Do you hear the people sing?
Les Miserables is directed by Tom Hooper and is based on the musical of the same name by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg which in turn is based on Victor Hugo's 1862 French novel of the same name. The film features an ensemble cast, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Samantha Barks, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter, and Sacha Baron Cohen. It was nominated for eight Oscars and won three for Best Sound Mixing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway.
The 2012 film version of Les Miserables marks around the umpteenth time that the musical based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel has been put to film, and yet, it seems that because this is the umpteenth time that Les Miserables has been put to film, the music lovers of the world have yet to tire of the musical's non-stop singing, and no filmmaker is yet convinced that an utterly perfect film adaptation of Les Miserables currently exists, and thus, the likes of Tom Hooper want to hopefully be the one who makes that utterly perfect adaptation and give the kiss of death to all future Les Mis adaptations. Let it be stated now that the dream of an utterly perfect Les Miserables will still have to wait, because Tom Hooper's Les Miserables is far from a masterpiece. But thankfully for him and Universal Pictures, the flaws the film contains weren't repulsive enough to scare away ticket buyers, with the film getting a Christmas Day release and going on to rake in over $440 million worldwide.
With the kind of star power in the cast and the movie clocking in at a hair above two and a half hours, there's no denying that this Les Mis is going all in for being that epic musical that will sock you right in the feels and have you begging and pleading for everyone you know and love to watch it as well. It may come as a surprise that this was Hugh Jackman's live action musical film debut, but given that the man had already developed such a potent career by then, anyone could agree that he was more than up to the challenge of portraying the film's lead.
The general plot is unchanged, concerning a series of story lines that all intersect in some way. The main story liner follows prisoner Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who serves nineteen years after stealing a loaf of bread, eventually being released on parole. Valjean's parole status prevents him from finding work, but he is offered temporary shelter by the Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson). Valjean tries to steal some silver from the Bishop, but after being captured, the Bishop reveals that he wants Valjean to take the silver and use it to start a new life Eight years later, Valjean has become a factory owner and the mayor of Montreuli, Pas-de-Calais. However, Valjean is being pursued by police inspector Javert, who is vying to have Valjean convicted and properly punished for his crimes. The game of cat and mouse between the two spans over twenty years.
The other story line concerns one of Valjean's factory workers, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who is fired after a note is discovered that states that Fantine has been sending her earnings to her illegitimate daughter, Cosette. Fantine turns to prostitution, being arrested by Javert after attacking a customer. Valjean arrives on the scene and is able to take Fantine to a hospital. As Fantine lies dying in a hospital bed, Valjean promises that he will find Cosette and raise her as his own daughter. Cosette grows up under Valjean's care, and she soon encounters Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a young man who is a part of a revolutionary group that intends to overthrow the French monarchy. Marius and Cosette instantly fall in love, much to the envy of Eponine (Samantha Barks), a young girl who secretly loves Marius.
Trying to describe the plot of Les Mis without giving at least half it away is an impossible task, because the movie goes well beyond the pursuit of Valjean by Javert, which should not be the only thing one ought to know about the film. The characters are all linked together in some way, despite the fact that many of them have their own separate agendas in mind. But at the end of the day, many of the characters end up assisting one another, such as Valjean coming to help the revolutionists in their efforts towards overthrowing the monarchy. And yes, if you've seen the musical on stage anywhere, the same principle applies when it comes to the music: nearly every line is sung, with just a few tid bits of spoken dialogue here and there.
- I am sure there are some folks out there who are annoyed with the sort of bombastic approach of the musical with EVERYTHING needing to be sung. And when I say EVERYTHING being sung, that also includes many lines of dialogue that could very easily get their point across by just being spoken normally ("Hey there Monsieur, what's new with you?", "Marius! You're late!'). I actually find there to be a certain entertainment factor attached to the movie's non-stop singing. Even when it seems as if the movie has slowed down at all, the character's singing is there to assure you that the movie is always maintaining an upbeat spirit and making itself completely immune to the boredom that usually develops when talky conversations drag on too long and feature no heated nor memorable dialogue. Les Mis is no culprit of bad music, and when the music is coming at you full throttle, through singing and through instruments, it's hard not to be sucked into how musically passionate the movie intends to be.
- Anne Hathaway is spectacular in her limited screen time; "I Dreamed A Dream" easily being the best musical number in the film. Hathaway's singing pierces you with a bullet of pure emotion, and that Oscar of hers is rightfully deserved.
- Oh Russell Crowe, where in the world did you get your singing lessons? I guess I was lying a little bit when I said Les Mis (this version of Les Mis, that is) is no culprit to bad music, because Crowe would have Claude-Michel Schonberg wanting to drive off a cliff, being so offended by his music being sung with such ineptitude that he couldn't afford to have his ears subjected to any further torment. Crowe strains his vocal cords trying to sing, sounding like a man in the midst of a fight with highly advanced throat cancer. Crowe himself admitted to the film suffering from poor vocal performances, stating that Hooper wanted the voices to be "raw and real". Crowe also doesn't show much poise with acting while singing, failing to sell Javert as a man who is not so much a villain but more of a misguided individual with his intentions. With Javert being such a crucial character to the story, the whole movie suffers from Crowe's failures.
When you put everything together, Les Mis is a satisfying musical drama that has enough powerful performances to make up for those that are not so powerful (*cough cough* Russell Crowe *cough cough*). Anne Hathaway is the best of them all, and it's a total bummer that she's only in the movie for about a half hour. If you enjoyed seeing the musical on stage in a theater production somewhere, chances are quite good that you'll highly enjoy this film adaptation. And if not, there are plenty of older ones to look at instead .
You and I are So Awfully Different
Midnight Cowboy is directed by John Schlesinger and is based on the 1965 novel of the same name by James Leo Herlihy. The film stars Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight and won three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The one thing anyone would know off hand about the 1969 Best Picture winner Midnight Cowboy is its infamous "I'm walkin' here!" scene, in which Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman are walking down a New York street together, then all of a sudden a taxi cab pulls out and nearly runs into Hoffman. According to IMDb, nothing about the incident was scripted. The movie didn't have a permit to close down the street for filming, so the scene had to be set up by a camera in a van driving down the street and use remote microphones for Voight and Hoffman. Fifteen some takes later, everything was going well, until the taxi ran a red light and seemingly killed the take. Hoffman, however, stayed in character and shouted the famous line. Voight, impressed by the way Hoffman handled the situation, managed to stay in character as well.
It's too bad honestly, because that one scene is as good as Midnight Cowboy gets.
The rest of Midnight Cowboy is a rather unpleasant grind, the kind of grind that eventually has you begging and pleading for the end credits to start. It won't take long before you give up all hopes of getting yourself invested in the movie in any way, so it becomes just a matter of time until those sight-for-sore-eyes credits start scrolling and you finally have a legitimate excuse to turn off the movie. Don't get me wrong. Midnight Cowboy is far from a total disaster. Hell, it blows a lot of its previous Best Picture brothers and sisters out of the water. But while there may be some small pockets of good chunks here and there over the course of the movie's 113 minutes, they're largely offset by all the larger, not-so-good chunks that will likely keep you far away from any repeat viewings.
So anyway, Midnight Cowboy tells the story of Joe Buck (Jon Voight), a young man from Texas who quits his job as a dishwasher in order to head to New York City and make a fortune. Things don't start out well for Joe, until he meets and befriends con man Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). The two develop a powerful friendship as they deal with living on the outskirts of New York.
Yeah, that's about it plot-wise.
- Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman show to be an excellent pair, with top-notch acting performances in their respective roles. This is one of the last films I would recommend if you're trying to put yourself in a good mood. The movie addresses uneasy themes of grim realism and being seen as a lowlife by society, as Joe and Ratso struggle to make themselves relevant in a world that refuses to welcome them with open arms. The New York they are in is a gritty and unpleasant one, but the acting performances have you wanting to see how our two leads will traverse their way through it.
- The majority of other reviews I've read for this film basically say, "yeah, Midnight Cowboy isn't a very nice movie, but those acting performances are just so terrific!" I'm on board with the strength of the acting, but I refuse to accept the ignorance towards a lot of the other parts of the film, particularly the plot. It will dawn on you pretty fast that the plot is paper thin, the script attempting to deceive you into thinking something is happening with petty conversations between Joe and Ratso that lack any kind of bite. There's a lengthy scene in which Joe and Ratso go to a party, but it's mostly highlighted by bizarre hallucinations, ending with Joe leaving the party and taking a girl to spend the night with. Bizarre hallucinations are a recurring part of the movie, with Joe having several different nightmare-ish visions, such as hearing a girl constantly say, "You're the only one, Joe." None of these nightmares/hallucinations add up to much of anything, only serving to fuel the film's unsettling attitude.
- It irritates me that there are claims that Midnight Cowboy is a movie about homosexuality. The extent to which Midnight Cowboy addresses homosexuality is when a girl teasingly suggests that Joe might be gay, as well as Joe and Ratso having a quip about "cowboys being fags." This is easily more of a buddy film. Nothing in the movie, dialogue or otherwise, would suggest that Joe and Ratso are developing romantic feelings for one another. I think there would have been more meat to the drama had the movie gone more in that direction, because it would draw out more details about who Joe and Ratso are, where they came from, and the type of beliefs that the two have. Would Joe be fooling himself into thinking he's actually a ladies man if he did feel some sort of romantic connection with Ratso? How would Ratso react if he knew that, even in the hell he's living, he was able to find someone to possibly share his entire life with? These kind of interesting questions go unexplored, which I can't help but think as nothing short of disappointing.
You can count me out of the fan club of Midnight Cowboy, a movie that I disliked far more than I thought I would. The acting may be stellar, but the acting in and of itself is not going to save this movie from all of its flaws. Shallow plotting limits the impact of the film's drama, and I seriously question Schlesinger's direction, with the movie not going in all the directions it should have. It's a movie that thinks it's a lot more important than it actually is, not addressing all the right themes and not taking well to the power of time. Had the movie been constructed in the right way, I think it would have been brought back into the minds of the people of the 21st century, considering all that is happening with LGBTQ rights. Is that to say I think Midnight Cowboy should have been about homosexuality? In a way, yes. I think being more specific about homosexuality would have done wonders for the film. But it doesn't take that route, at least, not in a notable enough capacity. Instead, the movie goes for some weak buddy drama that isn't very enjoyable to sit through. Midnight Cowboy is an unfortunate dud to end a decade of some superb Best Picture winners.
People love what other people are passionate about
La La Land is directed by Damien Chazelle and stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, and RoseMarie DeWitt. It received fourteen Academy Award nominations and won six: Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, and Best Production Design.
I was almost dead convinced that by the year 2016, mainstream American movie goers had completely fallen out of favor with live action musical movies, those type of movies no longer being in their tastes. Sure, there was the 2012 Les Miserables that brought in over $400 million at the box office, but a once in a blue moon success isn't grounds to claim that musicals are back on top. Then came Damien Chazelle's La La Land, a musical that took in over $400 million at the box office worldwide and tied the record for most Oscar nominations. It's also a musical that utterly smashed my cynicism about the relationship between movie musicals and the people of the 21st century. And if my cynicism wasn't in the fetal position by 2017, then The Greatest Showman shot it dead by turning out to be another musical box office hit.
At its core, La La Land is a tribute to all those older, classic musicals, mostly the ones from the 50's. You know, those musicals with colorful and flashy production designs and filled to the brim with happy songs and highly kinetic dance sequences. It takes the elements of those musicals and puts them to use in a more modern-day setting, evident by the fact that characters carry cellphones, as well as wearing clothing and talking the way any normal person would in the year 2016. And yet, it looks like a movie that could very well have been made in the 1950's, and I bet had it actually been made during the 1950's, hardly anything fundamental about the film would seem the least bit different.
Taking place in Los Angeles, La La Land depicts the story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), two young folks who are attempting to make a living in LA. Mia is a struggling actress in hopes of jump-starting a film career. Sebastian is a jazz pianist who gets fired from his restaurant job. The two run into each other at a party and quickly develop a bond. Their relationship blossoms as the two visit a jazz club, go see screenings of older movies such as Rebel Without A Cause together at a local theater, and share their life passions with one another. Mia and Sebastian's relationship is threatened, however, when Sebastian accepts an offer to join the band of one of his former classmates, Keith (John Legend), and the band plays a style of music that Mia knows isn't the type of music that Sebastian wants to play.
- One of the most lovable things about La La Land is how it treats itself like an anti-rom com, in the same vein of something like 500 Days of Summer or Annie Hall. This is not due to the man having a foolish belief about what he hopes to achieve with the woman he loves, nor the other way around. Mia and Sebastian have different goals, and while they may have quite a bit in common, particularly the fact that both are trying to find a way to make it in the crazy city that is Los Angeles, they come to understand that they can make no guarantees of their future. Mia has dreams of becoming an aspiring film actress, while Sebastian desires to open up his own jazz club. Neither of them know if they can maintain a healthy relationship and keep up with their lifelong dreams. I find this to be a wonderful example of how things are in real life relationships, because people change over time and can have difficulty keeping their work life and romantic life from interfering, and therefore, there is absolutely no certainty that two lovers will live happily ever after. I'm aware that sounds like a hefty spoiler, but the fact that Mia and Sebastian's romance is far from what you'd find in a fairy tale, especially because their romance is set within a musical, it must be discussed.
- There should be no denying the wonderful chemistry that exists between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, the two talking, singing, and dancing with a type of natural enthusiasm that is not the least bit artificial. La La Land would actually be the third time in which Gosling and Stone worked together, the two previously working together on Crazy, Stupid, Love and Gangster Squad. I've heard stories that the two have developed a strong friendship over the years, so it should come as no surprise that they aren't at all awkward together. They engage in conversations the way any two people who have known each other for a long time would, and their musical numbers are all the better because of how well the two work together. It's a matter of fit that's hard to put in words: you just see it and believe it to be true.
- That award for Best Production Design is no accident. La La Land is a visual delight that succeeds in being as colorful and expressive as it wants to be. The film's dream sequences are where the production design truly flourishes, with nearly everyone wearing brightly colored outfits to go alongside eye-candy backgrounds. The dream scenes are very much like the ballet sequence from An American in Paris, which was also an explosion of bright colors and exquisite costumes.
- Ah, but while La La Land excels at being visually marvelous, it does have a habit of getting just a little too carried away when it takes its characters off to the dreamy, la la land, such as when Mia and Sebastian go and share a romantic dance at the Griffith Observatory and the two are floating in mid-air while dancing. Chazelle gives us a little too much of a good thing by prolonging the la la land sequences, which sort of spoils the film's sweetness and the anti-rom com parts of Mia and Sebastian's relationship. The result is the film being slightly too long, and I fondly remember sitting in the theater the first time I saw the film, waving my arm trying to get to the end credits, because by the time the movie gets to its final dream scene, it's already told all of its story, but it wants to take one last opportunity to show off the production design just a tad bit more.
Another good thing is that La La Land avoids treating itself like a pure tribute movie, one in which the filmmakers are clearly just tipping their hats to some older group of works without really trying to develop a cohesive and memorable story on their own. La La Land makes its story thrive with great chemistry between Gosling and Stone, a production design too difficult to ignore, and a bittersweet approach to its romance that is especially commendable because of how realistic it is. Lots of young folks move to Los Angeles in hopes of making it big somehow. Some make it. Others don't. But no matter how things may appear, La La Land will reassure to you that, with enough passion, even the most foolish dreams are attainable.
Although Oliver had been brought up by philosophers, he was not theoretically acquainted with the beautiful axiom that self-preservation is the first law of nature
Oliver! is directed by Carol Reed and is based on the stage musical of the same name, with both the film and the stage musical being based on Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist. The film stars Ron Moody, Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe, Shani Wallis, Mark Lester, and Jack Wild. It won six Oscars among eleven nominations which included Best Director for Reed along with Best Picture.
The 1960s were quite the time for movie musicals, and boy did they love to be the most cheery and grandiose events you would ever see. A whopping four Best Picture winners of the 1960s were musicals, with Carol Reed's Oliver! coming last after West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music. It's too bad that Oliver! ended up being the worst of the four, not having the aging capabilities of those other three musicals and also not containing enough robust star power nor memorable musical numbers. And while there are plenty of worse films to be graced with the most prestigious Oscar, Oliver! can't help but now be one of the lower entries on the totem pole.
I must comment on the inclusion of an exclamation point in the title, because titling the movie just Oliver apparently wasn't going to fly for Reed. Oh no, there must be an exclamation point to let us know that the titular Oliver is such a precious gem to be admired by people of all ages. The boy is so wonderful and so one-of-a-kind that an exclamation must be used to let us know that this isn't just any ordinary Oliver; this is the Oliver, and you best not ever forget it. Exclamation points are a rare thing in movie titles, and for something like Oliver!, it implies a sense of self-importance that tells us that the filmmakers were so damn proud of what they made that they feel entitled to the inclusion of an exclamation point.
Anyway, Oliver! tells the story of the young orphan boy, Oliver Twist (Mark Lester), who lives in an unpleasant workhouse with many other orphan boys. During one of the meals, Oliver goes up to the workhouse runners, Bumble (Harry Secombe) and Widow Corney (Peggy Mount), and asks for more food in the famous, "Please sir. I want some more" scene. The outraged Bumble takes Oliver to the workhouse governors to see what is to be done with him. The decision is for Oliver to be sold into service. Bumble sells Oliver to an undertaker named Mr. Sowerberry (Leonard Rossiter), who plans to use Oliver as a mourner for children's funerals. Oliver attacks Sowerberry's apprentice, Noah (Kenneth Cranham), after Noah insults Oliver's mother. Oliver is then thrown into a cellar, but he escapes after finding a loose grate on one of the windows.
The runaway Oliver eventually makes his way to London, where he meets the Artful Dodger (Jack Wild). Dodger takes Oliver to his home: a hideout for a group of young boys. The boys are housed by the elderly Fagin (Ron Moody), all who are experienced in the art of pickpocketing. Oliver soon begins to take on the group like a family, until things start to get messy when Fagin's business partner, Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed), gets mixed up with Oliver and the boys' pickpocketing ways.
- The most impressive thing about Oliver! is its ability to get the most out of its long lineup of child actors, all who possess the acting and music chops to transcend the unacceptably low standards people seem to set for child actors. The one exception is the singing of Oliver, which was dubbed by Kathe Green, the daughter of the film's music supervisor, Johnny Green. Mark Lester was considered "tone deaf and arrhythmic" and therefore incapable of doing his own singing, but considering that Kathe Green's singing sounds like a reedy 10 year old girl giving the worst audition of her life, I seriously refuse to believe that Lester's singing would have been that much worse. Thankfully, Oliver doesn't do a whole lot of singing, and the other boys are more than capable of making up for Oliver's musical shortcomings.
- Oliver! gave me a strange reminder of an older Best Picture film: Mrs. Miniver, a film whose titular character got lost in a focus so wide that she succumbs to the well-meaning but slightly misguided ambitions of the filmmakers. The titular Oliver suffers from largely the same fate. Once all of the major characters are brought into the picture, Oliver is almost relegated to side character, as he spends a good chunk of the time just standing and admiring all of the antics going on around him. During the second half of the movie, poor Oliver spends most of the time getting dragged around like a rag doll by Bill Sikes, and he shows little to no resistance, let alone do much of anything to try and escape on his own. Might I add that this was the same boy who successfully shoved a grown man to the ground within the film's first 20-25 minutes? Oliver gets lost in the crowd, with the majority of the musical numbers going to characters not named Oliver. You can't have a convincing main character if they do nothing but just stand around and watch what's happening around them. If that's all they do, then why are they the central focus of the film?
- Oliver! also suffers from one of the worst problems that a musical movie can have: being too showy and thus looking more suitable for the theater stage. The "Consider Yourself" number is the prime example of this low point, with the number going on and on with as many wacky dances as can be. I especially loved the London police force patrolling the streets by moving together in synchronized dance movements. Wouldn't they be the last ones to partake in the musical dance number that introduces Oliver to one of the pickpocketing thieves? The "Who Will Buy" number is another good example, kicking off the second Act with a circus of people parading the streets with no rhyme or reason, only serving to bloat up the run time with an almost pointless number that fuels no character development nor meaningful plot progression.
I almost wish Oliver! was a lot more terrible than it actually is, because it would go perfectly in line with a lot of previous Best Picture winners that, by this point, I actually kind of enjoy ripping apart. The whole thing has enough acting prowess to pass off as decent, but the movie has an inability to maintain the focus on its titular character and avoid excessive theatrics in order to earn the kind of prestige that a lot of other 60's musicals have. Believe it or not, but this would be the last musical to win Best Picture for over thirty years, despite the fact that several other musicals were nominated over that time span. Maybe Oliver! could have been much, much more than a musical. That's something only time could have told, and unfortunately for Oliver!, time is not its best friend.
Recommend? If you're a huge fan of older musicals, I'd give this one a watch. Otherwise, no.
Kick Some Hun-ny Buns
Mulan is directed by Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft and is based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan. The film's voice cast stars Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, B. D. Wong, Miguel Ferrer, and June Foray.
Released near the end of the Disney Renaissance, Mulan is another fine example of Disney's powers with effectively showing us lifestyles and behaviors of the world's many cultures. Aladdin had an Arabian style, Pocahontas tackled a fictionalized version of English and Native Americans, and Hercules was a loose take on Greek mythology. In the case of Mulan, it's a depiction of China during the Han dynasty, in which ideas of honor, family values, and gender roles are explored and analyzed.
Mulan also deals with warfare, which would give it the potential to be one of the darkest and one of the most serious entries in the Disney library. Ah, but this is Disney, so much of the violence is sanitized and watered down to the point that the film can safely garner a G rating. Of course, it is rather interesting to mention that the movie almost got a PG rating simply because it mentions the term "cross-dresser", even though cross-dressing is something that some characters do and is important to the plot.
The main cross dressing character is, as you may guess, Mulan, a tomboy living during the Han dynasty and being trained in the ways of being a proper lady. One night, the Huns, led by the ruthless Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer), breach the Great Wall and begin an invasion of Han China. The Chinese Emperor (Pat Morita) orders for the drafting of one man from each family into the Chinese army. Mulan's father, Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh), is selected from her family to join the army, but Mulan fears for her father's life, knowing his health is declining. Mulan then decides to take her father's place, taking his armor and disguising herself as a man among all of the other army applicants. Mulan's spiritual ancestors decide to send the "Great Stone Dragon" in order to protect her, but this plan is foiled by the small red dragon Mushu (Eddie Murphy), who tricks the ancestors and sets out to protect Mulan himself.
- The time and effort that the artistic supervisors and animators put in to making sure Mulan looks as culturally respectable as possible is on full display. Clothing, backgrounds, buildings, all of it shows a successful type of craft that will have you impressed by the fact that this was Western animators working on this project. Producer designer Hans Bacher turned the style back into a simpler watercolor design, taking a lighter approach on the details as opposed to the likes of The Lion King and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and that would seem very hard to believe because of how nothing is left to chance in the production design.
- Mulan's more serious-minded story would reasonably lend itself to having a minimal amount of comedy, but the exact opposite turns out to be true. I dare to call the movie one of the funniest of the Disney Renaissance. The so-obvious-it-hurts comic relief of the film is the Eddie Murphy-voiced Mushu, and I am surely in the minority when I say that I found him to be not the least bit annoying, even with Murphy doing a lot of his usual yelping. I find Murphy to be able to get away with yelping/squawking and somehow keep it funny (something that Kevin Hart can never seem to do), because he just has the talent to do so. The other character in this movie who never ceases to provide a laugh is Mulan's grandmother (June Foray), whose sassy attitude isn't present enough, only coming in small chunks at the beginning and near the end of the film.
- I can't say I was disappointed or remotely upset with anything that happened in Mulan, except maybe the fact that it isn't all that subtle with its adult humor. There's a scene in which Mulan tries to bathe in a pool of water by herself, but she's soon accompanied by three of her male cohorts, and you can take a solid guess as to what this means for her. The only other thing I'll mention is that there's a moment in which one of the naked men stands on top of a rock, and Mulan stares at his you-know-what, looking freaked out while she's staring. I could never tell if this entire scene was supposed to be funny. I was more so thinking it would lead to kids asking their parents, "Mommy, what was Mulan looking at?"
And that's really all I got on Mulan. It's pretty great stuff with plenty of Chinese style action, lovely Chinese visuals, and an under-rated dosage of humor. One of the better films in the Disney library and a lovely gem for people of all ages.
This land is your land. This land is my land.
Pocahontas is directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg and is inspired by the Native American woman, Pocahontas. Stars of the voice cast include Irene Badard, Mel Gibson, David Ogden Stiers, Christian Bale, Russell Means, John Kassir, and Linda Hunt.
It would honestly be quite foolish of me to go this entire month that I have dedicated to musicals and not discuss at least one Disney animated film, many of which are well-known musicals. And while anything like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, or The Lion King all seem like natural selections, I felt the urge to go against the grain a little and choose the one 1990's Disney Musical that's slightly overshadowed by those other 1990's Disney big wigs: Pocahontas.
Discussing Pocahontas in considerable length is almost impossible to do without bringing up The Lion King, which was being developed concurrently with Pocahontas. The Lion King went on to be a massive hit at the box office and with critics, becoming the then second highest grossing film of all time and still to this day the highest grossing traditionally animated film. Pocahontas, unfortunately, was not able to match The Lion King's success, grossing a middling $346 million and garnering mixed reviews. Then-Disney studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg decided that Pocahontas should be told as a romantic epic, similar to Beauty and the Beast, hoping that the movie would receive a Best Picture nomination like Beauty and the Beast did. Turns out that didn't happen, though Pocahontas was still able to snag Oscars for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score and Best Original Song. This is all to say that Pocahontas, on all accounts, fell short in its attempts at becoming another one of the Disney musical titans, despite the fact that it certainly tries hard to be something extraordinary.
The film is a fictional retelling of the historical encounter between the young Native American woman Pocahontas and Englishman John Smith. John Smith (Mel Gibson) is sailing with a group of English settlers from the Virginia Company to the New World, in hopes of finding gold, adventure, and perhaps new settlement. The leader of the voyage is the greedy and self-absorbed Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers), who seeks gold to bring him wealth and a renewed status among his fellow Englishmen. The voyagers make landfall in Tsenacommacah, North America, home to the Powhatan Indian tribe. Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), the daughter of Chief Powhatan (Russell Means), is a free-spirited girl who fears to be married to Kocoum (James Apaumat Fall), a Powhatan warrior who is too serious for her. While exploring the wilderness, Pocahontas encounters John Smith, and the two develop an instant connection. Pocahontas and John Smith share information about each other's worlds, and the two soon fall in love. However, the love between the two is threatened when the Powhatan tribe and the Englishmen learn of each other's presence, and the two groups begin to gear up for a fight.
- There's no denying that Pocahontas is a treat for the eyes, with dazzling nature backgrounds featuring all kinds of shades of blue and green. And seeing how the movie has an underlying, "Save the environment! Don't let those bad people cut down all the trees!" message going on, it's quite easy to see why Pocahontas would want its trees and rivers to look as gorgeous as can be and its wild animals to look cute and cuddly. In fact, "The Colors of the Wind" speaks the most about how if the Englishmen cut down all the trees, then all of the beauty, the love, and the importance of the environment will be lost. Well meaning, and it's a good thing that Pocahontas is so historically accurate that there is absolutely nothing in the history books about how European settlers took over and established settlements on Native American soil, because of how Pocahontas was able to convince John Smith and the rest of the Englishmen of how important nature is.
- All sarcasm aside, Pocahontas simply isn't fun enough nor inspiring enough to make itself into anything resembling a Disney classic. The "Disney-ification" of so many of its historically-based plot points don't have the same kind of magic that many of the other Disney musical films do. Pocahontas is turned into a stunning Native American model that looks about twice as old as the real-life Pocahontas who met John Smith. She also possesses the power to summon birds and charm other furry animals (as well as boast two animal sidekicks), a staple for Disney animated female-lead characters. Her free-spirited personality doesn't shine through as much as it should, and none of the songs she sings resemble anything fun. They also don't get you in any kind of mood to sing along and dance.
None of the other characters are very interesting, especially the villain, who lacks the cunning ambitions and the lovable sneering of the likes of Ursula and Jafar. How can you possibly have a Disney film with weak characters and no sense of fun? It's almost sacrilege.
The fact that Pocahontas doesn't have the usual feels of an animated Disney film is as strange as it is wrong. Part of what makes these older animated Disney films so charming and so enjoyable to watch is how they can present to you full-bodied characters, wonderful songs, and a good, fun time, all in the span of only 80-90 minutes. This is sadly not the case with Pocahontas, whose historical inaccuracies are among the least of its problems. While not outright terrible, Pocahontas struggles mightily with a lack of fun and an inability to create true inspiration with its messages of saving the environment and getting along with people that are different from you. All of the visual appeal in the world can't save the film, though it definitely tries.
Recommend? If you're obsessed with Disney, then yes. Otherwise, no.
Leave 'em burning and then you're gone
Mamma Mia! is directed by Phyllida Lloyd and stars Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Amanda Seyfried, and Christine Baranski. It is based on the 1999 musical of the same name and features songs from the pop group, ABBA.
No number of words that I put here in this review can accurately describe the agony that I went through, forcing myself to re-watch the 2008 musical smash hit, Mamma Mia!, a movie that has the incredibly rare honor of being a film that I, without question, hate, and I mean hate with boiling hot rage. It's not just that the movie is a bad musical movie: featuring ear-damaging singing, no sensible plot, and little to no character development whatsoever. It's more about how the movie goes about trying to be the most god-damn feel-good, super-duper-fun, summer musical event you'll ever see, and what the movie sacrifices in order to try and accomplish that goal. Mamma Mia! falls way way short of its primary goal, ending up as a messy and inexplicably annoying jukebox musical that I pray and hope to never ever ever ever EVER have to sit through again.
I have no intentions of knocking ABBA, the group who originally conceived a lot of the songs present in the film. While I am not a "fan" of ABBA, I've listened to enough of their music to understand they are a talented bunch whose music is good listening for anyone. But when someone else uses your music in a failed attempt to make a movie in which everyone is grinning ear to ear and acting like they're having so much freaking fun, if I were ABBA, I would sue everyone involved in the production and never let them sing any of my music ever again.
So anyway, Mamma Mia's plot takes place on the Greek island of Kalokairi, where 20-year-old Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is soon to be married to her fiance, Sky (Dominic Cooper). In the opening scene, we see Sophie send out three different letters. Sophie reveals to her bridesmaids that the three letters were addressed to three men, all of whom could possibly be her father. The three men are Irish-American architect Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan), Swedish writer Bill Anderson (Stellan Skarsgard), and British banker Harry Bright (Colin Firth). Sophie is hoping to surprise her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), with the surprise appearances of these three men. When the three men arrive, Sophie bonds with them and learns more about them, hoping to uncover the truth about which one might be her father.
The mystery of who Sophie's father might be is the bulk of the plot, but when anything related to "who's your daddy" isn't happening, people are just singing and dancing and trying to have fun. In other words, there's just not much going on.
- As much as I want to say nothing in this film works and proceed to give it an F grade right here and now, I just can't do it. Because there is one, and only one, thing in this entire movie that is passable, and that, not surprisingly, is Meryl Streep. Streep's character, Donna, is the only one in the entire film who has some semblance of development, as the movie briefly explores what goes through Donna's mind and how she was like back in the day. Donna runs a worn-down hotel that puts a financial burden on her, and when she does find out about her three former lovers appearing on the island, she is given a painful reminder of the wildly free spirit she was back in the day, jumping from boy to boy before giving birth to Sophie. Too bad that the movie doesn't go much farther than that for her character, as Donna falls victim to the ongoing festivities on the island the day before the wedding and gives in to all the fun everyone is having. Of the three potential fathers, Sam is the one who most reaches out to Donna, but why him and not the other two is anyone's guess. I felt so bad for Meryl Streep the entire movie, because she is so much better than this, but she ends up being brought down by all of the shit happening around her.
- Now then, full speed ahead on what I hate the most about this movie more than any other egregious wrong it contains: Mamma Mia! wants to be so energetic and so happy to the point that it feels like everyone is on a titanic sugar rush and doesn't care what goes wrong along the way. The movie does everything in its power to raise your energy level and give you the most feel-good movie experience you'll ever have, with characters jumping up and down like little kids waking up on Christmas morning, sporting smiles that even The Joker would find unhealthy, and attempting to go full-on apeshit whenever any dancing is involved with the singing. Mamma Mia! does all of this to such an absurd degree, that we never get the sense that there is any bit of drama or conflict going on between its characters, because everything is washed out by all of the enjoyment that everyone is supposedly having. Everything: the story, the characters, the acting, the comedy, the writing, the whatever else you want to throw in the pot; it's all diminished at the expense of extreme ebullience.
This is especially evident in moments such as when the movie jumps from one song ("Lay All Your Love On Me") to another ("Super Trouper") without any kind of talky break in between. Then you have certain songs ("Does Your Mother Know" and "Take a Chance on Me") that are purely dedicated to frivolous matters between certain side characters. I guarantee you, if you skip over these songs, you will not lose track of anything that's going on. And then, the icing on this crap cake is some of the completely over-the-top dance moves going on during some of the songs, such as the other members of Sky's bachelor party dancing on a deck wearing nothing but swim trunks and scuba fins while proceeding to do some Super Mario style moves while singing. There's also the massive parade of women that forms in the span of about two minutes during the "Dancing Queen" bit, and I do not care one bit what anyone thinks; the "Dancing Queen" scene sucks. It just freaking sucks. You've got an old geezer playing a piano on a boat while the women make their way to a deck, in which they wave their arms around like hyperactive cheerleaders.
It is all unpleasant dreck. Nothing else.
- Oh God, the singing. Now not all of the singing is bad. Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried are just fine (Streep starts to go downhill by the end, but there's much more good than bad for her), but holy moly, Pierce Brosnan. He tries to woo Donna with his love, but instead sounds like a wild animal being slowly run over by a garbage truck. Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth aren't exactly knocking it out of the park either, and you would think at least one of the three possible dads would be a decent singer. Nope, none of them get a pass, certainly not Brosnan. No amount of Autotune was going to save him from this disaster.
I'm going to state it once more, because I want to be 100 percent certain that this statement is present somewhere on this review: I hate Mamma Mia! I hate this movie with ever fiber of my being. It sacrifices every major asset that a film requires simply for the sake of trying to slap this big silly smile across your face because oh it's cute, it's funny, it's trying to be the most fun thing you'll ever watch, but completely forgetting that you can't just look happy and act happy and think everyone is going to be on board with it. How can I be appreciative and maybe also sympathetic of a character if I know hardly anything about them? How can I be interested in anything a character is saying or doing if it appears that nothing is troubling them and that they don't have a care in the world? How in the world does this movie think that just because someone else might be having fun automatically means that that fun is going to translate over to me and I too will be having as much fun as the characters in this movie?
Mamma Mia! is not at all fun, and it is not at all cute, or charming, or inspiring. It's annoyance to the one thousandth degree and a horrid misfire on so many levels. Never in my lifetime have I seen a musical as horrendous and unbearable as this one. You have no idea how torturous it was to have to sit through all 109 minutes that is this movie over again, and if by some miracle on God's green Earth that I have to sit through this movie again, well, I hope I can find the strongest alcoholic beverage I can find. And if you were curious as to what my reaction was when I heard that the movie was getting a sequel later this year, allow me to leave you with this:
'Cause I'm like the lead singer of a band dude
Sing Street is directed and written by John Carney and stars Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Aidan Gillen, Jack Reynor, and Kelly Thornton.
Much of what music embodied in the decades leading up to and including the 1980's is on display in John Carney's Sing Street: a coming-of-age film that explores youth, creation, rebellion, and the pure joys of playing music. It feels like a movie that should have come out during those decades, instead of being released in the year 2016 and thus serving as a sort of retrospective examination of how young musicians played and behaved back then. That's not to say young folks today aren't forming bands and creating music videos. Since Sing Street is a movie taking place in the 1980's, I want to believe that one of John Carney's hopes is to give us a reminder of how powerful that music was to people of all ages back in the day and how that continues to be true today.
Here comes a question I was hoping not to ask: Why did I not feel the least bit jubilant or inspired by Sing Street? I am not a musician myself (I was a violin player during my grade school years), so that is to say that Sing Street did not strike any kind of personal chord of mine. But that wasn't why I wasn't fully satisfied with the film. Something about Sing Street didn't seem right to me, and after thinking it over in a near 24 hour span, I think I've come up with a proper answer, which I'll save until my low points.
Moving on to the plot, Sing Street focuses on young Conor Lawler (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), whose parents are on the brink of divorce and struggling with finances. Conor's father Robert (Aidan Gillen) decides to move Conor into a strict Christian Brothers school: Synge Street CBS. Things get off to a rough start for Conor: he gets picked on by a bully named Barry (Ian Kenny) and is called out by the principal, Br. Baxter (Don Wyherley), for not having black shoes that are a part of the school's uniform code. While walking to school one day, Conor notices the beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who is aspiring to move away to London and become a model. In an attempt to impress her, Conor tells Raphina that he is the lead singer in a band, and he invites her to be a part of a music video that the band is working on. However, the band that Conor claims to be a part of doesn't exist....yet. With the help of his new friend, Darren (Ben Carolan), Conor is able to recruit various young musicians to become part of his band which is given the name Sing Street. Conor also gets some helpful advice from his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor).
- By no means did I find Sing Street to be a terrible film. It has a sweet-natured, albeit familiar, story that's supported by its love for creation and what music can mean to someone. Conor and the rest of his band-mates are tired of their dreary home lives and are itching to do something with themselves and break out of their funks. Struggles at home and at school are what inspire Conor to write song lyrics, and by writing lyrics and later singing them, Conor comes to realize how much he loves to get lost in his music and temporarily escape from the problems he is faced with. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and cursing at the way his family and school lives are, he spins them on their ugly heads and uses them to create something meaningful.
- Now back to that question I brought up earlier. Why exactly was I not won over by Sing Street? As well-meaning as Sing Street is and as much as it likes to explore how playing music affects its character, the sad reality is that the songs present in the film are not very good. The first major song, "The Riddle of the Model", is an iffy piece of work that sounds like a band making a rough first recording but deciding to go with it anyway, the only discernible lyrics being when Conor sings the song title. Later songs sung at a school dance in a Back to the Future-inspired setting also have obscure lyrics and, really, are just plain forgettable. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and several of the other actors have pretty thick Irish accents, and John Carney didn't seem to take into account the fact that several lines of dialogue, on top of the singing, are buried underneath these heavy accents.
- Sing Street also features an ending that borderlines too much on Disney fairy tale, while at the same time leaving some if its subplots left dangling with no sense of completion. The movie falls so much in love with its two central characters that it pretty much forgets about the other members of the band, his school, the bully he runs into, the principal, all who are left in the dark. What's going to happen to the band if Conor leaves? It'll probably break up, but who knows? What's going to happen with Conor's school? Don't care. Did Conor and the bully find a way to end on good terms? Also don't care. There is some closure brought to the subplots involving Conor's parents and his brother Brendan, but it's rather rushed closure that's more about getting those characters out of the way so that the movie can go all in with Conor and Raphina. I found it to be rather lazy storytelling just for the sake of trying to get as sugary sweet of an ending as possible, and even then, I didn't find the ending to be at all sugary sweet.
Music enthusiasts, people who play music for a living, and pretty much anyone else whose life is not complete without music should love and adore Sing Street, a musical film that gives a nice little nostalgic throwback to the effects that music had on people's lives back in the day, and how those effects are still present in people today. But while there may be inspiration to be had, the film simply doesn't feature enough good music nor worthwhile storytelling so as to get its full, intended effect. Maybe it's the fact that I'm not a musician is what is keeping me from seeing the film the way it should be seen. I may not have that musician eye, but I do know this: just because you have musical ambition, it doesn't mean you're always going to be successful.
Recommend? If you're a musician of some kind, then yes. Otherwise, no.
Black and White Murder
In the Heat of the Night is directed by Norman Jewison and stars Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. It is based on the novel of the same name by John Ball and was the basis for a TV series adaptation of the same name. The film won five Oscars, one being Rod Steiger winning the Academy Award for Best Actor.
A healthy share of the now ninety films to win the Best Picture Oscar can be appropriately regarded as message movies, movies containing a message that comments on any specific economic, social, or religious concern going on in the world, particularly one that's going on at the time of the film's release. One of the first of these message movies that ought to come to mind is 1967's In the Heat of the Night, a movie tackling racism and pretty much anything having to do with racial oppression. It would be quite easy to dismiss In the Heat of the Night as just another dated, product-of-its-time film, having been released during the late stages of the 20th Century American civil rights movement, and therefore giving it the opportunity to capitalize on the heated struggles and fiery emotions between blacks and whites going on at the time. However, people are still making plenty of movies tackling racism in some capacity today, so clearly the messages within In the Heat of the Night are not completely devoid of value nor the least bit dated.
There's another reason though as to how and why In the Heat of the Night transcends the sense of boredom and dated-ness that handicaps several of the other Best Pictue winners such as Gentlemen's Agreement and A Man For All Seasons: it's set against the backdrop of an interesting murder mystery, and how in the world can murder mysteries become dated? There's plenty more to this film than just being a drama about what happens to a black man who finds himself facing oppression from racist white people. We also have a murder that needs to be solved and a killer to catch. Admittedly, it's not the most shocking nor rewarding murder mystery to ever grace the cinema, but I found myself unable to be angry or disappointed because the movie provides a thrill rush all the way through its 109 minutes that the likes of Gentleman's Agreement and A Man For All Seasons couldn't even dream of.
In the Heat of the Night takes place in 1966 in the small, fictional town of Sparta, Mississippi (which doesn't make much sense because there is a real place called Sparta in the state of Mississippi). Police officer Sam Wood (Warren Oates) leaves a diner one night and drives his car around on a nightly patrol. While driving around, he discovers the body of Phillip Colbert, a wealthy industrialist who was preparing to build a factory in the town. The police deduce that Colbert has been murdered. Wood finds a black man named Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), who is waiting to board a train at the station. Wood arrests Tibbs and brings him in to speak with the officer leading the investigation: Chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger). Tibbs is immediately accused of murdering Colbert, but Tibbs reveals that he is actually a top homicide detective from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and that he was in town because he was visiting his mother. Gillespie speaks with Tibbs' chief, who confirms Tibbs' position and recommends that Tibbs assist the Sparta police force in investigating the murder. Although this idea does not sit well with either Tibbs or Gillespie, the two agree to work together.
The other side of the story is the treatment that Virgil receives from not only the entire Sparta police force, but of the entire town of Sparta. Solving the mystery quickly proves to be only half the battle, as Virgil finds himself to be a most unwelcome guest in the town. The most famous scene in the film, aside from the infamous, "They call me Mister Tibbs!" line is when Virgil is slapped by a white man, only for him to slap the man back. The slap from Virgil was met with shock by mainstream audiences, and it was what convinced Norman Jewison that the film could work just as effectively as a drama as it could a murder mystery. Finally, people could see the black man fight back against the oppression he had faced for too long. And to help Sidney Poitier's character stand out even more, cinematographer Haskell Wexler toned down the lighting, this being the first major color Hollywood film to have its lighting give careful consideration for a black actor.
- This is a movie that is incredibly acted, so much so that I'm not sure how anyone but the most cynical critic would dare to call it preachy. It's one thing for actors to come out and act in a way that they're basically saying to the camera, "Do you get the obvious message that we're trying to tell you" but it's another for the actors to make such good work out of their characters that the result is the likes of Virgil Tibbs and Chief Gillespie seeming completely realistic. Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger are nothing short of superb in their respective roles as mismatched buddy cops. Poitier speaks his lines with an underlying demeanor that's as suave as it is serious, knowing full well that Virgil Tibbs is always the smartest man in the room, and the sooner everyone shuts up and starts listening to every word he has to say, the better. Tibbs also displays an iron hide, never showing himself to be the least bit rattled by all of the insults and general harassing that he receives. Steiger's Gillespie is a vocal, controlling leader who frequently pushes Tibbs for answers, resulting in the two constantly sparring with one another. The two don't want to work together, but they have no choice. It hurts them inside, until they finally come to understand each other, although just a little bit.
- One special high point goes out to the production design, which I believe is a more overlooked part of the film. In the Heat of the Night utilizes a grimy color scheme, with several locations, especially the police station, looking rundown and visually unappealing. This is representative of the film's general mise-en-scene, as it takes place in a small, racist town that is home to a lot of bad attitudes. Virgil is doing unpleasant work and is also being treated unpleasantly by others, so to match this, it would make perfect sense for Sparta, Mississippi to not look like someone's next vacation spot.
- Alright, so now it would do us some good to dive a little deeper into the mystery component of the film, which is, unfortunately, where the movie suffers the most. Some of the details and conclusions that Tibbs reach remain fuzzy by the time we're supposed to have the mystery figured out. Tibbs has Officer Wood take him on the route he was on the night he discovered Colbert's body, but Wood changes his route, which Tibbs realizes (how he realizes this, I'm still not quite sure). There's also the matter of a 16 year old girl being involved with the murder, but how she got to be involved is not explained well enough. And when the time finally comes that we find out who the murderer is and what led to them murdering Colbert, the payoff is quite weak, not seeming at all like something we've been building up to and likely to cause a, "Really? That's it?" reaction similar to that of discovering who the killer is in Mystic River. On top of that, the true nature of the murder doesn't at all match the context of what the movie is about at its center, and that hurts the ability of the drama component and the mystery component to go hand in hand.
I am hesitant to say that In the Heat of the Night is an all-time classic, because as top-notch as a lot of it is, particularly the acting and production design, the mystery parts of the film end up being shaky and frustrating to piece together. But the fact that the movie has a mystery and is able to keep it exciting and not too predictable is what helps the movie stave off dated-ness, even if its inherent message about racism was inspired by everything going on with the civil rights movement in the 1960's and therefore making the film susceptible to being labeled a product of its time. In the end, In the Heat of the Night may be a message movie, but it's a message movie that tries to do more than just try to tell you, "racism is bad." It's also a mystery thriller, and while far from a perfect one, it still boasts a kind of excitement and level of intrigue that easily make it one of the upper tier Best Picture winners.
A Movie That Feels As Long As All Seasons
A Man For All Seasons is directed by Fred Zinnemann and is based on Robert Bolt's play of the same name. The film stars Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern, Orson Welles, Robert Shaw, and Susannah York. The film won six Oscars in total, winning Best Director and Best Actor along with Best Picture.
One thing I do after I watch these older Best Picture winners is that I search out every other possible review of the films I can find, because I want to have absolute certainty that it's not just me and that I'm not the only one in the world who expresses disapproval for far too many of these movies. Let's get one thing clear, if it wasn't clear enough from several of my earlier reviews of these Best Picture winners: far too many of these older Best Picture winners are dated, and I mean really, really, REALLY dated. Earlier winners like Grand Hotel, How Green Was My Valley, and Tom Jones have absolutely no appeal to modern day audiences, merely existing in history as products of their times and being heavily overshadowed by the Best Picture winners that are timeless gems and still have at least an ounce of appeal to modern day audiences. Why is this true? Because the Forgettable Best Picture winners - that's a phrase I find myself coming back to time and time again, so keep expecting to see it whenever I'm reviewing a bad Best Picture winner - deal with stories and characters, particularly historical ones, that just don't appeal to a mass market.
Let us apply this reasoning to the 1966 Best Picture winner, Fred Zinnemann's A Man For All Seasons, to further drive the point home. Here is a Best Picture winner taking place in 16th century England, concerning the life of Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), the Lord Chancellor of England during the reign of King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw). More sends shock waves throughout England when he refuses to sign a letter asking the Pope to annul the marriage of King Henry and Catherine of Aragon. More also refuses to take what is called an Oath of Supremacy, which would declare King Henry the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Several others push More to change his mind, including the King's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell (Leo McKern), but More refuses to budge. More's reputation eventually begins to go into a downward spiral, resulting in him being imprisoned and later brought to trial.
A movie taking place in the 1500's that addresses a historical issue intersecting religion and politics: yes, this is absolutely the kind of movie that people want to be watching and talking about in the year 2018, and one that would definitely have the potential to rack up MCU-level box office numbers if it were released today. Okay, let's be serious now: no studio executive in their right mind today would green light a movie like this, not unless they have a couple million bucks they are willing to throw away. The only people that can find appeal in this movie today are history-obsessed Catholics and passionate English historians, and in this day and age, I refuse to believe such a specific niche market is worth targeting. To simply put it, A Man For All Seasons, like too many of its Best Picture predecessors, is an annoyingly tedious feature that doesn't pack enough punch to be the least bit memorable.
- The only thing you might possibly remember from A Man For All Seasons is an undeniably stellar performance from its lead man in Paul Scofield, portraying a Thomas More who remains as stately as can be, no matter how much others berate him for his decision to deny King Henry's annulment. It's a convincing performance, even if it's one that doesn't require any kind of heated emotion. The one person that does display clear, heated emotion is Robert Shaw, portraying a King Henry VIII who shows to have a sense of humor when he accidentally steps into a thing of mud and gets his feet all dirty. He also yelps very loudly and passionately at More about his decision to deny the annulment, something of an alarm clock if you were half asleep by that point (and if you were, I don't blame you one bit). A strong lead actor in a boring Best Picture winner has been, and will continue to be, a recurring trend. Watch out.
- Biographical films are my least favorite kind of films, mainly because I find these films to be the most susceptible to boredom. My personal pick for the number one, most important rule for a movie is to engage the viewer, because don't you watch a movie with the hopes of getting at least something out of it? With biographical films, especially those that cover specific events within a historical person's life, you can get pretty much the exact same information by reading a book or an article on that person. With a movie, your hopes are that the events covered are dramatized enough so that you can still feel like you've been educated by the time the end credits begin and perhaps feel like you got a miniature rush of enjoyment too.
Such hopes do not exist for A Man For All Seasons. I won't deny that the movie is intelligent and suggest that it is historically inaccurate. But I will suggest that the movie lacks enough interesting conversations between its characters in order to hold your interest for a full two hours. I will also suggest that the movie misses out on a golden opportunity: Thomas More's decision to resist King Henry's requested annulment is played out with the tension of a man whose life is about to fall apart similar to that of The Hunt with Mads Mikkelsen. After a fairly energetic conversation between King Henry and More, the movie becomes just one boring conversation after another, driving your interest straight down the toilet.
Do you ever wonder why Best Picture winners like A Man For All Seasons that feature no memorable quotes are never brought up when we're talking about the greatest films to ever win Best Picture? Because on top of having nothing memorable about them, those winners are also horribly dated, and lack the honor of timelessness that select winners like Gone with the Wind and Casablanca were able to capture so well back in the day. Any and all complaints that I have about A Man For All Seasons revolve around the fact that the movie is utterly boring and has not one single thing that I can possibly recommend to someone who hasn't seen it. It's a movie trapped in its own time period with no hopes of escaping. Whoever said the Oscars were flawless?
Recommend? No. There's nothing to get out of this movie.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: