "spinsters" and their only realistic brushes with "men" were their vicar father and their wastrel? brother. That said, finally, it is ANNE Bronte who has, in her single assay?, proved the "feminist" point, way way ahead of contemporary types, and including the "voting franchise" ranks. However, history evinces more than a few who preceded, including the Greek heterai and Sappho and the likes of an ancient emperor's Yang Kuei-fei. And how about "Eve" and her apple?

Centennial
(1978)

No fool like a young'un . . .
The lead commentator here is absolutely on the mark. Again, belatedly, I opted for the DVD version, and, having accessed the first three disks, am here to join mikehess in proclaiming this James A. Michener opus a masterwork for all time. Indeed, less than halfway through a revisiting, this series has forecast the likes of Dubya, AND the sad FACT THAT THIS NATION HAS YET TO RISE TO THE FAINTEST GLIMMER OF AN UNDERSTANDING OF ITS OWN HUBRIS, ITS BOAST, ITS VAUNTED "SUPERIORITY." What FRANK Skimmerhorn did in the name of vengeance is no better and no worse than what we, today, are doing unto the entire globe, unto humanity itself, AND, more to the point OURSELVES. It isn't merely the land, or even the "people," it's our joined humanity. That is, if we recognize such an "ideology.",

Open Range
(2003)

Anent "classics" and the obverse . . .
As someone who regards "Lonesome Dove" as THE template for the film genre known as "the western," and who, similarly, believes that "Broken Trail" was/is an exemplary coda to same, I find it, after belatedly watching "Open Range," absolutely astonishing, incredible?, that BOTH Robert Duvall AND Kevin Costner consider this sad effusion of cinematic cliché and stereotype worthy of their efforts, much less their effusions. Any honest "oater" that opens with baldfaced homilies to the likes of "Mose" and "Buttons," never mind the four-legged Tig, and then proceeds to exploit the superficialities of both Spearman and the born-again gunslinger hero should be ashamed to do ought but collect the dollars at the box office. And that excruciatingly overlong and totally ersatz climactic "shootout" between the "good" guys and the varmints is just one more example of the bang-bang-you're-dead esthetic the prepubertal find orgasmic. Everyone's entitled to opinions and mistakes, but, in this case, this mistaken fan finds this pea-shooter out of range of consideration as plausible entertainment. "Classic"? You gotta be kidding.

About Schmidt
(2002)

Well, as far as masterpieces go, this one stumbles on its first step . . . .
Folks: As one of his critics, way back when I surmised he was, at best, second=rate, and, at worst, not quite that, I find this ego-trip about as bemusing, forget enlightening, as a yawn in the mirror in the morning. Masterpiece? Of what? Of self-indulgence and self=service? From the git-go, this sorry excuse for one man's search for the self that never existed, much less lived, is unlikely, if not quite possible. What manner of "man" would indite such banalities to an adoptee in the African bush, said adoptee all of age SIX? From that point on, every frame of this self-indulgent flick is less than entertaining, all those close-ups and winkings and blinkings. And the formulaic approach to a script, forget "plot," is as endearing as one more exercise in Gollywood gleanings of box office unworthiness. Sorry, folks, I prefer the Nicholson of Heeerrreee's, Johnny. and earlier essays than this auperannuated expression of senior angst. Well, he WAS better than usual as "Eugene O'Neill" in "Reds." And what's "Oscar" got to do with this?

eugene IO'Neill in reds/

Broken Trail
(2006)

Superb film-making, with an authentic "exot6ic" twist . . .
Almost all the comments I have read here are pretty much on the mark as far as I am concerned, and I still intend to check out some references herein with which I am unfamiliar, such as the Ruthanne Lum McCunn novel and Robert Duvall's self-styled mid-chapter, "Open Range," to which I look forward, of his "western" trilogy. I had thought nothing could ever begin to approach the likes of "Lonesome Dove." That said, I especially appreciated the input of the Los Angeles commentator who was "Chinese," like myself as far as ethnicity is concerned, and who keenly appreciated the precipitating "angle" of the drama herein, those five girls "sold" into sexual slavery. My first reaction to the opening titles was excitement at the prospect of "seeing" a redux of 1898 "San Francisco Chinatown," likely the year and assuredly the place of my parents' marriage. But, nary a shot, much less a "scene." Only a smoke-filled, candlelit tenement room. And I questioned the establishing setting of "thousands" of such girls entering the U.S. then, maybe hundreds? But, once past this subjective reaction, I found this Walter Hill film as flawless as any I have ever witnessed, the exotic "girls" neither patronized nor merely pictorialized, fully framed and honestly depicted. And there was no problem with the language barrier as it was handled. For the first time, well, almost, I didn't cringe at either stereotyping OR well-intentioned sanitizing of the real interface between "celestial" and "white," whether "devil" or savior. Kudos to the screenwriter as well as the director. No praise needed for Duvall, who remains nonpareil, or Thomas Haden Church, whose hard-biscuit characterization is refreshingly "western" as opposed to the ersatz heroics of either the John Ford OR "spaghetti western" variety. Both Duvall and Church AND Chris Mulkey more than make the case for the "pioneering" cowpokes and trail drivers who are, or seem to be in hindsight, the "best" of this tradition as opposed to the killers and oppressors and usurpers of the day. Now, if only SOMEone could come up with an equsly "honest" AND accurate invocation of the "San Francisco Chinatown" of the day to balance/explicate this scenario, it would only be "fair"? But, likely, not a "Chinaman's chance," and, even more likely were it to come to pass, it would lack the "theatrical" ingredients to engage an audience. Unless, of course, you are "Chinese."

Addendum:

After enjoying one more viewing of this classic, and bearing in mind that ALL "movies" are merely "virtual" reality and must be taken as such, this particular specimen bears notation as to the following "virtual" truths and homilies, to wit: When Lung Hay sadly admits it is "too late, too late," and Tom Harte responds with a look that is more than simple response. The reprise of Print Ritter's "from the sweet grass to the packing house" is cornball for sure, but, at the same time, every bit as truthful as dust unto dust. The surprising, to this view at least, evolution of the goofy mechanic in "Wings" to an "authentic" hard=biscuit cowhand on the part of Thomasa Haden Church. A revelation for sure, and a performance to relish and relive. And, for you non-Chinese, please note that the number "2" is the phonetic equivalent of "easy," and that poor child's death, while feverish, was "easy" in the sense of quick and no-nonsense. Also, the number "4" in Chinese is phonetically equivalent to "death," and thus, to the superstitious, is to be avoided, if possible. These, along with countless other subtleties and nuances of depiction, observation, and wry comment are the hallmarks of this "eastern" "western," and I, for one, find it ever so diverting AND thought-provoking. Also, I would keep an eye out for future outings by one Scott Cooper? Provided he has the right "agency" AND a gung=ho press agent, that is.

Legend
(1985)

Thank goodness that cineastes ignore the "critics" . . .
The "critics" I have read in the paperback compendia all agree that this Ridley Scott opus is a "turkey." Well, maybe commercially and "critic"ally. But not as either cinema or "art." Those self-anointed arbiters are victims of their own prejudices and preconceptions. Because an auteur of Scott's stature is always several jumps ahead of their blindered reactions, forget responses. How could the author of "The Duellists" and "Blade Runner" among others NOT be challenging AND stimulating? Whatever, those critics missed the lush and stunning vistas captured by the camera, not to mention the layered subtexts behind the visuals. It's gratifying that your lead assessment of this outré effort in the fantasy realm is absolutely on the mark. I am sending for the "full" director's? version on DVD from Amazon instanter, and look forward to re-viewing the purely visual, if nothing else. And at such bargain prices.

Gosford Park
(2001)

Blimey!, it's the Yanks who hexed this one . . .
At first viewing, I thought it was presumptuous of Bob Altman to one-up his Brit peers on this scene, especially after all those PBS exposes of the upstairs/downstairs of it all. But, on second viewing, this time WITH captions for a hearing-challenged type, I finally realized that the Brits herein are as close to perfection as possible. How could they not be, with that lineup of thespians, stellar and bit? What I found offputting and mischievous were the Hollywood in-jokes about the Charlie Chan series, which never rose above B-minus status, either at the box office or in the inner sanctums of the anointed critical circuits of the day. From Warner Oland on, the Chan series were but a hop, step, or a jump beyond the likes of the Fu Msnchus, all of them irrelevant and unreal, as in "Chu Chin Chow" or Joseph Hergesheimer. That said, I must personally fault Altman for deliberately stepping on "lines" of dialog, even as the basic "plot" is more than threadbare and the cupboard of essence less than nourishing. But the acting is beyond cavil, up and down the stairs and in and out of bedrooms and staircases. What a roll call of wondrous British thespic talent.

Sorrell and Son
(1984)

Belatedly, yet one more "for the books"
At almost=89, I cannot even recall whether I ever saw the H.B. Warner version of this classic father/son tale, but, belatedly, deaf and sans captions as well, I have stumbled onto this "modern" retelling, and I can say that I believe this has to be one "for the books," as in an authentic "classic." Richard Pasco's performance is MORE than "Oscar"-worthy, down to his aged makeup and his convincing senility, and the denouement is nothing short of "moving" and "cathartic," the raison-d'etre of drama and theater and film and telly, no? It surpasses mere sex, into the realm of simple humanity, a realm few if any manage to enter so tellingly. The rest is the subtlest and best of Brit mummery of the recent past, mature and assured and quietly assertive. Let the mobs celebrate the explosions and the digitally created images, I, for one, prefer these quiet meditations on the human condition, which is timeless, unless the idiots manage to blow ALL of us into vapor and not even dust.

Rome
(2005)

All that . . . and entertainment too . .
Well, the lead comment, of 135?, to date, says it all, or very nearly so, no? HBO has done it again. Made a monkey out of Gollywood. As far as cinematics can go, the telly variety as well, whether "digital" or merely widescreen and authentically pigmented in chromatics AND chiaroscuro, "Rome" actually goes "Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under" one better, insofar as it appears to have successfully reconjured the "background" of two-millennia past. From the "credits," it would appear the "credit" should be chalked up to all the latterday Romans involved, chiefly at Cihecitta. Whatever, the on-screen "reality" is more than convincing, from set to prop and costume to "cosmetic slave." That said, and who cares WHO the "drivers" were, or even the on-set p.r. personnel were?, the multimillions reportedly spent coalesce on screen as a "virtual reality" to make the pop-show variety look like the staged events they are. Finally, in this view at least, the bottom line here is that "Rome" is, in incredible fact, essentially just one more "soap opera," with the "background" providing the springboard and impetus for the successful projection of historical/fictionalized characters who propel the onlooker into a web of essentially banal and utterly "common" human intercourse, albeit more bloody and raw than most would admit. The chief protagonists are, of course, the canny pairings of Vorenus and Pullo, and Alia and Servilia, who manage to upstage their historical betters. Just like you and me. Well, just as we would hope. Craftwise, the "creators" and producers, the writers and directors, as well as the "technicians," are ALL at the top of their respective "games." And the actors likewise, almost without exception, are more than convincing, although I found the Caesars and the Antonys and the Alias and Servilias "truest." Both McKidd and Stevenson are fine, mind you, but, to me, they seemed less dimensional than Caesar or Anthony or Pompey. But that's strictly a subjective reaction. Have only seen five episodes so far, but look forward to the next 17?

Since the above, I have bought and studied BOTH full seasons of "Rome," and must confess to being literally enslaved by the sheer sweep and scope AND projections of same. This teleseries is every bit the near-perfection, or at least so it would seem to this sensibility, of the nouveau "Forsyte Saga" and the peerless "Fanny and Alexander" and the timeless "Maurice" and "Brokeback Mountain" in re "cultural" and "social" perceptions thereof. I still find the Lucius Vorenus/Titus Pullo link the weakest of the sturdy chain of pretension to "reality," but, then, that is not the fault of either Kevin McKidd OR Ray Stevenson. And the quintet of distaff lineaments is absolutely nonpareil, from the Gorgon Atia to the literal "Furies" of Servilia, to the ambivalent Octavia, her ditto opposite Niobe, AND that soubretteCleopatra -- they, individually and in concert, challenge ANY future alignment of ensemble casting and acting. The male contingent aren't that far behind, the "character" limnings especially. The Caesar, the Pompey, the Cicero, the Brutus, and, very especially, the "Marc Antony" -- who could hope to equal their claims? The latter, one James Purefoy, comes across as almost a "force of Nature," as in bloody macho animal, and unapologetic at that. In a cinematic wonderland of "realities" like life, even IF, to me, the Egyptians, other than the "Nubians," seem a mite too Brit. minor delights like that child pharaoh titillate and entertain, and the distaff exec-secs, Egyptian as well as Roman, actually upstage their mistresses. And the imagined "dislogs," with or without anachronisms, ring true to both character AND incident. All hail the creators, the researchers, the craftsmen and the unsung, for an incredible fait-accompli of dramatic license and luxe.

Manon des sources
(1986)

Great, but with several "reservations" . . .
As film-making, this one is every bit a 10, but, on sober examination and thought, at least this viewer finds the Claude Berri "realization" on-screen of a Marcel Pagnol novel less than consistent and more than arbitrary, in that what underlies belies what is on the surface. More importantly, to me at least, is what seems to me to be Pagnol's "noir" perspective to his sunny Marseilles trilogy in this rural romp of a "memoir." In fact, the "Jean"/"Manon" pairing is a study in the insular countryside's essentially "incestuous" ambiance, more so even than the superficial bumpkinesqueries of the "locals," who are presented as considerably less than "civilized" in their private and public personae. To me, the "hero" of this bookended set is the sad and sorry figure of Ugolin, that retarded but "noble" and totally "decent" individual, who would, and did, rather die than "hurt" his beloved. Daniel Auteuil, herein, limns a "film" "character" as memorably as any I have ever seen, even if far too belatedly. He reminds me of a fine American film actor who never achieved fame but notched more than a few memorable characterizations, usually as either a "heavy" or a not-quite "respectable" or "heroic" type. Think his first name was Scott but can't recall the surname, even if I have the given correct. It's like the "kid" who brought "Jsmes Dean" to life on the telly, but who has yet to hire the press agent to put him on the superstar map. I have no idea as to Auteil post-"Jean" and "Manon," but this performance alone should ensure him his place alongside the great Gallic film stars. Final thought here, methinks Berri must have omitted, or shortchanged at least, a basic theme or element in the original novel, unread here, for the simple reason that the surface has completely upstaged the undergirding, and the fact, to me at least, that the REAL story is that of Soubeyrans, whose lost "letter" launched a life of emptiness and greed, and whose granddaughter heartlessly condemned her second-cousin to suicide. Color me jaded and less than a "romantic." This pair of films is a study of the dark soil rather than the invigorating sunlight of Provence.

Jean de Florette
(1986)

This Gallic evocation of a Province, Midi?, ambiance is "stacked" . . .
Neither Claude Berri nor his collaborator, nor even the great Marcel Pagnol himself can gainsay the cinematic fact that this exploration of French soil and French appetits is anything less than a propped-up scarecrow of a theme or more than just one more exploitation of the obvious and the "truth" that is, at heart, a "lie." Anyone who can credit a mere child in the fields as the nemesis of her father's murderers has to be a "romanticist" at heart, and I rather doubt Pagnol was any less than "realist," must be a subscriber to a Gollywood of smoke and mirrors and easy self-assurances. NO city type, much less a country hick, as in "Stix Nix Hicks Pix," could begin to aspire to the ingenuousness of "Jean" in or out of "Florette." No, fellow cineastes, this one is a shill and a clunker, themewise that is, because the on-screen "realization" is more than competent and believable and persuasive. But, personally, I found Yves here and Gerard as well, a distant second and third to Daniel's three-dimensional and more than human witness to greed and corruption and murder. It's HIS vehicle, donkeys and cartwheels and all. For the rest, I give you the Marsellais of Psgnol's "Fanny" trilogy, which is, every bit. another candidate for cinemstic glory and box office, like Bergman's "Fanny." "och Alexander."

César
(1936)

"Life" accounts more than literate "existentialisme"
Ah, vraiment and verily, I say unto you, Marcel Pagnol was a "camp" of the premier order. Not only that, he succeeded in morphing what was and is, at heart, mere soap opera and sitcom into the stratosphere of cinema verite and classic dramaturgy. Poor "planktonrules" has to be a juvenile, like the Pierre Fresnay of Marius, else he would have savored the wit and bonhomie of this conclusion to an essentially witty and clear-eyed projection of a worldly if folksy milieu and ambiance, a fleshly and fleshy cinematic approximation of a time and a place and a people of more than recognizable humanity. And "Writers Reign" continues to have his way with the rest of us, even as I must demur, quibble?, that too, on two points, to wit: First, to me at least, Gene Kelly was no more and no less of a "dancer" than Fred Astaire. Yes, the former projected a street-urchin pretension to the latter's urbane and seamless "dancing," with or without Ginger, Rogers that is. Neither began to essay the likes of "true" dancing, as in ballet and/or "modern," wherein the entire body instrument is involved, trained and disciplined to a T-fall. Both danced with their feet only. Second, I find his putdown of Charles Laughton contumely rather than mere "criticism." If not for "Bligh," at least for his stark stagings of "Night of the Hunter." That said, Raimu is indeed, peerless, a Gallic Beery avec subtleties AND profundity, and most if not quite all of his cronies, female as well, rise to the occasion of universal gemutlichkeit and whimsy, barbs and all. As for the young Fresnay and the better-as-matron-than dewy-eyed deb Demazis?, both mature and convince in the finale, revelations and confessions and insights tout-a-l'heure?

Marius
(1931)

A goodie, perhaps even a classic, but not quite flawless . . .
Memory here deceived, up to a point. Re-viewing, as in once more, twice?, seems to point to the fact that a 7.9 is more than accurate and the belated doffing of a cap to ALL concerned is more than merited. Bearing in mind that this film was made in '31, and that contemporary values of technology and perception can NOT, logically, be applied, this first shot out of the Marcel Pagnol "Msrseilles trilogy" is more than heartwarming AND entertaining, even as today's sensibilities must find contrivances and convenient dramatic license offputting. As with too many romances and reminiscences, the distaff love interest appears, at least to these eyes, much too "mature" for the part, and the callow "juvenile" male lead by that token even more immature. Orane Demazis rolls her eyes in the best Eisenstein tradition and manages to faint sans limpness, but still, somehow, also manages to stay in character, even as Pierre Fresnay's period "haircut" proves distractingly jug-eared. That said, there remains the promise of the adult, mature, and eminently sophisticated docteur of "Le Corbeau" to come. I also found my reactions careening back to Betty Fields and Robert Cummings in "Kings Row." Worse yet, I began, in Fresnay's case, to muse upon the likes of the young Robert Montgomery, and Franchot Tone, and Tyrone Power, although, of that trio, only the first ever "matured" into an actor beyond mere persona. But to get back from the peripherals to the true heart of this matter, which is to say, Marcel Pagnol AND Raimu, their substance remains, excesses of sentiment and comedy notwithstanding, authentic AND reassuring. Warm and hearty, like a good country "stew"? And I personally found the asides about the Parisian haut monde's sniffishness at the Midi provincialisms amusing, and the revelation that the producer assured the director HE was replaceable and Raimu not. Finally, here, has anyone else noted the visual parallels, not to mention the "character" asides herein, a full five years BEFORE Carne's "Quai des Brumes"? Is the latter beholden tot he former? And can ANYthiing be, literally, "original"?

The Forsyte Saga
(2002)

Surprised at less than a thousand comments . . .
But gratified that this stunningly "realized" cinematic re-creation of the Galsworthy classic, one that truly merits the reference, scores an 8.6 overall. It's actually better than that, but more than several peers of equal merit have scored lower, undeservingly. Without reading most of the comments from peers and betters, I simply wish to record mine own, subjective and biased? input here, to wit: Whereas the "original," black-and-white filming is likely "superior," or at least closer to the author's vision and intent, I doubt not that the "present" version is equally "superior" technically and in many subtle AND obvious ways to its predecessor. That said. and the likelihood of the original Soames being better "cast" and fuller in film-flesh, it seems to me that Adrian Lewis somehow still manages to project, pinched nostrils and all, the underlying "character" of this "man of property" and child of Imperial Brit moralities and values. He and the remaining points of the psychosexual triangle that lies at the base and heart of Galsworthy's eminently sophisticated and observant appreciation of his peers and times, Gina McKee and Ioan Gruffudd, darn those Celts, are, each in his and her own persona way, essentially inauthentic to character and period?, yet somehow, the trio, by the agencies of excellent scripts and direction, manage a more than convincing and audience-involving dynamic. Together, they fascinate and move the viewer to vicarious identification AND the true test of any theatrical, catharsis. That said, the true and stunning performances are those of the scion of a British royal family of the theater, Colin Redgrave, and relative newcomer Rupert Graves. If there have been finer cinematic performances anywhere, I would like to see them, Redgrave especially. His "Indian Summer" passage is heart-warming and gut-wrenching, down to the twirl of his moustache, and Graves fulfills the promise of his early essay as the fiery-eyed gay gamekeeper in "Maurice." All in all, how could anyone carp at this astonishing "picturization," and a "moving" one at that, of a time and a place and a covey of English "birds," in the bush as well as the boudoir? I, for one, can't.

Addendum. After yet one more viewing, even semi-deaf and clouding vision, I find myself moved to amend. First, of course it's CORIN Redgrave, whose elegantly bravura performance is literally nonpareil. Second, misogynist I must appear, BOTH Gina MkKee and Gillian Kearney more than match their male counterparts, the former in a "loveliness" that launches the adoration of fou doughty men, and the latter a cheeky "liberated" woman who would do honor to an Annie Besant. Adrian Lewis, too handsome here for his own portrayal, nevertheless is "heartbreaking" in more than a few scenes, the lack of pallor in his sickbed scene more a matter of makeup. And, finally, both Stephen Mallatratt's scripts and dialog, and Christopher Menaul's direction are, in a word, superb. And each episode maintains both pace AND tenor AND bite. The fact that the "modern" generation of Forsytes fail to match their progenitors is, after all, simply "anticlimax," for the tale peaked before the latter "coda." That noted, this "Forsyte Saga" is an artistic, creative even, benchmark, like Bergman's "Fanny och Alexander," for future pretenders to the throne of cinematic royalty. And each and every single "featured" and "bit" player struck this viewer as close to perfection as possible. Overboard? Likely. But I am certain it is warranted.

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