Archive | March, 2013

Life of PI (Blu-ray) 3D in Theaters

31 Mar

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Synopsis: Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, Ang Lee directs a magical adventure story centering on Pi Patel, the precocious son of a zoo keeper. Dwellers in Pondicherry, India, the family decides to move to Canada, hitching a ride on a huge freighter. After a shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean on a 26-foot lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, all fighting for survival.

CAST:

Suraj Sharma……………………………………….Pi Patel

Irrfan Kahn………………………………..Adult Pi-Patel

Adil Hussein………………………………..Santosh Patel

Tabu……………………………………………….Gita Patel

Rafe Spall……………………………………………..Writer

Gerard Depardieu………………………………………Cook

Review: Ang Lee brings us a spiritual journey that is breathtaking in its’ imagery.  The use of 3D enhances the time, place and literally brings you along into Pi’s journey, the same way Avatar’s use of visuals brought you into it’s world.

The spiritual adventure centers around the then teenage boy Pi Patel, who is on board an ocean liner with his family. They are on their way from India to Canada, with them is the animals from their Zoo, which they are selling to to a Zoo keeper in Canada.

After an altercation with a bigoted cook on the ship who refuses to cook for “Curry Eaters”, the boat sinks in a storm and only Pi, a tiger named Richard Parker, Orange the Orangutang and a Hyena survive. They are all crowded into a life boat. The journey begins here as the Hyena first kills Orange, then the Tiger Kills the Hyena. This leaves Pi alone on the boat with a hungry tiger. They will be adrift for 227 days and the two must learn to co-exist with each other. Pi has visions of the lord watching over him and protecting him. Pi’s determined fight for survival and to tame the beast is the magic behind the mystical connection they have.

The story is told in flash back by the adult Pi Patel to a Canadian writer who had heard Pi had a great story to tell. Indeed he had and the animals are actually metaphors that replaced the actual people in Pi’s head as he fights to survive being adrift.

The amazing images include an aerial shot of a whale under Pi’s boat, the water is transparent as the whale hovers underneath. At night the water becomes translucent and blue, jelly fish turn on their nocturnal lights and surround the boat like angels. The whale then breeches in front of the boat leaving Pi in awe of it’s majesty. The movie is loaded with moments like this.

There is an amazing sequence of flying fish that fly over and onto the boat. Pi must keep the Tiger at bay to be able to catch the fish for both of them to eat. It is a constant struggle for food and water. There are many amazing adventures that follow showing how Pi tames the beast and survives. His inner struggle with God and spirituality vs his reality is palpable and thought provoking.

The movie has two endings, one is Pi’s fantastic story of animals and survival, the other of people the animal’s represent, it is up to you to decide which tale rings true.

The Blu-Ray disc has lot’s of interesting extras including interviews with Ang Lee, a making of documentary and a documentary explaining all the CGI Imagery.  This is a masterful film and a story well told.

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Desert Sand PT 2: The Ten Commandments (1956) (Blu-Ray DVD)

30 Mar

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Synopsis: Cecil B. Demille’ epic remake of the film The Ten Commandments. Charlton Heston plays Moses in this sweeping telling of the freeing of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt from the Pharaoh Ramses. This lavish production was Demille’s last and has become a classic. The all-star cast includes Edward G. Robinson, Yul Brenner, Charlton Heston, Vincent Price, John Carridine, Anne Baxter and Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Yvonne De Carlo.

Cast

Charlton Heston……..Moses/Voice of the God of Abraham

Yul Brenner…………………………………Pharaoh Rameses II

Sir Cedric Hardwicke…………………………….Pharaoh Seti I

Nina Foch……………………………………Bithiah, Seti’s Sister

Anne Baxter……………………………………………….Nefretiri

Edward G. Robinson……………………………………….Dathan

Yvonne De Carlo………………………………………….Sephora

Debra Paget………………………………………………………Lilia

John Derek……………………………………………………Joshua

Martha Scott……………………………………………….Yoshabel

Judith Anderson…………………………………………..Memnet

Vincent Price……………………………………………………Baka

John Carradine…………………………………………………Aaron

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Review: The Egyptian Pharaoh fearing one day the Hebrew slaves may rise against him orders the death of all firstborn Hebrew males. Yoshebel, a Hebrew Woman, sets her infant son adrift on the Nile in order to save him. The infant is rescued from the Nile by an Egyptian princess Bithiah, (Nina Foch), who decides to adopt the boy even though her servant Memnet, (Judith Anderson), recognizes that the child is Hebrew and protests.

As a young man, Moses becomes a successful general, claiming victory in a war with the Nubians of Ethiopia and then entering Egypt into an alliance with them. Moses loves Nefretiri,(Anne Baxter) who is the “throne princess” and must marry the next Pharaoh. An incident occurs when an elderly woman, who is greasing the ground for the pillar of stone to move easier, is almost crushed to death when her scarf gets caught under the slab of stone, prompting Moses to scold overseer Baka, (Vincent Price). Moses frees the elderly woman from her dangerous chore, not realizing that the elderly woman was his natural mother Yoshebel. While working on the building of a treasure city for Seti’s, (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) Jubilee, Moses meets the stone-cutter Joshua, who tells him of the Hebrew God.

Moses institutes numerous reforms concerning the treatment of the slaves on the project, and eventually Rameses, (Yule Brenner) charges Moses with planning an insurrection, pointing out that the slaves are calling Moses the “Deliverer” of prophecy. Moses defends himself against the charges, arguing that he is simply making his workers more productive by making them stronger and happier and proves his point with the impressive progress he is making. During this time, Rameses has been charged by his father with finding out whether there really is a Hebrew fitting the description of the Deliverer.

Nefretiri learns from the servant Memnet that Moses is the son of Hebrew slaves. Nefretiri kills Memnet and reveals the story to Moses, who goes to Bithiah to learn the truth. Bithiah evades his questions, but Moses follows her to the home of Yoshebel and thus learns the truth.

Moses spends time working amongst the slaves to learn more of their lives. During this time the master builder Baka steals Liliah, who is engaged to the stone-cutter Joshua. Joshua rescues Liliah but is captured himself; Moses frees Joshua but strangles Baka. Moses confesses to Joshua that he too is Hebrew; the confession is witnessed by the ambitious Hebrew overseer Dathan, (Edward G. Robinson). Dathan uses the information to bargain with Rameses for Baka’s house, a post as Governor of Goshen, and the ownership of the slave Liliah, (Debra Paget).

Based on Dathan’s information, Moses is arrested and brought before Seti. Moses tells Seti that he is not the Deliverer, but would free the slaves if he could. Bithiah tells her brother Seti the truth about Moses, and Seti orders his name stricken from all records and monuments. Moses is banished to the desert, but not before, he receives the word that Yoshebel had died before she delivered the piece of a Levite cloth, and Rameses is declared the next Pharaoh.

Moses makes his way across the desert, nearly dying of hunger and thirst before he comes to a well in the land of Midian. At the well, he defends seven sisters from Amalekites who try to push them away from the water. Moses finds a home in Midian with the girls’ father Jethro, a Bedouin sheik, who reveals that he is a follower of “He who has no name,” whom Moses recognizes as the God of Abraham. Moses impresses Jethro and the other sheiks with his wise and just trading, and marries Jethro’s eldest daughter (“Sephora”, the Greek form of her name used in the film).

While herding sheep in the desert Moses finds Joshua, who has escaped from the copper mines that he was sent to after the death of Baka. Moses sees the Burning Bush on the summit of Mount Sinai and hears the voice of God (Heston, who was not credited for this secondary role). God charges Moses to return to Egypt and free His chosen people. In Egypt, Seti dies and Rameses succeeds him as Pharaoh.

At Pharaoh’s court, Moses comes before Rameses to win the slaves’ freedom, turning his staff into a snake to show Rameses the power of God. Rameses decrees that the Hebrews be given no straw to make their bricks, but to make the same tally as before on pain of death. As the Hebrews prepare to stone Moses in anger, Nefretiri’s retinue rescues him; however when she attempts to resume their relationship he spurns her, reminding her that not only is he on a mission he is also married.

As Moses continues to challenge Pharaoh’s hold over his people, Egypt is beset by divine plagues. Moses warns him that the next plague to fall upon Egypt will be summoned by Pharaoh himself. Enraged at the plagues and Moses’ continuous demands, as well as his generals and advisers telling him to give in, Rameses orders all first-born Hebrews to die. Nefretiri warns Sephora to escape with her son Gershom on a passing caravan to Midian, and Moses tells the Queen that it is her own son who will die. In an eerily quiet scene, the Angel of Death creeps into Egyptian streets in a glowing green cloud, killing all the firstborn of Egypt, including the adult son of Pharaoh’s top general, and Pharaoh’s own child. The Hebrews who have marked their doorposts and lintels with lamb’s blood are eating a hasty meal and preparing to depart. Broken and despondent, Pharaoh orders Moses to take his people, and cattle, and go. The Hebrews begin their exodus from Egypt.

Nefretiri goads Pharaoh into a rage so that he arms himself and pursues the former slaves to the shore of the Red Sea. Held back by a pillar of fire, the Egyptian forces watch as Moses parts the waters. As the Hebrews race over the seabed, the pillar of fire dies down and the army rides in hot pursuit. The Hebrews make it to the far shore as the waters close on the Egyptian army, drowning every man and horse. Rameses looks on in despair. All he can do is return to Nefretiri, confessing to her, “His god is God.”

The former slaves camp at the foot of Sinai and wait as Moses again ascends the mountain. During his absence, the Hebrews lose faith and, urged on by the evil Dathan, build a golden calf as an idol to bear before them back to Egypt, hoping to win Rameses’ forgiveness. They force Aaron to help fashion the gold plating. The people indulge their most wanton desires in an orgy of sinfulness.

High atop the mountain, Moses witnesses God’s creation of the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. When he finally climbs down, Moses beholds his people’s iniquity and hurls the tablets at the idol in a rage. The idol explodes, and Dathan and his followers are killed. After God forces them to endure forty years’ exile in the desert wandering lost, to kill off the rebellious generation, the Hebrews are about to arrive in the land of Canaan. An elderly Moses, who, however, is not allowed to enter the promised land, because he disobeyed the lord at the waters of strife, not shown in the film, then appoints Joshua to succeed him as leader, says a final good bye to Sephora, and goes forth to his destiny.

The performances are solid, Demille’s imagery is grandiose and the film is a classic becoming the 8th highest grossing film in cinema history.  The Blu-Ray restoration is brilliant and you can see the grandeur in every frame. Demille understood the importance of the work and instilled this in every actor and all the crew that worked on the film. the film literally had thousands of extras. The Blu-Ray disc bonus features include rare interviews with cast members, reminiscing from Demille’s granddaughter who was on the set and a making of documentary.

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Desert Sand Pt 1: Lawrence of Arabia (Blu-ray)

30 Mar

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Synopsis: Directed by David Lean, the film takes on an epic journey by telling us the story of complex man, Thomas Edward Lawrence. Lawrence has been labeled everything from hero, to charlatan, to sadist,  blazed his way to glory in the Arabian desert, then sought anonymity as a common soldier under an assumed name. The story opens with the death of Lawrence in a motorcycle accident at the age of 46, then flashbacks to recount his adventures.  As a young intelligence officer in Cairo in 1916, he is given leave to investigate the progress of the Arab revolt against the Turks in World War I. In the desert, he organizes a guerrilla army and–for two years–leads the Arabs in harassing the Turks with desert raids, train-wrecking and camel attacks. Eventually, he leads his army northward and helps a British General destroy the power of the Ottoman Empire.

Cast:

Peter O’Toole………………………………………….Major T.E. Lawrence

Alec Guinness……………………………………………………Prince Faisal

Claude Raines……………………………Arab Bureau Chief-Mr. Dryden

Donald Wolfit………………………………………………..General Murray

Omar Sherif…………………………………………………………..Sherif Ali

Anthony Quayle…………………………………………..Colonel Brighton

Anthony Quinn……………………………………………….Auda abu Tayi

Jack Hawkins………………………………………………..General Allenby

Arthur Kennedy…………..US war Correspondent – Jackson Bentley

Jose Ferrer…………………………………………………………Turkish Bey

 

Review: Originally filmed in Super Panavision  70, the film was meant to be seen in a theater. Thanks to blue-ray, you can now appreciate every sweeping image in detail, beautifully restored to its’ original splendor. For starters the filmed garnered 7 Academy Awards in 1962, including best picture and is considered one of the most influential films of all time.

Peter O’Toole coming from the British Shakespearean stage, makes his film debut as T.E. Lawrence a misfit British Army lieutenant, who is assigned by Mr. Dryden (Claude Raines) of the Arab Bureau, during World War I, to asses the prospects of Arab Prince Faisal’s revolt against the Turks. Although Lawrence’s commanding  General Murray (Wolfit) objects Lawrence is sent straight away.

It is important to note that Lean’s use of sweeping desert imagery, makes the landscape a major player in the film. The desert becomes a supporting character as the very nature nature of the heat and sand brings out the survival instincts of every major character, strengthens their belief in God and even kills the unsuspecting.

Lawrence wins the trust of Faisal and his band of warriors as they win battle after battle against the Turks. he becomes a legend among the people who refer to him as L…Awrence. As a symbol of the trust, Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) gives Lawrence the white robes of a prophet and a gold handled dagger. When he puts them on, he walks around a sand dune and looks at his shadow as he realizes the role he must play. In essence as he studies his reflection in the dagger, he feels he is pure and must lead the people for he is been chosen by God to do so.  A similar image is used later in the film as Lawrence bloodied and no longer pure looks at his reflection in disgust. It is a brilliant device that immediately let’s us understand who Lawrence really is. The dagger reflection was purely O’Toole, improvising at Lean’s direction when he was asked, “What would a young man do first with his new found leadership and dressed in the prophet robes?”  O’Toole first looked at his shadow in the desert sand then took out the dagger and looked at himself in it. Lean’s only comment to O’Toole was “Good Boy” and used the dagger again as described above.

Anthony Quinn as Adu abu Tayi, finds Lawrence admiring himself and through Lawrence s audacity gets in Tayi’s good graces. Sherif Ali and Tayi distrust each other but through Lawrence’s logic and intelligence convinces them to join forces in the battle against the Turks.

As things progress US war Correspondent, Jackson Bentley arrives on the scene and interviews Prince Faisal to get an idea where to find Lawrence. He follows Lawrence on his campaigns and makes Lawrence a living legend in the media.

It isn’t until Lawrence is brought to The Turkish Bey played by Jose Ferrer, that he understands his own humanity and mortality. Ferrer manhandles Lawrence, strips him,prods him and pokes him, obviously the Turkish Bey would sexually abuse Lawrence if he could. Lawrence strikes Ferrer and is flogged and thrown into the streets for this. Lawrence is humiliated and feels defeated.

Eventually Lawrence completes his mission for the British Army and is sent home as Major Lawrence. The film is a powerhouse of imagery and complex characterizations all navigated by brilliant actors at the peak of their craft. This film has become a modern classic and well worth your time. Running time is 216 minutes. The original restoration of the film was spearheaded by Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.

Extras on the Blu-Ray include an interview with Peter O’ Toole who reminisces about the amazing adventure the film was and the role he played in it. His anecdotes are thoughtful and humorous. There is also an interview with Steven Spielberg, and a multi-part making of documentary.

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OZ The Great and Powerful

9 Mar

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James Franco……………………………Oscar Diggs / Wizard of Oz

Mila Kunis………………..Theodora / The Wicked Witch of the West

Rachel Weisz…………………….Evanora / The Wicked Witch of the East

Michelle Williams……………….……Glinda the Good Witch / Annie

Zach Braff…Finley the Flying Monkey / Frank, Oscar’s circus assistant

Joey King……………………………….China Girl/Girl In Wheelchair

Tim Holmes…………………………………………………Strongman

Bill Cobbs……………………………………………..Master Tinkerer

Tony Cox……………………………………Knuck the Fanfare Player

Abigail Spencer…………………………………………………….May

Bruce Campbell………………………………………..a Winkie Guard

Synopsis: Back-story of how flim-flam, con artist, Oscar Diggs of Kansas becomes the Wizard of OZ.

Review:  “For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young in Heart; and Time has been powerless to put its’ kindly philosophy out of fashion. To those of you who have been faithful to it in return…and to the Young in Heart…we dedicate this picture.”

This is the now classic opening title to MGM’s 1939 The Wizard of OZ. This is not that movie, but the 1939 images are ingrained in us and our children, for evermore.  How do you compete with a classic, wisely you don’t, you just try to pay homage.

Directed by Sam Raimi the story surrounds the adventures of con-man Oscar Diggs. James Franco plays Diggs, and he has the daunting task of going from flim-flam man to the Great and Powerful Wizard of OZ. The movie is in 3D and is beautifully filmed. The 3D is used wisely and creatively. The movie starts in the 1939 film ratio and in black and white, slowly the film becomes becomes widescreen and color as we move to the OZ sequences.

Diggs narrowly escapes from a Kansas based traveling carnival, in a hot air balloon, after cavorting with the Strongman’s girlfriend. He becomes trapped in a tornado and finds himself in the land of OZ as the balloon lands in a river. Rachel Weisz who plays Evanora finds him, and believes he is the powerful wizard that has arrived to save the Land of OZ from destruction. It seems an evil witch killed the ruler of OZ and the prophesy tells of a wizard coming to save them. Evanora walks Diggs to the Emerald City where he will rule over OZ. Evanora believes she will be his Queen and falls for him.

The beauty of OZ is not lost on the artists and the CGI is seamless. The imagery is more out of the OZ books then it is out of the copyrighted MGM version. The images pay homage to, but for obvious reasons do not copy the MGM indelible images we conjure up in our minds. Evanora has a sister Theodora, she has been watching over the Emerald City.

The film’s positive points are the imagery and once again spending time with characters we all grew up with. All the action takes place pre-Dorothy Gale. We meet Glinda the Good, played by Michelle Williams. Glinda is so good, think Billy Burke from MGM’s version, Williams seems bland in comparison. Her acting ability is undeniable tho, she plays the character with restraint and an inner spirit.

We have flying monkeys that the evil Witch controls, they are very bat like and a friendly flying monkey dressed like the MGM monkeys, named Finley, who is befriended by Oscar. Finley owes a lifetime debt to Oscar after Diggs saves him from being eaten by a lion. The Lion was scared away by Oscar, presumably remains cowardly, you get the reference. There is an army of Scarecrows, Winkies, singing Munchkins, who sing very little because Oscar stops them, a China Doll that Diggs repairs after she is broken, who will steal your heart away and of course the back-story of the Witch of the East and the West. You will learn how Evanora of the East turns green and heartless and how her sister Theodora, tries to steal the throne rightfully belonging to the Wizard. Presumably someone named Dorothy will eventually drop a house on her.

Go see it with an open mind, the story is fun and the script has lots of homages to the MGM version. I think this version stands alone; the children in the audience ate it up. What could be a better barometer of this 130 minute long film than that.

Frank Baum’s characters are enduring and every so often a new generation embraces them. Consider this, Baum’s Books, The MGM Classic, Wicked was hit on Broadway, now this film,  perhaps it was meant to reach a new young audience. As Judy Garland’s Dorothy so humbly stated, “There’s no place like home.” This was more like visiting a distant relatives home, you have trepidation going in but you leave happy you came for the visit.

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