Monday, May 30, 2011

Paul Newman : A Life - Shawn Levy

Cover of the American edition.
' Paul Newman's craft was acting. His passion was racing. His love was his family and friends. And his heart and sole were dedicated to helping make the world a better place for all. '

 The press release from Newman's Own Foundation on Paul Newman's death, Friday, September 26th, 2008.

 Unfortunately I don't have the time I wish I had to read as many actor/actresses biographers as I'd like to. I just happened to see this book the first step I took into our local library the other day. I was only after some very light fiction, but as soon as saw this I stuck it under my arm and read it in two nights. For me it is somewhat poignant as Cars 2 is to be released soon and it brings home to me what a great loss he is to us all.

 Well if you don't know who Paul Newman was then there is really no hope for you at all! Either that or it is a very isolated cave you have living in for a very long time!! Newman is a name that needs no introduction, and Shawn Levy's biography is the first published since the very sad passing of this true cinematic legend and humanitarian. There have been twelve books written about Newman over the years, of which I have read the grand total of ...none! After reading this book though I was surprised how much I knew about the man and also how much I didn't!

 Firstly Newman's parent were Jewish. Newman is a bit of a give away when you think about it but Paul himself wasn't a practising Jew being quite oblivious to the religion as a whole. The only time in his life his origins were brought into question was when he met Sam Speigel for a casting session. Speigel was himself a Jew, and concious of it to the point of signing himself S.P. Eagle. He asked Newman why he didn't change his name to avoid Jewish stigma and what he would call himself. A green Paul said, S.P. Newman. He didn't get the role!! Which role? On the Waterfront!!

 The whole biography is full of interesting titbits like this, and as always it is interesting to see the roles he was offered and turned down. For example:

Both he and Robert Redford were initially going to make Serpico together. Obviously it never happened and Al Pacino got the role. They were also both considered for The Man Who Would Be King, but Paul told John Huston ' to get Caine and Connery for Christsake '!

The Eiger Sanction and Dirty Harry - Clint Eastwood. ( Thank god for posterity Newman never became Harry!! ).

Robin and Marion - Sean Connery.

Cry Freedom - Kevin Kline.

Superman - Marlon Brando.

Romancing the Stone - Michael Douglas.

 He was also approached to make Papermoon with his daughter Nell. Ryan O'Neal got the role with his own daughter Tatum ). Interestingly Nell was banned by both Paul and Joanne from auditoning for the Exorcist, the role made famous by Linda Blair. They didn't want her involved in the industry but she of course persisted, giving up her acting career in her early thirties at the start of the 1980's.

 Paul Newman is regarded as a man within an extra-ordinary amount of natural talent. This really is untrue as he was actually a man who worked extremely hard to achieve his successes and wasn't naturally talented at all. He achieved everthing through hard work and dedication, something he learnt from his father. When he started acting he was quite poor at it and yet persisted. It is unbelievable to think that the actor we now know started out with such inauspicious beginnings. He started out, as so many actors did, on the stage, and slowly worked his way up into television before his break out role in the awful, The Silver Chalice. All reviews took notice of his looks but were adamant he couldn't act, and wouldn't get anywhere on his looks alone.

 Well has an actor defied the odds so much as Newman did?! After The Silver Chalice his star took off, even to the point of him buying out his Warner Bros. contract to further his career, and be his own man. I don't have to add anything to what he achieved do I?!! Ten Oscar nominations, one win,  an Oscar for services to the industry, and numerous other distinctions and awards are indicative  enough.

 Unlike many actors Newman took his craft extremely seriously. He worked extremely hard as an actor, and what looks like natural talent is actually dedication and much rehearsing. He was noted for such efforts even though some actors found him hard to work with for the amount of time he put in rehearsing a scene before shooting it. Most actors came in, read and memorised the lines, and then shot the scene. Throughout the whole book though Ava Gardner was the only one who has ever gone on record as saying Newman wasn't much of an actor!! At the start of his Hollywood career he suffered from being known as the poor man's Marlon Brando. It irked him as they both came from the same school of method acting, and it took him many years to shake the image off. Interestingly Joanne Woodward had dated Brando before meeting Newman!!

 The whole book obviously goes through Newman's whole acting carrer. He done it all, from stage, television, film , directing, producing. He had much success in all fields, and his share of flops too. During the late sixtes he was the most 'bankable' star in America. During the 1970's his choice of roles deserted him and his star waned somewhat. He admits he starred in The Towering Inferno solely for the money, something he had never done before as he took roles he was interested in playing, and felt were within his abilities.

 It is amazing that Newman never felt himself a good actor. It was part of his self-effacing persona, but by the end of the sixies he was bored with acting as he felt he had done all the roles he could within his abilities. It wasn't until the 1980's that his talents shone again. He rates Martin Scorsese highly as a director because he felt he stretched him as an actor and got things out of him he didn't knew he could play. Of course he went on to finally win a belated Oscar for The Colour Of Money. I've always felt it was belated and some of the evidence does point to this. Many of his previous nominations were against fairly mediocre films and performances, and it is obvious he was over looked for far too long Oscar wise.

 After Cars Newman wanted to make one more film as a goodbye to the industry. For several years he and Redford looked for a suitable script but it never came to pass. Redford actually rang him one day with one but Newman told him he was finished and had retired. He was actually ill and dying with cancer. The pairing of Newman and Redford in a final hurrah was sadly not to be.

 Newman's enduring marriage to Joanne Woodward is legendary. I knew he had been married previoulsy but didn't realise he had three children to his former wife. It is funny to read some of Woodward's views on Newman, especially in regards to his sex symbol status. She once said he has six children and snores in his sleep, how can he possibly be sexy'!! But millions of women thought so!! He was endlessly mobbed by them and Wooward was always amused by watching women literally go weak at the knees whenever he entered a room. His sex appeal even saw his twelve year old daughter asked by a girl friend whether she, 'felt like raping her father'!! At twelve!!!!

 Newman was famously adamant about protecting his privacy. He didn't like being a sex symbol. His blue eyes are legendary and they gave him no end of grief. He took them for granted and was known to say ' I didn't ask for them ', and got annoyed by strangers asking to see them. He is quoted as saying, 'There's nothing that makes you feel more like a piece of meat. It's like saying to a woman, open your blouse,  I want to see your tits.'  As a sex symbol Newman only strayed from his wife once. This after his famous quote as to why he wasn't a womanizer, ' When I've got steak, why would I go out for hambuger'. The thing was his only daliance was with a woman called Nancy Bacon. So he did leave the steak once.....for some bacon!! But she is reported as saying he wasn't very good in bed. I can believe this as Newman doesn't have the reputation as a strayer. Sex symbol he may have been but in all reality he was no Casanova and didn't want to be.

 He is also famous for his looks that didn't seem to age. At forty he looked ten years younger. I reviewed The Left Handed Gun several months ago and assumed Newman to be in his early twenties. He was in fact over thirty!! I couldn't believe it, and he certainly looked younger than he was for most of his life. He never lost his looks until he was dying when he became quite skeletal from cancer. In a twist of irony with The Green Lantern being released soon it was interesting to read that Newman was the base for which Gil Kane designed his comic book character, Hal Jordan, from!!! ( See page 86 ).

  The Newman's mariage may have been legendary but did have its moments. Amazingly at times both partners kept it together in an industry known for its sham marriages. Paul and Joanne's wasn't, and was the real deal to the end. I've always admired them for that fact in a Hollywood riddled with egos and falseness. This trueness though had a sad ending for Newman's son. Scott was Paul's only son and he suffered from being placed into his famous fathers shadow by the public. He felt he had to live up to his fathers image as so many children born to famous parents did. He mirrored the likes of Humphrey Bogart's son, Stephen, and Robert F. Kenndy's son Michael who, like Scott, died from a drug overdose. Scott's death did rock the Newman's but their daughter opened a foundation to help others with drug problems as a result, The Scott Newman Foundation.

 Newman was basically the big name star who stared philanthrophy before it became fashionable. His cooking was legendary, and he was known for sneaking home made popcorn into theatres. He was also better known for taking his own salad dressing to restaurants and washing actual salads in the rest rooms, then re-dressing them!! This led to him and a friend devising a way of making his salad dressing in bulk and selling it for charity. The way it was devised and sold is extremely interesting. and well worth a read. The rest as they say is history. At time of publishing US$400 million had been donated to charities according to Levy. He even opened several camps in America that spread around the world for children with cancer that cost the parents nothing to send their sick children to. Just an amazing man who used his own (unwanted ) celebrity for so many others.

 Newman also was a champion of Civil Rights and unashamedly tended many rallies. He even threw his support behind several presidential candidates. One year he rallied against Richard Nixon. Somehow he ended up on Nixon's infamous 'hate' list. Nixon famously said, 'Tell Newman he's a great actor even though he thinks I'm a losy politician!! Newman's life outside of acting was just one charity or cause after enough. His selflessnes was just staggering as you realise the time he put in over many years.  I mean he was at it when over 80 years of age!

  Newman was very private and didn't like the publicity his fame gathered. He famously didn't give out autographs when asked. He was adamant he was a private person outside of films, and he kept to it as well . When he developed a love of racing he told those around him it was no publicity stunt as he took it all seriously, and his name wasn't to be used in any publicity of the sport. Again, like his acting, Newman developed his skill slowly and carefully. He didn't start racing until he was forty and is still the oldest driver at 70 to  win a professional race in the States!! He came to be highly regarded as down to earth and not one who threw his celebrity status around.  This was a trait that followed him everywhere in life though. He co-owned his own racing team when he became too old to race himself, and again was known for his down to earth manner. He won his last race at the age of 80, and at speeds of 180mph!! He became a talented driver but it was through hard work and application, probably the two things that really highlight his life.

 So without doubt Paul Newman was an interesting man. But what really comes through is the fact that he was so ordinary. He was just an everday guy who worked very hard and had some success doing it. This ordinariness is so hard to fathom when you look at his achievements. When you do you can only admire them all the more for keeping his down to earth style. Incredibly he was a functioning alcoholic for most of his adult life drinking 24 cans of Coors beer a day, and even half a bottle of scotch until he gave it up after Joanne's insistence. He also smoked heavily, and yet counter balanced it by very regular excersise, and was always trying to quit by eating carrot and celery sticks!! He was human after all with flaws like everyone else.

 This biography is very good and I like how Shawn Levy has steered away from the trap of many biographers of straight out character assassination. He points out at one stage how a previous biographer was some what anti-Newman to the point of calling him a 'homo'. The quickest way to slur a man is to call him homosexual after all. As I have alluded to Newman really wasn't a wonanizer and to think he was is just fanciful thinking. Even in college Newman wasn't known for 'chasing' girls even though he had girlfriends. He was actually quite a gentleman when it came to woman sexually. His looks didn't mean he used them for sexual purposes.

 One trap too of a biographer is that of hero-worship. Levy keeps his under control and I feel this is a balanced Biography. Warts and all you might say. He paints Newman as the normal man he was with his strengths, weaknesses, and flaws. Towards the very end a bit of gushing occurs, but Levy builds it up nicley as he re-caps Newmans successes, particualrly as a philanthropist. The end pages are quite sad as he describes Newman's failing health and eventual death. The last two pages are full of fitting, and touching, epitaphs of the times. This one from George Clooney stood out for me as he is similar to Newman in style as a celebrity, and self effacing human being:

" He set the bar too high for the rest of us. Not just actors, but for all of us."

 That about sums up Paul Newman for me, and it is a great last word of a great man from one who himself is quite a nice guy too!!

 This is a worthy read full of interesting facts and anecdotes. I found it very easy to read and  believe it can be managed by all reading levels. It is well balanced being neither a character assassination or overly gushey. May be it achieves what any good biography should do; make me put down the book and make me 'feel' as if I'd actually met Paul Newman. I'm satisfied it did!! Paul Newman was an outstanding, down to earth man and this biography is a worthy look and appraisal of this remarkable actor, man, husband, father, driver, and humanitarian. Highly recommended to all.

Cover to the English addition. Shawn Levy prefers the American cover as he considers it more 'sexy' Something I'm sure Newman wouldn't like as he didn't consider himself a sex symbol. It was an image that didn't sit comfortably with him.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Resident Evil

 Well I stayed home last night for the new series of Doctor Who. I thought I'd seen my fill of movies for the day in The Hangover II, so was pleasantly surprised to see Resident Evil playing immediately after Doctor Who. The weather was appalling yesterday so I wasn't adverse to sitting there watching it again next to the warm fire instead of going to bed and reading.

 I missed the first three movies of this franchise as I was never fussed on the idea of a video game being made into a movie. I passed on Doom and saw that only recently, being unimpressed to say the least! But I did venture out to the fourth instalment Resident Evil: Afterlife. The trailers looked good and I thought I give it a try. Well I wasn't disappointed at all. I thoroughly enjoyed it and at Christmas I rented the previous three on DVD, and had a Resdient Evil session with a bottle of Woodstock bourbon!!

 According to wikipedia Resident Evil was poorly recieved by critics when released back in 2002. The general public seemed to disagree as this made a great deal of money!! Now if you have read any of previous posts on zombie/infected movies you will know that I'm a serious fan of the genre/s. What I like so much about Resident Evil is how it fuses zombies/infected/horror, with sci-fi, survivor, and action elements. But best of all it is it's post apocalyptic element which I like so much in the genre.

 For some reason post-apocalyptic zombie movies really appeal to me. Add in infection and you have me every time!! 28 Days, and 28 Weeks Later, are superb examples of this genre within a genre. Unlike Resident Evil though they are English, and much the superior for it. Hollywood throws huge wads of cash at a movie to get an end result. Whilst it makes for a visually spectacular movie it lacks the more under stated English 'less is more' approach. Compare the CGI devastated cities of Resident Evil against an empty London in 28 Days. Which is the more terrifying and eerie?? That scene is one of the most haunting ever filmed in my opinion. Watching Cillian Murphy walking through an empty London, with no idea what has happened, is true horror at its best.

 There have been many post-apocaltyptic movies made over the years. The Omega Man, I Am Legend, The Book of Eli, 28 Days, etc, and I do believe the Resident Evil franchise is a valid, and welcome addition to the genre. Sure it is over blown and CGI heavy, but they are fast paced for action buffs, whilst providing enough genuine scare moments to please horror aficianados. I certainly jumped in Afterlife several times, and reveled in the action sequences, so my lusts were satiated!!

 I just can't explain what appeals to me about humans wiping out the population of the planet through viruses. Somehow it makes for entertaining movies though!! Resident Evil may have been savaged by the critics but it is still a visually entertaining movie. I must admit to really liking the franchise even though I think 28 Days/28 Weeks Later are its superior in premise, and delivery. Critics have lamented the characters lack of real dialogue. Much of it is delivered in commands, explanations, and exclamations. Maybe so, but it isn't pretending to be Oscar material. Like many movies of its type it relies on visual delivey for its impact, dialogue be damned. Fair enough, it's an actioner not a bloody drama!!

 The movie may be only nine years old but it is already showing its age. It still looks good but CGI has improved even more since 2002 so Resident Evil is visually creaking a bit . Take a look at the dobermans as an example because they do look slightly dated now. But overall I think this is still a fine looking movie. It has its short comings but it still provides enough for two hours of good genre driven entertainment. Compared against many of its competitors it still stands up well. I like how it has a anti-corporate message, and updates the zombie genre in the process. The action, once it begins, is relentless, and all an action fan can ask for. Surprisingly though for a zombie/infected movie it is relatively gore free. I actually liked this as over the top gore is unneccessary, and is often used to disguise other short comings.  I suppose with it being video game based this was done to avoid an R-rating, and to get more bums on seats.

 Milla Jovovich was a good choice as the heorine. Eye candy pulls in the boys!! She has definitely made the role her own and I think she has better in each succeeding movie. I particularly like her in Afterlife. She appears more developed as a character, and also somewhat world weary of the zombie/infected apocalypse. Michael Rodriquez is herself as usual as a chick soldier with balls. James Purefoy gives a Mark Anthony performance before he became Mark Anthony in Rome!! I was interested to read he was screen tested as James Bond before the role was given to Pierce Brosnan. His name was then bandied about as Brosnan's replacement but lost out again!! Bugger for him!

 As a multi faceted genre movie you can do far worse than the Resident Evil franchise. I really like them. They have all the ingredients to make them work, and cover all the bases well. If you want some mindless fun that is also well above the average quality wise, and visually impressive in the process, then Resident Evil is for you. If you really want the real deal post infection wise then you can't go past 28 Days. Either way, they are both worthy watches, and provide their own takes on a post viral-apocalyptic world.

 Have fun!!!....and remember...don't get bitten or scratched because you know what that means. That T-virus is a real bitch, and don't get me stated on the Rage virus, man, I don't want that again!!!!

 Click here for a synopsis and more:

 And click here more:

Ryan's Daughter

 Well the David Lean film's are almost at an end. Next week it all winds up with his final film A Passage to India. I was unsure of Ryan's Daughter as I've never been overly fussed on Robert Mitchum. Suffice to say his performance was outstanding and I saw him in a different light than I'd seen him before. Irish accent and all! The other thing I walked away with is that this film is grossly under-rated.

 Ryan's Daughter is not highly regarded as a film. When released in 1970 it was harshly recieved by critics. Many have susequently claimed that this critisim was the reason Lean didn't make another film for fourteen years. This wasn't the case because in that time he tried to get several projects off the ground, each of which fell through for various reasons. When I look at the critisims over Ryan's Daughter I shake my head in dis-belief. For me this is as good a film as any Lean made, and like many modern critics are realising, this is actually a quiet, understated masterpiece that is slowly being recognised. Not before time I may add. As I left the theatre yesterday I felt great sadness to realise such a fine film can go so long neglected and over looked.

 Why is this?? The intial reception has obviously left its residual effect. When released the film was poorly recieved in America but was a financial success world wide. I'm afraid America is only one part of the world, and just because it was unsuccessful there shouldn't mean the film as a whole was bad. The critisims are somewhat unfounded as Lean had made three brilliant films before hand, and Ryan's Daughter was, no matter what, going to be judged against them. Lean found himself in the position Quentin Tarantino did after Pulp Fiction. Audiences wanted another film like it and hence were unimpressed with Jackie Brown. Unfortunately Lean and Tarantino became victims of their own success. In the process these two films are under rated even though are both superb in their own right.

 Much of the critisim to is because of the subject matter. We are all aware of Ireland's history, so Lean was quite brave as an Englishman in making a film about Irish history. Unfortunately some of the critism is directed to Lean's apparent anti-Irish sentiment. In Ryan's Daughter he apparently makes the Irish look like nothing but a bunch of daft paddy bog trotters. Well of course he does because that is how the English viewed them!! I mean how can a bit of historical accuracy be so mis-construed?? I feel as if it was just critisim for the sake of it. While I'm no expert of Irish history I didn't get an anti-Irish vibe from Lean. In fact the English have a minor visual role in the film really. Sure Rosy falls in love with an English officer, but the film is more about internal Irish sentiment than that of the English towards them.

 Some have gone as far as to say Lean even attempted to blacken the events of the Easter Uprising of 1916 in relation to the events of the troubles of the late 1960's and early 1970's. In other words the film was a load of English propaganda. Well I say poppy cock. At no time through out the film did I feel it was pro-English or propagandist in feel. Some could say 'Ah what does a Kiwi on the other side of the world know'?...well I do know this, I know propaganda when I see it and this even isn't close. Like I have stated, Lean took a real risk in being English, and making a film as an Englishman, on Irish history. I think he has made a credible film from the view point of a small community far from the large cities of Dublin and Belfast.

 Other critisim is about the pacing of the film. It is said to be too slow, and far too expansive. Lean had to trim the length of the film as it was initially considered too long. Again what poppycock, as it is no longer than any of his previous films. The pacing is excellent in my view as he builds the tension towards the climatic scene where Rosy is beaten and shaved by the angry villagers. For me Lean has perfectly replicated the life of a small Irish village that is remote and rife with its own internal politics and pettiness. Unemployment is high and the youth have little to do. We see this in their tormenting of Michael, the village idiot played by John Mills, a role for which he won an Oscar.

 So this is a film that has gathered an unwarranted amount of critisim. Most of it is nit-picking, and at most just straight out ignorance. I suppose the feeling and events of the times unduly affected it somewhat. Ryan's Daughter has all Lean's hall marks and is as good as anything he had previously made. The one thing I admire about him is his ability to capture, and use, natural scenery so brilliantly. In my Lawrence of Arabia post I stated only John ford was as good at Lean at doing so. In Ryan's Daughter Lean filmed in the remote Dingle Peninsula. It is rugged country , almost barren of trees, and a ground covered in rocks and boulders. It is an Ireland we very rarely see and it is one I have only read of. It is subjected to the Atlantic weather and we see this in all its ferocity, in for me, the film's best scene.

 The local nationalists were expecting some German arms to wash up on some local beaches. Unfortunately a huge storm broke out and the beaches are from from smooth to say the least!! In fact the swell is absolutely huge!! The waves are at least three stories high and move with incredible speed. The wind is howling, and the rain is coming in horizontally. It is an incredible scene which Lean captures superbly. Honestly I felt in awe of it, and terrified too by such immense power. Lean is such a master at capturing such natural beauty. I sat there and marveled at the fact that this wall of water  had nothing behind it except the whole Atlantic ocean all the way back to the American and Canadian coasts.

 The amzing thing is that the actors were filmed on the shore line going into this!! The waves were monstrous, and yet these actors were risking their lives in it!! This is pre-CGI so it is all real. I couldn't believe my eyes, and believe me it was all real as there were no studio shots at all. All they had around them was a piece of rope. Unbelievably these actors agreed to shoot such a dangerous scene. But I tell you what, it is a spectacular scene, and I will never forget it. I have never seen swell like it in New Zealand or on film anywhere. The west coast of Ireland must take some of the worst poundings on it anywhere in the world. Conversely Lean filmed on days when the sun was out and the sea as calm as could be. See the picture on the right!!

Imagine this very coastline in a storm!!
 To get this scene Lean had to wait a whole year for a dramatic enough storm, and this was one of the reasons the film took over a year to make. The scenes were so dangerous that Leo McKern was almost drowned at one stage. He lost his glass eye in the process! Todays prima donna actors wouldn't even consider doing such acting, and would run to their stunt doubles. Even then I don't think they would be keen to be bashed about in such dangerous, cold conditions. They'd call up the CGI boys to make the scene, or run into a studio.

 The thing I noticed too was it always seemed to be wet. Even when the sun was out there were puddles about. The bleakness of the country was shown by the buildings which are all stone and cold looking. Even the smoke coming out of the chimneys looked damp!! The village scenes were brilliant, and showed the remoteness of the country. I can't help but admire the hardiness of the people who live there.

 The film revolves around Rosy, the daughter of the local publican. He has spoiled her, and she is somewhat of a rover. She is bored and disliked by the locals for her airs. She has an affair with a shell shocked English offficer even though she is married to the local school master. It gets about and she is ostracised by the villagers. When the German arms are intercepted by the English she is accused of betraying the shipment to the English, when in fact it was her father who pretended to be an Irish nationalist, but was in fact a English informer. When he has the opportunity to save Rosy he throws her to the wolves to protect his own skin.

 What Lean has done in Ryan's Daughter is shown how love transcends all things, whether it be politics, religion, race, etc. It may be set in Ireland but it could be anywhere in the world where bigotry and intolerance festers. As in all Lean films the cast is magnificent. Robert Mitchum is superb, and I was impressed with his Irish accent and his ability to retain it throughout the whole film. His was a very good performance and I must take re-stock of my opinion of him. For me though the highlight was Trevor Howard as Father Collins. He is a tough man with an incredible amount of power over the villagers. He sees all sides to all stories. For instance he sympathises with the nationalists, and helps in the storm to bring the weapons ashore. But he also sees how love can be stronger than politics as Rosy falls for Major Doryan, ( credibley played by American Christopher Jones ). Howard's scenes were the best in the film though as he was had a real screen 'presence'.

 Leo Mckern was also very good as Rosy's father. He was a typical publican, full of everyone's business, local gossip, and yet not all he seemed. He was in essence a coward, and not a nationalist as he puported to be. McKern plays the part suberbly, and I liked him when he battles with his own conscience when faced with lettting Rosy be beaten up or to turn himself in for informing.
 Like his previous films Lean didn't intially get the actors he wanted. The role of Father Collins was written for Alec Guinness who turned it down because he was a catholic and didn't like Lean's portrayal of a Priest. Gregory Peck, Anthony Hopkins, George C. Scott, and Patrick McGoohan were considerd for the role before it was given to a reluctant Robert Mitchum. Marlon Brando accepted the role of Major Doryan but pulled out due to problems with Burn!. Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton, and Richard Harris were considered as well, before Christpher Jones was given the part. Like his past films Lean didn't get the big names he may have wanted but he got he got the most out of them even though he clashed with many of them. In Ryan's Daughter he had repeated clashes with Jones that were reminiscent of those with Guinness.

 Like the last three films this was in its original form. It was also the original length version. It was in very good condition except for the start and the end. Also it had the inter-mission since it was well over three hours long. This was the first film that Lean filmed in the then new Super panavision 70, which gave a clear difference colour and feel wise through its quintessential 1970's look. I like the pre 1970's technique more though, and fortunately Ryan's daughter doesn't suffer from it. The soundtrack is suitably epic, but somehow lacked the impact of his previous films even the music director himself felt it one of his finest scores.

 Some how Ryan's Daughter, even though a superb film, was outdated by the time it was made. The 'Epic' genre was out of favour in Hollywood as the 'blockbuster' had taken over. I don't think Lean was out of date, or wrong to make this film, he was just a victim of the studios and their ever widening quest for more money. The cinema landscape had changed. 

 I liked Ryan's Daughter, and I liked it alot. I think it is criminally under rated due to the savaging it got on it's release. It is good to see that modern critics are re-examining the film and its place in cinematic history. Many are calling it an understated, over looked masterpiece. I agree, and believe the word masterpiece is the only word for it. It has all of David Lean's hall marks from his previous successes, and I can't figure how, with such pedigree, why Ryan's Daughter isn't more highly regarded.

 In short I really this film....alot. Everything about it is brilliant, except maybe the bland score. The performances are true David Lean in perfection, and if for any reason alone you must see this for the storm scene. It is incredible, and I don't believe we will ever see anything like it put onto celluloid again in its natural state. A masterpiece from the master of the 'Epic' genre, and I believe a film that is grossly, and unfairly overlooked, as it is far superior than it is percieved to be. A must view as are all David Lean's epics.

Next up: A Passage to India.

 Click here for a synopsis and more:

 And as usual I highly recommend a vist to wikipedia's page on this film as it goes into great deal about the film, it's reception, critisims, and story behind its making.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Hangover II

The wolf pack is back!!!!!

 Well if you have been following my blog for some time now you'll have realised I'm not fond of re-makes, or seconds, thirds or what evers from the cinematic world for that matter. Sometimes, just sometimes though, I make an exception, and in The Hangover II I have had to put aside my prejudices because for one of the few times ever I believe a part 2 is as good as its predecessor! Certainly not better, but as good.

 So put away away your medicines, witch doctors, and prayers for me because I am not sick, or suffering some strange malaise, because I believe what I have just typed...even though I can't believe that I have just done so! For once Hollywood has produced a movie as good as the first and I will humble pie to admit it. Admitedly I was sceptical at first when I heard of a second outing. The first Hangover was outstanding and must go down as one of the great Vegas movies. It was totally original, and when released a surprise hit world wide. I myself ventured to the local theatre twice to see it.

 I suppose then because it was a hit it shouldn't come as a surprise a second instalment came out. I went along to this at an earlier time than I normally would because the new series of Doctor Who started last week, and the Doctor won out over The Hangover!! It is opening day and quite a few people turned up even though it is a terrible day here weather wise. This was a good thing because part 2 is good value, and a theatre full of people having a good laugh provides a good vibe to be a part of.

 This outing sees the wolf pack in Asia. Stu, ( with a new tooth! ) is to marry there. The movie as a whole is almost a carbon copy of the first scene wise and in its introductions. But once the booze is pulled out the troubles begin!! The three mis-fits wake up in a shabby hotel room gods knows where ( Bangkok ) with a monkey, a severed finger, a facial tattoo, Chow with the smallest willy ever sen surely?!,  four severe hangovers, and no memories of how they got there. Sounds familiar, but it is also fresh as the characters are familiar, and we know how these bozos are when they get 'fucked up'!!

 They have also lost Stu's future brother in law, sixteen year old Teddy. Well you pretty much know the rest!! The script is virtually a re-run of the first movie as the three search their pockets for clues to the last nights debaucheries. They piece it all together and are horrified by their activities. I am honestly surprised that a premise that was done before could be done again in the same manner and still provide a very entertaining movie. The problem in the back of my mind is called The Hanover III, and I really hope that we don't see that. I feel after this outing that the premise has been taken as far as it can go. Let it go now and don't ruin a good thing I say.

 The problem for me is that it looks like NZ is one of the first countries to see this. I don't want to give any of the gags away, and believe me there are gags a plenty!! It is hilarious and the humour doesn't stop or dry up. I laughed from start to finish and just had a ball. Like I have said the premise isn't new but the gags are. For me the best part is when Stu finds out he 'went 'with aman....that is all I'll say because you'll find out for yourself. It cracked me up no 'end'!!! Pun intended, wink wink!!!!!!!

 Overall The Hangover II is a welcome addition to its predecessor. It is a carbon copy of the first with all the familiar faces. Bangkok is a wonderful backdrop and all the Thai debaucheries are explored ( watch the end for the photos and you'll see what I pong anyone? wink wink!!! ). As a movie it offers nothing new as such but the situations are different and very, very funny. It is a rare thing for me to say, but in this instance, in cashing in on the success of the first outing, this second one is actually very good and as good as the first.

 Enjoy!! It is mindless fun, and a good harmless romp of a night out, and you'll have a ball as you laugh at the absurdity of these guys!!

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And here for the official site:

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Sunday, May 22, 2011


 Sunday night. My god it has been at least fifteen years since I last ventured out on a Sunday night to the flicks. I recall it was a Leslie Nielsen outing...god knows which one it was. I must have been desperate to get out of the house for some reason. Like tonight!! just had to get out as the walls felt they were closing in.

 At first the theatre I was in was almost empty but by start time it had fleshed out considerably. I was absoltuely surprised at the amount of people in the whole complex. There were more there tonight than ever turn up on a Thursday night when all the new movies are released. I'm surprised because Sunday is the night before everyone has to return their slave duties. Also, generally speaking, by the end of the weekend most people have no money left. Just an observation considering I don't do Sundays at the flicks.

 Well to most of you Arthur needs no introduction. I'm bloody old enough to remember when the original was released!! Funny thing. As I was in the little room this afternoon it came to me that modern movies don't seem to have tittle songs that are thrashed senselessly on the radio anymore. Every James Bond movie for years had a title song that played on the radio in the guise of a bit of advertising. I  liked the Bond movies for the title song as it added that little bit extra. Of course Arthur had Criss Cross and 'The best that you can do'. I remember the song very, very well. As I stood their doing the duties I tried to recall the last movie that had a title song on the radio. It seems to be something else that has gone by the by over the years. Oh my, either I'm getting old or just overlly nostalgic!!

 Well there really isn't a lot to say about this re-make. In a word it just doesn't stack up against the original. At all. But then I really knew that it wouldn't. The trailers hadn't piqued my interest in any way, and iIjust wondered why on earth Hollywood bothered. To me some movies, and especially roles, are one offs, and to attempt re-making them is futile and at times disparaging to the originals. Dudley More is, and always will be, Arthur. Russel Brand cannot even get close to Moore's boozey boyishness. He tries to be too smart whereas Moore was just a kid in a mans body. Moore was so good that no-one upon no-one could ever replicate or better him.

 The idea of using Helen Mirren as his nanny was intriguing. It is like Bond having Judi Dench as 'M'. She is professional as usual, but unfortunately the script is very limited, and her prodgious talents are wasted. She is by far the star of the show, and her somewhat boxed in role hightlights how even more limited the rest of the cast is. Nick Nolte has a small role as...well Nick Nolte. Jennifer Gardner is given the role of a high flyer who will marry Arthur only to get her mitts on his inheritance. She has a good role but again it is stifled by the script. I liked both Guzman as Artur's driver, and Gerwin as his love interest. Gerwin was actually lovely and played her role well, as did Guzman. Their roles were limited but somehow because of this they were better of for it.

 The humour wasn't as good as the original either. I remember the original being hilarious in its day and the theatre literally shook from the laughter. This version is humourous at times but because Brand doesn't capture the booziness Moore did the role is flat, and the humour with it. I mean I had a few chuckles but I didn't approach the tears rolling down face of the original. So much of the humour in the original was provided by Arthur's butler played by John Gielgud. His dry and droll witticisms weren't mirrored in this re-make. Mirren is quite capable of pulling them off but her script just wasn't adequate enough for her do so. She has the dryness but not the drollness. Her witticisms aren't observant or even facetiously cynical enough as were Gielguds. Of course this is not her fault as it is the script writers. A pity because she is hugley wasted in the role.

 It is a pity that Hollywood has tried to re-make this. I believe some movies and roles are inviolable. Dudley Moore is and will always be Arthur. It is a true classic and in many respects Moore's legacy has been somewhat slurred by this. I wish it had been left alone. I can't help but feel this way as would anyone condone an ET re-make? It is certainly a one off and I will always believe Arthur should have been too.

 I see from a brief look at IMDB that so far this has garnered pretty much negative ratings. I think this is a fair out look. It isn't bad but it pales badly against the original. It is a poor re-make and even as a stand alone movie it is well below ordinary. I think if you wait for it on DVD you are doing your self a favour. Better still, wait for it on telly where you don't have to fork out any money!!

 This is a poor re-make and a slap in the face to the original. Don't bother!!! Honestly Dudley Moore must be turning in his grave. Either from disgust, or laughing his head off  saying ' Ha! I knew no one could ever truely be Arthur but me'!! The original was nominated for four Oscars. Gielgud won for best supporting actor. This re-make isn't any where near Oscar contention. This is the crux of it quality wise when compared against the original. Arthur as a movie should never have been attempted to be re-made. Watch this and you'll realise why! Dudley Moore and John Gielgud, eat your heart's out!!

Click here for a synopsis and more:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean - On Stranger Tides

 Well I guess by the looks of it that little ol' New Zealand is one the first in the big wide world to see the new instalment of the Pirates franchise! I must admit to being sceptical of another outing. Sure the first three have been extremely popular, not to mention lucre..oops...lucrative, but somehow a fourth instalment felt like nothing more than lucre...oops, a money grab whilst the chips were hot.

 I must admit to liking the first three movies, and admit again to their entertainment value. But today it seems an obligation to keep a franchise going for all its lucre...oops, worth. I'm not dumb and realise studios need lucre...oops, money to keep in the square, but getting to point of flogging, in this case a dying horse, isn't the answer. I feel On Stranger Tides is one 'tide' too far and if anymore are 'floated' onto us they are going to get gradually worse as Disney tries to squeeze as much lucre...oops, money out of us. Studios aren't stupid and realise humans have a sheep like tendency to follow. They know that once a franchise is popular patrons will keep going in the hope the next one will be better than the last...and parting with their lucre...oops, cash in the process.

 So in effect On Stranger Tides is like the recently screened Scream 4 ( Shrek 4 was the same. A good idea taken up to its limit, and fortunately now let go ). Fun, and entertaining, but somehow the feeling of the toast being too thinly spread with butter prevailed. I enjoyed myself and had some good laughs, but ulimately it felt like it had all been done before. I do think, no, I fervently hope Disney wake and leave the franchise alone now. Like the creaking of the Pirate ships themselves after this outing the franchise sounds the same way. All I can say is I hope Disney let it go now and let the franchise go in good memory instead of becoming a lucre...oops, laughing stock. Deep down I know it isn't going to happen and we all know where it is going to lead don't we?

 Johnny Depp has himself said he wants to make more Pirates movies. He would wouldn't he after all the lucre...oops, 'salary' he would recieve out of it. I know I'm sounding repetitive but this is a really bug bear of mine as I've seen too many franchises go on too long. What happens is any of the movies that were any good are judged against all those that are bad. Lucre...and no oops needed now, is the all important factor and not quality.

 I think most pre-release talk has been how the story could be furthered without becoming daft. I feel it has gone as far as it can go. As stated I feel this felt 'thin', and done before. And in all reality I'll keep coming back to this point. Visually there was nothing new and in fact this outing wasn't as spectacular as the first three. The makers running out of ideas prehaps? There are the obligatory sword fights, but again they could have been lifted from any of the three preceeding movies. They felt cliqued as the theme music blared in my ears and I felt some what bored.

 If you read my Burke and Hare review, and then my Doctor Zhivago one, you'll have seen how I contrasted the use of CGI with real props. In Stranger Tides I couldn't help but make the contrast again. As I watch more and more CGI the less I like it. Some is magnificent. But after seeing Doctor Zhivago and the sets of Moscow streets, etc, the CGI of London in Stranger Tides looked lame. I honestly believe hand made props look far better. It really has been instructive to me to see two of the greatest films ever made and contrast them against todays movies. I'm afarid there is no competition!! David Lean eat your heart out as you make the Pirates franchise look bloody silly!!!

 The only real highlight for me were the mermaids. They were original and I sat up straight in my seat saying ' This is new'. The scene with them is the best part of the movie as everthing else is just all too familiar. Even having new faces can't rescue the feeling either. Keith Richards is as appalling as ever, but Depp and Rush are their usual professional selves. But no matter how good they are a thin script can't be glossed over with good acting. Ian Mcshane plays Blackbeard, the pirate feared by all pirates. Now I'm a real McShane fan ever since his Lovejoy days. But as a mean bad assed pirate he didn't convince me. He just wasn't bad or evil enough. Again the feeling of the script writers running out of ideas was prevelant. They just couldn't squeeze enough out of Blackbeard as a character.

 I can't stand Penlope Cruz. Big tits don't make an actress I'm afraid! The problem here is they have tried to make her appear like Keira Kneightly. I think this was a mistake. They should have given Cruz a break and have her appear as a more stand alone character. She puts in a reasonable performance but Kneightly's character was on her like a shadow which was unfair to Cruz.

 This is also the first Pirates movie to be offered in 3-D. I can't help but feel this is a gimmick to divert critism from a fourth outing. For me it was like reading between the lines as the makers search for some way to justify a fourth outing. It is almost like they know it shouldn't have been made but we'll deflect critisim by offering something new ( 3-D ) when in reality the movie itself offers nothing new at all. I really didn't see anything that 3-D would enhance to make me want to fork out extra to wear a set of un-comfortable glasses for two hours. I'm not a fan at all of 3-D and refuse to pay extra to see any movie in that format. Interestingly my local cinema has just got a new 3-D camera and this is the very first movie to be played here in 3-D.

 Overall On Stranger Tides falls victim to its critisim. One too far. It is entertaining but it just felt like just another Pirates movie. Besides the mermaids there is nothing new or spectacular here. 3-D isn't going to save it, as it is a red herring from Disney in trying to offer up the familiar with a new gimmick to it. I'm sure this will race to number one in the box offices around the world, but that won't make it any better. All it does is show how we are all sheep and keep following the same old worn paths.

 Nothing new, nothing original, all been done before. Lucre...lucre is its only aim I'm afraid. As I watched the cracks were almost visble as the makers stretched it all too thinly. But at the end of the day it is far from bad. Go and enjoy yourselfs! I did for all my critisims. But I hope I have critiqued it fairly and honestly.  It is definitely worth a trip to the theatre to see and is far superior to some of the garbage I've endured recently. Enjoyable, but looking a bit tired on it. Let it go now Disney before you completely ruin a previously good thing.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Doctor Zhivago

 Off to the second of the four David Lean films did I go today! I looked at the AFI's top 100 list and see that they have this at number 35. It is the last of the three Lean films they have on the list and I think it is a fair call to say it isn't quite in the league of The Bridge on the River Kwai or Lawrence of Arabia. But I state this now; the line between them all is so infinitesimally small that it really comes down to personal opinion which of them you think best, or prefer. I stated in my Lawrence of Arabia review that I like The Bridge on the River Kwai more.

 Doctor Zhivago is certainly a great film and I doubt anyone can really question that. Until I saw it today I had always considered it a woman's film. I really don't know why. I think it is because through the years it was always woman who I heard talk about it. It  may be my imagination but this slant may be true because today out of 22 people in the theatre there were only 3 men!! Again, like Lawrence of Arabia and Charade, I was the youngest there!! Where are all the younger film buffs?? Annoyingly right throughout this session there were 4 old biddies yakity yaking and I was getting really pissed off with them. Every bloody scene these old bags would start talking. It was frustrating, but they were well over 70, and I really didn't have the heart to tell them to 'shut the f.... up'!

 I certainly went into doctor Zhivago under a false impression. I would definitely say now that there is no way  that it is solely a 'chick flick'. Yes David Lean wanted to make a movie with a romantic slant after Lawrence and Kwai, but it is still an epic with plenty of historical drama. The romance isn't 'chick flick' really and it didn't bother me. As a film with a romantic under tone it was well made.

 It is overall a quite brilliant film and as I watched I liked it more and more. For some reason I thought it had been made in black and white. This was because so many stills I had seen of it were in B&W. So it was with delight that when that 'epic' sound track blasted out and the film started to roll I found it was actually in colour. The first thing I noticed was that it was in far better condition than Lawrence of Arabia. It was mildly grainy, but right throughout the picture quality was superb. It wasn't a re-mastered copy either so I got a good feel of what it must have been like to see this when it was released in 1965. Like Lawrence too, Zhivago had an inter-mission as the reels were changed! Such a nostalgia trip! But fortunate as it ran to just over three hours as I had to see a man about a dog!!

 The other thing I quickly noticed was how visually dull colour wise this was. Lawrence of Arabia was vibrant with colour courtesy of the desert. It is the colour that Lawrence is renowned for, and is one of the main reason it is regarded as one of the best films ever made. But in Doctor Zhivago Lean shows why he is such a master film maker as he replicates the chill of Russia's famed winters. I could almost feel the cold! Where it has aged noticeable is where Lean had to use fake snow. He had no trouble with sand in Lawrence, but in Zhivago snow, and the cold, would have been prohibitive to film making so many scenes had to use fake snow. It is obvious at times, but modern film makers suffer the same fate in trying to replicate wintry conditions. I love how Lean froze the windows. Certain scenes we see the characters looking out of them through thin layers of ice. brilliant. But even better was putting a lit candle near the window to form a small circle of de-frosted ice. brilliant Mr Lean. quite Brilliant!! Perfection, and a master piece of film making and visuality. 

 As I watched I immediately was able to recognise Lean's style. Everything I admired in Lawrence and Kwai he used in Zhivago. He was such a precise film maker who made sure no detail, no matter how small or trivial, was perfect. This was of course the days before CGI and it is remarkable the lengths ,and money, that was spent on making this. Moscow streets had to be replicated as did burnt out Russian villages and estate houses. It all looks authentic, and I couldn't help but contrast the CGI in Burke and Hare of 1828 Edinburgh, and how fake it looked against hand made props and scenery. Who said CGI was better? Bah!! I certainly commend Lean for his accuracy and detailing in making it all feel and look Russian. What a man! and when you see such things you can understand why three of his films are three of the best. Ever.

 Too further the point we see Zhivago walking back to his family through the depths of a Russian winter. It is blowing a gale from the depths of Siberia and snowing heavily. When he arrives at Lara's we see Sharif with a frozen moustache and icicles on his eye brows. Even his lips are blackened and cracked looking. Detail folks, detail. I could buy into Zhivago's journey on foot, and the physical suffering he must have endured by Lean's detailing and authenticity. Brilliant stuff.

 So visually Doctor Zhivago was everything you would expect from David Lean. It doesn't have the stark raw beauty of Lawrence of Arabia. But much of that was filmed in the Moroccan desert where- as Doctor Zhivago alternated between city scenes and country side. Apparently the Russians were in no way going to oblige Lean by letting him make the film in Russia, but Finland has similar scenery and many of the winter scenes were filmed there. The rest was shot in Spain of all places! It is a shame in some ways considering it is actually a Russian novel, but it was at the height of the Cold War. I'm not sure how the regime viewed the novel but that may have had some bearing to. I believe the film wasn't played in Russia until 1994!!!

 I haven't read the book unfortunately so can't comment on how faithfully Lean has kept to it. I have read different views on this point. Since I haven't read it all I can do is view it as a stand alone film. I believe from various sources that Doctor Zhivago was accredited with lifting MGM out of financial trouble when it was released. I have read it is the eighth highest grossing film in America ever. It certainly cannot be denied it is a popular film. Not only popular, but a damn fine one in the process. It is a case of substance, with style.

 The performances are just magnificent. Alec Guinness again...well... what can I say that I haven't already?! In Zhivago he has a limited role and appears only several times. He plays a Russian general, but what a contrast against last week as Arab Prince Faisal!! He has the quiet, menacing authority of a member of the Cheka down to a tee. Is there any role this finest of actors couldn't perfect??!!!

 What struck me though was how there were so many stand out performances. Again Lean shows his genius as there isn't just one standout as there is three, four, five, even. For me this is definitely Omar Sharrif's film though. Like Guinness what a contrast between an Arab, Sherif Ali, in Lawrence, and a Russian in Zhivago. It is hard to credit now that he wasn't initially considered for the role. Lean wanted Peter O'Toole but he turned the part down. Sharif wanted the part of Pasha and was surprised when he was offered the role of Zhivago. And it is also incredible to think that Paul Newman was considered for the role of Zhivago, as was Michael Caine, who read the part and suggested Omar Sharif play him.

  Marlon Brando and James Mason both turned down the role of Komarovsky who was played by Rod Steiger. Audrey Hepburn was considered for Tonya, but Charlie Chaplin's daughter, Geraldine Chaplin, got the role. Lara was played by Julie Christie after Jane Fonda, Sarah Miles, and Sophia Loren were rejected. Incredible stuff huh?!! The movie turned out brilliantly and it is almost better that it didn't have the big names of the era involved. Somehow Lean wasn't able to get who he wanted for many of his films and his second choices turned out to be better!! Thanks god for posterity that Omar Sharif played Zhivago and not Newman! And I'm a Newman fan! It may seem blasphemous, but when you look at it in that light you realise how fortunate it was.

 The only criticisim for me was Julie Christie playing a 17 year old. To be sure she had to play the role over many years but she didn't look 17 at the time her character was. It is a minor thing as I realised as the film progressed and I saw the necessity of her playing the role later as a twenty something woman. But that was the only thing that irked me. Everything else was as flawless as you could ever hope for in a film. I really, really enjoyed this, and am incredibly pleased to have finally seen it just to get the false impression out of my mind of being a 'chicks' film. It isn't. Even though it is romantically based the backdrop is historical, and the excesses of the Revolution are displayed, as is a subtle hint of anti-communism.

 So without doubt Doctor Zhivago is one of the greatest films to have ever graced the silver screen. Like Lawrence and Charade it was again a pure pleasure and privilege to see it in all its original glory. As previously stated I think Lawrence of Arabia is regarded as the better film because it is visually more startling than Zhivago. But for me that is the only difference between them. Both are just simply brilliant epics in every way. There is nothing to choose from performance wise either. As brilliant as Peter O'Toole was in Lawrence Sharif matches him in Zhivago. It is to their individual credit that they took on such roles when big names such as Finney, Brando, Hepburn, etc were turning them down or deemed unsuitable.

 For me this is undoubtedly one of David Lean's finest works. I was more than impressed and have been mulling it over in mind all day. I like it more than Lawrence of Arabia. Even though it isn't a 'fun' movie I enjoyed it. I just revelled in Lean's eye for detail and flawless style of film making. The performances are just superb. Yes, this is a truly great piece of cinema and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity in life to watch it on the big screen where it belongs. If you ever get the chance to like me DON'T miss out. You won't regret it I promise you!!


Up next week: Ryan's Daughter.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And here for more:

I also recommend a look at wikipedia's page as it has a lot of interesting information regarding the making of the film and other behind the scenes info. Well worth a gander.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Burke And Hare

This is a true story. Except for the bits that aren't.

( Opening credits of Burke and Hare). the hell is it that a movie like this appears at my local theatre from out of no where?? It had absolutely no trailers or promotion what so ever which gave it me the impression of a recent production...but oh no, it was released in the UK in October of last year!!!!! Seven months ago!! It is a real bug bear with me when theatres promote movies that either never screen or just pop up out of no where as this did. I was looking forward to The Rite for example. It was promoted heavily and then never screened. I was bloody livid. The Adjustment Bureau suffered the same fate. I know the amount of movies Hollywood churns out is phenominal, but if you promote a movie then bloody well screen it!!!

 So Burke and Hare appeared out of no where for me. I wasn't pleased that it starred Simon Pegg as Paul has only finished its run to make way for it. I am never keen on the idea of movies with the same stars screening too close together. I feel we become too familiar with them as their roles become blurred in our minds. Why oh why this has cropped up now is beyond me and took me by surprise. I have never heard of it and neither have my compatriots it seems as only two people were there on opening night!! It goes to show what sheep people are. If a movie gets no promotion then the punters don't turn up. Even with Simon Pegg starring the people stayed away.

 It is almost pointless screening this without promotion. You would think after Paul theatres would try to cash in on Peggs name and promote this.....wouldn't you?? Something is obviously wrong with movie promotion in NZ, and judging from other comments I have read on blogosphere, around the world. If you read my post on Source Code you'll have read it only attracted three people on opening night, and that had no promotion either. What does that tell you??!

 So rant over I can look at the movie! Well it did appear out of no where as I had no inclination that it even existed. I haven't even seen a review on blogosphere. So where the hell has this movie been hiding?? In a cave? Or have I?? I knew nothing about it as I ventured down to the local cinema and just assumed it was a comedy because of Pegg. I hope one day he does some more serious roles instead of just playing a pillock. I have said this in past posts of Pegg outings to. He would play a chilling villain if given the right script. I liked Robin Williams as the villian in Insomnia because he too is like Pegg and plays (mainly) comedy roles.

 Interestingly wikipedia calls this a black comedy. I can't call it that at all. I love black comedy but this was far from black. There was cynicism or satire to speak of. It was in all intents and purposes a gentle comedy. It isn't meant to be a riotious laugh fest. I certainly chuckled alot and did laugh out loud at a few lines, but overall as a comedy it is a quiet sort of outing. I loved the start and the stirring bagpipes pumping out a stirring rendition of Scotland the Brave, and I almost pissed myself laughing at Pegg and Andy Serkis' Irish accents! God they were awful!! And what made me laugh is the further the movie went on the accents completely disappeared! Hah..take that movie maker as I do notice such things like that. You set up the characters as Irish and then don't carry it on through the entire movie as you think it won't be noticed that the actors have dropped the routine. Got ya!!!!

 I couldn't place Serkis at first. It niggled me until the penny dropped. How the hell could I ever forget he was Smeagel, and then Gollum!!! Well here his Irish accent wasn't so 'precious' I can tell you that right now!! Isla Fisher was just as tasty as ever! I cannot believe she is now 35! and by god she still looks good. I remember her as a fresh faced teen in the awfully abysmal Aussie soap Home and Away. Her career hasn't exactly taken off since then but she is a competent enough actress. 35? Nah...surely not! Actually this has got quite a stella cast when I think about it. Tom Wilkinson is always good value and puts in a strong performance. Tim curry appears, as does Bill Bailey is a small cameo. Jessica Hynes I mis-took for Miranda Richardson! She certainly lookes like her but Hynes is younger and I kept questioning myself. She gives a perfomance similar to Richardson in her more Queenie power moments in Blackadder.

 Ronnie Corbett puts in a showing too! I haven't seen him in anything for quite a while. He plays a little Hitler type as a militia man who takes his job, and postion, too seriously. He is damn good in the role too! Great to see him on screen again but he is sadly showing his age. I never really liked him as a stand alone actor but with Ronnie Barker he was brilliant. Have two comedians ever complimented each other as perfectly as those two did? Even now re-runs of The Two Ronnies are hilarious. Their humour just hasn't dated at all.

 So with a strong cast this promised much but some how it was all a bit bland. I almost expected to feel the same way as I did last week watching source Code after the brilliance of Charade. Source Code was shown to be the rubbish it was by Charade and I thought Burke and Hare would get the same treatment by Lawrence of Arabia. Surprisingly it didn't. Burke and Hare is a better movie than Source Code despite some shoddy CGI of olde 1828 Edinburgh, and don't mention those accents!! But somehow it missed the mark. Bland is the only word I can describe it as. I will give it credit for bringing to light in a comdey the actual activities of the real Burke, Hare...and Knox.

 I see IMDB has this with a 35% approval rating. I think that is fair as this doesn't set the world on fire. It isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but somehow it just doesn't deliver. There are some good moments sprinkled throughout. I especially like the scene where Gervis and Hynes, as husband and wife, are shagging each other senseless in bed all the while talking about money and how to make more. They come up with the idea of funeral palours in the process. At one stage Gervis stopped his nupital activities and wifey asks him what the hell he stopped for and get on with it!! A good scene and quite humourous as they talk shop in the middle of a bit of quite energetic nooky!!

 Bland. Bland. Bland. For the quality of the cast somehow Burke and Hare lacks something. It is maybe too gentle on the comedy. It feels as if the writers weren't sure on how far they wanted to take the laughs. It is funny, but just not funny enough to really satisfy. As a supposed black comedy it isn't dark or brooding enough, and it lacks enough zing as a comedy. It is trying to cover both bases and hence covers neither. I enjoyed myself and think it better than last weeks Source Code, but it doesn't deliver enough to stand out. It is a movie I wouldn't care if I missed at the cinema and caught on DVD or TV instead. Final assessment? A movie that doesn't seem to know quite what it is trying to be, and a waste of a good cast in making a movie that really should have gone straight to DVD.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And click here for information on the actual Burke and Hare murders:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lawrence Of Arabia

 The AFI has Lawrence of Arabia listed as its fifth greatest film of all time. Depending on which year you read of course. Either way it is immaterial as this is without question a truly great piece of cinema, and when watching it I could only marvel at the name David Lean.

 I really hadn't taken much notice of who directed The Bridge on the River Kwai which I recently watched and reviewed, so I was surprised when I found out four of his films were to play here. When I saw who directed Lawrence after having seen Bridge on the River Kwai I could instantly see why Lawrence was rated so highly. Both are of extra-ordinary quality and Lean's style is indelibly stamped over them both. There really is very little to go between these two epics though. Both are truly brilliant, and if I was pushed to make a choice as to a favorite I would un-hesitatingly say Kwai.

 Coming up next week is Doctor Zhivago. Again I didn't realise this was a Lean film , and it also appears on the AFI's top 100. I haven't seen it ever, and the following week will be Ryan's Daughter, which I haven't seen either. Then it will be A Passage to India, which was Lean's last film and one I have actually seen, although many years ago. I remember my parents going to the flicks to see in back in the day. I haven't read the book for Zhivago or Passage either! I missed out on a second hand copy of Passage several months ago and really rue it now that I have the opportunity to see it on the big screen.

( So lucky me!! But it is getting expensive because I am also paying for the weekly run of the mill offerings from Hollywood each week to. Am annoyed as the telly programmers here have put the new Doctor Who series on on a Thursday night which is my movie night! Arrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhh!! So the VCR will be getting a workout! ).

 I saw this film with a mighty audience of seven people!! I kid you Two less than Charade last week. Admittedly it was the last screening of its four but I expected better than that. The other thing is that all four have been at 11.00 am so many people just wouldn't be able to get there. I have a love/hate relationship with my employer. He loves what I do and I hate him!! So I just tell him I'll be off for several hours and he doesn't grumble because he knows if he argues I'll tell him where to stick said employment!! And like last week I was the youngest there at 40 years old!! I just cannot believe that younger generations don't take the opportunity to see these classics on the big screen. To me they are a once in a life time opportunity and grab them with both hands.

 Lawrence was also like Charade in that it wasn't a re-mastered copy or edited. It was an original and in some places in quite bad condition. It got severely grainy in some places with some quite bad scratches, and yet was crystal clear in others. Charade was in better condition even with its own graininess. The sound track was perfect except in one place after the inter-mission the lip-sync was out for several minutes. ( The score must be mentioned as it was definitely of 'Epic' proportions and I had a huge grin on my face at the uplifting rousingness of it. Great stuff, and a reminder of how great films should be, and used to be made ). But do you know what? It may have been grainy but it just added so much lustre to the thrill of seeing one of the greatest films ever made on the big screen. It is honestly a real experience!!

 And what an experience! This is a film that is just shy of fours hours duration! They don't make them that length anymore do they? And what a real trip down memory lane when the first half of the film finished and there was an 'inter-mission'!!! I must be getting old because I'm sure there are those of you out there who remember the days when EVERY film had an inter-mission. I vividly re-call inter-missions in all three original Star Wars movies and even the first Indiana Jones movie. I don't exactly miss inter-mission but this was a real treat and brought back fantastic memories of a cinema going experience that has long gone, and of which newer generations know nothing about. I absolutely loved it, and had a nice cup of coffee to celebrate as the reels were being changed!!

 I have seen Lawrence before many years ago on telly and it certainly wasn't four hours long. I couldn't remember a thing about it and as I watched I re-called nothing either. But I'll never forget it now as it is seared into my little mind forever and a day. The thing that really struck me was for a four hour film it never felt long. It is superbly paced and I quickly lost track of time. This is a real sign of Lawrence's timelessness and quality. Great films never drag , lumber, or let go of the viewers attention. Lawrence was brilliant from the first scene until the last and I felt at the end I could have quite happily sat and watched another fours hours!

 The graininess didn't take away from the visual impact. I have always loved the old classics and the colour of them. Gone With the Wind still looks absolutely brilliant today and the colour is superb. Lawrence is the same and the techniques of the era are wonderful. Progress is inevitable but it was somewhat sad to see how the colourising used back then gave way to our more modern CGI and digital techniques. For me this is why it is such a pleasure to see the classics on the big screen because they have a visual style I like which modern films just can not compete with.

 Lawrence was filmed in Morocco and the desert scenery is un-believable. Lean captures it beautifully and it reminded me very much of John Ford's camera work in John Wayne outing The Searches. Both films capture the rawness and colour of the surroundings perfectly and add another character to each film, all-be-it an unpaid one! On every level Lawrence is visually brilliant. There isn't a week link anywhere. The cinematography is perfect and was a real feast on my gluttoning eyes!

 But the performances! Oh oh oh oh, where do I begin!. When you look at the cast and the performances it is hard to credit that the likes of Albert Finney, Marlon Brando, and Laurence Olivier were ever offered parts! Finney was initially offered the role of Lawrence but declined and the other two were unavailable. Incredibly Peter O'Toole was second choice. At the time he was a virtual unknown and when you look at how Alec Guinness was last resort for The Bridge Over the River Kwai it is remarkable how O'Toole got the part when there were better know actors available. He was fortunate Lean saw him on stage and instantly saw his 'Lawrence'. The whole cast is just superb and I can't find a stand out performance among so many stand outs.

 Guinness for me shows again his Oscar for Kwai was richly deserved as he is just incredible as Prince Faisal. He has the intelligence, and calmness for the role and I looked forward to each scene he was in. He altered his accent and appearance for the role to sound and look more Arabic. It was stunningly successful and I never felt patronised in the use of English actors in the roles of Arabs. Guinness was a truly gifted actor and I can see why in later life he cringed at himself for taking the role of Obi-wan-Kenobi and the banal lines he had to deliver. It is a shame that he felt that way as the Star Wars films have their place in cinematic history and Guinness, with his professionalism, added  much to their reputation. He was just too good for the role, and unfortunately the role of Kenobi over-shadowed his earlier and far superior roles. In any ones language Alec Guinness was one of the greatest actors even and from any country. To put in a stellar performance in Kwai and then back it up with another in Lawrence confirms this.

 Maybe the highest praise for Guinness comes from Lean himself who cast him in his films calling him his ' good luck charm'. This was in spite of some serious on set dis-agreements. It would have been interesting to see how Ryan's daughter would have differed if Guinness had accepted the part Lean offered him, but of which he declined. But if they dis-agreed they both proved totally professional, not to mentioned gifted,  as the final products of their combined talent are some of the best films ever made.

 Omar Shariff is out standing and this must surely have influenced Lean to cast him in the lead role for Doctor Zhivago. Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn etc, the great acting just seems endless! Like Guinness Quinn  looked Arabic, and I can only say again the length Lean went to to achieve an authentic look without be-littleling Arabs in the process.  But for all the great performances this is certainly Peter O'Toole's film. Just how good is he?! I can't put his performance into words but it must surely be one of the greatest cinematic performances to have never been awarded the coveted Oscar. It is incredible to think in such a long and illustrious career he has never won an Oscar even after eight nominations, ( I recommend his 2008 outing in Venus, of which he was nominated, and again over looked ).

 Lawrence as a film is of the long lost genre of the 'Epic'. David Lean must be regarded as almost the master of the genre for having two of his films rated so highly in Lawrence and Kwai. With the death knell of the 'Epic' Hollywood ushered in a new genre, namely the 'block buster'. Where Eagles Dare is good example and was only made several years after Lawrence, but the differences in style are obvious. The 'block buster' as I knew it has pretty much died even though the term is still used. The epic bred the block buster but unfortunately Hollywood today attempts to make very movie a block buster and the term has come to mean less and less. Thank god I can get to see a great film like this on the big screen just to remind myself of what great film making is all about!

 The film makes no pretences to historical accuracy. I suggest a visit to wikipedia's page on the film as it explains the background to the film and how it is loosely based on the life of T.E. Lawrence. The motive of the film was to make an' Epic' and that was very successful! Some figures are historically real such as Allenby, Prince Faisal, as are some events such as Aqaba, and Damascus, etc. Some of Lawrence's characteristics are explored, especially his struggle with personal identity and personal wish to be 'normal, and his supposed egotistical streak is often alluded to. He was a complex and extra-ordinary man with a keen, well educated mind, that was never at peace with itself. He never found peace as he was too much of a hero in the eyes of the public and never found the anonymity he craved. As a film it must be taken as entertainment and not a true biographical look at Lawrence. But there is much that mirrors the times and the real events but it was never made to be a factual account as it was an epic to entertain.

No prisoners!
 Lawrence of Arabia was like Charade, an absolute privilege to see in all its big screen glory. Whereas Charade was fun and a great 1960's thriller/comedy and totally enjoyable as a result, Lawrence of Arabia was darker and not so enjoyable in the sense of enjoyment. I enjoyed it for the brilliant film it is and was awestruck at the scale of it and the performances. Just a stunning film and cannot be regarded as anything less as one the very, very best films ever made.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

Thomas Edward Lawrence

Lawrence in Arabia during the war.