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Bond, James Bond PT 5: M Bernard Lee, Robert Brown, Dame Judi Dench

9 Apr

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“He turned me into that unsavory character, M.”

 

M is a fictional character in Ian Fleming’s Bond books  and film franchise; the character is the Head of the British Secret Intelligence Service also known as MI6. Fleming based the character on a number of people he knew who commanded sections of British intelligence. M has appeared in the novels by Fleming and seven continuation authors, as well as appearing in twenty-four films.

In the EON Productions, Albert R. Broccoli produced, Bond films, M has been portrayed by four actors: Bernard Lee, Robert Brown, dame Judi Dench and Ralph Finnes, who is the current incumbent; in two independent productions, M has been played by John Huston and Edward Fox.

Fleming based much of M’s character on Rear Admiral, John Godfrey, who was Fleming’s superior at the Naval Intelligence Division during WWII. After Fleming’s death, Godfrey complained “He turned me into that unsavory character, M.”

Fleming’s third Bond novel, Moonraker, establishes M’s initials as “M**** M*******” and his first name is subsequently revealed to be Miles. In the final novel of the series, The Man with The Golden Gun, M’s full identity is revealed as Vice Admiral Sir Miles Messervy KCMG;Messervy had been appointed to head of MI6 after his predecessor had been assassinated at his desk.

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Bernard Lee: 1962–79

M was played by Bernard Lee from the first Bond film, Dr. No, until Moonraker, (1979). In Dr. No, M refers to his record of reducing the number of operative casualties since taking the job, implying someone else held the job recently before him. The film also saw M refer to himself as head of MI7; Lee had originally said MI6, but was overdubbed with the name MI7 prior to the film’s release. Earlier in the film, the department had been referred to as MI6 by a radio operator.

A number of Bond scholars have noted the Lee’s interpretation of the character was in line with the original literary representation; John Cork and Collin Stutz observed that Lee was “very close to Fleming’s version of the character”, whilst Steven Jay Rubin commented on the serious, efficient, no-nonsense authority figure. Smith and Lavington, meanwhile, remarked that Lee was “the very incarnation of Fleming’s crusty admiral.”

Lee died of cancer in January 1981, four months into the filming of For Your eyes Only and before any of his scene s could be filmed. Out of respect, no new actor was hired to assume the role and, instead, the script was re-written so that the character is said to be on leave, with his lines given to either his Chief of Staff Bill Tanner or the Minister of Defence, Sir Fredrick Gray. Later films referred to Lee’s tenure as head of the service, with a painting of him as M in MI6’s Scottish headquarters during the 1999 installment, The World Is Not Enough.

 

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Robert Brown: 1983–89

After Lee’s death in 1981, the producers hired actor Robert Brown to play M in Octopussy. Brown had previously played Admiral Hargreaves, in the 1977 film, The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond scholars Rubin,  Cork, and  Stutz all consider Admiral Hargreaves would have been promoted to the role of M, rather than Brown playing a different character as M.

Pfeiffer and Worrall considered that whilst Brown looks perfect, the role had been softened from that of Lee; they also considered him “far too avuncular”, although in License to Kill they remarked that he came across as being very effective as he removed Bond’s double o license. Bond book series continuation author Raymond Benson agrees, noting that the M role was “once again under written, and Brown is not allowed the opportunity to explore and reveal his character traits”; Benson also considered the character to be “too nice”.

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Dame Judi Dench: 1995–2012

After the long period between Licence to Kill and Goldeneye, the producers brought in Dame Judi Dench to take over as the new M. The character is based on Stella Rimington, the real-life head of MI5 between 1992 and 1996. For GoldenEye, M is cold, blunt and unabashedly dislikes Bond, whom she calls a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War.” Tanner, her Chief of Staff, refers to her during the film as “the Evil Queen of Numbers”, given her reputation at that stage for relying on statistics and analysis rather than impulse and initiative.

Dench continued playing M for the 2006 film Casino Royale, which rebooted the series with Daniel Craig playing Bond. In this new continuity, M has worked for MI6 for some time, at one point muttering, “Christ, I miss the Cold War”. Her ability to run the Secret Service has been questioned several times; in Casino Royale, she was the subject of a review when Bond was caught shooting an unarmed prisoner on camera; in Quantum of Solace, the Foreign Secretary ordered her to personally withdraw Bond from the field in Bolivia and to stop any investigations into Dominic Greene, the villain of the film; and in Skyfall, she is the subject of a public inquiry when MI6 loses a computer hard drive containing the identities of undercover agents around the world. Skyfall marks Dench’s final appearance as M. Her character becomes the target of the film’s villain, Raoul Silva, over a perceived betrayal. She is shot and killed during the climax of the film, making Judi Dench’s M the only M to be killed in the Eon Bond films.

There have also been brief references to M’s family: in GoldenEye, she responds to Tanner’s “Evil Queen of Numbers” jibe by telling him that when she wants to hear sarcasm she will listen to her children. Quantum of Solace director Marc Forter suggested that Dench’s casting gave the character maternal overtones in her relationship with Bond, overtones made overt in Skyfall, in which Silva repeatedly refers to her as “Mother” and “Mommy”. In Skyfall she is also revealed to be a widow.

Unlike the other actors to play M, Dench’s character was never referred to by name on-screen. However, a prop from the final scene of Skyfall, where M bequeaths some of her possessions to Bond following her death, revealed that her character was given the name “Olivia Mansfield”. As the character was never directly referred to by this name, it still may be a mystery.

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 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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Quartet

23 Feb

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Synopsis: Directed by Dustin Hoffman in his directorial debut, set at a retirement home for retired musicians, the annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday is disrupted by the arrival of Jean, an eternal diva and the former wife of one of the residents.

Cast

Maggie Smith……………………………………………Jean Horton

Tom Courtenay………………………………………Reginald Paget

Billy Connelly……………………………………………..Wilf Bond

Pauline Collins……………………………………….Cissy Robson

Michael Gambon………………………………Cedric Livingston.

Sheridan Smith……………………………………..Dr. Lucy Cogan

Andrew Sachs………………………………………Bobby Swanson

Gwyneth Jones………………………………………..Anne Langley

Review: Quartet is a story that is set in an retirement home for aging musicians, on the English country side. The story revolves around two central plot points, one being the annual retirement home fund raising concert, the other being the arrival of Opera star Jean Horton played deliciously by Maggie Smith.

 The cast is rounded out by brilliant English actors, each bring their own eccentricities to the roles they play. As Jean Horton arrives Cedric, played by Michael Gambon, an actor remembered as Dumbledore in most of the Harry Potter movies, is directing the gala event. He decides, she and Reginald, (Tom Courtney), Wilf, (Billy Connelly), and Cissy, (Pauline Collins), should recreate their famous Quartet from Rigoletto.

 Complications set in when we find out that Jean and Reginald where once married. Reginald wants nothing to do with Jean and retreats. Wilf plays mediator between the two, and has all the crass and funny lines. Maggie Smith has all the droll understated lines and her comebacks (see Downton Abbey) are swift and deadly. Smith is an international treasure, she shines in everything she does.

 Pauline Collins has the task of making her character Cissy, a little dotty in the head, obviously very forgetful, perhaps early Alzheimer’s, and she navigates through it all with a sense of irony and comedy. Collins remains indelible as the main character in the film Shirley Valentine, here she is just as delightful.

 Comedian Billy Connelly as Wilf, is a crass womanizing retired Opera star. His comic timing plays counterpoint to Smith’s dry wit. He delivers a multi-layered performance and brings a sparkle to an otherwise dry screenplay. If you are unfamiliar with Connelly, their is plenty of  him and his stand-up on You-Tube. In Scotland, his home of origin. he is known as the Big Yen. There is more on him at http://www.billyconnelly.com.

 Tom Courtney, who first appeared in Dr. Zhivago so many years ago, plays Reginald as a deeply wounded individual. Jane had left him when they were married and hardly said goodbye. The two together Smith and Courtenay, play against each other with compassion. Reginald’s distrust of Jane is juxtaposed with his feelings of love for her, this is where Cortnenay shines.

Michael Gambon as Cedric, puts up with all the backstage drama so that he ultimately gets what he wants. His transition from lack of patience to restraint is apparent. It appears that everyone but the the four leads bend over backwards to make Cedric happy. He delights in the gala more than anyone else involved. Gambon is fun to watch, especially at the times when his plans seem to get foiled.

 The film is is light and plays like a classic chamber comedy. Hoffman chose wisely his directorial debut. The film might appeal to the older demographic and certainly to the those who enjoyed The Marigold Hotel.

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Zero Dark Thirty

23 Feb

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Synopsis: Based on actual events the film chronicles the decade-long hunt for Al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May 2011. The film has been nominated for The Academy Award for Best Picture 2012.

Cast

Jessica Chastain…………………………………………………………..Maya

Joel Edgerton…………………………………………………………….Patrick

Kyle Chandler……………………………………………….Joseph Bradley

Jason Clark……………………………………………………………………Dan

Chris Pratt……………………………………………Justin, a US Navy SEAL

Review: Jessica Chaistain, plays Maya, a newbie CIA operative in search of leads to track down and eradicate Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The ten year search after 9/11 is the basis for the events that follow and haunt Maya. There are gruesome scenes of water-boarding, a torture technique used by the American Government under George W. Bush, to extract information from terrorist captives, as to the whereabouts of bin Laden. You do get the sense of how wrong this technique is, how the Bush administration used this more as an excuse to show the world, see we are doing something to get bin-Laden. A case can be made against water-boarding, its use, and the Bush administrations abuse of authority at the time. There are those who agree with its use, and those who don’t. The film has no particular view one way or the other, like with any good work of fiction, it let’s the audience have their own opinions.

It is Maya’s feisty determination, played believably by Chaistain, a new Meryl Streep, yes she is that good, that forces the CIA to follow the hunches and leads she brings to the table. Although we know the outcome, it is the suspense of the build-up that makes this a riveting film. There are those that believe that Maya is being naive in her pursuit of obvious leads. She believes that bin Laden and his operatives are hiding in plain site, living life as an average citizen, more overt than covert. The powers that be are trailing the more covert, it takes Maya’s relentlessness to duty to make them see things the way she does. Was she right about bin Laden living in the big compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, was her leads to the compound a mistake. There are two points of view at odds here, Maya’s and everyone else’s.

The actual raid of the compound brings the action and suspense to its peak. The Navy SEALS, clandestine air craft are brought in and the raid proceeds on Maya’s hunch. The moment is so real, that when bin-Laden is found and shot, Maya’s decompression in the aircraft waiting to take her home brings tears to your eyes. She checks bin-Laden’s body bag as the SEALs are celebrating. They are in awe of bringing bin-Laden down, this is contrasted against Maya’s own personal feelings after ten years of frustrating pursuit. Chaistain alone in the aircraft before she departs home will bring tears to your eyes. You feel through her all the agony she is releasing through her silent yet emotional tears. This film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who directed The Hurt Locker, has the look and feel of a documentary and this plays well especially during the raid sequence. The hand-held camera effectively brings you into the action.

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Moonrise Kingdom (DVD)

2 Jan

Synopsis: In this Golden Globe Nominated quirky comedy, set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of two twelve-year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. As various authorities try to hunt them down, a violent storm is brewing off-shore — and the peaceful island community is turned upside down in more ways than anyone can handle. Bruce Willis plays the local sheriff. Edward Norton is a Khaki Scout troop leader. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand portray the young girl’s parents. The cast also includes Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, and Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the boy and girl.

Cast:

Jared Gilman………………..Sam Shakusky

Kara Hayward….………………Suzy Bishop

Bruce Willis………………….Captain Sharp

Edward Norton…Scout Master Randy Ward

Bill Murray……………………..Walt Bishop

Frances McDormand…………..Laura Bishop

Tilda Swinton….……………..Social Services

Jason Schwartzman………………Cousin Ben

Harvey Keitel…………….Commander Pierce

Bob Balaban…………………………Narrator

Seamus Dave Fitzpatrick…………..Roosevelt

Review:  Wes Anderson has dreamed up a ficticious Island that is inhabited by a quirkey bunch of offbeat characters. It is 1965, a twelve year old Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky, (Jared Gilman) leaves his scout camp and wonders off to find his true love Suzy Bishop, (Kara Hayward). The two of them go AWOL and this leaves the entire Island in an uproar. Captain Sharp, (Bruce Willis) and Scout Master Randy Ward, (Edward Norton) go on a search to find them. Everyone is worried about Suzy because Sam is an orphan so therefore he is mentaly disturbed. This is a given in the small minds of the community. Sam has trouble making friends as does Suzy and that is there bond.

The color of the film is reminiscent of old 1960’s home movie color, this gives the film its’ character and other-worldy appearance. Narrator, (Bob Balaban) is the Island’s historian and cartoghrapher. He tells the story as a flashback, including an inside reference to Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters. Balaban is standing in front of the police station as Suzy’s parents, Khaki Scouts and Master are arguing over where the children ran off to. Balaban interupts them by saying, “Excuse me, excuse me!”  They all turn around, ‘I teach cartography and Sam was in my class, I know exactly where they went.” Shades of Close Encounters.

Tilda Swinton plays “Social Sevices” and wants to take Sam to an institution, Harvey Keitel plays Khaki Scout Commander Pierce and his portrayal of self importance is hilarious. Bill Murry plays Walt Bishop, Suzy’s dad. Murry has a sadness in the way he approaches his characters, it his perhaps his weariness that his wife Laura, (Frances McDormand) is unhappy and has been having secret meetings with Captain Sharp, (Willis).  He is understated and empathetic, his performance is the direct opposite of his manic characters he played on SNL. He has without a doubt matured as a actor. He was always brilliant this portrayal is no exception. Edward Norton as the scout Master is played with tongue firmly impanted in cheek. Norton, in short, was terrific in the role.

The best cinema takes you away into flights of fancy, interesting story telling, compelling images and most of all human emotion. This film does all those things and makes you laugh along the way. I enjoyed its’ sense of humor and style. Thank you Wes Anderson for this delightful adventure with a nod to childhood.

The film now nominated for the Golden Globe’s  Best Motion Picture-Comedy or Musical, is available on Netflix, at the RedBox or for purchase on Amazon.

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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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Lincoln

17 Nov

Synopsis: Steven Spielberg directs a story of Abraham Lincoln.  As the Civil War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield and as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.

CAST

Daniel Day Lewis…………………………………………………………..Lincoln

Sally Field……………………………………………………Mary Todd Lincoln

David Strathairn…………………………………………………William Seward

Joseph Gordon-Levitt………………………………………….Robert Lincoln

James Spader……………………………………………………………W.N. Bilbo

Hal Holbrook…………………………………………………………Preston Blair

Tommy Lee Jones……………………………………………Thaddeus Stevens

John Hawkes………………………………………………………Robert Latham

Jackie Earle-Haley………………………………………..Alexander Stephens

Bruce McGill…………………………………………………………Edwin Stanton

Jared Harris……………………………………………………….Ulysses S. Grant

Review: It’s hard to imagine that an American icon like Abraham Lincoln was soft spoken and human, we all think of him as a giant among men. It took an extraordinary actor, Daniel Day Lewis under the direction of another American icon, Steven Spielberg to bring this human story to life.

There is are so many subtleties to Lewis’ performance, he nailed Lincoln’s plain folk speech, Lincoln’s war weary hunch and slow walk, and of course his resemblance to Lincoln is remarkable. The story unfolding before us, tells us of Lincoln’s final few weeks of life as he struggles to pass the 13th Amendment and abolish slavery. The civil war has been going on for four years and he has been elected to a second term in office. We see how Lincoln navigates between his duty as public servant, the leader of his country and liberal Republican party, to balancing the tensions of a war almost over, and his love for his two sons and wife.

Sally Field plays his wife Mary Todd Lincoln as both strong-willed and as someone who will defend her husband publicly. She also suffers internally and has not gotten over the death of her first born son who died serving his country in the civil war. She fights her husband and is stubborn and feisty about her political opinions.

The film is similar to the play and film 1776.  1776 tells the story of John Adams fighting for the signing of the Declaration of Independence during the Revolutionary War, Lincoln on the other hand is fighting to get the 13th Amendment passed. Through his Secretary of State, William Seward, played by David Strathairn, Lincoln arranges some backdoor politics to secure the 20 votes he needs to pass the amendment.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens, a cantankerous congressmen and abolitionist. It is not beyond him to cut his opposing Democratic Party congressman down to size and interrupt their speech making even though they may hold the floor. He has a compassionate side and we see it as we find out his personal reason for wanting the amendment to pass.

There are many fine moments and performances in the film, Hal Holbrook plays Preston Blair, and he gives a solid performance, Jared Harris plays a convincing General Grant and David Strathairn plays William Seward with ease.

The costume and set design are accurate and enhance the story in a believable way. Like any good story you are drawn into the time and place. The movie’s running time is 149 minutes but the time goes by quickly. Spielberg is a master at historical drama, this is one of his best. Like 1776 you are sitting at the edge of your seat even though history has showed us the outcome.

Recommended:

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……

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