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HITCHCOCK

11 Apr

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“Although he never won an Academy Award, in 1979 the American film Institute awarded him their life time achievement award.”

SYNOPSIS: HITCHCOCK is a love story about one of the most influential filmmakers of the last century, Alfred Hitchcock and his wife and partner Alma Reville. The film takes place during the making of Hitchcock’s seminal movie Psycho.

CAST
Anthony Hopkins……………………..Alfred Hitchcock
Helen Mirren………………………………Alma Reville
Scarlett Johansson……………………………Janet Leigh
Toni Collette………………………………………Peggy
Danny Huston……………………..……..Whitfield Cook
Jessica Biel……………………………………Vera Miles
Michael Stuhlbarg………………………Lew Wasserman
James D’Arcy……………………………Anthony Perkins
Michael Wincott………………………………….Ed Gein
Kurtwood Smith……………………….Geoffrey Shurlock
Richard Portnow…………………………Barney Balaban

Review: Directed by Sacha Gervasi; written by John J. McLaughlin, and based on the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello, the film is a biopic that takes place during the filming of Hitchcock’s Psycho.
The story opens with Hitchcock narrating the events surrounding the arrest of Ed Gein, a real serial killer whom the book Psycho is written. When Hitchcock’s newest picture “North by Northwest” is released it becomes a major success for Paramount studios. Hitchcock is obligated to make one more film for Paramount, Hitchcock wants it to be Psycho. Barney Balaban head of Paramount protests as does Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville. From here on in the story surrounds itself with Hitchcock’s obsessions. The film looks at his loving yet sexless marriage with Alma, realistically played by Helen Mirren. She is delightful and droll and in life is also his writing partner. Alma puts up with Hitchcock’s obsessions with getting Psycho made, and his obsessions with the beautiful blonde leading ladies he has procured over the years as a filmmaker.

Anthony Hopkins is an interesting choice to play “Hitch”. It is easy for an actor to cross the line and make Hitchcock a cartoon; Hopkins captures the essence of Hitchcock’s public persona without going over the line into caricature. Hopkins navigates Hitchcock’s obsession such as his obsession with his blonde leading ladies, his almost paranoid suspicion about his wife Alma’s friendship with writer, Whitfield Cook, and the delusions he has of serial killer Ed Gein as he dreams day and night that Gein is controlling his every action. All his delusions come to a head when he is filming the famous shower scene with Janet Leigh. Hitch berates the stand-in for not stabbing Leigh in a realistic manner; her reactions are superficial not real. As the cameras are rolling, Hitch takes the knife and in a terrifying manner goes after Leigh. She is genuinely terrified as he goes at her with the knife. Hitch is having mental delusions about his wife cheating on him, his obsession with Vera Miles, and the dead bodies found in Ed Gein’s home before his arrest. When Hitch snaps out of it, he prints the take and everything is back to normal. Also quite amazing is a scene at the theater where Psycho premiers. Hitch is under enormous pressure for the film to be a success, he stands to lose everything. Hitch arranged with theater owners around the country not to let anyone in the theater after the movie starts and not to give away the ending. As the now famous eee,eee,eee, shower music is playing, Hitch is standing outside in the lobby conducting the screams he hears, like an orchestra conductor. Needless to say the movie was a huge success.

Helen Mirren plays Alma Reville, Hitch’s wife and writing partner. Alma both loves and reviles Hitch and his obsessions. She becomes close with the writer Whitfield Cook and agrees to help him write a screenplay based on a story he wrote. Hitch keeps ignoring Alma as she asks Hitch to read the story and make a movie out of it. As Alma and Whit get closer, Hitch obsesses with the notion that his wife has taken a lover, after all they sleep in separate beds, have a sexless marriage, and Alma to tune him out wears a mask over her eyes when she goes to bed. As time goes on Hitch becomes more paranoid about the relationship and eats and drinks obsessively. Mirron plays the part with patience, tolerance and understanding.

Scarlett Johansson takes on Janet Leigh. Although physically she is no Janet Leigh, Johansson captures Leigh in subtle ways, the way she walks, the way she speaks, her charm etc. Leigh and Vera Miles become friendly on the set, Miles warns Leigh about the falling out she had with Hitch. Alma is worried that Hitch will obsess about Leigh, Leigh proves her wrong and Alma appreciates Leigh’s professional behavior.

Danny Huston plays the writer Whitfield “Whit” Cook, he befriends Alma, and hopes she will help his career by having Hitch make a movie from a story he wrote. Hitch will have none of it, although Hitch at times tries to placate Alma. Whit in truth is a scoundrel and although he flirts with Alma, she manages to keep him at bay. Their friendship ends when she catches Whit, who is married, fooling around with a young lady when he was supposed to be working on the script. Alma would retreat into working with Whit as an escape from Hitch. Huston does a good job although he has little to do.

James D’Arcy brings Anthony Perkins to life with all his nuance and neurosis. Although the role is small D’Arcy’s Perkins is right on the money.

There are many homage’s to Hitch, such as the device of him narrating the story like he did on his television show, or at the end when he tells us he looking for his next film to direct, a big black crow, ala The Birds, lands on his shoulders. The film was well done with a great cast. Ivan (Animal House) Reitman produced, so you know there was a little tongue in cheek throughout.

The movie is available on Netflix, Amazon and Redbox

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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.

Bond, James Bond Pt4: Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell

8 Apr

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“I always said I’d have Roger (Moore) for a husband, but Sean (Connery) for a weekend lover.”

Everyone knows (or should know) Lois Maxwell as the one and only “Miss Moneypenny”, but there’s much more to her acting career than that. She started out against her parents’ will, and without their knowledge, in a Canadian children’s radio program, credited as “Robin Wells”. Before the age of 15 she left for England with the Canadian army’s Entertainment Corps and managed (after her age had been discovered) to get herself enrolled in The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she met and became friends with Roger Moore.

Her movie career started with a Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger production, Stairway to Heaven (1946). After having won The Most Promising Newcomer Golden Globe Award in 1947, she went to Hollywood and made six films before she decided to try her luck in Italy. She ha to leave Italy to go to England when her husband became ill, and since then she has had roles in a number of movies besides the first 14 Bond movies. In 1989 she retired.

Maxwell lobbied for the role in the James Bond film Dr. No, as her husband had had a heart attack and they needed the money. Director Terence Young, who once had turned her down on the grounds that she looked like she “smelled of soap”, offered her either Moneypenny or the recurring Bond girlfriend, Sylvia Trench, but she was uncomfortable with a revealing scene in the screenplay. The role as M’s secretary guaranteed just two days’ work at £100 a day; Maxwell supplied her own clothes. The Trench character, however, was eliminated after From Russia with Love.

In 1967, Maxwell angered Sean Connery for a time by appearing in the Italian spy spoof Operation Kid Brother, with the star’s brother Neil Connery and Benard Lee. In 1971, Maxwell was nearly replaced for Diamonds are Forever after demanding a pay raise; her policewoman’s cap disguises hair she had already dyed for another role. However she continued in the role, as her former classmate Roger Moore took over the part of 007. In 1975, she played Moneypenny weeping for the death of James Bond in a short scene with Bernard Lee as M in the French comedy Bons baisers de Hong. For the filming of A View to Kill (1985), her final appearance, Bond producer Cubby Broccoli told her that the two of them were the only ones from Dr. No still working on the series. Maxwell asked that her character be killed off, but Broccoli recast the role instead. Her final Bond film was also Moore’s last outing, and she was succeeded by Caroline Bliss during Timothy Dalton’s tenure and later by Samantha Bond in the Pierce Brosnan films.

As Moneypenny, according to author Tom Lisanti, she was seen as an “anchor”, with her flirtatious repartee with Bond lending the films realism and humanism. For Moneypenny, Bond was “unobtainable”, freeing the characters to make outrageous sexual double entendures. At the same time, her character did little to imbue the series with changing feminist ideals. While still acting in the Bond films during the 80s Lois also became a regular columnist for the Toronto Sun newspaper. She purchased a cottage in northern Ontario and would often share stories about her experiences on the movie set, her co-stars, life in Italy, her experiences growing up in Canada and about her present life in general. As well as commenting on topics of the day. Her feature was a favorite for many and she was sorely missed when she finally retired from writing for the Toronto Sun.

She was the first actress to play the role of MissMoneypenny in the Bond Films, playing the character from Dr. No, in 1962 until her final performance of the character in the 1985 film A View to Kill. Is second only to Desmond Llewelyn for the number of appearances in James Bond movies. She was in 14 and he was in 18.

As Maxwell’s career declined, she lived in Canada, Switzerland, and England, until she was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2001. She moved to Perth, Western Australia, where she lived with her son until her death in 2007, at the age of eighty

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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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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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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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……

Recommended:

ARGO

26 Oct

Synopsis: A dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran. The film also satirizes the Hollywood film community and what it took for the CIA to get their help in the operation.

CAST

Ben Affleck…………………………………Tony Mendez (CIA Operative)

Bryan Cranston……………………………………………….Jack O’Donnell

Alan Arkin………………………………………………………..Lester Siegel

John Goodman……………………….John Chambers (make-up artist)

Clea DuVall…………………………………………………………..Cora Lijek

Kyle Chandler……………………………………………..Hamilton Jordan

Victor Garber……………………………………………Kenneth D. Taylor

Tate Donovan……………………………………………………Bob Anders

Michael Parks…….Jack Kirby (Comic Book/Story Board Artist)

Tom Lenk………………………………………………………………….Rodd

Christopher Stanley……………………………………………Tom Ahern

Taylor Schilling…………………………………………Christine Mendez

 Ashley Wood…………………………………………………………..Beauty

Sheila Vand……………………………………………………………..Sahar

Chris Messina………………………………………………………..Malinov

Richard Kind………………………………………………………Max Klein

Titus Welliver………………………………………………………Jon Bates

Rory Cochrane…………………………………………………..Lee Schatz

Devansh Mehta………………………………………………Matt Sanders

Omid Abtahi……………………………………………………………..Reza

Scoot McNairy………………………………………………..Joe Stafford

Kerry Bishé…………………………………………………Kathy Stafford

 Christopher Denham………………………………………….Mark Lijek

Karina Logue………………………………………..Elizabeth Ann Swift

Bob Gunton……..Cyrus Vance (United States Secretary of State)

Philip Baker Hall………………Warren Christopher (Deputy S.O.S.)

Adrienne Barbeau………………………………………………………Nina

Fouad Hajji…………………………………………………………..Komiteh

President Jimmy Carter…………Himself (uncredited voice-over)

Review:  The film directed by its’ star, Ben Affleck, is based on the true events that occurred during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Jimmy Carter was President when the American Embassy in Iran was seized during the Iranian Revolution by militants, taking sixty hostages as six American Ambassadors, barely made it out. The six Ambassadors took refuge in the Canadian Embassy and were stuck there hoping they wouldn’t get caught. The Ayatollah Khomeini, who was the leader of the Iranian people at the time, had blamed the ill’s of the country on American intervention.

Victor Garber plays Ken Taylor, the head of the Canadian Embassy in Tehran, and knowingly puts himself and his family at risk by taking in the Ambassadors before they are found out. The CIA works feverishly to intervene and even brings in Tony Mendez (Affleck), their chief operative in charge of hostage extraction to figure out how to get the six out.

Mendez calls on his friend the make-up artist for the Planet of The Ape movies, John Chambers, who has helped the CIA with cover identities, to help here. Chambers is the one who comes up with the idea that Affleck would go in an as a Canadian film location scout. He also came up with the idea that the six hostages can have fake Canadian passports and pose as production crew and director. Goodman introduces Mendez to aging film producer Lester Siegel, (Arkin) who buys into the lie and uses the Hollywood machine to fake a fake movie production.  The film they use is a science fiction script called ARGO and they even set-up a fake Hollywood production office with phone, movie posters and files. I might add the irony of all this is that it is paid for by the U.S. Government. Goodman and Arkin add a light-hearted and often hilarious touch to the art of Hollywood film makers and producers.

The film is a taut, edge of your seat drama, that recreates actual events as they happen. You have to ask yourself how taken by America’s Hollywood the Iranians are that they fell for the cover hook, line and sinker.  The film is a winner by any standard and Affleck possibly directed the finest film of the year. It will be a disappointment if this film doesn’t pick-up a nomination for best-picture or best supporting actor for Arkin. Arkin is brilliant at sarcasm, when a collegue asks him what ARGO is about he growls, “ARGO f*&%$k yourself!” Which does become a wink and a nod between Mendez and his Hollywood friends.

Stay for the end credits because there are pictures of the Actors and the their real world counterparts shown side by side as President Jimmy Carter, in Voice-Over, discusses the actual ARGO operation and the facts surrounding the events.

Recommended:

Robot and Frank

12 Oct

Synopsis: Set in the near future, Frank, a retired cat burglar, has two grown kids who are concerned he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until Frank’s son chooses a different option: against the old man’s wishes, he buys Frank a walking, talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health. What follows is an often hilarious and somewhat heartbreaking story about finding friends and family in the most unexpected places.

Cast

Frank Langella……………………………………Frank

Susan Sarandon………………………………Jennifer

Liv Tyler………………………………………..Madison

James Marsden…………………………………Hunter

Peter Saarsgard………………………..Robot (voice)

Jeremy Sisto……………………………………..Sheriff

Jeremy Strong………………………………………Jake

Review: Jake Schieier directed this charming film using speculative fiction as his story telling device. For those uninitiated, speculative fiction takes what we already know exists in science and speculates what it would be like in the near future. Sort of not quite sci-fi but closer to scientific reality when applied.

The story centers around ex-cat burglar Frank, (Langella) who lives alone in his house, in a small suburban community. It is apparent he is beginning to lose his short term memory. His daily routine consists of going to the local library where he has a friendship with the librarian, Jennifer (Sarandon) then going to a local nick-knack store and swiping small things like soap shaped like a cat.

His son Hunter (Marsden) tolerates his father’s behavior but can’t let his father live alone. Hunter is particularly alarmed when Frank doesn’t remember him or his daughter Madison (Tyler). To remedy the situation Hunter, against his father’s wishes brings him a companion Robot. The Robot is specifically designed to challenge Frank’s mental abilities, keep Frank active in a positive way and cook Frank’s meals.  In short Hunter had the robot programmed to keep Frank out of trouble. The Robot even starts a vegetable garden in the backyard of the house.

We learn along the way Frank was indeed a convicted and did jail time on burglary charges. When Frank finds out a wealthy entrepreneur, Jake wants to convert the library into an interactive community space with no books just computers, he decides to start cat-burgling once again. He trains the Robot to help him case the rich Jake’s house in hopes of stealing a valuable diamond necklace owned by Jake’s wife. The Robot at first won’t comply, but sly Frank convinces the Robot that a burglary will be good to stimulate his mental faculties. The Robot acquiesces and the two of them go on a caper. The Robot/Frank bonding begins when Frank trains the Robot how to pick locks and avoid alarms.

We watch with a knowing smile as the relationship between Frank and the Robot turns to respect and friendship. When Frank’s daughter Madison suddenly appears to take care of Frank, she is against Robot technology, her shutting down the Robot causes Frank to freak-out as the heist date draws near.  When after some sly outmaneuvering by Frank, Robot gets turned back on and the heist goes as planned.

You wonder how far gone Frank really is when Jake and the town sheriff come to question him about the heist and the goods can’t be found in the house. The Robot shows the human sign of self-sacrifice when he suggests that Frank erases his memory so the police can’t access his memory of the heist.

The story is funny, heartwarming, quirky and a winner. Speculative fiction aside this is a fun movie with a great cast. Langella really knows how to maneuver between loss of memory and slyness. His performance was wonderful to watch.

Recommended: