Sunday, July 24, 2016

Life is Beautiful

Life Is Beautiful attempts the impossible which is to make a romantic comedy set during the holocaust. This idea itself might be damning for some. For me the success of the film really comes down to the actor/director at the center of it all Roberto Benigni. This is not even his skill as a director. I will admit there are some effective moments on that point in his way of avoiding the horror, yet still instilling the horror of the situation. For example when the rounding up children for death or the old people it's something that just happens. The rest of the film though focuses squarely on Benigni work at the center of the film, and actually I can see how he won the Oscar. If you love the film, as the Academy did, you'd have to support his performance. Benigni carries the film whether you want him to or not. I'm afraid I'm on the not side of things. I just don't find him particularly funny or endearing, and it only compound things that his style is take it or leave it.  The film does not work for me because Benigni does not.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Elizabeth seems almost an answer of sorts to Shakespeare in Love presenting a dark violent Elizabethan England in stark contrast to the often cheerful one found in Shakespeare in Love also from 98. Elizabeth is a curious film in terms of its style. It feels on one hand that it is attempting some sort of legitimate depiction of the beginnings of Elizabeth's reign as Queen. However the film is more downright ridiculous exploitation than anything else. Whether this is the depiction of Queen Mary as a grotesque creature, Walsingham as a some sort of badass assassin, its constant reminding of Elizabeth not being the virgin queen, or every catholic being a sinister spy. My favorite scene in that regard has to be when some of Elizabeth's men uncover some conspirators by finding a hidden room where they are in prayer with a priest, and it's portrayed almost as though they uncovered a meth making den. Now I don't mind exploitation. My problem here is it somehow almost feels accidental considering how every scene is given this grim deadly serious tone, which seems at odds with how absurd so much of it is.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Shakespeare In Love

Shakespeare In Love is an often maligned film for defeating Saving Private Ryan, though it was the other World War II epic that deserved the notice above all but I digress. As is often the case hatred is blinding since the film has some clearly exceptional qualities. The production design, costumes and score are all magnificent. Now there is something a bit odd about the film for me. In that I rather like the elements, that don't really have anything to do with the with IN LOVE part of the title. I thoroughly enjoy the world created around the Globe theater with the actors, and the money men. There is a lot of fun to be had there. It is the film's more serious minded elements I find less successful, though not really bad either. A major problem is Joseph Fiennes is not a terribly charismatic actor and does not carry us with the sort of ease of a truly great romantic lead. The romantic plot has some stodgy bits particularly in regards to Colin Firth in a thankless role as a one note villain. Again I don't believe these elements to be terrible, and there is fun to be had here. An all time great best picture winner, no, but a bad film, also no.

The Pianist

The Pianist is a story of the Holocaust through the eyes of one man, Władysław Szpilman, a piano player by trade. The film works by maintaining this singular view throughout the film aided well by Adrien Brody's excellent central performance. This structure is the power of the film as it reveals the slow steps of the process of both the horrors of the war and the holocaust. Whether it is the way the Jews are slowly downgraded into status going from second class citizens, to ghetto dwellers, to eventually sent to death camps. We all get it from this one man who is often saved only by sheer luck of the draw in one way or another. The choice to keep the perspective so close is particularly effective in terms of emphasizing with Szpilman not only in terms of heartbreak of the losses he experiences, the fear of the near death moments, the paranoia of those suspecting his place, but also the dreams of something else in the piano playing moments. One of my favorite scenes is when Szpilman witnesses an outbreak of violence, and perspective allows for such a unique and harrowing depiction of warfare. It's exceptional film about a single man's survival.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Henry V (1989)

Henry V marks Kenneth Branagh first cinematic foray into adapting the Bard, and almost seemed to encourage comparison to Laurence Olivier given that was his first film as well. Branagh seems to take a more straight forward approach. Of course the story requires a bit fourth wall breaking due to its introduction or else excise of the material. Branagh deals with rather quickly limiting this to the chorus which he keeps through a living narrator played by Derek Jacobi, who Branagh always seem to get his best from. Branagh makes a rather brilliant decision in terms of the written adaptation by including passages from Henry IV to further develop the King's relationship with Falstaff and his group of friends. This effectively realizes the transformation from the boy as a Prince to become the man as a King. This allows for one particularly powerful moment where Henry must proceed with the execution of one his former friends. Branagh crafts the arc well leading the origin which proceeds with his invasion of France. The invasion itself is handled with a focus on the often grim reality of battle, though Branagh does leave time for a bit of grandeur through the King's speech which is made particularly rousing due to the score by Patrick Doyle. It's a grand adaptation, it's not quite as strong as Hamlet mainly due to Branagh's own performance style is a better fit for Hamlet than Henry, but still a triumph.