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Bond,James Bond PT3: Q Desmond Llewelyn

7 Apr

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“Yes, I know Q is beloved,” Desmond said. “But for God’s sake, don’t make him some kind of sentimental grandfather — that’s what I am in real life.”

Desmond Llewelyn, as the iconic Q, the gadget master in 17 Bond films, supplied 007 with everything from a BMW with a rocket launching sun roof to lethal umbrellas and toxic fountain pens. Llewelyn always played the tolerant father to his child, 007, when it came to giving him the keys to the car. “007 you will bring the car back in pristine condition, won’t you? Or Grow-Up won’t you 007?!”

Llewelyn in his real life adventures was no stranger to dangerous adventures.  In the early days of WWII, he was serving in France with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers holding off a Panzer division. The battle lasted for 2 days, as Llewelyn and his mates tried to secure the perimeter of a canal.

When things went sour, Llewelyn swam to the other side of the canal hoping the British were there. “Unfortunately the Germans were,” he says. The Welsh-bom Llewelyn ended up a prisoner of war for 5 years — to the day — in camps like Rottenburg, Laufen, and Warburg.

He says he harbors no ill will against the Germans, though there were 118 officers crowded into the room at his 1st internment.

It never occurred to him, to try acting until, after the war he went to work as a scene shifter with an amateur theater group.

“I used to share study with actor Dennis Price. He said, ‘Why don’t you come and act?’ I said, ‘I don’t want to.’ Finally he persuaded me. And I got bitten by the bug and managed to persuade my family.”

It was simply by chance that he was cast as Q. “I did small parts in TV and films. I did one film about the liberation of Paris which was directed by Terence Young. Terence was to direct Dr. No, luckily for me, the man who played Q in that wasn’t available. And when my name came up, Terence said yes.”

Llewelyn likes playing Q which he’s did for 17 of the films, though his parts are usually small.

“It’s jolly nice,” he said. “I always complain. It’s difficult in a way. I’m treated as a star and I don’t get a star’s salary. They’re extremely generous. I get paid extremely well for my one or 2 days’ work. But I’m always plugging away and next time maybe I can get a larger part.”

In real life Llewelyn was a techno novice. As far as gadgets he said, “I can’t work them at all, I can’t even work the cash machine at the bank.”

Roger Moore, former Bond star says of Llewelyn, “I was the bane of his life. He had to say probably the worst gobbledegook that any actor could be asked to perform. “He had technical words to say that never seemed to make any sense.”

Moore revealed how he used to tease Llewelyn by rewriting his lines on the prompt boards, to make him say silly things.”He was a wonderful man to work with,” said Moore. “He had a wonderful sense of humor.” Moore goes on to say, “No Bond film was complete without Q and his gadgets. “I would go further and say I do not think a Bond film would be complete without Desmond Llewelyn.”

At age 85, Llewelyn was in a fatal car accident on December 19, 1999, as he was returning home from a book signing event. Despite attention from a doctor called to scene and transfer by helicopter to Eastbourne District General Hospital he died shortly thereafter.

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Bond, James Bond PT 1: Albert (Cubby) Broccoli

7 Apr

 

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On the Bond movie formula: “A virile and resourceful hero, exotic locations, the ingenious apparatus of espionage and sex on a fairly sophisticated level.”

In the first of a series concerning itself with the Bond franchise, the following is a broad overview of legendary film producer Cubby Broccoli. The 22 Bond films based on the books by Ian Fleming and produced by the Broccoli’s, has become the most enduring and profitable franchise in cinema history.

Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli was born in the borough of , Queens, New York, the younger of two children of immigrants from the Calabria, region of Italy, Giovanni Broccoli and Christina Vence. He acquired his nickname after his cousin, Pasquale “Pat” DiCicco, began calling him “Kabibble,” eventually shortened to “Kubbie” and adopted by Broccoli as “Cubby.” The family later bought a farm in Smithtown, New York, on long Island, near their relatives the DiCiccos.

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During his early period in Hollywood, Broccoli may have taken part in a bar-room brawl which took the life of comedian Ted Healy. According to E. J. Fleming’s book The Fixers, Broccoli, his cousin, gangster Pasquale “Pat” DiCicco, and film star Wallace Beery, fought with Healy and beat him to death. Fleming asserts that MGM executives Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling, in an attempt to save the reputation of their star Beery, fabricated a story about college students attacking Healy, immediately followed by a four-month trip to Europe for Beery. Immigration records confirm a four-month trip to Europe on Beery’s part immediately after Healy’s death, ending 17 April 1938.

At the beginning of the 1950s, Broccoli moved once more, this time to London, where the British Government provided subsidies to film productions made in the UK with British casts and crews. Together with Irving Allen, Broccoli formed Warwick Films that made a prolific and successful series of films for Columbia Pictures.

When Broccoli became interested in bringing Ian Fleming’s, James Bond character into features, he discovered that the rights already belonged to the Canadian producer Harry Saltzman, who had long wanted to break into film, and who had produced several stage plays and films with only modest success. When the two were introduced by a mutual friend, screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz, Saltzman refused to sell the rights, but agreed to partner with Broccoli and co-produce the films, which led to the creation of the production company EON Productions and its parent (holding) company Danjag, LLC named after their wives’ first names, Dana and Jacqueline.

Saltzman and Broccoli produced the first Bond movie, Dr. No, in 1962. Their second, From Russia with Love, was a break-out success and from then on, the films grew in cost, action, and ambition. With larger casts, more difficult stunts and special effects, and a continued dependence on exotic locations, the franchise became essentially a full-time job. In 1966, Albert was in Japan with other producers scouting locations to film the next James Bond film You Only Live Twice, Albert had a ticket booked on BOAC flight 911. He cancelled his ticket on that day so he could see a ninja demonstration. Flight 911 crashed after clear air turbulence.

Broccoli made one notable attempt at a non-Bond film, an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968, and due to legal wrangling over the rights to story elements, ceded producer credit on Thunderball to Kevin McClory. By the mid-1960s, Broccoli had put nearly all of his energies into the Bond series. Saltzman’s interests continued to range apart from the series, including production of a loose trilogy of spy films based on Len Deighton’s, Harry Palmer, a character who operates in a parallel universe to Bond, with all the danger but none of the glamour and gadgets.

Saltzman and Broccoli had differences over Saltzman’s outside commitments, but in the end it was Saltzman who withdrew from Danjaq and EON after a series of financial mishaps. While Saltzman’s departure brought the franchise a step closer to corporate control, Broccoli lost relatively little independence or prestige in the bargain. From then until his death, the racy credits sequence to every EON Bond film would begin with the words “Albert R. Broccoli Presents.” Although from the 1970s onward the films became lighter in tone and looser in plot, at times less successful with critics, the series distinguished itself in production values and continued to appeal to audiences.

In 1981, Broccoli was honoured with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his work in film; the award was presented at the 1982 Academy Awards ceremony by the current James Bond at that time, Roger Moore. Broccoli also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as Cubby Broccoli.

Broccoli married three times. In 1940, at the age of 31, he married actress Gloria Blondell (the younger sister of actress, Joan Blondell); they later divorced amicably in 1945 without having had children. In 1951, he married Nedra Clark, and the couple were told they had fertility problems and would never have children. They adopted a son, Tony Broccoli, after which Nedra became pregnant. She died in 1958, soon after giving birth to their daughter, Tina Broccoli. At the time of Nedra’s illness, while nursing her in America, Albert Broccoli became convinced that Bond would make a good movie series, and set up a meeting between Ian Fleming and his partner in London.

In 1959, Broccoli married actress and novelist Dana Wilson (née Dana Natol) (1922 – 29 February 2004). They had a daughter together, Barbara Broccoli, and Albert Broccoli became a mentor to Dana’s teenage son, Michael G. Wilson. Broccoli insisted on keeping his family close to him when possible. Consequently the children grew up around the Bond film sets, and his wife’s influence on various production decisions is alluded to in many informal accounts.

Michael Wilson worked his way up through the production company to co-write and co-produce. Barbara Broccoli, in her turn, served in several capacities under her father’s tutelage from the 1980s on. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have co-produced the films since the elder Broccoli’s death.

Dana Broccoli died of cancer in 2004, aged 82. The end of Tomorrow Never Dies, displays the dedication “In loving memory of Albert R. (Cubby) Broccoli”.

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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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Les Misérables

25 Dec

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Synopsis: From the novel by Victor Hugo, Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption-a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit.

CAST:

Hugh Jackman………………………………………..Jean Valjean

Anne Hathaway………………………………………………Fantine

Russell Crowe…………………………………….Inspector Javert

Amanda Seyfried……………………………………………Cossette

Eddie Redmayne………………………………………………Marius

Sasha Baron Cohen……………………………………Thernardier

Helena Bonham Carter…………………..Madame Thenardier

Review:Go see Les Misérables, it’s that simple. I will not talk about plot points, I feel unless you are a Tibetan Monk, there isn’t an adult on the planet who hasn’t seen the  play or read Victor Hugo’s epic book. The Broadway show was eye candy compared to this realistic, gritty in your face interpretation. Director Tom Hooper delivers outstanding performances from his world class troupe of actors, so this is where I shall begin, from best to least.

Anne Hathaway will take your breath away as Fantine.  As Fantine, mother of Cosette, sacked factory worker turned prostitute, Hathaway delivers the show stopping number I Dreamed a Dream. Her soul searing, gut wrenching, sympathetic, performance of the song, will stay with you long after you leave the theater. Her interpretation of the song is so real, like the way Judy Garland sang, she just doesn’t sing the song she feels every emotion in it. Her performance is so strong when she appears toward the film’s end, her redemption of Valjean fills you with tears. Trust me there wasn’t a dry eye of any gender in the house.  Kudos to Hathaway, whatever awards she has been nominated for she certainly earned them with this performance.

Hugh Jackman no stranger to musical theater, delivers a solid performance as Valjean. Valjean stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving baby. Branded a thief, he spends the next 19 years at hard labor. His emotional transformation from criminal, to a man with a heart of gold, is both enthralling, and masterfully navigated by Jackman.  Blaming himself for Fantine’s downfall, he promises her, while she is dying in the hospital, he will find her daughter Cosette, and give her the life she deserves. It is through Cosette, he finds the love in his heart, and the goodness in the world he thought he had lost as a slave. His face says it all.

Sasha Baron Cohen chews scenery with comic timing. He plays Thernardier the pick-pocket, insidious, opportunistic, money grubbing low-life inn keeper, who is Cosette’s guardian. Cohen plays the part with much glee. The song Master of The House tells you everything you need to know about Thenardier. He would sell his own mother if he thought he could make a few francs. He is also quite stupid.

Helena Bonham Carter plays Madame Thenardier, she chews scenery with comic timing as well as Cohen. Together they make a nefarious pair. Madame has a daughter whom she loves, she took in Cosette to get Fantine to pay for her support. Fantine leaves Cosette with the inn keeper and his wife when she is left a single mother, and has to make it on her own. Madame takes full advantage of this and is always sending for more money. Obviously she is using the money to buy her daughter gifts and fine clothes. Cosette, until bought by Valjean, is forced to work as a servant at the inn. Carter is always fun to watch no matter what role she plays. This time she reminded me of her work in Sweeney Todd, with Johnny Depp.

Amanda Seyfried plays Cosette. Here is a young actress with a healthy future before her.  Her Cosette is lovely, innocent and yearning. Her juxtapose between her longing for Marius and her devotion to Valjean is hard to do for a seasoned actor, here she makes it her own.

Eddie Redmayne is Marius and delivers a heartfelt performance. His love for Cosette is real, you feel every twist of his emotions. He is torn between his love of country and his comrades fight for freedom, and his love for Cosette. When he finds out Cosette may be leaving the country, he fights with his comrades behind the barricade. Valjean finds out Marius loves Cosette, so he risks his life to save Marius. The revolution scenes tear at you as the songs of freedom and revolution are sung by Marius and his comrades.

Russell Crowe as Javert was unconvincing. His performance lacked what everyone else had, heart. Even when he sang his arms hung limp at his side, his face stoic , he didn’t reveal through his song his inner demons.  As much as Hathaway and Jackman let you see inside them, Crowe did not. There where times you felt Crowe would rather be anywhere else but playing Javert.  In fact when he struggles with the notion that Valjean represents God’s goodness and he, Javert, perhaps was wrong all along to stick with his sense of duty, you remain unconvinced. Javert final moments should have some sympathy, but not so with Crowe’s performance.

They say true art can change people. If that is truth, then Les Misérables is a work of art. Everyone at the film felt every emotion through the journey Hugo’s story takes you on. Despite what people say about the emotional manipulation of the book and score, the underlying themes of love and redemption are universal.

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The Hobbit an Unexpected Journey

14 Dec

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Synopsis:Based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien, the Hobbit follows the adventure of Bilbo Baggins, as he journeys to the Lonely Mountain with a vigorous group of Dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug. The story steeped in fantasy and history of Middle Earth takes us on an Unexpected Journey of courage and self discovery. Peter Jackson directs this prequel to his brilliant Lord of The Rings Trilogy.

CAST

Ian McKellen…………………………Gandalf

Martin Freeman……………..Bilbo Baggins

Ian Holm……………………………..Old Bilbo

Elijah Wood……………………Frodo Baggins

Hugo Weaving…………………………Elrond

Cate Blanchett……………………….Galadriel

Christopher Lee……………………..Saruman

Andy Sirkis………………………………Gollum

Richard Armitage……..Thorin Oakenshield

Review: The Hobbit an Unexpected Journey is a delight. The story begins with Old Bilbo narrating his adventure as he starts to write his memoir for his Nephew Frodo. The first 45 minutes of the film tells the tale of the Dwarves of Misty Mountain and the treasure of gold they have mined for themselves. We learn about the Dwarve King  Thrór and his lust for gold. The Gold drove him mad as his son Thrain felt helpless. The dragon Smaug arrives and destroys the Dwarve’s mountain Kingdom, the king and claims the gold for himself. The Dwarves forced to leave their home and wander in the country side, fight a battle against the evil Orcs.  Thrór  is beheaded by the Orc Lord,  Thorin son of Thrain tries to stop the Orc Lord but only manages to cut the Orc’s hand off.  Thorin leads the remaining Dwarves into battle and manages to chase the orcs away.  Thorin also blames the Elvin King for not coming to help battle against Smaug, thus without their help the dwarves homeland was destroyed.

This begins the tale of Bilbo’s journey with the remaining 13 dwarves to smite the dragon Smaug. Gandalf the Grey once again played by Ian McKellan convinces the Dwarves headed by Thorin that Bilbo will make an excellent burglar and must join their adventure to reclaim the gold.

Bilbo has many adventures including Orc battles, out smarting Trolls, acquiring his first Elvish blade and learning how brave a homebody Hobbit can be. There are many wonders to behold including the famous riddle game Bilbo plays with Gollum when the Ring of Power, Gollum’s precious, finds it’s way into Bilbo’s hands. The CGI is as good as it gets and Ian McKellen’s performance as Gandalf  proves once and for all he was born to play the part.

Director Peter Jackson shot the film in 48FPS and High Definition. Standard Frames per second is 24FPS. The effect is astonishing, the clarity so clear you can see the pores on Bilbo’s face, the details of the buttons on his waistcoat, and the beauty and wonder of the Middle Earth. Rivendell home of King Elrond is especially breath taking.  Cate Blanchett makes a cameo as Galadriel, Christopher Lee is back as Saruman the White wizard and many familiar faces abound.  The 3D engulfs you into Bilbo’s adventure but does not distract. This is the first of a filmed trilogy and even leaves off with a literal cliff hanger ending.

The music is reminiscent of the Lord of The Rings trilogy in the undercurrent of theme music played. The music brings you right back into the story.

This is a must see for Lord of the Rings fans as Peter Jackson proves his adaptation is master story telling.

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