Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cinderella (2015)

Year 9, Day 112 - 4/22/17 - Movie #2,606

BEFORE: It's Saturday but I went to work, since jury duty caused me to miss two days work at one job and none at the other - those Kickstarter rewards aren't going to send themselves out, after all.  This jury duty thing is so annoying, I've already had to reschedule a dental appointment and I might have to reschedule a vacation too, just because they can't tell me when exactly this trial's going to start or how long it's going to run.  So I'm just living day to day, and neither boss knows if I'm going to show up on any given day.

But at least my nights are still my own (plus I'm getting some comics read while I'm stuck in the courthouse) and I'm still current on movies, here's the third Cinderella-based film in a row, and I can strike out in a new direction tomorrow.  Between Pontius Pilate, Cruella De Vil and a whole lot of evil stepmothers and stepsisters, it's been quite a week.

THE PLOT: When her father passes away, young Ella finds herself at the mercy of her cruel stepmother and her scheming step-sisters.  Never one to give up hope, Ella's fortunes begin to change after meeting a dashing stranger.

AFTER: This is the story of three movies about Cinderella, and in a way they were like those three bowls of porridge in another fairy-tale, where one was too hot and one was too cold and one was JUST right.  "Ella Enchanted" had way too much magic in it, and "Ever After" had zero magic, finally this one has just about the right amount of magical things happening.  Because the whole world can't have magic in it, it can't be a perfect place or else Cinderella never gets into such a bad situation, but then on the other hand, without any magic at all it's just the story of a woman finally getting some empowerment and speaking up for herself, and that's not really a fairy tale.

To be fair, this one has Disney's backing, so much of the magical elements seemed cribbed from that animated version made way back in the 1950's - the fairy godmother waves her wand, and Cindy gets a new dress, a carriage made from a pumpkin with 6 white horses that used to be mice, lizards turned into footmen and so on.  It's "Disney ex machina", or "Godmother from the machine", if you will.  Sure, she'd be a stronger character if she found a way to solve her own problems - I don't know, maybe move away from home and start fresh in a new kingdom? - but hey, we all need a little help sometimes, and at least this way one strong woman (not Da Vinci) helps out another.

They tried quite hard to make the message of this film "Be kind, and have courage."  But is that really the best motto for the Cinderella story, given the times we live in?  Why can't it be, "put up with your family, because they mean well, but move out as soon as you can"?  Or something like, "Girl, you don't have to take that kind of crap from your stepmother.  Call family services on her."   Any of those would similarly distract from the fact that the real message of the film is "Just hold out until your prince comes along, then don't look back."

Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, because this film DOES manage to explain why Cinderella stays in that house with her awful step-family - because she made a promise to her mother and father, and also the house reminds her of them.  OK, makes sense.  And I get that if you let a bully draw you into a fight, then you're playing her game, not your own.  But still, some things don't completely add up here, namely:

NITPICK POINT: The Prince here seems quite open to the idea that the woman he saw in the forest could be a commoner - why else would he tell her that he was an "apprentice" at the castle?  (which was true, in a sense, he was an apprentice to the king...)  But the only reason he would have to not identify himself as king would be to communicate with a commoner on her own level, and this is further supported by the fact that he invites all women, noble and peasant, to the ball.  He's searching for the woman he saw, and casts the widest possible net.  So how come when he sees how beautiful she is at the ball, he immediately assumes that she must be a noblewoman?  Isn't that stereotyping, to assume that only a noble could look that good, or have such a nice gown?  It seemed like maybe he was getting it, but nope, he's just as clueless as all the other rich people.

NITPICK POINT #2: Though it's great to have the Fairy Godmother back in the story to set things right, her presence really comes out of left field here.  There's no set-up, no explanation for who she is or what she can do, as if the filmmakers fell into a trap, assuming that the audience all knows the story and therefore she doesn't need an introduction.  Jeez, at a minimum you've got to at least have one of the step-sisters say something sarcastic like, "What do you think, Cinderella, is your FAIRY GODMOTHER going to bring you a dress for the ball?"

NITPICK POINT #3: The Fairy Godmother at first doesn't want to turn the pumpkin into a carriage, because she doesn't like working with vegetables.  Ah hah, but a pumpkin is NOT a vegetable, it's technically a fruit.  True vegetables don't have seeds inside of them, instead they're made of stems, leaves or roots.  But this is a common mistake, many people don't realize that pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers and tomatoes are botanically fruits, plus the F.G. here is a bit dotty anyway.

And then we've got the standard "search the kingdom for the girl who fits the slipper" bit - but at least here there's an explanation why no one else, among thousands of women, has the same shoe size as Cinderella.  It's because the glass slipper is magic, duh - see, I told you the story needed SOME magic in it, otherwise it's no fun.

Starring Cate Blanchett (last heard in "How to Train Your Dragon 2"), Lily James (last seen in "Wrath of the Titans"), Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter (last seen in "Novocaine"), Stellan Skarsgard (last seen in "Amistad"), Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Derek Jacobi (last seen in "Othello" (1965)), Ben Chaplin (last seen in "Me and Orson Welles"), Hayley Atwell (last seen in "Ant-Man"), Nonso Anozie, Jana Perez, with a cameo from Rob Brydon (last seen in "24 Hour Party People").

RATING: 5 out of 10 royal portraits

Friday, April 21, 2017

Ever After: A Cinderella Story

Year 9, Day 111 - 4/21/17 - Movie #2,605

 BEFORE: Now I'm hard-pressed to wonder why I didn't include these fairy-tale films in my February chain - where I had another film with Anne Hathaway ("Bride Wars") and two other films with Drew Barrymore ("Riding in Cars With Boys" and "Music and Lyrics").  They could have really helped me out with more linking possibilities.  But now that I think about it, I don't think I had a copy of tonight's film back then, I added it more recently, to fill up a DVD with "Riding in Cars With Boys".

But, if you think about it, if I'd dropped these films into February, then I wouldn't have them now, when I need them to help link between Easter and Mother's Day.  Maybe everything does happen for a reason, even my (perceived) mistakes.  The character of Cinderella carries over from "Ella Enchanted".

THE PLOT: The "real" story of Cinderella - with the sudden death of her loving father, Danielle is made a servant by her new stepmother, and one day her path crosses that of handsome Prince Henry, who has troubles of his own.

AFTER: Well, if last night's film fell more on the magical side, with all of its elves and fairies and other mythical creatures, then this one seems to be the polar opposite - there's no magic, no fairy godmother, no pumpkin turning into a carriage.  It's an attempt to ground the Cinderella story in a historical context, to show a way that it "could" have happened that would have inspired a fairy tale to spring up around it.  It's a bunch of bull, for sure, but I sort of appreciate the attempt.

This means someone had to find a substitute for the Fairy Godmother, someone real and smart and able to give good advice - and they settled on Leonardo Da Vinci, for whatever reason, relocating him from Italy to France for the duration of the story.  And for some reason he carries the Mona Lisa around with him when he travels - well, I suppose it did take him about a decade to get that smile just right.  In addition to serving as the voice of reason, Da Vinci helps design some accessories for Danielle's dress (because we all know Da Vinci for his fashion sense, right?) and also clues the Prince in on how to change his attitude, and passes along the lost glass slipper to him.

Thankfully, there's no country-wide search for the woman with the correct size foot here, the slipper merely given back to the Cinderella character as a token of the Prince's love.  But it's still unrealistic that the Prince would accept her as a mate, given her status as a commoner, which was outside the parameters of a wife given to him by his parents.  We all know that exceptions like this weren't made until Wallis Simpson and Diana Spencer came along.

Like last night's film, there's only SO much PC-based debate that the audience should be expected to endure, especially when it's anachronistic.  Lives of servitude for normal people were quite commonplace, and people had stations that they just weren't allowed to rise above, whether they've read Thomas More's "Utopia" or not.  I doubt that most commoners even knew how to read back then, but hey, it helps move along the story, I guess.  And for someone in the 16th century to have such forward-thinking ideas about equality and human rights, it's just quite hard to swallow.  And boring. 

NITPICK POINT: If Danielle's mother was a countess, and her stepmother is a baroness, then why isn't she considered some kind of royalty herself?  Admittedly, I don't know how that whole peerage system worked in 16th-century France, but if she's got some kind of lineage, why can't she at least refer to it when introducing herself to the Prince?  It should at least mean that she's a few steps above a commoner, but either she doesn't want to draw on it, or she's unaware that she might be from noble blood, sort of.  But she uses her mother's "comtesse" as her alias when she deals with the Prince, so she must know.

NITPICK POINT #2: If Rodmilla, the stepmother, was the one selling off the furniture items around the household, like the candlesticks, to that creepy landowner guy, then why was she so surprised when these objects were disappearing?  This was a little side-plot that just made no sense.

Starring Drew Barrymore (last seen in "Music and Lyrics"), Dougray Scott (last seen in "Taken 3"), Anjelica Huston (last seen in "The Big Year"), Megan Dodds (last seen in "The Rat Pack"), Melanie Lynskey (last seen in "They Came Together"), Patrick Godfrey (last seen in "Mr. Turner"), Timothy West (last seen in "102 Dalmatians"), Judy Parfitt, Jeroen Krabbé, Lee Ingleby (also last seen in "Mr. Turner"), Toby Jones (last seen in "Muppets Most Wanted"), Peter Gunn (last seen in "24 Hour Party People"), Richard O'Brien (Riff Raff!), Jeanne Moreau, Walter Sparrow (last seen in "Shadowlands").

RATING: 4 out of 10 thieving gypsies

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ella Enchanted

Year 9, Day 110 - 4/20/17 - Movie #2,604

BEFORE: I know it seems weird, a man in his late forties watching fairy tales and other films for kids, like those damn Dalmatian movies - call me a completist if you have to.  But I was raised on animated films and other Disney movies, in fact it's all that my mother would let me watch on the big screen, so is it any wonder that I work on animated films now for a living?  I can make a case for watching those "Ice Age" or "Madagascar" films, because they're sort of aimed at the whole family - but having straight-out fairy tales on the watchlist is harder for me to defend.  (I taped tonight's film to fill up the DVD with "Into the Woods", for example.)

Maybe that's why I keep putting them off - when it would have been so easy to work them in any time I had some room in February (all fairy tales are about romance, right?) but I didn't.  I even watched two other films with Anne Hathway already this year, and didn't take the opportunity to get to this one.  But instead of sandwiching this between "The Intern" and "Bride Wars", or something like that, I'm going to invoke the new "linking between characters" rule and knock out all three Cinderella-based films on my list this week.  And I've got some more kiddie films coming up next month, like "Strange Magic" and the latest "Ice Age" film.  I've also got Snow White films to deal with, but there's no direct link, so I'll have to circle back later for those.

Eric Idle carries over from "102 Dalmatians", where he was the voice of the parrot, to be the narrator of today's fairy tale.  Another bonus actor, Jim Carter, carries over too.

THE PLOT: Ella is under a spell to be constantly obedient, a fact she must hide from her new step-family in order to protect the prince of the land, for whom she's falling.

AFTER: Reviving the old fairy tales is big business these days, with "Grimm" and "Once Upon a Time" on TV, and that big-screen "Maleficent" a couple years back, and now "Beauty and the Beast" being re-made again.  But the trend goes back past "Tangled" and "Into the Woods" all the way to "Shrek" in 2001, which jammed all the fairy tale characters into one film, "Roger Rabbit" style, and also put that PC spin on the stories, making an ogre the hero and the king-like character into the bad guy.

This seems like the sort of film that got green-lit in post-Shrek Hollywood, because it similarly makes the villain the rich white guy in power, and jams together elements of "Sleeping Beauty", "Gulliver's Travels", "The Princess Bride", Disney's animated "Robin Hood", "Hamlet", and, I don't know, let's say "The Lord of the Rings" for good measure. Make sure that the film's message resonates with today's popular trends and doesn't offend anyone, throw in a couple of easily-licensed pop songs, and boom, there's your movie, don't forget the happy ending.

To be fair, it's based on a book, and I can't say whether that book came before or after the publication of the "Shrek" book that got turned into that other film.  But there are similarities in the modernization of the fairy-tale world, like here the elves, ogres and giants are the oppressed minorities of society, they're marginalized and told what occupations they're allowed to have, and making each species of fairy-tale creature live in their own land seems like a comment on the immigration issues in the U.S., something that's in the news more and more these days.

And I understand the inherent problems with the Cinderella story - she's a doormat, and she doesn't seem to be willing to change her situation, preferring to wait for both a fairy godmother and Prince Charming to come and rescue her from domestic drudgery.  The original fairy tale sends the wrong message to young girls, because she represents the opposite of female empowerment.  Plus, she never goes anywhere, she's stuck at home cleaning most of the time (sweeping up cinders, that's how she got her name...) so where's the fun and romance in that?  She only gets to sneak out to the ball once, and that's only one scene change, not enough to support a whole movie.

This film tries to solve those problems by making Ella's fairy godmother less of a benefactor - she puts a curse of obedience on her instead, back when she was a baby.  What kind of a dotty fairy curses babies?  But if you try to complain about this fairy's "gifts", she turns you into a squirrel or something, so you've got to make the best of it, apparently.  So now whenever someone tells Ella to do something, she HAS to comply.  Eventually one of her step-sisters figures this out (while attending school in fairyland, which seems a bit weird) and takes advantage of her curse whenever possible.  And Ella's budding romance with Prince "Char" gets off on the wrong foot when his accidental commands cause her to act in unusual ways.

So she sets off on a quest to find the original fairy who cursed her - and it's certainly more cinematic to get out of the house and go on a quest - along with a magic book that used to be her aunt's boyfriend, umm, or something, and along the way she befriends an elf who dreams of being a lawyer, and a few ogres and giants as well.  This is where the PC police enter the screenwriting process, because we're clearly supposed to view the non-human story characters as the "undesirable" oppressed ethnicities of this fantasy society.  It's funny, the "Lord of the Rings" movies makes it seem like elves are a higher life-form than humans, but here they're second-class citizens, good only for singing and dancing.

All of this PC nonsense means that there's not much room for the traditional Cinderella story elements - you know, the coach that gets turned into a pumpkin, Cinderella leaving the ball in haste at midnight, and the stepsisters trying on the glass slipper in vain.  All that's gone, but the nutsy fairy godmother does return in time to get Ella dressed up for the ball - but the twist here is that she doesn't want to go, because someone's used the obedience spell to program her to be some kind of "Manchurian Candidate" assassin, so there's a really good reason why she doesn't want to be at the ball at midnight this time.  This was probably the best addition to the plot, because in the regular story, Cinderella is so wishy-washy, running out on the Prince just when their relationship was heating up.  (Jeez, do you want to be with the Prince or not?  Mixed signals, girlfriend.)

And we're therefore spared that ridiculous search by Prince Charming, searching the whole kingdom for a girl with a particular shoe size.  That never made much sense to me, I mean, don't a lot of women have the same shoe size?  "Hmm, I was looking for a redhead I saw the other night, this girl's a brunette, but her foot is a size 6, so that must be her!"  And if he's in love with her, wouldn't he be able to recognize her face, and not just her feet? It's ridiculous - or does he have some weird kind of foot fetish?

The special effects here are particularly bad - whenever they wanted to mix creatures of different sizes - elves, ogres and/or giants - they just green-screened them all together into the same scene, with little respect for maintaining proper eyelines, or matching the relative speeds or positions of the different characters.  So it's extremely hard to believe them all existing in the same space at the same time.

Also starring Anne Hathaway (last seen in "Bride Wars"), Hugh Dancy (last seen in "Martha Marcy May Marlene"), Cary Elwes (last heard in "The Adventures of Tintin"), Aidan McArdle (last seen in "Me and Orson Welles"), Joanna Lumley (last seen in "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Lucy Punch (last seen in "Into the Woods"), Jennifer Higham (last seen in "Cassandra's Dream"), Minnie Driver (last seen in "Return to Me"), Jimi Mistry (last seen in "2012"), Vivica A. Fox, Parminder Nagra (last seen in "Bend It Like Beckham"), Patrick Bergin, Donna Dent, with the voice of Steve Coogan (last heard in "Minions") and a cameo from Heidi Klum (last seen in "The Devil Wears Prada")

RATING: 3 out of 10 protest signs

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

102 Dalmatians

Year 9, Day 109 - 4/19/17 - Movie #2,603

BEFORE: I had to report for jury duty today, got the notice about a month ago and I was classified as a "telephone standby juror", which meant I needed to start calling an 800 number last Friday, and then told whether to show up or not the next day based on my 4-digit ID code.  I skated the first day with a relatively high number, but then on Monday the recording told me to show up at the Queens courthouse on Tuesday at 9 am.  Who the hell has to be anywhere at 9 am?  Don't they know I work for a film studio that never opens before 10?  And that I'm hardly ever there before 11?  Geez, I had to leave the house at 8 am yesterday just to find this place before 9 - who schedules these damn things?

I really tried to answer the lawyers' questions honestly, which was probably a mistake, since I got picked for a jury and now I have to start showing up for real tomorrow, which means I'm losing hours and losing pay, just to do my civic duty.  I knew that voting in the election last year was a mistake, that must be what put me on the court's radar.  Umm, you millennials should all show up and vote next time, so I won't get called for jury duty so often.

I've sat on two juries before, one case was settled quickly and the other time I got dismissed on Day  after some witness said something on the stand that he shouldn't have, and rather than ask the jury to try and forget it, they decided to start over with a new jury.  Fine by me, if it meant I got to go home early.  I have a terrible feeling that this time I won't be so lucky.

Glenn Close carries over from "101 Dalmatians", obvi, as does one other actor, Tim McInnerny.

THE PLOT: Cruella DeVil gets out of prison and goes after the puppies once more.

AFTER: This feels a lot like the sequel that nobody asked for, and one where it seems like the filmmakers weren't even sure which direction to take the story in.  Cruella receives some kind of hypno-therapy that takes away her insatiable desire to turn animals into fur coats (as if that could be a bad habit, like smoking or something...) but then that just feels like a plot device that gets her out of jail and back into the world.  And that therapy proves to be short-lived, as the therapists accidentally discover that the specific chimes of Big Ben have the power to undo their hypnosis - which would only be a problem if Cruella lived in London and her parole officer's window overlooked that famous clock tower...

But once Cruella is back to her old self and sets her sights on skinning dogs again - turns out old dreams die hard - it turns out that hardly any of her old henchmen are still around, so it seems she has to hook up with a famous fashion designer, one who also shares her penchant for animal pelts.  And wouldn't you know it, another coincidental plot device, her parole officer also owns a family of Dalmatians (the "trigger" dogs for Cruella, apparently) and she also has an instant whirlwind romance with a man who runs a dog shelter, because the actors who played the couple in the first film wouldn't return for the sequel, either.

Other than that, it's really just like the first film, with no new ground broken, except there's also a parrot who thinks he's a dog, and therefore can't fly.  He also talks all the time, I mean really talks, like has conversations with people, except we all know that's not how parrots work.  They can only repeat things that they've heard many times, it's wrong to suggest that they have thinking brains and the power of speech.

I almost called a NITPICK POINT on the fact that Cruella escapes on the Orient Express train out of London, because I thought that ran from Paris to Istanbul, but after some research it seems like this could be possible, provided this film was made after the construction of the Chunnel.  But the IMDB backs me up, it says that she would have taken the Eurostar through the Chunnel, to catch the Orient Express in Paris. But since Paris was her destination, then that wouldn't have even been an option.

Also starring Gerard Depardieu (last seen in "The Man in the Iron Mask"), Ioan Gruffudd (last seen in "Horrible Bosses"), Alice Evans, Ben Crompton (last seen in "Les Miserables" (1998)), Carol MacReady, Ian Richardson (last seen in "Joyeux Noel"), Jim Carter (last seen in "My Week with Marilyn"), Ron Cook (last seen in "24 Hour Party People"), and the voice of Eric Idle.

RATING: 2 out of 10 legal loopholes

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

101 Dalmatians (1996)

Year 9, Day 108 - 4/18/17 - Movie #2,602

BEFORE: Welcome back to animal cruelty week, apparently.  I'm going from a teen blinding horses to a fashionista trying to make a coat out of puppies.  Puppies!   Joan Plowright carries over from "Equus".

It seems to be quite a quiet week for television.  I'm guessing that public school is on break and most people are on vacation, but the only way I know that is from my late-night shows all showing repeats, and very few new episodes of sitcoms and dramas.  But this does give me a chance to start watching "Mad Men" Season 5, begin bingeing on Season 2 of "The Detour" and maybe knocking off some episodes of "Carnival Eats" and "Food Paradise" that are taking up space on my DVR.  Movies are still coming in at the same rate, but TV has slowed down - but I know this is only temporary, because new episodes of "Gotham" and "Fargo" are on the way, and two new shows I'm very interested in, "American Gods" and the return of "Twin Peaks".

THE PLOT: A woman kidnaps puppies to kill them for her fur, but various animals then gang up against her and get their revenge.

AFTER: See, the trend of turning Disney animated films into (mostly) live-action ones is nothing new, I know there was "The Jungle Book" last year and "Beauty and the Beast" last month, but the trend really goes back to 1996, with this dog-based film.  Actually, the term's not even accurate because of the large amounts of CGI in both of those recent films, so when you're talking about live-action remakes, this one's really the most prominent.  (Oh, and there's also "Hook".) But I do also have a few Cinderella-based films coming up this week.

If it seems like married couple Roger and Anita come together fairly quickly, you're not wrong.  Their relationship seems to be entirely based on the fact that they both own Dalmatians, and they both fell into the park's pond on the same day.  Serves them right for trying to walk their dogs and ride bicycles at the same time - you've got to pick one, people, otherwise you'll end up choking your dog, or flying off your bike when he stops to pee on something.

And of COURSE the villain has to be larger than life, that's what Disney does well, so there should be no question in the end about what's right and what's wrong, because we don't want our kids accidentally rooting for the bad person.  Or hit them with a lot of complex nuances regarding good and evil, even though in the real world there are mostly shades of grey, not black and white issues.

But it's a little strange to say that specifically making a fur coat out of puppies is wrong, wrong, wrong just because puppies are cute, and not taking a larger stance against all fur coats made from other animals.  I mean, is that where we're choosing to draw the line, making allowances for coats made from ugly, nasty minks and chinchillas?  Aren't foxes just as cute as dogs, in some ways?  By drawing the line specifically HERE we create a situation where Cruella De Vil deserves whatever nastiness comes her way, but Di Caprio's fur trapper in "The Revenant" got a really bad deal.  You can't have it both ways.

And there are some cultures that eat dogs, are those cultures automatically evil, or is the line between house pet and food merely an arbitrary one?  Again, it's probably best if we don't get kids thinking along these lines, right?  I mean, did God give Man dominion over the animal kingdom, or not?  And what if one of these little puppies is the Dalmatian equivalent of Jesus, and his death will redeem all of the other Dalmatians and get them all into Doggie Heaven?

NITPICK POINT: So the entire video-game industry hinges on whether ONE particular kid likes a game or not?  I find that hard to believe, and also a terrible business model.  Yeah, I get that the kid is symbolic of focus group testing and other things that wouldn't necessarily fit into a 100-minute movie, but it's still an odd plot point.

Also starring Glenn Close (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy"), Jeff Daniels (last seen in "Heartburn"), Joely Richardson (last seen in "Return to Me"), Hugh Laurie (last seen in "Flight of the Phoenix"), Mark Williams (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"), John Shrapnel (last seen in "K-19: The Widowmaker"), Tim McInnerny (last seen in "Notting Hill"), Hugh Fraser (last seen in "Patriot Games").

RATING: 4 out of 10 vet bills

Monday, April 17, 2017


Year 9, Day 107 - 4/17/17 - Movie #2,601

BEFORE: I hit another century mark. so that means that the year's 1/3 over already.  I still haven't made much of a dent into reducing the watchlist, it's all I can do to keep it from growing larger.  But at least I've hit a sort of equilibrium, where I'm not making progress, but I'm not backsliding either.

But I've circled back to Richard Burton - and while it's tempting to knock off the rest of the Burton films on my list, I'm heading in a different direction tomorrow, because I've got a schedule to keep, and a chain that looks like it's going to land me on the film "Mother's Day" at just the right time.  Plus it will allow me to both link to "Logan" and to go see "Guardians of the Galaxy 2" the week after it opens.  And I think with a little more coaxing, and the addition of an Academy screener or two, I can extend my chain all the way to the end of May. 

Peter Firth carries over from "Risen", and I'll go in a non-Richard Burton direction tomorrow.

THE PLOT: A psychiatrist attempts to uncover a troubled stable boy's disturbing obsession with horses.

AFTER: Peter Firth seems to be one of those actors who's managed to stay under my radar, because my first response before this week was, "Umm, wait, who?  Is he Colin Firth's brother or something?"  But no, he starred in "Joseph Andrews" way back in the day, and then had bit parts in "The Hunt for Red October" and "Pearl Harbor" years later.  Seems like he kept busy in-between, but I almost didn't make the connection between this one and "Risen" because he's a young man in one, and quite older in the other.  He's been around - fortunately the search function on my IMDB account alerted me that he was in two films on my watchlist, otherwise I never would have spotted it.  "Risen" seemed like a dead-end for so long, at least until I decided to grab most of that Richard Burton marathon from TCM.

I'm aware of the stage-play of "Equus", especially since they revived it a couple years ago with Daniel Radcliffe, but I've avoided learning anything about the plot.  Which was a good move, because the film seems to have just one piece of information to divulge, and it makes sure to take all 137 minutes of its running time delaying its reveal.  Yeah, I get that this troubled teen blinded 6 horses, but the main (and only) question would seem to be "But WHY?"  Gotta be careful, don't want to tip your hand too soon, and all that.

But I sometimes see bits of a film before I'm scheduled to watch it, because I usually burn it to a DVD, and I have to check the recording - so when I saw in advance that the young man had an experience when he was a boy, riding on a horse with a big burly man, naturally I assumed it was a gay thing, that that was the teen's big secret.  Which made some sense, 1977 was a different time, and one might imagine that his parents might be reluctant to talk about their son's sexual preference, or to even feel ashamed, as that was sort of normal at that time.

But it's so more complicated than that, with his mother's religion factoring in, and his father's attitude toward sex - when the truth about Alan's nighttime activities is finally revealed, one imagines his parents thinking, "Couldn't he just have been gay?" Because the truth is quite a bit more weird.  Still, the mentions of religion and the Christ imagery did make this sort of the perfect post-Easter film.  But it's a long way to go for a little bit of payoff.

I found I couldn't really make the mental leap from the teen's situation, and the imagery involved, to then apply the same metaphors to the psychiatrist, as if he was somehow a service animal, such as a horse, subject to the bit and chained to his job.  Umm, he's a doctor, with a high-up job in a hospital, it's hard for me to feel sorry for him.  He's probably well-off, and if he can't take the hours or he's sick of his job, then maybe he should retire.  Or did I miss the point of the symbolism somehow?

Also starring Richard Burton (last seen in "The Robe"), Colin Blakely, Joan Plowright (last seen in "The Scarlet Letter"), Eileen Atkins (last seen in "Magic in the Moonlight"), Harry Andrews (last seen in "The Agony and the Ecstasy"), Jenny Agutter (last seen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"), Kate Reid (last seen in "This Property Is Condemned").

RATING: 4 out of 10 commercial jingles

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Risen (2016)

Year 9, Day 106 - 4/16/17 - Movie #2,600

BEFORE: My new rule allowed me to program three Easter films, instead of just one, with Jesus and Pontius Pilate carrying over from last night, and this way I've also rescued two New Testament-based films from the unlinkables section.   As a bonus, this one appears to pick up exactly where "The Passion of the Christ" left off, to show the aftermath of the Crucifixion.  And by telling the story through the P.O.V. of a Roman tribune, it's also an apt follow-up to "The Robe", so I have to be happy with the way this chain fell together.

It's funny, I watched "The Revenant" just about a week ago, and that was another film with a man rising from a grave and returning to life (but in a different way) and I didn't make the connection until  just now...

THE PLOT: In 33 AD, a Roman tribune in Judea is tasked with finding the missing body of an executed Jew rumored to have risen from the dead.

AFTER: If the format to this film seems a little familiar, it's probably because they super-imposed some tropes familiar to a modern police investigation right on to the story of the Resurrection.  Clavius, the tribune in question here, is charged with interviewing people who may have knowledge of who broke into Jesus' tomb, and then those who claim to have interacted with the risen Jesus.  He's working for Pilate, who's trying to appease Caiaphas, because both the Romans and the Jews seem to have this uncanny knowledge about how bad it would be for their societies if Jesus was proven to be the Messiah.

As with "The Robe", the one Roman tribune that was present at Jesus' execution, the one who saw the skies darken and felt the earth quake, is the one who seems to be most affected by it in the long run - but this time it's not an article of clothing that changes the man, it's interacting with Jesus' disciples and eventually, the appearance of Jesus himself, or so it seems.  While no proper explanation is offered for the miracle that seems to have taken place, up until that point the film's best explanation for what happened is that the Roman guards outside the tomb had a bit too much to drink, and Jesus' followers took that opportunity to break in and steal the body so they could claim he was resurrected.

So there's some creative license with the Bible's story here, but I've long suspected that the Bible's story itself took quite a few liberties too, because saying that things just don't add up is an understatement.  If the resurrected Jesus was such a threat to the Roman Empire, why not just have him killed again?  And just how reliable were the accounts of those who saw him after the fact?  And is there any possible medical explanation for a crucified man getting up again after three days in a (let's say) death-like condition?  One could surmise that if the earth was quaking and a storm was raging, it's possible that haste was involved in that burial, and perhaps not much attention was paid to proper examination of his body.

When viewed from another angle, the burial of Jesus can be seen as a form of a magic trick - a common trick involves a magician putting on a mask, getting into a box, and then appearing a few seconds later in the back of the theater.  That's not much different from putting a shroud on a body, putting that body in a tomb, and then having it appear outside the tomb.  Now, I've trained myself to figure out how many magic tricks are done, through a combination of skepticism, common sense and google searches - if a magician tells me what's about to happen, the one thing I know is that something else is about to happen.  For example, in that trick of the magician appearing to escape from the box, there could be a secret exit out of the box, the use of the mask could indicate that a switch has been made and the person getting into the box is not the magician, or if neither of these is true, then the guy at the back of the theater could be the magician's twin.  Any or all of these are possible.

So my rational mind searches for a way to reconcile the Bible's story with reality (though it's potentially futile, because we'll never know, and anyway it's probably just a story).  The tomb was a cave, so maybe there was another way in.  A shroud was placed over Jesus, maybe this indicates that a switch was made, and the body placed in the tomb wasn't even him.  Or maybe the person seen walking around three days later was a look-alike, some have speculated maybe even a younger brother. Any or all of these are possible, but I'm just speculating, I wasn't there.

Oh, yes, Jesus had brothers and sisters, though the Catholic Church wants people to believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary, they're rarely talked about.  But when Peter left Jerusalem, it was Jesus' brother James who led the early Christian Church in Jerusalem.  Look it up if you don't believe me, but here I get to say "the Bible tells me so" because Paul's Letter to the Galatians refers to "James, the Lord's brother". Plus, why would the gospel of Luke refer to Jesus as the "first-born son of Mary" unless there were others?  So it's possible that this whole resurrection thing is just a giant metaphor, anyway, for the life of the Church under the leadership of James in the 1st Century.  (See, this is why I'm not allowed back in church any more...)

Starring Joseph Fiennes (last seen in "Enemy at the Gates"), Tom Felton (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"), Peter Firth (last seen in "Amistad"), Cliff Curtis (last seen in "Six Days Seven Nights"), Stewart Scudamore (last seen in "Kick-Ass 2"), Stephen Hagan, Maria Botto, Luis Callejo, Antonio Gil (last seen in "Twice Upon a Yesterday"), Andy Gathergood, Mish Boyko (last seen in "Dracula Untold"), Jan Cornet, Joe Manjon, Pepe Lorente, Stavros Demetraki, Selva Rasalingam, Manu Fullola, Mario Tardon, Stephen Greif.

RATING: 4 out of 10 wax seals