Tag Archives: Ian Holm

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

THE DEFINING CHAPTER. 

hobbit3The dragon Smaug flies to Esgaroth to destroy the town, but greater challenges await in the shape of a coming battle for Lonely Mountain. The final part of this trilogy is the shortest film Peter Jackson ever made about the Middle-Earth, but maybe that’s because it is so completely dominated by that five-army battle. Often brilliantly executed in 3D, there’s still a certain sense of emptiness lingering, a clear sign of the padding that has haunted the whole trilogy. Still, it’s interesting to see how darker the film is compared to the first one, and how lovingly and cleverly it sets up the Lord of the Rings series.

2014-U.S.-New Zealand. 144 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Peter Jackson. Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens. Novel: J.R.R. Tolkien. Song: “The Last Goodbye” (performed by Billy Boyd). Cast: Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly… James Nesbitt, Billy Connolly, Stephen Fry, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt.

Trivia: Also released in a 164-min. version.

5 kopia

 

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1066: The Conquest We Never See Onscreen

I recently finished a book called “The Norman Conquest” by Marc Morris, a riveting account of the most famous invasion of what is now the British Isles, one that changed England’s history fundamentally. I didn’t know much about this period. As a school kid, I had been made to understand that the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was a big deal, but not quite why. In a humorous and informative way, Morris tells us the story of what England looked like under Anglo-Saxon rule and how the Normans, under Duke William’s (subsequently King William I) command, shaped their conquest. For instance, I had no idea that the various castles whose ruins are still visible throughout England were built to control the natives and defend the Normans against their rebellious subjects; prior to the Conquest, there were no castles in England. Some of William’s strategies in fighting uprisings in the immediate years after Hastings offer lessons that modern dictators would do better to learn. The infamous Harrying of the North brought peace, but also widespread famine and economic devastation. The book also shows how Normans and the English soon came to intermingle, erasing arguments against multicultural societies already in the twelfth century.

In the world of film and television, the Conquest is rarely seen. The first time I learned that there was such a thing as rivaling peoples in England was when I saw the TV movie Ivanhoe (1982) as a kid; set in the late 1100s, there is still a clear struggle between Normans and Anglo-Saxons, even though generations had passed. After all, King Richard the Lionheart was William’s great-greatgrandson. The Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest have never been portrayed in detail onscreen. What we do have is minor efforts like the TV movie Blood Royal: William the Conqueror (1990), starring Michael Gambon, and the drama documentary 1066 (2009), narrated by Ian Holm. 

Considering the drama of Morris’s book, I would suggest that either Hollywood or the British film industry should take a look at this defining chapter of English history. A cable series, perhaps? In the meantime, the best piece of entertainment we may have detailing Hastings may be the above, a recent episode from Channel 4’s Time Team (1994- ), presented by Black Adder’s Tony Robinson, exploring where exactly the 1066 battle took place. Incidentally, Marc Morris makes an appearance, providing his expertise.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

FROM THE SMALLEST BEGINNINGS COME THE GREATEST LEGENDS.

Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellen) convinces a hobbit, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), to join his party of 13 dwarves on a quest to reclaim a treasure that was stolen by a mighty dragon. Set sixty years before the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson’s grand return to the same territory (now in 3D) feels more like a dreary afterthought. Benefits from Freeman’s charming performance, a few truly engaging scenes (the stone giants, Gollum’s guessing game), but a little too cute, insanely protracted, and the 48 fps format makes the film look a bit cheap.

2012-U.S.-New Zealand 169 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Peter Jackson. Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens. Novel: J.R.R. Tolkien. Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie. Music: Howard Shore. Cast: Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins), Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Sylvester McCoy… Barry Humphries, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Trivia: Del Toro was originally considered for directing duties. The first major release to be filmed in the 48 fps format. Also released in a 183-min version. Followed by two sequels, starting with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013).

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S.O.S. Titanic

When this TV production premiered, two decades had passed since Titanic (1953) and A Night to Remember (1958), two prominent films that chronicled the “unsinkable” ship’s demise in 1912. Director William Hale’s TV movie came on the heels of the 1970s disaster movie trend, but never resorts to the genre’s cheapest tricks. The cast is solid, portraying both real-life passengers as well as some fictionalized; impressive production values, especially for a TV movie. The filmmakers strike the right tone, but the film suffers from the fact that it offers nothing new – and several characters just vanish once the iceberg appears.

1979-Britain-U.S. Made for TV. 109 min. Color. Directed by William Hale. Cast: David Janssen (John Jacob Astor), Cloris Leachman (Margaret “Molly” Brown), Susan Saint James (Leigh Goodwin), David Warner (Laurence Beasley), Ian Holm, Helen Mirren.

Trivia: Originally shown as a 144 minute long two-parter, then cut to this version and released theatrically in some countries. The story was also told in another miniseries, Titanic (1996).

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A Life Less Ordinary

A COMEDY FOR ANYONE WHO’S EVER BEEN IN DANGER… OF FALLING IN LOVE.

lifelessordinaryRobert Lewis (Ewan McGregor) loses his job as a janitor and kidnaps the boss’s daughter (Cameron Diaz); two fallen angels (Holly Hunter, Delroy Lindo) try to make them fall in love. Director Danny Boyle followed his superior Shallow Grave (1994) and Trainspotting (1996) with something entirely different, a romantic comedy/caper with fantastical elements. Entertaining, and the dialogue is fun enough; McGregor is excellent as the incompetent abductor and Diaz has her moments as well. The movie tries hard to be offbeat and charming, but is less successful in the latter department; it also needs better laughs.

1997-Britain. 103 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Danny Boyle. Cast: Ewan McGregor (Robert Lewis), Cameron Diaz (Celine Naville), Holly Hunter (O’Reilly), Delroy Lindo, Ian Holm, Ian McNeice… Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub.

5 kopia

 

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Holocaust: Building the Will to Fight

 

holocaustOne of the most famous and highly respected of the Holocaust survivors, Elie Wiesel, was not a fan of this classic NBC miniseries. In his view, it was “untrue, offensive and cheap”. I guess it had to be to anyone who actually went through those horrors. In light of subsequent films like Schindler’s List (1993), Holocaust now also seems a bit tame, unable to fully convey the tragedy because of the limits set by network television. Still, when it aired all over the world Holocaust became an opportunity to shed light on a chapter of history so frightening that many preferred not to talk about it at all.

This is the story of the family Weiss, German citizens who also happened to be Jews. When we first meet them in the mid-1930s, the young artist Karl Weiss (James Woods) is marrying a Christian woman, Inga Helms (Meryl Streep). At the wedding, there are whispers about this marriage as an institution that might not benefit the couple; the Fuehrer is likely to introduce new laws targeting Jews. Still, the idea of leaving your own country seems utterly alien to Karl’s parents, dr. Joseph Weiss (Fritz Weaver) and his wife Berta (Rosemary Harris), who have a good life in Berlin. As the war approaches, the Nazi regime tightens the screws on the Jewish population. At an early stage, Karl was sent to Buchenwald on trumped-up charges and Joseph is eventually deported to Poland where he meets his brother (Sam Wanamaker) in the Warsaw Ghetto. As the Weiss family is being destroyed, an unemployed Berlin lawyer called Erik Dorf (Michael Moriarty) joins the SS and realizes that the key to success lies in complete ruthlessness.

Taking on an ambitious task
Moriarty’s character became the best remembered of the miniseries. The suffering of the Weiss’s was expected, but writer Gerald Green also took on the ambitious task of trying to answer the most pressing questions of the war – how and why could ordinary Germans turn into monsters and just how much about the Holocaust was known in Germany? Plenty, is Green’s answer; Dorf is afraid to tell his wife what he’s been up to as a member of the SS and is surprised to learn that she doesn’t really care about the bloody details as long as he provides a good life for them and their children. Moriarty plays Dorf as a cunning individual who is inspired by his superiors to always go one step further, inventing imaginative ways of killing Jews as well as employing his knowledge of law in coming up with legal and moral excuses for it, mirroring a real need to justify his actions. It’s a chilling performance and a perplexing character whose closeness to Himmler and Heydrich (Ian Holm, David Warner) provides some insight into the practicalities of the Final Solution. The Weiss family and their fate represents the emotional core of the series; few of them will enjoy a happy ending. The cast makes us root for them nevertheless; Streep and Woods, somewhat unfamiliar faces at the time, are touching as young lovers torn apart.
A lot of money was spent on Holocaust, which was filmed in Berlin and Austria. They were never in Auschwitz, however, and it shows. There is so much hardship on display throughout the series, in ghettos and camps, but the filmmakers never come close to the real deal. They make a valid attempt though and the writer makes sure we understand that the suppression of Jews came with a price; there was hard, organized resistance against the Nazis inside and outside the ghettos, a fighting spirit that is still evident today in Israel. For better or worse.

Holocaust 1978-U.S. Made for TV. 475 min. Color. Produced by Robert Berger. Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky. Teleplay: Gerald Green. Cast: Michael Moriarty (Erik Dorf), Meryl Streep (Inga Helms Weiss), James Woods (Karl Weiss), Fritz Weaver, Joseph Bottoms, Rosemary Harris… David Warner, Ian Holm.

Trivia: Originally shown in five episodes. Trevor Howard was allegedly considered for a part.

Emmys: Outstanding Limited Series, Directing, Writing, Actor (Moriarty), Actress (Streep), Supporting Actress (Blanche Baker). Golden Globes: Best Actor (Moriarty), Actress (Harris).

Last word: “The point is that anyone could become Erik Dorf. There, but for the grace of God, go I. That role helped make me a Catholic. The only way I could sustain the rage within Dorf, without guilt, was the image of Christ, all-forgiving and all-loving.” (Moriarty, People)

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The Madness of King George

HIS MAJESTY WAS ALL POWERFUL AND ALL KNOWING. BUT HE WASN’T QUITE ALL THERE.

 

madnessofkinggeorgeIn 1788, King George III of England (Nigel Hawthorne) starts acting peculiarly for no obvious reason and his son, Prince George (Rupert Everett), conspires to have him dethroned. First-time director Nicholas Hytner knows his way around the theater, but successfully turns the play into a very cinematic experience. Hawthorne is magnificent and gripping, raising hell as George III, whose behavior apparently could be blamed on porphyria. The film effectively criticizes the warped institution that is the monarchy, but avoids turning its characters into caricatures. Helen Mirren, Ian Holm and Everett turn in beautiful supporting performances; handsomely shot, with opulent production design.

1994-Britain-U.S. 107 min. Color. Produced by Stephen Evans, David Parfitt. Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Screenplay, Play: Alan Bennett (”The Madness of George III”). Art Direction: Ken Adam. Cast: Nigel Hawthorne (George III), Helen Mirren (Charlotte), Ian Holm (Dr. Willis), Rupert Everett (Prince George), Rupert Graves, John Wood.

Trivia: The title of the movie was changed from that of the play; there was fear that less gifted moviegoers might think this is the third film in a series. Hawthorne played the King on stage as well.

Oscar: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. Cannes: Best Actress (Mirren). BAFTA: Best British Film, Actor (Hawthorne), Makeup/Hair.

Quote: “I am the King. I tell, I am not told. I am the verb, sir, not the object.” (Hawthorne to Holm)

Last word: “The royal family is embarrassed by George. A lot of them have seen the film. When we did the stage version, Prince Charles came and saw it and the film version afterwards. It’s a highly sympathetic account of a king who had been maltreated, who was ill when he was being treated as insane. I don’t think the royal family ever felt that this would be something they wouldn’t applaud. […] My career took on wings after the Academy Award nomination. Without that, I would have probably floundered around a bit.” (Hawthorne, Pitch Weekly)

4 kopia

 

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Chariots of Fire: For God and Honor

THIS IS THE STORY OF TWO MEN WHO RUN… NOT TO RUN… BUT TO PROVE SOMETHING TO THE WORLD. THEY WILL SACRIFICE ANYTHING TO ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS… EXCEPT THEIR HONOR.

 

chariotsoffireI have taken up running recently and discovered that it is easy to get hooked. It’s tough in the beginning but some days is like you soar and your legs carry you on even when you thought you were too tired. In this film, Eric Liddell, the famous athlete, senses that when running he feels God’s pleasure. I wouldn’t say that happens when I move my feet, but that statement says something about the emotional power behind a simple exercise like that.

The film begins in the late 1910’s when Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) enters Cambridge. He turns out to be a fine athlete, but keeps struggling as a Jew; he has faced a lot of prejudice and those experiences have made him sensitive to any kind of derogatory treatment. At the same time, Scotsman Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) is also proving to be a promising runner (even being dubbed “The Flying Scotsman”). He’s a devout Christian who figures that running is one way of serving the Lord until he can go to China as a missionary, but his sister (Cheryl Campbell) is afraid that he’s starting to forget about the mission. As the two men are preparing to face each other at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, Harold is being trained by a true pro, Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm), and Eric is challenged by the fact that a heat of the 100 meters occurs on a Sunday, the only day of the week when the Lord sees no pleasure in his running.

Bold choice that paid dividends
It is a study of two athletes who shared similarities to some extent. The film shows both Abrahams and Liddell fighting for their convictions in the face of straining pressure; the Cambridge leadership was not pleased to see Abrahams being trained by a person with such a, shall we say, colorful ethnic background, and the British delegation in Paris (led by the Prince of Wales) wanted to see Liddell run that heat regardless of his beliefs. But they both persevered and won medals for their country, in part because of their beliefs and moral choices. It is an inspiring film, beautifully shot in the grayish British countryside by David Watkin, and having Vangelis (in his great breakthrough) write an electronic score for this period film was a bold choice that paid dividends for the future of the film music industry; his main theme is a powerful accompaniment to the famous sequence where the athletes run on a beach. The cast is fine (Holm was especially praised, but I think Charleson and Cross give the most memorable performances) and so is the writing (the script has plenty of insightful dialogue)… but I can’t for the life of me see why this essentially simple film was so praised at its time of release, even going on to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Still, it is easy to admire its ambition; producer David Puttnam was looking for a story about people who follow their conscience and he sure delivered an intelligent, emotional film… but hardly the best of the year.

Director Hugh Hudson got a marvelous breakthrough; this was his first film. Unfortunately, he has yet to deliver an equally successful film. I guess one could say that much like many athletes Hudson has had trouble recapturing the glory of his past success.

Chariots of Fire 1981-Britain. 123 min. Color. Produced by David Puttnam. Directed by Hugh Hudson. Screenplay: Colin Welland. Cinematography: David Watkin. Music: Vangelis. Costume Design: Milena Canonero. Cast: Ben Cross (Harold Abrahams), Ian Charleson (Eric Liddell), Nigel Havers (Andrew Lindsay), Nick Farrell, Alice Krige, Cheryl Campbell… Ian Holm, John Gielgud, Lindsay Anderson, Brad Davis.

Trivia: Ruby Wax, Stephen Fry and Kenneth Branagh allegedly appear as extras in this film.

Oscars: Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Original Score, Costume Design. BAFTA: Best Film, Supporting Artist (Holm), Costume Design. Golden Globe: Best Foreign Film. Cannes: Best Supporting Actor (Holm).

Quote: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” (Charleson)

Last word: “We’d been filming in Edinburgh so shot [the opening jogging scene] at St Andrews since it’s close, although it’s meant to be Broadstairs in Kent. There was no wind, the light was totally flat, but we didn’t have time or money to wait. As luck would have it, though, a grain of sand got into the camera and scratched the negative so we had to go back and redo it. This time the wind was up, creating all those white horses on the sea. We did it in just two shots, one wide and one close. The cinematographer, David Watkin, managed to create an extraordinary, almost strobe-like effect.” (Hudson, The Guardian)

4 kopia

 

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Ratatouille: The Little Chef That Could

HE’S DYING TO BECOME A CHEF.

 

ratatouilleIn creating the concept for Ratatouille, director Brad Bird got help from Thomas Keller, a distinguished chef. He advised the director on what goes on in the busy kitchen of a successful, classy restaurant and also had a few culinary tips up his sleeve, including the design of the ratatouille served at a climactic moment in the film. As much as we enjoy the story, performances and laughs, we also need to be enchanted by the appearance and scents worthy of Paris and a potentially five-star kitchen.

We’re introduced to Remy, a rat who lives with his colony somewhere on the French countryside. Remy is a dreamer, a fellow who looks up on humans and sees them as creatures who do things rather than steal them, which is how he views himself and his family. Inspired by the legendary Paris chef Gusteau who once said that anyone can cook, Remy (who has an advanced sense of smell) wants to be that “anyone”. However, one fateful night when he and his brother Emile are looking for saffron in an old lady’s kitchen, they’re discovered and the ensuing commotion forces the entire colony to evacuate. Remy is separated from Emile and their father, but ends up in Paris via the sewers – in fact, very close to Gusteau’s restaurant. The chef has passed away and the eatery is now run by the sadistic and uninventive Skinner. One of his cooks has just hired a garbage boy, Alfredo Linguini, the son of a former employee. He accidentally screws up a soup, but when no one’s watching, Remy does his best to repair the damage – and the soup impresses one of the guests to the degree that Skinner reluctantly hires Linguini as an apprentice chef, thinking it was he who made wonders. Linguini knows better and when he realizes that Remy not only can cook but understands what he says, they make a deal. Soon, Gusteau is wowing Paris again… but will Skinner learn what’s going on?

Infatuation with Paris, and cooking
Those who expect a lot of wisecracks for the grownups will be disappointed. This is one animated film that works equally well for kids and adults without resorting to gags that no child will understand. The old Disney concept of humanizing cute animals remains intact however, but nevermind. Bird shows an infatuation not only with Paris and the art of cooking, but with what could best be described as the 1960s (just like he did in The Incredibles). Adding to the charm, it’s a Paris that doesn’t really exist anymore. The atmosphere also benefits from Michael Giacchino’s music; he’s written a very warm and infectious score, perhaps his most accomplished yet. The characters and the actors who give them life are all very amusing; Patton Oswalt is likable as the gifted rat, Ian Holm does a broad interpretation (including the accent) of the scheming Skinner and Peter O’Toole is absolutely fabulous as Anton Ego, the most revered and feared restaurant critic who writes his reviews in a coffin-shaped room; I love how every word he speaks appears to soak in poison. The story might be a bit too long as it often is in Bird’s films, but it isn’t simple and predictable. It needs time to unfold and I applaud the director’s constant efforts to not dumb it down but take the chance to tell a somewhat complicated story in an animated film.

Near the end of it, Anton Ego discusses the fate of the critic. We wield power over whoever offers up their work for judgment and we take delight in nasty remarks because they’re fun to write and read… but in the end not even the best of reviews are remembered. The films are though, and one of them will undoubtedly be Ratatouille.

Ratatouille 2007-U.S. Animated. 111 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Brad Lewis. Written and directed by Brad Bird. Music: Michael Giacchino. Voices of Patton Oswalt (Remy), Ian Holm (Skinner), Lou Romano (Alfredo Linguini), Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, Peter O’Toole… Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, James Remar, Brad Bird.

Oscar: Best Animated Feature. BAFTA: Best Animated Film. Golden Globe: Best Animated Film.

Quote: “I haven’t reviewed Gusteau’s in years! If I remember, I left it condemned to the tourist trade. Here it is. I wrote, ‘Finally, chef Gusteau has found his rightful place in history alongside another equally famous chef – Monsieur Boyardee.’ That was where I left it. That was my last word – THE last word. Then tell me, Ambrister, how can it be POPULAR?” (O’Toole to his assistant (Brad Bird), questioning Gusteau’s recent success)

Last word: “They had trouble – everybody loved the idea and they loved the look of it and the cast of character types and all the possibilities of the premise but they were having trouble getting the story to coalesce. It kept wanting to go off in too many different directions and a little over a year and a half ago the Pixar founders John Lassiter, Ed Catmull and Steve Jobs asked me to come on the project, write a new script and kind of get in onto the big screen. So my motivation at first was respect for these amazing, really genius guys through some fluke of nature happened to get together and make a company that is actually an amazing place so I wanted to help them out in any way I could. Then my next motivation was oh my God, what have I done. I agreed to the original schedule – ahhh! It was complete fear and that so I just went through it. I described it to somebody else as driving down the freeway the wrong way and just trying to live and make a movie that made sense and fulfilled all the possibilities of [original story writer Jan Pinkava’s] brilliant premise and just survive. We just finished it a couple of weeks ago and I’m still just… heart beating from not dying in my freeway maneuver.” (Bird, Collider)

3 kopia

 

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Strangers With Candy

HIGH SCHOOL IS DIFFICULT… FOR A 47-YEAR-OLD EX-CON JUNKIE CRACK WHORE.

strangerswithcandy47-year-old ex-con Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) promises her comatose dad (Dan Hedaya) to go back to high school. That’s the plot and fans of the original TV show (which ran from 1999-2000) will recognize it. One has to wonder why they didn’t try to expand the story a bit, but the cast is pretty intact and much of the material is funny. Sedaris plays the outrageously vulgar Jerri Blank with great enthusiasm and co-writer Stephen Colbert is hilarious as her bitter teacher. Still, viewers are likely to give up on the characters and the story after a while.

2006-U.S. 86 min. Color. Directed by Paul Dinello. Screenplay: Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello. Cast: Amy Sedaris (Jerri Blank), Stephen Colbert (Chuck Noblet), Paul Dinello (Geoffrey Jellineck), Dan Hedaya, Deborah Rush, Ian Holm… Justin Theroux, Chris Pratt. Cameos: Allison Janney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick.

Trivia: Co-executive-produced by David Letterman.

Quote: “Hello, I’m Jerri Blank and – and I’m an alcoholic. I’m also addicted to amphetamines as well as main line narcotics. Some people say I have a sex addiction, but I think all those years of prostitution was just a means to feed my ravenous hunger for heroin. It’s kinda like the chicken or the nugget. The point is, I’m addicted to gambling. Thank you.” (Sedaris introducing herself in class)

6 kopia

 

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From Hell: The Ripper Unmasked (Again)

ONLY THE LEGEND WILL SURVIVE.

fromhellWhen I was 16 years old, I wrote a paper on Jack the Ripper. I suspect my teacher worried about my choice of subject, but this was before the age of Columbine and she allowed me to proceed. I started reading Donald Rumbelow’s brilliant book “The Complete Jack the Ripper” (1975), which still stands as the definitive work on the serial killer. 32 years have passed and several “experts” (such as Patricia Cornwell) have tried to reveal the identity of the killer, but come no closer to solving the case. This film offers no surprises, but is entertaining nonetheless.

I still remember being scared of looking at some of the photographs in Rumbelow’s book. They were pictures of some of the killer’s victims, taken after their autopsies. The worst of the photographs was taken shortly after the discovery of Mary Kelly’s body in her home; apparently, the Ripper had time to reach a sort of climax of hatred, mutilating the poor woman’s body in every reprehensible way imaginable. Making this film, directors Albert and Allen Hughes showed an interest in staying as faithful as possible to the recreation of these murders. However, The Hughes Brothers did not have integrity enough not to indulge the most elaborate theory surrounding the 1888 Whitechapel murders of five prostitutes. This is in no way a novel idea. The film was based on a graphic novel, which was itself inspired by author Stephen Knight’s theories; there was even a well-made 1988 miniseries, Jack the Ripper, that claimed to have the answer to who the killer was (but offered nothing new). From Hell focuses on Inspector Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp), the man in charge of the investigation, a person who in this version nurtures an addiction to opium and absinthe that gives him visions of the murders and the killer. As one whore is slaughtered after the other, the traces lead the Inspector from the working class neighborhoods of the East End to the highest echelons of the city… and the country.

Wheezing and whispering music
There is much to be said about the fanciful theory, but one can hardly criticize the directors for their fantastical vision of London in the 1800s, with bloodred skies and a killer shrouded in black who enjoys a bloody steak before embarking on one of his rampages. Thanks to the brothers’ direction, Peter Deming’s cinematography and Trevor Jones’s wheezing and whispering music, we feel like we’re entering a hellish London totally influenced by the Ripper’s mad and evil mind. The cast is good; Heather Graham, a Hollywood glamour girl, plays Mary Kelly, the Ripper’s final victim, and was ridiculed by some critics, but her performance does not hurt the film in any way.

In no way can one underestimate the influence this serial killer has had on popular culture in the 1900s and now into the 21st century. I am convinced that we have no idea who the real Jack the Ripper was. We prefer to invent outrageous conspiracy theories about people who died a long time ago rather than knowing the truth. What if he turned out to be a regular working class schmuck who took out his frustrations on whores and then was either locked up for some other crime or committed suicide? Would we survive the shock?

From Hell 2001-U.S. 122 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Don Murphy, Jane Hamsher. Directed by The Hughes Brothers. Screenplay: Rafael Yglesias, Terry Hayes. Graphic Novel: Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell. Cinematography: Peter Deming. Music: Trevor Jones. Cast: Johnny Depp (Frederick Abberline), Heather Graham (Mary Kelly), Ian Holm (Sir William Gull), Robbie Coltrane, Ian Richardson, Jason Flemyng.

Trivia: Nigel Hawthorne was allegedly first cast as Gull, but his cancer prevented him from working (he died later that year); Daniel Day-Lewis was considered for the part of Abberline.

Quote: “One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the twentieth century.” (Words uttered by Jack the Ripper)

Last word: “There were about 14 other productions shooting while we were [in Prague]. In fact there was one time when we were driving to set, and you would see the trucks and we saw the trailers and trucks up ahead and started to get out, and someone said: ‘That’s not us, man, we’re two blocks down’. It’s amazing really.” (Depp, Sci-fi Online)

4 kopia

 

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Lord of War

WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WEAPON.

 

lordofwarRussian immigrant Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage), who grew up in Brooklyn, becomes an arms dealer, spending the 1980s building an empire based on blood and political turmoil. Director Andrew Niccol’s satire is uncomfortably close to reality, making Cage’s ruthless merchant of menace, clad in black, a symbol of the arms dealers of the world. He is destined to fall into an abyss at some point, and Cage gives a compelling performance. It’s a smooth, mesmerizing film about an industry that depends on sustaining armed conflicts in poor nations; the day you start thinking about innocent lives is the day you get shot with your merchandise.

2005-U.S. 120 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Nicolas Cage, Norman Golightly, Andrew Niccol, Chris Roberts, Teri-Lin Robertson, Philippe Rousselet. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol. Cast: Nicolas Cage (Yuri Orlov), Jared Leto (Vitaly Orlov), Bridget Moynahan (Ava Fontaine), Ian Holm, Ethan Hawke, Eamonn Walker.

Quote: “There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?” (Cage)

Last word: “There is a very black comedy to this character, which I think is very interesting. The Devil is charming, and fabulous, and witty. But I think that’s fascinating. Not everyone in the world operates with [the same] moral code many of us share. The reason I think certain people can succeed is that they are not encumbered by many of these conflicts of conscience. There was a line that I didn’t use in the end, but I think is really important, he’s saying to Ethan Hawke’s character [Interpol agent Valentine], ‘What if I sleep better at night than you? I think that’s what really scares you.’” (Niccol, MovieFreak)

4 kopia

 

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Return of the King: At Journey’s End

THIS CHRISTMAS THE JOURNEY ENDS.

 

So, we’re at journey’s end. Peter Jackson’s final chapter of his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was hailed at the 2004 Academy Awards and many chose to see the overwhelming praise as some kind of summary reward for the whole trilogy. So do I, because there’s nothing in this film that makes it any better than the other two. It’s simply another glorious adventure.

Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood, Sean Astin) are getting closer to Mount Doom, guided by Gollum who has a sinister plan. He reckons his only chance to get the Ring back is to lure the hobbits into the lair of a giant spider that will surely kill them. Frodo and Sam are further jeopardized by the power of the Ring, which is poisoning Frodo’s mind, making him trust Gollum rather than Sam. Meantime, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) comes closer to accepting his destiny as king, crucial to the survival of Middle-earth. The evil wizard Saruman may be defeated, but Sauron is preparing for the final battles and the bloodiest of them is to take place in Gondor, in the city of Minas Tirith, where the most powerful of the Nazgûl, the dead kings, will lead Sauron’s forces. Aragorn realizes that he as well is going to need help from the undead.

Conveying a feeling of agony
Ghosts and spiders. Can it get any better? Admittedly, the spider is one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s silliest ideas, but Jackson knows how to make those sequences absolutely thrilling, especially the one where Sam comes to Frodo’s aid. The visual effects are of course stunning. The Minas Tirith battle, for instance, features an eye-popping bit where Legolas (Orlando Bloom) jumps up on a gigantic, elephant-looking animal and takes out the soldiers who are riding it, as well as the dangerous animal itself. There’s a lot here for the director to handle. Difficult decisions regarding details of the story had to be made, but the filmmakers have made the right ones (although it is a little strange that Saruman doesn’t even make an appearance). The important theme here is the end of all things. Death is present and the whole film conveys a feeling of agony; hope is about to prevail, but it’s going to take a toll. The ones to suffer the most are without a doubt the brave Ringbearer and his best friend. What started out as a joyful depiction of the hobbits in Shire has now become a dark tale about a quest that looks certain to ruin the once carefree Frodo and Sam. Wood and Astin give appropriately exhausted performances, and once again Andy Serkis, in the guise of Gollum, deserves kudos. I should also take a moment and praise Howard Shore, whose majestic work for this trilogy rendered him three Oscars. His music has reinforced the emotions of the story and planted memorable tunes in the minds of the audience; the best of the songs he co-wrote is the one featured in this film, “Into the West”.

As I said previously, it is a film about the end of all things. As the story draws to a close, we realize that it is not only the characters who must bid each other farewell. We have been following these people for three movies and nine hours and saying goodbye is emotional. The cast worked together for a long time during the back-to-back shoot of the trilogy in New Zealand and you can tell how close they became. It’s easy to imagine, anyway. Jackson himself can’t bear the thought of separation. The ending is much too drawn-out. I lost count of how many times this movie ended only to present another pointless final sequence, just for the hell of it. Ah, well. Jackson is forgiven. This has after all been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 2003-U.S. 200 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh. Directed by Peter Jackson. Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson. Novel: J.R.R. Tolkien. Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie. Music: Howard Shore. Song: “Into the West” (performed by Annie Lennox). Editing: Jamie Selkirk. Art Direction: Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Alan Lee. Costume Design: Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor. Visual Effects: Richard Taylor, and others. Cast: Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Liv Tyler (Arwen), Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett… John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Sean Bean.

Trivia: The alternate version of this film runs 250 min.

Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Original Score, Original Song, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Makeup, Sound Mixing. BAFTA: Best Film, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Special Visual Effects. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Drama), Director, Original Score, Original Song.

Last word: “‘The Return of the King’ is the most enjoyable, because in the structure of the movies, it is nothing other than pay-off, there is no more setting up to do, no more exposition, no more introducing characters. From my point of view it was always great, because we were heading toward an ending, a climax which we never had in the other two.” (Jackson, Total Film)

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