Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken: An Imperfect but Indisputably Powerful Tale of War (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | January 4, 2015 | Add Comments

Angelina Jolie's Unbroken (2014)Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s inconceivable based-on-a-true-story tale of WWII heroism and endurance, isn’t flawless but even it’s detractors must admit it is an indisputably wrenching epic. Jolie does fall into the cliche-pitfalls that plague the inspiring-biopic genre, but the film leaves a lasting sting that can’t be ignored.

It’s fitting that Unbroken opens with wonder that quickly dissolves into violence. The first shot, which begins with a lovely sky suitable for framing, is the start of a nerve-wracking plane battle that plunges us into World War II combat. For most of the men aboard these aircrafts, this is more than enough horror to endure. But one of the American bombardiers, Louis Zamperini, the film’s subject, is only beginning his story.

Interspersed with this jolting action set-piece are flashbacks to Zamperini’s conflicts with kid-bullies and police as a young Italian immigrant growing up in California. He’s hopeless and helpless, until his older brother gives him some inspiring encouragement. After that, he puts his liquor-swilling, money-swiping shenanigans aside, and commits himself to being a runner. By age 19, he’s achieving impossible feats of athleticism at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Later, at war, one of his plane’s crashes and he finds himself at sea, accompanied only by two fellow survivors, a few pieces of chocolate, and an ocean of sharks. 47 days later, help comes in the form of hell. Taken to a Tokyo P.O.W. camp, he’s beaten, bruised, and bullied by Watanabe, a barbarous guard known as “The Bird”. All the sweaty triumph of his youth is knocked out of him. “You are nothing” he is told.

“Stranger than fiction” only begins to describe the implausibility, inspiring story of Louis Zamperini (enough material for three films). Jolie and her screenwriters, adapting from Lauren Hillenbrand’s best-selling biography, were wise to focus on the most eventful decade of his life. Of course, all that running, fighting, enduring, and triumphing leads to the expected moments of swelling orchestral heart-tugging and brotherly words of wisdom, and the early scenes suffer especially from some expected triteness. The running sequences, while exciting, are devoid of any danger, and the slightly ridiculous Olympics scene has an unauthentic CGI gloss. Once Zamperini moves past his pre-teen mischief, Jolie finds little imperfections to show us in the character. And the final scene, meanwhile, ends on an overly positive note.

As a director, Jolie has a tough time avoiding conventionality though her filmmaking style is admiringly old-fashioned, brawny and sincere in ways that recall classic Hollywood tales of heroism. Yet it’s hard to imagine a 1940’s film with prisoner-camp scenes of such bitter brutality and unflinching power. Much criticism has been heaped upon the scenes of Zamperini taking a beating, and then another and another. It’s a hard thing to critique. Zamperini suffered through a few years of being tortured and we spend a couple hours watching a movie-version of his ordeal from the comfort of our comfy, cushioned seats. I think Jolie’s inclusion of such extensive scenes of savagery is an attempt to make us feel a smidgen of what Zamperini felt, and she might’ve worried that couldn’t have been achieved with tamer, shorter scenes of violence. Ultimately, the 140 minute Unbroken is overlong, not in specific scenes but as a tiring, weakening whole.

Angelina Jolie's Unbroken (2014)

Though it wouldn’t have hurt to have include some witty intelligence to even out the violence (what were the Coen brothers waiting for when they re-wrote the script?), there is much to admire. Jolie is as capable with tension-escalating action scenes as any seasoned male helmer, as proved by the rousing war set-pieces. But, amidst the not-too-amusing crew quipping, she also places in moments of uneasy apprehension to combat. And the sea-set scenes, which recall the recent Kon-Tiki and Life of Pi, are some of the most moving, thoughtful, and cleverly constructed in the whole movie. That’s due in no small part to cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose forceful frames beautifully capture the transition from sun-dappled optimism to watery isolation and later grimy gloom.

Jack O’Connell’s performance as Louis Zamperini, his first Hollywood lead after a few acclaaimed British dramas, has the charisma, grit, and sentimentality the role calls for. It’s a brazenly physical performance and we watch in awe as his taut physique, slick hair, and dumfounded smile fade away. The bones weaken, a beard grows messily, and his gaze loses it’s former spirit. But sheer commitment aside, O’Connell impresses most with his sheer acting chops. He’s cocky and troublesome, then thoughtful and tough, and eventually weak and frail and faded. Miyavi, as the vicious “Bird”, succeeds at getting us to plain hate him, without turning into an inane caricature. As Zamperini’s fellow survivors, Domnhall Gleason, Garret Hedlund, and Finn Witrock, bring heart-rending humanity to their vital roles.

Unbroken may be prolonged and predictably made, but Jolie’s unflagging commitment to this vast, incredible true story largely pays off. At once a predictably traditional Hollywood epic and a wrenching, undeniably powerful film of pulsing immediacy, it is an imperfect but inordinately affecting accomplishment.

The Imitation Game: Benedict Cumberbatch Amazes in Chilly, Cerebral, Cliched Biopic (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | December 27, 2014 | Add Comments

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) creates a machine to stop a deadly Enigma machine

The Imitation Game, Morten Tydlum’s chilly, cerebral new film, is about one of history’s greatest enigmas. At first glance, the film is puzzling, too. Structurally, Tydlum’s film is a combination of the typical biopic, with revealing flashbacks and character cliches, and something more structurally paradoxical and politically progressive. It opens in 1951, as police investigate the house of British mathematician/computer-scientist Alan Turing, who’s recently been robbed. We then skip back a few years, to Turing’s job interview with the no-nonsense commander of group of codebreakers hoping to solve Enigma, a deadly Nazi machine. Turing’s personality becomes immediately clear: he’s prodigiously brilliant and blazingly confident, but his machine-like intellect lacks any basic understanding of humor and social norms.

Nonetheless, Turing wins the job and is soon seen frustrating his colleagues, including the prickly Hugh (Stephen Goode), who toils away at breaking the code while he builds Christopher, a mysterious early-computer that may offer the only chance of solving Enigma. But time is running out, and Turing’s big dreams are ruined when authorities shut down his dream projet. Not one to be thwarted so easily, he convinces his team and his commanders to give him one month to crack the code of Enigma and prove the 100,000 pounds poured into Christopher were worth it. Turing and his team, along with a new code-breaker, Joan (Keira Knightley), work against time and authority to stop the war. But there’s more to the man than sheer mathematical genius; his romantic relationship with Joan masks his closeted homosexuality. For Turing, keeping his colleagues on speaking terms and his sexuality secret is as much a challenge as winning the war.

At The Imitation Game‘s center lies Benedict Cumberbatch’s poised, posh lead performance. With his perfectly combed wisps of hair, frighteningly focused green eyes, and obsessive, stammering voice,  he’s captures the brainy, unstoppable intelligence and oblivious social awkwardness of a misunderstood genius. He’s adept at code-cracking, but irony confuses him. And if he has a chance of achieving greatness, why be kind to colleagues? Cumberbatch gets it all right: his pin-point braininess; his unstoppable perfectionism; his incompatibility with coworkers; his closeted sexuality. This is a flawed film, but it’s hard to imagine anyone giving a more perfect Turing performance.

Turing works with a team of several codebreakers, but director Morten Tydlum only attempts to distinguish one: Joan Clarke, played with surprising strength and compassion by Keira Knightley. Instead of playing the oblivious one-note love interest, Knightley matches Cumberbatch’s intelligence but has the humanity he lacks. Knightley proves she’s capable of emotional depth we haven’t seen from her before, the kind missing from the rest of the supporting cast.

Director Morten Tydlum has been directing film and television for two decades, and he capably mixes elements of the biopic, the thriller, the period piece, and the war movie to create a tension-filled, emotionally-complex character piece. Working with cinematographer Oscar Faura, he gives the film crisp, attractive, but rarely noteworthy Downton Abbey-like visuals (Downtown‘s Allen Leech adds to the vibe). For a period-film, Tydlum’s one is fairly progressive, particularly in it’s frank acceptance of homosexuality, and as historical drama, it’s never less than fascinating. The film’s framing device, while initially confusing, makes for an intriguing opening, and the scenes of code-cracking have an illuminating scientific seriousness missing from this fall’s other math-genius period-piece The Theory of Everything. For the average holiday filmgoer, unfamiliar with the story, The Imitation Game will more than suffice. But Alan Turing, with his intellect, social skills, work ethic, and sexuality, was a singular man at odds with the times. This is a film, fine though it may be, that is at times frustratingly adherent to the biopic in hypocritical ways; such an unusual man deserves a more unusual film. Imagine if Tydlum had gone darker and deeper (Turing’s suicide is mentioned as an after-note), and deployed his visuals to go further inside the man. Cumberbatch’s performance would fit nicely into such a murky psychological tragedy, but a director with more filmmaking sophistication would be appreciated.

Joan (Keira Knightley) and Alan (Benedict Cumberbatch) hide their secrets in The Imitation GameInstead, we’re left with a riveting, informative, respectably crafted historical drama that ticks all the right boxes for an Oscar-baiting Weinstein crowd-pleaser. Benedict Cumberbatch’s phenomenal performance makes the film worth seeing on it’s own, but the polish-over-artistry filmmaking will leave some hungry for more. The Imitation Game breaks allthe codes to reach audience’s hearts and awards voter’s ballots, but a few puzzles remain unsolved.

The Theory of Everything (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | December 6, 2014 | Add Comments

The Theory of EverythingStephen Hawking, who was diagnosed with ALS disease in 1963 but conquered his two-year life expectancy and became an influential theoretical physicist, is not your average scientist. Luckily, The Theory of Everything, which chronicles Hawking’s marriage to Jane Wilde and significant scientific achievements, is a more sophisticated, contemplative biopic than one might expect.

As the film begins, Hawking is a socially awkward, slightly clumsy, and rather directionless Cambridge undergraduate. He meets Jane Wilde at a party, and they’re instantly charmed by one another. Then, after an ugly fall, Stephen is diagnosed with “motor-neuron disease” and told his ability to talk and walk will quickly decline. He’s confused, he’s angry, and he wants to shut out Jane from his life. She won’t let that happen, however, and promises to help him through the challenges that lay ahead.

That all sounds predictably inspiring, and it is, but the film reveals new layers as their marriage continues. As the years wear on, Jane endures alongside Stephen and suffers with him.  Eventually, she, and the audience, ask: how much of herself is she sacrificing? The youthful, unwavering love the couple initially shared becomes more fraught with tension, yet becomes something deeper, with the passing of time.

Anthony McCarten’s screenplay, adapted from Jane Hawking’s memoir, gives equal attention to both Jane and Stephen, providing a fleshed-out, two-sided relationship without male or female cliches.

It’s the performances that really make or break this type of film, and The Theory of Everything has two great ones. As Hawking, Eddie Redmayne gets ample opportunity to display his acting talent, but it’s his subtlety that makes the role heartbreaking. As his eager, intelligent vigor fades into weary sickness, Redmayne undergoes a remarkable physical transformation. His head slumps down, his hands scrunch up, and his speech slurs. Remarkably, his intellect remains untouched. Jane’s confidence, however, does not. Actress Felicity Jones shows us all her roles: loving wife, persevering companion, and apprehensive, frustrated woman. Her role may be less physically demanding than Redmayne’s, but it’s just as emotionally testing.

Science geeks interested in gleaning some new information from a Stephen Hawking biopic will be thoroughly disappointed, but it’s hard to imagine others sharing such a sentiment (for those interested, there’s Hawking’s book “A Brief History of Time”.) Director James Marsh is far more interested in complex relationships and the limits of love than he is in mathematical equations that provide a theory for everything. He’s clearly adept at working with actors, and creating a believable human love story. But, thanks to cinematographer Benoît Delhomme, the film also has a muted, lush beauty. Marsh and Delhomme are keen visual thinkers, and they imbue the soft, enchanting frames with a hazy warmth, universal grandness, and ravishing romance (as Jane and Stephen tenderly kiss, the camera lifts upwards and floats away).

That’s not to say The Theory of Everything is without it’s flaws. Some plot strands, while effective, are repetitive, and the film feels a bit slow. And the inspiring, against-all-odds story of triumph and romance, while historical and illuminating, has been seen before.

The Theory of EverythingStill, it’s easy to fall for the film which, while often hard to watch, leaves you with a sense of hope for mankind. Die-hard physicists may complain, but it’s hard to imagine a more compelling version of Hawking’s story, made within the Hollywood boundaries. Then again, you may leave the theater unsure about the “biopic” genre. How many more films about historical icons can we watch? Why do some celebrities of the past get the movie treatment and not others? The Theory of Everything is a fine film, and it gives us new insight into a famous figure. But sitting at the dinner table, you may tell your friends “I really didn’t know much about Stephen Hawking, and the film was quite informative. Oh, and the acing was phenomenal.” But didn’t you say the same thing about Lincoln? Saving Mr. BanksThe King’s Speech? Surely filmmakers have original, fictions stories to tell too? Coming soon: The Imitation Game, Mr. Turner, and Unbroken… Hmm.

Belle (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | June 10, 2014 | 2 Comments

Belle 4 Stars

Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a mixed-race adopted aristocrat who can't dine with her own family
Early on in Belle, a thoughtful and often engrossing new period drama, the title character asks her aristocrat uncle/caretaker, who happens to be William Murray the Earl of Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) a question: “Papa, how may I be too high in rank to dine with the servants, but too low to dine with my family?” So lies the central question of the film, which manages to tackle important issues of race and class but also function as a riveting romantic drama.

Belle begins at a bustling seaside port where a Royal Navy widower (Mathew Goode) reunites with his illegitimate mixed-race daughter, Elizabeth Dido Belle. Belle is then taken to England, where she will be raised by her father’s aristocrat family. After a tense argument between her father and his, she begins living a privileged life with her uncle, two aunts (played by Emily Watson and Downton Abbey‘s Penelope Wilton), and blond cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gordon). For a while, the family lives together peacefully and pleasantly.

Once Belle and Elizabeth are put on the marriage market, however, everything changes. Belle’s suitors wouldn’t dare marry someone of color, but if she doesn’t find a suitor she’ll live a life of shame. In a clever yet confusing twist, Belle has the benefit of a guaranteed inheritance, while her white cousin does not. Still, marriage problems seem trivial when Belle discovers her uncle is the judge of the Zong massacre court case, which focuses on the Zong slave ship crew that, when in low supply of water, threw some of 142 African slaves into the water. The polite and business-like Mansfield doesn’t want to go against the Zong’s insurers, who are central to British trade, despite a young British lawyer (Sam Reid) who tries to convince him otherwise. Oh, and the young lawyer is love with Belle.

The film, from Misan Sagay’s script, is part soapy love story, part tense legal drama. To great effect, director Amma Assante combines the historical elements of both genres to create an engaging and surprisingly fresh period piece.

It can’t hurt that Assante has such a talented cast to work with. As Belle, newcomer Gugu Mbath Raw is powerful and moving, while Sam Reid brings political vigour to the role of love interest. In the supporting cast, Tom Wilkinson is suitably stiff yet tender at heart and Emily Gordon, Penelope Wilton, and Sarah Gordon make layered and flawed female relatives for Belle.

Story-wise, there’s plenty of historical significance and relevant themes on display. Though the Zong massacre trial is filled with enough thought-provoking ideas for an entire movie, the film questions Belle’s suspended cultural status, portrays Mansfield as a conflicted and layered character, and pits the two cousins against a pair of nasty suitors without resorting to laughable stereotypes. One particularly saddening moment comes when the aforementioned suitors’ mother meets Belle and remarks “I had no idea she’d be so…black.” It’s Assante’s unflinching willingness to wrestle with big ideas about slavery and marriage that truly sets Belle apart.

The Wind Rises (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | April 6, 2014 | Add Comments

Jiro Hirokoshi designs airplanes and finds love in The Wind Rises (2013)Ravishing fantasy adventures that appeal to young and old have always been Japanese animation wizard Hayao Miyazaki’s trademark. Films like My Neighbor Totoro, Princess MononokeKiki’s Delivery ServiceSpirited AwayHowl’s Moving CastlePonyo, and others have gained him international acclaim, a legion of fans, and an Oscar. Personally, I’ve always been a fan; his films’ childlike wonder and sometimes philosophical themes are a always a nice refresher from the crass glut of American CGI.

Miyazaki’s latest film, The Wind Rises, is also his last (you may recognize the title; the film was nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Oscars). Moving away from make-believe worlds of wonder, the film is loosely based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, a designer and engineer of many Japanese fighters during World War II. The film follows Jiro, from childhood and college, to designing and engineering, past earthquakes, death, and war. Dream sequences, a trip to Germany, failure, innovation, and romance are all on the menu in this epic wartime love story.

With such success with his “kids movies”, you might think Miyazaki would falter with a serious historical drama rated PG-13. And if you thought that…you’d be wrong. The Wind Rises is easily one of his best works, filled with character, depth, and subtext that will probably reward repeated viewings. Like always, the animation itself is the most impressive aspect of the film (and that’s not a bad thing). Miyizakaki, and his Studio Ghibli, have made visual leaps and bounds since My Neighbor Totoro, released 25 years ago. Backgrounds don’t look grainy, characters no longer have a cute simplicity, and fast-moving action has lost the blurriness of yore. Though the less complex technology worked with his previous films, it almost feels like Miyizaki couldn’t have made Wind Rises until now. The sumptuous, rich visuals have 3-D dimensional scope that wows you in every shot. The movie is like a thousand gorgeous paintings: it could be silent film and still be a must-see.

Perhaps that is what makes the rest of the film so impressive. The brain has as much to think about here as the eyes have to see. Miyizakaki’s script is thoughtful and ponderous, with a lot to say about life, love, and war. Most interesting is the exploration of the relationship between man and machine. Jiro builds planes of beauty and complexity, only to watch them be flown off to kill, kill, kill. By creating these planes, is he encouraging war? Or is he simply designing masterpieces of engineering? There’s so much to chew on here and the filmmakers want you bite it all off.

Wind Rises is also peppered with a strong cast of supporting characters: Jiro’s younger sister, his boss, his best friend, and, maybe most fascinating of all, an on-the-run criminal staying at a nice hotel. In telling the story of a man’s life, it’s inevitable for a film to drag a bit here and there. Near the middle, Wind Rises is a little slow but its meandering feel makes it a unique achievement. It’s like we’re living with main character, watching the world from inside his head.

What a way to go out! The Wind Rises‘ arresting animation and contemplative story make this a true masterpiece and one of the best animated films in recent years. Farewell Miyazaki and thanks for the ride.

Lee Daniel’s The Butler (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | August 30, 2013 | Add Comments

Robin Williams and Forest Whitaker in Lee Daniel's The Buter (2013)3 Stars

Lee Daniel’s The Butler, the recently opened historical drama, is formulaic but sometimes fascinating. The film tells the true story of Cecil Gaines (forest Whitaker), the butler of the White House for seven presidents. We start off with Cecil as an 8 year old boy working on a cotton farm. After his parents meet grisly fates, Cecil finds work as a hotel butler. But after being laid off, he gets a job as a butler at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue where he witnesses landmarks in history. He talks about not going to school with Eisenhower (Robin Williams). He realizes that Kennedy (James Marsden) has been shot in 1963. He takes orders from a toilet bound Johnson (Liev Schrieber), overhears Nixon’s (John Cusack) conversations, and gets invited to a dinner by Nancy Reagan (Jane Fonda). In the midst of these historic times, Cecil also copes with family issues with his alcoholic wife (Oprah Winfrey) and two sons: radical Freedom Fighter Louis (David Oleyowo) and Vietnam soldier Charlie (Elijah Kelley).

Forest Whitaker in Lee Daniel's The Butler (2013)I was really looking forward to this film. It seemed to have a strong cast, an Oscar nominated director, and a fascinating true story! But walking out of the theater, I was disappointed. The major problem is that Cecil’s son Louis is a more sympathetic character than Cecil himself. Oleyowo is an incredible actor and this role is a fine showcase for his talents, after a bit parts in recent big films like Lincoln, The Help, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Meanwhile, Whitaker has some astonishing moments but for the most part is subtle in a way that’s plain uninteresting, unlike the commanding presence of Oleyowo. On top of that, Cecil is mad at Louis for most of the movie which makes him rather unlikable. In fact, for much of the film I was wishing I was watching Louis’ story.

Another problem is the script, which rushes through too much, too fast. Two of the presidents Cecil served (Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter) are reduced to second-long newsreel flashes on a TV screen. And each president we do see gets a few quick scenes and one memorable conversation with Cecil, at best. The movie’s dialogue is also plain lackluster, especially in the early scenes. And of course, since this is a Hollywood drama, the film is narrated by an older Cecil.

Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker in The Butler (2013)The actors who play the presidents are a mixed bunch. For one thing, none of the actors look anything like their real life counterparts. With that in mind, some of the performances aren’t bad but almost all have at least one moment that verges on laughable. The strongest of the bunch is Alan Rickman as Reagan, who most matches his historical figure, but even he is far from a lookalike. The rest of the cast is fine but has little to do: Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Terrence Howard, and, most prominently, Oprah Winfrey.

As you can tell, I didn’t love the film. But I didn’t hate it either. For example, the 130 minute length isn’t a problem and, with some worthy material, I wouldn’t have minded a few extra scenes. This one of the few films I’ve seen that might be a bit too short. Also, the film features about 15 “Cry Here!” scenes and most of them feature bland dialogue and heavy handed acting, but some are truly affecting. There’s also some laughs that are genuinely funny, plus a fun, retro soundtrack that works incredibly well.

Overall, The Butler works as a fun, shallow, sure fire crowd pleaser. But it doesn’t work as a thoughtful drama. Yes, it’s ahead of some “Based on a True Story” sap-fests but, despite some affecting scenes, this isn’t what you’d expect from a film with such high-caliber talent. Nonetheless, audiences have been flocking to see it and, who knows, you might love it. But I wouldn’t elect it anything more than 3 stars.

The Top Ten Films of 2012…and more! (Flick’s List)

Posted on | February 8, 2013 | 4 Comments

We’ve never done it before, never, not for any other year. But all of the other critics do it and we believe the time has come. It’s time to list the top ten films of the year. Below, you can find my top picks. So, what’s the “…and more!”? Well that would be some awards that will be given to the Worst Film of the Year, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director. Enjoy! I hope to be posting more posts in the rest of the new year!

First, a word or two describing the year. 2011 was widely considered a terrible year for movies. Personally, I think there were some great spectacles, but, similar to this year, there were also many disappointments. All in all, I would say this year was a better year than last. That is not to say that there were no disappointments. In fact there were several films that I was highly anticipating, that dropped my excitement on the floor.

This was not the year of the spectacle. Many of those let-down films that I mentioned are big, explosive blockbusters. The summer was an unfortunate time for films, but the fall and winter films took the torch to a higher level. So what was this year? This was the year of the small (some large) films that put storytelling first. They didn’t use action sequences and laugh-out-loud jokes to carry the film on their shoulders. No, they used them to build your interest in the story. The films weren’t afraid to have A+ list actors sit in a room and talk for 150 minutes. The films weren’t afraid to build tension during cinematic reincarnations of events that we already know will turn out this way or that way. The films on my top ten list all did one thing in common: they told stories of different scales with one common goal. That goal was to keep the audience wanting more. I’m not saying that we need another sequel. What I mean is these were the films that I responded to…and will treasure over time. But before my list…The other lists!

The Other Top Ten Lists

Below are links to other critics thoughts on the year in film. Some are ten best lists while others are just thoughts and some are both, plus some are even audio. Enjoy!

David Edelstein (New York Magazine/Fresh AirRead the list from New York Magazine here. Listen to his thoughts on Fresh Air here.

A.O. Scott  (The New York Times)

Manhola Dargis (The New York Times)

Stephen Holden  (The New York Times)

Michael Phillips (The Chicago Tribune)

Josh Larsen (Larsen on Film)

David Denby (The New Yorker)

Anthony Lane (The New Yorker)

Adam Kempennar and more (Filmspotting) Listen to Part 1 here. Listen to Part 2 here.

Bob Mondello (All Things Considered)

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter) Read his thoughts here.

Empire Magazine 

Total Film Magazine 

Ty Burr (The Boston Globe)

Wesley Morris (The Boston Globe)

Roger Ebert (The Chicago Sun-Times)

The Top Ten Films of the Year

10. Frankenweenie

Tim Burton’s ode to classic monster movies beautifully blends sentimentality with purposefully cheesy scares. It features a wonderful opening scene that I won’t spoil here. All I’ll say is that, of every moment in the film, the opening showcases Burton’s wildly funny imagination the best. The rest of the film isn’t quite up to your average Burton par, but it’s still enjoyable fun.

9. The Amazing Spider Man

It’s not the best action film of the year (save that for my next pick), but it’s one spot away (second place!), and an entertaining film at that. It was the only summer spectacle that not only met my expectations, but also took them and threw them out of the window. The film features several mind-blowing action sequences (large poles falling down, a scientist turned lizard, etc.) that may not have revolutionized visual effects, but certainly filled the spot of “Lack of Massive Summer Blockbuster”.

8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson’s decision to adapt J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit into two films scared some people out of their minds. But that shock was much smaller than a baby Hobbit compared to the level of surprise when Jackson announced that there would be not two films, but three. Whatever you think about Jackson’s decision, we can only judge the first film. So…let’s judge! Despite that looming dread in the back of my head (“There’s two more coming! Two more coming! Two more coming!”), I managed to enjoy most of the film It’s worth the extra money for the IMAX and 3-D, and despite the overly lengthy battle sequences (“Just throw the rocks already!” raced through my mind), this is an enjoyable romp through the mystical world that Tolkein and Jackson have magically created.

7. Moonrise Kingdom

An extraordinary achievement from a director who managed to blend story with humor, style with substance in this indie wonder. Wes Anderson is the man I am talking about. Anderson only overdoes the story with style a few times, and even those segments are entertaining because of the style overdose. Mostly though, he creates cinematic feats of marvel without using $250 million. Anderson has the ability to create entertaining moments out of small two person conversations, and that is unfortunately a rare however delicate skill.

6. Argo

A tense, politically personal thriller-drama that’s expertly crafted. The entire first three and a half quarters of the film are fabulous. Is it possible to have your heart racing, as you’re laughing? Director and star, Ben Affleck proves it is. The amazingly funny scene stealers are Alan Arkin and John Goodman, although Affleck does underuse them somewhat. The only major weakness of the film is the climax. Affleck makes the final moment so obviously fictional that I shivered in my seat. Other than that though, high marks to Mr. Affleck!

5. Life of Pi

While it doesn’t quite rise to the full potential that Yann Martel’s stunning novel gives, it is still a visual masterpiece and for what we have here, Ang Lee and his screenwriter, David Magee, do a good job with keeping everythng straight. The 3-D is the best I have ever seen and this is a competitor for my favorite visuals in a film of this year. (The only other close contenders areThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Amazing Spider Man.)

4. Les Miserables

Forget what they said. The critics were wrong. “A tasteless bombardment” and “I screamed a scream as time went by” were two of many criticisms that critics threw at this film. But, I heartily disagree. The only reason why you could possibly not like the film is because of the camera-on-a-rope effect that is slightly overdone and, of course, if you don’t like the music, then you won’t like it anymore after sitting in the dark for nearly three hours. But I love the music and the film. Tom Hooper’s decision to actually sing live (on set), was a great one because it pulls out the true emotion in the actors which forces us to feel like we’re sitting just above a Broadway stage. All of the actors are wonderful, especially Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. And while Russel Crowe doesn’t have quite as perfectly rounded a voice as Jackman and Hathaway, he can sing. I dreamed a dream that time went by and this remained…CLASSICCCCCCCCCCC!!!!!!!!!!!!

3. Searching For Sugar Man

Searching For Sugar Man is in my opinion the best doccumentary of 2012. There were many other good ones, but this one prevails. It takes the story of an American musician who, ironically, failed in America but was a big success in South Africa and then…He shot himself in front of an audience at the end of a performance. But the film searches for the musician who went by the name Rodriguez. The story is fascinating and as a South African record store owner and music journalist come closer and closer to the truth, the pulse pounding kicks in. And boy does it kick hard. The film doesn’t only tell a fascinating story, but it also tells it well. On top of it all, Rodriguez’s music is wonderful and fortunately director Malik Bendjelloul isn’t afraid to incorporate Rodriguez’s music into the story, this giving the film a breaking-the-boundaries-of-doccumentaries feel. When the credits roll you are left with Rodriguez strumming his guitar and singing his pesimistic, yet amazing lyrics. “Sugar man” he sings. “Oh my gosh!” I respond, in awe of a riveting tale.

2. Lincoln

Steven Spielberg has a wide range: sci-fi ’70s action films to Indy & co. adventures to gritty warfare violence. But I didn’t think he could do this. Here, Spielberg manages to shift the focus in key moments from Lincoln to other vital characters. He also manages to do what, judging from the trailer, everyone thought impossible: turn Lincoln from giant legend statue to intimate, understanding, man. Best of all is Daniel Day-Lewis’ unflinching portait of Lincoln that is without a doubt mesmerizingly real. The screenplay by Tony Kushner, I agree with the critics, does feel more like a play than a film. That doesn’t mean that Spielberg loses sight of his usually cinematic camera angles. In a year of films that ranged from the plain awful to the cream of a very good crop, Lincoln managed to battle it’s way to second place. It is a sincere and beautiful film, not because it involves $250 million effects (which it doesn’t), but because Spielberg and his team took their time. In doing so they have created a film that is beatiful because it is so unlike anything else. It is a real masterpiece.

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Raw. It’s definition: “a material or substance in it’s natural state; not yet processed or purified”. That’s how I would describe Beasts of the Southern Wild. It is directed by a debut director and it stars an adult who is a debut and…Quvenzhanè Wallis. Possibly the best performance of the year, as it is unrivaled in realistic feeling. By the way, she was five when she shot it and had never acted in anything before. And the film was shot with just under $2 million. And yet Zeitlin manages to capture truly wonderful acting in order to ground the film in raw, stark reality. The first time I watched the film, I was under impressed, but the second time, the film was totally different to me. Now, I can’t wait to see it for a third time.

The Year Roundup

I hope you enjoyed my list of the top ten films of the year. But no worries: it’s not time to say goodbye yet! Oh no! To give light to other films that didn’t crack the top ten, but were brilliant or horrible in their own way, I have decided to list off some achievements. Let’s start with the worst of the worst.

Worst Film: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

I love Dr. Seuss’ playful and funny books, his wit and his humor that travels to all ages. But this animated film is the opposite. Here we get a piece of tasteless trash. A despicable film this is. Not only does it not do justice to a timeless book, it seems as if the filmmakers are prurposefully trying to make this a terrible experience for the audience: it’s unbelievably that bad! The songs are tastelessly antagonizing the already boring film. Am I overwhelming you with terribly awful adjectives? I am sorry, but this film deserves them. There is however one redeeming element to the film: it’s a very short 86 minutes!

Thoughts on Performances of the Year:

This year was a great one for performances. They ranged from debut breakouts that include Suraj Sharma to Ben Affleck sporting a ’70s hairdo to Hugh Jackman singing at the top of his lungs. Some actors and actresses starred in many films like the Hemsworth brothers, Liam and Chris. (Liam appeared in three films: The Hunger Games, The Expendables 2, and Love and Honor. Chris on the other hand, tied his brother’s amount of films and appeared in The Avengers, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Red Dawn.) But my favorite actor and actress of the year both appeared in one film. The actor nearly didn’t get the part, not because he wasn’t offered it, but because he dismissed it. Once he accepted, he researched the role for one year. The actress had nothing to research. She did the audition. Two days later, her mother gets a phone call. She got the part. Both performances are massively different, but both are, in my opinion, truly wonderful works of acting. Here they are.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

I have never seen an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis. This is the only film I’ve seen him in, but while and after watching him, I could feel Lincoln. Lincoln is one of the most loved American presidents of all time. He is one of the most famous people of all time. He died one of the most tragic deaths of all time. How do you translate all of that into one film, more precisely one performance? You don’t. You focus on one task out of a trillion and make that performance a nail biting “How did he pull that off?” craze. In a year of great male performances, this one arose from the rest because of Day-Lewis’ sheer skill.

Best Actress: Quvenzhanè Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

“Come on! She was five years old when she shot the film!” If you haven’t seen the film, that is what must be racing through your mind. That’s exactly what I thought when I heard the buzz. There were definitely many great performances from adult women this year, so why did this youngster surpass them all? I highly doubt that Wallis was aiming for perfection. I think she was just doing her best. But there is a raw intensity that she posses. It’s far too raw for some; many people don’t enjoy watching something so real. But I love it. I love the overwhelming expressions that spread across Wallis’ face as her character, Hushpuppy, experiences many things that your average 5 year-old wouldn’t be able to handle. This is barely a performance: to me it registers more as a 5 year-old being put on camera, acting as she always would. This is probably part of Wallis’ genius.

Thoughts on Directors: I’ve already talked about the great performances of the year, but now the question has come: how are these films crafted so greatly? They are directed by a great director. Also, the entire film. From the special effects to the score to the cinematography; it comes down to the director to make the final decision. The greatest directors of this year are the ones who have been able to take the stories and make them something of their own. They put their style into it. Lincoln wouldn’t have been the same if it was directed by Benh Zeitlin or Terrence Malick or Martin Scorsese or Tim Burton. As you read those names you must be thinking “I can’t even imagine the film with those directors at the helm!”. That’s my point! Spielberg makes Lincoln his own film. But what about some other directors who are just starting out. Take for example Malik Bendjelloul (Searching For Sugar Man) or Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man). Are they just as good? Judging from this year, yes. But my No. 1 pick just barely manages to rise above the rest.

Best Director: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Although Beasts of the Southern Wild managed to beat out Lincoln for my favorite film of the year, Spielberg managed to beat Zeitlin for my favorite director. Why? Because, with Lincoln, I sense Spielberg is moving into a new phase of his career. Is this enough for me to award him as being the best director of the year? No. But this phase, judging from this film, will be a wonderful one, an absolutely great one. Spielberg garners great performances from his actors, but so does Zeitlin! Yes, but I think Wallis is more responsible for her performance than Zeitlin. I think Spielberg is very much responsible for not only Day Lewis’ performance, but the entire ensemble’s performance. Spielberg has so much to deal with: keeping John Williams’ score hearty and exciting, but reserved, keeping the editing in sync with the film’s long, slowly drawn out pace, not allowing for Janusz Kaminski to get too fancy with the camera work, and of course getting the most emotional, dramatic, yet real performances out of the talented cast. And he pulls it off. Every nitty-gritty trick, it’s all there.

With that, I hope you’ve enjoyed my year end-wrap up extravaganza. It was probably the hardest post to write out of any that I have written. It’s also just about the longest (or pretty close) post I ever wrote. But, I think it was worth it. Was it? (Comment below! COMMENT BELOW!!!!!) Until the next post…”That’s all folks!” (Trust me, that’s really all there is left to say.)

Lincoln (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | December 2, 2012 | 6 Comments

Lincoln (2012)5 Stars

Lincoln tells the inspiring true story of Abraham Lincoln and his attempt to persuade the House of Representatives to vote for the 13th Amendment.   In doing so slavery will be abolished. If Lincoln loses the vote he will have to wait until the war is over. And if the Union wins and the South rejoins the US, the South will surely vote against the Amendment. You probably already know how the vote turns out but you don’t know how Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward, and others try to persuade Democrats to help pass the Amendment. The time is mid 1860’s and the Civil War is almost over.

Steven Spielberg directs this movie. Along with the rest of the crew one of his greatest achievements in the film is accurately representing the mid 1860’s. The filmmakers create an impeccably authentic sense of time and place by vividly rendering everything from the way people talked to how African Americans were treated. All of the actors talk in a way that seemed surprisingly modern to me but since I didn’t live when the film was set I can’t criticize this aspect. Everyone who made this movie should definitely be commended for their historical accuracy. Clothing, a Civil War battle scene: the film is shockingly realistic. There are a few factual errors and goofs but none that would be painfully noticeable to a regular non-historian moviegoer. And at least Lincoln rides in a buggy rather than a VW Bug.

Lincoln (2012)
The story and events in the film are also highly factual (despite some inaccuracies). But the story itself is what makes the film so great. Anyone who knows a single thing about history will know how the climactic final vote turns out but it’s hard not to be wrapped up in the suspense. Steven Spielberg directs the film like the pro he really is. Many people are saying it’s the best film he’s made in a decade. While he is my favorite director, many of his films I haven’t seen (not because I don’t want to) simply because I’m not allowed to watch them yet. Apart from Lincoln I’ve only seen three of his films of the 2000’s. They are in chronological order: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), The Adventures of Tintin (2011), and War Horse (2011). Lincoln is definitely better than the first two (albeit respectable films) but I might need to see the criminally underatted War Horse again to compare. It’s a simpler movie that you can enjoy without knowing all about the politics of a century and a half ago.

But back to the direction of Lincoln. Spielberg puts together all of his pieces in a way that reminds me of Ulysses. S. Grant commanding all of his Union soldiers. Everything is carefully constructed with the kind of precision I imagine this film must have been some very hard work for Spielberg. He has said he can direct Indiana Jones-type action flicks in his sleep. That can’t be true. Even for one of the most advanced filmmakers of all time every project comes with a new challenge. But I made an educated guess that he meant only action films like nothing he’d ever done before (an IMAX 3-D motion capture family film like the animated Tintin)  will from now on be added too his resume. Maybe that’s a good choice, though I’d love to see a fifth and final, nostalgically fun and Mutt-free, new Indy movie of course starring Harrison Ford. But for Lincoln Spielberg spent 12 years doing researching (while making other movies). I’m surprised it took that long though he wasn’t studying nonstop. Nonetheless his research shows. But was this film fun to make for him? I’d need to ask myself to find the true answer (something I’d love to do) but I’m guessing yes, in a way. The film was probably difficult and stressful at times yet rewarding and fascinating at others. And yet no matter how hard it is to create celluloid gold when a director is on the red carpet for their film’s premiere I am sure they are undeniably happy because it is at a time before people have had a chance to say their opinions of the new film. When Lincoln premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 8th  I’m sure Spielberg was a bit nervous but boy did it pay off.

Research, overseeing, and orchestrating all tiny parts were probably the three most important parts for Spielberg on this film. But every other department on the film is equally great. Most notably of course are the actors. Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic in a part originally intended for Liam Neeson but was changed to Day-Lewis when Neeson was considered too old, though only five years his senior. Day-Lewis is perfect as Lincoln. Many critics have said he’s the real thing, so to speak, but no one knows the truth. If I’m not mistaken there aren’t any living film critics from a little over 150 years ago. But based  what historians have told us and photos have shown us Day-Lewis is really the real thing. He nails the part. And in fact he might be a better way to study Lincoln than any 100% factually correct history book. Every muscle movement just seems right. Only a few flaws of Lincoln are shown. Was he really so perfect? Probably not. But no one wants to create fake bad things to say about the man and that’s a good thing. I can’t imagine anyone else playing this part as well as Day-Lewis does. This is the first film I’ve seen him in and I can already see why people are calling him our greatest living actor. He’s won two Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscars: first for Gangs of New York (2002) and then for There Will Be Blood (2007). He’s also been nominated for two Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscars: first for his breakout role in My Left Foot (1989) and then for In The Name of the Father (1993). He’ll definitely get nominated as Best Actor for Lincoln and surely win.

Mary Todd Lincoln (2012)
As for the rest of the cast there are plenty accolade deserving turns. As Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, Sally Fields turns in a quietly understated performance much like Day-Lewis’. She doesn’t get alot of screen time but is memorable in her scenes. The only other female in a promininent role is Elizabeth Keckley Gloria Reuben, who has only done B-movie action films and ER up until this point. Entertainment Weekly’s Oscar predictor Anthony Brenzican listed her as a “Consider This” possibility for Best Supporting Actress. While she has two big moments her work in the film was a little too supporting for my taste and I think Fields deserves the Oscar.

The rest of the cast is dominated by talky male politicians: David Strathairn as William Seward, Secretary of State and Lincoln’s right hand man with conflicting ideas; Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair, another older helper in stopping slavery; James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson, hired hands and drunken lobbyists; Michael Stuhlbarg as George Yeamen, a quiet politician with beliefs that transform; and many more nameless characters. These are all great performances.

But then there’s Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, a fierce fast talker of an all out abolitionist. Jones plays the character as a man who isn’t afraid to get across his point. In a scene of verbal jousting with Mary Todd Lincoln, Stevens surprised me by being rather confrontational with the First Lady. After the two moderate summer smashes (for their expectations) Jones is back in Oscar form. He is great as K in the Men In Black trilogy, and critics liked him for reprising that role in Men in Black 3, and playing Arnold in Hope Springs. But the pure energy Jones gives this character makes him a top contender for Best Supporting Actor.

As Lincoln’s children we see Joseph Gordon-Levitt finely playing Robert and Gulliver Mcgrath turning in a wonderful small role, though I wish he had one big emotional moment to show off his acting chops. Since it’s such a long and packed movie there’s not really any space for extra character development. That’s okay; there’s nothing I’d cut and I’m not asking for a 3 hour movie.

I hope the movie will win the Best Ensemble Cast award at the SAGs. But for individual Oscars Sally Fields may win Best Supporting Actress and Tommy Lee Jones has an even better shot at winning Best Supporting Actor. And in a busy Best Actor race Daniel-Day Lewis will claim that prize for sheer historical accuracy alone.

The script of the film by Tony Kushner is undeniably brilliant. The sharp Congress arguments, the solemn presidential speeches, and the funny “stories” are all terrifically written. Kushner does a great job and he’s already started a new Spielberg script that nobody knows about. Perhaps he could be Spielberg’s new great collaborator.

Walking Lincoln (2012)I’m now going to not technically spoil anything but those who have never heard of the death of Lincoln should stop reading! As for the final scene I was surprised we didn’t see Lincoln get shot. There’s already plenty of other disturbing scenes and you’re expected to know about the horrors of war and death going in. But the part that bothers me more is the flashback choice. In a well spoken and written speech we see Lincoln adress fellow politicians. But I already forget what he said. The Gettysburg Adress would have have been a good one to use, considering it’s perhaps his most quotable. But that could be a little over the top. Maybe a flashback to the scene a minute before where Lincoln hauntingly walks down an empty hallway to the theater. The film could’ve ended there. Another bothersome image is when the scene transitions from the candle to Lincoln’s face because it looks awfully weird. A much better ending would be after we see Willie screaming at the theater we then cut to a quick shot of people remorsing over Lincoln’s body. Then we see Lincoln walking down the corridor. And then a cut to a shot of Lincoln’s face. Then the credits roll.

Lincoln Clock (2012)There’s also no special effects and only one minor battle scene. And even the battle scene is less than a minute not an unnecessarily overlong set-piece. In fact the fight is more of a blurry flashback and probably took a day to shoot during the film’s 3 and a half month production (rather short, I feel). Meanwhile, the sounds are mainly real. The ticking of Lincoln’s clock is the real ticking. But of all of the sounds blend in which shows that the audio mixers did a great job because they didn’t draw attention to realistic noises during dramatic scenes. One type of sound that is often under the spotlight is John William’s seriously subdued score. Many have complained it’s too loud and annoying but apart from the terrific theme song William’s blends the music in with everything else.

My favorite scene is the voting climax. It’s thrilling even though I (and all decently educated people) knew what was going to happen. All of the elements blend together adding up to a thrilling whole. My other equally favorite scene is the opening. It’s very well put together. We see the horrors of the Civil War, preparing us so that we understand what people are talking about for the rest of the film. We also watch Lincoln baffled by strong minded African American soldiers and some vain white ones as well. And then finally one of the African Americans walks away reciting the Gettysburg Address. This scene is a perfect summation of why the film makes history down to earth, fascinating, and enthrallng. And that music doesn’t hurt either.

My favorite character is…..hmmmm. Oh yes! There’s a guy named Abraham Lincoln in the film. He’s portrayed as a magnificent man by Daniel-Day Lewis and we also get to see his sad side as well.

The MPAA has rated Lincoln PG-13 for a scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language. Anyone studying Lincoln, slavery, or the Civil War will not see anything worse than what they’ve studied. Kids watching the film might be bored if they’re expecting an action fest (so don’t). Everyone will be occasionally disgusted by the horrific images of war. Some kids and adults will be glued to the screen thanks to the constant debating, historical significance, and gloriously old fashioned spectacle. Anyone over 12 is probably fine. I’d rate it PG-13 for the same reasons as the MPAA as well as a little more than brief strong language.

Lincoln debating (2012)Combine the witty, fascinating script by Tony Kushner, John William’s stirring score, the wonderful adaption of Doris Kearne Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, a mindblowingly magnificent cast, and the epic direction of Steven Spielberg and you’ve got an excellent historical drama. I think it’ll be Argo vs Lincoln for Best Picture and for now I can’t decide which I love more. Go see this movie if you want to know why 2012 is a great year for movies and why Spielberg is our greatest living director. See it to discover the reasons Lincoln is still remembered today. He was smart, savvy, truthful, inquiring, sophisticated, and gave everyone a chance to talk. He was our 16th President. He was Abraham Lincoln. Go see this movie. To be honest I haven’t seen a more classically cinemactic movie all year.

Lawrence of Arabia (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | October 22, 2012 | 1 Comment

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)Lawrence of Arabia tells the epic true story of T.E. Lawrence, who is serving in the British Military during World War 1. It opens with him riding on a motorcycle, crashing, and getting himself killed. At his funeral men comment on the legend and the movie goes back in time to tell his tale. At first he is seemingly expendable but he is then acclaimed as a hero and a leader, and is worshiped by the British and Arabs alike. But Lawrence’s adventures are dangerous, life threatening, and (for him) exciting. He pushes himself by doing unimaginable things such as extinguishing a match with his fingers, not drinking water while in the desert even though he is being offered some, and traveling long distances in the desert. He meets many people during the war: Sherif Ali, a fellow fighter, Auda Abu Tayi, a tribe leader, Prince Feisal, a thoughtful leader, Turkish Bey, an evil man who tortures him, General Allenby and Colonel Brighton, two English officers, Mr. Dydren, an English leader, Jackson Bentley, an English journalist and photographer, and many others. As he goes mad, how long will Lawrence last in the tiresome, treacherous, and explosive war?

Lawrence Of Arabia is simply masterful. And that’s why 50 years after it’s worldwide premiere in London on December 16th, 1962 it’s still a classic. On Thursday, October 4th this year, the movie was re-released for special one day only showings in the US. Despite this terrible scheduling (it should have shown for many months or at least a special weekend) I got the chance to see the film on the big screen. And in a way you have never seen it before. The movie was restored looking better than any of the previous restorations. In addition there was behind the scenes footage including a few words (literally) from Omar Sharif one of the stars, an introduction from Martin Scorsese in which he talks about his experiences viewing the movie, footage of the crew shooting in the dessert, technicians telling about the process of 4K, and a video of stars arriving at the premiere of the film. And lastly I had only seen the movie once before, earlier this year at home on a TV, but no matter how terrific your TV is there is absolutely nothing that rivals seeing Lawrence Of Arabia on the big screen.

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)The movie was incredibly difficult to make. It was shot in the desert and there wasn’t always a script when it was being shot. Peter O’Toole, who plays T. E. Lawrence, nearly got killed when he fell of his camel and extra’s horses almost trampled him. He also hurt his hand and needed a bandage. During production I’m not sure if the cast and crew thought it was worth it just to make a movie. Many of the lead actors had other films they were also appearing in that were being released the same year as Lawrence and might have been wondering what would make this one so special. Peter O’Toole was the lead of a movie for the first time after acting in bit parts in a few films in the early 1960’s. But O’Toole wasn’t the original choice for the part. Antony Perkins and Montgomery Clift were briefly considered, Marlon Brando was offered the part but said he didn’t want to spend two years of his life riding a camel. Alec Guinness (who played Lawrence in a play titled Ross) was asked but then thought of to be too old, and Albert Finney, an unknown at the time, was the first choice. But after seeing O’Toole in The Day They Robbed The Bank Of England and viewing his stunning screen test, David Lean proclaimed “This is Lawrence”. In fact there were many things that made this production unusual as well. David Lean has been quoted as saying that most movement in the film is from left to right to emphasize that the story is about a journey. Lean also called Omar Sharif “Fred”, during the shooting phase because he told him “No one in the world is called Omar Sharif. Your name must be Fred.” Lean never watched dailies until editing and missed only one day of work even though many cast and crew members endured illnesses. There isn’t a single woman who speaks a line of dialogue in the entire movie. To discover more about the making of Lawrence of Arabia go to the IMDB trivia page  to learn more about one of the most fascinating productions of all time. It would be great if someone made a movie about the making of this one (documentary or otherwise).

Despite this odd, harrowing, and difficult production, I’d say it was all worth it. Especially on the big screen. Never has a film been better on the big screen. The desert visuals, sweeping train explosion, beautiful panoramic shots, and the loud, terrific, catchy score all combine to create a movie going experience unlike any other. Oh and it doesn’t hurt to throw in a bucket of popcorn, some nonpareals, a nice salty pretzel, a couple chocolate chip cookies, and a bottle of nice cold water, in case you get stuck in the desert watching the movie.

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)David Lean is undoubtedly one of the finest directors who ever lived and this film proves it. Though I haven’t seen any of his other work, except for the 1946 Great Expectations, he is also famous for The Bridge On The River Kwai, A Passage To India, Doctor Zhivago, Brief Encounter, Oliver Twist, and more. Lean does a great job handling all the elements of Lawrence of Arabia: the action scenes, stunning visuals, and existential pondering as well as the script, acting, music, cinematography, editing, and other mandatory parts of a movie production. There is an epic train explosion and stunning visuals but the story about the heart of Lawrence is what drives the film. In the introduction by Martin Scorsese he says that David Lean was quoted as saying that he never felt he finished editing the movie but when I watched it the movie seemed complete if not rock solid, masterfully finished. Everything about the movie seems definite and planned out. That’s a good thing. However I do understand Lean’s comment. In some respects because the story is focused only on Lawrence’s time in the War. He may have deemed it incomplete because it is not a full biopic. Rather it only focuses on the most important part in Lawrence’s life and maybe that was the right choice. The screenwriters Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson might have thought the rest of this legendary man’s life was uninteresting and boring. Although based on the film that ended up being made, I doubt that any unused ideas were anything less than thrilling pieces of exemplary cinema.

The cast is incredible. The supporting actors are mostly seasoned professionals, if not at the time big stars in the US: Alec Guiness, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, and more. The cast is great and the film simply wouldn’t be the same without them. But this is a character study of one man. Lawrence. And O’Toole delivers. If you didn’t know that this was his first starring role you certainly wouldn’t be able to guess when you’re watching the movie. He dissolves into the role, embodies the character, and brings great depth. It’s a realistic and iconic performance.

The musical score captures the rousing, heroic feeling that Lawrence feels and makes you feel it too. Without the music the film simply wouldn’t be the classic that it is. Maurice Jarre, the composer, demonstrates what music can do to movies. It can enhance them. Sear them into your mind (that’s a great thing in this case). How could you forget Lawrence running across the desert with hundreds of other men about to plunder a train that has just been blown up as the theme is playing loudly and magnificently. These stunning images solidify the film as classic.

My favorite character is Lawrence. There’s really no other choice, despite the great acting and interesting complexities of the supporting characters and cast. Peter O’Toole is, as previously mentioned, amazing, but there is much to be said about the character as well. Is he good or bad? Well it’s not that simple in this kind of movie. Which is what makes it so great. Amongst the beautiful desert vistas is a study of a man’s soul.

My favorite scene is when Lawrence and one of his two young helpers return, after going back to find a lost man who turns out to be dead.  The cinematography is stunning and the theme song is once again excellently used here.

The film is rated PG by the MPAA. I would rate it PG-13 for some war violence, bloody images, brief bad language, complex situations, and a scene of intense torture. Anybody 9 and up with a long attention span and a strong love of history and movies will enjoy this film.

Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)Anchored by a whirlwind central performance and peppered with a superb supporting cast, this is a film that still holds up after half a century. David Lean ingeniously assembles all of his pieces for this one of a kind masterpiece. One of my favorite movies of all time Lawrence Of Arabia is epic, exciting, excellent, existential, and extremely entertaining. The trick is not minding that it’s long.

Stay tuned for an interview with a Political Science Professor (our grandfather) who we interviewed about this movie.

Lincoln Trailer Premieres Tommorow

Posted on | September 12, 2012 | 4 Comments

LincolnOn Thursday September 13th go to Google Plus to view a live chat with Steven Spielberg and Joseph Gordon-Levvitt as they talk about their new film Lincoln at 7:00pm, based on the book Team of Rivals. You will also be able to see the premiere of the trailer. I’m not sure if it will be archived so don’t forget to watch it live. Lincoln stars Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sally Fields, and Tommy Lee Jones in other roles. It will be released in limited release November 9th and wide release on November 16th.

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