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Themis-Athena (from somewhere between California and Germany)

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Out Of Africa (Special Edition) [DVD]
Out Of Africa (Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Meryl Streep
Offered by westworld-
Price: £9.79

76 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A song of Africa; and: What price freedom?, 2 Jun. 2005
He likes to distill his movies' themes into a single word, Sydney Pollack explains on "Out of Africa"'s DVD. Here, that word is "Possession:" The possessiveness of the colonialists trying to make Africa theirs; to rule her with their law, settle on the local tribes' land, dress their African servants in European outfits (complete with a house boy's white gloves), import prized belongings like crystal to maintain the comforts of European civilization, and teach African children to read, to remove their "ignorance." And the possessiveness of human relationships; the claim of exclusivity arising from a wedding license, the encroachment on personal freedom resulting if such a claim is raised by even one partner - regardless whether based on a legal document - and the implications of desire, jealousy, want and need.
As such, the movie's story of Danish writer Karen Blixen's (Isak Dinesen's) experience in Kenya is inextricably intertwined with her love for free-spirited hunter/adventurer Denys Finch Hatton. Just as she spends years trying to wrangle coffee beans from ground patently unfit for their plantation and create a dam where water that, her servants tell her, "lives in Mombassa" needs to flow freely, only to see her efforts fail at last, so also her romance with Finch Hatton blossoms only as long as she is still (pro forma) married, and thus cannot fully claim him. As soon as the basis of their relationship changes, Finch Hatton withdraws - and is killed in a plane crash shortly thereafter, his death thus cementing a development already underway with terrible finality. In her eulogy Karen asks God to take back his soul with its freedom intact: "He was not ours - he was not mine." Yet, both Kenya and Finch Hatton leave such a mark on her that, forced to return to Denmark, she literally writes them back into her life; again becoming the "mental traveler" she had been before first setting foot on African soil, using her exceptional storytelling powers to resurrect the world and the man she lost, and be united with them in spirit where a more tenable union is no longer possible.
While "Out of Africa" is an adaptation of Blixen's like-named ode to Kenya, several of her other works also informed the screenplay; as did Judith Thurman's Blixen biography. And it's this combination which in screenwriter Carl Luedtke' and director Sydney Pollack's hands turns into gold where prior attempts have failed; because Blixen's book is primarily, as Pollack explains, "a pastorale, a beautifully formed memoir [relying] on her prose style, her sense of poetry and her ability to discover large truths in very small ... details" but lacking "much narrative drive" and thus, "difficult to translate to film." In addition, Blixen was largely silent about her relationship with Finch Hatton, which however was an essential element of the story, thus dooming any attempt to produce a movie without extensive prior research into this area.
Meryl Streep was not Sydney Pollack's first choice for the role of Karen, for which luminaries including Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn had previously been considered. Looking back in the DVD's documentary, Streep and Pollack recount how his change of mind came about (and ladies, I just know her version will make you laugh out loud). But while unfortunately neither her Oscar- nor her Golden-Globe-nomination turned into one of the movie's multiple awards (on Oscar night alone, Best Movie, Best Director and Best Cinematography, Art Direction, Music and Sound), she was indeed the perfect choice. Few contemporary actresses have her range of talent and sensitivity; and listening to tapes of Blixen reading her own works allowed her not only to develop a Danish accent but to become the story's narrative voice in the completest sense, from Blixen's persona to her perceptions and penmanship.
Much has been made of the fact that as Finch Hatton no British actor was cast but Robert Redford, with whom Pollack had previously collaborated in five successful movies, including the mid-1970s' "The Way We Were" and "Three Days of the Condor." But as Pollack points out, Finch Hatton, although a real enough person in Karen Blixen's life, in the movie's context stands for the universal type of the charming, ever-unpossessable, mysterious male; and there simply is no living actor whose image matches that type as closely as Redford's. Indeed, in this respect his character in "Out of Africa" epitomizes his "Redfordness" more intensely than *any* of his other roles. Moreover, all references to Finch Hatton's nationality are deleted here; so this isn't Robert Redford trying to portray a member of the English upper class, this is Redford portraying Redford (or at least, his public image) - and therefore, it is only proper that he didn't adopt a British accent, either.
Praise for this movie wouldn't be complete without mentioning the splendid, Golden-Globe-winning performance of Klaus-Maria Brandauer, one of today's best German-speaking actors, in the role of Karen's philandering husband Bror. (And if you think he's duplicitous here, rent such gems as "Mephisto" and "Hanussen" - or, for that matter, "James Bond: Never Say Never Again" - and you'll see what creepy and demonic really is when it's grown up). And of course, "Out of Africa" wouldn't be what it is without its superb African cast members; particularly Malick Bowens as Karen's faithful major domus Farah and Joseph Thiaka in his only known screen appearance as Kamante, Karen's indomitable cook. Several fine British actors complete the cast, providing enough British colonial feel even for those quibbling with Redford's casting; to name but a few, Michael Kitchen as Finch Hatton's friend Berkeley Cole, Michael Gough as Lord "Dee" Delamere and Suzanna Hamilton as Felicity (whose character is based on Blixen's friend and rival for Finch Hatton's attentions, Beryl Markham).
In all, "Out of Africa" is a grand, lavishly produced tribute to Africa, nature, freedom, adventure and love: Karen Blixen's "Song of Africa" brought to the big screen - and one of the profoundest love stories ever written by life itself.
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Chinatown [DVD]
Chinatown [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jack Nicholson
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.95

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A milestone in film noir history., 2 Jun. 2005
This review is from: Chinatown [DVD] (DVD)
"Water is the life blood of every community." With this statement, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's website begins its biography of William Mulholland, the real life model of two of this movie's characters, water department chief Hollis Mulwray (an obvious play on words) and water tycoon Noah Cross. And indeed water, the access to it and the wealth it provides, is what drives everything and everybody in this movie set in the ever-thirsty Los Angeles of the first decades of this century, a budding boom town on the brink of victory or decay ... and whether it will be one or th other depends on the city's ongoing access to drinking water.
"Chinatown"'s story is based on William Mulholland's greatest coup; the construction of the Owen Valley aqueduct which provided Los Angeles with a steady source of drinking water but also entailed a lot of controversy. Splitting Mulholland's complex real-life persona into two fictional characters (the noble Mulwray who thinks that water should belong to the people and who refuses to authorize an unsavory new dam construction project and the greedy, unscrupulous Cross who will use *any* means to advance his personal fortune) creates the movie's one necessary black and white conflict ... other than this, the predominant shades are those of gray.
Into the wars raging around L.A.'s water supply, private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is unwittingly thrown when a woman introducing herself as Hollis Mulwray's wife asks him to investigate her husband's alleged infidelity. Before he realizes what is going on he is drawn into a web of treachery and treason, and fatally attracted to the real Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), Noah Cross (John Huston)'s daughter. Soon reaching the conclusion that he has been used, he refuses to drop the investigation, and instead decides to dig his way to the source of the scheming he has witnessed - the classical film noir setup.
To say that this movie is one of the best examples of the genre ever made is stating the obvious ... actually, it borders on being superfluous. Few other films are as tightly acted, scripted and directed, from Jack Nicholson's dapper-dressed, dogged Jake Gittes, who like any good noir detective is not half as hard boiled as he would have us believe, to Faye Dunaway's seductive and sad Evelyn Mulray, John Huston's cold-blooded and corrupt Noah Cross, Roman Polanski's brooding direction and Robert Towne's award-winning screen play, so full of memorable lines and the classical noir gumshoe dialogue, yet far more than just a well-done copy. And throughout it all, there that idea of Chinatown - that place where you do as little as possible, and where if you try to help someone, you're likely going to make double sure they're getting hurt.
"Chinatown" was Roman Polanski's return to Hollywood, five years after his wife (Sharon Tate) had been one of the victims of the Manson gang. Polanski and Towne fought hard whether the movie should have a happy ending or not. Polanski won, studio politics were favorable at the time, and the version we all know was produced. Towne later admitted that Polanski had been right; and in fact, it is hard to imagine what kind of happy ending would have worked with the movie at all - too deep-rooted are the conflicts presented, none of which lends itself to an easy solution. Unfortunately, being released the same year as "The Godfather II" robbed "Chinatown" much of the Academy Award attention it would have deserved; of 11 nominations (best movie, best actor - Jack Nicholson -, best actress - Faye Dunaway -, best director Roman Polanski , best screenplay - Robert Towne -, best original score - Eliot Goldsmith -, best cinematography, and others), the movie only won the Oscar for Towne's screenplay. Generations of fans, however, have long since recognized that "Chinatown" is a milestone in the history of the film noir and in the professional history of its participants, and one of Hollywood's finest hours.

The Sting [DVD]
The Sting [DVD]
Dvd ~ Paul Newman
Offered by Great Buys Uk
Price: £7.55

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's the Big Con ... and it's Hooker by a nose!, 2 Jun. 2005
This review is from: The Sting [DVD] (DVD)
The year is 1936, and while generally there's a depression on, small-time Joliet grifter Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and his pals Luther Coleman and Joe Erie (Robert Earl Jones and Jack Kehoe) have just hit the big one, taking over $10,000 from a mark in a routine street con. What they don't know, unfortunately, is that their mark is actually a runner for the Illinois operation of New York banker-turned-mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), who loses no time sending a pair of killers after them, commenting dryly that "you can't encourage this kind of thing ... ya' folla'?" Hours later, Luther is found dead below his living room window. Shocked and angry, Johnny and Joe nevertheless know they have to beat it, and quickly. Johnny decides to go to Chicago, to look up Luther's old friend Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), whom Luther has described as a true big-timer. He is less than impressed, however, when he finds Gondorff sleeping off the previous night's booze, actually lying in a corner *beside* his bed. His impression only changes after they have started to talk (and not before he has given him a good drenching in the bath tub to sober him up) and Hooker begins to get an inkling that this guy Gondorff actually does know what he's talking about.
Thus, the scene is set for one of film history's greatest con operations, in which Gondorff and Hooker devise a scheme to sting Lonnegan out of a half million dollars in a venture including everything from a bamboozled poker round (courtesy of technical advisor John Scarne, whose hands doubled for Newman's) to a scam bookmaking outfit and the temporary hijacking of a telegraph office - as much in revenge for Luther's death (because, as Hooker explains, he "[doesn't] know enough about killing to kill [Lonnegan]") as for the scheme's financial prospect, which alone is big enough to make it worthwhile; and then, of course there is the thrill of the chase itself! And they're not even put off by the fact that Hooker is sought, besides by Lonnegan's killers, by Joliet "bunko" cop Snyder (Charles Durning) - less because of the latter's official duties, though, but because, bullied by Snyder into coughing up the better part of his share of the take from Lonnegan's runner, Hooker has had the brilliant idea of passing him counterfeit money; thus incurring the cop's wrath as surely as he has already incurred Lonnegan's.
"The Sting" reprised the successful cooperation of Redford, Newman and director George Roy Hill that had paid off so well four years earlier in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," earning Hill one of seven Academy Awards - the most coveted one besides "Best Movie," which also went to this movie - and Redford his first "Best Actor" Oscar nomination (why Newman wasn't likewise at least nominated will forever remain one of the Academy's mysteries). The screenplay was inspired by David W. Maurer's 1940 book "The Big Con," which chronicles the exploits of several depression-era con artists whose names, in turn, inspired those of several of the movie's characters, including Henry Gondorff, J.J. Singleton, Eddie Niles and Kid Twist (the latter three played with panache, wit and tongue firmly planted in cheek by Ray Walston, John Heffernan and the great, prolific Harold Gould).
Screenwriter David S. Ward - another one of the film's seven Oscar winners - created Hooker's role with Robert Redford in mind from the start. Redford, however, initially declined and only changed his mind (still not expecting the movie to be a major success) after Jack Nicholson had likewise turned it down in the interim. He would soon be proven dead wrong; indeed, everything came together as in a dream for the production: Two stars with confirmed on-screen chemistry, each of whom alone possessed enough charisma to turn even the slightest scene into a magical moment but who together were darn near unbeatable; a despite an not entirely convincing Irish accent eminently credible, intelligent and menacing villain; a great supporting cast that also included Eileen Brennan (Gondorff's girlfriend Billie), Dimitra Arliss (Hooker's love interest Loretta), Dana Elcar (would-be FBI Agent Polk) and Charles Dierkop (Lonnegan's right-hand man Floyd); a spunky script with new plot twists and memorable one-liners at every corner; meticulously researched, spot-on cinematography and art direction, earning the film Academy Award No. 4 (Art Direction) plus a nomination in the "Best Cinematography" category - all the more amazing as the movie was filmed almost entirely on Universal's back lot and includes only a few days' worth of location shots - likewise meticulously researched period costumes (Oscar No. 5 for the film and No. 7 for honoree Edith Head, out of no less than 25 (!) nominations); superb camerawork and editing (Oscar No. 6, Editing) and last but not least an Oscar-winning soundtrack, compiled by Marvin Hamlisch from Scott Joplin's ragtime tunes - which actually were no longer popular in the 1930s but fit the movie's tone like a tee.
Having watched the movie countless times, I sometimes wonder (only now that I'm finally reasonably familiar with its breathtaking plot twists, I hasten to add) whether it makes sense that in a well-organized outfit like Lonnegan's, which instantly identified Hooker, Coleman and Erie as the grifters who had conned their runner and also instantly knew their places of abode, both in Joliet *and* Hooker's new Chicago address, the right hand should have been so ignorant of the left hand's pursuits that it never dawned on anyone that the kid conning himself into Lonnegan's confidence under the name Kelly was actually none other than the Johnny Hooker they were pursuing for the Joliet hit. But ultimately this is nit-picking I'll admit, and it does not take away one iota of the movie's fun and overall class.
So, settle down with a beer, pop in the DVD (where is the special edition, Universal???) and enjoy - for the flag is up ... and they're off again!!

Richard III [DVD] [1996]
Richard III [DVD] [1996]
Dvd ~ Ian McKellen

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Villany Unveiled., 1 Jun. 2005
This review is from: Richard III [DVD] [1996] (DVD)
A gala ball: The York family celebrate their reascent to power; the War of Roses (named for the feuding houses' heraldic badges: Lancaster's red and York's white rose) is almost over. Actually, the year is 1471, but for present purposes, we're in the 1930s. A singer delivers a swinging "Come live with me and be my love." Richard of Gloucester (Sir Ian McKellen), the reinstated sickly King Edward IV's (John Wood's) youngest brother, moves through the crowd; observing, watching his second brother George, Duke of Clarence (Nigel Hawthorne) being quietly led off by Tower warden Brackenbury (Donald Sumpter) and his subalterns. With Clarence gone, Richard seizes the microphone, its discordant screech cutting through the singer's applause, and he, who himself made this night possible by killing King Henry VI of Lancaster and his son at Tewkesbury, begins a victory speech: "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York" (cut to Edward, who regally acknowledges the tribute). But when Richard mentions "grim-visaged war," who "smooth'd his wrinkled front," the camera closes in on his mouth, turning it into a grimace reminiscent of the legend known to any spectator in Shakespeare's Globe Theatre: that he wasn't just born "with his feet first" but also "with teeth in his mouth;" hence, not only crippled (though whether also hunchbacked is uncertain) but cursed from birth, his physical deformity merely outwardly representing his inner evil.
Then, mid-sentence, the image cuts again. Richard enters a bathroom; and as he continues his monologue we see that only now, relieving himself and talking - with narcissistic pleasure - to his own image in the mirror, he truly speaks his mind; contemptuously dismissing a war that's lost its menace and "capers nimbly in a lady's bedchamber," and determining that, since he now has no delight but to mock his own deformed shadow, and "cannot prove a lover," he'll "prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days."
Thus, Richard's first soliloquy, which actually opens the play on a London street, brilliantly demonstrates the signature elements of this movie's (and the preceding stage production's) success: not only its updated 20th century context but its creative use of settings and imagery; boldly cutting and rearranging Shakespeare's words without anytime, however, betraying his intent. Indeed, that pattern is already set with the prologue's murder of King Henry VI and his son, where following a telegraph report that "Richard of Gloucester is at hand - he holds his course toward Tewkesbury" (slightly altered lines from the preceding "King Henry VI"'s last scenes) Richard himself emerges from a tank breaking through the royal headquarters' wall, breathing heavily through a gas mask: As his shots ring out, riddling the prince with bullets, the blood-red letters R-I-C-H-A-R-D-III appear across the screen.
And as creatively it continues: Richard woos Lady Anne (Kristin Scott Thomas), Henry's daughter-in-law, in a morgue instead of a street (near her husband's casket), and later drives her into drug abuse. Henry's Cassandra-like widow Margaret is one of several characters omitted entirely; whereas foreign-born Queen Elizabeth is purposely cast with an American (Annette Benning), whose performance has equally purposeful overtones of Wallis Simpson; and whose playboy-brother Earl Rivers (Robert Downey Jr.) dies "in the act." Clarence is murdered while the rest of the family sits down to a lavish (although discordant) dinner. When upon Richard's ally Lord Buckingham's (Jim Broadbent's) machinations, he is "persuaded" to take the crown, he emerges from a veritable film star's dressing room complete with full-sized mirror and manicurists (sold to the attending crowd outside as "two deep divines" praying with him). Tyrrell (Adrian Dunbar), already one of Clarence's murderers, quickly rises through uniformed ranks as he further bloodies his hands. Richard's and Elizabeth's final spar over her daughter's hand takes place in the train-wagon serving as his field headquarters; and we actually see that same princess wed to his arch-enemy Richmond (Dominic West), King Henry VII-to-be and founder of the Tudor dynasty, with lines taken from Richmond's closing monologue. Perhaps most importantly, we also witness Richard's coronation, which Shakespeare himself - honoring that ceremony's perception as holy - decided not to show; although even here it is presented not as a glorious procedure of state but only in a brief snippet rerun immediately from the distance of a private, black-and-white film shown only for Richard's and his entourage's benefit.
And challenging as this project is, its stellar cast - also including Maggie Smith (a formidable Duchess of York), Jim Carter (Prime Minister Lord Hastings), Roger Hammond (the Archbishop), and Tim McInnerny and Bill Paterson (Richard's underlings Catesby and Ratcliffe) - uniformly prove themselves more than up to the task.
Even if the temporal setting didn't already spell out the allegory on the universality of evil that McKellen and director Richard Loncraine obviously intend, you'd have to be blind to miss the visual references to fascism: the uniforms, the gathering modeled on the infamous Nuremberg Reichsparteitag, the long red banners with a black boar in a white circle (playing up the image of the boar Shakespeare himself uses: similarly, Richard's and Tyrrell's first meeting is set in a pig-sty, and Lord Stanley's [Edward Hardwicke's] prophetic dream follows an incident where Richard, for a split-second, loses his self-control). But the imagery goes even further: Richard's narcissism is reminiscent of Chaplin's "Great Dictator;" and you don't have to watch this movie contemporaneously with the latest "Star Wars" installment to visualize Darth Vader during his gas mask-endowed entry in the first scene.
"[T]hus I clothe my naked villany with odd old ends stol'n out of holy writ; and seem a saint when most I play the devil," Richard comments in the play: if there's one line I regret to see cut it's the one so clearly encompassing the way many a modern despot assumes power, too; by cloaking his true intent in the veneer of formal legality. Even so: this is a highlight among the recent Shakespeare adaptations; under no circumstances to be missed.

River Runs Through It [DVD] [1993] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
River Runs Through It [DVD] [1993] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Robert Redford
Offered by passionFlix UK
Price: £3.88

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cinematic Poetry., 12 May 2005
I don't think anybody who has ever visited the American West, particularly the north-western states of Montana and Wyoming, hasn't come away deeply impressed with the majestic beauty of their mountains, rivers, streams, endless skies, prairies and meadows. Many probably went home to find that the photos they took, trying to immortalize their impressions, just didn't seem to do justice to the real thing, and wishing they possessed the craft to adequately capture the region's beauty in images, whether literary or visual. Robert Redford has succeeded to combine words and pictures in this stunning adaptation of Norman Maclean's 1976 autobiographical novella "A River Runs Through It."
Set in early 20th century rural Montana, this is the coming-of-age story of the author and his brother Paul, sons of a Scottish Presbyterian minister who raised them with both love and sternness and instilled in them, more than anything else, an understanding for the divine beauty of their land, symbolized by and culminating in a fly fisherman's skill in casting his rod, and his ability to become one with the river in which he fishes. For, in Norman Maclean's words, in their family "there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing;" and growing up, the brothers came to believe quite naturally that Jesus's disciples themselves must have been fly fishermen, too; and that consequently every good fly fisherman is closer to the divine than any other human.
But while they were united by their love for their native land and its rivers and fish, the brothers couldn't have been any more different on a personal level. And thus, this is also a story of brotherly (and parental) love and loss, of the inability to communicate, and of dreams and aspirations nurtured and fatally disappointed. While disciplined, sensible Norman (Craig Sheffer) left Montana for a six-year college education at Dartmouth and ultimately - after having temporarily returned home and taken a bride - to assume a teaching position at the University of Chicago, rebellious Paul (Brad Pitt in a truly career-defining role) knew that he would never leave his home state and "the fish he had not yet caught;" and opted for a journalist's life instead. But ultimately he wasn't able to fight the demons that possessed him; and his parents and brother had to stand by and helplessly watch him embark on a path of self-destruction, reduced to comments on symbolic matters like Paul's decision to change the spelling of their last name by capitalizing the "L" ("Now everybody will think we are Lowland Scots," scorned their father), where to open topicalize their concerns would have destroyed the careful equilibrium of mutual respect, love, hope, caution and guardedness characterizing their relationship. And so, only after Paul's death could his father tell a hesitant Norman that he knew more about his brother than the fact that Paul had been a fine fisherman: "He was beautiful" - and mourn in a sermon, even later, that all too frequently, when looking at a loved one in need, "either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them. We can love completely, without complete understanding."
Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt are perfectly cast as the earnest, reasonable Norman and his maverick brother Paul, who relies on his innate toughness in his fateful attempt to take life to its limits and still beat the devil, but who also turns the casting of a fishing line into an art form that makes a rainbow rise from the water, and who with his greatest-ever catch stands before his father and brother "suspended above the earth, free from all its laws, like a work of art." Moreover, this movie reunited Robert Redford with Tom Skerritt, with whom he had first shared the screen in the 1962 Korean war drama "War Hunt" (both actors' big-screen debut), and who gives a finely-tuned, sensitive performance as the Reverend Maclean. Notable are also the appearances of Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Maclean and Emily Lloyd as Norman's bride-to-be Jessie. But the movie's true star is Montana itself, particularly its rivers and streams; every frame of Philippe Rousselot's Academy Award-winning cinematography and every sweep of the camera over Montana's magnificent landscape, and along the silver bands of its rivers with their gurgling cataracts and waves curling softly against their banks, powerful testimony to Robert Redford's genuine love and respect for the West and for nature in general; the causes closest to his heart and matched in importance only by his efforts to promote a movie scene outside of Hollywood. And Redford himself assumes the (uncredited) role of the narrator, thus bringing to the screen Norman Maclean's lyrical language and uniting words and pictures in an audiovisual sonnet, subtly accentuated by Mark Isham's gentle score.
Both movie and novella end with the lines that have given the story its title: "[I]n the half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul; and memories, and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River, and a four-count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one; and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs" - those of Norman Maclean's now-lost loved ones; those he "loved and did not understand in [his] youth." As we have had to learn, it is not only human life that is terminal; even nature itself (including, incidentally, the Macleans' beloved Big Blackfoot River) is not immune to destruction by human carelessness. This movie is a powerful plea to all of us not to wait until it has become too late.

Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid [DVD] [1969] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid [DVD] [1969] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £5.43

13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Legends., 12 May 2005
How do you ensure somebody's legacy as a hero? In the good old days, you wrote a book. Nowadays, you make a movie - and if you're lucky and it's really, really successful, you can retrospectively even make legends out of dangerous criminals. Not that that always works, of course. But with two great actors with instant chemistry (Paul Newman and Robert Redford), a script (by William Goldman) bursting with one-liners making the audience bowl over laughing every other minute, without once derailing into slapstick, a director's (George Roy Hill's) ingenious use of the occasion to turn a whole genre on its head, and some of the world's most beautiful locations, filmed by an exceptional cinematographer (Conrad Hall) ... you just may pull it off. Case in point: "Butch and Sundance."
While Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) was known as the Old West's Robin Hood for his charm, masterly planning, avoidance of bloodshed - he really did claim he'd never shot anyone - and his stance for settlers' rights vis-a-vis the wealthy cattle barons, Sundance (Henry Longbaugh) had the reputation of a loner; a fast draw repeatedly in and out of prison before even turning twenty-one. After several of their Wild Bunch/Hole in the Wall Gang associates had seen the short end of the stick in various encounters with the law, Butch and Sundance determined things were getting too hot in the West and, unlike the outlaws who not much earlier had stood it out until the end (Billy the Kid, the James Gang and the O.K. Corral gunfighters), decided to head for South America. With a woman named Etta Place, possibly a teacher as portrayed here or, perhaps more likely, a prostitute, they first spent several years farming in Argentina - both had done cattle work before turning to robbery, although in the form of rustling (stealing unbranded cattle) - but eventually reverted to their more profitable, preferred occupation. Most sources believe they died in a 1909 shootout with the Bolivian military in a town named San Vicente; others, however, claim either or both escaped alive, returned to the States under assumed names and died there (Sundance in Casper, WY in 1957 and Cassidy, according to his sister, in Spokane, WA, in 1937).
While their decision to leave the West instead of duking it out with the law and the mystery surrounding their deaths would already have made for a great movie, director Hill cleverly used the material for a 180-degree-turn on the Western genre. The opening credits roll next to sepia-tinged silent shots depicting a Hole in the Wall Gang train robbery, followed by the bold claim that "most of what follows is true" - which in itself couldn't be further from the truth. What does follow is a wild ride from the Outlaw Trail to Bolivia ... during which our heroes aren't getting rid of their pursuers, no Western music with guitars and harmonicas accompanies them but Burt Bacharach's multiple-award-winning, deliberately anachronistic, upbeat score (plus "Raindrops Are Falling on My Head" during the most romantic scene - raindrops???), a knife fight is settled by a kick in the groin, and a marshal trying to assemble a posse first meets with a lackluster population, neither willing to bring their own horses and guns nor clamoring to be supplied with such by him, and in short order sees his meeting usurped by a bicycle salesman. Add to that Oscar-winning cinematography, repeatedly using black-and-white lighting techniques even after the film's switch to color (e.g. in Sundance's first visit with Etta), reverse lighting to make daytime shots look like nighttime (during several scenes of the pursuit) and sepia-tinted shots for period feeling (besides the opening, also to sum up the trio's stay in New York), a Bolivian bank robbery with a crib sheet containing "specialized vocabulary" that Butch, contrary to initial claims, doesn't know in Spanish, and an immortalizing freeze-frame ending - and you have one heck of an entertaining movie, shot in some of the West's most spectacular settings and in Mexico (as Bolivia's stand-in).
"Butch and Sundance" turned Redford into a megastar - Hill lobbied hard for the then-perceived "playboy"'s casting, and his instincts proved so dead-on that Newman's entourage became worried the movie's expected primary star would be sidelined (a feeling never shared by Newman himself, though, who has been friends with Redford ever since). In a twist worthy of Goldman's Oscar-winning screenplay, fearsome loner Sundance became one of Redford's most popular roles, and his independent film festival's namesake. The movie renewed popular interest in the Outlaw Trail, which Redford himself traveled later, too (chronicled in a fascinating, alas out-of-print book). Its script is littered with memorable one-liners; from both heroes' "Who *are* those guys??" to Butch's comments on the small price to pay for beauty, on Sundance's gun-prowess ("like I've been telling you - over the hill"), on vision, bifocals and Bolivia, on Sundance's asking Etta (Katherine Ross) to accompany them, although if she'll ever "whine or make a nuisance," he'll be "dumping her flat" ("Don't sugarcoat it like that, Kid ... tell her straight!") and his downplaying the final shootout because their archenemy LaForce isn't there; Sundance's "You just keep thinking, Butch," his comments on the secret of his gambling success (prayer), on not being picky about women (followed by a litany of required attributes), on the excessive use of dynamite, and his one weakness ("I can't swim!!"); and finally Strother Martin/mine-owner Percy Garris's deadpan delivery of the Shanghai Rooster song, of "Morons ... I've got morons on my team" and his assertion not to be crazy but merely colorful. The famous freeze-frame ending has repeatedly been cited, both cinematographically (e.g. "Thelma and Louise") and in dialogue (e.g. 1998's "Negotiator"). And although initially almost uniformly panned by critics, the movie won quadruple Oscars and multiple other awards. In true Hollywood fashion, it has made two fearsome outlaws legends forever ... and in the process, also won legendary status itself.

Criterion Collection: Hamlet [DVD] [1948] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Criterion Collection: Hamlet [DVD] [1948] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ -
Price: £18.51

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The play's the thing., 4 May 2005
"Hamlet belongs into the theater," says Mel Gibson, the star of the tragedy's 1990 adaptation by Franco Zeffirelli, in an interview on that movie's DVD. And while primarily expressing regret over his own lacking opportunity to explore the role's complexities by nightly slipping into the prince's skin on stage, he also has a point regarding any screen adaptation's validity: the many facets of Hamlet's character have, after all, been debated by literature's greatest minds since the Bard's very own time. For that reason, too, any newcomer is well-advised to first read the play - not see it on stage, nor watch any of the myriad movie versions - but keep an open mind and let the Bard's words speak for themselves. All these centuries later, Shakespeare alone still remains the one true authority on Hamlet's character; and while reading, too, necessarily creates an interpretation in the reader's mind that others may or may not agree with (as does any staging of the complete tragedy), the interpretative element is enhanced even more if this complex play is reduced to somewhat over half its length to comply with cinematic necessities. Nothing proves this better than Sir Laurence Olivier's 1948 movie, which won him Best Director and Best Actor Academy Awards, in addition to the film's Best Costume Design and Best Set Decoration honors.
Without question, in his day Olivier was considered *the* quintessential Hamlet; the actor who owned the role like none before and few, if any, afterwards; not least because of this movie and his participation in the 1937 Helsingor (= Elsinore) staging. Olivier's approach follows the still-predominant understanding of Hamlet as a wavering man, "who cannot make up his mind," as he says in the movie's prologue, which borrows from the passage "so oft it chances in particular men that, for some vicious mole of nature in them ... they ... carrying ... the stamp of one defect, ... their virtues else, - be they as pure as grace ... shall in the general censure take corruption from that particular fault," from Hamlet's monologue preceding the encounter with his father's ghost (here: an uncredited Sir John Gielgud). Olivier's prince is weary, subdued: but for confrontations like those with Ophelia ("get thee to a nunnery"), with Gertrude after the play designed to "catch the conscience of the king," and with Laertes over Ophelia's grave, he speaks softly; and unlike other interpretations of the tragedy's single most famous soliloquy, even "to be or not to be" - although dramatically set on a parapet above the ocean's raging waves - already begins half-defeated and emphasizes the reluctant suicide over the reluctant avenger. Yet, while this works well within this film's context, perhaps just *because* the medium also invites interpretation by cutting and rearranging scenes, it seems somewhat ill-matched with Hamlet's later violent curse of his own inaction and renewed vow of revenge ("O, vengeance! This is most brave ..."); a passage essentially omitted here. A torn man he is certainly, but I think with room for a broader range and more forcefully expressed emotions than Olivier allows himself - I'd have liked to see how his approach worked in the full play's theatrical productions. (It also feeds into the Freudian concept of Hamlet's and Gertrude's relationship, and the idea of more than friendship between him and Horatio: equally aspects I don't find firmly anchored in the play.) But there we are: interpretation is the key to it all!
Equally without question, from today's perspective Olivier's Hamlet stands out vis-a-vis the remaining cast's performances even more compellingly than it must have to its original audience; and many today might disagree with a September 30, 1948 N.Y. Times review praising the "beautiful acting and inspired interpretations all the way." Sir Laurence's costars were near-uniformly well-established actors of their time: Basil Sydney (Claudius) a theatrical leading man and matinee idol since before 1920, also with a prolific - though less illustrious - film career, Eileen Herlie (Gertrude) celebrated, inter alia, for stage appearances in "Rebecca" and "Medea," Felix Aylmer (Polonius) a noted Shaw interpreter with (even then) 30 years' stage and almost two-thirds that in screen experience, and Norman Woodland (Horatio) a Stratford-on-Avon regular since the 1930s. Yet, even method acting aside, none of them inhabit their roles in the more complete, natural(istic) way modern audiences have come to expect; rather, the era's stilted stage performances are in evidence, and although then-19-year-old Jean Simmons garnered an Oscar nomination for her Ophelia, her achievement is neither her own career's greatest nor the best-informed portrayal of the maid. (Why Terence Morgan - Laertes - received fan mail for this, his first movie, also escapes me.) I sometimes wonder what might've been gained by cutting speeches down to more succinct dialogue; although behind the scenes this might well have created a feeling that "[e]verybody had a part either too long or too short" (Austen, "Mansfield Park"), thus ultimately doing more harm than good, even if it had made room for Hamlet's ambiguous school-fellows Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who add depth and texture to the play and to those screen versions preserving them. (The same is true for Fortinbras, but there dramatic dynamics do provide better grounds for the character's elimination in a screen adaptation.)
Both costume design and set decoration, however, were worthy Oscar winners; and while one may debate some cinematographic choices (e.g. the famous pull-back from Claudius's and Laertes's conspiracy), generally the camerawork enhances the movie's richly-layered, darkly-atmospheric setting. Thus, it all comes down to that central question: to cut or not to cut - and if so, what? The first part may not have offered any alternative; it took, after all, until 1996 for Kenneth Branagh to show that Hamlet can be done completely *and* successfully as a movie. As for the second part ... de gustibus non est disputandum. So, yes, a milestone in Olivier's career and Shakesperean history certainly; however "no more but so" (Ophelia), and these days, no longer the one definitive Hamlet, either.

Hamlet (1990) (Ws Sub) [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Hamlet (1990) (Ws Sub) [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £7.13

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Since brevity is the soul of wit ..., 4 May 2005
I will be brief; though whether witty, too, as this production is ... why, I know not.
For 'tis not a trifle thing to take a play like Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and cut its length
Almost in half, without thus giving up half of its meaning. Yet, Signor
Franco Zeffirelli: even he, who aught already did for "Romeo
And Juliet," hath made his mark again here in most splendid fashion.
The Prince of Denmark's been portrayed by Thespian royalty near and far,
First among these the great Sir Laurence. Yet here now comes Mel Gibson: a most
Unusual choice, 'tis true; and better known for other roles. But although
Action star and ladies' favourite, this venture made him humble; justly so:
"The play's the thing," he says as Hamlet, and as himself, he adds: "Hamlet belongs
On stage." And he deplores that merely one of his enactments of each scene
Should be preserved on film forever, and that he never had the chance
To delve into the role anew from night to night. - Fear not, good Sir: I think
You did great honour to the Bard's intent; well understood unhappy Hamlet's
Scorn, his rage, his doubts, his terrible paralysis, all his tormented soul.
I also do agree that although ten years older than the prince when you
Took on the part, those extra years provided further insight of the kind
That's needed for this complex role. Hadst but maintained you this same sense of
Hamlet's gravitas until the end, of my full'st praise you wouldst have been assured.
Alas, the levity that you let creep into the final duel with Laertes
In my view ill becomes that scene, and although Hamlet on its eve hath had
A premonition of his death; hath spoke of providence and sparrows,
And looking at the sunset sighed, I doubt that when he meets Ophelia's brother,
He's so far gone beyond all caring that he'd make light of their encounter.
("The rest is silence," too, would have impressed me more without the lisp.)
But let that be. For I do join you in applauding those who
With you hearkened the appeal of Signor Zeffirelli; and who
Most heartily deserve to share this feature's laurels. Princes of
British theatre: the late, great Alan Bates - usurper Claudius -
All ruthless power, cunning, even carnal, brushing away his pangs of guilt;
Yet, reck'ning he doth not escape. Paul Scofield, next, th' ill-fated ghost;
Not bearing arms, as Shakespeare wrote, but verily a perturbed spirit,
As Hamlet calls him, in his pain. And Ian Holm as counsellor
Polonius: not ponderous, nor slow of tongue and eye but quick, and yet
Slain by the prince, in Claudius's place. They all have stood on stage a hundred times,
And brought to life the Bard's great plays, so well doth it behove one new, as Master Gibson
Is, to Shakespeare's world to credit them for lessons learned; and not just for their acting.
Also permit me, pray, to speak about the ladies in this male-dictated play:
Glenn Close's Gertrude, youthful queen, who gives the lie to Hamlet's chide
And his unmerciful reminder of her flesh's humbleness, and of her
Age. A bit too Freudian, perchance, her and her son's relationship
(That's an approach I've never liked). But a commanding presence, all be told.
Yet, even more praiseworthy is Miss Hel'na Bonham-Carter; her
Ophelia well-neigh impossible to replicate, she's *that* convincing.
Now rose in bloom, in love; now in distress, now finally in lunacy; she wails,
Her hair is tangled, clothes in rags, prophetic words she speaks disguised as
Songs and flower talk, before she drowns and thus propels this drama's end.
What else? Oh aye, of course: Kudos must also go to David Watkin,
In charge of camera, and Signors Ennio Morricone and Feretti
- by first name Dante - for this film's score and the design of its production.
Faithful reporting, too, would be amiss without a word on Hamlet's foils:
Horatio, his school fellow, in Stephen Dillane's able hands, as is
Laertes in Nathaniel Parker's; and Trevor Peacock as the gravedigger,
Spot-on: a diamond in the rough. As player king, moreover, have a
Look out for Pete Postlethwaite; and unlike the movie by Olivier
This one includes both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - Michael Maloney and
Sean Murray. Fortinbras, though, you'll search in vain in this production, too.
The words, of course, are those of Shakespeare, though moved around a bit, but not in
Ways that by and large, methinks, the Bard would take exception to. Save, that is,
"Get thee to a nunnery," which doth assume a diff'rent connotation here:
A kinder, gentler Hamlet, who still contrives to show some care about Ophelia.
(But would he really? Nay, I think not.) "To be or not to be" not in the
Courtyard but the crypt, however, that is amazingly intense: both
The performance and the imagery. As generally Zeffirelli
In troth well uses film's ability to convey meaning visually, as
In the burial of Hamlet Senior, the prince's wordless visit to
Ophelia, and in the punishment of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
But let me close now. Brief I would be, that was my promise - well, there goes that.
Such is reviewing! Yet, what I wish, in faith, dear reader, thou hadst found
Within these lines is that I recommend this film. So go and watch it - presently!

Knight Moves [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Knight Moves [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £39.94

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Check - mate?, 27 April 2005
A children's chess tournament. Two boys facing each other in the final game, intently staring at each other and the chess board between them. They make their moves and register their time. Ultimately, one of them has to concede defeat. Facing "check" twice and almost out of time, he topples his king. And assaults his adversary. A doctor recommends that he not ever be allowed near a chess board while he is treated for his "condition."
Years later, another chess tournament. Grand master Peter Sanderson (Christopher Lambert) is in attendance, making a surprise return after three years' retirement. He easily wins the first rounds. After dinner with daughter Erica (whose only parent he is) and a strategy session with his advisor, Sanderson concludes the evening with a few steamy hours with a sensuous blonde ... and the psychopath who will soon hold the community in thrall has found his first target. When the woman is found murdered, gruesomely dressed up in death and the word "Remember" written on the wall above her in blood, Sanderson initially denies having been with her. This, and his arrogant demeanor towards the policemen investigating the crime - particularly, Detective Andy Wagner (Daniel Baldwin) - makes him an instant suspect. But is Sanderson the psychopath? Or is he, as appearances would have it, the psychopath's true target?
In a grisly game of strategy in which a city is turned into a chess board and women living in the target areas of town (attractive blondes all of them) are the chess pieces, Sanderson and the police hunt a serial killer who always seems to be one step ahead of them. While Detective Wagner never loses his suspicion of Sanderson, his newly minted boss, Captain Frank Sedman (Tom Skerritt) reluctantly comes to the conclusion that since the clues provided by the killer are based on chess references and directed to none other than Sanderson himself, they will not be able to solve the case without his help. Yet, for a long time the grand master, too, seems unable to decipher the killer's clues, and the meaning of the words written above the dead body of each of his victims. - How many women will have to die before his identity is revealed? Will he ever be caught? Will psychologist Kathy Sheppard (Diane Lane), brought in by the police to determine if Sanderson himself fits their suspect's profile, end up as one of his victims?
"Knight Moves" is a suspenseful thriller, intelligently built on the patterns of the royal game of strategy itself, and in which the audience is kept on their toes until the very end. Christopher Lambert in particular is believable as the astute, arrogant Sanderson, who hides his personal fears and insecurities under a mask of unapproachability which only one person seems to be able to pierce - his daughter Erica. His face-offs with Daniel Baldwin alias Detective Wagner, sarcastic and spewing barely controlled rage at each other, are among the highlights of the movie; in addition, of course, to the mind game itself which the killer plays with his hunters and, by extension, with the audience. While it is clear that the solution has to have something to do with the fateful game played by those two boys so long ago, all elements of the story are only connected up in the final scenes ... which are, however, unfortunately somewhat overplayed and emphasize gore more than psychology and hence, are a bit of a let-down. This, and the relationship soon forming between Sanderson and Sheppard, which doesn't entirely work for me (strangely enough, since Lambert and Lane were married at the time) are the only detractors I find in this movie. Overall, however, "Knight Moves" would have deserved much more attention than it has received since its 1992 cinematic release.

Rain Man (Special Edition) [1989] [DVD]
Rain Man (Special Edition) [1989] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Dustin Hoffman
Price: £3.35

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 246 toothpicks, "counting cards," and lessons in love., 27 April 2005
Have you ever had to communicate with someone on a different wavelength as you; for example because he speaks a foreign language and you don't have an interpreter, or because he is unable to communicate verbally at all, or maybe just because you keep misunderstanding each other? If so, you know what a frustrating experience it is to have virtually no control over the situation and over making sure that you're actually understood. And in precisely this situation finds himself Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), personification of the 1980s' yuppie, a used car dealer with major money problems whose only - tentative - personal attachment is to his current girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino). Because having learned that except for a few rosebushes and a vintage 1949 Buick Roadmaster his recently-deceased father has left virtually all of his considerable fortune to his autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) - a brother he didn't even know he had - Charlie decides to kidnap Raymond from the Cincinnati facility where he lives, take him to California, and demand half the inheritance in exchange for his brother's return.
Now, Charlie isn't the greatest communicator himself; at least as far as listening goes; he is used to talking people down, and if that alone doesn't do the trick, he starts to yell. This, however, just doesn't work with Raymond, who lives in a world of his own and, unable to express emotion in any other way, falls into a nervous tic when feeling threatened. So for the first time in his life Charlie has to learn to accept another human being for what he is, and work *with* his bewildering methods of communication rather than against them. And subtly, very subtly, Charlie begins to change, until at last he no longer wants to relinquish custody of Raymond even after having been offered a substantial amount of money: because now money is no longer an issue at all; now it's all about genuine love for a newly-found brother and very special person.
"Rain Man" is ostensibly told from Charlie's perspective; through his, the "normal" guy's eyes we perceive Raymond's habits, tics and strange behavioral code. And even if Charlie is easy enough to snub for his superficiality and materialism, his frustration at his inability to communicate with his brother feels genuine and is something we can empathize with(albeit perhaps inadmittedly). Tom Cruise plays Charlie with a finely-tuned mix of audacity and reluctant emotion; turning a role that seems to start out as just another Cruise cliche into a character who hesitantly comes to realize his own complexities and shortcomings and learns to appreciate sensitivity, compassion and love - yet, without ever taking the role that treacherous step too far into sentimentality.
Still, important as Charlie's character is for this movie's narrative, this is from first to last Raymond's story; and by the same token Dustin Hoffman's, because the two individuals are in fact inseparable: As Hoffman once explained in an interview, he rejects the notion that acting is merely about playing a role, or that the term "my character" could ever appropriately describe his approach to a role; emphasizing that in every part he plays, he truly has to *become* the individual in question to fully be able to understand and portray him. As such, his achievement with Raymond Babbitt is breathtaking indeed; for in a role which not only imposes severe limitations on his ability to communicate traditionally but also gives him virtually no opportunity to express emotion, he conveys Raymond's frailties, unexpected strengths and, significantly, his profound humanity in a manner that lets you forget you're even looking at a piece of acting, thus accomplishing that rare feat only attained by the greatest of actors - and even among Dustin Hoffman's spectacular performances, this one stands out in particular. (He did, of course, win both the Oscar and the Golden Globe for this movie; but somehow even the industry's highest awards don't begin to express the significance of his achievement.)
Raymond Babbitt's character was based on several real-life autistic persons; and at a time when little was known about the condition even in the medical community, contributed substantially to a greater understanding of those afflicted with it. Not all autistic people are so-called "savants" like Raymond, i.e. possess genial mathematic or other abilities within the shell separating them from the outside world (and conversely, not with all of them that shell is as thick as in Raymond's case; although intricate routines do tend to play a rather important role) - so don't go rushing off with them to Vegas for an exercise in "counting cards," at least not before you've verified that they can memorize entire phone books (at least up to the letter "G"), count the toothpicks in a pile on the floor with one glimpse of an eye and determine the square root of a four- or five-digit number within a matter of seconds without so much as looking at an electronic calculator. Chances are you'd do them tremendous harm, not to mention make a complete fool of yourself.
Dustin Hoffman reportedly fought hard for this movie's production even after several directors (including, inter alia, Stephen Spielberg) had bowed out; and in one of those rare un-Hollywood-like moments even managed to maintain the movie's sense of authenticity up to the very end by prevailing on the writers to drop the projected ending, which would have had Raymond staying with Charlie. - In addition to Hoffman's awards, "Rain Man" received the coveted Oscars for Best Movie, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director (Barry Levinson, who also played the psychiatrist called upon to evaluate whether Raymond is fit to stay with Charlie), plus a number of other American and international awards. For once, the industry collectively got it right. But even if this movie hadn't received a single award, it would still remain one of recent film history's greatest and truly unforgettable moments - definitely, it would.

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