Pix & Flix

Movie News & Reviews from Hennessey Hometown Critics.
We know what we like!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Crowe Is a Robin

I had a child's fascination with Robin Hood, perhaps from watching Richard Greene on 1950's television in The Adventures of Robin Hood. I loved Errol Flynn's Puckish characterization in the classic film, laughed over Men in Tights, fell for the villain in the BBC version of Ivanhoe, and, in general, took every opportunity to revisit the story. The 2010 Universal Studios telling of the tale transcends all others.

This is a man's Robin Hood, a powerful, tightly-wound Man's Man portrayed by Russell Crowe under the direction of Ridley Scott. It is a strong combination. Scott orchestrates with a sure hand, measuring out an epic that takes its time to set the scene and then sweeps the audience away.

Epics always rest on the precipice edge of ridiculousness, a single misstep and the grand orchestration falls into tinny discord, but Scott is masterful at bringing focus. The screen is filled with grandeur, grand landscapes, masses of people, massive architecture, battle carnage, but always the focus is on the individual, the face, the eyes. The sweep of historical events is backdrop for the idea in the spotlight--the Man, the Woman, the Children. It is a film that leaves the audience with faces, and the artistry draws a strong sword and cuts a blood red line under the theme: "Rise Rise Again, until Lambs become Lions."

It is an intelligent film and, though it does not require an understanding of the historical setting, it is enriched by knowledge of the players and their place in history. It has good men and bad men and bloody battles and a leisurely romance, beautiful scenery, a beautiful Lady Marion deftly drawn by Cate Blanchett, but it is Russell Crowe's movie. He redefines Robert of Locksley.

Robin has come down from the trees and become a man.

Both the theatrical version and the Director's Cut of the movie are available for checkout at the library.

Friday, February 5, 2010

OK, So Now I Get It...

When I first read Emily Bronte's dark novel Wuthering Heights, I was very young, too young really to understand the nuances of a passionate, all-consuming obsession. And, Ozark born though I was, I got completely lost in who was related to whom and how. Once I get past first cousins, my brain shuts down.

It was with some pleasure, therefore, that I watched the 1992 film starring Ralph Fiennes (Heathcliff) and Juliette Binoche (Cathy Earnshaw/Catherine Linton). Though I still have to think really hard to get everyone placed in the familial relationships, the story itself comes clear. And what a tale it is.

Ralph Fiennes is a properly intense and brooding Heathcliff, obsessed with his adopted sister Cathy. There are nuances to this dark character that Fiennes does not attain, but the cold, vengeful man thwarted in his possession of the highborn Cathy is clearly drawn. However, though the director (Peter Kosminsky) plays the unkempt hair and clothing for wildness, he falls short of capturing the "gypsy" that Heathcliff is supposed to be.

The dual role of Catherine/Cathy is played tolerably by Juliette Binoche and her visual presence helps us believe that she would be the object of Heathcliff's obsession. The scenes from their youth are particularly well-done and lay the foundation for our acceptance of the crucial line spoken by Cathy when she demurs her coming marriage to another man: "I am Heathcliff."

Soul mates, I'll buy.

But she falls short of the wild young thing in Bronte's story. Instead, she portrays a somewhat spoiled young woman who lets vanity set her path. What should seem ingenuous translates to shallow on the screen. It is in the characterization of Catherine, the daughter, that she shows strength.

Cathy Earnshaw bonds soul to soul with the unkempt "gypsy" child her father brings home to Wuthering Heights, the family manor. Her brother, Hindley, does not, and when his father dies, Hindley lets Heathcliff stay on as a common laborer. Hindley marries and his wife dies in childbirth, causing him to turn to drink. Meanwhile Catherine marries a rich neighbor, Edgar Linton. Heathcliff disappears in misery (in this movie, misery is what he does best) to reappear some time later, mysteriously wealthy and in possession of Hindley's debts.

Heathcliff takes Wuthering Heights from Hindley, declares undying love to Cathy, and then marries her sister-in-law, Isabella. Hindley dies and Heathcliff collects his son, Hareton, and promptly demotes the boy to Heathcliff's old lowly position. Revenge is sweet. Cathy pines away and dies after giving birth to a girl, Catherine. Heathcliff's wife, Isabella, gives birth to a sickly child, Linton (why the author kept repeating names is incomprehensible to me.) and dies. Now Heathcliff is set to inherit the estate of his rival, once his rival dies--which he does, conveniently, but not before his daughter (Catherine) marries Heathcliff's son (Linton) who also dies. Heathcliff makes everyone miserable, is finally haunted by Cathy, and dies.

With everyone else dead, Catherine the widowed daughter of Cathy marries her cousin Hareton, the son of her mother's brother. A good Ozark ending. And the movie preserves every twist in this contorted mess. Dare I say the book is better?

Nonetheless, this is an well-made movie, a good candidate for high school English classes struggling with the convoluted plot and intensity of Bronte's novel. In this day of Internet Stalkers, young people are probably more acquainted with obsession than I was as a naive young girl, and the central theme carries both the movie and the book.

But for sheer clarity of plot, the movie is the window to the tale.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Drowning in the Poole...

Do not, I emphasize, DO NOT watch Henry Poole Is Here if you are even mildly depressed. This is not a movie for the faint of heart. I saw the previews and thought it would be humorous, and I was so wrong. Henry (Luke Wilson) is unrelentingly, depressingly morose, and for good reason. He has had a sad and miserable life and is now dying young with neither past nor future to cling to in his dark night. He has lost faith.

Enter a bad stucco job on the house he has just bought in which to die. There's a water stain indelibly etched into the back of his house and his neighbor, Esperenza (Adriana Barraza), is convinced it is the face of Christ. Add a lovely and enticing newly divorced mom (Radha Mitchell) and her troubled child (Morgan Lily) and you have the formula for a feel-good miracle play.


This is not a feel-good flick. It is the story of a man at the end of his rope who has no where to turn and no way to look but up. It might have been meant to be inspiring, but it just left me crushed. All the situations are too true to life, and in life, we know what Henry knows, miracles seldom happen.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Now Let Me Get This Straight...

I haven't had much time for watching movies this year. Working several grants and dealing with the excitement and adjustments to construction at the library has left my home time distracted and, I'll confess, I've had to keep my head pretty squarely in The Real to cope. So, when my good friend Po asked if I had seen The Straight Story from Disney studios and I said no and he proceeded to tell me the plot, I wasn't interested in watching but was intrigued enough to at least think about reviewing it for purchase. Resolute fellow that he is, he bought it and insisted that I watch.

I gave up on my disabled VCR at home and curled up one evening at the library, complete with Sonic supper and Oreo, the library cat, and this gentle, sweet movie.


That is the word that most comes to mind as I think on it. Sweet. Richard Farnsworth (Misery, The Natural) brings Alvin Straight to life as the stubbornly determined man who rides a 1966 John Deere lawnmower 260 miles from his small town in Iowa to the home of his brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton, The Green Mile). The brothers, who had been very close in their childhood, have become estranged over hasty words and, as the movie opens, have not spoken in 10 years. Alvin is in poor health but refuses a walker and gets around with two canes instead. He learns that Lyle has had a stroke and realizes that time is short for both of them. He determines to make amends. Because of failing eyesight, he is unable to drive but he refuses to be deterred and builds a trailer to haul behind his riding mower and begins the journey.

The film is an account of his odyssey, the people he meets along the way, and the changes he brings in the lives of those he meets. Interestingly enough, most of the characterizations are wooden and amateurish, but the film still works on a powerful level. Farnsworth and Sissy Spacek bring depth to their recreation of the real life Alvin Straight and daughter Rose, and it is the gentility of this resolute man who has learned well the lessons of his life that carries the film.

It took some doing to get to see it, but I'm oh so glad I did. Look for it on DVD at the library.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Australia--Super-Size That?

I know it's not fashionable to enjoy neo-epics, but I have to admit that I'm a sucker for the BIG picture--love the scenery, thrill to the sweep of a thundering herd no matter what it is: horses, cattle, buffalo, people... I chose to watch Baz Luhrmann's Australia because it looked BIG, and I wasn't disappointed. Sweeping vistas of the Outback, breathtaking starry skies, BIG explosions, cattle, horses, romance, war, adventure, danger, good and evil--it has it all. Maybe that's a problem. Maybe Luhrmann tried to do too much.

Stiff English noblewoman Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) travels to the Outback, determined to sell the family's cattle operation. Upon arrival, she discovers her husband has been murdered, ostensibly by the mystical aborigine, King George (David Gulpilil). The estate, Faraway Downs, is surrounded by the land of cattle baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown) who wants to buy Lady Sarah out. The only way she can save the land is by getting her cattle to Darwin and selling them to the British seeking meat to feed English soldiers fighting WWII. A fiercely independent cattle drover called...Drover (Hugh Jackman) helps her reach her goal--and then provides a different kind of goal for the proper English woman.

It's only the beginning of a long, rambling story full of plots and sub-plots. It's Out of Africa set in Australia--the live-in wanderer lover, the cattle drive, the natives and independent woman. It's Empire of the Sun with the war, the evacuation, the separation of mother from son --though Lady Sarah is only a surrogate mom to the half-caste child Nullah (Brandon Walters). It's Saturday Morning Westerns, with the conflict between the innocent, city-girl ranch owner pitted against the evil cattle baron and his minions. It's Broken Arrow with the Anglo guy who goes native and marries the native girl who dies and then fights for her people. There's elements of Casablanca and a nod to the Wizard of Oz. It's so predictable, but that's part of its charm. It's comfortably familiar.

It's a John Ford epic shot through a modern filter. I was struck by the many scenes that seemed sniped from Ford's films and reset in the Outback. It was a soulful homage. I loved it.

But, is it good? Well...

It's fast-food Epic. All the necessary elements are there and it is satisfying, but even Super-Sized, it's still Epic Lite.