Just Another Week Or So

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I know I promised to upload more reviews but I’ve got a chest infection. I’ll be right as rain soon but for the next week or so I won’t be as active on here. I promise to catch up on things once I’m better.

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Reviews to come

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Just a quick post to say that movie and television reviews will be following in the next few weeks. I’ve had various things on and have been enjoying the weather. Just wanted to check in with everyone.

Doctor Zhivago

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The always sensational, lovely and talented Maddy is doing a blogathon that pays tribute to the great mastery of David Lean. I decided to review Doctor Zhivago.

Starring

  • Omar Sharif as Yuri Zhivago
  • Julie Christie as Lara Antipova
  • Geraldine Chaplin as Tonya Gromeko
  • Tom Courtenay as Pasha Antipov
  • Rod Steiger as Victor Komarovsky
  • Alec Guinness as Yevgraf Zhivago

A sweeping epic of romance set during the Russian Revolution and War, Doctor Zhivago is a classic of film making from the imagery to the acting. It’s an epic in nearly every sense of the word.

The movie begins with General Yevgraf Zhivago searching for what would be his niece. He finds a girl who he believes to be the one and narrates the story of his half-brother and lover. The story flashes back to Yuri losing his mother. He is taken in by the Gromeko family and moves to Moscow, where he is raised along with their daughter Tonya. He grows up to be a doctor and in his spare time, he writes poetry that reveals his romantic outlook on life. Meanwhile and nearby, Lara is a beautiful young woman who is in a relationship with passionate revolutionary Pasha, but is seduced by the much older and nastier Victor Komarovsky. Being naive and unsure of her feelings, she is used by him as he does with nearly everyone else. Yuri and Lara briefly meet when she shoots Komarovsky for his brutal treatment of her. Though it is brief, Zhivago is taken with the beautiful Lara. When World War I breaks out, Zhivago is drafted into service for his medical knowledge and Lara volunteers as a nurse. This is where their romance begins, though it is interrupted frequently by the upcoming Revolution and the chaos of events. Yuri marries Tonya but he still holds a flame for Lara, though he doesn’t act in his romantic feelings for her. Over the course of years, their love deepens as Zhivago flees from the rise of Communism  and they continue to meet but be separated. Though they pursue romance, fate and time has other ideas for the pair that aren’t going to run at all smoothly.

David Lean, whose movies are so full of majesty, is on dazzling form here. He spins the story of the star-crossed lovers in a changing world and though the film is epic and grand, manages to convey the intimacy of the love story among all the chaos. He’s a true artist of the form of movie making and his fingerprints which are extremely stylish and sensitive make Doctor Zhivago a treat. His immense eye for detail is on full show and the sheer scope of images that haunt the mind are too many to list. Aiding him is Freddie Young’s atmospheric and sublime cinematography and the iconic Maurice Jarre score, which features the lilting ‘Lara’s Theme’. Special mention must go to production designer for his sets which are striking in every way . With Lean at the helm with ever meticulous style, all these elements make Doctor Zhivago a visual masterpiece. Memorable scenes abound like the dragoon attack on peaceful protesters, a perilous train journey and Lara and Yuri’s getaway in an ice-covered dacha. Many have accused this movie of oversimplifying events during the Revolution and to some extent, it does do that. But it’s not to any detriment of the movie and as so much happened in the Revolution and War, it would be impossible to cover everything. Instead, we are at least given an understanding of a country changing rapidly and the impact it has on lives. Robert Bolt’s screenplay gets to the centre of upheaval and makes it accessible for the audience to follow in the films long running time. And what events they are as the Revolution and World War I alter the world irreversibly and the romance at the heart is tested at every turn. It’s not aiming to be a factual lesson, but it still has enough clout at capture the ups and downs of life at the time of World War I and the Russian Revolution. The starkness of the times is deeply felt as the world undergoes significant change. And it brings with it great emotion, especially in the thwarted and doomed romance of Zhivago and Lara. If you don’t feel at least moved by the movie, you must have a heart of ice.

Omar Sharif quietly conveys the longings and sensitive nature of the title character. Some may say he seems like a bystander in his own story, but Zhivago as played by Sharif is very much alive, especially when in the company of his beloved Lara. It’s all in his eyes and how they react to the world around him. The lovely Julie Christie supplies the inspiration and romance of the film with her turn as Lara. With her face(which my Grandfather said was made for cinema), you can witness the growth of a woman from vulnerable girl to passionate survivor over the course of the film. And she looks so beautiful in this movie; those blue eyes and prominent cheekbones complimenting her serene and soulful delivery of muse to. Understated passion is her biggest triumph that she contributes to events. Plus, her chemistry with Sharif is palpable and extremely convincing as the love story plays our against fate and time. Geraldine Chaplin has a radiant and almost motherly quality that she brings to the screen, while the excellent Tom Courtenay captures the anguish and loss of morality of a revolutionary forever altered by the brutality he encounters. Rod Steiger is a huge standout as the loathsome but not altogether evil Komarovsky. He’s a slime ball who sides with anyone he can in order to make his way, but Steiger discovers a certain level of humanity beneath the leering and vindictive face of the man. And rounding out the main players is the ever reliable Alec Guinness, who functions as narrator.

Passionate, full-blooded and breathtakingly beautiful, Doctor Zhivago has David Lean displaying all his talents and sense of epic vision.

Shadow of a Doubt

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The delightful Maddy asked me to take part in a Second Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon and I just couldn’t refuse. I had to review Shadow of a Doubt, which is one of my favourite Hitchcock movies.

Director

Alfred Hitchcock

Starring

  • Teresa Wright as Charlie Newton
  • Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charlie Oakley
  • Henry Travers as Joseph Newton
  • Patricia Collinge as Emma Newton
  • Hume Cronyn as Herb

A cracking thriller pulling apart the image of picket fence America, Shadow of a Doubt has director Alfred Hitchcock on scintillating form. Working in a smaller scale, it’s a movie that features many interesting themes and wonderful performances.

Charlie Newton is a bored young girl living in the picturesque town of Santa Rosa, California. She feels she has nothing to do and that her life is dull. Her thoughts of this are quickly changed when news that her Uncle Charlie, who she was named after, is arriving in town. Her family is very happy about the incoming arrival of him as they adore him. What young Charlie doesn’t know is that her beloved Uncle is in fact the Merry Widow Murderer, who is fleeing Philadelphia. Everyone is in awe of Charlie and he lifts everyone’s spirits, particularly his niece. He is accepted right back into the bosom of the picture postcard town. But as much as young Charlie admires her uncle and fawns over him, various things start to worry her about her favourite relative. His behaviour occasionally becomes erratic and dark and two detectives, posing as journalists, also appear in town looking for the man they believe to be the killer. Soon Charlie becomes suspicious of the uncle she always adored and digs into his past. This of course puts her in danger as we aren’t sure whether Uncle Charlie will kill her because she knows too much.

Alfred Hitchcock displays his directing prowess in many ways and brings out the story with darkness and keen insight. Darkness pervades this movie and the eternal battle of good against evil is waged in circumstances that seemed comfortable but are disturbed by something sinister. Suspense builds as Young Charlie wrestles with what she feels about her Uncle Charlie and how he is far from the man she idolized. Doubt tears apart the picture perfect image of society with irony and dark humour. A cracking example is Charlie’s father and next door neighbour whose main interest is discussing mystery and murder. The delicious irony that a serial killer is under the father’s roof is excellent. Plus, I love all of the references to doubles and twins, particularly how the main characters share the same name but at are different ends of the morality spectrum. Shadow of a Doubt may not boast the big set pieces that some Hitchcock movies have, but it features a lot of his artistry and penchant for generating suspense. By being more small-scale, the story comes to the forefront and the characters are the centre. For me, it’s one of the directors finest movies as it explores deep darkness and has fine acting and writing. Hitchcock was always fascinated by the dark side of human nature and his direction and themes are aided by a screenplay that really compliments his vision. The best example is when Charlie and Uncle Charlie are in a bar and he begins to talk of the nastiness behind closed doors that so many people don’t see because of the veil of niceness. While bleak and extremely creepy, Uncle Charlie is definitely on to something that still rings true today. It’s a spine chilling scene that says so much about Uncle Charlie’s character and his view of life. Dimitri Tiomkin provides the score, that undercuts events with a beauty and idyll, while simultaneously revealing the shocking truth and evil within the character of Uncle Charlie.

Leading events is Teresa Wright, who has the right mixture of youthful enthusiasm and eventual maturity as she is faced with her worst nightmare. The sweetness Wright brings is just the amount needed so as not to become cloying, but watching her grow up fast is fascinating and melancholy at the same time. Wright is simply put marvellous as the young girl learning the hard way about the evils of life. Joseph Cotten is a revelation as Uncle Charlie; balancing charm and beguiling nature with a worryingly dark intensity. He does this sometimes in the blink of an eye, making the part one that is unpredictable. Cotten commits to the part, using his usual nice guy persona to deathly, smooth effect and colouring what’s there with something extremely sinister. It is Wright and Cotten who are the big stars here and deliver the goods splendidly. Henry Travers and Patricia Collinge are well suited to their roles as parents, doting on the family and raising their kids the best they can. Travers enjoys a fine rapport with a debuting Hume Cronyn, who steals his scenes as the murder obsessed neighbour.

A wonderfully unnerving and successful thriller from one of the best directors there has been, Shadow of a Doubt is a must see.

Two of my Favourite Comedy Shows

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I admit to being a lover of comedy when it’s done right. Two of my favourite comedy series are Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond. Below I will list why I love them so.

Everybody Loves Raymond:

  • That jingling music that is both funny and catchy.
  • The family that is the Barone’s, dysfunctional in the best sense of the word.
  • The timing and situations that happen.
  • How it could be deep at times.
  • And of course, the riotous humour.

Frasier:

  • The ear worm of a theme song.
  • The immense chemistry between the cast.
  • The cast and guest stars that kept it so fresh.
  • The way the characters were written and portrayed.
  • How it knew when to bring in emotion.
  • And last but not least, the scintillating comedy.

The Day of the Jackal

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Director

Fred Zinnemann

Starring

  • Edward Fox as The Jackal
  • Michael Lonsdale as Claude Lebel
  • Cyril Cusack as Gunsmith
  • Ronald Pickup as the Forger
  • Derek Jacobi as Caron
  • Delphine Seyrig as Colette

A superbly crafted and tense political thriller based on the renowned novel by Frederick Forsyth , The Day of the Jackal has fine precision and the ability to make you sit up and concentrate.

It is 1963.  An underground group known as OAS in France is outraged by President Charles de Gaulle’s decision to award independence to Algeria. Various attempts are made on his life, yet none are fruitful or successful. After one such attempt, many members of the group are apprehended, arrested and the leader is executed via firing squad. In anger, the remaining members of OAS enlist the services of The Jackal. He is a mysterious assassin with no background but immense skill at his job. Around the time of hiring him to kill de Gaulle, the police learn after some interrogation of a OAS member of The Jackal and an assassination, but nothing further. The Jackal meticulously plans the assassination, getting what he needs from a number of people and often killing them when they cross him. Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel is brought in to head the investigation by the Interior Minister. He is to uncover when the assassination will take place and hopefully prevent it. Lebel is a fastidious man who doubts he is cut out for this enormous job at first, but shows his worth and sharp mind in searching for the assassin. And so begins a cat and mouse game as both head towards their goals, each with the idea for a different outcome.

Fred Zinnemann is the shining star of The Day of the Jackal; his understanding of pace  and how to sustain a high level of unease is admirable and dexterous. The film may run for two and a half hours, but it sure doesn’t feel like it due to his handsome and taut handling of the material. Which isn’t to say that the film is rushed, instead its methodical and enthralling with how painstakingly it documents The Jackal’s planning of his job and Lebel’s analytical mind. You see it’s not about the main action of the piece; it’s all about the planning of it all. By cutting between the Jackal and Lebel, immediacy is created and used to spellbinding effect . You see how carefully and fastidiously both parties go about their business and objective. There’s real efficiency and uncertainty created in the viewers mind as Lebel closes in on the Jackal, but finds him most elusive at nearly every step. The editing is the second star of Jackal for how it combines the two characters in their fields of work and the inevitable confrontation between them. Add to that voice overs that carry over to other scenes and it’s a seamless way of telling a story  This is a thriller that is about intellect and plotting rather than over the top violence and blood. Granted, there is violence but most of it is hinted at rather than show, giving it a more chilling quality. The murders committed by The Jackal are skilled and briefly brutal, much like the man doing them. He is a man who is coldly ruthless and immensely determined, which is a deadly combination.  much like Jackal is a movie that demands your undivided attention as so much goes on. It’s largely compelling and there are only a few things that may have benefited from more explanation. But the vast majority of things are coolly and compulsively rendered for us to view and appreciate. Any little languors can be ignored because of how skilfully The Day of the Jackal tell it’s story and patiently but rewardingly pulls you in.

This movie features a wide cast, but there are those who really stand out. Heading things is Edward Fox as the eponymous killer. His boyish looks are employed with ruthless charm here, making him a charismatic but very dangerous fellow. This coupled with an icy stare and cool efficiency is perfect for the part. Seriously, I can’t imagine anyone bringing the menace and suaveness to the role that Fox does. Michael Lonsdale plays his part of detective with a sense of savvy and intellect. There’s a doubting quality there, but an immense dignity and steadfastness too. All of that compliments things greatly. In support there is Alan Badel as the hassled Interior Minister and look out for Cyril Cusack and Ronald Pickup as two men who aid The Jackal. Also a young Derek Jacobi makes an appearance as Lebel’s assistant and a tragic Delphine Seyrig as a woman romanced by the Jackal are worth praising.

A skillfully executed thriller with immense suspense and a keen eye for showing how the legwork of investigation can be, The Day of the Jackal is rightfully held in high regard.

I’m feeling Good

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I’ve been absent again lately, but please let mr explain. The weather has been glorious and I’ve been stepping up my fitness. I have started running again and going on long walks. And I must say I’m feeling good at the minute. I will be back very soon, just wanted to stop by and reassure you all that I’m still alive.

Escape from New York

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The ever wonderful Gill invited me to take part in a blogathon to honour Kurt Russell and I simply couldn’t refuse.

Director

John Carpenter

Starring

  • Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken
  • Lee Van Cleef as Bob Hauk
  • Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie
  • Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie
  • Harry Dean Stanton as Brain
  • Isaac Hayes as The Duke
  • Donald Pleasence as the President

John Carpenter’s science-fiction action film Escape from New York is rightfully held in high regard for its vision and plot. And with atmosphere, imagination and a bad ass lead character to boot, it’s hard to disagree.

The year is a then futuristic 1997. Manhattan Island has been turned into a maximum security prison where once you go in, you never come out. In the main area that was once the central hub, anarchy reigns supreme with violence and destruction. When the President’s plane is hijacked and he crash lands in Manhattan, he is taken hostage by the local crime boss The Duke and his goons. He was supposed to be attending a peace summit with the Soviet Union, but that goes completely out the window with the events that unfurl. Sneaky and manipulative Commissioner Bob Hauk then strong arms the most unlikely person ever to rescue the President from an almost certain death. That person is Snake Plissken, a cynical ex soldier, serving time for theft. Snake is understandably not at all on board with this plan. But after being told that if he rescues the President within 24 hours he could be pardoned, he accepts reluctantly. Though Hauk makes sure he will do it as he has micro explosives implanted in Snake’s neck that will detonate if he doesn’t complete the mission. Hauk knows that Snake would use the opportunity to escape but has him by a tight leash now. With time ticking away, Snake enters the city where he encounters violence from various factions and some assistance by a rag tag group of renegades. They consist of a joking cab driver, hard edged lady and know all.

John Carpenter keeps events imaginative and engaging, with his ingenuity on clear display. I’ve always admired what he brings to a movie and he has the story be one that is very taut and entertaining. Some will say that the film has dated parts, which it does in areas, but the anachronistic touches really add to the oddball personality of the film that it isn’t easy to see why it’s a cult movie. Carpenter plays up the outlandish aspects of the story and the desecration of humanity, mainly in the case of Snake and his no cares attitude towards everything. On the visual front, the practical effects have aged well, with the shots of New York through a futuristic lens being particularly inspired. We get a grimy dystopia to witness and one that has certainly influenced many a film since. Escape from New York is often billed in some quarters as an action movie(which in many cases it is), but for me it’s more about the moody atmosphere than anything else. The cyberpunk echoes and vision of a world in free fall really make sure that Escape from New York is a film to remember. John Carpenter himself provides the pulsing electronic score that compliments the futuristic setting and has just the right notes of darkness there too.

Kurt Russell completely owns the screen as the growling, scowling yet sardonically witty bad ass that is Snake. Russell provides the cynicism and swagger of a man who doesn’t believe in anything and is proud of it. He is ironically the last person you’d think of to rescue a president and that is what ultimately drives the plot. Seriously, Snake ranks as one of the most charismatic and bad ass anti heroes there is. Lee Van Cleef is on nasty form as the scheming and controlling Comissioner who uses Snake to his own advantage. Ernest Borgnine, Adrienne Barbeau and Harry Dean Stanton flesh out the crew that Snake falls in with excellently.With some serious style, Isaac Hayes rocks it portraying the crime boss who stands in the way of Snake succeeding. And there’s Donald Pleasence appearing as the President, who it is revealed is not as squeaky clean as he seemed.

Exciting, inventive and engrossing, Escape from New York is John Carpenter at his imaginative and full blooded best, aided by a fine performance from Kurt Russell as one of cinema’s best anti-heroes.