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The King of Kings (1927)
I'm not a religious man. Nevertheless, I found this to be a very moving picture.
Or series of pictures. So many of the shots are very clearly carefully set up, often to evoke famous paintings.
The use of light, though simple given the techniques of the day, is often very effective.
The story is told to include all the well-known episodes in the story of Christ. The pace is leisurely, but never too slow. Each scene is developed to its fullest.
And the acting - which is to say the faces - are sometimes remarkable.
If you're used to action movies, you'll never get through this. But if you can adopt yourself to its pace, you'll be amazed how effective this movie is.
The technique in this movie is astounding. The story, and the history, not so much.
The most astounding thing in this movie, for me, was the cinematography. It is eye-poppingly riveting, and often very beautiful. From the early scene where we suddenly see the beaches of Dunkirk spread out before us against the brilliant blue of the sea, through many following scenes, the color and the framing of many of the scenes is truly remarkable. The cameraman clearly has a painter's eye.
The action photography is also often remarkable. The filming of the dogfights, with constantly tilting cameras, gave you some idea of what it must have been like to be in those fighter planes.
The various stories - on the pier, in the skies, on the small British pleasure yacht, on the sinking trawler, etc. - were sometimes juxtaposed to great effect, each one heightening the effect of the preceding one.
The music - and use of sound - in the movie was also dead on, heightening the tension over and over.
In short, this movie held me glued to my seat almost from the get-go.
But that did not keep me from seeing the problems.
The first is a matter of taste. Once the tension starts, it almost never lets up. I realize that for some viewers that's a plus. I could have used some variation.
There is, for all intents and purposes, no real acting in this movie, and certainly no character development. An occasional break in the tension to develop the characters to some extent would have made the movie more interesting to me.
My big issue, though, is the way this movie treats history. From the first scene on the beach, where we see the British soldiers lined up waiting to board a ship to evacuate them back to England, this movie is designed to praise the courage and calmness of the British soldier, as well as the heroism of the British civilian who sailed small boats across the Channel to save them. 300,000+ of them, in fact.
What the movie simply ignores is that while Britain evacuated virtually all of its troops from Dunkirk, they did so at the expense of the French, tens of thousands of whom were left on the beaches to be captured by the Germans and spend four years rotting in POW camps in Germany. At the very end, Kenneth Branaugh's character says that he will stay "to wait for the French," but in fact the British did not. Once they got their own troops out, they stopped the mission.
There were also certain situations that were set up just to milk the audience's emotions, such as the blinding and subsequent death of the young man on the yacht. That, to me, was manipulative.
Overall, however, there is much that is impressive in this movie. It is slick, but impressively so. There's no real depth to it - you know nothing about the characters and don't have any feelings for them - and it doesn't raise any real issues to think about. The most moving moment, by far, is moving only because someone else wrote it: Churchill's great speech about how the British will go on fighting. It makes you realize that nothing else in the movie has that sort of verbal power. If you want this story treated with depth, try Mrs. Miniver. That's manipulative as well, but with far more humanity.
I can't imagine watching this on a TV. It needs a big screen with vibrant color and a great sound system. But if you want to be riveted to your seat for two hours in a movie theater, you could do far worse.
Viceroy's House (2017)
Lord Mountbatten's betrayal
I liked this movie a LOT more than some of the previous reviewers. I found the acting very fine indeed, the script intelligent and not at all simplistic. Mountbatten found himself faced with an impossible problem, reconciling the demands of Muslims and Hindus in India after World War II and England's promise to free the subcontinent. Mountbatten - and his wife - do what they can to make the transition as bloodless as possible, but they and most of the other characters, real and fictional, are overwhelmed by forces completely beyond their control.
And then, near the end, Mountbatten discovers that the resolution has already been worked out ahead of time, and that he, too, is just a pawn in this affair.
I have no idea how faithful this movie is to history. But I do know that I found it well acted and, as time went on, deeply moving.
Les as de la jungle (2017)
Enjoyable but not memorable
Most of the audience with whom I saw this movie were small kids. They seemed to like it.
I thought it was fine, but not memorable. The graphics are nothing special, and pale against something like Bambi or Ernest and Celestine. The movie involves a lot of violence,things getting blown up, though no one is really shown getting hurt.
I've seen better in its genre.
From the makers of Ernest and Célestine
The two men who directed Ernest and Célestine five years ago are also responsible for this animated movie. E & C is to me a truly remarkable movie for all sorts of reasons, both visually and verbally. This movie is not in that league, but it's still worth seeing.
It contains three stories about animal characters, each one better than the one before. Some of it is very funny - I saw it with a lot of children during a matinée, and they laughed. It is rarely as touching or profound as its predecessor. You never really care for any of the characters, unlike in E & C. It's well drawn, but it not a work of visual art the way its predecessor was.
See it with young children.
Ce qui nous lie (2017)
An average TV movie with lots of beautiful landscape photography
The two previous reviewers really liked this. I thought it was a pretty average made-for-TV type movie.
It tells the story of two brothers and a sister who inherit a vineyard in the Burgundy region of France. They have to pay steep inheritance taxes on it, and the two brothers have complications on their lives. All this gets worked out by the end of the movie amid a lot of shots of very beautiful Burgundy vineyards - and one very desolate supposedly Australian but actually Spanish one for contrast. The three leads are attractive young folk, and there's even a little sex - basically one scene, just where you would expect it.
It's pretty much a paint by the numbers movie, pleasant but unremarkable.
The Present (2014)
This is a wonderful movie that becomes deeply touching for reasons I can't explain without giving away the ending. If you get a chance to see it, treat yourself. You'll be happy that you did.
This is just filler to get to five lines. Once upon a midnight dreary, While I wondered weak and weary Over a many quaint and curious Volume of forgotten lore.
So This Is Love (1953)
Not another Great Caruso, by a long shot
MGM scored a big and rather unexpected hit in 1951 with *The Great Caruso*, their very fictionalized bi op of the great Neapolitan tenor. The success was the result of several features, such as a good mix of recognizable operatic numbers and well-known Neapolitan songs. But the real winning card was Mario Lanza as Caruso. Himself the product of the poor Italian neighborhoods of South Philly, with a build like a stevedore that made him look like "a real guy" to Americans of all classes, Lanza was perfect for making a larger-than-life individual come across on screen bursting with life.
Warner Brothers could therefore be forgiven for trying to do the same thing with the American soprano Grace Moore. Moore had been a success on Broadway for a few years, then had a good if not stellar career at the Met. But it was with movies like *One Night of Love* (1934), *When You're in Love* (1937), and *I'll Take Romance* (1937), along with a lot of appearances on the radio, that Moore entered the general popular consciousness, in part because she was a good singer, in part because she was a fearless, vivacious lady in an era when most opera stars, and even many female movie stars, were still intent on being seen as "ladies." Just as Caruso was famous for (being accused of) pinching a lady in the monkey house at the zoo, Moore, to some of the same extent, crossed the line from the world of classical music to the world of Joe and Jane Smith.
It would therefore have made sense to focus on this aspect of Moore's life and career in a movie about her that was being marketed to a general audience.
For whatever reason, Warner Brothers did not do this.
Instead, this movie focuses on Moore's career up until her arrival at the Met, and does not make any effort to suggest that she was "a wild and crazy lady." (You wouldn't hire Kathryn Grayson for that, anyway.) We get a paint-by-the-numbers story of an almost uninterrupted rise to success, and it isn't interesting.
Nor, as others point out, do we get much of the popular music that was associated with Moore. Her one performance of Ciriciribin gets interrupted before the last high note, which is what Moore had been famous for. (It's even referenced in *Funny Woman*.)
There's also another problem with this movie: it is the story of a woman who put career before love and family, but then doesn't do much with that. For American audiences in 1953, that was still a fairly radical theme, and should have been developed a lot more carefully.
There are all sorts of other, lesser problems. It is very antiseptic. The movie starts off when Moore is a child in Tennessee, but NO ONE speaks with even a hint of a Southern accent. Later, Moore sings with the great Irish tenor John McCormack, but he neither speaks nor sings with an Irish accent.
In general, the film looks cheaply made, the way Warner Brothers' 1952 April in Paris looks cheap after MGM's lavish 1951 An American in Paris. (April in Paris is still a lot better movie than this, though, thanks in large part to better music and Doris Day.)
If you want to learn about Grace Moore, read her entertaining autobiography *You're Only Human Once*. (I think there's also a biography, but I can't remember the title and couldn't find it on amazon.com) This movie makes her seem boring, and that is one adjective that no one who remembered her from when she was popular would associate with her.
Places in the Heart (1984)
A collection of great performances do not, alas, a great movie make
This is a fine movie, certainly, lit up by some truly great performances.
First of all Sally Field's turn as the woman who has to learn how to run a cotton farm in the Depression when everything was stacked against her.
Followed by Danny Glover's underwritten performance as Moze, the man who helps her do that.
But, despite the fact that it received an Academy Award, I think the problem here, to the extent that it is a problem, is the script. It tries to cover too many stories, rather than developing the other main characters.
Nor was I a fan of the directing. Too many atmospheric shots. I would rather have learned more about some of the characters, especially Moze.
Still, a good movie, and one that will repay your watching it.
Bastille Day (2016)
There isn't much of anything to this movie, other than a lot of fast action, with the usual "collateral damage." Idris Elba is an actual actor, but he has no material to act with here. So, for that matter, is Thierry Godard, one of the leads in the French TV series Un Village français, but here he gets nothing at all.
Every now and then there are allusions to current politics in French - the National Front, etc. - but they don't go anywhere, and are not explained.
Not much is done with the Paris setting. No pleasant scenes in the Eiffel Tower restaurants, or along the banks of the Seine, etc.
There is no point in summarizing the plot, such as it is, because it's not very interesting. Suffice it to say that, when all is said and done, this is actually about an impossible bank holdup.
If you decide to watch this movie - and I can't imagine why you would - watch it late at night when your mind has shut down and doesn't catch all the holes in the plot.