A Movie for Springtime: “Enchanted April” (1991)

enchanted april 2

Caroline, Mrs. Fisher, Lottie, and Rose enjoying a repast at their beloved Mediterranean castle.

Who among us has not looked out the window above our work desk (that is, if we’re lucky enough to have a window) and dreamed of a lovely vacation at some wondrous spot on earth?  Well, Enchanted April is about four women who have such dreams and also the determination to make them come true.

The story begins on a gray and rainy day in England, circa 1922.  Lottie (Josie Lawrence) sees an advertisement for an April rental at a small medieval castle on the shores of the Mediterranean.  Desperate to have some time away from her pretentious, social-climbing husband (a very funny Alfred Molina), Lottie convinces Rose (Miranda Richardson), another unhappy housewife,  to travel with her and chip in on the expenses.  Eventually, Lottie and Rose bring in two others:  Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright), an testy matron who loves to talk about the famous writers she has personally known; and Lady Caroline (Polly Walker), a stunningly lovely party girl whose aloofness masks a secret sadness in her past.

All four of the women have unhappiness in their lives which they seek to address through their shared vacation.  Each of them achieves a measure of healing during their time together.

Enchanted April features top-notch performances from a stellar cast of British actors.  It is lovely to look at in terms of costuming and photography.  The film was shot at Castello Brown in Portofino, Italy; and anyone who sees the sumptuous greenery and stunning seascapes in this movie will probably be running to their nearest travel agent as soon as the closing credits have finished rolling.  Finally, Richard Rodney Bennett’s score, featuring cool and soothing flute and oboe themes, adds to the dreaminess and charm of the women’s little Italian paradise.

I should add that when I asked my husband to watch Enchanted April with me, he winced at what he perceived would be a “chic flick” experience.  He ended up really liking this film.  Truly, a good date night movie!

Some movie trivia:  Enchanted April is an adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel.  The book spawned a 1925 stage play and a 1935 film version starring Ann Harding and Frank Morgan.

You can download a copy of the 1991 film by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0060WEGPM/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B0060WEGPM&linkId=b41e7ecf51ed900727b62cd5a26d9692

You can purchase a DVD copy by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B006DVB6S0/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B006DVB6S0&linkId=4b6dc60488e818d068c8c7b0c7e0e73c

**********

Pluses:   Fine performances by a stellar cast of British actors.  Alfred Molina and Jim Broadbent, who plays Rose’s philandering husband, are standouts.  A feast for the eye in terms of costuming and locale.

Minus:  None that I can think of.  If you feel like watching an action film, run away!  This is a gentle, leisurely dramedy about the inner lives of 1920’s English women.

Cast:  Miranda Richardson, Josie Lawrence, Polly Walker, Joan Plowright, Alfred Molina, Michael Kitchen, Jim Broadbent.

Director:  Mike Newell

Rating:  PG (some mild language)

In Color.

Length:  95 minutes

For Easter: “Life of Brian” (1979)

 

life of brian

Brian’s followers react to the discovery of their beloved messiah’s sandal

This being Holy Week, I was preparing myself for a review of a rather serious foreign rendition of the Passion.  My husband then asked, “Oh, couldn’t you do something funny?  So many of the movies you review are serious.”

Wish granted.  This week, I’m reviewing 1979’s Life of Brian.

Between 1969 and 1974, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired a television show featuring sketches written and performed by a comedy troup billing themselves as “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”  Monty Python’s inspired blend of surrealism and absurdity quickly caught on in the United Kingdom and the U.S.  Bolstered by their success on both sides of “the Pond,” the group began producing full-length films featuring the comedic style that made their television show so popular.  One film, 1975’s Holy Grail (a parody of the legend of King Arthur) eventually spawned a musical called Spamelot.

Monty Python’s second film, Life of Brian, is essentially a parody of just about any Biblical epic produced during the 1950’s and 1960’s.  In fact, the film’s logo is itself a parody of the logo for 1959’s Ben-Hur.  But unlike director William Wyler’s reverential homage to the story of Christ, Life of Brian tweaks almost every religious convention found in Hollywood biblical films.

The plot concerns one Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman), born in Bethlehem around the same time as a Certain Other Person born just down the street.  As in Ben-Hur, Brian’s life parallels the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  However, in Brian the connection between the two is treated comically.  For example, observe what happens when Brian attends Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.  As you will observe in the segment below, the phrase “Blessed are the peacemakers” is seriously misheard by some of the audience.  By the way, Brian is the individual on the viewer’s far right.

And so you have been warned.  Nothing is sacred in this film, which is filled with ribald jokes about the Virgin Birth, the Nativity, Jews, homosexual stereotypes and practices among Romans, the nature of discipleship, and countless other subjects in Biblical movies.  Even the Crucifixion is lampooned when Brian, who has become the reluctant Messiah for a bunch of followers, ends up on a crucifix improbably singing “Look on the Bright Side of Life”(!)

So in conclusion, if you are easily offended by any of the issues I’ve mentioned in this post, please do NOT watch this film.  However, if you wish to see some inspired bits of absurdist comedy, you will find it here.

To obtain a DVD copy of Life of Brianclick onto the following link:

//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=spcooperveriz-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B000VECAC6&asins=B000VECAC6&linkId=8330082922e6d3415d6737a9c3a9f8b1&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

*****

Pluses:   Several moments of inspired comedy.

Minus:  The film generally works as a series of sketches, some funnier than others.

Cast:  Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Kenneth Colley, Spike Milligan, George Harrison (yes, one of the Beatles!), Gwen Taylor, Susan Jones.

Director:  Terry Jones

Rating:  R  (sexual jokes, profanity, brief full frontal male nudity)

In Color, with some animation

Length:  92 minutes

Sources:

“Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   30 March 2017.  Web.  13 April 2017.

A Story for Passover: “Rabbit Proof Fence” (2002)

 

rabbit proof fence

Molly, Daisy, and Gracie walking home across the Australian desert

Passover begins in a few days.  Soon, Jews all over the world will celebrate and remember the ancient Hebrews’ escape from Egyptian bondage as they made their way across the Sinai desert towards the Promised Land, now present-day Israel.

This week’s movie offering is also a story about escape from bondage, and it involves a long trek across an inhospitable desert.  But the events in this film occur far, far away from the Middle East.

Rabbit Proof Fence, adapted from Doris Pilkington’s book Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, is loosely based on the childhood experiences of the author’s mother Molly Craig.  Craig, a mixed race Aborigine, was forcibly removed from her family during the early 1930’s as part of Australia’s program to re-educate and absorb half-caste children into the white community.  The program was created and championed by Commissioner of Native Affairs A. O. Neville, whose stated intention was to “uplift” the Aboriginal people.   Here is a segment where Neville, played by Kenneth Branaugh, explains his intentions to a group of Australian women.  Warning:  This is quite chilling:

As a result of Neville’s program, Craig and two of her young relatives were placed in a detention center 990 miles away from their home in Jigalong, Western Australia.  The girls escaped from their jailors and made their way back to Jigalong by following a pest-exclusion fence erected to keep rabbits and other vermin out of farming areas.  In the film, one of the girls is captured.  However, Molly and her sister Daisy successfully complete the trek and escape detection by the officials who pursue them across the Australian wilderness.

Rabbit Proof Fence primarily plays as a suspense film, pitting the authorities and an experienced Aborigine tracker (veteran Australian actor David Gulpilil) against the resourcefulness and determination of 14 year old Molly, who acts as the “Moses” of the little group fighting to make their way across the desert.  As portrayed by child actor Everlyn Sampi, Molly is calm, confident and wise beyond her years.  She turns out to be a formidable opponent, using her knowledge of the Australian outback to outfox the authorities every step of the way.

Note:  The practice of separating half-caste children from their families continued well into the second half of the 20th century.

On February 13, 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology for the forced removal of generations of Aboriginal children from their families.

******

You can download Rabbit Proof Fence amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009ZM7FWU/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B009ZM7FWU&linkId=47e8d884786f8b5f2e3ee84de2f4355d

In addition, you can purchase a DVD of this film by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00P69WXBO/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B00P69WXBO&linkId=3f76812e23e074623db22b80d74340df

Finally, you can purchase the Pilkington book by clicking onto the following link:

 

******

Pluses:   Great performances by all involved in this project.  David Gulpilil’s expressive face speaks volumes about the mistreatment of the Aborigines depicted in this film.  Peter Gabriel’s film score, an ambient soundscape which includes Aboriginal percussion, didgeridoo, and bird song, is beautiful and haunting.

Minus:  None that I can think of.  Warning:  Ready your four handkerchiefs for the conclusion of this movie.  It’s a tear-jerker.

Cast:  Kenneth Branaugh, David Gulpilil, Everlyn Sampi, Laura Monaghan, Tianna Sansbury, Ningali Lawford.

Director:  Philip Noyce

Rating:  PG (for emotional thematic material)

In Color

English, West Australian Aborigine dialect (subtitled)

Length:  94 minutes

Sources:

“Rabbit Proof Fence (film).”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   7 March 2017.  Web.  7 April 2017.

“Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   7 March 2017.  Web.  7 April 2017.

“A. O. Neville.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   27 March 2017.  Web.  7 April 2017.

“Stolen Generations.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   5 April 2017.  Web.  7 April 2017.

 

 

 

 

What Do You Want to See on This Movie Screen?

blank movie screen

Last week, I saw a segment on 60 Minutes that simply MUST be made into a movie.  It had to do with a teacher who went to Mississippi and is teaching working-class and poor kids how to be championship chess players.

Which brings me to my question for all of you:  Are there any stories out there that you would love to see on the big screen?  Let me know….maybe we can get together and start petitioning Denzel, or Angelina, or someone else to get it up there.

The floor is open…….comments?

 

Vixens, Vamps, and Tramps: Catherine Deneuve in “Belle De Jour” (1967)

belle_de_jour_2

Severine (Catherine Deneuve) learning her new trade.

For our last VV&T (Vixens, Vamps, and Tramps) movie of the month, we journey to France.

Belle De Jour is a disturbing and fascinating film by that great master of surrealism, director Luis Bunuel (1900-1983).  On its face, the plot is fairly simple:  An upper-class Parisian housewife is bored with her oh-so-perfect marriage and decides to work at a high-class brothel during the afternoon.  Her working sobriquet is “Belle De Jour,” lady/beauty of the day, as opposed to “lady of the night.”  Eventually, her working and domestic lives clash, with tragic consequences.

This is a Bunuel film, and so of course there’s much more than what lies on the surface of this story.  Bunuel is well-known for creating sequences that mix dream scapes with reality.  For example, Belle De Jour begins with the main character, Severine, taking a buggy ride with her husband in the country.  They get into an argument, and the husband suddenly orders the coachmen to remove Severine from the coach and brutalize her.  We realize part way through this scene that something is off.  Sure enough, the entire sequence is actually a rape fantasy in which Severine indulges as she and her husband retire for the night.

Bored housewives having erotic daydreams are nothing new to the cinema.  What makes this story interesting is the way that Bunuel effortlessly goes back and forth between Severine’s actual life and her fantasy life, to the point that we begin to wonder what is truly real for this woman.

Early in the story, Severine finds out from an acquaintance that there is a secret brothel where ordinary upper-class women can earn extra money as prostitutes.  Intrigued, Severine locates such a place and is soon employed.  But her reactions to the clients, the madam, the other prostitutes and her new situation are strangely muted; she seems to be sleepwalking through the whole experience.  The workers and clients at the brothel don’t emote or react much either; they are very matter of fact in greeting the new girl, and then undressing her so that she can get down to business.  The whole experience is like one of those dreams where you are partially or completely undressed, yet no one in the dream is really paying much attention.  Is it possible that some or all of this prostitute stuff is, in fact, one of Severine’s fantasies?

By the end of the film, Severine has left the brothel and is back with her husband, who has been severely injured by a gunman involved  with the madam’s shady business.  As the husband sits half-comatose in a wheelchair, Severine looks out the window and we witness what she sees:  The buggy scene from the beginning of the film.  We’re back in Severine’s head again.   We’re also left with this question:  Who’s the real Severine?  Is she the immaculate housewife, or the prostitute?

Catherine Deneuve essentially carries this film, and she’s perfect for the role.  Her beautiful, mask-like face barely registers anything as she walks like a somnambulist through the most extreme incidents at the brothel and in her private fantasies.  Rather than using muted lighting or black and white to play up the smuttiness of the situation, Bunuel uses brighter lighting and clear colors in all scenes, which enables the director to smoothly switch the main character back and forth between her pristine domestic life and sordid working life.

You can download Belle De Jour from amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MOA5X38/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B00MOA5X38&linkId=f68150767df770b4dd9b6f5f717cc55b

Your can purchase a Blu-Ray DVD version of this film from amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005VU9LI6/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B005VU9LI6&linkId=d25db297728d91d96da4d5903652182c

****************

Pluses:   Good performance from Catherine Deneuve.  Expert melding of real-life and dream sequences.

Minus:  Although there are no explicit sex scenes, the implied sex and violence in this film may not be for the squeamish.  If you are a fan of Luis Bunuel, you will like the film.  If not, you may not find the subject matter to your taste.

Cast:  Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli, Genevieve Page.

Director:  Luis Bunuel

R (Implied sexual scenes, implied sexual violence)

In Color.

Subtitled in English (originally in French)

Length:  1 hour 40 minutes

 

Vixens, Vamps, and Tramps: Lady Macbeth and Kurasawa’s “Throne of Blood” (1957)

Throne of Blood 1

General Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), who has just committed regicide at the bidding of his evil wife, Lady Asaji (Isuzu Yamada)

Over the past few weeks, we’ve examined how disreputable women have been portrayed in American cinema ( 1944’s Murder, My Sweet) and Irish cinema (1998’s Waking Ned Devine).  In this article, we’re going to take a look at how a great master of Japanese film did a unique take on Shakespeare’s evil villainess, Lady Macbeth.

********

Akira Kurasawa (1910-1998) was one of the most influential film makers of all time.  Although many American moviegoers are not acquainted with this director’s work, they are probably familiar with the following American remakes based on Kurasawa films:

1960’s The Magnificent Seven (about gunslingers who rescue a Mexican village from bandits) is a remake of 1954’s The Seven Samurai.  The Magnificent Seven was remade a second time in 2016.

1964’s For a Fistful of Dollars (a gunslinger takes advantage of two feuding families in the old West) is based on 1961’s Yojimbo, about a samurai who does the same to a Japanese village.

1964’s The Outrage (various witnesses tell conflicting stories regarding a rape-murder) is based on 1950’s Rashomon.

1977’s Star Wars (about a group of misfits who rescue an intergalactic princess and save the galaxy from evil forces) was strongly influenced by 1958’s The Hidden Fortress, about another group of misfits who rescue a Japanese princess.

Conversely, Kurasawa was inspired by the classics of Gorki, Tolstoy, and Shakespeare and made films based on their works.  His greatest interpretation of the latter is 1957’s Throne of Blood (AKA Spider Web Castle), based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

*****

Throne of Blood, which is set in 16th century feudal Japan, essentially follows the plot of the earlier play:  General Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) is told by a sinister forest spirit (Chieko Naniwa) that he is destined to replace the current reigning lord of Spider Web Castle.  Spurred on by his ambitious wife (Isuzu Yamada), Washizu murders Lord Tsuzuki (Takamaru Sasaki) and his own best friend, General Miki (Minoru Chiaki).  As a result of his actions General Washizu does in fact become lord of the castle.  But just like Macbeth, Washizu dies as violently as he has lived.

Instead of falling back on Shakespeare’s written language, Kurasawa tells the story cinematically through exciting battle sequences and exquisite black and white cinematography.  In addition, Kurasawa uses elements of Japanese Noh theatre in order to dramatize interactions among main characters.

Noh is an ancient art form using pantomime, exaggerated gesture, and masks in order to communicate emotion and characterization.  In Throne of Blood, Kurasawa directs his actors to maintain fixed expressions corresponding to Noh masks.  Below, we see Lord Washizu, his wife, his friend Miki, the forest spirit, and their corresponding masks:

Noh 1

In the case of Washizu’s wife, the technique is used to chilling effect.  Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth is often played as a bit of a nag as she incites her husband to action.  In contrast, Lady Asaji quietly and insidiously makes suggestions to her husband while remaining almost completely still in face and body.  Thus, Asaji acts more like an inner voice to Washizu than a separate character.  The scene below is typical of the physical relationship between the two characters:  Asiji is seated while Washizu restlessly paces back and forth in response to his wife’s comments.

Throne of Blood 5

The use of ancient Japanese theatrical techniques in a film may sound a bit esoteric, but in fact it is most helpful to viewers who do not know the Japanese language.  Even without subtitles, one can understand a great deal by watching the movement and pantomime in this film.  It also helps to be familiar with the Shakespeare play.

I would strongly encourage you to watch this unsettling, weird and wonderful movie.  It’s Shakespeare like you’ve never seen before.  In my opinion, it’s as great in its own way as the original.

You can download Throne of Blood through Amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00HUNNP2K/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B00HUNNP2K&linkId=7a080f652fd48f95164b170c69c70d54

You can buy a Blu-Ray DVD of Throne of Blood by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00XVHJWEE/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B00XVHJWEE&linkId=1d5c6dd356dfae21a0bdf31d39d211c9

******

Pluses:   Great performances by Toshiro Mifune and Isuzu Yamada.  Several elements of Macbeth, including the witch scene, Banquo’s ghost scene, and the moving forests of Dunsinane are wonderfully rendered.  Exciting battle sequences.  Climactic death scene.

Minus:  None that I can think of.  If you are a serious student of film, this is a must-see!

Cast:  Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Akira Kubo, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Minoru Chiaki, Takamaru Sasaki, Chieko Naniwa

Director:  Akira Kurosawa

Unrated (not for little kids.  The final death scene is gruesome.)

In Black and White.

Subtitled in English (originally in Japanese)

Length:  110 minutes

Sources:

“Throne of Blood.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   1 March 2017.  Web.  23 March 2017.

“Noh.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   9 March 2017.  Web.  23 March 2017.

Crucianelli, Guy.  “The Chilling Effect of Noh Theater on Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.”  26 March 2014.  Web.  http://www.popmatter.com/review/180176-criterion-collection-throne-of-blood/

 

 

Vixens, Vamps, and Tramps: “Waking Ned Devine” (1998)

 

Waking Ned DevineBuddies Michael (David Kelly) and Jackie (Ian Bannen) make the best of a “grave” situation

Friday is St. Paddy’s Day, and my goal this week has been to review an Irish movie with a vixen, vamp, or tramp.  I found a “twofer”(two questionable women) in writer/director Kirk Jones’ delightful 1998 comedy, Waking Ned Devine.

********

The tiny Irish hamlet of Tully More has received an enormous windfall.  One of their own, Ned Devine, has won the Irish Lottery.  There’s just one problem……

Ned is dead.

You heard it right.  As soon as he got the good news on TV, the elderly gentleman passed away from pure shock.  So it looks like nobody wins any money this year.  Or……. maybe someone will, because pals Michael (David Kelly) and Jackie (Ian Bannen) are determined to grab that jackpot come hell or high water.

The remainder of this story involves the scheming pair’s attempts to finagle their way into Ned’s millions, and the problems they encounter in doing so.  For example, they have to convince the lotto officials that Ned is still alive.  And how will the rest of the villagers react when they hear the truth of the matter?

Aside from hilarious scenes involving Michael and Jackie’s efforts in securing the lotto money, there are small pleasures as we encounter various supporting characters in the village.  For example, there’s the village priest, Father Patrick (Dermont Kerrigan), who spends his time trying to explain religion to a rather doubtful little tyke named Maurice (played by Robert Hickey).  Maurice is the illegitimate son of the town dish, lovely Maggie O’Toole (Susan Lynch), who spends her time enticing Pig (James Nesbitt) and Pat (Fintan McKeown).  Are either of these men the father of Maurice?  Is it someone else?  All is revealed at the end of the story.

The second questionable female in Tully More is a most irascible curmudgeon by the name of Lizzy Quinn (Eileen Dromey).  “Lizzy the Witch” is so mean that she delights in trying to run over people with her geriatric scooter.  Although a minor player, Lizzy is an important element in the plot.  Why?  Can’t tell you that.  You’ll just have to draw yourself a pint of Guinness and wait it out until end of show.

You can download the digital version of Waking Ned Devine or purchase the DVD by clicking onto the following amazon.com link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00000ILEC/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B00000ILEC&linkId=63edfd5275813ca4c34b7f2c67d6c09c

Pluses:   Funny performances from veteran actors Kelly and Bannon, who provide several laugh-out-loud moments.  Well-written story with clever denouement.  Gorgeous location shots filmed in Cregneash, Isle of Man, Ireland.

Minus:  Takes a bit of effort getting used to the Irish brogue.

Cast:  David Kelly, Ian Bannan, Fionnula Flanagan, James Nesbitt, Susan Lynch, Fintan McKeown, Jimmy Keogh, Brendan Dempsey, Eileen Dromey.

Director:  Kirk Jones

Rating:  PG (nudity, language, thematic elements)

In color

Length:  91 minutes