Category Archives: Historical Drama

MONUMENTS MEN (2014) movie review

Learn your  A B C’s:the-monuments-men-uk-quad-posterA lways trust George Clooney.

B elieve in Bill Murray.

C ast Matt Damon in anything.

D on’t forget Cate Blanchett.

E njoy Bob Balaban as much in this as in Guffman or Moonrise Kingdom.

F eel the weight of loss when you realize that Hitler stole everything from people when he took their lives.

G reet Goodman, as ever, a force and a friend, like a grandfather you fear but can’t wait to see.

H ugh Bonneville, Downton’s Lord Grantham, stayed true to form in his stately address and attire.

I nnocuous as art may seem, when paired with the destruction of so much of Europe, its loss must have felt like insult to the injuries caused by war.

J oin ever sweet Jean Dujardin and the team in rescuing stolen art with their suave personalities and winning smiles.the-monuments-men_wide-5c74020332c43e14e25bfc06079da41ee6d50dc5-s6-c30

K eep
L ooking though you
M ay
N ever clear the
O bstacles
P ervading your
Q uest.
R emember that your
S oul is
T he art of the
U niverse’s Creator who
V alues you, knowing you are
W orth treasuring, as
eX tingushable as
Y ou may feel.

NaZ i soldiers obeyed orders, feeling they were right, but Clooney’s troop of Monuments Men sought to remind all why we fight.2013-mostanticipated-monumentsmen-full

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THE BOOK THIEF (2014) movie review

At least with Titanic, you knew the boat would sink.

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This film showed such perseverance of the soul, such hope in desperation, such light in darkness, such freedom breaking out with boldness, bursting through despite fear. It was gorgeous until…

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the-book-thief-1…until the end.
The end, if you can call it an ending, attempted to jump 80 years or so into the future and relay the deaths of ALL OF THE CHARACTERS!
Never before have I seen a script invest in and develop characters and relationships so delicately, so painstakingly right up until the instant death of almost all.
Sure, there are gruesome war films. But this? Everyone dies horribly, too soon, only to be found by the one girl who loves them all. We have to watch the main character grieve again and again over each one. It was too much.

They all live through wars, but die in a moment? They fight to love then lose their lives? What is this, Downton? My apologies. I give Fellowes far too much credit for killing his characters when their lives are sweetest to them. War is never sweet. But life can be. I confess I’m on the constant watch for the sweetness of life. I hunt for beauty like treasure. I value words as the character Max did.

This film is not what I imagined it would be at all.
Skip the narration, choose the alternate ending and turn it off before the end of the war.

The Book Thief

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AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013) movie review

American Hustle Film SetChristian Bale will break your heart. His soft-spoken badger-like hunched persona seeks redemption, grace, requited love.

american-hustle-am_2769649aAmy Adams will make you question a million motives. She’s snake-like, a survivor. The tin-man shell coating, like clear polish, only glosses over her wounded, exposed red-beating soul.

American-Hustle-Bradley-CooperBradley Cooper will finally allow you past his pretty boy image and let you almost dislike him. He pitches back and forth, buoyed by power potential, by recognition, by attention-deficient, by hunger, by ideas unexamined and unrealized.

jennifer-lawrence-first-american-hustleJennifer Lawrence will make you laugh a hearty Napoleon Dynamite type laugh that you feel guilty for exhaling once it’s out. She’s the available one, the ironic truth teller, the unwanted wife.

AMERICAN-HUSTLE-13Jeremy Renner will win your vote. He’s cool, collected, the honest family man politician from a time when most thought  that men like him told the truth.

mc-american-hustle-01This film is a foul glimpse at underbelly life in the attempted pursuit at middle class. It’s untaught good intentions misguided and nearly mobbed out of existence. It’s life in the 70’s. It’s ABSCAM and FBI half-truths. It’s the birth of the “science oven.” It’s a masters class in acting. It’s David O. Russell on his A-game.

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Every character actively pursues love, to know and be known, the internal meditative dialogue of need and desire. All seek redemption. All hunger for normalcy and fight to find it.

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SAVING MR. BANKS (2013) movie review


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Saving Mr. Banks is a beautiful film reawakening Mary Poppins as an eternal classic. Etched into the psyches of most adults who watched it as children, we all know, for instance, that a spoon full of sugar actually does make the medicine go down. For every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.  Children should play games, all sorts.  Height can be measured by one’s character and be “practically perfect in every way.” Birds are meant to be sung to and fed, tuppence-a-bag. Sister suffragettes have earned a glee-filled “well done!” Neighbors have their quirks and canons. Street art is best. Carousels are magical. Uncles often get lost in their own jokes and must be brought back down to earth. Chimney sweeps were the first dirty dancers. Mothers should all be allowed to hire governesses, cooks, and cleaners. Fathers must be forgiven for working hard and then we must teach them to fly kites.

Saving-Mr-Banks-TrailerEmma Thompson plays P L Travers, British author of the Mary Poppins books. Her character appears to be the quintessential British matron with grand expectations and low tolerance for superfluous nonsense. What a pairing with the original imaginarian, Tom Hanks as Walt Disney himself. This film peaks through the office doorway into the early glory years of Disney. mary-poppins3-560x457As an adult, I still believe that Disneyland is the best place, “happiest on earth” as it claims to be. I love it so much. It remains quaint but moves forward, new and inventive while reviving vaulted delights at will. Creativity personifies within those gates, often showing up as the Mouse.

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Tom Hanks in Saving Mr Banks

The brilliantly cast Colin Farrell is Mr. Banks, the one who must be saved. And Paul Giamatti delights with his quiet affirmations. He won me over as well.  Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak march in as the brilliant unsung jolly song writing duo who turned so many children’s books into a show giving characters musical life.

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What we don’t realize while watching Mary Poppins that it battles heart wrenching issues, offering hope to children when real life gets them down. Though slower-paced than Poppins, edgier and more emotional, Banks is all heart as it endears and renders fathers forgivable at long last.

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ROMEO & JULIET (2013) movie review

Romeo-and-Juliet-2013I teach Romeo & Juliet to freshmen. So, how thrilled am I when a film does justice to a story and offers yet another visual option to help students connect with literature, especially their first taste of Shakespeare.

This version is beautiful. Filmed in the actual city of Verona in Italy, you feel transported by the orange-hued sunrises, the castled landscape, and the constant flavors in renaissance artwork layered on each backdrop.
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It’s visually perfect. Certainly Julien Fellowes, Downton Abbey writer, takes his literary liberties as screenwriter, allowing for a medieval tournament and fewer characters. He does, however, speed up the action and include scenes and characters rarely enjoyed in film versions. He is also somehow able to keep it clean (classroom appropriate) without losing the romantic heart of the play. I believe that Shakespeare himself would have approved of Fellowes’s translation.
_MG_6659.CR2Paul Giamatti, never before a favorite of mine, flawlessly endeared the Friar character and stole the show.
supportingcast-romeo-juliet-damian-natashaDamian Lewis (brilliant as Winters in Band of Brothers and currently starring  in tv’s Homeland) played Lord Capulet perfectly. His performance was unexpected and fresh. Hailee Steinfeld, the True Grit lovely, sweetened Juliet with youth and believability. The statuesque and stunning Douglas Booth played well the lovestruck son and heir Romeo.Romeo-and-Juliet

Any attempt at Romeo & Juliet begs a comparison.

Romeo-JulietThere is  no better teaching tool to offer freshmen boys than replacing swords with guns, an orchard below the balcony with a swimming pool, and awkward tights with khakis and Hawaiian shirts.  Baz Luhrmann‘s 1996 version with gorgeously brooding Fortune’s fool Leo and a pre-pubescent Claire Danes helps students relate and hear actual Shakespeare with modern connections. We scaffold to what we know, and suddenly learning is not a chore.Romeo-and-Juliet1

Most stage versions cast the couple too old, so it’s a hard sell in a classroom. Zeffirelli’s classic 1968 version, though prominent in schools and sporting a boastable Zac Efron look-alike as Romeo, is now nearly unrelatable to students who mock the forced lines, abundance of cleavage, and laughable characterizations.Fate-Shakespeare-Romeo-Juliet

The flaw in Fellowe’s version is that students will forget to treat it as an adaptation and No Fear Shakespeare will reign over actual script. Well, we shall all take a tip from Juliet in this and, “Look to like, if looking liking move, but no more deep endart my eye than your content gives strength to make it fly.”8643814882_c1e93bea0a_o

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42 (2013) movie review

gallery_15Stop what you are doing. Don’t waste another second. See this beautiful film.

Harrison Ford has always been a favorite, but now I’m in awe. He’s got gumption – that confidence that shines on-screen. And, he keeps secrets worth decoding, joy and sorrow resident in his eyes.

3a96c6df7d8602c6_42-trailer.xxxlarge_1Young Chadwick Boseman, Jackie Robinson‘s true doppelgänger, fulfilled his role with the honesty and swagger of the legend himself.

There is honor in this film. It speaks of doing right all alone, of standing still against oceanic pull.

Racism obviously disgusts on every level. This film chooses to go beyond the black versus white question to pierce the heart of hate being hateful and the soul of letting skill speak for skill alone. It reminds me that people are capable of great love or brutality, but that they can also change.42-movie

Who has your heart? What keeps your feet steady? Jackie Robinson was just a man playing the game that he was born to play, a game that so many love. People fight in many ways for what is right. Robinson allowed himself to become a symbol. He walked in silence allowing his skill to speak for him despite screaming threats on an angry current.

He played baseball and let God fight for him.42movie01

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DOWNTON ABBEY Season 3

DOWNTON-ABBEY_320x240Beware of spoilers.

I believe that writers can develop what I like to call a god-complex. They become so intimately involved in the practice of creation, of breathing life into characters, that they can become calloused and begin to enjoy the act too much when the pen doubles as the Reaper’s sickle, wielding the duel power to take life as well as give it.horrible-things-on-downton-abbey-season-3-epi-L-V6yWah

Julian Fellowes is the brilliant writer / creator of the globally renowned television show called Downton Abbey. What Fellowes has done in this third season is make us care. Well done. We are like sled dogs, he holding the mushing reins. When he gives we rejoice, and when he removes we mourn. That is good writing.
When this season ended in the UKAmericans had barely had time to dream over Lady Mary’s would-be wedding clothes. And I had to wait until March to see what Britain calls its “Christmas episode.”PreviewFile.jpg

Screenwriters are taught to add “gap” or elements of surprise into scenes. No amount of gap could compare to the final moments of this third season. Matthew who has seen so much death on and off the battlefield, who finally marries his dearest love, who accepts his title and position and saves the estate he is to inherit, and who meets his very own son is suddenly wiped from the storyboards. Matthew gone. Matthew immortalized as Mary’s perfect love.

Ah ha! The writer, a British Lord himself, playing dice with his universe?

130205_TVC_MENTENNISDA.jpg.CROP.multipart2-mediumI heard once that “fame is secular man’s grasp on immortality.” In Greek mythology, the true hero tests the fates and moves to make a mark on history in order to become legend, for only in legend can he become immortal. Matthew was in this sense immortalized before he could be deemed less lovely.

n the special features of Downton III, the writer claims that he allows Mary to have her perfect love. Is it divine punishment to offer true love and then take it away in its prime? I suppose it fits, mythologically speaking, but the true test here is how much an audience can take.

My theory is simple. Despite the ensemble drama, Mary is the main character, the hero of this story. She is central. She is fixed. All others play foil to her tale. Certainly she could die and the role of hero would be replaced, but for now she is left to carry on through tragedy. Great heroes have great dreams unfulfilled, great flaws to overcome, and and great hurdles to cross completely alone.

We shall see how it plays out for this hero despite the looming thunder of Downton’s Zeus.da3-s3-index_scale_1024x2000

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LINCOLN (2012) movie review

LincolnSteven Spielberg usually goes for gimmick and glory over text and tone. This film, however, is a talkie. It’s not an action flick or a sci-fi. It’s not shocking. There is no product placement. It IS, however, perfect lighting in brown rooms, it is fluttering curtains and conversation. These conversations mattered. They carried historical weight.

Lincoln-photo-courtesy-DreamWorks-Touchstone-PicturesThe film centers around the passing of the 13th amendment, ending slavery in our country. President Lincoln so obviously bore the burden of that charge, pressing despite political implications, with a goal to do more than just end a war. He wanted to end it having changed the world. He wanted the war to matter.

This is not our fight today, but would it be had not this captain lived and died making this his fight?

Lincoln-Movie-ReviewWatching this was like piecing a puzzle together. It was methodical, thick with names and faces, strategic, messy, then somehow quite beautiful – a wonder to be cherished.

Watching Daniel Day-Lewis portray the man Lincoln was rather existential. He became Lincoln. Lee Pace jeered crowds against the amendment while Sally Field broke her husbands heart daily. Tommy Lee Jones regaled as the artful dodger and lovable curmudgeon.

lincoln-2968991000lincoln-fernandowood1When Lincoln spoke, all stilled to listen. Lincoln must have been a storyteller who wooed masses with his gentle reverberance. His words felt weighted. He was called to that great purpose.

O Captain my Captain.

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LES MISERABLES (2012) movie review

 

les_miserables_ver11This year I won front row tickets to see the Broadway show Wicked in Seattle. photo-1Precious gift from God. I felt spoiled for productions ever after having seen costumes, makeup, and expressions up close.

If you’ve even had an incling of appreciation for stage productions and musicals, you will appreciate the film Les Miserables. It IS almost 100% sung, so walk in aware. I love musical theater, but operetta styles can still feel awkward, every word sung not said. The reality of the sets and scenes, as well as the very felt emotions from the characters make this element more memorable than unbearable, especially when paired with the fact that they all sang it live on set with the music in their ears rather than prerecording and lip syncing for camera.

121207LesMis_7000079Some friends were amused by Crowe’s “attemp” at singing. I disagree. Russell Crowe is a professional. He is a risk-taker with his roles, versatile, considerate, and brave. And, from a vocal standard he was a bit nasally but his pitch, tone, and interpretation was savvy. I loved him.

helena-bonham-carter-sacha-baron-cohen-les-miserables-photoSo many character actors…so little time….

anne-hathaway-les-miserables1I was stunned by Anne hathaway. I haven’t loved her for any role truly since Devil Wears Prada, but this was stunning, brilliant. She deserves the accolades she’s been piling up.

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HughJackman_LesMiserablesHugh Jackman stands alone as the one Hollywood actor who could have tackled his role. He breathed the redemption story of forgiveness and love with the presence of one who kneels to receive the grace he knows he can’t earn. And I believe he has and will accept the honors associated with this job well done with the same humility.

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I love the forgiveness tale beneath this twisted, sad story. I love it when people stand for truth, when love rescues and forgiveness resounds.

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Now every cinema stub is a winner of front row tickets. Don’t miss the up close, the make-up and costuming, the sets and the singing. Don’t miss all of my favorites performed expertly by Samantha Barks as Eponine, or tenor Eddie Redmayne (who was also wonderful in My Week with Marylin).

Experience Les Miserables. Feel like a front row winner.

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Charlie Chaplin’s THE KID (1921) movie review

In our era, we struggle to understand issues that people faced in bygone days. Charlie Chaplin understood and helped people emote to the harmonium’s repetitive tunes. He romanced the camera turning simplicity into hilarity and heartbreak.

2011’s best picture hit The Artist, gave modern audiences a sumptuous taste of film history. Oddly, it prepared me to watch this Chaplin film for the first time, and it was a lovely hour and a half spent.

 

I dare you to try it. Get to know the glorious black and white. Learn to read lips, facial expressions, and body language. Delight in young talent. Settle in for a short time at a safe distance from the chasm between poverty and prosperity that they knew too well in the 20’s. You may surprise yourself and fall for Chaplin’s flat feet, cane, and satche as I did.

 

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