"Of all the arts, movies are the most powerful aid to empathy, and good ones make us better people."
-- Roger Ebert, The Great Movies

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Top Hat


  • Title:  Top Hat
  • Director:  Mark Sandrich
  • Date:  1935
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre:  Musical, Comedy, Romance
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Helen Broderick
  • Words and Music:  Irving Berlin
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"Oh, that call wasn't for me, it was for you. Somebody has registered a complaint." - Horace Hardwicke (Edward Everett Horton)
"I know! I've just seen the complaint and she's lovely, she's delightful, she's charming, and she wants to sleep." - Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire)

"May I rescue you?" - Jerry
"No thank you. I prefer to be in distress." - Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers)

"You want this show to last two nights? Get me a plane, now!" - Jerry
"What kind of plane?" - Horace
"One with wings!" - Jerry

Top Hat  is a a romantic comedy filled with mistaken identities and misunderstandings, and music! Like any farce, it's the type of plot that would be resolved in five minutes if anyone in the cast actually talked to each other for five minutes, rather than making assumptions. But that's not really a negative - because it's light, frothy romance with no harsh realities at all. The sets are marvelously art deco and beautiful - especially the Venice hotel with it's waterways and boats.

The story begins in London, with Jerry Travers waiting in a very quiet English gentleman's club for his friend Horace. The club is one where Silence Must Be Observed at all times, and everyone stares at Jerry when he drops something, or turns the page of his newspaper. Horace finds Jerry, starts to talk to him, then realizes where he is, and urges Jerry to leave so they can talk. Just as he's leaving, Jerry does a quick tap dance on the floor simply to annoy everyone - and as a joke.

Horace takes Jerry to his hotel, Jerry - excited about seeing Horace, and their new show, begins tapping in his hotel room ("No Strings (I'm Fancy Free)") - waking up the young woman in the hotel suite below. She calls to complain to the manager. Horace takes the call, gets confused, and goes down to the hotel desk to tell the manager he doesn't want a young woman in his hotel room because it wouldn't be proper. Meanwhile, Dale goes to the hotel suite and complains. Dale doesn't introduce herself - and Jerry's so taken with her, he doesn't introduce himself either. This proves to actually be a very important part of the plot.

The next day, Jerry goes to the hotel flower shop and orders that all the flowers be sent to Ms. Tremont's room (by room number) - then charges the very expensive bill to Horace by his room number.

Horace, afraid that Dale might be a "designing woman" sets his valet, Bates, to following her. This is another part of the plot that's considerably more important than it seems. Horace also warns Jerry off, telling him about a woman he met called Violet who took advantage of him.

Meanwhile, we learn Dale is a social model. A dress designer named Alberto Belleni pays her to wear his dresses, so her friends will see them, ask about them, and he will get more contracts to design dresses and sell more of his designs. But, since he's financially supporting her - this is something not good for Horace to find out as he'd get the wrong idea. Dale is also close friends with his wife, Madge.

Jerry tries to meet Dale again, she rebuffs him - mentioning she's going for a ride in the park. Jerry gives her a ride to her lesson in the park, and again tries to get her interested in him without luck. During her ride, Dale gets caught in the rain. She shelters in a gazebo. Jerry arrives and tries to calm her down by telling her a story about clouds. He then sings "Isn't it a Lovely Day? (To get Caught in the Rain)" to her, and the two dance in partner tap. Ginger is wearing jodphur-pants. Fred and Ginger also mirror each other beautifully when dancing.

Later at the hotel, Ginger asks the concierge to point out Horace. The concierge points to "the man with the briefcase and cane" on the walkway. But Horace runs into Jerry and hands him his briefcase and cane - thus making Dale think he's her friend Madge's husband. This type of thing continuously happens - Dale keeps thinking that Jerry is Horace, and thus her friend's husband and a terrible cad to boot.

Jerry is in the middle of his show, changing between acts, when Horace reads his wife's telegram and finds out she and Dale are heading off to Venice. Jerry insists they hire a charter plane and go to Venice as well.

The production number, part of Jerry's show, is "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" which has Astaire dancing with a chorus of men in formal wear. During the dance he "shoots" the men with his cane. His short tap dancing routine gets a standing ovation from the audience.

In Venice, Dale meets up with Madge, and they meet the sea plane - but Dale isn't there when Madge says hello to Jerry - whom Madge actually wants to set-up with Jerry.  The hotel is full - so Horace and Jerry end up sharing the bridal suite, while Madge and Dale share their own suite.

Bellani, thinking that Horace has designs on Dale confronts him, but Horace has no idea what's going on.

Dale talks to Madge about her husband's flirting. Madge says she knows he flirts, but it doesn't mean anything. Dale decides to "teach him a lesson" and goes to his room to throw herself at him - and again runs into Jerry. Jerry turns the tables and flirts back.

Later, at dinner, Madge, Jerry, and Dale meet - but no introductions are made, as Dale insists she knows who Jerry is (she still thinks he's Madge's husband Horace). Fred and Ginger dance to "Cheek to Cheek", with Ginger in the beautiful, floaty, feather dress. It's ballroom dance that begins with the two in the midst of a crowded dance floor, and moves to the two dancing on a patio that resembles an even bigger version of the gazebo from earlier. There is also some side by side and partner tap, with the two mirroring each other beautifully. But when Jerry proposes - Dale thinks he's Madge's husband, and slaps him.

Alberto Belleni flirts with Dale, and proposes to her. She accepts him but insists they must be married immediately.

Jerry, in a last ditch effort to get Dale to listen to him has Horace distract Belleni, and goes to talk to Dale. He takes her on a boat ride on the water - and finally explains who he is.

Meanwhile, Bates reports to Horace that Dale and Jerry are drifting out to sea. Horace, Madge, and Belleni go off in a boat to "rescue" Dale and Jerry.

Dale and Jerry return, happy at last, but concerned about her quick marriage and how to dissolve it. Dale rushes off. Bates tells Jerry that Madge, Horace, and Belleni went off in a boat from which he'd "removed the gasoline" while disguised as a gondolier. The local police arrest Bates for his impersonation.

There is a production number instrumental of "The Piccolino", which starts with Bugby Berkeley-styled dancers. Then the camera changes to a much happier Dale singing "The Piccolino" to Jerry. Then the perspective switches back to the elaborate production number.

Fred and Ginger dance - tap and ballroom, mirroring each other in tap. Their dance is full frame and uncut. Ginger's dress is sparkly with a trumpet skirt. They dance back to their table, saluting each other with champagne glasses.

Horace, Madge, and Belleni return. That Horace is Madge's husband is confirmed, as is the blossoming romance between Dale and Jerry. Just as everyone is wondering what they will do, Bates arrives and states he had been following Dale everywhere, and he had earlier disguised himself as a clergyman by turning his collar around. Belleni states, "But you were the one who married us!" Dale responds, "Then we were never really married!" And she rushes off in Jerry's arms!

List of Musical Numbers
  • No Strings (I'm Fancy Free)
  • Isn't This a Lovely Day (To be Caught in the Rain)?
  • Top Hat, White Tie and Tails
  • Cheek to Cheek
  • The Piccolino
Top Hat  is a simple, romantic comedy - fueled by mistaken identities, coincidences, and misunderstandings, where, of course, in the end - everything works out. But it features some of Irving Berlin's best songs and Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger's best dances. The sets, especially the boats in the waterway, are wonderful - and the Art Deco just shines. The dances are filmed full-frame and often without cuts. Certainly, there's no cuts to faces and feet - which means one can follow the dance and focus on Fred and Ginger's artistry. There are two ensemble production numbers - Fred's tap dance with a male chorus, which is part of the show he's been hired for as a professional dancer; and "The Piccolino". "The Piccolino" is a wonderful production number - but it seems out of place in Tap Hat. It starts as a elaborate production number, switches to show Ginger singing, switches back to a production number, then switches a fourth time to Fred and Ginger dancing. The production part is full of fast cuts, and elaborate patterns, using ribbons. In short, it looks like a Bugsy Berkeley musical. But when "The Piccolino" focuses on Fred and Ginger dancing together, it becomes one of their signature-style dances - shown full frame, in a single shot without cuts, with Fred and Ginger both tap dancing (briefly) and ballroom dancing. So overall, though very elaborate, it works.  Top Hat is one of my favorite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, along with Swing Time and Shall We Dance. For many, it is the quintessential film for the pair.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Truman Show

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tomorrow Never Dies


  • Title:  Tomorrow Never Dies
  • Director:  Roger Spottiswoode
  • Date:  1997
  • Studio:  United Artists / MGM
  • Genre:  Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Teri Hatcher, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yoeh, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Colin Salmon, Geoffrey Palmer, Vincent Schiavelli
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC
"Mr. Jones, Are we ready to release our new software?"  - Carver
"Yes, sir. As requested it's full of bugs, which means people will be forced to upgrade for years." - Jones

"Gentleman, and ladies, hold the presses. This just in. By a curious quirk of fate, we have the perfect story with which to launch our satellite news network tonight. It seems a small crisis is brewing in the South China Seas. I want full newspaper coverage. I want magazine stories. I want books. I want films. I want TV. I want radio. I want us on the air 24 hours a day! This is out moment! And a billion people around the world will watch it, hear it, and read about it from the Carver Media Group." - Carver

Tomorrow Never Dies is my favorite Pierce Brosnan James Bond film, and it's one of the best James Bond films in the modern era because for once it has a relatively realistic premise - told in the high-action style of James Bond, of course. The film is about Elliot Carver, a media mogul played brilliantly by Jonathan Pryce, who isn't merely reporting events, or even spinning events to fit his own point of view, but actually causing the events his media group reports.

For once the opening gambit of a James Bond movie actually fits with the rest of the plot. One of the items up for sale at a terrorist bazaar in Russia is a satellite encoder, which can influence (or change) GPS data. James Bond manages to locate the bazaar, and launch and take away a plane loaded with nuclear missiles prior to the British Navy's missile destroying the bazaar and the terrorists who are shopping there. However, though the analysts see the encoder, and recognize what it is - they don't realize it wasn't destroyed and that Henry Gupta - a hacker for fire escaped with it.

The encoder is important because it allows the next major event to happen. A British ship, HMS Devonshire, is cruising in what it thinks are international waters off the coast of China. The ship is overflown by Chinese migs who insist they are only 11 miles off the coast of China. The Devonshire's captain double checks their position with GPS - and then they are attacked and sunk by a stealth ship. The British ship reports they were attacked by the migs, and gives their position before calling abandon ship. The survivors are collected by Stamper, Carver's thud and enforcer, and shot with Chinese ammo. Carver reports on the developing crisis - using the potential for war, to launch his satellite news network.

James Bond is sent to investigate - first to Hamburg, where he's instructed to get close to Carver's wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher), whom he had previously had a relationship with. Paris gives him some information, and is killed for her trouble by Carver. While investigating, Bond runs into a Chinese reporter, Wai Lin. Later it will turn out she's his opposite number, an agent for the Chinese security service. Bond's able to get the GPS encoder and escape from Hamburg.

He takes the encoder to the CIA, because it's an American device. Bond's CIA contact shows it to a tech, who confirms it could have been used to send the Devonshire off course. The CIA also arranges to drop Bond into the Ocean to find the ship's wreckage. The Americans assume Bond is jumping into international waters, but one of the British naval officers on the flight realizes he's actually jumping in to waters belonging to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Bond succeeds in his HALO jump. He find the Devonshire and runs into the Chinese woman again. The two are caught by Stamper, and brought to Carver. They escape, handcuffed together, on a motorcycle. Bond and Wai Lin end-up working together, sending warning messages to both the British and Chinese governments that Carver's playing them against each other, then head out to locate Carver's stealth boat.

Bond and Wai Lin plan on blowing up the stealth boat with sea bombs, but are again caught by Carver and his goons. Carver explains his entire plot - not only is he using the crisis he created to "sell papers" and successfully launch his news network - but he's working with a Chinese general. Carver's stealth boat will launch an attack on the British fleet (after some initial minor attacks on both fleets) it will then use one of the cruise missiles stolen from the Devonshire to attack Beijing - wiping out the current government and military leaders, except Carver's general who will be conveniently stuck in traffic. After setting up his new government, the general will grant Carver exclusive media access in China - creating a captive audience worth billions. In short, Carver is creating events, for ratings.

Wai Lin and Bond again escape Carver's clutches and manage to kill Carver and his muscleman, Stamper, and sink the ship before the cruise missile is launched.

Tomorrow Never Dies has several action sequences as well:  Bond and Wei Lin handcuffed together, on a motorcycle, riding through a densely-populated area while being chased by Carver's men; Bond using a remote control built into his (rather ancient-looking) cell phone to control his car; even Bond's escape from Carver in Hamburg; and the scenes on the stealth ship, of course. All the big action sequences one expects from a Bond film - and they are well done, technically, and because we care about Bond and Wei Lin - they work in the film too. The action sequences are not overly long, overly complicated, nor do they have effects that no longer work - everything looks really good. So the film satisfies on the level of what a Bond film should be. But what I really liked about the film was the villain and the plot. Elliot Carver is a totally unscrupulous reporter turned media mogul, who's incredibly psychopathic. Throughout the film we see him fire people for "mistakes" that aren't their own (such as the woman who's fired for not knowing what caused the power outage during his media launch party) or even kill any one who gets in the way of his plans, including his own wife. And, of course, he's willing to sink a British warship, cause a crisis, and risk world war - just to get what he wants, complete power. Throughout the film - Carver gets the best lines, as he explains how the press can not only manipulate events to suit their own corporate purposes - but in Carver's case, cause events in the first place. Pryce is delicious as Carver.

I also really liked Michelle Yoeh as Wai Lin - the Chinese agent who's a female Bond. Wei Lin is just as smart as James, and just as dedicated to her country. And I'd watch a film or two about her! Yoeh also plays the part brilliantly.

And, like all of Brosnan's films, the reoccurring roles of M, Q, Moneypenny, and M's aide, are all played by excellent regulars. I love seeing Judi Dench as M. Samantha Bond is excellent as Moneypenny. And I really like seeing Colin Salmon as Dench's aide - even when he has little to do as in this film. Geoffrey Palmer, Dench's frequent co-star in BBC comedies, also appears as a British Admiral. Having the new Bond family there, as well as Desmond Llewelyn as Q just makes the Bond film a Bond film, as well as adding that unique something they all bring to it.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Top Hat 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

To Catch a Thief


  • Title:  To Catch a Thief
  • Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
  • Date:  1955
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Action, Romance, Suspense
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Brigitte Auber
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"I stole once, a long time ago, I went to jail." - John Robie (Cary Grant)
"I know. The Germans bombed the prison and you all escaped, joined the Underground, and became heroes." - Danielle
"I joined because I wanted to make-up for some of the things I'd done. I've never stolen since." - Robie

"You're here in Europe to buy a husband, huh?" - Robie
"The man I want doesn't have a price." - Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly)
"Well, that eliminates me." - Robie

"John, Why bother?" - Frances
"It's sort of a hobby of mine, the truth." - Robie

A series of daring jewel robberies rocks France, specifically the resort communities of the French Rivieria. The police immediately suspect John Robie, a retired jewel thief once known as The Cat. Robie decides the only way he will be able to prove his innocence is to catch the thief himself.

Robie meets HH Hughson, an insurance broker from Lloyd's of London. His company has insured many of the stolen jewels, so he has a vested interest in finding the jewels so his company doesn't have to pay the claims. Robie convinces him to give him a list of potential targets. Hughson is a bit dubious, but agrees.

Robie then meets up with Jessie Stevens and her daughter Frances (Francie). Mrs. Stevens is widowed and extremely rich after oil was discovered on her husband's small Texas ranch. She's also loud, uncultured, rude, and obnoxious. Her daughter, Frances, has benefited from her mother's money, having attended a European "finishing school", and traveled the world. Frances is a bit spoiled, and very bored with her life of travel and suitors after her money. Robie and Frances immediately have an attraction.

Meanwhile, Robie had first gone to the restaurant of his friends from the French Underground movement, but they are convinced he's guilty and has gone back to his jewel-stealing ways. The only person from his previous life who thinks he's either innocent, or it doesn't matter if he's guilty, is Danielle - the wine steward's daughter, who flirts shamelessly with Robie - despite being young enough to be his daughter.

The story is told somewhat episodically, against the backdrop of seaside France. The tale alternates between the romantic encounters between John and Frances (swimming at the beach, a wild car ride ending in a romantic picnic, even the tour of a villa) and Danielle's flirting with John, and John's attempts to find the thief.

Robie also receives threatening notes at his hotel - which tell him to lay off his search. He misses one robbery entirely, because he is concentrating on the Stevens. He then goes to investigate a villa he's been staking out for several nights, despite getting a second note that tells him to stay away. He finds the wine steward, dead. The police report to the newspapers, this is The Cat. But Robie goes to the police and points out the steward had a wooden leg, it would have been impossible for him to climb on rooftops. The steward is also Danielle's father - and when he shows up at the funeral, Danielle accuses him of murder.

Robie then decides to set a trap of his own. He knows that an upcoming costume ball will be a perfect opportunity for The Cat to strike. He goes to the ball with Mrs. Stevens and Frances, and the police attend as well. He and Hughson switch places, and while Hughson dances the night away with Frances, Robie waits for The Cat. His gambit pays off and he catches the real thief - Danielle.

To Catch a Thief  is a lavish production, very colorful and big (the film as a 1:85:1 ratio, despite being shot on 35mm film). Cary Grant is in fine form, and Grace Kelly is brilliant as Frances. But the film has always felt very slow to me. Still, if you've never seen it - it is a must-see, a classic film of romantic suspense.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Tomorrow Never Dies

Friday, June 12, 2015

Labyrinth


  • Title:  Labyrinth
  • Director:  Jim Henson
  • Date:  1986
  • Studio:  TriStar (Jim Henson Productions, Lucasfilm)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Cast:  David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray
"It keeps changing, What am I supposed to do?" - Sarah

Sarah is a young teen-aged woman who enjoys Cosplay (she dresses in a watery green gown that she probably made herself, and wears over her jeans, while reciting lines from her favorite story), her books, her stuffed animals, and her other trinkets of childhood. When her parents ask her to babysit her baby brother, she acts very put upon and even bratty. Finally, she wishes her baby brother away. When the Goblin King takes her brother, she immediately regrets her actions and becomes determined to get her brother back.
Sarah must solve the labyrinth, get to the castle beyond it, and rescue her brother. At first, she constantly asks for help from anyone she meets, but over time she gradually begins to trust her own instincts and solves a series of tests, riddles, and puzzles herself. She makes new friends, and works her way to the goblin castle.

Once at the castle, she decides she must confront the Goblin King herself, uttering the magic words, "You have no power over me," which free her and her baby brother. When she returns home, she begins to pack away her childish things. But her friends from the Labyrinth appear in mirrors to tell her, they'll be there, "should you ever need us."

Labyrinth is a story about growing up. Not only must Sarah learn to care for her baby brother without complaining, but she must learn to trust herself, not others, and rely on her own ability to solve problems. Which isn't to say she must be totally alone - the importance of real friends is another theme of this classic children's/teen movie.

What makes the film stand out, however, is David Bowie's performance as the Goblin King. Bowie sings three songs in the film, all of which are just awesome! The song and dance routines are well integrated into the film - and they make the movie.

The Blu-ray looks really good, though I was disappointed that the songs weren't subtitled. The Firey sequence shows some really bad travelling matte lines and green screen artifacts, though. The rest of the film, which features Jim Henson's signature muppet creatures, and an actor in a suit (Ludo) looks good. That is to say, it's not dated looking. The film references (and has a credit for) Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, and the paintings/drawings of MC Escher, both of which are acknowledged in the end credits. I especially enjoyed Sarah and the Goblin King's confrontation in Castrovalva.

I loved this film as a teen - and I might have even owned a copy on VHS at some point. It's been on my "buy when you see it cheap" list for a long time - and I just bought the Blu-Ray on sale for a very good price last month. The film does stand up, which is always a concern with movies you loved as a child or teenager but haven't seen since becoming an adult. I did feel, especially early in the film, that Sarah was a bit of a brat. But, I also felt sad to see her boxing up her toys and stuffed animals at the end of the film.

Recommendation:  See it! Especially good for pre-teens and teenagers
Rating:  PG 
Next Film:  To Catch a Thief

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thunderbird 6


  • Title:  Thunderbird 6
  • Director:  David Lane
  • Date:  1968
  • Studio:  MGM, United Artists
  • Genre:  SF, Action, Children
  • Cast:  Peter Dyneley, Sylvia Anderson, Shane Rimmer, Jeremy Wilkin, Matt Zimmerman, David Graham
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
Thunderbird 6  is based on the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation series, Thunderbirds, and was made at the same time. The film opens with a secret meeting at the New World Aircraft Corporation, where the designer of the Thunderbirds, Mr. X, addresses the group. He suggests New World Aircraft should build an airship. The men at the meeting literally laugh at him, but build the ship anyway.

Once the ship is build, Alan Tracy and Tin Tin fly to England in an antique Tiger Moth Biplane to meet up with Lady Penelope and Parker. The four travel to the air field at New Word Aircraft. FAB 1, Lady Penelope's pink Rolls Royce is loaded on the airship, and Alan, Tin Tin, Lady Penelope, and Parker, all go aboard the lighter-than-air craft for the around-the-world maiden voyage of Skyship One as it's called.

However, all is not smooth sailing. Prior to the arrival of the International Rescue crew members, a group of men had gotten into the ship. These men kill the ship's captain and the entire crew, and take their place. Skyship One is completely automated, and the crew is only there to serve the passengers and in case of emergencies.

With the International Rescue members aboard, and unaware that the crew isn't the real crew - Skyship One lifts off, and begins it's around-the-world cruise, stopping at many famous sites, and even making ports of call where the passengers can see the sights. They visit New York, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Niagara Falls, Switzerland, the Pyramids, and other famous tourist locations.

Meanwhile, Jeff Tracy has told his engineer Brains (also the mysterious "Mr. X" who suggested that Skyship One be built in the opening scene of the film) that International Rescue needs a Thunderbird 6. Jeff gives no explanation of what he wants, nor does he explain why he thinks it's so important. Throughout the film, Brains develops machines for Jeff, showing him various models, and Jeff rejects all of his designs and hard work. This becomes the "B plot" of the film, while the around the world tour on Skyship One is the "A plot".

During the tour, Lady Penelope discovers she is being bugged. Alan, Parker, and Lady Penelope all investigate - and discover only Lady Penelope is being recorded. Meanwhile, it's revealed that the substitute crew have written a message from Lady Penelope to Jeff Tracy at International Rescue - they plan on recording Lady Penelope saying all the words of the message, the re-arranging and editing together the words she says, so it sounds like she is sending the message herself. The message will then be sent, so Jeff hears it and thinks Penny sent it. Additionally, the message, which essentially sends Thunderbirds 1 and 2 to a disused airfield south of Casablanca, also tells Jeff to not acknowledge the message.

And that is exactly what happens - Alan, Parker, and Tin Tin discover recording equipment, and realize what is going on, but not before the message is sent. Penny calls Jeff directly using her compact-phone, only to find that Thunderbirds 1 and 2, and their pilots have been sent to the co-ordinates in the message. Lady Penelope warns Jeff it's a trap. Jeff contacts his sons, and they blow the heck out of the buildings at the airfield, destroying everything with guns.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to round-up the false crew as the ship approachs Dover in the UK, there's a gunfight in the "Gravity Compensation Room" (an impressive model set full of silver spinning things). The gravity compensaters are damaged, and the airship begins to slowly sink. Tin Tin, however, is taken hostage by one of the false crew and the International Rescue team is also taken hostage.

Meanwhile, Thunderbirds 1 and 2, fly to the location of Skyship One to find out what's going on, and to rescue Lady Penelope, Tin Tin, and Alan.  As he gets close to where the airship should be, Scott has trouble finding it - then notices it is cruising at a much lower altitude than it should be. Skyship One then hits and becomes entangled in the Interceptor Towers at a missile base on the British coast. The ship is in a dangerous and precarious position. Scott has the missile base evacuated and in the meantime tries to effect a rescue of the people aboard Skyship One, with the help of Virgil in Thunderbird 2.

Unfortunately, because Skyship One is so light, and the tower isn't steady, Thunderbirds 1 and 2 can't get close without causing the ship to start tipping or crashing. They use lines to try to stabilize the ship but are unsure how to effect a rescue of the people. They contact Tracy Island Base for ideas.

Brains comes up with a solution - they will use the 2-seater Tiger Moth to rescue people from the Skyship one at a time. This would be difficult enough, but when the small biplane lands on the huge airship, Brains is quickly taken hostage - and Foster, the captain, tries to escape by himself, only.

However, Brains, Parker, Alan, and Tin Tin are able to overcome the false crew and get on the Tiger Moth. It isn't straight forward though - other members of the substitute crew get on the Tiger Moth, there's a gunfight, and eventually all of the false members are killed, including Foster who is in the pilot's seat of the Biplane. Lady Penelope ends up in the forward seat of the Biplane, and Parker in it's undercarriage - and the plane's engine is shot and losing fuel. Lady Penelope is the only one of the group who doesn't know how to fly a plane. Alan carefully moves along the exterior of the plane from where he had been hanging on the wing to the cockpit. He tries to talk Penny through a dead-stick landing but she can't quite get the plane down. So Alan has her pull-up, roll the plane to get rid of Foster's body, then gets into the second cockpit himself and eventually lands the plane (without fuel he ends up in a tree - but no one is hurt, not even Parker).

Meanwhile, once everyone has left Skyship One via Biplane, and the missile site is evacuated, Scott and Virgil let go of their lines supporting the doomed airship. It crashes into the missile base and there's a series of really big explosions.

Later at Tracy Island, Brains introduces to Jeff the completely built and field-tested Thunderbird 6 - the Tiger Moth.

Thunderbird 6 does feel much more like an extended episode of the television series, and the plot holds-up together better than Thunderbirds Are Go. However, it's still very slow moving. The world-wide cruise of Skyship One just seems to take forever. The film also has two problematic issues with it - first, it's very violent, especially for Thunderbirds.  The entire crew of the airship (granted, its only four people, but still) is ruthlessly slaughtered. When Jeff tells Scott and Virgil that their rendezvous at the airfield south of Cassablanca is a trap, the boys simply annihilate everything in sight. What if the Black Phantom's cronies had taken people hostage at the airfield? I mean, sure, it was abandoned - but that doesn't necessarily mean there's no one there. And then, in the midst of the actual rescue, the entire substitute crew, who were, granted, up to no good - are killed. It's remarkably violent for a kid's movie. And the second issue is the film is pretty sexist. Of course, it's Tin Tin who's taken hostage. Of course, Lady Penelope can't fly a plane or follow Alan's instructions for landing it. I mean, yes, that would be difficult - but this is Lady Penelope!

Still, overall, the film is better than Thunderbirds Are Go, simply because the plot holds together better, even if the movie moves very slowly.

Recommendation: Recommended for fans of the original show only
Rating:  3 1/2 Stars out of 5
Next Film:  To Catch a Thief

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Thunderbirds Are Go


  • Title:  Thunderbirds Are Go
  • Director:  David Lane
  • Date:  1966
  • Studio:  MGM/UA
  • Genre:  SF, Children
  • Cast:  Shane Rimmer, Peter Dyneley, Sylvia Anderson, Jeremy Wilkin, Matt Zimmerman
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"OK, boys, Thunderbirds are go!" - Jeff Tracy

"Well, clearly, there's life on Mars. But I guess it's not life as we know it." - Jeff

Thunderbirds Are Go is based on the Gerry Anderson Supermarionation TV series, Thunderbirds and was made at the same time. The movie is very much like a bigger, more complex and meant to be more exciting episode of the series. And that is where the film falls down, unfortunately. The film opens  with the control center for the Zero X, a manned flight to Mars. A saboteur inside the vessel is able to sabotage it, and the ship crashes into the ocean. The crew, however ejects and is rescued by normal air/sea rescue.

Two years later, there is a discussion of the crash in the wake of a 800-plus page report detailing exactly what happened. The conclusion of the report - sabotage!  However, Earth is again in position to try for Mars. The proposal to do so meets with one negative vote. The captain of the previous mission asks that International Rescue be called in to provide security and be on-hand in case anything goes wrong. The head of the space organization isn't happy about asking for help, and refuses to do so.

Meanwhile on Tracy Island, the boys are eagerly standing in front of Jeff Tracy's desk. Though he points out that International Rescue does not normally respond until they receive a request for help, he tells them that rules are meant to be broken and sends Scott in Thunderbird 1 and Virgil in Thunderbird 2 to Glenn Field to monitor and assist. Alan is dispatched in Thunderbird 3 to monitor from space. John is of course, on Thunderbird 5, and will only monitor communications as normal. Gordon is left at home with nothing to do. Once the boys have left, Jeff calls Lady Penelope and asks IR's London agent to also go to Glenn Field to investigate and route out any saboteurs.

Lady Penelope, undercover as a journalist, asks one of the scientists on the mission a question, then gives him a St. Christopher medal, with a transmitter/homing beacon inside. Later, once everyone is meant to be on the ship for takeoff - she runs a check and realises Dr. Grant is not on the ship. Scott goes to investigate and unmasks a phony and saboteur. Penny locates the real Dr. Grant who is unharmed and returned to the aircraft before it takes off. Penny and Parker also chase the saboteur in FAB 1, Lady Penelope's pink Rolls Royce. The chase includes the car turning into a hydrofoil and continuing the chase on water, and finally bringing down the saboteur's helicopter with machine gun fire.

Meanwhile, Zero X takes off as scheduled and without difficulty. Thunderbird 2 escorts it as far as rarefied atmosphere, where Thunderbird 3 takes over and sees that the ship safely leaves Earth's atmosphere. Alan returns in Thunderbird 3 to Tracy Island. Meanwhile, rather than returning immediately to Tracy Island, Scott and Virgil join Lady Penelope at a new nightclub called the Swinging Star. The Thunderbirds are left under guard at Glenn Field.

Back at Tracy Island, Alan isn't happy to have heard that Scott and Virgil are going out for a night on the town. He asks Jeff for permission to go to the mainland with Tin Tin, but Jeff refuses.

That night, Alan has a dream - Lady Penelope picks him up and takes him to the Swinging Star nightclub in space. There's instrumental music and Alan wear's a medium blue suit, while Lady Penelope wears a stunning blue dress with a white feather boa. After the first musical number, Cliff Richards Jr. and the Shadows come on and play an elaborate number which includes them playing on FAB 1 in space, and on a giant guitar and other effects. After his musical interlude, the dream gradually becomes slightly nightmarish and Alan is woken up by his father, after he falls out of bed.



Next, the boys, Jeff and Tin Tin are relaxing by the Tracy's pool. Jeff notes the Zero X is now on Mars.

The film cuts to Mars, which is grey and rocky - like the moon. The Martian Excursion Vehicle rolls along the surface, while the scientists inside talk of collecting samples. The scientists and astronauts notice some unusual rock formations. They then decide to fire on one to break it down for easier collection.  This is a bad move, as the "coiled rocks" are living creatures. These "rock snakes" attack. The group in the MEV call for immediate pick-up and learn it will be a short time before the rest of the ship is in position for rendezvous. The MEV tries evasive maneuvers. Finally, the MEV takes off before the rendezvous check time. However, they safely reconnect with the ship.

On Tracy Island, Jeff and the boys discuss the amazing discovery on Mars and that the ship will return in six weeks.

Six weeks later the Zero X runs into trouble on it's return journey.  International Rescue is called in. Not only is Zero X crashing, it's heading for a small city, and access to the escape unit is jammed.

Scott heads to Glenn Field in Thunderbird 1 to oversee the rescue operation in Command and Control. Virgil, with Gordon and Alan, responds in Thunderbird 2. Once Thunberbird 2 gets closer to Zero X, Gordon oversees the rescue winch and Alan attempts to get aboard the Zero X to fix the escape unit system.  Brains, the engineer, reads a circuit diagram to explain to Alan what he needs to do.  Alan adds a transistor to the broken/burned out unit, and starts to re-wire it.  The pilot sends his co-pilot and navigator to the escape unit, but continues to fly the plane - such as it is, since it's crashing.

Although Alan drops his screwdriver, and the ship is skimming the treetops, Alan's able to re-wire the machinery. The pilot gets to the escape unit and the unit is safely ejected. Alan also ejects but isn't able to get directly to Thunderbird 2. He is, however, safely lowered to the ground, where he's picked-up by a waiting Lady Penelope in her pink Rolls Royce, with Parker acting as chauffeur. Lady Penelope promises to take him to the Swinging Star nightclub.

Meanwhile, the crew of Zero X are safe, including the pilot - who got into the escape unit at the last moment.  The plane itself, however, crashes into the city - presumably without harming anyone on the ground since the area was evacuated.

At the Swinging Star, Alan is wearing a fake mustache disguise. He soon learns that the rest of his family, including Jeff, are at the next table also in disguise. They congratulate Alan and toast him as an hero.

Thunderbirds Are Go has a few problems. First, for a movie that should be about a fantastic rescue - it isn't really. The first Zero X goes down, but the crew are rescued by conventional means. When the Thunderbirds go to escort the second Zero X, other than routing out a saboteur, there's no need for them to be there because the launch goes off perfectly. When the Zero X gets into trouble on Mars, they are too far away to call International Rescue - even Thunderbird 3, and they rescue themselves. And finally, the actual rescue at the end seems rushed. Alan does get to be the hero, but he's also a seasoned professional (if anything Gordon and John get slighted in the story). Also, although the crew is rescued, always the most important thing for International Rescue - rescuing people; one really has to wonder about the wisdom of allowing a very large spaceship to crash into a city. I mean, Did they really think it would be completely evacuated?  And then there's the fantasy dream sequence. The whole film is slow, clunky, and feels like two or more Thunderbirds TV episodes cobbled together.

The positives are of course the model work, which is really good, even though the models do scream that they are, in fact, models, and not something realistic. It's worth noting that Derek Meddings, who did the model work for the series, this film, and many of Gerry Anderson's other series; also worked on Doctor Who, the James Bond feature films, and had a distinguished career in special effects. I have this and Thunderbird 6 to round-out my collection of Thunderbirds DVDs. I also have the entire TV series. But other than as a collectible, it's not really worth it.

Recommendation:  Skip it
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Thunderbird 6

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Thunderbirds


  • Title:  Thunderbirds
  • Director:  Jonathan Frakes
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Working Title, Universal
  • Genre:  SF, Adventure, Action, Children
  • Cast:  Brady Corbet, Bill Paxton, Sophia Myles, Ron Cook, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Edwards, Genie Francis
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"Alan, This equipment's only to be used in an emergency! [Tin Tin and Alan look at each other] I guess this qualifies." - Fermat

"It's the children. They have it." - The Hood
"No way. They're dead. No one could live through something like that." - Mullion
"I did." - The Hood

"Alan? He's just a kid." - Gordon Tracy
"He's a Tracy." - Jeff Tracy

Thunderbirds is a live-action children's adventure film based on the ITV Gerry Anderson Supermarionation series of the same name. It's an origin story of sorts, set early in the career of International Rescue and the Thunderbirds. Jeff is very much an active part of the organization, and Alan - the youngest Tracy, is still at school, attending Wharton Academy, an all-boys boarding school, with Fermat, Brains' young son.

Alan dreams of the day he can leave school behind and join his brothers in International Rescue as a full Thunderbird.  In this film, the Thunderbirds are the pilots of the machines as well as the machines themselves. Alan's at school when he's caught daydreaming by a teacher - and is given an extra report to write during Spring Break. However, soon all the students are watching a news cast - the Thunderbirds respond to an fire at an oil rig in Russia and rescue the trapped men, despite heavy rain and other problems. Alan and Fermat watch with the other students, but Alan, far from being worried about his older brothers and father - mimes their actions and wishes to be with them.

Lady Penelope, the family's London agent, arrives at Wharton and picks-up Alan to bring him home to Tracy Island, because the rest of the family is obviously busy. Not only does she arrive in her 6-wheeled pink Rolls Royce - but Lady Penelope's entire wardrobe is pink. Once she, Alan, Fermat, and Parker have driven away from any traffic the car turns into a flying car - and Parker pilots it to the Island.

Unbeknowest to Scott Tracy, however, when he and Virgil drop off the rescuees at a local hospital, one of them shoots a tracking compound onto Thunderbird 1. Scott doesn't notice. At dinner, Alan asks his father when he can become a Thunderbird, and Jeff rebukes him saying he's too young.

Alan and Fermat sneak into Thunderbird 1 where they accidentally start the launch sequence. The sequence is stopped without incident, but Jeff is so mad at Alan's behavior he doesn't give Alan a chance to tell him about the tracking goo he and Fermat found. (At this point the children don't realize what the goo is for.)

John's on Thunderbird 5, a manned satellite and communications station. He reports to Jeff on a couple of minor problems but his report is it's basically a quiet night. Then, suddenly, and without warning, The Hood (Ben Kingsley) fires a rocket into Thunderbird 5. The satellite is crippled and John is in trouble.  Jeff, Scott, Virgil, and Gordon take Thunderbird Three, the giant, red rocket ship into orbit to rescue John/fix the satellite.

Meanwhile, The Hood invades Tracy Island.  Alan, Fermat, and Tin Tin see his sub - but are unable to stop the attack on Thunderbird 5.

The Hood bursts into the house on the island, looking around he recognizes Jeff's picture. The Hood's vendetta seems personal. The Hood forces Brains to activate command and control. Jeff and his boys enter Thunderbird 5, but The Hood locks the door so they can't get out.  Jeff handles the emergency on Thunderbird 5 well, and finds and cares for his injured son, John.  However, the five men are unable to escape the satellite because The Hood's locked and jammed the door from Command and Control.

Alan, Fermat, and Tin Tin (Kyrano's daughter) go the Thunderbird Silos - they use the Firefly and the Thunderizer to escape The Hood's henchpeople, Mullion and Transom.  They slide down an exhaust pipe into the Ocean surrounding the Island, then get to shore. The three need to come up with a plan. They decide to cross the Island on foot, through the jungle to the Island's satellite dish to try to contact Jeff on Thunderbird 5. After a few adventures, they make it.  They have some difficulty with the transmitter, but eventually get it working.  Alan asks what to do - but Jeff tells him to follow protocol and get to Lady Penelope.

Alan would rather have an more active role. He finds one of the family's old hover-sleds, and builds a sidecar-like device so he can carry Tin Tin and Fermat as well behind them. They are chased by the Hood's Henchpeople, Mullion and Transom.  Fermat and Tin Tin are caught, and put in a freezer with their fathers, Brains and Kyrano.

Meanwhile, Alan is still free, and he sees Lady Penelope and Parker arrive. He follows and sees them challenge and fight the henchpeople in the Tracys' living room.  Although the British agents fight extremely well, they are no match for The Hood's mind control - the are caught and put into the freezer with everyone else.

The Hood, Transom, and Mullion head off to the Bank of England in Thunderbird 2 - having gotten the guidance computer chip Fermat had taken out of the machine.

In the freezer, Parker remarks that he can open the lock if he had a small piece of wire. Lady Penelope offers him the underwire from her bra. Everyone had discretely turned away as she retrieved it.

The group manages to rescue Jeff and the boys on Thunderbird 5 just before the satellite burns up in a decaying orbit, as well as reversing the sabotage to the satellite airlock door to Thunderbird 3.  Then, the group, including Lady Penelope take Thunderbird 1 to London.

The Hood lands Thunderbird 2 in Jubilee Gardens, near the London Eye.  They take the Mole and dig a route under the Thames towards the Bank of England, their route cuts the supports of the monorail - causing a disaster.

Meanwhile, Jeff and his boys head directly to London in Thunderbird 3.

Alan arrives in Thunderbird 1 - he lands and uses Thunderbird 4 (the yellow sub) to rescue the monorail car, with help from Tin Tin who secures the line around the monorail, which is then lifted by Thunderbird 1.

Jeff watches his youngest son in action, and is proud of how his handles himself. He lands Thunderbird 3 in Jubilee Gardens next to the other Thunderbirds.

Once the people from the monorail are safe, the Thunderbirds and Lady Penelope go to the Bank of England to stop The Hood.  Lady Penelope, thanks to The Hood's special powers, and Jeff end-up locked in a vault.  Alan, with the help of Tin Tin's use of her own special powers, defeats The Hood.

At a celebratory beach party, Jeff gives International Rescue pins to Fermat, Tin Tin, and Alan - and welcomes Alan officially into the family business.

Thunderbirds is a fun family movie. It always makes me smile whenever I watch it, from the opening animated sequence, to the ending credits theme tune by Busted, "No strings to hold them down," indeed.  Yes, it's a kids movie, and Jeff and the older Tracy sons are basically stuck in Thunderbird 5, completely helpless for the majority of the movie. The movie emphasizes Alan - and shows us his journey from teenager, to full-fledged International Rescue member. Jeff Tracy does come off as an, excuse the expression, bit of an hard-ass, but explanations are given. The Hood hates him because when International Rescue responded to the collapse of his illegal diamond mine - he wasn't rescued, but stranded. Being trapped led him to develop his mental powers. When Alan asks if The Hood's story is true - Jeff tells Alan, yes, it is, and that sometimes you can't save everyone, even though International Rescue saved 600 people that day. Alan then asks, "What was Mom like?" To which Jeff replies, "She was like you." Jeff had been inspired to start International Rescue after his wife was killed in an avalanche.

There are some notable differences from the TV show the movie is based on - one of the most notable is that the International Rescue members, that is, the Tracy boys who pilot the Thunderbird machines call themselves Thunderbirds as well. In the series, their organization was always International Rescue, the machines were Thunderbirds, and the pilots were the Tracys. Though, as it was a secret who IR was - I could easily see the public also calling the pilots Thunderbirds rather than members of International Rescue as they do in the TV show. Also, in the series, Alan is an adult - an astronaut who is also famous as a race car driver (which was almost a hobby for him). And Alan's a competent member of International Rescue, and the pilot of Thunderbird 3 - who splits space monitor duty with John, aboard Thunderbird 5.  Jeff leads his boys from the ground as base commander. And Lady Penelope doesn't wear so much pink. Though I must admit her wardrobe in the film, is fantastic.

Still, even with the shift of focus to Alan, Fermat (a new character for the film), and Tin Tin, the film is fun. It's an excellent family film. And I always enjoy it every time I watch it.

Recommendation:  See It! Especially appropriate for families and pre-teens.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Thunderbirds Are Go

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Three Musketeers


  • Title:  The Three Musketeers
  • Director:  Stephen Herek
  • Date:  1993
  • Studio:  Walt Disney Pictures
  • Genre:  Adventure
  • Cast:  Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O'Donnell, Oliver Platt, Tim Curry, Rebecca De Mornay, Gabrielle Anwar, Paul McGann
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, Region 1
"You go back, and you tell the Cardinal, we will continue to perform our sworn duty, which is to protect the King, and we will use every means in our power to fight him." - Athos

"A remarkable woman - the most beautiful I've ever known, and the deadliest, which would explain my attraction." - Cardinal Richelieu

"D'Artagnan, would you be so kind as to redistribute this wealth? [D'Artagnan looks confused] Throw the coins, man, people are hungry." - Aramis

"This world is an uncertain realm filled with danger, honor undermined by the pursuit of power, freedom sacrificed when the weak are oppressed by the strong, but there are those who oppose these powerful forces, who dedicate their lives to truth, honor, and freedom. Those men are known as Musketeers." - the King


Disney's The Three Musketeers is a fun, adventurous, romp. Although there are lines here and there referring to the sorry state of the people of France, and the assassination of the previous King of France (the new King's father), it's not dwelt upon - at all. The result is this is a fun, light, frothy adventure film.

With the death of the previous King, and a very young new King on the throne of France, the evil Cardinal Richelieu is posed to take over France, and even aims to become King himself. Richelieu is played with considerable relish, and some chewing of scenery by Tim Curry, so you know it's going to be fun. Richelieu's opening move is to dismantle the Musketeers the King's personal and private guard. Told of the disbanding of the Musketeers, the men ceremonially burn their blue tunics and turn in their swords.

Three Musketeers refuse to give in, however, and become outlaws.

Meanwhile, Chris O'Donnell plays an arrogant young man who is on his way to Paris to join the Musketeers like his father. He gets into a duel with Girard, who believes he wronged his sister. The duel is, however, swiftly broken up and the young man, D'Artagnan, heads to Paris. Upon arriving he find a man in the destroyed former HQ of the Musketeers. Assuming the HQ has merely been moved, he asks for the new location. D'Artagnan learns that the Musketeers have been disbanded. He manages to get Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, upset with him and ends up with appointments for duels with each of them - at 12:00, 1:00, and 2:00, respectively.

When he arrives, late, for his duel with Athos, he meets the other Musketeers as well. The three are surprised to learn D'Artagnan has arranged duels with them all. And D'Artagnan is shocked to learn the three men he's agreed to fight are Musketeers. He finds no joy in killing a Musketeer. But there will be no killing - the Cardinal's guards attack and the four men fight back. The Three Musketeers are surprised by the young D'Artagnan's skill. They defeat the first group of the Cardinal's guards, then another group attacks. Athos urges D'Artagnan to leave and go home.

D'Artagnan, doesn't leave, gets separated from the group and is captured. But he frees himself from the dungeons and hears the Cardinal meet Mi Lady D'Winter - and hears their entire plan. Richelieu plans to betray France to England by signing a treaty with Lord Buckingham - his payment for this will be the throne of France. Mi Lady D'Winter will carry his terms, and the treaty to Calais. Somehow, though he hears the entire plan, D'Artagnan doesn't see Mi Lady D'Winter, or forgets who she is when he meets her later.

The Three Musketeers rescue D'Artagnan from the chopping block - literally, and they escape in the Cardinal's own coach. The four drink the Cardinal's wine, eat his food, and give his coin to the poor as they leave Paris. D'Artagnan tells the Musketeers of Richelieu's plot - and the Musketeers realize that if they can stop the spy and get the treaty, they will be able to prove Richelieu's a traitor, as well as saving France. Unfortunately, the Cardinal knows that D'Artagnan knows about his plot - he orders a 1000 gold coin bounty on the heads of him and the Musketeers. This makes getting to Calais difficult.

To make their travel less obvious, and to double the chances of finding the spy - the four split into two groups. Athos and D'Artagnan are attacked by bounty hunters. D'Artagnan offers to stay with Athos (until the bitter end, because they are outnumbered by men with guns, or at least, muskets), but Athos orders him to go on to Calais, knowing that finding the spy, stopping Richelieu and rescuing the King are more important than a single Musketeer's life.

D'Artagnan takes the surviving horse and heads off but eventually falls asleep and falls off his horse. He's picked up by a woman in a carriage - a woman he doesn't recognize. She's Mi Lady D'Winter. They go to the ship for her meeting with Buckingham. But Porthos and Aramis have reached the ship first, and have knocked out or killed the crew. The Musketeers end-up with the treaty, and D'Artagnan is again, rescued. Mi Lady D'Winter turns out to be Sabine - Athos wife, whom he kicked out and thought dead. Athos had regretted his decision to kick out his wife (he thought her an enemy of France and a murderer, she professed her innocence, he exiled her anyway.)

The next morning she's to be executed. Athos had tried to get her to tell him the rest of Richelieu's plan, but she refuses. At the execution, Athos stops the ax-man. Sabine reveals that Richelieu plans to have the King assassinated at his birthday celebration, that Friday. She forgives Athos for not believing in her all those years ago, then kills herself by jumping off a cliff.

The Musketeers and D'Artagnan rush to Paris, leaving "All for one and One for All" markers everywhere in their wake. At the birthday celebration, the four try, desperately, to find the assassin. He gets a shot off, misses, and the plaza fills with Cardinal's guards and Musketeers. D'Artagnan, meanwhile fights the assassin on a nearby rooftop. The battle moves inside as Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D'Artagnan, try to find and rescue the King and Queen from the Cardinal. They succeed, the Cardinal is captured, and the King admits D'Artgnan into the Musketeers.

Again, this is fun, light, adventure film. There's no serious violence. No one gets killed. The good guys win and the bad guys lose. In the middle there's lots, and lots, of sword-fighting to enjoy - as well as chases. The film's score is excellent, and the cast is good - if a bit young. The filming is gorgeous - and especially the greens just pop off the screen. The whole film has a very storybook quality to it. It's highly enjoyable, and not too deep. I recommend this, especially for families.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  Four Stars
Next Film:  Thunderbirds

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Thomas Crown Affair


  • Title:  The Thomas Crown Affair
  • Director:  John McTiernan
  • Date:  1999
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Romance, Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Faye Dunaway
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"Regret is usually a waste of time. As is gloating. Have you figured out what you're gonna' say to your board when they learn that you paid me $30 Million more than others were offering?" - Thomas Crown

"It's obvious that you like men, but you never keep any of them around very long, either." - Thomas Crown
"Oh, well, men make women messy." - Catherine

"You really think there's happy ever after for people like us?" - Catherine

The Thomas Crown Affair is a fun, romantic, romp - in both senses of the world. Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) is a very successful and rich businessman who has made his multi-billion dollar fortune by acquiring other businesses, then selling them off. The realities of such a source of income aren't explored - basically, he's rich, successful, lonely, and bored.

Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) is a highly successful insurance investigator and bounty hunter. She makes her considerable fortune collecting a portion of the recovery fee from high stakes art theft recovery.

Michael McCann (Denis Leary) is a cop, who - we find at the end of the film - would rather work homicides, or help abused women and kids then worry about a multi-million dollar art theft.

The film opens with Crown starring at a painting of haystacks in the Impressionist wing of a large unnamed art museum in New York. He apparently does this a lot, as one of the museum guards recognizes him and the two also make small talk. Meanwhile, the loading dock workers are surprised when a large crate is delivered. They are expecting an Egyptian sarcophagus, but instead a large Greek horse sculpture was delivered instead. Soon, a group of men break out of the horse and attempt to steal paintings from the museum. They are caught, but an investigation quickly indicates that a Monet, worth $100,000 million dollars is now missing from the museum. The Monet will be the McGuffin of the film - it also brings together the main characters.

Leary's Mike McCann, is a tough, wisecracking, swearing, New York City cop who would rather investigate a murder or do anything else other than investigate an art theft. But he's called in, and his initial sweep of the Impressionist wing, isn't successful - either in finding the missing Monet, nor in understanding how the crime occurred or what the thieves were trying to accomplish. But even Mike, appreciates the slightly twisted humor of the Trojan Horse being used to gain access to the museum.

During his initial investigation, Catherine arrives. Much more experienced in investigating art thefts - she corrects nearly every assumption Mike's made. They spark some. It's Catherine, who realizes that the showy and unsuccessful attempted theft was a distraction, so the Monet could be stolen by someone else - and she and Mike immediately suspect Crown.

The resulting cat-and-mouse game has Catherine and Mike attempting to catch Crown and get the Monet back. This is complicated by Crown's romantic pursuit of Catherine. Mike sees Crown's interest as a way for him to keep her off-balance so he doesn't get caught. Mike is also jealous of Crown - not necessarily simply his money and success, but he would like to become romantically involved with Catherine himself - though he knows she wouldn't be interested in a plain, blue-collar, cop like him, especially when she could easily have a rich, successful, businessman like Crown.

Crown romantically pursues Catherine - dancing with her in a club, taking her home for a steamy session of sex, taking her for a flying lesson in his glider, and then taking her away for a weekend to his Caribbean Island get away. Their romance is intercut with the investigation by both the police and Catherine of the art theft. On Crown's side, his romance is intercut with sessions with his psychologist, played by Faye Dunaway. She points out his deep distrust of women.

Trust will be a re-occurring theme of the film. Can two extremely rich people really trust someone new? Especially when that person may have a reason to not be trusted? Catherine has trouble trusting Crown because not only did he probably steal the Monet - but he may be only using her affection to get away with the crime. For his part, Thomas Crown has reason to not trust Catherine - after all, she could find evidence of his illegal activities - and have him arrested.

The Thomas Crown Affair  is stylish, smart, bold, romantic, and steamy. The music is wonderful, though my (very cheap) copy seems to be missing some of the music. Setting the story firmly in the art world gives it a gloss that a similar romantic film in another setting wouldn't have. There's some wonderful direction of the initial theft, and Crown's crazy plan to return the Monet - let's just say, The Purloined Letter, and leave it at that. Brosnan is sexy, and plays his smart, rags-to-riches character well. Russo is also sexy and smart.

I enjoyed seeing this film again. It's more of a romance than a caper film - the stolen Monet really is no more than a McGuffin. Russo has excellent chemistry with both Crown and Mike. And the film has the last minute twist-that-isn't-really-unexpected that works for this type of romantic film. Overall, it's a great role for Brosnan, and I wish he would make more of this type of romantic film.

The Thomas Crown Affair is a remake of the film of the same name from 1968 starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. In my opinion, and I'm sure a lot of people would disagree with me - the modern film is better. Personally, I really dislike Steve McQueen - he gives me the creeps, and he's so icy and cold. McQueen's the type of actor I constantly expect in his roles to turn out to be a serial killer or something, and I just cannot watch him. Dunaway is also a cold actress, and I just can't see her playing a romantic role well (though in the 1960s, icy blondes were popular in romantic and suspense films.) Brosnan is much better as a romantic hero - and he gives Crown the depth of someone who is emotionally closed off, and what that costs him. Russo is the exact opposite of cold. Leary adds to the plot, giving the 1999 film a much more modern feeling.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 3 out of 5 (Slightly predictable)
Next film:  The Three Musketeers (1993)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Third Man


  • The Third Man
  • Director:  Carol Reed
  • Date:  1949
  • Studio:  London Films Productions (UK)
  • Genre:  Film Noir, Mystery, Drama
  • Cast:  Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, Wilfrid Hyde-White
  • Format:  Black/White, Standard
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1 (Criterion Collection)
"Is that what you say to people after death? 'That's awkward.' " - Holly

"Death's at the bottom of everything, Martins.  Leave death to the professionals." - Major Calloway

"Look down there, would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000  [English Pounds Sterling] for every dot that you stopped - would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spend?" - Harry Lime

Holly Martins (Cotten) is a down on his luck American writer who jumps at the chance when his old childhood friend, Harry Lime, offers him a job in post-World War II Vienna. He arrives in a city that's still literally digging out from the destruction and rubble of war, and a city that's split into British, American, Russian, and French zones (so having your passport handy is of vital importance), only to find that his friend, Harry Lime, is dead. The police believe it to be an accident. Holly has trouble believing his old friend is dead. He starts to investigate - at first, merely to learn what happened. He talks to various people, the porter at Harry's building who witnessed a few things about the time of the accident, Harry's girlfriend, Anna Schmidt, other friend's of Harry's, and becomes suspicious that not only was Harry's death not an accident - but that something odd is going on in Vienna.

Harry also has several encounters with Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) a member of the British police for the British sections, and his aide, Sgt. Paine (Bernard Lee). When he takes his suspicions to the police, he's told, not unkindly, that even if Lime was murdered, the police won't waste resources investigating - because the man was a racketeer, involved in the Black Market, and most importantly he was involved in a scheme to steal, cut, and re-sell penicillin to sick and injured men, women and children - that resulted in several deaths, and a number of children with meningitis. As first, Holly doesn't believe his old friend would be involved in such a scheme. Later in the film, Major Calloway shows him proof of Harry Lime's involvement, and Holly reluctantly believes it. Still later on - Calloway takes Holly to a hospital ward filled with children who were left mentally disabled because of the tainted medicine and the resulting meningitis. There is considerable restraint in the scene, the audience doesn't see the sick children - only doctors and nurses tending to them, some shadows and medical charts, and the reactions of Holly, Major Calloway, and Sgt. Paine.

Holly also spends time with Anna, Harry's girlfriend. He begins to develop feelings for her - and she seems to return those feelings, but it's not to be.

About halfway through the film, when Holly's considering leaving Vienna altogether, he actually meets Harry Lime, who isn't as dead as everyone thought.

The second half of the film turns into more of a moral dilemma for Holly. Harry wants him to join him in another scheme to make money, that would probably harm as many people as his last one if not more. Holly tries to get Anna to go with him - but she's still in love with Harry. Anna's been having her own problems - she's living with a false passport, perhaps even a false name - because, as a Czechoslovakian she would be sent to Russia. Anna's reactions throughout the film are influenced by her blaming Holly somewhat for getting her in trouble with the police and her undying and unexplained love for Harry Lime.

Meanwhile, Major Calloway holds his duty to turn Anna over to the Russians, because she's an illegal immigrant, and the carrot of arranging her freedom over Holly as well.

Holly agrees to set-up Harry after Major Calloway presents him with proof of Lime's involvement in the drug stealing and selling scheme. They also discover that the person buried in Harry's grave is the missing hospital porter Calloway's been looking for.

However, an encounter with Anna again shakes Holly's resolve, he meets with Harry Lime, who turns out to be a real sociopath. Harry does not take up Lime on his implied offer to go into illegal business together someplace outside of Vienna.

Holly goes back to Calloway - who this time shows him the children in the hospital. Holly resolves to set-up Lime to help the police, especially as Calloway let's him have Anna's passport back.

Anna - gets off the train (Calloway had also supplied a ticket out of Vienna), she sees Holly and blows up at him because she knows he's setting up Harry. She even rips up her forged passport.

The conclusion of the film is a chase in Vienna's sewers, as Holly, then the Major and his troops, then police from the other districts of Vienna all chase down Harry Lime.

The brilliance of this film isn't in the overall plot, though the dead man who isn't dead was probably somewhat novel at the time - the brilliance is in the details. The cinematography of this film is just incredible. Director Carol Reed uses all sorts of unusual, tilted, and strange camera angles, which alongside the strange score, act to put the audience at unease. This odd setting emphasizes for example, Holly's isolation and grasping need to trust somebody. It sets all the characters apart, especially Harry Lime who towers over the film, despite not really being in it all that much. Lime is the "Third Man" of the title - referring to a Third Man who witnessed Harry's death as described by a witness, whom everyone else involved denies was even there. The discovery of a "Third Man" is an early clue that Holly discovers and uses to try to find out who "killed" Harry Lime.

The setting of this film is also unusual. Vienna is literally pulling itself out of rubble. Piles of concrete, and stone dust, and bombed out buildings are in nearly every shot. Nothing looks new and almost nothing is whole. There is evidence of war in nearly every scene. Oddly enough, the sewers are the only structures that seem solid, not crumbling or broken - and they are far underground. But it isn't just the buildings that are destroyed - the faces of the people, all very old or very young (except the main leads who are all probably in their 30s) - are a visual hint that the able-bodied men are all gone - and good young women don't appear on the streets. Anna, who works in a theater singing comedy opera in German, isn't exactly what the times would have called a "good woman". The faces of the bit players, and the few people in the streets, have character - but they have also seen pain and destruction.

Overall, I would highly recommend watching The Third Man at least once. Visually it's a film not to be missed, despite the bleak setting. I'd say it really needs to be seen because of the bleak setting.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (SPOILERS)


  • Title:  Justice League:  Throne of Atlantis
  • Director:  Ethan Spaulding
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2015
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Matt Lanter, Sean Astin, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Shemar Moore, Jerry O'Connell, Jason O'Mara, Sumalee Montano, Sam Witwer, Sirena Irwin, Juliet Landau, George Newborn, Khary Payton
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray
"Not all heroes wear capes." - Sub Captain

"Death by collateral damage in a surface war does not comfort me. They kill our race, they poison our oceans, they will destroy this planet and take Atlantis with it. We must protect our people and attack!" - Prince Orm (aka Ocean Master)

"You speak to me of betrayal - you who spilled Atlantean blood and blamed it on the surface world! I have eyes everywhere Orm and you will pay for your treachery!" - Queen Atlanna

"This coup is over!  I am Queen and war is not in my plans!" - Queen Atlanna

I really enjoyed this DC Animated Feature -- and it's the first time in several DC Animated films I've been able to whole-heartedly say that. Although technically a Justice League movie, Throne of Atlantis really concentrates on the character of Arthur Curry and his journey to becoming Aquaman, and part of the New 52 Justice League.

The teaser for the film has a sub near the Marianas Trench responding to an SOS call. The sub is attacked and all aboard are lost. Cyborg is called in to investigate, and he calls in the rest of the Justice League.

Meanwhile, a middle-aged man is in a seaside bar in Maine, getting drunk and sharing his troubles with a live lobster in a tank. The bartender cuts him off the booze. When the same bartender takes the lobster out of the tank to make it into someone's dinner - the man, Arthur Curry, gets in a fist-fight. He's very strong and a good fighter, despite being drunk. He rescues the lobster, keeps in in his vest, then escapes outside. Defeating several guys from the bar who attack him again, as well as one man armed with a knife, Arthur releases the rescued lobster, sans rubber bands on its claws, back into the ocean.

Cyborg holds a meeting of the entire Justice League, with Flash convincing everyone to show up, though it's Green Lantern who brings in Batman. Once everyone arrives he shows him the information about the attack on the sub. Wonder Woman recognizes the writing on the weapons as Atlantean. Shazam (Captain Marvel, Billy Batson) suggests contacting an expert in Atlantis and it's lore. Superman and Batman go to investigate.

Meanwhile, Arthur Curry is living in his father's lighthouse.

Prince Orm, in league with Black Manta, confronts Queen Atlanna, his mother, whom he blames for his father's death. His father, the king was warlike and was considering a war plan to "cleanse" the surface dwellers. Atlanna, by contrasts, wishes to abandon their isolationist practices and contact the surface to broker a peaceful co-existence. Atlanna sends Meara to find Arthur, her older son.

Black Manta talks to Dr. Shin, the expert on Atlantis, on the phone, then sends his troops after the scientist. Dr. Shin arrives at Arthur's door to give him some information about his father. Arthur is very hung-over and takes awhile to get to the door, he agrees to let Dr. Shin in, but when he closes the door to take the chain bolt off, Dr. Shin is attacked and killed by Manta's troops. At the same time, Black Manta's troops, under orders from Prince Orm, attack and kill Atlantean farmers.

Meara rescues Arthur from Manta's troops. She takes him to Atlantis and sees the dead villagers who have been attacked.

Superman and Batman investigate Dr. Shin's lab - but everything's been destroyed. They find enough to lead them to Arthur Curry.

Prince Orm uses the attack on the Atlantean villagers to stir up hatred and war. Queen Atlanna tries to arrange a meeting between herself and the Justice League. Meara explains to Aquaman that he is the son of Queen Atlanna and a human, his father, Thomas, this sequence uses flashbacks. Meara shows Arthur his armor. He wears the orange and green body suit but not the outer armor.

Meara and Arthur are attacked by Trenchers (sea creatures). The Flash arrives to help Arthur and Meara. A few minutes later, Green Lantern, then the rest of the Justice League arrive to help.

Prince Orm, who shares his dead father's hatred of the surface world, again confronts his mother, Queen Atlanna. However, she knows he was behind the attack on the farmers, and she insists they will not go to war. He kills her - then blames her death on a surface dweller. Orm and Manta will lead the Atlanteans to war.

Arthur and some Justice League members go to Atlantis. They meet an old woman who says the city is empty because Queen Atlanna is dead, at the hands of a surface dweller, and Atlantis prepares for war.

Arthur, Meara and the League investigate, and run into Orm in his Ocean Master uniform. He brags that he killed his mother, the Queen. He then uses the Trident, the symbol of royal power and a powerful weapon, to attack and imprison the League.

Meanwhile, Batman, the Flash, and Shazam who have stayed behind get an alert that a tidal wave is heading for coastal cities, including Metropolis.

Arthur uses his royal power to break out of the cocoon Orm trapped him in, then uses his telepathic power to call sea creatures to help. He gets the Leaguers free and defeats the sea monster guarding them. Arthur also rescues Meara.

A tidal wave heads for Metropolis, the National Guard arrives, and sirens go off in the city causing panic. An Army General orders the Atlanteans, led by "King" Orm to stand down. Orm orders his troops to attack. The army attacks back. The entire League joins the fray, both those who had gone to Atlantis, and those who had stayed on the surface, including Aquaman and Meara.

The League keep getting defeated in battle. Finally, Batman finds Cyborg and reboots his systems. He finds out from Cyborg that Orm killed Atlanna. Cyborg has computer recordings of this. He plays the recordings a couple of times to the Atlantean troops. When Orm claims it's a trick, Meara backs up the recording, swearing it's a true depiction of what happened. The Atlanteans lay down their arms and stop fighting.

Arthur makes a speech that he will guide his people. A little while later, Arthur is "knighted" as king, takes his place as ruler and king of Atlantis. The League meanwhile decide they need to meet on a regular basis, and Arthur is invited to join the League as Aquaman.

I really enjoyed this film. It's an origin story for Aquaman and explains how he became part of the Justice League. The film also had some great touches - the flashback scene of Arthur and his father when Arthur realises he can swim underwater without difficulty and he also sees his mother, the flashbacks explaining the ill-fated romance between the Atlantean Princess Atlanna and Thomas Curry, and my favorite - the scene at the beginning of the film of Arthur pouring out his heart and troubles to a lobster in a tank, then rescuing the lobster.

The Justice League are not the real stars of this film - it's Aquaman's movie. But they are all present, and they do have things to do. I also felt each character was in character and their individual tasks and actions suited their characters.

Overall the film was highly enjoyable and it's highly recommended.

Recommendation:  See It!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next film:  The Third Man

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


  • Title:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Director:  Michel Gondry
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Focus Features
  • Genre:  Romance, SF, Drama
  • Cast:  Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"My embarrassing admission is that I really like that you're nice. Right now, I mean, I can't tell from one moment to the next what I'm going to like, but, right now, I'm glad you are." - Clementine

"Technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage, but its, its on a par with a night of heavy drinking." - Dr. Howard Mierzwiak 

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  is not your typical romantic comedy - it isn't even a typical film in the rarer genre of romantic tragedy. The film starts with Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) waking up, heading off to work, then playing hooky and taking the train to a beachside community in the middle of Winter, to be precise, on Valentine's Day.  He runs into a strange girl with bright blue hair, named Clementine, and the two start to hit it off. However, the film then diverges off into unusual and different territory. Joel discovers that Clementine, his girlfriend of two years, had him erased from her memory. Joel, in a pique of anger then decides to erase her from his memory.

However, the film doesn't tell this story linearly. We see Joel going to the Lucuna Clinic to have Clementine erased. He explains why he wants to forget her. He looks at objects from their relationship (mementos, gifts, etc) and thinks about his memories of her while undergoing CAT Scans to map his memory. That night he takes a sleeping pill. Three people from the Lucuna Clinic arrive at his apartment to erase his memory - Stan, Patrick, and Mary. However, they do not act like medical professionals, but rather like irresponsible party guys (and gal). While Stan's laptop computer performs the procedure - they drink, and do drugs. Patrick leaves pretty quickly so he can see his girlfriend - Clementine. Stan and Mary get even more drunk and stoned, and before long Mary's dancing on Joel's bed in her underwear.  Eventually, both Stan and Mary are dancing in their underwear.

Meanwhile, in a series of flashbacks, as Joel is undergoing the procedure - he remembers the times, the moments, he's spent with Clementine. He eventually realizes just how good some of those moments were - and tries to keep them. But the procedure works too well, and the audience sees scenes disappear piece by piece, or fade out of existence, or break apart in a pixelated fashion, or turn dark as if the lights were being turned off. The unusual effects heighten the strangeness of the film, but they also visually express Joel losing his memories. As the memories disappear, and Joel gets to his good memories with Clem, he realizes he doesn't want to forget. He and Clem try to outsmart the procedure by hiding in Joel's childhood memories - including some of his earliest memories.

At this point, the film flashes back to Joel having the procedure done - where Stan freaks out because "he's off the map." Joel calls in Howard (Dr. Mierzwiak) who gets the procedure back on track. However, Mary - who's still stoned, hits on Howard and even kisses him. Outside, Howard's wife watches. Howard finds out about this - as Mary tries to explain it was meaningless - Howard's wife tells her that she and Howard did have an affair, but he performed the procedure on her to make her forget.

Eventually, all of Joel's memories of Clementine disappear - but as he gets to the memory of the first time they met, a time when Joel walked out, Clem suggests he change what happened and make a new memory. We then flash-forward to the beginning of the film and Joel's compulsion to go to the beach in the middle of Winter, on Valentine's Day - where he meets Clem.

But this is not the end of the story. Because as Clem heads into her apt to pick up her toothbrush so she can spend the night with Joel (whom she's "just met") she find a letter from Mary, with a copy of her file and a tape of her conversation with the Doctor about why she wants to forget Joel. She starts the tape playing in the cassette player of his car - and he freaks out, accusing her of messing with him. But when he gets home, he find another letter and cassette from Mary for him. He starts to listen to the tape - when Clem arrives. Clem gets so angry at the things he says, she leaves - but Joel pursues her. In the hallway, Clem says they should forget it - bringing up the reasons why their relationship won't work again. But Joel seems to think they should try anyway.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  is a forerunner of films like Inception - especially in terms of the effects used to show Joel's memories being destroyed. It has a very non-linear style - I've re-organized the story more linearly in this review, but when you are watching the film it slips easily back and forth between the "present" as Stan, Patrick, Mary, and later Howard work on Joel in his bedroom - and Joel's scattered memories of his relationship with Clementine. The story is gradually built up in pieces until the audience understands exactly what it going on - it's a very intelligent film. It asks intelligent questions, If you could completely forget someone - wipe them from your mind, would you? And, there are implications too - What if such a procedure was done without your permission? (The film gets into that briefly - when it's made clear that although Howard pressured her into it - Mary did give verbal permission for the procedure.) But the film is also about the way relationships twist over time - although Joel's early (meaning late - or most recent) memories of Clem are of fights and disagreements - his late (meaning earliest) memories are sweet and lovely - and those memories he fights to keep but fails. There are other tiny bits as well - the woman in the clinic with a dog bowl, leash, and such for example. Mary arguing with a woman on the phone that she can't have the procedure done three times (in a short period is implied). And even the idea of destiny in a relationship.

Jim Carrey is very reserved and quiet as Joel. Even when he and Clem are fighting - he barely raises his voice. He's very closed off as well. It's an understated performance, the complete opposite of Carrey's normal comedic roles - and it shows what a truly great actor he is. Kate Winslet plays Clementine as a free spirit but a bit dumb. Elijah Wood as Patrick is slimy as one of the med techs working on Joel - he admits to Stan he fell in love with Clem when she he erased her mind - and he even stole her panties. Patrick also used Joel's journal and other mementos of his relationship with Clem (gifts, jewelry, etc) in an attempt to win her over.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  is a excellent and original film and I recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Justice League:  Throne of Atlantis

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Memento


  • Title: Memento
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date:  2000
  • Studio:  Newmarket Capital Group, Summit Entertainment, Columbia-Tristar (distributor)
  • Genre:  Thriller
  • Cast:  Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Callum Keith Rennie
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
"That must suck. It's all backwards. I mean, like, maybe you've got an idea about what you want to do next, but you can't remember what you just did." - Hotel Clerk

"I'm disciplined and organized. I use habit and routine to make my life possible." - Leonard

Memento is a remarkable movie, because it uses a structure that I don't think any other film has used. The film is told backwards. It's also unusual in that there are two films in one. The main story, in color, has each scene taking place immediately before the scene that precedes it. The backing story, in black and white, does move forward in time and is almost a commentary on the other scenes. It also serves to orient the viewer some in any areas that might be really confusing.

The first time I saw Memento, I knew going in that the film would be told backwards - it is what it's famous for. And even though the film is a little confusing at first, one quickly becomes used to the idea - and it really isn't as confusing as you might think. The structure forces the viewer to pay close attention to what is happening in the film. The structure also really, really puts an emphasis on editing. And as you watch the film, you end up mentally re-ordering the scenes to put them in context.

However, the structure also emphasizes the character and his point of view. The main character, Leonard (Guy Pearce), is suffering from retrograde amnesia. That is, due to a trauma (we're told) he can remember his life before the trauma, but he can't make new memories. Leonard's life exists in the brief span of a scene, the minute he loses focus, or falls asleep, he forgets everything that's happened to him. The highly unusual structure, of telling the story backwards, emphasizes this - if you haven't seen the movie before, you don't know what happened before either. Therefore when Leonard finds himself chasing a guy - or as he quickly realizes - being chased by a guy with a gun, the audience also has no idea why.

Upon viewing the film a second time, the structure still works. Because the film is told in reverse order, it's hard to remember individual scenes - so one is, for example, still confused as to why Leonard's being chased. I was surprised when I watched the film a second time, that the structure still worked and the film isn't a one hit wonder. I knew the big secret from the end of the film, of course, which I'm not going to reveal in this review. Memento still works as a film even on a second viewing.

Memento is also a film that has a timeless look to it. It's a story told in cheap hotels, dive bars, and abandoned buildings. Even the one home we see (Natalie's), although nice, is incredibly nondescript. The anonymous places accentuate Leonard's situation.

However, Memento is, at it's center a disturbing film - not because of it's unique structure, which the viewer quickly gets used to, but because of the Big Secret at the end of the film, The end, which is really the beginning when you think about it. I don't want to spoil that for movie viewers who haven't seen it, but once you know, it changes how you view the film. And probably not in the way you think.

Recommendation:  See it! I would especially recommend this movie to film students.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind