Monday, June 27, 2016

Game of Thrones Season 6

Game of Thrones Season 6 had to pick up the pieces of the fifth season which left things far messier than they ever had been before. The certain strengths of all previous seasons, the acting, the music, all of the technical elements, were evident even in that season, and they once again are evident here. In some regards they have only become stronger with some of the actors only having become better as the seasons have progressed. This season had to make due with the lingering plot threads of the previous and make do with its source material failing to set much of a proper course, in terms of both published and unpublished materials. The plotting in this season is not nearly as tight as it had been before yet it is far stronger than the previous entry. There are missteps throughout the episodes, though few of them are so major to be unforgivable. The execution though continues to be so strong, the characters continue to develop in such a captivating fashion, that it is easy to overlook the occasional mistakes. They are particularly made up for by the high points of this season being some of the greatest peaks the show has ever achieved. This season actually ended up building brilliantly to two of the most powerful and satisfying final episodes the show has ever crafted. The show has never been perfect, this season is not perfect either. The strength of its successes far outweighs any of its failures, and this season proves there's still plenty of magic left in Westeros.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's most famous plays but its not necessarily one of his best. It's simplicity makes it one that can easily mess up in its adaptation without the proper interpretation of the source material. Luckily Franco Zeffirelli is a bit of a master of the Shakespeare adaptation. Now visually speaking Zeffirelli adaptation are often quite captivating as he seems to attempt to represent the approximate time of the actual story in terms of costuming and sets, and just do that in a way that is visually appealing. Zeffirelli accomplishes that. Zeffirelli's skill goes beyond an effective visual representation in his interpretation of the play. One pivotal choice her makes is in the casting of the leads who are both properly young, as this version keeps in mind the foolishness of young love. It is not that it mocks them, but rather ensures a better understanding of their actions. Now even though its a tragedy Zeffirelli is mindful of lack of nuance in terms of certain elements of the story, and keeps a lighter touch with the material. It's a intelligent choice as Zeffirelli shows the bad decisions throughout the story mainly come from people just not taking time to think things through properly. This is best realized by his brilliant representation of the duel between Mercutio and Tybalt, which is as comedic as tragic, and in the end more about ego than hatred. It's in many ways a daring adaptation, almost covertly so, and an absolute success.

Hamlet (1996)

Hamlet starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh attempts to turn the Shakespeare theatrical play into a grand spectacle of cinema. Branagh's spiritual predecessor, Laurence Olivier's own adaptation took an intimate, though still cinematic, approach that pared the material down to its most basic elements. Branagh's version does the exact opposite adapting the play in its entirety in the style of a Hollywood CinemaScope epic of the 50's and 60's. This is in the sense of the grand scope that Branagh gives to the story. This is in every sense from the massive rather magnificent sets, the sumptuous costumes, the sweeping score, as well as keeping the Fortinbras subplot which forces a less intimate perspective on the events of the play. Branagh's approach to the material succeeds in his aim, but is also rather fitting to Branagh's personal approach to the part of Hamlet. Now this is not to say this approach is without pitfalls as seen with Branagh taking a note from the Michael Todd Around the World in Eighty Days rule book, which is to fill the smaller parts with recognizable stars. A few of these are distracting or downright bad, Jack Lemmon, Robin Williams and Gerard Depardieu, but I'll admit the strength of the rest, Charlton Heston in particular, more than makes up for it. Branagh choices succeed here and the complete play does add to the story particularly in regards to the character development of King Cladius and Polonius. It is an adaptation with a clear vision and Branagh successfully uses that to craft a powerful and rather memorable version of the often adapted work.

The Life of Emile Zola

William Dieterle and star Paul Muni once again team up for a biopic this time for writer/social crusader Emile Zola. For the first two thirds of the film it follows a similair structure that their previous collaboration, the Story of Louis Pasteur followed, that being various steps in the life of the man. In this case it basically follows his slow build in popularity through his writing which stems from various personal experiences throughout his life. The time is clearly imprinted onto the film as the politics of Zola are kept vague and are distilled down to the rather friendly concept of justice for all. This being the case though leaves the film itself vague since it does not delve into proper details on Zola's efforts though there is an occasional memorable scene crafted by Dieterle's direction, such as when Zola stumbles upon a large group of poor people in the fog. The film does not find its footing though until its third act which is centered solely around Dreyfus affair, where a Jewish military officer was framed for a crime he did not commit. Zola decides to champion his case and a fight for justice takes place. This is when the film comes to life as a real passion can be found through the writing, direction and particularly the performances of Muni and Joseph Schildkraut as Dreyfus. The film finds what it is about since its willing to not shy away from directly facing what its about, and it reaches towards a powerful conclusion. The film ends on a high note, but it also reminds one of how inarticulate and inert most of the earlier scenes had been. It's an uneven film, but luckily the filmmakers were nice enough to leave the bad on one side and the good on the other.

The Story of Louis Pasteur

The Story of Louis Pasteur is an episodic telling of the life of Louis Pasteur, a chemist who made great strides in terms of the understanding and prevention of diseases caused by microscopic organisms. The film covers various portions of his career. His time in simply having germs recognized to exist to begin with, then his development of a cure for Anthrax then later a treatment for rabies. William Dieterle is an extremely capable director when it comes to creating atmosphere but he seems shackled here by the straight forward nature of this story. There is only one scene when a man is being treated for Rabies using an archaic method where one can see Dieterle usual ability. It's a completely respectable film fitting to its completely respectable subject matter.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Lost Patrol

The Lost Patrol is short yet taught war thriller about a small British patrol after their commanding officer is killed. The group take refuge in Oasis, but find they're surrounded by a deadly enemy. The film wholly works as it sets up its characters quickly and effectively realized with a strong ensemble for the time featuring Victor McLaglen, Wallace Ford, and Boris Karloff. John Ford's direction is often the highlight though creating a real sense of place in the desert, as he creates a sense of exotic grandeur along with an eerie paranoia from the unknown. The feeling of being lost there with the men is evident, and the growing despair creeps upon you. It's rarely mentioned among Ford's films despite being such a strong indication of his talent as a filmmaker.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

For Whom The Bell Tolls depicts the Spanish Civil war while World War II, which involved fighting fascists, was raging. Now due to that it is interesting that one sees a film directed by ardent anti-communist Sam Wood, despite being a film about an American aiding technically the communist side of fight. This odd peculiarity probably explains the film which is also an odd peculiarity. It's a bloated film that's technically all about the attempt by the rebels to destroy a bridge held by the enemy. It takes a long time to get to that bridge. Now there are some clearly positive elements. The early color cinematography is rather unique and appealing, and Katina Paxinou is outstanding in her complex depiction of one of the guerilla leaders. The rest of the film is a strange mixed bag. The film attempts some mixture in terms of its depiction of sides, but it never quite commits. It shows those moments, yet then its moments of depicting the fight itself are often showed to be particularly romantic. It treads extremely dark territory involving Ingrid Bergman's character, but even that seems underdeveloped through the films wavering perspective. One of the biggest flaws comes in Akim Tamiroff's over the top depiction of the questionable leader of the revolutionaries Pablo. His performance limits the character into just a caricature of basically a bully where something far more complicated seemed possible. Now to be fair that too comes from Wood's direction which never makes the story feel cohesive. The various threads hang there, and the potential of the story seems largely wasted by the last frame.

Pride of the Yankees

Pride of the Yankees marks another turn by Gary Cooper as a man considered by many to be an American hero. This time Yankee hall of famer Lou Gehrig. The film, which premiered little more than a year after the real Gehrig passed away, gives a wholly positive portrait of the man. Of course that's not really a problem, but the film doesn't have a lot to say about him total. The baseball games themselves are given little weight, and it mostly just gives brief glimpses during various points in his career. The focal point is on Gehrig relationship with his wife, played by the always excessively charming Teresa Wright. This in itself is kept pretty simple, but to be fair it is appropriately sweet as well. The film technically does not get going until Gehrig's fatal diagnosis which is only the tail end of the film. This does allow it to end on a highpoint which is Gehrig's farewell speech, and to his credit Cooper completely delivers in the moment. The film is a pleasant enough, and moving film. It isn't much but it isn't bad either.

Sergeant York

Sergeant York tells the truly fascinating story of Sergeant Alvin York who performed an unbelievable feat of battle during World War I. Unfortunately the film does not tell this in an especially fascinating way. It is weighed down by its leading performance with Gary Cooper as York. Cooper is one actor I've never warmed up to, there's a few performances where his excessively low key style works, but this is not one of them. There is pivotal change in the early part of the film where York goes from an angry lout to a good Christian, but this is portrayed without nuance by Cooper's turn. He just goes from a soft spoken laid back guy who punches people to a soft spoken laid back pacifist who ends up shooting people. His performance severely hinders the first two acts of the film. The final act is the war where the a battle sequences are far less visceral and impressive than All Quiet on The Western Front which came out almost ten years before this film. This film though is part propaganda(coming out shortly before the U.S. entered WWII), so the war scenes, though they show death, are never too brutal. In doing that they're never excessively engaging either. Altogether the film isn't terrible by any means, but a far more impressive film seems possible given the subject matter.

Inherent Vice

Well if the Master was too weird or hard to follow for a viewer, Paul Thomas Anderson does nothing to ease that pain with his follow up Inherent Vice. It's a strange switch up though as this film is technically a comedy about a stoner P.I. trying to find out what happened to his ex-girlfriend who is related to a bizarre plot that involves all sorts of odd-balls. The plot itself, though you can decipher it, is purposefully left to be hard to follow through the often strange way various characters speak when delivering pivotal exposition. The film though is more about experiencing the plot than following it, which might aggravate some, but not me. This film is a concise mess of a film, in that it is all over the place yet every moment of it seem intentional in terms of Anderson's vision for the piece. We follow the PI Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) again as he goes through a strange world of drugs, murders, and a sense of strange paranoia while attempting to get to the bottom of this neo-noir. This film seems particularly true to the stoner cause, as the film itself in this one seems to be a bit high, and one just needs to enjoy the trip even if it all doesn't make sense at first.

The Master

The Master stands as a pure Anderson film, as the only way to describe would as a Paul Thomas Anderson film. This is a purity of the style he had been fashioning over his previous films. Although there is perhaps a growing split with this film, and particularly the next film I'll be getting to, I fall firmly on the positive in terms of appreciating Anderson's unique vision. This film is a fascinating examination of a battle scarred war veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), and his run in with a religious cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Along with Dodd's wife Peggy (Amy Adams) the three seem to represent the Id, Super-Ego and Ego respectively. Nothing about the film's plot or even storyline exactly results as one might expect, or some might even want as the three have curious struggle of powers of sorts as the cult tries to help Freddie and Freddie tries to help the cult. The film is fascinating in this examination of this relationship, but this is never clinical as it might sound. It goes so much further in its depiction of the broken Freddie, and how this relates to Lancaster Dodd whose own relationship with the cult is not an obvious one. The film develops never as you quite think it will yet it never stops being intriguing and engaging through its portrayal of Freddie's difficult journey to discover some sort of peace in himself.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Punch-Drunk Love

Punch-Drunk Love seems like quite the odd switcheroo as he goes from his two risky endeavors of Boogie Nights and especially Magnolia to, an Adam Sandler romantic comedy? I suppose that in itself is a risk for someone trying to make a good film given that is infrequently the description used for films starring Sandler. Now in terms of Anderson his visual panache is evident as ever, but the intent of the film seems to be to be a successful romantic comedy. That isn't quite so simple, though that is the focus, in that Anderson uses this opportunity for more than that. Adam Sandler's performance has been described as against type, but it is anything but. Sandler's character keeps two of his most defining features, he's somewhat off-beat, and is quick to extreme outbursts of anger. Anderson decides to breakdown the typical Sandler type, and examine what would create such a man, and how such a man would really be like in a more realistic setting. It is fascinating to see Anderson unravel this all the while still succeeding in crafting an endearing romance, and an entertaining comedy, thanks in large part due to a Philip Seymour Hoffman as a villainous mattress salesman. It perhaps does not achieve the heights of his other films, but the end product still is one of a kind to the point that I'd love to see Anderson take on a few other "stock" film genres.


Magnolia is Paul Thomas Anderson's third feature film and has the daring of an expert in the field. Anderson once again utilizes a Robert Altmanesque structure, though this time even looser than Boogie Nights as there is no defined lead, and no story is explicitly more important than the other. There are connections though through the pivotal theme of impossible coincidence, which is stated in the brilliant opening scene about three strange stories that were said to be all a matter of chance. This sets up the final connection based around an occurrence that seems supernatural, but is natural though again is just a matter of chance, slim chance. That final element of the film was particularly divisive for the film when it came out it seems less so now. That is only the structure, an intriguing and compelling structure yet only the structure that enables for a variety of very human stories about various different though usually desperate people living through difficult moments in their lives. Anderson once again weaves through just about flawlessly a variety of tones within this idea and never allows the film to collapse despite taking some severe risks in regards to the tone. Now, unlike Boogie Nights, there is one story I find less compelling than the rest due to a overwrought performance however I don't think that single performance is enough to weigh down film more than just keeping the film from perfection. Anderson still tries to roll the Hard Eight and succeeds in the gamble. That success is another testament to his talent, but the gamble itself is the mark of a one of a kind filmmaker.