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Anna Karenina (Blu-ray) DVD

7 Apr

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Synopsis: Director Joe Wright and writer Tom Stoppard’s visually  stunning telling of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Featuring Keira Knightley as Anna and Jude Law as Karenin, the story speaks of love, infidelity and consequences in the Imperial age of Russia in the late 1900’s.

Cast

Keira Knightley …………………………………………Anna Karenina

 Jude Law………………………………………………………………Karenin

Aaron Taylor-Johnson…..…………………………………….Vronsky

Kelly Macdonald………….……………….…………………………..Dolly

 Matthew Macfadyen………………………………………………Oblonsky

Domhnall Gleeson………………………………..…………………….Levin

Ruth Wilson Princess Betsy…….……………..………………Tverskoy

Alicia Vikander………………………………..………………………….Kitty

 Olivia Williams……………………….…………………Countess Vronsky

 Emily Watson…………………………..…………………….Countess Lydia

Review: Directed by Joe Wright and written by Tom Stoppard, this version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is both lavish and well acted. Here within lies the conundrum, the film makers can’t seem to decide whether this is an experiment in cinema or an experiment in filmed theatrics.

The story unfolds inside a large theater that through a variety of both synchronized choreography and camera movement becomes Russia in the Imperial era of the mid 1900s.. For example the stage has lavish stage backdrops that depict various landscapes and cities, trains literally go in and out of the theater as it is transformed into a lavish looking train station, then like magic it transforms through rapid set changes into a seat of government or the home of Anna Karenina and her husband Karenin. It seems as each character appears and goes through a stage door some new set is waiting behind it. This experiment in cinema is very distracting when you are trying to understand who each new character is and how they are related to each other.

The time is 1874. Vibrant and beautiful, Anna Karenina has what any of her contemporaries would aspire to; she is the wife of Karenin a high-ranking government official to whom she has borne a son, and her social standing in St. Petersburg could scarcely be higher. She journeys to Moscow after a letter from her philandering brother Oblonsky arrives, asking for Anna to come and help save his marriage to Dolly (Kelly Macdonald). En route, Anna makes the acquaintance of Countess Vronsky, who is then met at the train station by her son, the dashing cavalry officer Vronsky. When Anna is introduced to Vronsky, there is a mutual spark of instant attraction that cannot – and will not – be ignored.

The Moscow household is also visited by Oblonsky’s best friend Levin, an overly sensitive and compassionate landowner. Levin is in love with Dolly’s younger sister Kitty. Inopportunely, he proposes to Kitty but she is infatuated with Vronsky. Devastated, Levin returns to his Pokrovskoe estate and throws himself into farm work. Kitty herself is heartbroken when, at a grand ball, Vronsky only has eyes for Anna and the married woman reciprocates the younger man’s interest.

Anna struggles to regain her equilibrium by rushing home to St. Petersburg, where Vronsky follows her. She attempts to resume her familial routine, but is consumed by thoughts of Vronsky. A passionate affair ensues, which scandalizes St. Petersburg society. Karenin is placed in an untenable position and is forced to give his wife an ultimatum. In attempting to attain happiness, the decisions Anna makes pierce the veneer of an image-obsessed society, reverberating with romantic and tragic consequences that dramatically change her and the lives of all around her.

Tolstoy wrote about Russian society, I think most people want Gone with the Wind romance. But why this was so deeply clever was that it cut to the real story which is NOT about a fallen woman, or love. It’s about how lust almost incidentally is the backdrop for the question between whether what is right is good, and in those days that meant religion and society. Keira being so exquisitely beautiful, all the more perfect for the imperfect eye teeth, brought a brittle doll like quality which, just like the sparten but beautiful set, underscored that this is NOT a story about a deep love and sensuality. It’s a story about right and wrong, spirituality, the soul and the meaning of life! Anna feels that lust is the answer to an existentially empty life, but she needs the theatre of society. The battle for her is the social v. lust. We can’t help but understand her plight. Brittle Keira makes the social dominate at the beginning and shatter like a china doll.

It is the acting that in fact redeems this movie. Jude law is steadfast as he battles with God’s law and the laws that society demand of him. He is never angry but never at real peace. There are a few familiar faces in the cast such as Emily Watson of Downton Abbey who plays Countess Lydia, and Domhnall Gleeson as Levin, who you may remember as Bill Weasley in the Potter movies.

Stoppard’s screenplay covers all the bases of Tolstoy’s vision of love, hate, sacrifice and remorse. What was missing for me in all the eye candy, was a real depth of emotion. Was this a masterpiece of cinema risk taking leaving behind the language of cinema story telling or was this a filmed theatrical with over the top melodrama? Don’t get me wrong there are genuine moments of brilliant acting and emotion, the problem is that the design and grandeur of the sets soon become a distraction.

The Blu-ray format enhances a textural movie such as this, the lush seems more luxurious, the colors are so vivid you feel you there watching the story unfold before your eyes.  Available on Netflix, Amazon and at the Red Box.

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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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SKYFALL

9 Nov

Synopsis:   Bond: Everyone should have a hobby. Silva: What’s yours?  Bond: Mine is resurrection.

Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

CAST

Daniel Craig………………………………….Bond, James Bond

Judy Dench…………………………………………………………M

Javier Bardem………………………………………………….Silva

Ralph Fiennes…………………………………..Gareth Mallory

Naomie Harris……………………………………………………Eve

Bernice Marlohe………………………………………….Severine

Albert Finney………………………………………………Kincaide

Ben Whishaw…………………………………………………………Q

Helen McCrorey……………………………………….Clair Dowar

Nicholas Woodson…………………………………………..Dr. Hall

Review: Bond is back in his 23rd outing and better than ever. Sam Mendes has directed what is possibly the best Bond film in the franchise. This tightly knit thriller, starring Daniel Craig in his third Bond film, tells the story of a vendetta against M, played by a brilliant Judy Dench. The story opens not with the typical camera iris but instead right in the middle of the action. The screen is unfocused and suddenly the shadow of Bond appears walking forward and into focus. Bond is chasing after his enemy, in Budapest, who has stolen a hard drive from MI6 agents. The hard drive contains all the names and covers for all the MI6 agents world wide. M is following Bond from headquarters through the use of satellite and we see Bond with an ear gadget listening to M as she gives orders as to what to do.  Helping Bond is agent Eve, played by Naomie Harris . After a thrilling chase through a marketplace, many fruit stands turned upside down, Bond finds himself atop a train fighting with the guy who has the hard drive on a chain around his neck. Eve, in a jeep, catches up with the train before it enters a tunnel and has one chance to shoot the guy. She tells M that she may shoot Bond, Bond is literally holding the guy by his neck. She only has a second before the train enters a tunnel, M tells her to shoot the bloody gun, she does, Bond, shot, falls from the train.  Cut to M writing Bond’s obituary.

The title sequence that follows is a feast for the eyes and as with any Bond film outdoes the previous versions. The cornucopia of images of Bond and naked “Bond Girls” tells a chilling story of Bond’s death and resurrection.

The Prime Minister of England is unhappy with M and wants her replaced. Ralph Fiennes plays Gareth Mallory, the man  sent by the Prime Minister to oversee M’s retirement and transition. She will have nothing to do with it until she finds out who stole the hard drive and she gets it back. Who ever stole it, hacks into MI6’s computer network, sends M encrypted messages and blows up M’s office at MI6 Headquarters. M standing in front of the flag draped coffins of her colleagues swear she will find out who did this.

Bond, who is not dead, a has been cavorting on some Caribbean Island. When he hears the news of MI6 headquarters being hit, he returns to England and hides in M’s apartment. She finds him there and asks: “James what took you so long?”  Bond finds his world turned upside down as he comes back to MI6 and must compete with younger agents, Q is a 20 something geek, gadgets like exploding pens are considered dinosaurs, and a Prime Minister who feels the old school spy game needs to be eliminated.

Javier Bardem plays the villain Silva, he is not over the top but creepy from the inside out. His character is demented and psychologically damaged, and wants M dead. He is one of the most convincingly real villains in the Bond franchise.

So who is Silva and why does he want to kill M?  What is SKYFALL and how does it relate to Bond?  Will there be a transition of power at MI6?  What about the hard-drive?

There are plenty tips of the hat to the entire Bond series, musical cues, Q’s new take on old gadgets, the old gun in the headlights, Aston Martin makes a cameo much to the pleasure of the audience, we find there is a new Moneypenny in a very clever way and finally the camera iris dripping blood at the end credits.  The film takes us full circle.  Daniel Craig has finally made the Bond character his own, and it is exciting to watch him go from gruff and unshaven to suave and witty.  I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that is among the best films of the year. Look for the Martini being shaken……

Recommended:

An American in Paris – Blu Ray

17 Oct

Synopsis:  Jerry Mulligan, a struggling American painter in Paris, is “discovered” by an influential heiress with an interest in more than Jerry’s art. Jerry in turn falls for Lise, a young French girl already engaged to a cabaret singer. Jerry jokes, sings and dances with his best friend, an acerbic would-be concert pianist, while romantic complications abound.

Cast

Gene Kelly……………………………………….Jerry Mulligan

Leslie Caron………………………………………..Lise Bouvier

Oscar Levant………………………………………..Adam Cook

Georges Guetary………………………………….Henri Baurel

Nina Foch…………………………………………..Milo Roberts

Review: This Vincente Minnelli directed, Gene Kelly/Stanley Donan choreographed MGM musical is a moving, ground breaking, love poem to artistry and romance. First off the clarity and color of the Blu-Ray disc is astonishingly clear. The restoration and high definition picture draws you in and you start to notice details such as the paint on the Parisian walls etc. in crisp detail.

This film won the Academy Award for Best Picture after it’s release in 1951. The winning score by George and Ira Gershwin sweeps you away with songs like, S Wonderful, Our Love is Here to Stay and I’ve Got Rhythm.  There is something undeniably sublime in watching everyman dancer Gene Kelly, painter Jerry Mulligan, at work here. His roots as a dance instructor in his family’s dance school is in evidence as he works with the children in the I Got Rhythm number. He is delightful and enchanting and the children follow him in grand amusement in hopes of getting some American Bubble Gum.

Leslie Caron a dancer who was trained in Ballet makes her film debut here and it is her charisma and dance craft that carries her through the film. She almost floats as she dances with Kelly in Our Love is Here To Stay. Her charm and warmth appeals every time she smiles.

Oscar Levant is hilarious as struggling self-proclaimed concert pianist Adam Cook. He describes himself in the opening sequence of the film: “It’s not a pretty face, I grant you. But underneath its flabby exterior is an enormous lack of character.”

Georges Guetary plays singer Henri Baurel, who is engaged to Lise,  he is unaware that his friend Jerry Mulligan is in love with her. Guetary’s big number Stairway to Paradise, showcases his singing talents amidst a large lighted staircase and a bevy of beautiful MGM girls. The song is done with artistry and never crosses the line into gaudiness.

Nina Foch plays suntan oil heiress Milo Roberts. She falls for Mulligan and wants to promote his paintings in a legitimate art show. Mulligan at first balks because he doesn’t want Robert’s affections. The relationship never really gets off the ground because Mulligan is truly in love with Caron’s character Lise.

The most celebrated sequence in the film is Kelly’s choreographed 17 minute ballet.  The uniqueness of taking famous french artist’s paintings and bringing them to life with Paris as the background, is contemporaryand brilliant. The ballet tells the story of Mulligan’s love for Lise. Kelly smoothly transitions from ballet, tap and jazz dance throughout the 17 minutes. One gets caught up in the sequence’s use of color, music and dance.

The disc includes a few extras such as the PBS produced American Masters Episode: Gene Kelly Anatomy of a Dancer a vintage MGM Fitzpatrick TravelTalk short, Paris on Parade and a classic MGM cartoon Symphony in Slang.  Overall this is a must have film for anyone’s cinema collection.

Recommended: