johnmbale

IMDb member since February 2005
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    IMDb Member
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Reviews

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus
(2006)

Outdoing David Lynch.
The title of the film engaged me remembering the haunting photographs of Diane Arbus, those pictures of curiously aloof people on the fringes of society. Director Steven Shainberg has cooked up a seriously kooky fictional account of how Arbus became interested in photographing freaks and oddities. The explanation according Shainburg is more bizarre than her photographs. We are lead to believe that Arbus (Nicole Kidman) is strangely attracted to the hairy Wolf Man who moves into an overhead apartment. The creature Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey Jnr) in fact looks remarkably like Lon Chaney Jnr. in his were-wolf makeup. Lionel is actually an ex-circus freak now a wig maker with softly spoken but imperious manner of a Hannibal Lector.

Much to the concern of her fashion photographer husband (Ty Burrell) Arbus becomes more involved with Lionel and his odd friends who could have come from the cast of Tod Browning's "Freaks". From the modest house wife helping her husband pose models to independence as a photographer venturing even into a nudist camp for her art, the transformation according to script writer Erin Cressida Wilson is all due to "Beauty's" association with the "Beast". Things get a whisker out of hand when Nicole cuts a trap door in the ceiling so Lionel can visit more easily to the distress of her long suffering husband.

Nicole wearing her stoic expressions from The Others, looks younger and quite fetching in many scenes even getting naked on occasion. Robert Downey Jr. obscured by fur somehow manages to give his part some credence with just eyes and mouth, and has the pleasure of being shaved by Nicole in a climatic scene. The end of the film manages the only reference to the actual Arbus pictures by panning over the freakish guests in poses resembling some of her most famous photos. While I'm not at all sure this helps the Diane Arbus legacy, this film's dark Gothic images might do homage to the great photographer in a odd way. It's such a weird and curious offering it remains with you long after you leave the cinema.

Oliver Twist
(1948)

David Lean's Superb Dickens
Still the most Dickensian of all the Oliver Twist films David Lean's inspired version, never the less is much indebted in its style to the German Expressionist Cinema. It's London is more related to Fritz Lang than Victorian England but the spirit of Dickens is alive and well in the accurately drawn caricatures from the novel. Outstanding performances by Francis J. Sullivan as ridiculous Mr. Bumble, Alec Guiness's chillingly evil Fagin despite a badly judged nose job, and the eye boggling twitching Robert Newton as the ferocious Bill Sykes. Even his dog trembles at his temper, in fact the dog is a major actor in this version.

John Newton Howard is a rather angelic Oliver, with a more refined delivery than one would have expected from a workhouse background. But it all goes decidedly well thanks to Lean's superb direction, stunning images, clever editing and a sterling cast. Viewed today so many years after it was filmed it remains the most vivid and Gothic recreation of the story. Probably Charles Dickens would approve. The heroic length recent version by Roman Polanski is generally faithful to the novel but lacks the pizazz and humour that is in Dicken's writing. David Lean made only two excursions into Dickens (Oliver Twist and Great Expectations) both milestones in cinema. One can but wonder how well he may have brought Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend to the screen.

Bleak House
(2005)

Brilliant Dickens Adaption
Bleak House is certainly one of the best adaptions of Dickens brought to the TV screens. It distills the essence of the long novel graphically and with a some brilliant characterizations by the superb cast. There is real feeling here for the period and the book. An truly excellent cast including perhaps surprisingly Gillian Anderson (The X Files) who impresses as the cool Lady Dedlock, Charles Dance as the sinister Tulkinghorn, Denis Lawson as kindly John Jarndyce, Alun Amstrong as Bucket, Nathaniel Parker as Skimpole, Pauline Collins as Miss Flute, Burn Gorman as poor Guppy, and particularly Philip Davis as the dreadful Smallweed, all wonderful Dickensian characters. The sets and locations have the right feel for the story the photography of a high order, with the only quibble being the zip shots into each sequence, a modern stylistic trick that does nothing to enhance the period story. Considering the complexity of the story and its great length the editors have done a great job in never letting the film drag. I rather think that Charles Dickens if he were still around would heartily approve.

Prime Suspect: The Final Act
(2006)

Mirren Excels
In a remarkable performance Helen Mirren plays the alcoholic detective Jane Tennison with depth and understanding rare in television. Mirren once the vivacious girl who was opposite James Mason in Norman Lindsay's "Age of Consent" today is not frightened of getting down and dirty in her roles. She goes full bore warts and all. Supported by a strong cast of British character players we can overlook some minor plot weaknesses when the overall quality of this series is streets ahead of the usual crap cop shows on the box. If only most TV was this good. Not often do we see actors bare their souls like Mirren outside of the cinema screen. Others in the cast worthy of mention are Stephen Tompkinson as Sean Philips, and Gary Lewis as Tony Sturdy.

Midsomer Murders
(1997)

John Nettles - excels as the gentleman cop.
John Nettles plays the perfect detective as Chief Inspector Barnaby in Midsomer Murders, unlike so many other British Dicks he doesn't have a problem with the bottle, family hassles at home, nor is he unhappily single and suffering manic depression. Not only that his diction is near perfect and he has the stiff upper lip so necessary in rural England when murders are more common than haystacks. Teamed up with a new sidekick DC Ben Jones (Jason Hughes) resembling the much put upon Sgt. Lewis of Inspector Morse fame.

The series also has the advantage of using some of the best character actors available, for example Simon Callow, and reasonably well written plots that hold interest. Although usually a number of people get dispatched before our Barnaby can nab the culprit he gets his man in the end. But that's life in the villages. Better than average production values and consistency of performance by the main cast members keeps this show top of the list. A pleasant change from the plethora of cheesy forensic investigations headed up by gorgeous female doctors brandishing scalpels over deceased body parts.

The Devil Wears Prada
(2006)

Meryl Streep is on a Winner.
Meryl Streep must be on a roll at the moment getting better with age, her more mature parts pay off in two excellent recent pictures A Prairie Home Companion, directed by Robert Altman and this light hearted expose of the high fashion industry directed by David Frankel. There is a old connection with Altman in another way too, he also did a marvelous job with high fashion a few years back in Pret-a-Porter (1994)

Streep is the cement that holds the film together in this case. She is just terrific as the ice queen running the prestigious fashion magazine, sails through the part seamlessly as if it was written for her. Briefly the plot concerns young Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) longing to be a journalist but manages to secure almost accidentally the highly sought after position as personal assistant to fashion guru Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) the high powered editor from hell of "Runway" magazine. Miranda is a real cool dragon lady who frightens the pants off people.

Andy seems a total misfit wearing (as someone rudely points out) Opportunity Shop ensembles, has a voice like one of the Chip Monks (if you remember them) with no acquaintance of mid Atlantic diction, and appears oblivious to the prestige of her office. But she's a lovely girl at heart and has a lovely live in boyfriend.

But this is shortly to change under the guidance of supercilious Nigel the camp fashion coordinator, a wonderful portrayal by Stanley Tucci. Andy dons a festoon of fashion labels beyond belief and with some Liza Minnelli eye makeup, before you can say "Donatella Versace" becomes one of the "in" team, looking suitably chic despite being put upon to do an enormous often menial workload. This sets Andy apart from her old crowd and boyfriend, whilst her curious relationship with the dragon lady would appear to have life changing possibilities, in the process Andy tarnishes her integrity and looks like losing her man. It all comes to head when Andy gets invited to accompany the great Miranda to Paris for the major showing. Yet finally everything is suitably resolved in the heart warming conclusion that bears out "all that glitters is not gold".

Based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger who worked for Vogue magazine for twelve months and obviously uses some of her experiences of that year in the book. She says that in fashion nothing is impossible, that doesn't even come into the language. Certainly it's the basic premise in the film too, even getting the goods on Harry Potter is not beyond the pale in this fickle land of fads.

This is an entertaining mix of drama and comedy with much appeal to women in the audience. It captures the glitz and glamour of an industry which continues to fascinate mere mortals who can but only read the glossy magazines.

Jackie Brown
(1997)

Jackie Brown is some lady.
Jackie Brown works well thanks to a great cast and Tarantino's mastery of cinema technique. As Jackie Pam Grier almost steals the show but Jackson and DeNiro are strong support. The plot is a complex bit of double crossing, when Jackie finds herself trapped by the police to give up her dangerous associate in order to gain freedom. It flows along punctuated by extreme closeups, long tracking shots (that would do credit to Orson Welles) driven at times by pop music. All of which Tarantino manages very well. In the end the direction takes a lot of credit for the success of this thriller in the wake of Pulp Fiction. The violence is understated by comparison, but all the more shocking because of this. Well done.

The Italian Job
(1969)

Fun and Games in Minis
This is perhaps one of the greatest heist films of all time. Certainly one of the funniest. The cast is superb lead by Michael Caine, the inimitable Noel Coward, and including such notable British comics as Bennie Hill, Irene Handl and John Le Mesurier. Caine has never been better, as in the role of the flamboyant cockney Charlie, who leads a clever and daring snatch of 4 million dollars of gold in Turin, despite efforts by the local Mafia and Police to foil the attempt at every turn. Highlight of course is the remarkable chase across a traffic congested Turin by the three Minis, beautifully filmed and edited to precision. The later remake never catches up with the pace and timing the original, and certainly not the wry British sense of humour. The late 60's saw the production of some really brilliant cinema, and this is a notable example.

Colour Me Kubrick: A True...ish Story
(2005)

Malkovitch camps it up for Kubrick Fans.
John Malkovitch steps right out of character to sashay round London as a gay sloshed and somewhat sleazy con man Alan Conway impersonating the great film director Stanley Kubrick. Smooth talking Conway certainly manages to take people in and pocket their money. Malkovitch seems to thoroughly enjoy the role, and gets the most out of it. The fact that he doesn't resemble Kubrick in a fit, makes the impersonation even more audacious. The picture will appeal to film buffs, with its in jokes, and many references to Kubrick's films. There are some amusing situations and Conway finally gets something of a comeuppance being unceremoniously chucked off the end of a pier. A good cast of English stock players (including Richard E. Grant heavily wigged up) support Malkovitch, thoroughly camping it up, he is in most scenes and carries the movie on his performance. The music is always appropriate, has references to films like Space Odyssey, Clockwork Orange, etc and helps keep the pace brisk. I suspect the joke runs a little on the long side, but it should make Kubrick fans happy.

Oliver Twist
(2005)

An Oliver Dickens would Applaud.
"You're a clever boy, my dear," said the playful old gentleman, patting Oliver on the head approvingly. (Charles Dickens)

Here's an impressive new version of the well worn but worn well classic tale about the orphan boy who "asked for more" in the gruesome Orphanage, later flees to London and meets up with the sinister Fagin who runs a gang of child pickpockets lead by The Artful Dodger. The plot thickens when Oliver is rescued short term by a kindly Mr. Brownlow but is later kidnapped by the evil Bill Sikes, in collaboration with Fagin, and forced to rob his benefactor. The story is widely known. Dickens uses it to exemplify the harsh conditions that children of the poor experienced in the times of Queen Victoria.

The great difficulty in adapting Charles Dickens to the screen is the length of his novels and the complex plots and many characters therein. Also much of the Dickens droll humour which lightens the grim situations is in the written word, often lost in translation to film.

So Roman Polanski, that brilliant if sometimes quirky director, has done a truly remarkable job with his Oliver Twist. Controversial Polanski once the boy wonder of the Polish Film Industry, with the film Knife in the Water, and later Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, up to his recent The Pianist, occasionally takes to the classics. Previously he's done a noteworthy versions of Tess and Macbeth. Again he seems totally at home with Dickens England, with the most Victorian looking London since The Elephant Man. He has succeeded in creating a detailed and dismal environment that seems to ring historically true.

Of course there have been several previous and fine films of this story. The most notable being David Lean's magnificent version in 1948, to which all others are compared. Lean made two excursions into Dickens, Twist and Great Expectations. Both text book examples of gifted film making. His superb B&W photography gave them a truly Dickensian look which Polanski and indeed David Lynch in The Elephant Man appreciate. (Polanski starts this film with an engraving under the opening titles which is in black and white, and the first scene is muted in colour, as are many other sequences in the picture which helps the anachronistic mood.) Strong casting from the pool of top actors of the time, combined with exemplary editing and direction made Lean's production something of a masterpiece.

However Polanski has created a new version that must seriously compare with Lean's landmark film, and the others including Carol Reed's "Oliver" the Musical. He faithfully brings the novel to the screen in this lengthy version, (nearly 30 minutes longer than Lean's) including scenes that were omitted in previous scripts. His Oliver as played by Barney Clarke is less precious than John Howard Davies, and gets down and dirty, while Ben Kingsley heavily made-up is a gentler Fagin than the great Alec Guinness.

If perhaps the malevolent Bill Sikes played by Jamie Foreman doesn't quite live up to the legendary Robert Newton, or the overwhelming Oliver Reed he certainly brings a degree of smoldering brutality to the role. While Harry Eden as Mr. Bumble, revives memories of the Dickensian Francis L. Sullivan, and Leanne Rowe as Nancy stands in acceptably for Kay Walsh. The other stock British character players in the new film all look and perform splendidly to add the "Dickens image" to the story.

It is some 35 years since a feature length Oliver Twist has been filmed. So a whole new generation may be introduced to Dickens through this new picture. When Lean's Great Expectations played at the Regent Cinema in Melbourne back in the late forties, it was huge, people queued in the streets to get tickets. I'm not sure that there is the same interest today in Dickens especially with younger people. Polanski does fine homage to Dickens even if the film lacks some of the humour and Gothic impact of the David Lean picture.

Le couperet
(2005)

A comedy with a sharp dark edge
Many years ago there was a film starring Alec Guinness called "Kind Hearts and Coronets", which took the case that a member of a wealthy family murders off his relatives to inherit the estate. "Le Couperet" offers a similar plot, although this time a disgruntled unemployed engineer becomes an inept assassin to remove his competitors for a top job with often-hilarious consequences.

In this very dark comedy Jose Garcia does well as the bumbling killer, at times reminiscent of a young Jack Lemmon, and there are many surprises along the way. The film does highlight more sincerely than you may expect the plight of middle-aged professionals that are retrenched, and find it difficult to obtain positions in the current climate. Many watching the movie might well relate to its characters and their plight.

Excellent sequences include the job interview, which has more than a ring of truth, the discussions about unemployment and its social consequences by the discouraged out-of-work executives, and the scenes with the marriage counselor. Despite its black humour, there is a very human side to this film. Costa-Gavras is an exceptional filmmaker, with experience that shows in the smooth integration of the hilarious with an undertow of real pathos. The story ends on a suitably enigmatic note.

Alice in Wonderland
(1999)

Curiouser and Curiouser Cried Alice !
What could have been a magic Alice using the formula of top Stars in the cameo roles as in the 1933 version, is dulled by excessive length and an unnecessary sub plot, concerning Alice's shyness in performing a song for a family gathering.

Also combining scenes from Through the Looking Glass while pleasant in themselves, extends the running time, and the pedestrian pace of the film. Sure there are some magic moments, and fortunately the designers have called upon Sir John Tenniel's illustrations for their characters, and the dialog when it is from Lewis Carroll's text is happily nonsense. It is bits that are not by Carroll that detract sadly.

It could have been much better, and even Tina Majorino doesn't make an especially attractive Alice. Perhaps re-editing it down to about 90 minutes would make it a winner, but we'll never know. A pity because some of the segments are very good indeed, with guests like Whoopy Goldberg, Martin Short, Ben Kingsley, Miranda Richardson, Peter Ustinov, and Pete Postlethwaite enjoying themselves immensely

Inspector Morse: The Infernal Serpent
(1990)
Episode 1, Season 4

An Outstanding Episode
This is one of the best episodes featuring the gruff but cultured Inspector Morse and his sidekick Lewis, in arguably the cleverest Detective series on the box. The cast is splendid, Thaw and Whately are excellent as usual, Thaw plays Morse with his usual comfortable ease, they are ably supported by Geoffrey Palmer is at home with his portrayal of the unpleasant Master, Barbara Leigh-Hunt as his dithering wife, Cheryl Campbell as the attractive Silvie, and Tom Wilkinson as the Music Master. All fine characterizations that would please Colin Dexter himself.

The intriguing plot set as usual in Oxford, has the academic overtones expected, with sudden death, incest, and various false leads typical ingredients. But what makes this episode outstanding is its text book example of good Television technique, the use of extreme close shots to observe the characters expressions, the fluid camera work, tight editing and direction, all work exceedingly well for the small screen. If you are a Morse fan, don't miss this one.

To Kill a Mockingbird
(1962)

Mark Twain would have been proud !
Not since Mark Twain have we had such a compelling essay of childhood, superbly brought to the screen by the young members of the cast, with the bonus of the courtroom drama and the eloquence of Gregory Peck in his finest role. This is superbly crafted film which beautifully explores a nostalgic period we would all like to revisit perhaps, the idealized family of our youth. Certainly a fine adaption of Harper Lee's remarkable book, and it is the masterpiece of the 60's, which was a great period in cinema. There is a dark side to life in this sleepy Southern town, moral dilemmas, and racism, as seen through the eyes of the children, with the lightness of touch that endears us to the characters, and a wonderful feeling for the mood of the early 1930's. A great American film and a must see.

The Omen
(2006)

He's a Devil of Son !
The Omen has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and the remake is not bad considering everything. There is a clever move to lock it into the 6/6/06 date, with a new prologue, and a general modernization of the story accordingly. The ingenious plot concerns a US Ambassador Robert Thorn whose "son" seems to cause some horrific deaths, and may be a Satanist child, the Antichrist as prophesied in Revelations.

It remains faithful by and large to the novel and the first movie that starred Gregory Peck. If it is less sharp in its pace, it adds a couple of shock cuts that work well. So while we might miss the tighter direction of Richard Donner, the effects are very good and the photography and editing also of a high standard with some suitably exotic locations.

Though Leiv Schrieber lacks the gravitas of Gregory Peck, who was older in the part at the end of his distinguished career, (though not his finest performance) Schrieber manages to deliver his lines with something of a resonance of Peck. Less satisfactory is Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Damien, who lacks the evil eye of the original's Harvey Stephens. While it was neat idea to have Mia Farrow as the malevolent governess Mrs. Baylock, (a reference to Rosemary's Baby which covered similar ground), her first appearance rather suggests Mary Poppins, and it seems hard for her to then make the role as threatening as did Billie Whitelaw.

Neither do Julia Stiles as Karen (the long suffering wife) nor David Thewlis as the photographer Keith Jennings improve on the performances of Lee Remick and David Warner. However both Postlethwaite and Gamon provide some strong characterization. You may well wonder why it took so long for Thorn to wake up about his daemonic son, you'd only have to look at the drawings by the kid pasted on the nursery walls of all places, to realize the lad has some serious problems.

In the early 1970s there was a sudden interest in the Devil and all his works, with films like Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen, etc. mostly they were well made and with good casts and directors, its hard to improve on the originals even with today's film technology. So why do we bother remaking big features from the past, perhaps so a new generation can see them, but usually the revival is lacking the spark that set off the original idea, and sometimes the story has simply become old hat - just as Poseidon really sank itself the second time round. However in fairness The Omen 2006 is well worth a viewing, if you haven't seen the first version.

Caché
(2005)

Fascinating but finally Frustrating.
Hidden is the operative word for this one, also frustrating would be a substitute. But undoubtedly it is well acted by the excellent Daniel Auteuil and beautiful Juliette Binoche perhaps looking less glamorous than usual, in her housewife part. Plus there is a deviously clever plot, which breaks new ground in many ways, and some real instant shock scenes. But the sudden and obscure ending left me still wondering who sent the videotapes anyhow, and who could have filmed them in that way ? For me the answer remained quite hidden. But full marks for trying, it is typically French Cinema, and certainly for most of the length keeps you held to the seat. Just don't get too comfortable because you might be annoyed watching that long scene under the end credits which is supposed to explain all. And indeed is this last scene yet another videotape ?

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
(2005)

Tommy Lee Jones Debut Excels
Tommy Lee Jones makes an impressive debut as director, and adds his own golden performance to the movie. He dominates the screen as the monosyllabic grisly Pete Perkins, seeking revenge and proper burial for his "Greenback" friend who was killed in a shootout with Mike Norton a Border Patrol Officer of dubious character. The location in a border town of Texas that seems to have seen better days and is inhabited by number of trailer home people, is realistically portrayed with the degree of grottyness, that pervades much of the texture of this gritty movie. Dramatic interaction between the two main characters, Pete and the unfortunate Patrol Man Norton, whom he kidnaps and forces him to travel together with the body to a remote Mexican town. There is a sting in the tail of the movie that is unexpected and sets the scene for a moving end sequence. An interlude on the way with a lonely blind man is one of the best scenes in the picture. This is excellent film as sort of contemporary Western, which has a great deal of bite, with tastes of both Ray Bradbury and The Fugitive along the journey.

The Da Vinci Code
(2006)

A Thriller for the Thinking Man
The film is a mostly faithful if lengthy adaption of the novel, and should not disappoint Dan Brown fans. The whole cast are competent and despite his hair extensions Tom Hanks makes an acceptable hero, while the dastardly Monk looks as if he just walked out of "The Seventh Seal". The locations are interesting and give authenticity to the film version. The plot is no more outrageous than the book, and whilst it may challenge some beliefs, I doubt if many would take it too seriously. Overall this is an entertaining and thought provoking thriller with enough action to support the complicated clues that litter the landscape. Audrey Tautou and Jean Reno provide a some real French accents. All in all not a bad nights entertainment.

Salesman
(1969)

Moving Tribute to Door to Door Salesmen from the Past
This interesting documentary is like a time capsule. Bringing to life the late 1960's, in a sometimes unsettling manner. It tells the story of a group of door to door Irish/American salesmen, selling Bibles in Boston and Florida. It is fascinating to watch the actual sales pitch, the manners and way we were at that time. (Smoking was certainly the order of the day) The growing desperation of one of the older salesmen as his sales figures slump, is quite as moving as in the play "Death of a Salesman". Anyone who has ever been involved is selling direct to the public should make this compulsive viewing. The documentary technique is also exceptional. There is not a word of commentary, introduction, or the usual "talking head" interviews that slow so many of todays TV documentaries. The characters themselves, and clever editing clearly tell the story and create the a raw drama. Camera work is remarkable for the time too, the subjects never seem to be aware of the filming process, unlike much Reality TV. This is a true American Tragedy, reflecting the loneliness of old time salesmen, and indeed that of many people with whom they deal. It is a credit to the Maysles.

Det sjunde inseglet
(1957)

Bergman's Brilliance Abounds
What makes The Seventh Seal - an apocryphal and uncompromising fable of medieval Sweden - one of the masterpieces of Cinema ? Ingmar Bergman creates a believable world of dark happenings, wherein Death can play chess with a Knight, witches burn at the stake, with flagellants, and plague ever present. Through superb black and white images, each carefully composed for maximum effect, sets and costumes, his fine actors seem to truly inhabit this frightening world. Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, and Bengt Ekerot lead a marvelous cast. But its not all doom and gloom, as the Knight tries to determine in his quest, the meaning of life, and if God exists at all. There are moments of sheer happiness and peace, such as the sequence of the milk and strawberries at dusk, and a number of bawdy comic moments throughout the film. Which balances the darker side. It is unforgettable and I still remember seeing it on its first release, being stunned by the quality of the photography, and the performances. A restored version on DVD is recommended. Bergman is one of the great film makers of our time. Seldom today do we see such precise and considered images on the screen. Not to be missed.

The Castle
(1997)

Satirical Look at the Suburbs.
This has become something of a cult film, about a little Aussie Battler taking on the big wheels when they try to seize his house for an airport development. Despite low production values and a look of "made for TV", the cheeky script and Michael Caton's outstanding performance as the very Ocka but lovable Darryl Kerrigan saves the day (and the house) resulting in an enjoyable comedy. Strong supporting players Bud Tingwell, Stephen Curry, Ann Tenney, and Teriel Mora, bring it together. You may also spot a young Eric Bana before he came to fame as Chopper and The Hulk. Considering the limited budget and shooting time this has proved to be quite a hit. And The Castle's satirical view of suburbia is a comic tradition in Australia, begun by Barry Humphries, and recently continued by Kath and Kim.

The Producers
(2005)

Mel Brookes still makes us laugh.
What do Mel Brookes and Charles Chaplin have in common ? They both made comedy films lampooning Adolf Hitler, a subject that was hardly suited to fun and frolic. And yet both films were remarkably successful. The original film of The Producers has become something of a Classic, while Chaplin's The Great Dictator is still considered a Masterpiece. The latest The Producers is rather an extended filmed version of the Broadway Stage Show, and while it has some exceedingly funny moments (due to its wild excursion into politically dangerous country) and a clever cast, it lacks the tightness of the earlier film. One feels the need for audience applause, theatre blackouts, interval, and the cast obviously have been through the actions many times. What results is still very amusing, and Uma Thulin lends much exciting sparkle, but it is a bit long winded. The additional song and dance numbers don't add to the zest. The longer sequence with on the roof with the Siegfried Oath is good value, though one misses the manic Gene Wilder of the 60's film. However it is certainly vintage Mel Brookes, and one should make sure to see the end titles in full for a final surprise.

La belle et la bête
(1946)

A fabulous fairy tale brought to life by a Poet.
Surely the most beautiful realization of a fairy tale ever brought to the silver screen. Albeit for adults possibly more than children. Superbly photographed and lit, with the quality of the old masters, strange and Gothic sets, remarkable costumes, and a fine cast who seem to be imbued with the fantasy of it all. Cocteau was certainly the great poet of the Cinema, and this is perhaps his finest achievement. The magical and enchanting effects are often achieved in the camera rather than the laboratory, as Cocteau was a master of film illusion. Long before the time of digital technology, and how much more effective. Then there is the incredible makeup for the Beast, played admirably by Jean Marais. With the technical skills of such greats of the French Cinema as Henri Aleken (Photography) Assistant Director Rene Clement, Christian Berard, and George Auric (Music). This is truly an enchanting masterpiece, a textbook example of the finest black and white cinematography, and a timeless return to childhood.

36 Quai des Orfèvres
(2004)

Depardieu and Auteuil Excell in Gritty Police Drama
36 Quai Des Orfevres is a gutsy police drama, filmed with flair, the dark side of both police and criminals realistically portrayed. For me the best aspect of the picture is bringing together again those two giants of the French screen, Depardieu and Auteuil, remembered for their roles in the wonderful Jean De Florette, which was a period piece, now they are in a rather frightening present day Paris. The fairly complex plot involves the rivalry between two leading policemen, both vying to gain promotion by bringing to justice a feared gang of psychopaths. In keeping with the dark feeling of the story Paris has never looked so gritty and bleak as seen here. Once again the French demonstrate their skill in the crime genre picture of which this is a fine example, thanks to these two brilliant actors, with the fine supporting cast, and earthy rugged direction. Based on real events, with muddy politics of the French Police Force, lies, betrayals, and violent shootouts, it will keep you guessing until it reaches its unexpected climax.

Flightplan
(2005)

Don't Mess with This Lady !
Once more Jodie Foster proves to be a worthy adversary when her daughter is threatened, as was in Panic Room. Don't mess with her - as the villain of the piece learns the hard way. Despite a preposterous plot that will beggar belief, there is thanks to Jodie Foster's nervous energy and sincere performance, a considerable amount of tension and suspense in this thriller. The premise that a little girl vanishes on a huge passenger plane, disguises a more sinister situation, there is quite a bit of intrigue going on for the first part of the movie, which does get you in. Sadly the more revealed the less convincing the story, but finally as a thriller its certainly up there with Panic Room. Smooth sweeping camera-work, and a very active sound track keeps you on the seats edge for most of the movie, it starts under the titles with a jarring sense of foreboding. The direction is tight and makes most of the confinement within the aircraft. Even if the plot is mainly nonsense, its still a nights entertainment, and confirms Foster's ability in this type of role.

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